Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Carping side issues for Australian education

EDUCATION Minister Julia Gillard carpeted the public education lobby yesterday for allowing a culture that accepted the underachievement of children and urged it to concentrate on implementing government reforms instead of carping about side issues.

Addressing the Public Education Forum last night, Ms Gillard reaffirmed the Government's commitment to transparent reporting of school performance despite objections from the teaching profession.

She made no apology for the Government keeping an election commitment to maintaining the flawed model of private school funding ahead of a planned review, which the public school lobby has attacked as unfair.

"I would strongly counsel that now is not the time to be diverted from the relentless implementation of our current broad and deep reform agenda," she said.

Ms Gillard said 2009 must be about delivering the "mammoth and urgent" building programs for schools, implementing national partnerships to improve teacher quality, literacy and numeracy, and combating disadvantage. Teachers should work to ensure these programs "make the leap from being words on the pages of intergovernmental agreements to active reforms in the classroom".

"Delivering this reform agenda involves working together to confront hard truths and overcome a status quo that has accepted the underachievement of some children for far too long," she said.

The Public Education Forum is being held by the Australian Education Union with the Australian Council of State School Organisations, Australian Government Primary Principals Association and Australian Secondary Principals Association.

International human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson will officially open the forum today.

A group of 15 associations representing teachers, principals and academics from the government, Catholic and independent school sectors wrote to all education ministers last week calling for legislation banning the compilation of league tables from school performance data.

"Whilst we are appreciative of (the ministers') desire to put in place a structure and process to allow for a longitudinal analysis of school and system performance, on behalf of our students and school communities the profession requires assurances that the misuse of this data will not occur," it says.

But Ms Gillard said the Government would not resile from its commitment to transparent reporting of student and school results.

"While public scrutiny might make all of us uncomfortable from time to time, so it should," she said.

"We serve the public. We are accountable to the public. And we can't shield ourselves from public scrutiny. Nor should we.

"The legitimacy of a publicly funded education system must flow from public confidence and trust in it, and from the extent to which it is able to demonstrate quality and improvement."

Naming three public school principals who had challenged the status quo and transformed schools with disadvantaged children, Ms Gillard said their work proved "disadvantage is not destiny".

"These principals have shown that massive improvements are possible in every school," she said.

"That is why I am unapologetic about my commitment to a new era of transparency."

Ms Gillard said she understood concerns about the misuse of school performance data and the misleading picture that resulted from league tables of raw scores, but the nation's education ministers were working to address the issue.

"They are important issues that can be dealt with, but to focus only on these issues is to miss the larger point," she said.

The Australian

Sunday, March 29, 2009

AUSTRALIA: Brain economy - the elephant in the room

Politicians and the public are yet to realise that tangible support for the 'brain industries' is as critical for Australia's future and for Australian jobs as support for the resources industries, says Tony Adams, Immediate Past President of the International Education Association of Australia.

The Australian government should appoint a dedicated minister, or at a minimum a parliamentary secretary, with responsibility for international education, Adams says. The government should also partner with industry to develop a comprehensive national strategy on international education, with a set of well-funded priority programme initiatives.

He says funding support for the industry should be lifted to levels commensurate with the support already provided by government to Australia's other major export industries.

Exporting education is Australia's third largest export industry and the largest service export industry, out-performing tourism, Adams says. The more than 500,000 students from overseas studying in Australian institutions - in universities, vocational education and training colleges, schools and English language centres - generate $15.5 billion (US$11 billion) a year for the Australian economy.

"International education is a major source of jobs for Australians working in education institutions, the tourism and travel industries, accommodation and real estate, the telecommunications industries, transport, cinemas, banks and the hospitality sector," he says.

Education displaced tourism as the largest service sector export industry in 2008. "The Australian people are probably not aware that international education is Victoria's largest export industry and in NSW is second only to coal. With the cyclic nature of the resources sector, the global financial crisis puts education in a very interesting position among Australia's major exports. It is the elephant in the room."

