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Teacher-proofing our education system, New York style

By Mike Williss - posted Wednesday, 3 September 2008

…I cannot understand why public institutions such schools should not be accountable to the community that funds their salaries and their running costs.

Right now, we do not have accurate, comprehensive information to allow rigorous analysis of what schools and students are achieving.

This must change

That is why today I announce that we will be making agreement on individual school performance reporting a condition of the new national education agreement to come into effect from 1 January 2009.

Kevin Rudd, Address to the National Press Club on August 27, 2008.

I’ve always had a problem with Deng Xiaoping’s maxim: “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice.”

I agree that the colour is irrelevant. The real issue is “For whom?” Who is the cat catching mice for? Is the cat getting anything out of it? Who is really benefitting? (Sure, real cats catch mice for themselves, but you are allowed to ask questions like this when the cat is part of an allegorical reference).


By extension, I also have a problem with Gillard’s and Rudd’s attitude towards education. This goes back at least as far as Bob Hawke’s Minister for Education, Susan Ryan, who famously declared that the ALP had “once and for all put an end to the argument between public and private education”.

It hadn’t then, and neither has Rudd: his Press Club declaration that “it’s time to move beyond the outdated divisions between … public and private provision” of education notwithstanding.

For Rudd and Gillard, it doesn’t matter whether a school is public or private so long as it “achieves the results we need as a nation and (realises) the potential … of each child”.

Let’s leave for a moment the promise of “rich data” that will inform the judgment of a school’s value-adding capacity.

Where will it be a part of the published score-card that in my Year 9 Chinese class I have two students, one who entered mid-year and another who entered at the start of Term 3, after being “asked” to leave their respective private schools for a variety of behavioural (and almost certainly, academic) offences? One who up until then had studied Japanese, the other having studied Indonesian. Both of them coming into a system that, rightly, cannot exclude students in the compulsory years of schooling.

Where will it be recorded that my Year 11 and 12 students have to share the same class because no class can be less than 25 in the senior school, although at a colleague’s private school she has been told that even if there is only one Year 12 student of Chinese (and this has happened!) there will still be a discrete Year 12 class “because that is what the parents pay for”?


Where will it be recorded that I am only too happy to take every one of my Year 11 students into Year 12, while yet another private school colleague is ashamed and guilty that she can only select from among her Year 11s those guaranteed an “A” at Year 12, regardless of her students’ enthusiasm for the subject?

Yet Rudd and Gillard are now proposing to copy the New York model of “individual school performance reporting” and public comparison of “like schools” as determined by student’s entry scores and scores on standardised tests, parental income, ethnic composition and other data.

So, what is it about the New York system that has so infatuated Rudd and Gillard?

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About the Author

Mike Williss is a teacher of Chinese in South Australia. After 32 years in the classroom , he now works for the Australian Education Union in South Australia.

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