School Education Minister Peter Garrett has recently unveiled the seven national professional standards for teachers (Feb 2011). The minister maintains that these standards will help certify high-performing teachers, enable the development of a nationally consistent teacher registration scheme and assist in the accreditation of teacher education programs.
With some 42 elaborations of the seven standards, teachers seeking successful validation for certification and career advancement would be hard pressed to validate their claim with less than several master’s degrees in education and a full ream of paper work.
The high performance bar implied by performance descriptors such as: ‘know in detail the theoretical and practical knowledge basis of how students develop literacy and numeracy..” from Standard 1 or “ design conceptually coherent learning programs using research evidence’ Standard 3 might seem to be admirable goals for teachers but ridiculously time consuming to validate. Could administrators who choose to leave the classroom claim the expertise to validate a proficient or lead teacher’s application on the basis of their expert knowledge?
A colleague who has recently returned from a teaching assignment in the UK expressed considerable concern with the UK addiction for excessive planning and supervision requirements imposed by schools administrations. Lesson plans had to be forwarded weekly to administration, and required specific details of lesson objectives differentiated for all learners. Of greater concern were staff evaluations held by supervisors based on criteria such as randomly chosen students in early primary being able to identify lesson objectives. If research demonstrated that this kind of close supervision of teacher performance could produce better learning outcomes for students, teachers might well support them. However the most obvious outcome, as noted by my colleague was the reduced capacity of teachers to develop meaningful relationships with their students and loss of spontaneity in their teaching; two factors experienced teachers value highly and research supports as important for good learning outcomes.
The Programme for International Student Assessment ( PISA)International assessment ( 2009, 2006,2003) has consistently placed Australia well above the OECD averages in the assessment domains of reading and scientific literacy ( only 6/ 56 countries achieving statistically better 2009) and above average in mathematical literacy (only 12/56 countries achieving better in 2009).
What is of significance in the PISA results is that we significantly outrank both the USA and the UK but at the same time are outranked typically by those countries that have more equitable access to education and less government interference with teacher accreditation. Finland whose students have been consistent leaders in PISA Assessment has perhaps the most equitably resourced education system in the world.
In addressing the need for professional development it is instructive to note the language of a recent Finnish Government policy statement “…. one of the key priorities during the 2007–2011 electoral period is to improve opportunities for education personnel for consistent competence development. “Compare this to our own ill-conceived government response that dictates performance indicators and provides absolutely no mechanism or funding for their realisation.
The World Bank report (2006) “Policy Development and Reform Principles of Basic and Secondary Education in Finland since 1968 is instructive about one countries successful education reform. Whilst every country is unique some obvious starting points should be noted:
- The significant investment in education
- The use of a non confrontational consensus process to arrive at reform processes
- Significant support given to learners requiring support at critical points
- The support of teachers
Peter Garrett how does the current government propose to support Australian teachers to enable them to achieve consistent competence development towards the new National standards? When will new monies be allocated to supporting students identified as not meeting national benchmarks in current testing regimes? Perhaps it is easier to join the accusatory bandwagon by creating impossible expectations of teachers and their schools so that they can be easily assigned the blame of some of our educational shortcomings. When will we recognise just how successful we have been, granted that we have now one of the most diverse/multicultural societies in the top ten of performing countries in the PISA something none of the other top performers have had to contend with.
1. Thompson S et al (2009 ).The PISA 2009 Assessment of Students Reading, Mathematical and Scientific Literacy, ACER