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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Does NAPLAN need an overhaul?

Since 2008, Australia has had a national assessment program for literacy and numeracy (NAPLAN), providing objective, nationally-comparative 'point in time' data to governments, schools, parents and the public on how students and schools are tracking on these essential learning foundations.

It replaced standardised literacy and numeracy tests at the state level that had been in place for almost 20 years but were difficult to compare and were not available to the public or external researchers.

NAPLAN is not an authoritative, holistic assessment of the capacity or quality of a student, teacher or school. Nor is it a high stakes test - students are not penalised for poor performance and NAPLAN results do not effect the remuneration of individual teachers.

NAPLAN is a diagnostic tool to assist school leaders and policy makers deciding how to allocate resources and tailor programs and strategies to maximise learning for their students. It also provides objective "snapshot" data to parents and teachers on how individual students are tracking, and an extra piece of information - objective data - to assist them deciding which school to send their kids, rather than relying solely on visits, advertising materials, at times sensationalist media and hearsay.

While NAPLAN's objectives are very worthy, misconceptions over the test and an over-emphasis on it by a small minority of parents and schools has raised serious concerns.  I joined Senator Penny Wright on ABC television's News Breakfast program on 28 March to discuss the Senate Inquiry into these concerns. Here's the segment and the report.  I also discussed whether MySchool be abolished on ABC's Radio National on March 7.

Is the Education Revolution finally here?

Here’s a piece of mine on the University of Melbourne’s 2010 Federal election blog, which gathers commentary and analysis from academics and postgraduate students.

This week Prime Minister Gillard announced a suite of radical policies that will do far more to improve student learning than any school hall or national curriculum ever could.  Performance bonuses for teachers and schools; Teach Next, which moves passionate professionals into teaching careers; and an Australian Baccalaureate to complement state high school certificates. Combined with earlier initiatives such as the MySchool website which compares school performance and profiles across the country; and last week’s promise to hand more power back to principals and parents, we have a real revolution.  Not just of schooling policy, but Labor policy….

Read the rest of this piece here, or my commentary in earlier education policies here.