Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Local schools

If Glen Park had all the 'local enrolments' we were entitled too we would be much bigger. Sadly my 'colleagues' in nearby schools are not as scrupulous as Colin Simpson is at Richmond. 

From Henny Cook of the Age

Excitement about the new Richmond High School has spread all the way to Ringwood and Box Hill.

But principal Colin Simpson has been upfront with out-of-area parents inquiring about enrolments.

“I’ve told them, ‘my school isn't set up to attract people from other places’," he said.

The 57-year-old is on a mission to make Victoria's first vertical state high school the school of choice 

“If we were like Finland, and every child just went to their local fantastic school, what would that change here in Melbourne?” he said.

"I want this to be a really amazing school for people in the neighbourhood."

Next week, 76 students in the inaugural year 7 class will pour into the school’s sleek new campus, which rose above a car park behind Richmond Town Hall in just nine months.

Its second campus, a four-storey academic building, will open the following year.

The opening of the $43 million school follows a long-running campaign by locals, many of whom are still reeling from the former Kennett government’s decision to close down the former Richmond High in 1992. 

Two years later, the old Richmond High site was transformed into the popular Melbourne Girls' Secondary College. Until now, boys in the area have been forced to travel to Auburn High in Hawthorn, Collingwood College or Kew High. 

In an interesting twist, Mr Simpson attended the original Richmond High in the '70s.

“I was one of those kids from a working class family, I had no prospects really,” he said.

“My teachers gave me a sense of what an education can give you.”

Mr Simpson has worked in state and private schools and was recently the principal of the high-performing Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School.

One thing he learnt during his 16 years at Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School was the importance of the arts.

“International research shows that if schools value the arts, l think that has a direct benefit in literacy and numeracy,” he said.

“That’s what I want to do here, all the curriculum areas in this school are equal, there is no hierarchy.”

Asher Claney said his family have been waiting for a high school in Richmond for a very long time.

“It came along at just the right time,” the 12-year-old said.

He said he was attracted to the school because it was new, modern and made him feel welcome.

Richmond MP Richard Wynne is particularly impressed with the school’s opt-in Chinese program, which will teach students humanities subjects in Mandarin.

This will create links to the nearby Richmond West Primary and Abbotsford Primary, which run bilingual Chinese programs.

“It's an extraordinary opportunity," he said.

It was this program that attracted Alex Griffin to the school.

The 12-year-old, who wants to be a lawyer, has been studying Mandarin since grade 2.

“I like the language and the culture,” she said. 

"I'm looking forward to making new friends."

Richmond High is among 11 new state schools that will open in Victoria this year.

As the state grapples with an enrolment boom, it's hoped that the new Bridgewood Primary School, Edgars Creek Secondary College, South Melbourne Primary School, Torquay Coast Primary School, Beaumaris Secondary College, Tarneit Rise Primary School, Hamlyn Views School, Bannockburn P-12 College, Armstrong Creek School and Springside West Secondary College help ease some of the pressure.

In 2018, approximately 972,700 students will attend a Victorian state, Catholic or independent school. This will grow to one million students by 2020.

The Catholic sector will open five new primary schools this year in Torquay North, Bannockburn, Wallan East, Craigieburn West and Cowes on Phillip Island.

There are no new independent schools opening this year.

Principal class association update.

Welcome to the 2018 school year. Hopefully you are well rested and have had an enjoyable start to the week, planning for the school year ahead with your colleagues and meeting your students. This year will provide us with even more opportunities to campaign for public education, with a state election scheduled for 24 November and the strong possibility of a federal election too.

We need you as school leaders to be involved and active in our campaigns to ensure public education is the number one issue for voters and politicians.

We must campaign to ensure our schools and students are properly funded, with that funding based on student need. We must also campaign to ensure the right policies and programs are in place, with principals, teachers and support staff able to access the resources they need so each student can reach their full potential. Our campaigning needs to engage parents and the broader school community so these key elements of a high quality public education system are ‘front of mind’ when voters are deciding who to support when they enter polling booths.

You may have seen the ‘School Education Values Statement’ released by Victorian Liberal opposition leader Matthew Guy last week. Among other things, the statement commits a future Liberal/National state government to a review of the Victorian curriculum to ensure 'Australian values' are taught, abandoning the Safe Schools resource, ‘rewards’ for our ‘best teachers’ (aka performance pay), and 'greater school autonomy'.

It's unfortunate that Matthew Guy thinks the only path to getting elected is to confect some kind of values war and rekindle attempts to introduce failed policies of the past which will divide staff and schools. Staff in our schools are among the best in the world, our curriculum is robust and our results speak for themselves. You and your teachers teach values every day. The statement seems to have been prepared without any consultation with principals, teachers and support staff, and bears little resemblance to the kinds of support and policies that members and students need.

