Does Australia have poor quality teachers?

In its amusing Leftist way, "New Matilda" has broached this question.  Conservative State and Federal politicians have said that the quality of teaching in Australian schools needs to be raised and this has aroused "New Matilda" ire.  So I read the characteristically long-winded article concerned right through looking for contrary evidence.  There was none. It was just a very wordy fulmination.  It was just an outpouring of rage, as one expects from Leftists. I reproduce some of it below.

Most amusing of all, they DO look at the evidence on one thing:  The policy of the last Labour government of giving every child a laptop computer.  So this wonderful Leftist idea worked wonders? No. They quite fairly point out that it did no good at all!

So are there any scholarly comments or constuctive suggestions in the article?  I can't see any.  It is just an offended shriek.

I was also amused that the two female writers confessed that they are not themselves teachers.  Leftists love "ad hominem" arguments so let me use one against them.  I taught for many years at both the secondary school and university levels and, along the way, got to see a bit about my fellow teachers.  And the unavoidable conclusion is that teacher quality is very patchy.

And teacher training has got nothing to do with it.  Like university degrees for nurses, it may even be a negative influence.  The expansion of teacher training from one year to four has certainly not been shown to raise teaching quality.

As the "Teach for America" program has clearly shown, teachers are largely born, not made.  And born teachers are rare.  So I concur with the judgements of some of my fellow conservatives that teaching quality in our schools is often poor.

Unlike them and unlike "New Matilda", however, I have a solution that works and has been working for many years.  Teachers themselves usually decry it but the evidence has long been in.

What is needed are large class sizes so that the limited teaching talent that is available can be spread widely.  I can dig up plenty of research evidence to that effect if anybody wants it.

Teachers are the scapegoats for any shortcomings in our education system. Maurie Mulheron, the President of the NSW Teacher’s Federation, who is an actual teacher, who has taught actual students, in actual classrooms, argues that, “Many of our schools are akin to emergency wards in hospitals. No-one talks about the quality of doctors and nurses – they talk about the quality of health and the resources the hospitals need”.

Furthermore, reforms have characteristically happened to schools and teachers, rather than in collaboration with them. Funds are issued and cut upon the whim of the politician, and the syllabus, particularly Australian history, is a political plaything.

But if you ask Christopher Pyne, he will insist that a researcher once told him that “teachers are the biggest influence on student’s achievement”, and thus you do not need any more ‘resources’ aka ‘money’.

Piccoli and Pyne must be the products of exceptional maths teachers, because what they are doing is economically clever, albeit socially inexcusable. Pyne, in an article written at the beginning of the last year, argued:

“The quality of our teaching and quality of our teachers is seen as one of the important, if not most important, determinants affecting education performance…. A quality education system must be underpinned by quality teachers. The profession knows it, parents want it, our students deserve it and the nation needs it.”
Inspiring stuff. Except for the part where he says that teachers have been very bad for a while now, and despite his best efforts, he cannot sculpt a quality education system out of crappy teachers.

Apparently teachers are letting down parents, students, and, well, not to exaggerate, but the entire nation. You know how everything in the United States is Obama’s fault? Teachers are Australia’s Obama.

Can’t get a job? Thanks TEACHERS

Kicked your toe? Thanks TEACHERS

Nation goes to war? Thanks TEACHERS

If we weren’t so angry, we would almost respect Pyne’s political manoeuvre to shift all blame for everything that goes wrong onto one of the most underpaid and undervalued occupations.

It is borderline genius.

To clarify, Pyne would have us believe that it is the individuals who educate our nation’s children, who teach them to read and write, and add and subtract, and speak languages and draw, and play the bloody recorder (now THAT, they owe an apology for), and understand their bodies and sexual development, and discipline and focus, who are to blame for students’ less than exceptional results.

It is the individuals who accept the wage which may mean they can never own a home in Sydney, or claim helicopter rides on tax, or go out to fancy lunches and get drunk on Fridays, who must work harder, and study Masters and PhDs which do not necessarily correspond to more money, who need to ‘be better at your job plz’ quote Mr Pyne.

Pyne might have had a little more credibility if he had read the research correctly.

The Conversation ran an article a few years ago, which clarified that whilst teachers are the biggest in-school influence, various other school and non-school factors far outweigh the influence of teachers. Funding matters, as does socio-economic status, and available resources.

We’re no ‘Education Minister’, but we do not accept that the alleged “dumbing down” of students is a result of teacher quality.

You know what this week is, Pyne and Piccoli? It’s Book Week.

Primary School teachers all over Australia are dressed as Little Red Riding Hood. We would take your argument more seriously if you were dressed as Voldemort and Humpty Dumpty respectively. Oh, and Joe Hockey can be Robin Hood, except he steals from the poor and gives to the rich.

There is a great deal that NAPLAN cannot test. Among them is enthusiasm for learning and teacher quality.

So it’s time for Pyne and Piccoli, who have fabricated the teacher’s fall, and criticised them for not doing it all, to get all the state governments and all those Liberal men, to try and build up the teaching profession again. [How?  More money, I guess.  That's the invariant call from teacher unions.  It has never been shown to work, however]


1 comment:

  1. Regarding: "What is needed are large class sizes so that the limited teaching talent that is available can be spread widely. I can dig up plenty of research evidence to that effect if anybody wants it."

    I am interested in it, if you don't mind putting it up.

    It seems clear to me that large class sizes are better than small ones. Good teachers are often happy with large class sizes - I have been. And poor teachers don't like it, so large class sizes tend to filter out the poor teachers. I notice all my prior fellow clinicians disliked large behaviour change groups. Most prefer groups of six, and a few can tolerate twelve, and even then they prefer to work in pairs, poor dears. I have always been happy to work alone and with as big a group as the room can hold.


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