Friday, 16 March 2018

US is literally becoming generationally less educated.

School districts staring down deep budget holes have turned to shorter weeks in desperation as a way to save a little bit of money and persuade increasingly hard-to-find teachers to take some of the nation’s lowest-paying jobs.

Of 513 school districts in Oklahoma, 96 have lopped Fridays or Mondays off their schedules — nearly triple the number in 2015 and four times as many as in 2013. An additional 44 are considering cutting instructional days by moving to a four-day week in the fall or by shortening the school year, the Oklahoma State School Boards Association found in a survey last month.
That was from April...there's now over 200 schools in that state on 4 day weeks.

Oklahoma is not the only state where more students are getting three-day weekends, a concept that dates to the 1930s. The number is climbing slowly across broad swaths of the rural big-sky West, driven by a combination of austere budgets, fuel-guzzling bus rides and teacher shortages

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

NAPLAN plods along.

A new report says that 10 years of data from the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) and from international tests show Australia's students are not improving in literacy or numeracy.

Individual schools' NAPLAN results are published today on the My School website, but school principals are questioning the value of NAPLAN.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Formative Assessment

Classroom assessment is a chance for teachers to put their creative and evaluative skills to the test. The structure and content of classroom assessments are entirely up to you. However, if you’re unsure of where to start, there are some precedents you could follow. We’ve got articles on them all, but to start, we’ll take a look at formative assessments.

Formative assessment occurs during a learning situation. For example, while reading a short story, a teacher might want to check for understanding by asking questions focused on the topic of concern. Formative assessment implies ongoing communication between the teacher and students, in the form of observations, questioning, and discussions. These interactions provide valuable feedback about students’ communication skills, social skills, and level of achievement. Classroom interactions are rich sources of information, and certain techniques can help make the most of these opportunities for assessment.

Checking for understanding during the presentation of a topic will allow you to get an impression of your students’ grasp of the matter at hand and to avoid long explanations at the end of the session. Close monitoring during written activities, whether in individual, paired, or group work, will foster the students’ confidence in completing the task, and this will also be a helpful tool in assessing whether any changes or extra explanations need to be done. In addition to checking understanding and levels of knowledge, teachers should focus on students’ attitudes, feelings, and interests. Surveys can be an effective means of assessing student attitudes.

Monitoring provides the information needed to adjust teaching and learning while they are happening. It helps teachers make informed decisions and become aware of the extent to which students are learning what is being taught and whether the methods they are using are fostering or discouraging learning.

Formative assessment is the assessment of students’ progress toward a goal, conducted at regular intervals, with the teacher issuing feedback to help to improve the students’ academic achievement. To carry out a formative assessment, you might want to ask open-ended questions and check your students’ understanding of the task. Some students will be eager to answer, while others will choose not to speak in front of their peers. This can result in the same students responding to every teacher query during class discussions. If this is the case, you might want to direct your questions to particular students to foster commitment. Remember that their reticence may be due to lack of understanding, or simply a lack of confidence in speaking in front of their peers. Rephrasing the question or asking another student for assistance can be helpful.

A different approach to formative assessment is giving anonymous written tests, such as quizzes, which give the teacher a notion of the group’s understanding of what is being taught. It is important to keep records of formative assessment and include them in planning; this will allow you to analyze student progress through a grading period. Assessments must have a clear focus and reflect the content and methods the teacher has been using. In other words, the assessment should respond to the questions what, why, and how. The first thing teachers must do is to properly answer the questions themselves. There is no point in assessing when the purpose and the content are not clearly defined from the very beginning, just as there would be no point in testing students on a topic they have never explored.

Some of the top formative assessment strategies that could be carried out in class are:

1. Sharing Goals and Criteria

As mentioned, the more teachers make students a part of their learning process, the more they will engage with class work, because they will consider it to be meaningful. To have a successful year and achieve your objectives for your students, you should share your evaluating criteria and goals for the year with other teachers. Using examples of what behaviors will and will not be tolerated can also prove highly effective.

2. Observation

Teachers use observation to determine whether students need clarification. Making yourself available for consultation by walking around the class will help avoid disruptive behavior and will provide all students—not just the ones who are confident enough to ask a question in class—with necessary information. Observation also helps teachers to make any necessary modifications in lesson plans. Instant feedback generates an environment of communication and trust, where students are allowed to ask for help and feel that the teacher is not bothered by their lack of understanding.

3. Questioning

Teachers can use questions, in the form of a quiz, in place of a verbal review, after introducing a new topic in class. This type of strategy elicits immediate information about what students know related to the material being presented. Questions also foster critical thinking and debating, which in turn serve as prompts for speaking in class and help with fluency.

