Time for Demarcation

A phenomenon of recent times is that many western world school authorities have placed the context of public schooling in the hands of the inexperienced. It has happened because of the laissez-faire attitude of governments and authorities, and their unfortunate belief that the possession of a university degree, especially a doctorate no matter what its special-interest,  imposes know-it-all powers on the possessors. There is also a prevailing belief that one’s experience in one educational field of endeavour, imposes wide knowledge of another. Consequently, plumbers have been placed in charge of the garage because they own a car. Their schooling experience has been too brief and too narrow; and in far too many instances, does not exist.

Not many Grade 3 teachers move directly to positions as Deans of Education faculties, but many University Professors have taken important positions controlling the activities of primary and secondary schools, even school systems. Many of them must feel quite uncomfortable; and often lost. The array of backgrounds of people controlling, advising and running school operations with which they have limited experience is staggering. In Australian states crucial schooling positions are occupied by proven public servants, bright academics and hard-data test-technicians, who exert a more than useful influence on political decision-makers and on those in a power position. It is  out of kilter, big time. Worse still, in countries,such as the USA, whose operations Australia unthinkingly tends to copy, lawyers,  scientists and non-school professionals are in charge of school districts, state departments and Washington-based progams. As a result schooling tends to range from poor to miserable.

There needs to be a much clearer demarcation between domains of schooling. Those experienced in primary schooling should stay where they are and run their show, secondary teaching run  by experienced secondary teachers, tertiary by tertiary. For positions in many authorities, districts and schools, an ambitious parvenu is presently able to present a distinctive CV, interview well, and move to a task with little or no experience in the job requirements. Coloured print and thespian ability are very important. The method is sometimes called the Patel system of appointment. [Patel is a medical doctor who was appointed to a hospital in Queensland without his expertise being properly examined].

The various sectors of the educational world need to be returned to their owners. As weird as it seems, Australian schooling with its heavily influential Naplan testing program is totally in the hands of a private firm whose forte is producing tests for a price. Believe it.  The firm, Australian Council for Educational Research [ACER] has more control over the conduct of schooling than does the Australian Primary Principals Association [APPA] and the Australian Secondary Primcipals Association [ASPA] and any state or federal authority that thinks that it is in charge of curriculum issues. Whatever is tested in what is taught.  Indeed the schools associations’ opinion is ignored and their expertise tightly coralled and controlled.   ACER a private enterprise,  prepares the tests and sells them to the government and a major contest is then established: Schools versus Test Constructors. Then, the  results of the contest determine the next set of decisions affecting schooling.  Neat?  This is how Australia runs its schooling system. What is taught in schools and the level of importance of subject matter is in the hands of ACER.

It is all too apparent that governments and authorities seem unable to focus on the pupils and their attraction for learning and are  incapable of arranging workable systems that start from this point. They prefer the top-down, ‘some-one-else should know what to do’ position, currently employed.

In perilous times such as these first two decades of the 21st century, primary teachers, their principals, their representatives and their colleagues have become medusoid. Professional ethics are held in suspension, while jellyfish learn to pussy-foot. Perhaps my generation did as well…during the 1970-80s  world-wide Standards Debate, the 1980s Minimal Competency Movement in the U.S. and the 1970-80s Assessment of Performance in the U.K.  We should be ashamed, of course. As an excuse, it has been suggested that a conditioned response of teachers is  to be nice to every-body, to expect everybody to do as they are told…so they do. It’s all part of their job requirement and those with a dictatorial bent capitalise  The position is so serious now, however,  that it is the time for teachers to develop backbone, establish firm ethical standards and take it from there.

We can start by sharing our knowledge of testing as part of pupil-evaluation, with our communities and telling them what happens in schools when blanket tests are imposed from beyond the school. Forget about Codes of Conduct that frighten teachers into submission. As John Goodlad suggests : “We must generate in all communities a richly comprehensive conversation about what our schools are for.”  We must talk turkey about the effects of mass testing on school curriculum time and on teaching and learning; and encourage parents to discuss the pros and cons of the compulsory national tests.  Why can’t parents have their say on how to provide better schooling? For instance, if the allocation of school time to curriculum issues has to be rearranged so that more practice time is given to testable things, parents should choose the items that have to be dropped or modified. That’s democratic.

Australia could not do better than to give its schooling operations back completely to those who know what it is all about. The experienced should be in control and not just  be beholden to super-ordinate controllers, the politicians and the test constructors, whenever teacher or principal opinions are sought. Such bitsa information is seldom conveyed to those who run the show…the test constructors….the ACER.  Hard data systems of schooling, such as this, are never efficient nor effective, so, one supposes, we are stuck with this state of affairs for a couple of decades.