Weathering the storm
Volume 18 Number 8; Pages 10–11
The world financial crisis is likely to have significant impact on independent schools in Australia. Dr Ross Millikan, principal of Carey Baptist Grammar School in Melbourne, notes that the cost of school fees often requires both parents to work, so job losses would quickly affect enrolment levels. Schools may respond to falling incomes by reducing costs incurred on non-core activities such as new building works and staff professional development. Schools are unlikely to try to increase class sizes, a move which would be unacceptable to most parents. Independent schools which are relatively small or new, or which serve poorer communities, are likely to be hardest hit. Schools should expect more requests from parents for special consideration and should be receptive to such requests. Arrangements whereby financially stressed parents pay school fees partly in kind, through services such as cleaning, may be viable in the short term. Professor Ross Williams of the Melbourne Institute notes that the full economic impact of the financial crisis may be revealed only after several years, like that of the 1987 crash. The option to save on salary costs has been reduced by recent pay rises to public school teachers in Western Australia and Victoria. Established independent schools may, however, benefit from a reduction in the number of small new independent schools. Ian Dalton of the Australian Parents’ Council suggests that parents will not rush to abandon independent schools. However, there has been a growing trend for school fees to be paid by grandparents, and monetary losses by self-funded retirees may impact on future enrolments. Jeff Newcomb of the AIS NSW recommends that independent schools follow tried and tested business practices, which allow for the impact of economic fluctuations on income and expenses. Schools may diversify funding sources, eg by setting up their own businesses.
Subject HeadingsSchools finance
Engaging students in authentic science through school-community links: learning from the rural experience
Volume 54 Number 3, September 2008; Pages 13–18
There has recently been an increase in science programs linking school and community, particularly in rural schools. Designed to address student disengagement with the science curriculum, they involve practical, relevant learning and links between schools and local environments, businesses and projects. A number of Victorian case studies drawn from ASISTM and SiMERR projects show increased student engagement and appreciation of a broader purpose for their learning. For example, students in one study were funded by an energy company to build models of energy-efficient apartments, which were then exhibited at a local shopping centre. Another science teacher, wanting to introduce her students to scientific careers, brought in local professionals such as the optometrist, chiropractor and massage therapist to speak to her students. Students in another cluster of schools participated in a range of projects, including a study of fishing in the local bay and design of a performing arts centre. Students in a further project participate in a ‘from vine to wine’ initiative that involves them in the process of wine-making from horticulture to marketing. The wine initiative integrates earth science, botany, chemistry, meteorology and horticulture with English skills, information technology, mathematics, management and legal studies. The resulting wines have won several medals, which contribute to funding the ongoing project. Several of the teachers behind the initiatives commented positively on the VELS framework, which supports broad-based science curriculum and encourages creativity and deep learning. Student responses have been extremely positive, including reduced rates of absenteeism, increased physics enrolments, and the development of real pleasure in learning. In all cases, the projects were masterminded by a single teacher at the school, garnering increasing support as the project continued. Coordinating teachers were all very pleased with the results, but did note the considerable management demands placed upon them. Explicit policy support for community-based science initiatives would allow them to flourish even further.
Key Learning AreasScience
Project based learning
Science and sustainability
Volume 52 Number 4, November 2008; Pages 12–18
Climate change and sustainability present two main challenges for science educators. The first is to train professional scientists, engineers, mathematicians and technology specialists to design and build technological innovations. The second is to educate the general population about science and scientific thinking so that they can make informed, environmentally friendly choices. Climate change and sustainability have been shown to rate highly among students’ concerns for the future. However, this comes in the context of extremely low motivation to study science, as found for example in a recently conducted Relevance of Science Education (ROSE) study. This lack of motivation may be due to a lack of active experimentation in science class, perhaps because of a heightened sense of the risk involved, a 'crowding out' of science by other subjects, and a lack of attention to creating curriculum relevant to students' lives. The Science and Technology Education Leveraging Relevance (STELR) program, currently in the proof-of-concept test stage at four Victorian schools, includes practical activities to do with wind turbines and solar panels and energy conversion from vegetable oils and sugars to biodiesel and bioethanol. Inquiry-based learning methods are employed. A similar program currently being trialled is the Australian Academy of Science’s Science by Doing program. As well as being taught the current state of scientific knowledge, students must also be taught about the history and nature of scientific thought. They need to learn how to evaluate an argument or theory, and what to do when they encounter evidence that contradicts their theory. Training in scientific thought will make voters more able to separate ideology and spin from real science, which in turn will force political actors to have solid scientific grounding for their proposals. State governments, particularly in Victoria and Queensland, have already begun to promote science education and are increasingly recognising the importance of developing their students’ scientific thinking.