On Monday, he announced he would introduce a mandatory phonics test for all Year 1 students. I'm sure you, as school leaders, agree we don’t need more testing in our schools. Principals and teachers need to have their professional judgement respected and be provided with the resources they need to support the learning of all students no matter their needs in the classroom.

Matthew Guy must come clean about his intentions for funding public schools if he is elected – we remember the last Liberal/National government, in which he was a senior minister, where hundreds of millions of dollars were cut from public education between 2010-2014, leaving schools without the resources they need to best support the learning of all students.

We are continuing to pursue your workload issues through the AEU-DET Principal Workload Working Group, with out next meeting scheduled for 9 February. We are hopeful that the department will soon move on some of the issues we raised last year in the negotiations for the VGSA 2017 and through the working party, including greater support for development of school policies and a process to prevent principals from being overwhelmed by requests for action by various parts of the department. The process would be aimed to address the volume of the work and the sequencing of the requests.

The start of the year is busy, but it is a great time to recruit colleagues to the AEU. Please take the opportunity to talk to other principal class officers and encourage them to join the AEU if they are not already a member. We have also asked each sub-branch representative to speak with their principal about ensuring they are provided with the opportunity to be involved in the induction process for new staff, as required by the VGSA 2017. See more detail in the article 'New staff induction and the role of AEU reps' below.

Finally, many AEU sub-branches do outstanding work in supporting members in the workplace. In 2018, we want to acknowledge and celebrate this work through the Sub-Branch of the Year award. To nominate your sub-branch, click here.


Justin Mullaly
Deputy President, AEU Victoria

Sunday, 28 January 2018

A Principal’s perspective

I don’t agree with everything in this piece but it’s well written and well intentioned.

The Victorian State Education System…from the inside out and the outside in

As teachers in Australia prepare for students to return for the start of another year, I sit in my new work attire of T-shirt, short and thongs, contemplating my 25 years as an educator and in particular my last 13 years with the Victorian Department of Education as Assistant Principal of Gisborne Secondary College and perhaps more notably the last eight as Principal of Templestowe College.

I am certainly not finished with education, indeed, I am more passionate than ever about contributing to build a more equitable, relevant and inspiring education system, and in my mind at least, this is most likely to be achieved through empowering students to Take Control of their own education. But more on that another time.

My thoughts today go towards my relationship with the Victorian Department of Education and Training (DET). 

Establishing and leading one of the most progressive and innovative schools in Australia, and if the Finnish based HundrED organisation are to be believed, one of the most innovative in the world, I have often been asked what is my relationship with the DET. I suspect most people think it has been a fractious and difficult one, but like most relationships, ours is a complex one. People who have worked, or been involved with the Victorian DET will have their own take on this, but this is my experience.

Whilst I attended Amstel State Primary school in Clayton, Victoria, which is now a housing estate, and completed a three week round at Berwick High School during my teacher training, these were my only real experiences of the State System. Six years of Independent school education and the first 12 years of teaching and leading in traditional independent schools had made me somewhat elitist, and I was largely oblivious and ambivalent towards “The State Sector”. I knew it existed, but I am now ashamed to say I didn’t really think that good education or good teaching happened there. The exception to this perception was the select entry high schools, the staff of which also seemed to consider themselves somewhat “independent” and moved easily between systems.

I confess I entered the State System for purely pragmatic reasons, largely because I needed a job, having been unfairly dismissed from my first headship of the now defunct Macedon Grammar. What a true joy it has been to see education luminary and renowned author, John Marsden, create such a positive learning environment at the new Alice Millar School on this great bushland site. At the time I was up for a new challenge and keen to recover from my wounds in an environment I enjoyed….the classroom. 

My first impression of the State System was “Wow!” These guys had far stronger professional development programs, and educational theory than I had ever seen in the Independent System. It was in the days of Daryl Fraser, the Deputy Secretary of DET who later fell from grace, but at the time had legendary, almost god-like status within the department. The DET under Daryl’s leadership wanted teaching to move from a craft/vocation to a profession. We were told we needed a pedagogical basis for what we did. Who even knew this word existed back then! He exposed teachers and leaders to educators like Professor Yong Zhao and Professor Richard Elmore. I had previously only read about their work, but here we were meeting these visionaries in the flesh. It seemed like there was far, far greater money available for staff PD and improving professional practice was taken far more seriously. We were actively encouraged to look at what was happening in education in other parts of the world, we were even paid to go and take a look for ourselves. I was on a steep learning curve. The DET under Daryl’s leadership was a dynamic and exciting organisation and Victorian State Education seemed like THE place to be.

Closer to home I saw a real dichotomy amongst the staff at my school. Some of the finest and committed educators I have met, but some highly paid and experienced teachers, well beyond their “best before date”, waiting it out until retirement. I was surprised that there was something called an LCC, Local Consultative Committee where elected staff got to contribute to the actual decision making process of the school and ensured that work was divided equitably. This was indeed a shock from the autocracy of the Independent Schools I had worked in and led. To be honest I was confused and still am, as to which was the best system. The LCC seemed like a noble and idealistic institution, but as we discussed a few extra minutes of teacher workload here and there for hours at a time, I could see two sides. I knew that good leaders in the independent system generally ruled equitably, a benevolent dictatorship so to speak, but I had also heard of schools where certain staff could be targeted and their lives made hellish with little recourse other than to leave.

