Education Nation | Day One Session One – Professor Geoff Masters

We need to point out that there is much to celebrate about Australian Schools.”
-Professor Geoff Masters

Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) was through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.

The opening keynote for Education Nation in the Rethinking Reform stream by Brett Salakas was a very interesting and engaging start with some very interesting and valid points raised. Brett commented to me during lunch that it was very daunting being the first speaker at a new conference, and having Professor Geoff Masters (@GMastersACER) sitting front and center for the presentation amplified that.

Professor Masters’ was speaking to the title of Addressing the Five Key Challenges in School Education that Matter to You and ostensibly, he was going to be focusing on five areas. The first area that Professor Masters addressed was the declining  PISA results, both relative and in real terms, of Australian students. This, he indicated, has been a trend that has been identifiable since 2000 and.

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Photo from Professor Masters’ presentation showing the twelve-year trend (2000-2012) in Australian PISA test results.

The mathematics results are particularly disturbing, with a significant, sharp drop year on year for each iteration of PISA from 2000 to 2012. Professor Masters commented, though it may have been stating the obvious, that we need to arrest and reverse this downward trend in results. Additionally, there is a growing disparity in schools creating a situation wherein it is becoming more and more important which school students attend. Someone failed conference etiquette and asked a question mid-presentation about where the variation lies and Professor Masters acknowledged that the total variance in results can be broken into differences between schools (twenty percent) and differences within schools (eighty percent).

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Photo from Professor Masters’ presentation showing the year on year decline of Australian students for the twelve-year period 2000 to 2012. Germany ‘s year on year growth is shown to provide a counterpoint.

Disturbingly, there is also a growing number of students who are not meeting the minimum standards; fourteen percent are not meeting the reading minimum standards, twenty percent are not meeting the mathematics minimum standards. In comparison, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Korea’s rates are between three and nine percent. The point was made that not only are our results falling year on year; but that the gap between our results and the countries around us is growing each year as they continue to improve.

Professor Masters then dived into some Census data which indicates that one in five students are currently developmentally vulnerable due to being locked into a trajectory of long-term low achievement. I, unfortunately, was not quick enough to snap the photo, or write down the specific context, however, so I would appreciate confirmation or clarification if someone did note it down (I have reached out to Professor Masters on Twitter and am awaiting confirmation), but my memory is that the likelihood of someone being the one in five student varies depending on Indigenous status, gender and socio-economic status (SES).

For Indigenous students, they have (if my memory of the context in which the figures were provided is correct) a 42.1% of being the one in five, which is just over double that of a non-Indigenous student, who has a 20.8% chance. The gender data shows that males have a 28.5% chance of being the one in five compared to females with a 15.1% chance whilst SES status plays a role as well. A low-SES student has a 32.6% chance of being the one in five student which is in stark contrast to their high-SES counterparts, who have a 15.5% chance. Professor Masters noted that this data has not historically been collected and so we are unable to identify the long-term historical trends, but that those factors will bear watching over future iterations of the census.

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Statistics that Professor Masters showed us indicating the relationships between the ATAR score-bands (<50, 50-60, 60-70 etc) and the percentage of Year twelve offers made in Science (blue), Engineering (green) and Education (red).

The next issue raised was the status of the teaching profession, wherein it is now a less attractive career option, and the distribution of offers to Year Twelve students in relation to their ATAR attainment. Masters’ graph shows that for Science and Engineering degrees, offers are typically made at the upper end of the achievement scale, whilst for education, they are being made, typically, in the low to mid-range achievement bands. Professor Masters noted that in those countries regarded as having high-quality education systems vis-a-vis their performance in PISA, they have typically put in place policies to help them draw teachers from the upper bands of academic achievement and that we need to take steps here in Australia to arrest the current downward spiral of where we draw our pre-service teachers from academically. This sounds like a laudable goal, however, as I have indicated previously, Pasi Sahlberg writes that there is very little discernible relationship between the academic achievement of a student and their eventual efficacy as a teacher.