Key Learning AreasScience
An introduction to science education in rural Australia
Volume 54 Number 3, September 2008; Pages 8–12
Support for rural and regional science education has been enhanced in Australia through the establishment of the National Centre of Science, ICT and Mathematics Education for Rural and Regional Australia (SiMERR Australia). While the definitions of rural, regional, remote and provincial areas tend to overlap somewhat, approximately 45 per cent of schools in Australia are located outside metropolitan areas. Despite teacher perceptions of these schools as friendlier, safer and having a stronger community atmosphere than metropolitan schools, they experience considerable difficulty recruiting new staff. The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores for scientific literacy at these schools also tend to be considerably lower for provincial schools than for metropolitan schools, a gap that widened between 2003 and 2006. Much of the discrepancy may be accounted for by generally lower socioeconomic status and the higher proportion of Indigenous students, who on average score poorly on these tests. Rural students also tend to have different educational aspirations to metropolitan students: fewer rural students aspire to higher education than in metropolitan areas. However, once students are attending university, retention rates are as good as or better than those of metropolitan students. Recent SiMERR projects, described in more detail in the current edition of Teaching Science, include a Victorian team that has involved students in wine production, sustainable housing and water ecology; a Tasmanian team that has trialled a professional development unit on water quality testing; a Queensland project involving 12 single-teacher primary schools in sugar-cane farming; a South Australian team that has increased students’ ownership of their science learning through engagement with the local environment; and a Northern Territory project that has introduced early career scientists into school science classes. Rural communities are ideal settings for this type of curriculum-practice integration, since many interconnections between teachers, schools, organisations and community leaders are already in place.
Key Learning AreasScience
19 November 2008
A recent edweek.org chat session has featured the three editors of the forthcoming book The Development of Giftedness and Talent across the Life Span, Frances Degen Horowitz, Rena F Subotnik and Dona J Matthews, in a discussion about current knowledge of giftedness and its implications for classroom practice. Whereas ‘giftedness’ was previously thought to be a clearly defined category reflecting permanent characteristics of a person, current developmental theory now views the concept far more fluidly. The new conception means that gifted and talented behaviour can emerge at various points in the lifespan, provided conditions are supportive. It may also be suppressed or stunted at various points by a lack of attention to the different learning needs of gifted students, a lack of appropriate mentoring, or a lack of opportunities for interaction with peers of similar ability. Gifted education should in fact be included under the broad category of special education, because this implies the need for specific adjustments based on individuals’ higher learning needs. These learning needs and corresponding adjustments are usually domain-specific, though broad-based methods such as acceleration can also be extremely effective. (For a review of the research evidence on acceleration, see the report A Nation Deceived.) If teachers are limited by timetabling issues, the Renzulli Triad program is suggested, since it is focused on quickly discovering and supporting individual interests. High-quality teacher training is imperative, with the Teacher Knowledge and Skill Standards prepared by NAGC and CEC offering a detailed framework for teacher training in gifted and talented education. Identifying which children are candidates for extension or gifted programs can be difficult, but Professor David F Lohman’s papers, available on the web, provide information on matching students, tests and programs. While caution should be exercised in labelling students as gifted, not providing for the special needs of these highly able learners amounts to squandering a valuable future resource. Government funding is fairly negligible at this stage, and this must be improved. However, the first hurdle is to support gifted learners and the educators teaching them, since ‘the fiscal challenges are not as limiting as the attitudinal ones’.
Subject HeadingsGifted children
Gifted and talented (GAT) children
Leadership: is there a looming shortage?
