Turmoil in the testing industry
Volume 64 Number 3, November 2006; Pages 53–57
The extensive testing introduced as part of the USA’s No Child Left Behind Act has placed unprecedented pressure on the testing industry. Creating and administering high-quality tests is difficult and labour-intensive. Experts are required to write questions, aligning them to state standards, and test them to ensure they are consistent and non-discriminatory. As many states release a proportion of questions to the public each year, tests need to be regularly updated. The testing industry is struggling to find enough psychometricians and other qualified experts to fill the growing demand. Not only does more data need to be collected, it also needs to be processed more quickly. Under the new accountability regime, failing schools are required to offer their students extra tuition or the option of being transferred elsewhere. This means that data for each school year needs to be returned in time for these measures to be put in place for the following year. In Michigan, for example, the state’s testing provider must deliver test results to local school systems within 30 days. Furthermore, states are funding testing programs on ‘shoestring budgets’. These factors compromise test quality by leaving insufficient time and funds available for comprehensive validity studies. Many states are introducing hastily-constructed tests which are not fully aligned to state standards, meaning that teachers may not be teaching what is in the test. The most troubling consequence of the increased pressures on time, financial and human resources is that the tests being constructed mainly measure lower-order skills. While measuring basic skills is important, such tests may paint a skewed picture of student achievement. Higher-achieving students may hit a ‘glass ceiling’ without the opportunity to demonstrate advanced proficiency. As lower-achieving students improve, the achievement gap may therefore narrow artificially. Many new state tests have eschewed open-ended questions in favour of multi-choice options, which are cheaper and quicker to produce, administer and grade. Significant government investment is required for improving testing infrastructure if the quality of testing is to keep pace with its growing importance in USA education.
Subject HeadingsInformation management
United States of America (USA)
Multiple intelligences: building active learners
February 2007; Pages 26–30
Multiple Intelligence theory was developed as an explanation of how the mind works, not as an educational tool. It may be useful to educators in overcoming labels assigned to students based on a single ‘IQ’ measure, thereby bringing about a ‘quiet revolution’ in how students see themselves and each other. However, it does not imply that each student will have one learning style that should be isolated and catered to. A few students may have especial strengths in one type of intelligence. In these cases, educators must decide whether it is better to devote resources to nurturing these strengths, or to providing remediation in weaker areas. Other students show less pronounced differences between intelligences, and challenge educators to help them choose the most advantageous direction in which to develop their talents. Present educational conditions favour linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences at the expense of others. Each student’s unique combination of intelligences works in a different way. Some intelligences conflict with one another; for example, a student with advanced interpersonal intelligence may still have difficulties in social situations if their linguistic intelligence is weak. Sometimes, intelligences compensate for one another, such as a persuasive politician whose physical presence (bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence) eclipses his linguistic limitations. Intelligences may also enhance each other, such as a musically intelligent student who applies their creative skill to writing poetry. Similarly, different combinations of students in a class can create opportunities for enhanced collaborative learning, by pairing students with similar or complementary strengths. The most important task for teachers is not to provide students with multiple experiences geared towards specific intelligences, but with rich learning experiences that permit every student to engage at a personal level. Harvard University’s Project Spectrum and the Explorama at Denmark’s Danfoss Universe are examples of successful initiatives that have been developed using Multiple Intelligence theory.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Thought and thinking
Journeys: supporting innovation in teacher education throughout Australia
2006; Pages 1–16
The Response Ability Project began in 1997 as a joint initiative between the University of Newcastle and the Hunter Institute of Mental Health as part of the Australian Federal Government’s National Suicide Prevention Strategy. The initiative produced free suicide prevention resources, in multimedia format, for use in tertiary courses for professions most likely to be able to address youth suicide issues: doctors, nurses, journalists and secondary teachers. Since then, the project’s scope has broadened to address suicide prevention as one aspect of a national initiative to promote ‘mentally healthy schools’. The Australian Department of Health and Ageing has provided additional support to redevelop the teacher education resources to address broader mental health promotion. The project puts forward the case that teachers can promote their students’ general mental health in more ways than simply by acting as ‘referral agents’ to other services when problems arise. Interviews with teacher educators have indicated broad support for including health issues in secondary teacher training. Nevertheless, certain barriers have emerged regarding the introduction of new content into university courses. The teacher training curriculum is already crowded, especially for shorter postgraduate teaching courses. Enterprise-based university managerial structures and the strong emphasis on learning outcomes rather than wellbeing issues in secondary education have proved to be additional hurdles. The project team has also struggled to gain recognition of mental health issues as relevant across the curriculum, not just in physical education or equivalent subjects. Encouragingly, nearly two-thirds of the teacher education courses currently using Response Ability material are core subjects, rather than health or elective units. There is growing recognition of the need for comprehensive mental health promotion in schools, and it is hoped that this will spark greater interest in, and uptake of, teacher education projects such as Response Ability.