We should, perhaps, be focusing on addressing the long-term decline in the number of students electing to undertake the hard subjects such as Physics, Advanced Mathematics and Advanced English and Engineering. It was at this point that Professor Masters made a comment, the underlying concept of which, has been a common thread in each of the sessions across the various event streams and the Twitter conversations.

Is it time we rethink, entirely, the structure of curriculum?”

I want to hold the exploration of the underlying thought to a separate article, as it is a thread which makes the entire Education Nation experience, for me, a cohesive one, however he included, in that comment, a further questioning of the way in which education, especially in the secondary education sector, is restrained to silos, with subject areas being held separate, and in many schools have individual staffrooms and faculty areas, and rarely, it seems from the outside, collaborate on planning, assessment or teaching and learning. Professor Masters told the room that by the time a child is in Year Three, the top ten percent of students, academically, are approximately five years ahead vis-a-vis learning outcomes.

My over-the-back-fence-neighbour works in Early Childhood and we have had some conversations about the need for more work in the pre-Kindergarten area to identify and work with those children who have learning difficulties to ensure that when they start Kindergarten, they have the best possible chance of achieving learning outcomes, which was a sentiment that Professor Masters closed his presentation by speaking about and agreeing with.

At this point, the MC, Simon Dorrington, opened things up to questions from the floor, which were, unfortunately, rather long-winded and convoluted comments, rather than short and to the point questions. Simon closed out the session by adding to Professor Masters’ argument that we need to regain the time in the teaching day that has been lost to the extra-curricular and what he termed support activities, many of which should be the responsibility of the parents, something I personally agree with.

The first session, consisting of Brett Salakas’ and Professor Masters’ presentations, was a great launchpad for the Rethinking Reform stream of the conference. There was a lot of head-nodding going on throughout both presentations, and a level of excitement slowly developing. I would very much like to hear from you if you were also in the room for either presentation and your perspectives and thoughts on them. As always, though, thank you for reading. The next article will cover morning tea and my experiences and thoughts on The Playground.

Education Nation | Interview with Dr. Kevin Donnelly

Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) in June is through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.

Education Nation is fast approaching, and this time next week, the final session of the conference will be concluding. One of the most hotly anticipated events of Education Nation is The Great Debate between Dr. David Zyngier (@dzyngier) and Dr. Kevin Donelly (@ESIAuatralia). Last week, I published an article from an interview with Dr. Zyngier, which was widely read. Dr. Zyngier is speaking on the side of public education at The Great Debate, and there are some strong arguments available for him to draw upon. This article will be an exploration of Dr. Donnelly’s responses to a series of questions similar to those presented to Dr. Zyngier. As with the previous interviews, I have included Education Nation Interview with Dr. Kevin Donnelly for the sake of transparency.

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Dr. Donnelly provided a short summary of his stance on the issue of public versus private education. He posits that the claims that private schooling systems, e.g. Catholic and independent schools, are over-funded and cause residualisation of government schools, particularly those with disadvantaged students, is incorrect. He cites the simple fact that non-government schools receive significantly less public funding than government schools. For example, the below graph shows the relative expenditure across the two sectors and highlights the disparate nature of the level of public funding.

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Retrieved from tinyurl.com/jdbben8 on 31 May 2016

Dr. Donelly also decries the claim that private schools only achieve strong learning outcomes comparative to public schools because they take the best students, noting that public schools are not truly open to all. This is a valid point to make as there is a range of public schools, particularly secondary school, which are selective based on academic results, requiring a certain academic ability for enrolment into those schools, often requiring prospective students to sit an entrance exam. Additionally, Dr. Donnelly notes that many public schools are situated in suburbs which are classed as high socio-economic areas (SES) and are therefore unaffordable for many people. Linked to both arguments, Dr. Donnelly notes that the socio-economic status of a student’s family is only ten to eighteen percent of the overall factors influencing learning outcomes.