The old adage of “absolute power corrupts absolutely” came to fruition and Daryl and a group of highly respected leaders brought themselves undone. The details of which were made transparent in the IBAC enquiry operation Ord and Dunham. I know it is unpopular to speak well of those who have fallen, but my impression as a relative new comer to “The System” was, as it is now, that the senior members of the DET, at least those I have encountered, were and are, all astute and highly intelligent educators who (corruption findings aside) have the best interests of the students at the centre. The unfortunate legacy of this sordid time, is that the DET now seemed somewhat paralysed to take any significant progressive action. There was a much needed cleaning house, where processes and accountabilities were quite rightly strengthened, but this has really done nothing to improve education. It seems that senior leaders of the DET are now playing it VERY safe, going for rigorous data analysis, using evidence based research and seeking improvement by refining existing processes with greater accountability. This does seems like a legitimate plan, but my fear is that with the Mitchell Institute identifying 40% of students being disengaged and PISA results stagnant for 10 years, that we need a significant “reboot” as Hattie calls it. Without a compelling and exciting new vision for education, the hearts and minds of staff in DET schools (and I suspect most schools) are drifting, uninspired by the data driven grind and without inspiration, save doing the best by their kids.

As to the specific relationship between DET and TC, well things started off quite normally. I received pity due to the state the school was in when I inherited it, particularly from the Regional staff who had been involved in various interventions along the way. In those first few years, when even I was uncertain if the school would survive, it was a little like no one wanted to be too close to the action in case the hand grenade went off. So we innovated, without asking for permission. Some things worked, others didn’t, so we modified, adapted and kept moving forwards. Student enrolments started to climb. The tipping point in the school’s fortunes came when we decided to drop reference to year levels completely. I waited for the wrath of the central office to descend….but nothing….not a peep. We had received considerable media attention, but not a word one way or the other, so we kept innovating.

When we adopted three alternative starting times to the day, 7.15am-1.15pm, 8.50am-3.30pm and 10.30am – 5.15pm, I thought nothing of it. Early one morning I was awoken by my Assistant Principal who had been called by a Channel 7 reporter about this “brave” new innovation! Doing the same stuff at a different time of day did not seem revolutionary to me, particularly given some of the other things we were doing, but somehow TC made the news cycle. There were two interviews before I left home and when I arrived at school there were three news trucks in the car park getting set up. I even had calls from friends oversees who had seen the story broadcast there.  The response from Region or Central Office…nothing….

It seems to me that unless there are parental complaints, if the school’s numbers are stable or growing and your data is tracking ok, essentially DET allow you to innovate and do as you please. I have loved this level of professional autonomy and dare I say trust shown by DET in its’ Principals. Not really the ogre that people sometimes suspect. In fact many senior staff have provided me with encouragement and professional support during the more innovative years at TC. 

As I leave TC I search for a suitable analogy for DET and our relationship. Perhaps a slightly remote parent, not wanting to show too much encouragement or affection, but one that in time the child learns to respect anyway. One thing that I can say for certain though, any hint that the Principals and Assistant Principals in the State system, don’t pull their weight and have the very best interests of their kids at heart is entirely false. Whilst the remuneration for teachers is similar across all three systems, Principals in the State System (and this is true of the Catholic System also) get paid only a fraction of the remuneration given to Independent Heads. This is NOT to say that Independent Heads are paid too much, but rather that leaders in the other systems are paid far, far too little given the levels of responsibility and autonomy they act with. All career educators are in my mind heroes, but given the poor remuneration for leaders in the State and Catholic systems, perhaps even more so.

Thank you DET. 

Peter Hutton

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Are lockers necessary?

From the East Bay Times

It is a full five months into the school year, and Isabel Echavarria, a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Maryland, hasn’t used her locker once. She’s not even sure she has one. Sean Radley, a sophomore at Tesoro High in Las Flores in Southern California, thinks there may be one book in his locker, but he rarely visits it. Nekko Jones and Dwayne Burrell, freshmen at Cardozo Education Campus in Washington, were assigned lockers at the beginning of the year, but neither knows where his is.

Once the gravitational center of the high school day, lockers long ago lost their allure, and their usefulness seems a relic of an epoch of education that has slipped away. Movies and television shows about high schools may still feature students decorating lockers — or being shoved into them — but in the real world, lockers have all but been abandoned. The trend has expanded so rapidly and widely that schools are now removing individual student lockers from their hallways, and builders and designers for many new high schools don’t even include them in their plans.