Volume 7 Number 4, November 2008; Pages 12–17
The Staff in Australia's Schools 2007 (SIAS) report was produced by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) and the Australia College of Educators (ACE) ealier this year. The report includes an analysis of results from a nationwide survey of secondary and primary school teachers and leaders. Valid responses were received from approximately one-third of primary and secondary teachers with slightly higher rates from leaders in primary and secondary schools. The age distribution of primary and secondary teachers was similar, with relatively large proportions of respondents in both categories aged 50 years or older. Male teachers tended to be older, suggesting that the proportion of women in the profession is likely to rise. About one-half of the teachers and one-third of leaders were unsure of how much longer they intend to work in schools. About 12 per cent of primary and nine per cent of secondary teachers intended to apply for a position as principal, or deputy, vice or assistant principal, over the next three years. These figures suggest that there will continue to be a range of applicants for vacant leadership positions, given the high proportion of teachers to school leaders. More than twice as many males as females intended to apply for leadership positions at both primary and secondary levels. The overwhelming majority of prospective leadership applicants felt well prepared to lead, except in terms of financial management. Their main consideration in applying for these positions, beyond confidence in their own abilities, was a desire to contribute to school improvement.
Subject HeadingsSchool principals
Embarking on and persisting in scientific fields of study: cultural capital, gender, and curriculum along the science pipeline
Volume 30 Number 12, October 2008; Pages 1557–1584
The article examines the nature of female participation in science-related courses at secondary and tertiary level in Canada. It also examines the impact of families’ cultural capital on students’ choice of courses and careers. The study used longitudinal data for a cohort of secondary school graduates, focusing on senior secondary school, the transition to post-secondary study, and completion of tertiary studies. Senior secondary students were grouped into four categories: a mathematics group (MA) completing senior secondary maths but not science courses; life sciences (LS) completing biology but not physics, with or without maths or chemistry; physical sciences (PS) completing maths plus either physics or chemistry or both; and non-science (NS) students who did not complete any final year maths or science subjects. The LS group comprised 52 per cent female and 21 per cent male students, while the PS group comprised 16 per cent female and 51 per cent male students. Males and females had almost identical average final year marks in the LS and in the PS categories. PS and LS courses tended to attract students with university-educated parents, in contrast to NS courses. Students with university-educated parents tended to make career choices earlier than other students. At university level the completion rate of female students was significantly lower than that of male students, reaffirming the existence of a ‘leaking pipeline’ in the supply of female graduates to science teaching and other science professions. The evidence suggests that to enhance equity schools should provide more career guidance to students of disadvantaged families, as these students currently appear to make later, and less well-informed, vocational decisions. The study’s data covers the years 1988–1999 but is consistent with findings of later research in 2004–2005.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsSenior secondary education
Transitions in schooling
Conceptualizing instructional leadership: the voices of principals
Volume 40 Number 6, September 2008; Pages 694–714
Instructional leadership is often seen as one of principals’ most important responsibilities. However, principals hold considerably different interpretations of the concept. A recent study has asked 20 primary and secondary school principals to talk in detail about how they view instructional leadership. Their responses revealed four distinct interpretations. The relational approach, which was dominant for four of the principals, focuses on building relationships and supporting students’ psychological development. The linear approach assumes a direct relationship between cause and effect, focusing on student achievement and alignment of the school’s curriculum with national standards. Setting benchmarks and monitoring lesson plans were common practices for those taking a linear approach. While almost all principals made reference to standards and data-driven decisions at some point, five were classified predominantly favouring this linear approach. Organic instructional leadership, favoured by three principals, sees the instructional function of schools in a larger, more holistic perspective. Such leaders expect teachers to drive their own instruction, and are most satisfied when teachers take an idea and develop it themselves. This is the ‘learning community’ approach, and includes such strategies as peer classroom observations, team-based study of important school issues, and open discussions of school data. Organic instructional leadership is closely associated with research literature on the atmosphere of discussion and inquiry in successful schools. Organic instructional leadership duties include building a supportive environment and fostering a culture of inquiry. Prophetic instructional leadership, by contrast, is based on leading a school towards a ‘higher calling’. Two principals favoured this approach, which tends to be based on theological literature and emphasises connection to a common vision for students and staff. Prophetic instructional leaders encourage staff to question their assumptions about the purpose of schooling. All four conceptions have advantages and disadvantages. The relational perspective can be seen as a good starting point, although incomplete when employed on its own, while the linear approach may under-emphasise students’ personal development and the prophetic approach may under-emphasise academic achievement. The organic form of instructional leadership appears to be most promising, perhaps including elements of the prophetic approach that address broader meaning and purpose.