I have noted in previous articles the recent discussions that have appeared in the media regarding teacher quality, and admission to and the quality of, initial teacher education (ITE) programs. Dr. Donnelly’s views on this are somewhat similar to Dr. Zyngier’s views. Dr. Donnelly cites Parsi Sahlberg (@pasi_sahlberg), a Finnish educational researcher who found that although half of the first-year ITE students are drawn from the fifty-one to eighty percent range, rendering the argument that pre-service teachers should be drawn from the academic top thirty percent, invalid. Sahlberg has also commented that “a good step forward would be to admit that the academically best students are not necessarily the best teachers.” Dr. Donnelly also notes a 2012 submission to a Commonwealth inquiry into teacher education by Professor Geoff Masters, who commented that restricting entry to ITE programs to top academic students “…is a blunt approach to improving the selection of teachers and falls well short of international best practice.”

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Findings from Section 2.2.3 of Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers.

In addition to discussing the prospect of restricting pre-service teachers to those with the top academic results, I asked Dr. Donnelly for his views about a different method of raising the expectations of ITE programs. In Finland, ITE programs are delivered at Masters level, rather than Undergraduate level here in Australia. He explained that research conducted by Andrew Leigh into effective teaching showed that holding a Masters degree does not necessarily equate to being an effective teacher, which seems to be consistent with Pas Sahlberg’s comment mentioned, regarding the fact that there is not a causal link between the academically best teachers and the most effective teachers.

Dr. Donnelly points to Pasi Sahlberg’s findings that a teacher’s commitment and ability to engage and motivate students, along with their communication skills and, of course, subject knowledge are more influential factors in identifying effective teachers. He also points to findings in the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group report, Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers, that the level of the degree, Bachelor or Masters, is not particularly important. What is important is the quality of the ITE program and whether trainee teachers have been properly prepared and are ready to begin teaching in a class on their own. I have written previously about my own ITE program, and I would agree that there is scope for improvement

After discussing the subject of ITE, the interview turned to Finland and our relationship and seeming obsession with modelling the Finnish educational model. Dr. Zyngier is critical of this obsession, noting that Finland’s results in PISA and TIMSS have been falling in recent years. Dr. Donnelly is also critical of the way that educationalists jump on the bandwagon of whichever country is generating the best results in international testing, which has moved between Singapore, Sweden, Finland and is currently Shanghai, particularly given that Finland’s results have been falling as shown in the below images from Trends in the Performance of the Top Performers on PISA 2003-Pisa 2012.

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The above image shows that the number of Finnish students performing in the lower levels of PISA mathematics tests has increased significantly. Makes sense, therefore, that the number of Finnish students at the top end has fallen in the same period.

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Dr. Donnelly, after acknowledging Finland’s falling results in recent instances of PISA, notes that translating educational characteristics of other countries can be very difficult due to the variation in contexts. This is an interesting comment, and one I look forward to hearing expanded upon further, particularly, I suspect in the presentation by Lila Mularczyk’ (@LilaMularczyk) on day two of Education Nation, where she is examining trends in international education policy and the translation to the Australian context. Dr. Donnelly reminds us that we can learn from international education systems, however, it needs to be evidence based.

Dr. Donnelly co-chaired the National Curriculum Review alongside Professor Kenneth Wiltshire. Given that the National Curriculum has not been implemented nationally I questioned whether or not a National Curriculum should have even been the goal for Australian education. Dr. Donnelly indicated that greater autonomy and flexibility at the local level, should have been the goal, not a one size fits all curriculum that has been torn apart and rebuilt to suit the needs of some states, and implemented as-is by others. Dr. Donnelly points out that under the Australian Constitution, the government does not have a responsibility for school education. Dr. Donnelly believes that “…we should abide by the fact that we have a federal system where all roads do not lead to Canberra.