Subject HeadingsMental Health
Executive leadership: another lever in the system?
Volume 26 Number 4, September 2006; Pages 397–409
Effective leadership is an important lever in school improvement. There is currently a serious shortage of school leaders in Britain, especially those willing to take on the challenge of a school in difficulty. One of the latest government strategies for improving such schools has been creating partnerships with other schools in more favourable circumstances, including the appointment of an executive head (principal). Executive heads maintain leadership of their own school while assuming leadership of the ‘adopted’ school as well. In most cases, executive leadership is instigated by the local education system because the adopted school is underperforming. Drawing on the impressions and experiences of one such school leader, the article provides insights into the processes, challenges and benefits of executive headship. The main challenge is developing leadership capacity at all levels. Schools in difficulty often have tight, hierarchical leadership structures, where weak top-down leadership impacts on the entire school. Breaking these patterns ‘openly and often brutally’ is a key task for the executive head, as is giving the existing leadership team the necessary confidence to instigate innovation and change. Raising expectations of behaviour and achievement is another of the major milestones in turning a struggling school around. At the same time, education systems sometimes expect too much too quickly from schools in difficulty, and it may be necessary for the executive head to work with the system and the school to negotiate realistic aims. Rapid decision-making characterises the early days of an executive head’s role, as they overhaul operational and managerial processes to create the conditions for improvement. In the longer term, reinvigorating teachers’ enthusiasm for their work is essential to maintain the momentum for school improvement. Executive heads encourage schools to form external links, accept outside advice and engage in realistic and objective processes of evaluation and review. Executive headship brings with it many tensions, and its effectiveness is yet to be empirically proven. Nevertheless, it offers great potential for sharing best practice and creating genuine models of distributed school leadership.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
Jumping the fence to see what's on the other side: a report on a middle phase of learning teacher exchange project in Central Queensland
2006; Pages 1–15
In Queensland, as in many other education jurisdictions around the world, the middle years of schooling have been identified as in need of special attention. Most policy rhetoric, including Education Queensland’s Middle Phase of Learning State School Action Plan, has placed teacher change at the heart of the middle school agenda. A Queensland research project has explored teacher attitudes and beliefs on either side of the primary/secondary school transition, and sought to foster dialogue between the two levels of schooling to facilitate smoother transitions for middle school students. Thirteen teachers from five Queensland state primary schools, and thirteen from two state secondary schools, participated in a teacher exchange. Each spent a number of days work-shadowing a colleague in the other level of schooling, and attended meetings and debriefing sessions to share their reflections. Researchers were particularly interested in the differences between teachers’ expectations and what they observed. For primary and secondary teachers alike, expectations of the other school level were characterised by stereotypes and ‘urban legends’, and were often confounded by reality. Primary teachers were surprised at the easy relationships between secondary teachers and their students, despite the limited time they spent with each class. Secondary teachers were fascinated by the level of student ownership in primary classrooms, where they had expected that the students’ immaturity would necessitate a more teacher-directed approach. Primary teachers expected to see high levels of ICT use and higher-order thinking skills in secondary classrooms, whereas in fact these varied significantly. Conversely, primary teachers taught more higher order skills than their secondary counterparts expected. The shift in emphasis from literacy and numeracy skills at primary level to discipline content knowledge in secondary schools also caused some discussion. Despite concerns about its brevity and timing, all participants felt the project was a highly worthwhile professional learning activity. It reduced anxiety for teachers in both sectors, as they realised ‘the grass is not greener on the other side’, and opened channels for ongoing professional dialogue.
