Saturday salon 3/12: late edition

1. Kazakhstan beats us in maths and science

Kazakhstan has beaten us in maths and science taught in schools – again. We should be aware that Kazakhstan was the home of the Soviet space program, as well as the apple, and has a futuristic capital designed by a Japanese architect:


There is no shame in being beaten by Kazakhstan. Problem is, lots of other countries are beating us too. Seems we’ve stayed the same over the last 20 years, stagnated, while other countries have improved.

Gillard’s changes were to teach the measurable, so it could be measured and accounted for, to parents, the community and the funders. Generally speaking the model was imported from Joel Klein, New York City’s Schools Chancellor, who fraudulently cooked his results. The new system is incredibly stressful for teachers.

Lower socio-economic strata are being left behind, and our gender gap is bigger than others. I think our cultural diversity also makes it harder for teachers.

And the curriculum is too crowded and too didactic too early. In Finland and Scandinavia generally they don’t start formal schooling until age 7, with no detriment to performance at age 15.

Gonski’s notion of funding according to need is required more than ever, and Grattan have a story that’s worth consideration.

And we need to treat our teachers better professionally, with mentoring of young teachers, time for self-reflection and such.

2. More on New York origins of Gillard’s education revolution

A quick google brought up some interesting leads. In 2010 Save our Schools reported on High Farce in New York City where 85% of schools suddenly received an “A” rating:

    First, there was the unbelievable improvement in school results that were attributed to the incentives created for school improvement by publishing school results. In 2009, 85% of New York City elementary and middle schools received an ‘A’ grade, compared to only 23% in 2007; 97% achieved an A or a B grade compared to 60% in 2007. A mere 27 out of 1058 schools that were graded received C’s, D’s or F’s in 2009.

Murdoch’s The New York Post, nominally supporting the system, found the “avalanche of A’s” to “simply beggar the imagination” and were “contrary to plain common sense”.

    Diane Ravitch, Professor of Education at New York University and former US Assistant Secretary of Education, called the results “bogus”. She said that New York’s school reporting model is a system of “institutionalised lying” which produces “rigged and fraudulent” results.

Klein’s school results improved because he made the tests easier. Even then he manipulated the results to make them look better.

David Zyngier, a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Education at Monash University, writing about whether the Coalition’s policy that greater ‘autonomy’ and ‘independence’ will improve schools, says it will only help to further entrench difference and halt any upward social mobility in the education system. Of the Gillard changes he says:

    Under the neo-liberal spell of Joel Klein, then chancellor of the New York City department of education (2002-2011), Australian education became an experimental playground of neo-con policies including competition, assessment and privatisation.

    The development of the MySchool website, NAPLAN testing and performance pay for teachers all owe their origins to Gillard’s neophytic acceptance of the illusory and fraudulent claims of lasting education reform that Klein brought to New York education.

Education minister Simon Birmingham has been fond of saying that more money has been spent on schools, to no educational effect. We find in fact that under Gillard, private schools got more and government schools less. Not her fault, the states simply reallocated money.

I think she tried to pin the states to the task with Gonski funding agreements, but the first thing Christoper Pyne did was let them off the hook. It was up to them, he said, if the states wanted to take their money out as Commonwealth money for schools came in. Seems we don’t know how the funding balances out after 2013. Birmingham is also indulging in false representations (lies) in terms of the size of the increase in funding.

3. Trump and the global balance

China has spoken to Australia directly – don’t side against us with Donald Trump.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is cactus, because the core was the relationship between Japan and the US. China now has an opportunity:

    China is promoting its own pan-Pacific trade pact. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is still being negotiated, but if enacted, it could become the world’s largest free trade bloc.

If the US wants to join later they may find that trade rules in this region are also made in China.

On the other side of the world, there is a concern that the Russians may have influenced the election.

The count now shows Clinton with a majority of about 1,326,000 and Trump’s combined lead in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania was 102,719. So if a bit over 50,000 had changed their vote, Hillary would be heading for the White House.

Under these circumstances all narratives about what made the difference are probably true.