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Social media is playing an increasingly important role in the professional learning of teachers around the world. It is free, available at any time and on any range of topics, providing an alternative to the often expensive and/or boring and untargeted professional development sessions that teachers’ typically receive. Dr. Donnelly’s view is that whilst social media has a place, there is no substitute for providing teachers, particularly new-career teachers, with time to learn on the job, receive mentoring, and the time and ability to effectively reflect on and evaluate their own practice.

I asked Dr. Donnelly was his advice to early-career teachers that would help them avoid joining the forty percent of new teachers who are shown to leave the profession within their first five years. His advice was straightforward, yet challenging to implement:

Beware of education fads and do not be drowned in the bureaucratic and the time consuming micromanagement that is being forced on schools. Also, understand that student misbehaviour is on the increase and that a lot of students, especially at the primary school level, are unable to sit still, focus and concentrate for an extended period of time. Most importantly, realise and appreciate that being with young people is a great honour and responsibility, as there is noting more important than teaching – except being a parent.

-Dr. Kevin Donnelly.

When I interviewed Professor Masters early last month, I asked him about John Hattie’s comments regarding teachers as researchers and his sentiment was that it is unreasonable to expect teachers to be both highly trained and effective educators; and highly trained and effective educational researchers. It is reasonable, however, to expect teachers to be informed users of research evidence; evidence which should be a consideration for teachers when engaging in the informal research process of evaluative reflection upon their pedagogical practice.

I asked Dr. Donnelly for his views on Hattie’s comments, and he replied that the relationship between researchers in universities and ACER, and classroom teachers, has been fractured. Dr. Donnelly acknowledges that it has been some time since he has been a classroom teacher and that he would love to see the results of academic researchers in the classroom, attempting to implement the practices they promote in their research. He sees a strong connection between theory and practice and would argue that many teachers are capable of undertaking research, which would provide the benefit of the research being grounded in the realities of a classroom.

Dr. Donnelly presents some interesting arguments, and I very much look forward to hearing him speak in The Great Debate. Remember, you can submit your own questions for The Greate Debate by clicking here. If you have not yet registered for Education Nation then click here to register.

Education Nation | Considering the Program

Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) in June is through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.

Times listed in this article are correct at the time of publishing, but are subject to change.

It is interesting timing, sitting here composing this article, with Education Nation only a week away, considering that the topic for #satchatoz this past weekend was how [do] conferences help us grow professionally. I have been amazed at the response to both my interview with Professor Geoff Masters and the interview with Dr. David Zyngier. I am excited to announce that I have just received the interview with Dr. Kevin Donnelly, who is arguing the side of private education in The Great Debate against Dr. Zyngier. You can get involved with The Great Debate by submitting a question for the moderated questions from the floor component of the Debate by clicking here.

Today, however, I want to have a look at the programs for the various conference streams. There is a lot to be excited about on the program for Education Nation, making it difficult to choose a particular stream to be involved in. Of course, each stream has a particular focus and which you will choose will vary according to your context and your needs. I am in the position of being able to move between the event streams thanks to the media pass, and it made for some very difficult choices, as I wanted to engage with at least one session in each stream across the two days.

I have included a copy of the EduNationAu Timetable, which I have put together from the separate programs on the Education Nation website to allow for seeing what was happening at any time and it showed that the events do not necessarily line up in regards to timings for each session. I have chosen the sessions I will be attending according to a few criteria:

  1. Benefit for my own practice
  2. Interest in the topic or speaker
  3. Engaging with a session from each event stream

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The first session I plan to attend is in the Rethinking Reform stream, and will be my first opportunity to hear Brett Salakas (@Mrsalakas) speak. He will be exploring the subject of PISA and the growing fascination with the results and our place in relation to the other OECD member nations. It promises to provide an open and frank exploration of our current relationship with PISA pipe dreams and the cultural contexts involved. Following Brett’s session  was my first dilemma. Do I stay and listen to Professor Geoff Masters (@GMastersACER) identify and discuss the five most important challenges facing schools, or alternatively, head across to the Digital Dimensions stream to hear Simon McKenzie (@connectedtchr) identify if we have just made everything worse with the rollout of technology in schools, from both positive and negative perspectives. Simon’s session promises to be very intriguing and potentially controversial given the explosion of one-to-one and BYOD programs in recent years.

