Shaming the under-performers

If we can believe recent media, the Rudd Government is pushing ahead with a competitive schools agenda; despite many leading academics warning against the introduction of comparative report cards for schools.

This month, the Chancellor of New York’s public schools, Joel Klein will be here extolling the benefits of its school reform agenda, which after six years, has only seen moderate improvements in learning outcomes.  Klein believes that schools can ‘learn from each other’ when you create a competitive environment between schools of similar socio-economic status.

This agenda is flawed  because it is driven by an egalitarian desire to raise the levels of improvement in disadvantaged schools by naming (and inadvertently shaming) the under-performers.  It fails to grasp the complexity of schooling and the need to improve the quality of teachers across the board. 

Under Klein’s model, great teachers working in affluent areas would be sharing their expertise with colleagues in similar schools.  Where is the equity or the access in such a model?  Besides, good teachers by definition are always prepared to be held accountable for the quality of student learning.

UK education academic Peter Mortimore was here recently to stimulate broad discussion on ‘school accountability’ and believes the model we should be examining is Finland.  While we are culturally and economically different, the Finnish government has made a huge investment in teacher-training.  As Mortimore says the Finnish government ‘trusts’ and ‘energises’ its teachers. 

To borrow a line from president elect Obama, when good teachers are asked if they can improve learning for all kids they simply answer,”yes we can…”

I am not sure linking federal funding to teacher, principal or school performance will produce smarter and better students in the long-term. It may just disempower more teachers, diminish the hopes of aspirational leaders and produce students who can ‘perform’ on cue.  While the results may be impressive, is that how we want to  define good learning?

One thought on “Shaming the under-performers

  1. Interesting reading about Peter Mortimore’s theory on Finland – one thing he failed to add is that the minimum requirement to teach in Finland is a Masters. Another feature of the Finnish system is that all infants classes have a support teacher whoose Masters must be in special Ed. In Finland as well the government is in charge of pre-school education and it is compulsory. Why they do all this so well is very interesting because all of the above has been in place since the 1960’s. I reckon we have some catching up to do!!!

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