“It’s a pretty big change that has taken place over the last few years,” said Sean Connor, a principal with Pfluger Architects, a large Texas firm that focuses on school construction. “It used to be the standard to provide individual lockers for every student. Now, the standard is no lockers or, at most, just a few.”

So, why the change? Anyone with a high schooler in their orbit knows that students now want everything they own with them all of the time. Books, phones, water bottles, headphones, laptops, tablets, snacks, coats, extra shoes. Where students used to swap out textbooks between classes, they now navigate the halls bent over by jam-packed backpacks like Himalayan Sherpas shuffling along without a base camp. This carry-all approach probably ensures a steady stream of patients for chiropractors, and it bewilders parents who don’t understand why their kids can’t just use an assigned locker to store their stuff.

For most students, the issue is time and convenience.

“My school is really big,” Echavarria said. “It has four floors and a basement, and stopping in one specific location between each class would be ridiculous. And it’s harder to keep track of your stuff if it’s in another location.”

Friday, 26 January 2018

Private school fees skyrocket


Parents are now paying more than $37,000 to send their children to some of Sydney's  top private schools, with fees rising by as much as 5 per cent this year, and industry experts say the upward trend is unlikely to stop.

Cranbrook in Sydney's east is one of the city's most expensive private schools, with its annual year 12 fees rising to $37,230 in 2018, up 4 per cent from $35,805 last year.

SCEGGS Darlinghurst is charging parents $37,282 per annum for year 12, up 1 per cent from $36,896 last year.

Fees have also exceeded $35,000 for the first time at the King's School and St Catherine's School, which are charging $35,697 and $35,098, respectively, for year 12 students in 2018.

Cranbrook headmaster Nicholas Sampson said that the school "works determinedly to ensure maximum value for educational investment, with annual fees inclusive of many activities and programs".

Daven Timms, who has two children at Barker College, which is charging $31,630 for year 12 students this year, said fees and the cost of extra-curricular activities can eat up about 50 per cent of the household budget in some months.

"At the beginning of every term we get the invoice and you have to move money around, you just have to budget ahead and draw on savings," Mr Timms said.

Mr Timms said he has been putting money into an education investment fund since his children were born.

Mr Timms needs to check out his local state schools!

"I'm a lawyer and my wife's a psychologist and we have a good income … but we would have struggled without [those investments]," he said.

A Herald survey of a dozen top independent schools has revealed that fees have risen by an average of 3.9 per cent this year, although some schools including North Sydney's Shore school have increased fees by as much as 4.6 per cent.

This comes despite wage growth of only 2 per cent and inflation of 1.8 per cent in the 12 months to September.

A five-year analysis of school fees also shows that fees have gone up by an average of 23.5 per cent and as much as 35 per cent at schools such as St Catherine's School Waverley, which is charging parents $35,098 for year 12 in 2018, compared to $26,000 in 2013.

Chief executive of the Association of Independent Schools of NSW Geoff Newcombe said teachers' salaries and technology costs are the main contributors to rising fees.

"Fees clearly have to go up because you can't freeze wages," Dr Newcombe said.

"But schools are very conscious of costs to parents and this is the lowest increase to keep providing a quality service, and people obviously see the value of having their children in independent schools."

However, senior lecturer in education at Monash University David Zyngier said that a Victorian analysis of year 12 results has shown that private schools do not outperform public schools when socioeconomic advantage is taken into account.

"Public schools are meeting the performance of private schools with a third of the resources," Dr Zyngier said.

The latest HSC results show that while the top 10 schools are dominated by public selective schools, the top state comprehensive schools also outrank a number of high-fee private schools.

Cheltenham Girls High, last year's top-performing public comprehensive school, was ranked at 53, followed by Willoughby Girls High at 61, Cherrybrook Technology High at 68 and Killara High at 78. 

One of the most expensive private schools in the state, Cranbrook, was ranked at 41, while St Catherine's was ranked at 57 and Hills Grammar was ranked at 100.

Overall, the top-ranked private school was the academically selective Sydney Grammar School in sixth place, followed by Ascham at 9, Abbotsleigh at 14 and Moriah College at 15.

"As a return on investment, purely from an economic perspective, there's no advantage to sending your child to a private school," Dr Zyngier said.

"Children from the middle class are going to do well anywhere and all the extra-curricular activities like boating and horse riding do not have any impact on a child's academic achievement.

"And if a parent chose to send their child to a public school, they'd have a lot of money left over to do all that and a lot more."

What on earth are they spending all of this money on?

(Cranbrook also gets $5m from govts, SCEGGS over $3m and The King's School over $8m.)  Gold pens? Mercedes-Benz cars for Headmasters? Holidays in Paris?

From:… via @smh

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Guy takes another right turn...

Not content with a fear-based approach to law and order, a climate-killing energy policy, and a nightmare congestion-increasing transport policy, the Vic Libs now want a nationalist overhaul of school education. As stuck in the past and as mean as ever.