More important, though, is what Russia gets out of the win. What they’d like is:

    recognition of the annexation of Crimea and international acceptance of foreign aggression to change state borders; Russian control of Ukraine; weakening or even dissolution of the European Union and NATO; restoration of Russia as a great power; and restored dominance over the former Soviet bloc and its environs.

And a free hand in Syria.

In breaking news, Trump talks to Taiwan’s leader which he knows will be an affront to the Chinese. “She called me”, he says, but it would have happened by arrangement.

A disruptive pattern is emerging.

4. Italian referendum watch

The New York Times has an explainer on the Italian referendum. I leave you to read the details, but as a referendum, it’s major. The referendum would change 47 of the Constitution’s 139 articles, reducing the senate from 315 members to 95, changing the way they are elected, and their role in government. The regions (equivalent to our states) are strengthened, and provincial government is excised.

It was a bold attempt by a once popular leader to reshape Italian democracy, in order to ‘drain the swamp’ and one might say make Italy work again politically.

It looks as though it will end in tears, but if so the effects will play out over months and years, and could start a real fragmentation of Europe.

5. Local politics

Had a lovely evening after more distractions yesterday, but no time to do the local game-playing justice and this post is more than long enough already. I got sucked in to the Gillard education thing. There’s more to be said.

I think one side of our politics is populated with fairly good second-rate politicians, the other varies, but some are poor third-rate at best. At one stage on Thursday I was heard to mutter “Thank God for the Greens!”

Maybe I’ll do a bit more later today.

Introduction to Saturday salon

Because of the way the blog currently presents posts on the home page I think it’s better to remove the introductory material to a different place. For new readers, here’s the rationale for this space.


An open thread where, at your leisure, you can discuss anything you like, well, within reason and the Comments Policy. Include here news and views, plus any notable personal experiences from the week and the weekend.

For climate topics please use the most recent Climate clippings.

The gentleman in the image is Voltaire, who for a time graced the court of Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great. King Fred loved to talk about the universe and everything at the end of a day’s work. He also used the salons of Berlin to get feedback in the development of public policy.

Fred would only talk in French; he regarded German as barbaric. Here we’ll use English.

The thread will be a stoush-free zone. The Comments Policy says:

    The aim [of this site] is to provide a venue for people to contribute and to engage in a civil and respectful manner.

11 thoughts on “Saturday salon 3/12: late edition”

  1. I think that rankings are a poor way of telling how much better or worse countries are. Scores make more sense because the give a feel about whether the differences really are important.
    Even then a testing system based that only measures tangibles and has to be designed to test using multiple choice to simplify computing should, if nothing else give a score of double F to the designers.
    We live in a rapidly changing world where the key skills are being able to learn new things, understand new concepts and solve new problems. An education system that is obsessed with getting high scores from a simplified test is probably damaging kids that have got the basics under control.

  2. John, schools appear to be terrified of keeping the school scores high so that parents choosing a school will think they are doing a good job.

    Beyond that I wouldn’t like to comment, as I’ve been a bit remote from schools for a while. I’d draw attention to what Sue Thomson wrote in April about what needed to be done:

    If Australia is to reverse the decline in maths, science and reading literacy achievement, funding needs to be targeted to programs in schools that have high numbers of students from lower-socioeconomic backgrounds.

    OECD research has shown that the systems that have been most successful in reducing the gaps between low and high achievers are those that direct more resources to schools in this way.

    Schleicher made explicit that:

    “Australia’s needs-based Gonski reforms, with increased investment in teacher training, were a positive step but that more commitment was needed.”

    Targeting programs that focus on intervention in early childhood areas is particularly essential in closing achievement gaps as early as possible.

  3. Mad dog Trump will not necessarily be a bad thing in terms of international affairs. Think about the bullying China has been doing in the South Chinese sea on the assumption that the US is more interested in doing other things. The Trump phone call to Taiwan suggests that Trump is not going to play by Chinese rules. Trump is also challenging the absurd idea that trade agreements are automatically a good thing. May make things difficult for China to dominate the world economy and may even get the Aus government to be a bit more cautious.

