Schools learn hard way

Schools learn hard way. By Kevin Donnelly

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard argues that her government’s education revolution is the only way to raise standards and strengthen outcomes. Whether the Building the Education Revolution, national testing and a national curriculum, computers in schools or national teacher certification and registration, Gillard believes all roads lead to Canberra and that only her policies will achieve success.

Nothing could be further from the truth. As the past four years of botched programs, cost over-runs, delays and mismanagement prove, the Gillard-inspired and orchestrated education revolution is conceptually flawed, wasteful and ineffective.

Notwithstanding the promise to give schools greater flexibility and autonomy, as noted by Melbourne-based education expert Brian Caldwell, the reality is that the ALP’s education revolution exemplifies a command and control model of public policy.

No wonder Australia’s school principals complain about compliance costs associated with responding to the federal government’s increasing dictates and that teachers complain of the excessive workload caused by an intrusive model of educational delivery.

The billion-dollar BER program, in addition to failing to deliver value for money, imposed a one-size-fits-all template on schools that denied local communities the right to design and manage infrastructure best suited to their needs.

The computer in schools program is over budget and behind schedule and the promise to give all secondary schools a technical trade centre has been abandoned. As proved by both national and international test results it’s also the case, despite the billions spent and excessive demands imposed on teachers and schools, that results have failed to improve.

In relation to the Program for International Student Assessment, not only are countries we once outperformed now achieving better results, but we now have fewer students achieving at the highest level. Students’ results in the National Assessment Literacy and Numeracy Program have also deteriorated.

Best illustrated by the decision made by NSW, Victoria and Western Australia to delay implementation of the national curriculum, there are also fears that imposing a centrally designed and mandated curriculum will lead to a lowest common denominator approach where all students suffer.

Notwithstanding the rhetoric about being world’s best and making Australia more internationally competitive, the reality is the ALP’s education revolution is founded on overseas polices that are now seen to be flawed and counter-productive.

When she was education minister, Gillard, after visiting New York and hosting the head of education Joel Klein’s visit to Australia, lauded that city’s success and justified increased testing and accountability by what was happening in the Big Apple.

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