4. Checks for Understanding

These actions are a chance to survey if students are following your explanations. Examples of this type of assessment include:

  • Asking open-ended questions
  • Asking students to provide examples, either oral or written
  • Asking students to identify the pattern that is being taught (signaling with thumbs up or 
down, saying yes or no, holding up response cards, etc.)

Asking one of the students to explain it to the rest of the class. 
Teachers can either monitor one student at a time or all students at once, depending on the traits of the group, the time available, and the size of the group. Bear in mind that, for the assessment to be effective, all students should have an opportunity to produce their own answers without being prompted by others. Only by giving their own answers will they experience the learning process.

5. Self-Assessment and Peer Assessment

This formative assessment strategy helps build bonds among students and provides individual students with an understanding of their learning process (metacognitive thinking).

6. Record Keeping

Making students keep a record of their grades gives them ownership of their learning process. They will be able to understand where they are and where they should be in relation to classroom goals.

7. Supervised and Extended Practice

Another way to carry out consistent monitoring is to prepare extended practice worksheets to reinforce what has been explained and checked. These activities could either be designed for completion in the classroom or given as homework.

Remember, each student is an individual. As you learn about each of your students, you can tailor your instruction. This will ensure that all students have opportunities to learn and to demonstrate what they know.

Monday, 5 March 2018

We don’t need more chaplains!

A push is on within the federal government to renew, and significantly boost, the "absolutely essential" school chaplaincy program in this year's budget.

Fairfax Media has learnt dozens of Liberal MPs are lobbying senior ministers to increase funding for the $250 million scheme by 25 per cent, and make it a permanent, indexed commitment.

The controversial initiative to insert religious chaplains into state schools - twice ruled invalid by the High Court - was introduced by John Howard, amended but continued under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, and cemented by Tony Abbott in the 2014 budget.

That budget committed more than $60 million a year to the project, affording an allowance of a religious chaplain to provide pastoral care and guidance for students.

Unions, psychologists and academics have called for the program to be scrapped on the grounds it excludes secular youth workers and risks chaplains crossing a line into proselytising. Funding for the chaplains program runs out this year, unless it is reinstated in the May budget.

But Queensland Liberal/National Party MP Luke Howarth has recruited the support of at least 30 colleagues in a petition to Treasurer Scott Morrison and Education Minister Simon Birmingham calling for the program to be not just maintained but significantly expanded and indexed.

The petition, which was circulating among Coalition MPs last Thursday, calls for a 25 per cent increase in funding for the National School Chaplaincy Program to $25,000 per school. It is understood 30 MPs have put their names to the demands so far, including Queensland independent Bob Katter.

"It's absolutely essential that it’s refunded and the good work of chaplains continues in over 3000 schools around the country," Mr Howarth told Fairfax Media.

"This is very much needed and it has the support of a lot of colleagues in the Coalition ranks from all different states and all different groups and all different classes."

Mr Howarth did not believe the program was seriously under threat but was mindful of the pressure to balance the budget. "You just don’t want to take these things for granted," he said. "I believe it should be made permanent."

Another signatory to the petition, West Australian Liberal MP Ian Goodenough, said the lack of certainty around the program meant "at the last minute, the chaplains get a bit worried about their employment security".

One Liberal MP, who had not seen the petition, said the school chaplains program was "probably the most popular policy in the party room" and it was extremely unlikely to be axed. However, some Liberals refused to sign the petition when asked by Mr Howarth on Thursday.

The voluntary initiative is particularly popular in Queensland, where most state schools employ a religious "chappy". Schools in remote areas are eligible for an additional $4000 a year.

Peter James, spokesman for the National School Chaplaincy Association, confirmed the organisation had asked for a 25 per cent increase in a confidential pre-budget submission.

"We've had $20,000 a year since 2007 and any increase we can get in that would mean we can provide even more services in schools that need it most," he told Fairfax Media.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham said he had "heard a whisper" about the petition but no decisions had been made. "Chaplains will be considered through the budget process," he said.

Labor senator Louise Pratt, who has been outspoken in her opposition to the program in the past, said: "There's an urgent need for youth workers with professional qualifications in our schools
and that would be a much better priority for the government."
In government, Labor opened up the program to include secular youth workers, but this option was eradicated under Mr Abbott.

On Friday, Fairfax Media reported the NSW Department of Education was investigating a potential policy breach at Maclean High School in the state's north after "horrified" parents complained their children were being placed into scripture classes against their wishes.

From the SMH

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Good on ya Dolly

Dolly Parton joined “Good Morning America” earlier today to discuss her special appearance in Washington, D.C., Tuesday where she celebrated a huge milestone for her book-giving literacy program and launched a new venture with the nation’s largest library.