  4. Back on education, apparently the PISA rankings are due to appear tomorrow, which focus more on problem solving. They appear every three years.

    Today Rachel Wilson says that PISA so far has shown an even grimmer picture for Australia. Aside from overall rankings, clear fractures are developing in socio-economic terms, between the city and the bush and between indigenous and non-indigenous students. We are not preparing our kids for the modern world:

    Some 30 per cent of Year 4 students and 36 per cent of Year 8 students do not meet the international intermediate benchmarks for mathematics. For science, these figures are 25 and 31 per cent respectively. Contrast this with Singapore, where these numbers are 2 per cent and 6 per cent for math.

    She says we are only in the middle-rank in terms of funding, but have obvious problems in terms of equity. However:

    Over a long period, we have introduced knee-jerk policies, which have imposed more demands upon teachers and students without examining the foundations of the education system.

    We need a critical and ongoing analysis of the whole education sector – from early childhood through to higher education.

    We need short-term and long=term solutions:

    A long-term, 10-year plus education plan should include measures to lift how teachers are recruited, valued and respected.

    I believe we don’t even have good quality information on our teachers.

    Last year Wilson wrote about why it matters that student participation in maths and science is actually declining.

    Time for our politicians to get off their butts and do some thinking.

  5. Italy votes “no” as expected.

    Now all bets on Italy’s political, economic, and financial stability are, once again, off. And by extension, the stability – what remains of it – of the Eurozone.

    An interim government will have to deal with a white-hot banking crisis.

  6. “What do I need geometry for?”
    quoted by Jumpy in 2014, is one of the saddest questions a teacher can hear.

    Does the student not notice he/she is living in a 3D geometrical world?

    Or does the teaching obscure that??

    + + ++ +++ +++++ ++++++++

    In the 19th century when senior secondary students in England were required to memorise quite a few proofs from Euclid , a sceptic suggested that they might as well be asked to memorise the proofs in ancient Greek !!


  7. I tend think is more cultural as far as how parents view the importance of education and their own responsibility in that.
    If an education campaign is to be had, it’s focus should be parental participation imho.

  8. Good post, John.

    I agree, Jumpy: parental influences are very important.
    Are there any books in the home?

    Late 70s, an old Education Prof said, “The best thing you can do for your kids is read bedtime stories to them.”

    In 90s we had a “Family Maths Program” (FAMPA) encouraging parents to do maths puzzles and games at home with kids.

    In Melbourne, several Jewish schools have outstanding Year 12 results. Probably encouragement and family tradition of scholarship and professional careers (more than genetics) I think.

    Most secondary teachers with Chinese or Vietnamese students, would have dazzling stories of hard work and parental encouragement.


    Ethnic Joke [warning]

    Q: “How can you tell that the burglar was Vietnamese?”

    A: “The dog’s missing, and all the kids’ homework has been done.”

  9. The Conversation had some interesting things to say about the latest education ratings.
    Among other things it said that there was a lot of variation in Australia between states and sectors of the education system. The article also said that :

    It is also interesting to note that since the PISA tests began in 2000, the major federal education policy levers have included: Significantly increased federal funding to private schools under John Howard, followed by a commitment by Julia Gillard that no school would lose a dollar. Failure to implement Gonski’s needs-based funding of all schools. The introduction of NAPLAN, MySchool, the Australian Curriculum and the AITSL national teaching standards by the Rudd-Gillard governments. Increased emphasis on market measures for school provision, such as Independent Public Schools and school autonomy. Yet over this time, the narrative of steady decline on PISA and TIMSS results continues, while educational inequality is on the rise. Australia has one of the most segregated schooling systems in the world, and the OECD data provide a strong correlation between high-performing systems such as Singapore and factors of social cohesion and equity. Further evidenced in secondary analysis of all PISA data over time is the strength of the correlation between equitable funding of schools and systemic performance on PISA. If we want to address these sliding results then we must address the issue of educational inequality in Australia.

    It is about time that we stopped blaming teachers and started having a hard look at the effect of LNP government decisions.

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