Subject HeadingsMiddle schooling
Transitions in schooling
Running on adrenaline: how to run a sport's campaign with no funds
Number 177, February 2007; Pages 14–15
Two teachers at a disadvantaged school in Adelaide describe how they have involved students in sporting activities and set up a sports competition with other local schools. Until this time boys at their school had little involvement in sport. A local netball competition for girls was not linked to the school. The school had no large playing areas, no netball or tennis courts and equipment was often missing. Budgets were limited and costs could not be passed onto parents. The teachers took a number of steps to turn the situation around. They campaigned for a school-wide culture for all students to participate in sport. They negotiated a deal with local community sporting clubs for use of grounds and equipment based on low fees in return for much needed publicity for the previously declining clubs. On this basis the teachers were able to establish regional netball, soccer and volleyball competitions for local schools. Involvement of a church-based sports administration and some fundraising activities helped to manage costs. Eleven schools are now involved in the competition. Events are held during school hours to include those who were unable to travel to venues on the weekend and those who couldn’t afford club fees. Children take part across all levels, from umpiring to team management, fundraising and first aid. Several former students now represent South Australia in netball, soccer, lacrosse and swimming. The competition has enabled special needs students to overcome time, finance and/or physical barriers and participate socially and competitively. To further encourage students to get involved in community sport, the school used a government grant to run a ‘Healthy Day’ on which local sporting specialists ran mini-clinics for the whole school, and students received a healthy lunch.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsSouth Australia
Getting boys' education 'right': the Australian Government's Parliamentary Inquiry Report as an exemplary instance of recuperative masculinity politics
Volume 28 Number 1, January 2007; Pages 5–21
The Australian Government’s 2002 report, Boys: Getting it Right, is situated in a context of ‘backlash politics’ amid claims that males are now the disadvantaged sex. Such claims ignore factors such as pay levels and participation in government, where women remain underrepresented. The report is based on a notion of essentialised ‘natural’ differences between boys’ and girls’ learning styles that are never questioned, despite admissions that some boys prefer learning styles associated with girls. It acknowledges that ‘boy-friendly’ educational provisions, such as interesting, relevant curriculum and supportive teacher–student relationships, are important for girls as well, but argues that boys are more likely to ‘rebel’ if they do not receive them. There is little recognition that boys’ ‘rebellion’ reflects dominant constructions of masculinity, not biologically predetermined behaviour. Appealing to conservatism by adopting a ‘commonsense’ approach, the report fails to engage with extensive academic literature on the many complex variables that affect gender in education, including social and media constructions of masculinity. Nor does the report engage with the differences between various groups of boys, or with the fact that educational gender discrepancies are smaller in higher socioeconomic brackets. A chapter on Indigenous boys addresses these issues to some extent, but in general all boys are lumped into a single uniform category of disadvantage. Committing to ‘boy-friendly’ education has hidden risks. Quieter girls may be left to acquiesce to, rather than engage with, curriculum, and boys may slip into a ‘competing victim syndrome’. The report maintains that attending to boys’ education does not mean ignoring girls, but there is an underlying implication that previous ‘girl-friendly’ approaches to gender, including feminism, are to blame for boys’ current educational failure. A focus on boys’ education need not be anti-feminist, if it fosters the social awareness necessary for both genders to live harmoniously. However, the report is oriented more towards re-masculinising the education system to further the interests of the conservative boys’ education lobby, than towards changing the educational structures that disadvantage underachieving students of both genders.