Both options are incredibly appealing, however, in the end, I decided to remain in my seat for Professor Masters’ session. Primarily due to time; both sessions are scheduled to commence at 0940, and though there is typically some fluidity in the actual timings at conferences, I wanted to avoid being that person who enters a room late and then proceeds to become the show as they attempt to find a seat, get there and then set up for the session. I look forward to reading the tweets stemming from Simon’s session, and please, if you write a blog article from that session (or any other), send me the link so that we can re-share it with the wider Education Nation PLN.

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After the morning break, I plan to spend the entire second session engaging with one of the deep-dive workshops, The Leader. Specifically, I will be attending the session which examines strategies for bridging the gap when policy and practice diverge, presented by Peter Mader (@Mader_Peter). It is an interesting area to explore, and also a common problem. Educational policy is typically slow to respond to new information and requirements, particularly when it is required to run the gamut of a bureaucracy.

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Michael’s session finished and provides me with a ten-minute window to move across to my next session, hearing from Ed Cutherbertson and Prue Gill (@Ed_Cuthbertson and @Prue_G) of Lanyon High School share strategies that teachers are able to utilise in their classroom to provide their students with voice and agency, allowing them to feel valued, and encouraging students to become active participants in their own learning. This session is a lengthy one, which gives me that it will provide a wide range of strategies to assist teachers in building those relationships, in providing the voice and agency to their students. Student voice and agency has been a topic of discussion more and more on social media and there is a body of research building around this issue.

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Following the afternoon break, my first choice, actually, it was the first thing I marked down as wanting to attend, is The Great Debate between Dr. David Zyngier (@DZyngier) and Dr. Kevin Donnelly (@ESIAustralia). The debate surrounding public versus private education is a hot one, and both sides have some excellent arguments. I have not heard the two sides facing off in a debate before, and this is sure to be interesting and fiery. I have already published my interview with Dr. Zyngier and tomorrow I aim to publish the interview with Dr. Donnelly. Dr. Donnelly is well known in the media for his provocative statements, and I look forward to engaging with his responses, and to hearing the feedback on the article.

Do not forget to submit your questions about public education versus private education. There is still time!

Though my choices for the final session of day one of Education Nation were guided by The Great Debate, I am genuinely interested in hearing what Teresa Deshon has to say about the role of the pastoral curriculum in her case study; People of Character – Your Best Self. The academic curriculum takes the majority of our teaching time and Teresa’s question, “…[b]ut what of the pastoral curriculum?” is an excellent one. I am looking forward to hearing the strategies that Teresa and her colleagues have employed to change the focus  to the pastoral curriculum, and still maintained the academic curriculum learning outcomes for their students.

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At the end of day one of Education Nation, I will be attending the live #AussieEd event at Kirribilli Club (view map), tickets to which are still available. It will be my first AussieEd event, and am looking forward to it.

Day two begins bright and early, and pending Ministerial commitments, will begin for those in the Rethinking Reform forum, with an Address and Question and Answer session with the incumbent Federal Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham (@birmo). I requested a pre-Education Nation interview with Minister Birmingham, which was accepted, however, with the announcement of the impending Federal election made shortly thereafter, I daresay I ended up down the priority list as neither myself nor my speaker liaison heard back regarding the interview. I am very curious to hear about his views on the future of education in Australia, as well as what questions from the floor will be accepted and how they will be answered.

