Nov, 2010 Compulsory schooling – a sick joke.



In November 2010, New York  presented a shameless charade exposing the way in which children, who are forced to attend school, are treated. The city’s dictatorial leader, Mayor Bloomberg, has decided that a non-teacher magazine editor will be appointed as the head of its schooling system to take the place of the non-teacher, sweet-talking Chancellor who has been busy promoting mediocre general standards in his city’s district system, while boasting that test results are improving.

Cathie Black, a successful magazine editor, comes from Rupert Murdoch’s empire to take the place of Joel Klein, a politically successful lawyer who is moving into Murdoch’s employ at the end of 2010. There was a hitch. The New York State Education Commission prefers experienced personnel; and it has a condition that the role of Chancellor be held by someone who has at least three years of teaching. This was waived by the State Board of Education in the case of Joel Klein, at the ‘request’ of the Mayor. This time, Cathie Black’s credentials are completely zero on all schooling counts; and there has been significant opposition to her appointment including a senator-elect, the City Council’s Education Committee and 5,800 petitioning parents. As one N.Y. Councillor said to Bloomberg, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Online petitions to Dr. Steiner, the State Commissioner, pleaded with him not to make the mistake made in 2002 when Joel Klein was appointed. Dr. Steiner, despite protests outside his home and heavy public comment, has followed the cautious managerial practice of appointing a panel of ‘experts’ to consider the appointment. It seems to be a stacked deck, with five of the eight members sure to follow the wishes of Bloomberg. At least two have benefited substantially from the Mayor’s generosity and three of them have worked for Klein.  As one New York Times columnist says, “That’s New York, kiddies.”

The saga continues with a suggestion that Steiner might approve a waiver if a school-experienced deputy is appointed. Bloomberg does not like such a compromise.  It threatens his status. At the panel’s first meeting to consider the waiver of Black’s lack of credentials, there were 2 in favour, 2 against, 2 for ‘hold for the time being’, 2 were missing. A University poll indicates that 51% disapprove of Black’s appointment, while 26% do. To enhance the farce, it has now been found that Joel Klein’s new job creates a serious conflict of interest. His new Murdoch subsidiary is taking over his old district’s testing program, and there’s heaps of cash to be made in test publication. It’s all  a joke…a very sick one, kiddies.

Australia now follows this meretricious New York pattern to care for its own kids. Klein-struck Education Minister Gillard, [with a Bloomberg-like dictatorial bent], decided that Australia should copy the Klein hard-data based system because he told her that he had magical managerial powers and sold her the porky that hard-line management works in schools. She didn’t need any further information. She balefully introduced the institutionalised sadistic model forthwith, not referring to any school folk anywhere; and Australia is stuck with the pursuit of New York’s mediocre learning pursuits. [It was heartening to hear respected journalist Brian Toohey draw attention to the problem on The Insiders on 21 Nov.2010].

A description of Mayor Bloomberg unhappily applies to Ms Gillard: “…elitist, autocratic and genuinely does not care what critics thinks, all the more so if those critics are professional educators.” [Elissa Gootman] Fortunately for our Julia, professional educators, concerned about the evil assault on children’s learning, are in short supply

Australian citizens have a right to seek answers and to press for genuine reform, but they remain silent. Her Immenseness and her claque pursue the installation of fear-driven schooling for all Australian children while the states fiddle, almost wantonly over the years, with various structures.  The range of differences in schooling structures that a small country such as ours, tolerate, is amazings. Amongst them….

We have different ages of admission to formal schooling;

We have different ages of exiting formal schooling;

We have different number of years of schooling for Primary pupils;

 We have different names for the first year of schooling;

and so it goes on and on with some peculiar structural changes to some state systems. They tinker. That’s Australia, kiddies.

While blanket testing forces teachers to turn Mathematics into Calculations only, the study of English into Spelling and Grammar mostly; and Science into a paper-and pencil subject…rivalling New York at its worst… we stay silent. The present emphasis on skill development in schools is unparalleled. We are heading away from the prospect of a decent education system at a fast rate.

“Clearly, what is currently passing for education reform is nothing more than smoke and mirrors designed to ….. stupidify education” says U.S. parent reformer Pricilla Gutierrez. That seems to sum it all up.

The Senate Inquiry into NAPLAN offered an opportunity for Australian people to have a say, and the public decided not to do so in large numbers. There were 270 written submissions, and those of us who did write, failed to emphasise the relationship between blanket testing and classroom learning. Indeed, the author of the Terms on Reference did not ask for such comment, but it did give some of us a chance to have a say. Such comments were, rightfully, ignored. The window was opened a little and, with some professional comment about teaching and learning from more organisations, it could have been opened wider, but it was kept closed. It was a Naplan and Myschool thing.

There is no place in a real, live learning institution, such as a primary school, to have anything whatsoever to do with hard, judgemental blanket testing, such as Australia borrowed from New York. We needed to talk about that issue; as well as what goes on in the classroom, and how we can connect the levels of achievement above any pre-existing levels with the relationship to the desire to learn. It’s not that difficult to do. We didn’t talk about it. Classroom teachers know about it but they are busy people, so we don’t ask them. The organisation of compulsory schooling is just too sick to talk about in public. Open debate is well controlled. That’s what we do in Dystralia, kids.

 We didn’t say enough about the kids, nor judge the morality, necessity, evaluative use, learning outcomes and alterations to classroom practices of the tests, from a child’s view. It’s touchy, because careful consideration would probably lead to a banning of the testing program.  All interested folk and organisations were too concerned about Julia’s website that, it is alleged, describes schools properly; and the senators themselves had a busy enough time having to study the written submissions at the same time as their personal and party futures were threatened during the federal election. It was tough on them. It was such a shame that ‘MySchool’, the auto-da-fa of Australian schooling, took over real schooling issues in the turmoil. The Green Party’s initiative to have such an inquiry, in the absence of a suitable policy of its own, was politically astute but it required a committee of super-people with heaps of time and serious terms of reference. Some of its officers will have to start writing early, I suspect, if the report is to surface this year.  In any case, Julia will be pleased with the outcome and use it to her advantage.

Post Script: The above was written prior to the release of the Report on Monday, 29 November, which gave three hearty cheers for Naplan, as expected. Hang in there kids; it won’t disappear for another twenty years.  Your generation of teachers will be anxious people, manipulating their syllabuses so that they can find time to coach you, especially during the first few months of each year. I now wish that I had kept my old Weekly Tests in Arithmetic and Grammar from my testing-fixated Principal days. Even my six general half-term exams would be handy. You see, in my infantile ‘professional’ period, I believed that practice was important, and that fear-of-failure could be implanted; and that sharing pupil progress, as an evaluator with the evaluatee, was too difficult to undertake. Besides, I didn’t know much about it…not as much as classroom teachers know these days. I’d, now, surely make a few bucks from publishing steady testing programs for use for the first few months of each year. On second thoughts, shares in ACER these days might prove more profitable. Might as well make money out of the sorry mess…but then there is … professionalism. Bugger.