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
Fully professionalised teacher education: an Australian study in persistence
Volume 34 Number 3, November 2006; Pages 287–300
The professional status of teachers has been enhanced by research demonstrating the key role that they play in student learning, and by widespread awareness of the complex learning needs created by the knowledge economy. This professional status is evident in the fact that, despite long-term under-funding, teacher education is now the first-preference course of many high-scoring tertiary applicants. However, teachers’ professional status is challenged by the powerful push for an ‘apprenticeship’ model of teacher education, which unduly emphasises practical school experience over theory. The driving force for this model is not weakness in the professional approach to teacher education, but market-based pressure to churn out teachers as a ‘product’ in short supply, a shortage stemming from lack of forward planning at government level. The apprenticeship model is advocated in the Victorian Government's 2005 Inquiry into the Suitability of Pre-Service Teacher Training Courses and expressed in the Bachelor of Learning Management (BLM) course at Central Queensland University. The Victorian report uses the concept of ‘teacher readiness’, which seems to infer that new teachers should be able to teach in the same way as experienced ones. This unrealistic concept of the new starter is not applied in other professions such as law or medicine. It rests on a populist notion ‘that teaching is a practice anyone can do’. One argument used to justify the ‘indenturing’ model is that it smooths the path for participants to obtain jobs in the schools where they are placed. However by restricting experience to particular classes and teachers such a model does little to prepare student teachers for the very broad range of contexts found between schools and student populations. Nor does it teach enough about rapid developments in educational theory, psychosocial theory, ICT and pedagogical content knowledge. It may also encourage social and cultural insularity. The School of Education at the University of Newcastle includes a School University Partnership in Teacher Education that balances practical and theoretical work. Students in the program have close, sustained contact with one teacher and one class and also exposure to other, varied teaching contexts.
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
Leading into uncertain futures: building scenarios for educational leadership planning
Scenario planning is highly relevant for today's educational reform and can inform educational policy and direction setting. Underlying scenario thinking is the understanding that future outcomes will be based at least in part on the known present and current trends. It also allows for the thinking of the unexpected. A 2001 OECD report identified six possible scenarios for educational change over a 15–20 year timeframe. Scenario one is the status quo extrapolated – a bureaucratic school system with a continuing problem of school image and resourcing. Scenario two is an extension of the market model, leading to a greater diversity of educational providers and greater inequity. Scenario three is re-schooling, where there are high levels of public trust and funding of schools and greater organisational diversity and social equity. Scenario four has schools as focused learning organisations, with high levels of public trust and funding and widespread teacher networking. Scenario five is de-schooling, where there is widespread dissatisfaction with schools and the schooling system. Communities of interest develop and there are potentially serious equity problems. The final scenario is teacher exodus, where a severe teacher shortage leads to a drop in standards despite policy measures. Globalisation is seen as being the most influential issue impacting on schooling. Global economies are changing the nature of employment and advances in technology, particularly in communications, and are impacting heavily on the notion of schooling as a localised entity. Society as a whole is also changing in both Western and developing nations. There is a number of implications and challenges for educational leaders arising from these scenarios. The value of schools needs to be stressed to the school community. The future of the school, the teacher and the principal is not a given. Distributed leadership is being discussed more frequently and teams and networks are becoming more common. There will be increasing commercialisation of education services. School leaders must be able to seek new partnerships and will need appropriate negotiating skills. Schools may have their social service roles extended. The essential outcomes of schooling in the 21st century should be about transcendent values and transferable skills. For this to become the case, leaders must be ready to lead change.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
Web 2.0 and its technologies for collaborative library communication
Volume 13 Number 6, November 2006; Pages 9–12
Web 2.0 is shorthand for a new generation of web services based on communication, sharing and interaction. The services offer opportunities to engage library users by making communication and online work easier and more productive. There are four resource tools of particular interest to librarians. Blogs are made up of frequently updated and chronologically ordered comments, posted by one or more individuals. Blogger is an example of a free blog publishing tool. Really Simple Syndication (RSS) allows news updates from websites to be delivered as they are created to a user’s computer. Bloglines is one free online service that allows users to subscribe to RSS feeds from blogs or other websites. Bloglines also allows users to create a 'clip blog', which is a collection of favourite Internet links that can be categorised, searched and viewed from any browser. A clip blog can be made public, which allows other people to add comments. Social bookmarking tools allow users to tag and annotate web links, which can then be accessed and shared in the same way as clip blogs. Del.icio.us is one social bookmarking tool, used for keeping up to date, trend spotting and sharing information. Some libraries already use this service to store web bibliographies which are then accessed via the library website. A wiki is a freely available or password-protected website that allows users to add, edit and delete content. Examples include Wikipedia, library wikis such as Meredith Farkas' Library Success and PBwiki where users can create their own wikis for free. Librarians are also using tools such as Flickr, Odeo and YouTube and to broadcast, create and publish material. (See related abstract in Curriculum Leadership, 1 September 2006.)
