Education revolution? Pah! It’s a bureaucrat bonanza
The Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek, in the Road to Serfdom, warns against centralised planning and control. He also warns of the conceit evidenced by bureaucrats and politicians that they can regulate and manage the myriad, complex relationships and transactions underpinning an open and free society.
One doubts whether Minister Garrett or the educrats responsible for the draft Australian Teacher Performance and Development Framework have ever read Hayek’s book – if they had, they would realise how dangerous and counter-productive it is.
The teacher performance framework, released last week, represents the most recent milestone in the Rudd/Gillard education revolution and the mania the Commonwealth Government has to micromanage schools. Even though Canberra neither owns any schools nor employs any staff, all roads lead to Canberra.
All Australian schools, government, Catholic and independent, are being forced to implement a national curriculum, national testing and assessment regime, national teacher registration and certification and, most recently, a national approach to evaluating teacher performance and management.
While mouthing the rhetoric of school autonomy and school diversity, the ALP Commonwealth Government is mandating a uniform approach in key areas that impose excessive compliance costs and restrict autonomy and flexibility at the local level.
Best illustrated by the Building the Education Revolution fiasco, the danger is that schools are forced to implement programs and directives from head office that mandate an inflexible, ineffective and costly model of school management.
The flaws in the draft teacher performance framework are many.
Much of education has fallen to the world of corporate clichés and hollow rhetoric and the draft framework provides its fair share of superficial statements. The framework describes research evidence as “unequivocal”, teacher quality is described as “the most significant in-school factor” and schools are called on to create “a culture of performance and management”.
Principals, instead of being exemplary teachers or visionaries committed to the higher purposes of education, are now responsible for “creating a culture of professional improvement, feedback and growth” and for managing a “performance and development cycle” for all staff.
The framework provides yet another example, along with national literacy and numeracy testing and making results public on the My School website, of the fetish to limit education to what can be ‘objectively’ measured. When evaluating performance schools are told “objectives should be designed to be measurable and clear about the evidence to be used to measure them”.
Ignored is that much of what an inspiring and successful teacher does impacts on students in the long term and in ways that might not be immediately identifiable or able to be measured.
One only needs to read the list of measures that schools and teachers will be forced to employ when evaluating performance, ranging from parent and student feedback, teacher self-assessment and peer review, impact on student outcomes and classroom observation, to realise what a cumbersome, time consuming and bureaucratic exercise the performance regime represents.
Teachers, and school leaders, are already overwhelmed with the bureaucratic, managerial model of education being forced on schools and the situation is about to get a lot worse.
Valuable time and energy will be lost as teachers collect and collate mountains of evidence required for evaluating performance.
Worse still with Minister Garrett’s teacher performance plan is the fact, to be eligible, that teachers will have to pay $1,500 up front with no guarantee that they will be rewarded and, in addition, much of the bonus will be lost to the tax office.
Such is the power of helicopter parents and the self-esteem, care, share, grow movement that teachers, to be successful, will have to ensure that all students are winners and parents feel their children are above reproach.
It’s not only parents and students that teachers will have to kowtow to. As classroom teachers already understand, in order to get a tick much of the evidence they will have to produce will have to comply with the most recent education fads and whatever head office nominates as a priority.
Instead of classroom practice being based on what practitioners know is most effective and achievable, teachers will be forced to copy such mindless, politically correct fads like open classrooms, inquiry-based learning (where teachers become guides by the side and children are knowledge navigators) and collaborative, negotiated, diagnostic assessment where the word “fail” is banned and all students are successful.
Much of what Australian schools are being forced to implement under the Rudd/Gillard education revolution banner has been tried in the US and the UK and the proposed teacher performance system is no exception.
Even more depressing for schools and teachers is the reality that innovations like national testing, naming and shaming schools and performance and bonus schemes for teachers have failed to raise standards, strengthen schools or support teachers in what is an increasingly stressful and difficult profession.
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