The State Opposition has vowed to overhaul the Victorian curriculum and instil Australian values in students if it wins the state election.

And in a move that is likely to infuriate academics, the Coalition has flagged ditching sustainability, Indigenous histories and Australia’s engagement with Asia as cross-curriculum priorities.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Australia Day farce

I admit it. I'm not blameless. I use the fact that Australia Day falls just before we go back to school to teach an Australian theme ( This year Colin Thiele novels and Captain Cook) but I don't celebrate it myself and haven't for years. It is time that we changed this, probably in conjunction with becoming a republic. In the meantime this will be an issue leading up to every 26th January.

Richard di Natale is wrong. Changing the date of Australia Day should not and will not be the top issue of 2018.

But Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten are equally wrong: it cannot be dismissed as a non-issue either. It may well be a low priority among all the numerous crises, genuine and confected, that bedevil the commonwealth; most Australians, including many indigenous Australians, have more important things to think about.

But every time our national holiday comes around there is more controversy, more division. As the conservative Ian Macfarlane admitted last week, he did not feel comfortable being told to rejoice in dispossession and massacres, and an increasing number are equally concerned that Australia Day will eventually have to be changed.

Few have arrived at a conclusion; there is still to be a major debate about how, when and just what, if any, alternative is to be worked out. But as Macfarlane points out, the problem will not go away and it cannot, as Turnbull might hope, be wished out of existence. That approach has not worked to remove Tony Abbott and it won’t work this week either.

The 230th anniversary of Captain Arthur Phillip’s landing on January 26, 1788 celebrates nothing more or less than the implementation of a decision of the English parliament under a demonstrably insane monarch to dump its unwanted surplus convicts at an unwanted outpost at the other end of the earth.

Turnbull’s talking points, assiduously promoted by most in the coalition party room, is that Australia Day is a celebration of our indigenous heritage, our British foundation and our multicultural character.

Well that may his ideal, but in fact it is nothing of the kind. The 230th anniversary of Captain Arthur Phillip’s landing on January 26, 1788 celebrates nothing more or less than the implementation of a decision of the English parliament under a demonstrably insane monarch to dump its unwanted surplus convicts at an unwanted outpost at the other end of the earth. It had nothing to do with Australia; Australia did not exist for another 113 years.

It may have been a significant date as part of the British foundation, but hardly the most important one: Lieutenant James Cook had landed in the same harbour 18 years previously, and had presumed to declare the continent a possession of Great Britain (his orders included the proviso “with the consent of the natives,” but as became the practice for at least a couple of centuries, the natives were not consulted – as usual, they were expected to suck it up).

And if we are to be pedantic, he was not the first Englishman to “discover” the great southern land; that distinction, if it can be called such, belongs to the pirate William Dampier who dropped in on the west coast in 1688. To conflate the establishment of a convict colony with celebration of nation’s past, present and future is frankly delusional.

If political correctness can be defined, it must surely mean that clinging to a real or imagined past at all costs, the obstinate refusal to admit that the times have changed and opinions have moved on. Real political correctness is conservative, even reactionary.

In his guise of Captain Goodvibes, Turnbull may exhort the masses to wave flags and cheer patriotically as they choose between the beach and barbie on their day off; but the historians and sceptics will not be impressed, and they will certainly not be assuaged by the knee-jerk sneers that it is just another case of political correctness – that now all but meaningless phrase which has come to signify any views the elitist commentators of the right do not share, rather like Donald Trump’s ranting about fake news.

If political correctness can be defined, it must surely mean that clinging to a real or imagined past at all costs, the obstinate refusal to admit that the times have changed and opinions have moved on. Real political correctness is conservative, even reactionary.

But it appears to be the fall-back position for those opposing change, perhaps because they realise that that there are actually no serious arguments in favour of the current date – other than the fact that change is favoured by the progressives, and must, by definition, be unAustralian.

An amusing example came from our citizenship minister Alan Tudge, who seems to think that the main purpose of his portfolio is to defend January 26 as the permanent and sacrosanct moment that defines our country and its culture. Actually it was not even declared an anniversary at all until 1938, did not become official until 1946 and did not become a national holiday until 1994, but you can’t expect a junior minister to know very much history. Tudge is inventing a tradition, not upholding it.

However, Tudge says that it is a terrific day, and adds that some indigenous Australians have been awarded the title of Australian of The year, for which he apparently imagined they should be pathetically grateful, perhaps harking back to the days when his forbears festooned compliant collaborators with shiny medallions and called them chiefs and even kings.

So even if we ignore the bunyip in the room – the invasion, the stealing of the land and the children, the destruction of the culture, the systematic trampling of the many nations which once made up the continent – there are copious reasons to question whether our national festival of nationalism and booze is, to use one of Turnbull’s favourite words, appropriate.