“It makes me feel proud of who I am, where I'm from and the fact that I am in a position to help people and especially the kids,” Parton said of the milestone for her nonprofit, Imagination Library. “It's so important to me because if you can teach children to read they can dream and if you dream you can be successful.”

Alongside Carla Hayden, who heads the Library of Congress, the iconic country singer dedicated the 100 millionth book from her Imagination Library to the research library. Through the nonprofit, she has been donating millions of books to children for more than 20 years.

Parton also helped kick off a new initiative between the Imagination Library and the Library of Congress, in which a book will be read during a live-stream and shared with libraries across the U.S.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Wealth and privilege on display.

While state school struggle.....we have this!

A $25 million library designed to look like a Scottish castle, an orchestra pit and a chapel nestled into nearby bushland are just some of the new features planned for Sydney's elite private schools, despite complaints from neighbouring residents and local councils.

Seven schools are planning to spend a combined total of more than $365 million on new facilities and school redevelopments, an analysis of development applications currently waiting for approval from the NSW Department of Planning and Environment has revealed.

A rendering for Scots College's proposed $25 million new library by JCA Architects. 

Scots College in Sydney's east has submitted plans for a $25.1 million major upgrade of its library building, including a "complete recladding of the exterior in a Scottish Baronial architectural style" complete with castellations, a tower, a turret, and "grand bay windows".

Loreto Kirribilli has submitted plans for a $103.3 million staged redeveloment of the school, including a new five-storey "innovation centre", outdoor rooftop learning terraces and two "vertical connection pods".

Cranbrook's $75 million redevelopment plan includes a new aquatic recreation centre, a drama theatre, "teaching terraces" and a new academic and liberal arts facility, while SCEGGS Darlinghurst's $48.7 million plan includes a new six-storey "multi-purpose building", possibly with new swimming facilities.

St Catherine's School has submitted modifications to its previously approved $62.5 million redevelopment, which still includes an orchestra pit, a ballet studio, a playbox theatre and a new aquatic centre.

St Aloysius' College is also planning a major redevelopment, including a new sports facility and extensions of its great hall, chapel and existing learning facilities. The plan does not provide an exact value but will cost over $30 million.

Loreto Normanhurst is planning to construct a number of new buildings and a "bush chapel" and increase its student cap from 1150 students to 2000, with costs expected to exceed $20 million.

The school's principal Barbara Watkins said the projected student increase "is in line with the expected growth in demographics in schools over the next 30 years" and that the school funds its physical site through loans, fees and fundraising.

"Government funding goes directly to the educational needs of our students alone," Ms Watkins said.

Associate professor in the school of education and social work at the University of Sydney, Helen Proctor, said the top private schools often become "caught in a bit of a cycle".

"It becomes an arms race where those schools are charging very high fees and they feel like parents want something very visible for those fees, they want the state-of-the-art sports stadium, library and performance centre," Dr Proctor said.

"It would be difficult to find a top school that doesn't have a current building project.

"It's hard to imagine what more they need. It does seem extraordinary that those very top schools would need government funding."

Two of the schools with planned redevelopments were revealed as being among the most overfunded private schools in the country.

Loreto Kirribilli last year received federal government funding equivalent to 196 per cent of its appropriate level, as calculated under the Gonski Schooling Resource Standard (SRS), and St Aloysius' was funded at 183 per cent of its SRS.

Sydney's high-fee private schools raised fees by up to 5 per cent this year and SCEGGS and Cranbrook are currently two of the most expensive, with annual fees rising to more than $37,200 for year 12 students this year.

The combined price tag for the seven schools' planned developments is close to the $390 million allocated by the NSW government last year to address an enormous maintenance backlog across the state's 2100 public schools.

A number of the plans have been met with concerns from local residents and councils over ongoing traffic issues in areas surrounding the schools.

A spokeswoman for Woollahra Council said it has raised concerns about "ongoing parking problems and traffic congestion" with Scots College, and has refused a previous development application by the school due to traffic issues.

Similar traffic congestion issues have also been raised by local residents and local councils in relation to the submissions by SCEGGS, Loreto Kirribilli and Loreto Normanhurst.

Two letters of opposition from local residents to Loreto Kirribilli's planned redevelopment said nearby streets are "gridlocked" in the mornings and afternoons, and residents and North Sydney Council told the Department of Planning that the school should be required to build dedicated pick-up and drop-off areas on its grounds.

Loreto Kirribilli, Scots College and SCEGGS did not respond to questions by deadline.