Yet this has been achieved largely by education providers themselves, with only modest government support. "The industry has greatly appreciated the support provided over recent years, especially by Australian Education International, a division of the federal Education Department.

"But the AEI itself is a poor relative in the hurly burly of Canberra budget allocations," says Adams. "IEAA as an industry association believes senior level political leadership and a more effective whole of government approach is needed if the future of international education as a critical export industry supporting Australian jobs.

"Better coordination across government agencies is also needed. The government must also engage and consult all sectors of the industry in the final design of the independent international education industry development body proposed by the Bradley review of higher education.

"We haven't heard what the government's response to this recommendation will be. There have been no industry wide consultations about it and this is worrying many in the industry. Within the next year, we would dearly like to see the Prime Minister issue a well thought through policy statement on international education, one that properly incorporates the views of industry."


Obama push to shake up schooling

PRESIDENT Barack Obama called for ideological truce in the US public school system, but also outlined a strategy to bring more discipline to school teachers' employment, which would see good teachers rewarded and bad ones fired.

Risking the ire of the powerful teachers unions, Mr Obama is pressing ahead on his campaign promises with the kind of reforms that have been championed by New York schools chief Joel Klein, whose ideas are popular with Australian Education Minister Julia Gillard.

Mr Obama yesterday called on teachers unions, education officials and parents to change a "relative decline of American education" that "is untenable for our economy, unsustainable for our democracy and unacceptable for our children".

"For decades, Washington has been trapped in the

same stale debates that have paralysed progress and perpetuated our educational decline," Mr Obama said.

"Too many supporters of my party have resisted the idea of rewarding excellence in teaching with extra pay, even though it can make a difference in the classroom.

"Too many in the Republican Party have opposed new investments in early education, despite compelling evidence of its importance."

Mr Klein later told The Australian: "It was a terrific speech."

He added: "It raised all of the right issues. Now he needs to execute."

Overall, Mr Obama wants changes at every level from before kindergarten through to university. He is putting particular focus on solving the US high school dropout crisis and pushing states to adopt more rigorous academic standards.

Mr Obama's speech to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Washington -- a venue that reflects the fact that Hispanic-heritage children are expected to make up the majority of children in US schools in just over a decade -- was his first devoted to education in his presidency.

Among the proposals are plans to introduce longer school days -- and years -- to help American children compete in the world.

Mr Obama's speech lamented that in one generation the US had slipped from No1 to No11 in countries with the most students completing university.

"The future belongs to the nation that best educates its citizens," he said.

"We have everything we need to be that nation ... and yet, despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we have let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short and other nations outpace us."

Mr Obama acknowledged his proposals would foment dissent in his own party, but union leaders welcomed his words, saying it seemed clear he wanted to include them in his decisions in a way that former president George W.Bush did not.

"We finally have an education president," said Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.4million-member American Federation of Teachers.

"We really embrace the fact that he's talked about both shared responsibility and making sure there is a voice for teachers, something that was totally lacking in the last eight years." A statement from Mr Klein's Education Equality Project said Mr Obama had acknowledged economic progress and educational achievement were linked and added the President was urging "us to rise above partisanship to hold our schools and educators accountable for results".

The changes are also designed to tie education funding to student outcomes, establish stronger hire and fire rules governing teachers, and promote educational innovations such as charter schools.

These schools receive government funding but are relatively independent and free of rules that constrain regular schools. In return, these schools are required to meet strict performance measures regarding academic results, as well as budget accountability.

They are a source of considerable controversy since many teachers are concerned such schools drain money and talent from regular schools.

There are limits on the number of charter schools in each state in the US, but Mr Obama said the state limits aren't "good for our children, our economy, or our country".

He said many of the innovations in education were happening in charter schools.

Mr Klein said the announced proposals must be implemented "in order to transform our schools and prepare our students to succeed in the 21st century global economy".

"We are taking the President's words seriously -- and are eager to work with him and other school reformers to back the words up with action."


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