Many have urged that we should wait for the inauguration of a republic to make the switch, but given that Turnbull is prepared to procrastinate indefinitely to delay or frustrate that ambition, it may be more sensible to at least consider other possibilities – obviously January 1, when Australia actually came into being as nation is awkward given that it is already a public holiday (where would we get the extra fireworks?) but perhaps July 9, when in 1900 Queen Victoria gave real assent to the constitution, or May 9, when the Australian parliament first sat on the following year, would make some sort of sense – certainly more than the setting up of a convict colony.

And there is another reason to abandon January 26: it is also India’s national day, when the population finally won the struggle for independence over Britain and became a proud and independent republic. Rather more salutary than the landing on that fatal shore.

The real news is that the latest polling shows that a clear majority of Australians don’t really care what the precise date should be, as long as there is a national holiday. So really, there is no sensible reason not to change the date – except that to do so would enrage, the ignoramuses, the bigots and the ranters of the right. And Malcolm Turnbull could never let that happen, could he?

By the brilliant Mungo McCallum

Jane Caro making sense again

"If money makes no difference to how kids do at school, why do private schools need so much?" Jane Caro hits back at ACUmedia's Gary Marks.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Comics can boost your brain

Can comic books make you smarter? It seems too good to be true, but as graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang explains, they've come a long, long way. Imagine this: in the early days of comics, a caption would read: "Superman punches Lex Luthor," and it would be accompanied by a drawing of—drumroll!—Superman punching Lex Luthor. Basic, right? "That contributed to this idea that comics were meant for the mentally deficient. If you weren't smart enough to understand those words, then you could at least read the picture," says Luen Yang. Since then, graphic novelists have shaken things up, and the relationship between the words and pictures is more complex, with narrative responsibility going back and forth and occasionally shooting off into ambiguity. So why does Luen Yang think modern comics have a place in every classroom? Because our brains are not computers: "The human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor," as social psychologist Jonathan Haidt wrote. We depend on narratives to help make sense of our world—whether that's algebra, history, or chemistry. Educational comics are turning out to be powerful tools that help kids learn at their own pace. Gene Luen Yang's most recent book is Paths Portals.
From: the Big Think Blog and the Inks Comic Journal on Twitter

Thursday, 11 January 2018


The new Facebook Page for Learning with Literature is now available.

ALSO: My Australian Classics Children's Literature units can be found on the Queensland University AusLit site for FREE
See link below

Tuesday, 9 January 2018


Colin Theile's  KLONTARF and THE SEA CAVES
Below is a link to my new unit

Previously these were 2 separate literature units for these classic Colin Thiele tales but now I've bundled them up and reduced the price to a mere $2.00 (WTF!) This bundle has reading activities, writing ideas and graphic organisers for these two classic Australian children's classics. (The 13th title in my classic Australian children's fiction catalogue) also check out my best selling Storm Boy unit from the same author.(Both books are available to purchase from Amazon, Good Reads and similar sites)

HOORAY 145000 views. (We will launch the new Facebook site this week)

Monday, 8 January 2018

American schools falling apart

Story from Mother Jones

This week, as the “bomb cyclone” ravaged cities along the East Coast, schools across the northeastern and southern United States were forced to shut down due to inclement weather and freezing temperatures. But Baltimore schools remained open during the first half of the week despite broken heating systems that caused some classroom temperatures to dip below 40 degrees. And although schools closed on Thursday and Friday, the debate over who’s responsible for the inadequate heating and water systems in the city’s aging school buildings—and how to fix the underlying problem—rages on.  

The plight of Baltimore students first reached national consciousness on Wednesday, when a video of students discussing the conditions with former NFL linebacker turned elementary school teacher Aaron Maybin went viral. “What’s the day been like for you today?” Maybin asked. “Cold!” the kids, some in jackets and hoodies, shouted together. Parents and teachers shared images of kids bundled in coats and thermostats on social media. 

On Wednesday, after the district closed four schools and dismissed two others early, Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Santelises said in a Facebook video that 60 school buildings—a third of the district—reported problems that included broken boilers and water pipes. The decision to close schools, though, wasn’t made lightly. Santelises noted in the video that in the district, where nearly 87 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced lunch, administrators were forced to try to find a balance between the students’ need for food and safety with an impossibly cold learning environment. 

It didn’t take long for local politicians to start sparring over the issue: On Thursday, when Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford tweeted that if his kids were in Baltimore’s schools, he would be at the superintendent’s office “seeking answers,” former NAACP president Ben Jealous, a Democratic candidate for Maryland governor, shot back, replying that “all Maryland kids” are Rutherford’s kids. “Will we see you at the Superintendent’s office seeking answers for your kids?” he tweeted. Jealous wrote later on Facebook that Rutherford didn’t show up, adding: “Had he, I would have told him our administrators and teachers are not to blame and that it’s time we fully fund our schools.” 

In a statement to CNN, Santelises expressed frustration with the lack of funding for school infrastructure.

