Of NAPLAN results, school funding and not blaming the teachers

naplanSo “2016 NAPLAN results not good enough, says federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham.” In spite of the Federal Government having spent an additional 23.7% on education over the last three years, NAPLAN results have basically gone nowhere. Who’s to blame? Here you go: A multiple-choice question:

A. Teachers
B. Teachers
C. Teachers

And you know what? All those answers are wrong.

Simon Birmingham and most of the commentators don’t explicitly blame the teachers. But they point to all the money being spent, to no effect, and leave the conclusion hanging. Or in The Australian they’re a bit more explicit: “That is because extra funding has little effect on student achievement if teachers don’t use the most effective teaching methods in classrooms, where children spend most of their school day.”

Must try harder: Education Minister Simon Birmingham says schools should lift their game

Birmingham says we “we need to move the conversation on from just how much is being spent in schools to focus on how record funding can best be used for the benefit of students.” You know you might think of commissioning a major report into school funding and looking at where it should be best spent to achieve the best outcomes. You might call that, oh I don’t know, the Gonski Report – and then you might, if you were moving the conversation on, actually do what it suggests.

Or even better, you might think that even your major report was a compromise created by a flawed promise to continue funding to private schools that don’t actually need the help. And then you might put your funding into the socially disadvantaged schools that might make the biggest difference to your NAPLAN results.

Or you might think that NAPLAN was absolutely not supposed to be used as a stick to beat up individual schools or areas – it was supposed to be used to help diagnose what could be done to help individual children. So you might consider whether there are better ways of assessing progress.

Or you might think that there are clear models that we could adopt if we had the political will to do so, and if we didn’t have a ridiculous system of funding split between State and Federal government.

There are clearly issues with the way we are educating teachers (and everyone else) but it is beyond simplistic to blame teachers for a systemic problem with our education system. If we are serious about changing the system for the better we require a mature and calm assessment of, first, where we want to get to; and, second, pathways to achieving that end. Finally, we need a plan that lasts beyond a single political cycle to make it all happen.

This continual political hand-wringing, flailing about, and casting blame without actually addressing the underlying problems is terminally depressing.

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