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Obese or overweight: prevention through school and community sports
Number 177, February 2007; Pages 12–13
An inclusive model for community sports can help improve obesity rates among Australian children. An inclusive model aims to increase the amount of time children are physically and socially engaged, and minimise the competitiveness and the emphasis on high performance characteristic of traditional sport activities. National and local inclusive benchmarks are provided by the Australian Sports Commission’s Our Sporting Future program. Under the model, community sports groups offer starting-level sports to develop children’s basic physical skills, which then underpin more specialist skills. Participation should be without prerequisites and open to all ages. Activities should be simple and all children need to feel they can succeed, regardless of size or existing ability. Sports organisations may also accommodate parental preferences for sports to occur at the same venue, at the same time each week and at ‘family friendly’ times. While community programs have little problem attracting active children, encouraging overweight and obese children to attend activity sessions is a major challenge. Teachers can develop links with community sport initiatives to encourage those children who are active only at school to take up extra-curricular sports. Links could involve inviting members of community sports into the class to demonstrate activities, holding ‘come and try’ days, visiting community venues, getting involved in community events, suggesting holiday opportunities and having active children mentor less active children. Teachers can also work with parents, such as suggesting home practice activities which support school lessons. New leaders who have the knowledge, beliefs, skills and training to encourage and ensure obese and overweight children become more active are needed.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsParent and child
Parent and teacher
School and community
High schools as communities within communities
Volume 2 Number 3, July 2006; Pages 247–257
The USA’s Big Picture Schools are demonstrating the value of links between schools and their local communities. The first Big Picture School was the Met (Metropolitan Career and Technical Education Center) in Providence, Rhode Island. The Met comprises four small schools and a number of resources, including a technology lab, gym and commercial-grade kitchen. Students and the community were actively involved in its design. It is completely open to the community, with no fences or security cameras. Families are closely involved in each student’s education. Parents learn with their children, participate in mentoring or help design their child’s unique learning program. The Met runs three programs to support community involvement, designed with extensive community input. Family Learning aims to improve literacy in students’ families and help break the cycle of poverty. School-Based Health Services helps parents support their child’s physical and emotional health. Family Net initially provided computers to school families, but has since expanded into a comprehensive learning network called Big Picture Online. A lot of student learning occurs outside the school, in community organisations and neighbourhood businesses. In the Met’s first six years, 98 per cent of students who applied to college were accepted. This is exceptional in a school where 80 per cent of students are on subsidised school lunch programs, an indicator of socioeconomic disadvantage. Of these students, 75 per cent were the first in their families to attend college. There are now more than thirty Big Picture Schools across the USA. None have more than 130 students. Ensuring that the schools ‘function like small villages where everyone knows one another’ is essential to the Big Picture philosophy of teaching ‘one student at a time’. The schools’ success reflects the role schools can play in shaping their communities, and serve as a reminder that school reform is best undertaken as part of a broader process of neighbourhood revitalisation. The article includes a short interview with the author about teaching at the Met.
Subject HeadingsSchool and community
Parent and child
United States of America (USA)
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