Teachers speak out about Guy

When Victorian Opposition leader Matthew Guy tries to whip up a moral panic about the state of our education system it is only so he can propose kicking it further down an authoritarian path.

The Victorian Liberal-Nationals School Education Values Statement released last month points to the stagnation of literacy and numeracy test results as evidence of the breakdown of "discipline", "teaching the basics" and "instilling sound values".

Mr Guy's draconian plans – which include installing police in our 10 most "high-risk" schools, abolishing the Safe Schools program, pumping up parochial Australian nationalism and stamping out celebration of diversity in the curriculum – are bound to have a devastating impact on the educational opportunities of our most disadvantaged and marginalised students.

But if Mr Guy's fear mongering about falling standards touches a nerve for some, it is because we really do have good cause to be worried about our education system.

The Australian Education Union's response to the Coalition's statement, published in The Age, gets it right when it champions the great work teachers and support staff can do when they are adequately funded and trusted. However, as teachers currently working in schools, we were disappointed by the failure of the AEU to address the reasons why this trust and support for teachers is rapidly disintegrating.

The plateauing NAPLAN results Mr Guy refers to are a reflection of a much deeper crisis in our schools, the cause of which remains both Liberal and Labor policy – the thoroughly discredited market-based model of education – which research suggests has been a key factor in the recent flatlining of student results.

Mr Guy claims billions of government dollars spent over the last 15 to 20 years have done nothing to improve educational standards. Frankly, many teachers would agree, although not for the reasons that Mr Guy suggests.

In the first place, public schools have not seen the majority of funding increases. Between 2006-07 and 2015-16 government funding to public schools increased by around 23 per cent. In the same period, government spending on private schools increased by 42 per cent.

Victoria's education reforms are bearing fruit

This madness is justified as governments supporting parent choice in the marketplace of educational options.

The Liberals' not-so-invisible hand reached peak corruption last year when the Turnbull government legislated to federally fund 80 per cent of private schools' basic needs (regardless of their capacity to charge fees many times this amount), while funding only 20 per cent of government schools' basic needs.

But the problem of marketisation runs deeper. Public schools have been set in competition not just with private schools, but also with each other.

We have had nearly 10 years of Labor's MySchool website, which encourages parents to play the school system like the stock market. Low scores are punished with low enrolments, as privileged families flock to high-performing schools, and the least socially mobile remain at schools with the least resources to support them.

As a result, when public schools in Victoria have received meagre funding increases, these are too often wasted on programs that principals think will boost scores and reputation – even if they undermine real learning. Despite plenty of evidence that streaming actually reduces student achievement, select-entry programs are breaking out like algae plagues around the state. As are uniform policies that mimic private schools in pettiness and pricing.

There are so many commercial consultants offering to sell schools magic-bullet strategies for lifting literacy and numeracy results that the Department of Education and Training has developed a "preferred suppliers list" to help principals choose between them.

These data merchants are wreaking educational havoc; their trade relies on principals remaining in perpetual suspicion of teachers' competence. "Coaches" at my school are interrupting excellent teachers in front of their classes, mid lesson, to tell them they aren't implementing the right strategy for the moment.

Teachers across Victoria's public schools waste hours and hours of precious preparation time reformatting lesson and unit documents to fit each new guru's formula – only for the model to be replaced at the behest of the next guru. And whoever the consultant is, teachers are encouraged to see their students as data points on an array of commercial, internal and external tests.

Education market ideologues such as Matthew Guy (and sadly, Labor's James Merlino) are hostile to funding preparation time for teachers to plan to the individual needs of their students, and craft bespoke lessons to engage and challenge everyone.

The kind of education that starts with the students, not the test, is particularly terrifying to conservatives like Mr Guy. He is so disturbed that teachers could tell our students that LGBTIQ people and same-sex attraction are nothing to fear that he would axe the Safe Schools anti-bullying program.

He is so petrified of students learning that Indigenous and non-"Western" people have profoundly shaped our world that he would cut non-compulsory curriculum references to them. What a nightmare for Mr Guy, that we might teach students that literacy and mathematics are powerful tools for understanding and changing society; he would rather we keep our eyes on the "basics", i.e. test scores

Smokescreen fails to hide who's really to blame for education cuts

The apex of Mr Guy's fearful vision is his call for police in schools. It suits his agenda perfectly to stigmatise and threaten young people who are being fleeced of a world-class education, rather than rethink the marketised mess that is leaving teachers and students demoralised and angry.

Teachers are appalled by the Liberals scapegoating our most disadvantaged students. But in order to truly defend them, we must also fight to stop the marketisation of our schools. We must demand that Labor breaks with MySchool and NAPLAN and starts funding a public education system that trusts and resources teachers.