Some thoughts on the Gonski "2.0" report

The second Gonski Review was publicly released this week to a storm of controversy and diversity of opinions among educators, policy wonks and researchers. 

The panel had a hard task. It was asked to focus on the school and classroom factors that can make the biggest, sustained difference to educational achievement, while ignoring the many, meaty structural issues such as funding allocations, residualisation, federalism and system coherence, which influence schooling outcomes. These had been explored in the earlier review chaired by David Gonski (and in my own work).   Despite these limitations, the panel did a pretty good job, outlining a vision of where Australian schooling should be heading (spoiler: a student-centred school system which values and supports educators) and some of the tools and changes needed to get there.

I was pleased to read the priority reforms put forward in the Mitchell Institute submission were endorsed as recommendations in Gonski2.0. And I was particularly enthused to see learning growth over time, personalised learning, and student agency plus additional time and evidence-based tools to support teachers and principals in their vital work as educators and instructional leaders at the centre of the report.

Of course, many of the key recommendations put forward are already happening in schools around Australia, including schools I've had the pleasure of working with over the years. (Check out Templestowe College, Rooty Hill High School and Marlborough Primary). But such approaches are not systematically supported or encouraged by current policy, accountability and regulatory frameworks, nor are they made easy for already over-stretched schools or teachers.

One of the biggest obstacles - recognised in this report - is the absence of timely, fine-grain and useable data at classroom level on teaching impact, and of tools to put such insights into practice in a way that is tailored to individuals and their different contexts.  Such data is in many ways the missing link, connecting teaching with learning in real time.  

Pivot, the organisation I've just joined, works with schools and systems to gain these vital insights into teaching effectiveness using student perception data and peer feedback, and uses this to provide confidential reports and curated resource packs to teachers, and aggregated reports to school leaders, on their greatest strengths and development areas.  These insights and tools are keys to unlock greater effectiveness and learning growth.

Student and peer feedback data can rightly take emphasis away from NAPLAN, which has been misused and conflated in both purpose and importance, with perverse effects at the individual, school and system levels. NAPLAN should be put back into perspective - a nationally-comparable point-in-time assessment of a few essential learning areas, to be used alongside other data sets and most importantly, formative assessments, to guide decisions on programs and resource allocation.

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ACEL Leadership Award for Paradigm Shifting initiative

With my colleagues from the Mitchell Institute and project partners -  Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals, the New South Wales Secondary Principals Council and 21 government schools in Victoria and NSW - we are DELIGHTED to be receiving an ACEL Leadership Award for our work on the Paradigm Shifters: Entrepreneurial learning in schools initiative.

This award is presented annually to educators, schools, networks, and professional associations who have demonstrated excellent leadership in developing and implementing a significant education initiative, conducting research or influencing educational policy, leading to improved outcomes for students and/or colleagues in any educational setting. 

This was a collaborative initiative and we would like to thank everyone involved, in particular:

  • The Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals and New South Wales Secondary Principals Council for their support as partners of the initiative.

  • The network coordinators, Dianne Hennessy and Wayne Perkins, who each coordinated a state-wide network of schools.

  • The staff and students from the participating schools who joined us on this journey over 18 months, and who took the lead in identifying and responding to problems or opportunities in their school or broader community.

  • Mitchell Institute Adviser Dr Michelle Anderson, Policy Analyst Hannah Matus and Policy Fellow Dr Bronwyn Hinz  who provided project leadership and research on the initiative.

  • Mitchell Institute Professorial Fellow and International Adviser, Professor Yong Zhao, whose work on the three principles of entrepreneurial learning inspired the initiative. 

The award was conferred on Thursday 5 October  2017 at the ACEL National Awards Ceremony.

This piece was originally published - with a few grammatical changes for readability - on the website of the Mitchell Institute.

The importance of the early years - and the kids we leave behind

Australia's most important information on early childhood development, the 2015 AEDC National Report was released on Tuesday. It reveals that around 60,000 children are developmentally vulnerable in their first year of school.  Evidence shows this early disadvantage affects children's performance throughout their schooling, and beyond.

The Australian Early Development Census measures kids' development in their first year of school across five domains: physical health and wellbeing, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive skills (school-based), and communication skills and general knowledge

In this article published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, my Mitchell Institute colleague Megan O'Connell and I unpack the data - what's improving, what's worsening, what's puzzling - and the centrality of high quality, early childhood education and care in unlocking every child's potential.

