In response to the above question, the answer from most politicians is yes. In NSW for example, the politics of standards has led to the Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES) being renamed and given greater powers. The newly announced NSW Education Standards Authority will be charged with ‘lifting’ school compliance and teacher quality in an effort to improve students’ results. NSW Education Minister Piccoli stated that the [new] authority ‘ought to make teachers nervous around teaching standards’.
Any potential for this new entity to enact change is immediately called in to question by its very name. A ‘Standards Authority’ sounds very much like a 19th century, carrot and stick approach to school improvement. As John Hattie points out, we love talking about standards and results (usually associated with PISA and TIMMS rankings) but not about building the collaborative expertise of teachers or student performance.
Michael Fullan suggests the all too common focus on standards is a focus on the wrong drivers and it rarely leads to whole of system success. In his 2011 paper (using Australia’s reform efforts as an example), Michael Fullan points out that accountability depends on standards and punishment. And these have been the core drivers for educational ‘improvement’ despite growing evidence that educational transformation is driven from within.
Like Hattie, Fullan strongly believes capacity building needs to be championed over accountability and standards. When teachers are strongly motivated and are continually improving their knowledge skills, student outcomes continue to improve. And the fastest route to de-motivating teachers is to undermine their professional confidence and capabilities by effectively suggesting they are on notice. The big brother approach to improving schooling only ever leads to short-term gains. A collaborative and internally driven approach to transforming schooling will help to ensure long-term success.
According to Hattie what works best is ‘recognising, valuing and enhancing the teachers and school leaders with high levels of expertise.’ But he goes on to say we risk this if ‘the politics of distraction command the limelight.’
The most effective teachers and systems aren’t the ones motivated by carrots, they are the ones motivated by continuously improving their own learning, their students’ learning and the profession as a whole.