“[T]oo many of our buildings have outdated heating systems, poor insulation, and aging pipes as a result of years of inadequate funding for maintenance and facilities improvements,” she said. In an op-ed for Teen Vogue, Kimberly Mooney, a teacher in Baltimore, also argued that the schools’ faltering pipes were just one example of the minimal financial support from the state to resolve Baltimore’s “crumbling infrastructure.” 

In 2012, a report commissioned by Baltimore City Public Schools found that 69 percent of the district’s campuses were in “very poor condition,” and it would take an estimated $2.5 billion to bring buildings up to adequate standards. The Baltimore Sun reported on Thursday that the city’s schools have had to return $66 million in state funding to fix heating systems and make building repairs after they delayed projects for too long or the projects became too costly. Lawmakers called for changes to how money was awarded for projects,  and Maryland’s Gov. Larry Hogan said he was “outraged at the failures in Baltimore City” and blasted officials’ “ineptness and mismanagement” regarding the funding.   

The debate in Baltimore reflects longstanding infrastructure woes schools face throughout the country. Beyond roads and highways, these 100,000 public schools—many of which are housed by aging buildings in desperate need of repairs and modernization—make up the second largest infrastructure system in the United States. Yet the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) concluded in its annual report card last year that more than half of the nation’s public schools needed investments just to bring the building conditions to “good.” High-quality school facilities have been linked to better academic achievement for students, fewer suspensions, and better staff retention. 

The problem has been brewing for decades. The Government Accountability Office concluded in 1995 that America’s schools needed a collective $112 billion to “repair or upgrade their facilities to good condition.” That number has ballooned to an estimated $145 billion per year, including an additional $46 billion each year on construction and maintenance to bring facilities up to modern standards, according to a 2016 “State of Our Schools” report.

Currently, the federal government spends little on improving school infrastructure, leaving the bulk of the financing to come from the state and local governments. In fact, local taxpayer dollars account for, on average, only 45 percent of funding toward maintenance and operations. But budgets are tight: After the 2008 recession, most states reduced school funding, putting pressure on local districts to make up the difference. In 2015, 29 states still had less overall state funding than they did in the 2008 school year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, even as student enrollment grew.

Meanwhile, the capital funds, which are used to renovate and build new schools and to shore up technological infrastructure, dropped 31 percent from 2008 to 2015. The ASCE 2017 report card noted that the constricted budgets have led to “accelerating deterioration of heating, cooling, and lighting systems.”  And much of the capital construction investment on school facilities—82 percent—comes down to how much school districts can raise from taxpayers, the 2016 “State of Our Schools” joint report noted. “Because the large majority of capital construction is funded by local taxpayers, the ability of school districts to pay for major renewals or new construction is tied to the wealth of their community, perpetuating inequity in school facility conditions,” the authors wrote.  

One 2006 study found that projects at schools in wealthier areas spent three times more capital funds than projects in schools in poorer areas—where infrastructure investment is needed the most. In the 2012-2013 school year, 60 percent of schools with some of the poorest student populations, where more than 75 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch, needed repairs. That’s 12 percentage points higher than those in wealthier communities, according to theNational Education Center for Statistics. 

It’s unclear whether President Donald Trump, with his long–promised $1 trillion infrastructure plan, will keep his pledge to “rebuild our roads, bridges, tunnels, highways, airports, schools, and hospitals.” Last January, Senate Democrats introduced their own 10-year infrastructure proposal that included $75 billion toward shoring up schools, and it’s been lying dormant in Congress ever since. For now, some citizens are taking action—a college student’s GoFundMe campaign to provide space heaters and jackets for the Baltimore students far exceeded its $20,000 goal.  

Saturday, 6 January 2018

From Finland with Love....

When the Finnish education expert Pasi Sahlberg went on a speaking tour around Australia last spring, he says he was left “heartbroken” by stories of young children cracking under the pressure of “stringent academic expectations”.

“I heard some teachers telling how children are experiencing stress-related crying, vomiting and sleeplessness over the high-stakes standardised tests,” Sahlberg tells Guardian Australia. “Play is being squeezed out of Australian schools as politicians force more stringent academic expectations upon younger and younger children.”

The former director general of the Finnish education system – and the author of Finnish Lessons 2.0: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? – Sahlberg is considered a leading expert on an education system that has become a byword for excellence.

A central pillar of early education in Finland is the late start to schooling. Children receive no formal instruction until they are seven, and the focus in daycare centres is not formal education per se but creative play and the health and wellbeing of the student.

The emphasis on play is not trivial but a form of developmental learning. Research has demonstrated that play in the early stages of development can engage children in the process of learning and studies in New Zealand have found that by age 11 there was no difference in reading ability between students who began formal literacy instruction at age five or age seven.

Australian students start formal schooling earlier and spend longer in the classroom than most of their peers in developed nations. That’s one reason the federal government’s proposal to introduce a mandatory phonics check for year 1 students in Australia has failed to win Sahlberg over.