"The most important discussion of the last 40 years for Australian schools"

Flat or falling results in the national literacy and numeracy (NAPLAN) tests, persistent gaps in resources and school completion rates, and worryingly-high student disengagement indicate new approaches are needed in education policy.

Australia's federalism system of government may seem abstract or even irrelevant to efforts to improve student learning and outcomes.  But the messy arrangement of government responsibilities for school funding, policy, program delivery, regulation, evaluation and accountability directly affects every school in the country and limits their capacity to help students achieve their full potential. A smarter alignment of these responsibilities among governments would mean that precious funding and time would be better-targeted to where needs are greatest, reducing the growing gap in resources and outcomes. It would make it easier for schools and school systems to develop, implement and evaluate cohesive programs tailored to the needs of their students, and to collaborate with other schools, with families and with agencies working in health and welfare. Finally, it would make it easier for educators and policy makers around the country to understand their impact and to learn from each other in a cycle of continuous improvement.

Today the Melbourne School of Government launched a new report I prepared for them called Schooling Federalism: Evaluating the Options for Reform.  This report assesses the four reform options proposed by the Prime Minister's Department's federalism taskforce in their leaked Green Paper and Discussion Paper late June.

These four options received scant media attention and analysis. The bulk of the commentary focused on Option 4 and its footnote. Under this Option, the Commonwealth government would have provided all school funding (and potentially charged fees for public school education, which I discuss here) while the states would have done almost everything else including provision of public schools and regulation for all schools. This would have been disastrous for policy effectiveness, efficiency, fairness and accountability. It was also extremely unlikely to be pursued. 

The absence of scrutiny of the other three options was worrying. In this report I measure each of the reform proposals against the six criteria put forward by the federalism taskforce and also consider their political feasibility and desirability.

Option 1 (full state responsibility for education) was the clear winner, but its success is dependent upon the states receiving revenue increase commensurate with increased funding responsibilities. Option 3 (greatly reduced Commonwealth involvement) offers similar potential to improve learning outcomes and equity, although to a lesser degree. Under all four options, ACARA, the national curriculum, NAPLAN and MySchool would be retained, but with the Commonwealth taking a back seat and instead following the states' leadership and supporting their initiatives when in the national interest.

Complementing the online launch of the report was a national radio interview on RN Sunday Extra. Host Jonathan Green and I explored some of the complexities and historical background in what Dale Pearce, Principal of Bendigo Senior Secondary College and Board member of Victoria's Curriculum and Assessment Authority, described as "the most important discussion of the last 40 years for Australian schools."

Of course, what works in one policy domain is not necessarily appropriate for others. For those interested in vocational education and training and the best intergovernmental arrangements for this important area, check out the valuable work of Peter Noonan and other colleagues at the Mitchell Institute for Health and Education Policy.

Frontiers and opportunities in Australian education

My latest publication, a chapter on schooling policy in the newest edition of Social Policy in Australia: Understanding for Action has just been released.

It looks at issues and opportunities in education policy.

As the chapter argues, education is the bedrock of a successful society. It benefits individuals, communities and the nation. Relative to other developed nations, Australia's education system is relatively high performing but with sub par equity. Decades of reforms and increased spending by state and Commonwealth have had minimal impact reducing this inequality or improving excellence.

Contributing to these challenges is the uneasy relationship between choice and equity - competing principles that have been ever present in education policy in Australia. The book can be bought on Oxford University Press' website and from university bookstores. To whet your appetite, you can read an edited extract discussing the choice and equity aspect on MI Brief, the Mitchell Institute's blog.

New approaches to persistent problems in Australia's schools. (And a new position!)

I’m excited to formally announce that I’ve joined the Mitchell Institute for Health and Education Policy as a Policy Fellow.

The Mitchell Institute for Health and Education Policy is an independent think tank that works with researchers, governments, analysts and communities to improve the connection between evidence-based social research and public policy reform.

The Institute will put emergent policy issues at the heart of its research agenda and promote sustainable policy change that addresses some of Australia’s most challenging health and education issues.

Our first publication ‘New approaches to persistent problems in Australia’s schools’ outlines four bold propositions policymakers could pursue to enable and accelerate system-wide improvements to learning and equity.