The timing of Minister Birmingham’s address meant that I am unable to attend any other event streams in the morning session as I would be arriving midway through, which is never pleasant. That said, Lila Mularczyk’s (@LilaMularczyk) subsequent presentation  examining trends in education policy and the translation to the Australian context will be very interesting. I feel that this session will follow on nicely from Brett Salakas’ day one keynote address. Both keynotes will be examining the Australian relationship with global educational systems, from slightly different perspectives. I look forward to seeing what crossover conclusions the two share.

I will be spending a significant portion of day two in the Rethinking Reform session, as returning from the morning will see me settling in for two sessions which I suspect will provide a lot of food for thought. Murat Dizdar will commence the session with an examination of how some schools in the NSW public education system are adopting the national education reform platform a discussion of the operational lessons that can be taken from those schools.

Following on from Murat, is Dr. Kenneth Wiltshire, presenting an exploration of the future of curriculum in Australia. Dr. Wiltshire is not likely to hold back, having been openly critical of the national curriculum and the process through which it has been developed. Dr. Wiltshire lays blame on the doorstep of ACARA itself, specifically the structure and functioning, labelling it a largely discredited body within education circles. I am very much looking forward to hearing him speak. As an early career teacher, the future of the curriculum is a rather important topic for me and my students, both now and in the future.

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After Dr. Wiltshire’s presentation, I plan to take some time out. His speech will finish at roughly the same time as the concurrent sessions from The Leader, The Learner, and The Educator, and with all due respect to Phillip Cooke (@sailpip), who is presenting immediately after Dr. Wiltshire; a discussion of the HSC and how it prepares students for life after school is not in my area of interest at the moment. I believe that I would gain more benefit from taking some time to refresh my brain, to re-engage with my notes, get some writing done, explore The Playground and network and meet up with some educators that I have chatted with on Twitter in the past.

Following the lunch break, I will have the opportunity to hear Olivia O’Neil speak in the Digital Dimensions forum about redeveloping a school by engaging the emerging Gen Y teachers. I am looking forward to hearing Olivia speak, as I know a lot of what has been occurring at the school she is Principal of, Brighton Secondary College from conversations with Jeremy LeCornu (@MrLeCornu), whom I heard speak originally at FlipConAus last year. I am looking forward to hearing about a journey of which I already know a little bit from the perspective of the Principal, and the challenges that were faced from that vantage point and how they were dealt with.

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I plan to remain in the Digital Dimensions forum to hear Leanne Steed and Elizabeth Amvrazis as they examine the purpose of education through a lens of technology-laden classrooms and the way in which technology can empower our students.

I will then be moving back to the Rethinking Reform forum to hear someone whom I admire greatly, Corinne Campbell (@Corisel) as she speaks about the relationship between the focus on using evidence-based pedagogies and the feeling of empowerment or disempowerment by teachers. Evidence-based pedagogies are another hot topic (I quite enjoy reading Greg Ashman’s (@greg_ashman) articles in this area). If the discussions about performance-based pay for teachers come to fruition, it will be an issue of even greater importance, and make the difference, perhaps, between teachers keeping and losing their positions.

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The final Education Nation session on my agenda is part of The Educator stream, and I have chosen it specifically as it is a presentation on a topic that I am not still somewhat skeptical about. The Hewes family will be closing out The Educator with a workshop giving deeper insight into Project Based Learning (PBL). The workshop is slated to allow participants to design a PBL project, ostensibly, I presume, to take back to our classroom and implement. I am not entirely sure why I am skeptical about PBL. I suspect that a lot of it is most likely misconceptions, and I have heard some local horror stories about PBL gone wrong. That said, I am looking forward to engaging with this workshop, and hopefully coming away with a new understanding and appreciation for PBL and its place in my pedagogical toolkit.

That, as I mentioned, is the final session for Education Nation 2016. I am very much looking forward to the two days and fully expect that I will need the ensuing few days to recover mentally. What are your expected highlights for the event? Let me know via Twitter using #EduNationAu which will be the main event hashtag. As always, thank you for reading, and stay tuned tomorrow for the interview with Dr. Kevin Donnelly.