“I think what the government in Australia could do instead is before thinking about these sorts of things is to make sure every child has enough time to play before they come to school,” Sahlberg says. “Australia has one of the highest required compulsory instruction times for children in the entire world ... that’s time that kids, including very young kids, are required to be in a formal instruction rather than playing and doing their own thing.”

Naplan and the role of testing

In 2012, the then prime minister, Julia Gillard, announced that she wanted Australia to be “back in top five schooling nations in the world” for reading, science and mathematics by 2025.

Her yardstick was Pisa, which has frustrated academics and enthralled politicians in equal measure. 

The current education minister, Simon Birmingham, has been less overtly driven by rankings, but he is still deeply aware of them. When the latest Pisa results were released in 2016, he said the results “continued to paint a worrying trend” about education standards in Australia

It’s evidence, Sahlberg says, of a system that is too focused on results and that places teachers under “too much control”. He suggests Australia should look to New Zealand as a guide, where the new government has sought to improve flagging education standards by axing league tables, paring back testing and handing teachers more autonomy.

“One way to think about it is maybe, you have all these good things – funding, your economy, good teachers – but you’re not improving. Maybe the problem is that things are tied up in a system that is not able to be flexible enough for teachers. 

“Maybe there is not enough trust in Australia in good teachers.” 

Part of the problem, Sahlberg believes, is Naplan, often criticised by teachers as a way of putting students into league tables and an inaccurate reflection of educational improvement. This year’s Naplan results found that, a decade since testing began, the average reading and numeracy skills of Australian primary school students has improved only marginally, while writing skills went backwards.

Sahlberg doesn’t have a problem with standardised testing – he believes every country needs a way to measure student progress – but the problem is the way the test is conducted and the use of the data as a sort of school shopping guide for parents on the My School websiteIn his valedictory speech, Piccoli listed Alan Jones, Miranda Devine, Mark Latham and Ray Hadley as 'enemies'.

“As I see it, when a standardised test like Naplan becomes high-stakes, it’s likely to change the purpose of the schools and what the teachers do in schools,” he says. “I’ve met thousands of teachers in Australia and, whenever I start a conversation about Naplan, people go bananas. They say the whole purpose of what teachers do is to make sure everybody gets good Naplan results.

“The problem is that wherever standardised tests are running the show it narrows the curriculum and it kind of changes the whole role and meaning of going to school from general useful learning into doing well in two or three subjects. And it often makes teaching and learning very boring when the purpose is to figure out the right answer to a test.”

He says there is “nothing wrong with the test itself”, but Australia could “probably do with less standardised testing” and Naplan could be changed to a sample-based rather than census test. 

The gap in equity 

In the northern winter of 2014 Piccoli, then the NSW education minister, was touring a school outside Helsinki when he was told that a news photographer was waiting outside.

With the head of Finland’s education department and the school’s principal, he peeked outside. Sure enough, there she was, standing on the school’s driveway in jeans and a light parka in minus 18C.

The photographer had been sent from London with a reporter by the Sydney Daily Telegraph, intent on getting a shot of Piccoli. He left the school via a back entrance and left the photographer waiting in the cold.

The newspaper had been critical of the cost of Piccoli’s trip, and he had a history of criticising New Corp, but the stake-out was part of a wider campaign.

Piccoli was a National party MP but his early support for Gillard’s Gonski funding arrangements and public criticism of Christopher Pyne’s attempts as federal education minister to introduce independent public schools made him a target for the conservative right. In his valedictory speech in the NSW parliament he listed Alan Jones, Miranda Devine, Mark Latham and Ray Hadley as “enemies”.

Piccoli has since returned to Finland for inspiration as the head of the Gonski Institute. 

He is adamant that he didn’t bring Sahlberg to Australia “just because he’s from Finland” but it is no coincidence that he has looked there, rather than to another famously high-performing nation such as Singapore.

In 2016 Piccoli invited Sahlberg on a tour of severely disadvantaged schools in NSW, all part of the state’s Connected Communities, which pumped extra funding into schools in places such as Walgett and Moree and gave teachers greater autonomy in an effort to lift standards

So far the program has had mixed results but both men want to use the Gonski Institute to dig further into how to address the equity gap in Australia’s education system. 

“The key thing is that gap in equity between low socioeconomic status and high,” Piccoli says. “Part of that is demographics, but I want to know what we can do to bridge that gap. It’s more pronounced here than in other countries, so why? It’s one thing to say SES is a strong predictor, but it doesn’t tell you what to do about it.”

For Sahlberg, coming from a country in which there is no private funding of schools, at least some of the reasons for Australia’s inequity seem obvious. But he says visiting some of the rural communities inspired him to want to grapple with the unique questions raised by Australia’s geography and demographics. 

“My visits in the rural parts of NSW really made me think: what could we do more?” he says. “What kind of policy and thinking is required ... to rethink and redesign education policies, and certainly funding, to make sure everybody will benefit?”