Teaching children social skills
Volume 10 Number 3, 2008; Page 16
Many children need explicit teaching of social skills. While parents and teachers often prompt children to say please and thank you, they may not explain how to be a good sport or how to approach a group and ask to join a game. Because most social opportunities at school are unstructured and take place outside of class, children who are already socially adept tend to have more opportunities to develop social skills than those who are timid or too aggressive. This creates an increasing knowledge gap between socially skilled and unskilled children. Examples of structured activities that can help to develop social skills include cooperative activities with limited resources, to teach children to share amicably; board games with explicit sets of rules, to develop a sense of fairness; and role plays, to practise ignoring a bully or approaching a group. Except in extreme cases, it is usually best to help children solve their own social problems. They can be asked to come up with alternatives for handling the situation and given feedback and perhaps suggestions. In this way children learn to feel confident in navigating the social world themselves. Another area in which many children need assistance is linking their behaviour with its consequences. A child who hits others when angry, for instance, may see his or her difficulty finding friends as a result of internal qualities rather than behaviour. Children can be helped with this by asking them how they think the other person felt, and why they might feel reluctant to be friends because of that feeling.
Social life and customs
Volume 44 Number 4, October 2008; Pages 529–561
While collective or distributed leadership is increasingly thought to be beneficial for schools, there has been little empirical support for this view. A recent study has further explored the relationship between distributed leadership and student achievement, finding that higher-achieving schools accorded more leadership influence overall, and at all levels of the leadership hierarchy, than did lower-achieving schools. The study was based on a survey of 2,570 teachers from 90 primary and secondary schools in the USA, and was part of the larger Learning for Leadership study. Their responses to questions about leadership influence, working environment, teacher capacity and motivation were collated and compared with data on student achievement on three consecutive years of standardised tests. Collective leadership was found to be associated with positive but relatively modest effects on student achievement. When teacher-related mediating factors were examined, higher student achievement was found to be associated with high teacher motivation and a positive school setting, with teacher capacity and professional development having less of an impact. Higher-achieving schools also tended to accord more influence to staff teams and parent groups than did lower-achieving schools. However, the traditional, hierarchical model of leadership was dominant in both low-achieving and high-achieving schools: while students and teachers were accorded more influence in the higher-achieving schools, this was accompanied by a higher influence for those at the top of the hierarchy. Leadership influence is therefore not a zero-sum game, since increases in influence at lower levels of the hierarchy are not associated with decreases for high-level administrators. It is therefore not possible to conclude that a flatter leadership structure is more effective than one that is clearly tiered. The challenge for schools is to accord influence to all stakeholders so as to use the capacity available in the most intelligent and productive way possible.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
Volume 44 Number 3, August 2008; Pages 424–435
‘Distributed leadership’ is a term with increasing currency in educational leadership literature, but there is currently little consistency in how it is used in research and practice. This means that researchers and administrators often ‘talk past each other’, using definitions that contain subtle differences. Four different usages of ‘distributed leadership’ can be distinguished. The original, primarily descriptive definition, re-locates leadership from individuals to the school-wide level. It also involves a study of ‘concertive action’, or the small activities that constitute leadership. The other three usages are closely linked to prescriptions to improve leadership practice. The second usage is to focus on the capacity of distributive leadership to increase democratic practices in schools. It is based on the premise that leadership should be shared equitably among school staff. Research suggests, however, that shared decision making can unnecessarily stress teachers and may not lead to improvements in teaching practice. The third usage emphasises distributed leadership as a means for increasing efficiency and effectiveness. In this view, it is most efficient for leadership tasks to be spread across qualified individuals, rather than creating a bottleneck at the top of the hierarchy. Empirical support is again mixed, with some suggestions that the principal’s job is made more manageable. Other studies find higher scores on distributed leadership to be associated with lower levels of student engagement. Care must be taken to ensure that distributing leadership does not equate to 'the distribution of incompetence'. The fourth usage is to see distributed leadership as human capacity building, with collective goals and the valuing of expertise over formal authority. Unfortunately, the empirical support for this view has not yet been as strong as was hoped. This may be because few schools are able to sustain the high level of collective inquiry and change advocated in this view. It remains, however, the most promising avenue for future research.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
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