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The Forum > Article Comments > PISA a downwards slope for our students > Comments

PISA a downwards slope for our students : Comments

By Kevin Donnelly, published 16/12/2010

Australia's education system might be good enough for now, but it's not good enough for tomorrow.

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You argue that "Given the fact that Catholic and independent schools outperform government schools, even after adjusting for students' SES, ... the best way to overcome disadvantage is to properly fund non-government schools and to introduce vouchers or tax credits to allow more parents to embrace school choice" based, in part, on this 'conclusion' from an ACER report written by two University of Melbourne researchers, Kaye Stacey and Max Stephens: "This means that socioeconomic background is not a particularly strong predictor of performance at the level of the individual student in Australia with students from both high and low socioeconomic backgrounds achieving across the spectrum of performance".

As you do not provide a link to that report, here's one for anyone who may be interested in it:

Yet, in the very same report, and immediately after the 'conclusion' that you quote, they state:

"Based on this evidence, it seems reasonable to conclude that efforts to improve students’ performance in Australia need to be targeted at low performing students and low performing schools wherever they are located and whatever their social background. Relying on other indicators to guide where programs should be targeted would run the risk of dissipating the effectiveness of additional resources by including a sizeable proportion of students who already have acceptable performance levels."

A statement which is clearly at odds with the argument you constructed from their other 'conclusion'. Your use of this report appears, therefore, to be highly selective, which is somewhat of a standard MO in your relentless ideological support of the non-government education sector.
Posted by mjjl, Thursday, 16 December 2010 11:27:17 AM
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The concentration on private schools and funding by some in the education system is obviously a smoke screen to hide the real issues.

Maths and science are at "critical levels" according to the group of 8 major universities in Australia, while universities now contemplate having to drop entrance requirements even further to get more students to do maths and science.

“universities cannot ignore the downward change in mathematics preparedness affecting entering students. In the short term there appear to be only two conceivable responses: the provision of enabling (i.e. remedial) programs and the lowering of standards.”

When recently tested, the average 15 yr old student in QLD had the lowest level of interest in science of all students in 41 OECD countries, leading to a technology illiterate future for these students

The issue of funding is a smoke screen.

The real issues appear to be:

- The almost complete lack of interest in maths and science now within the education system (as such subjects are deemed to be "too male"),

- The woeful lack of qualifications of many or most teachers to teach maths and science.

- The abysmal curriculum that places more emphasis on talking rather than doing.

- The almost complete lack of accountability by teachers and schools for student marks.

- the lack of transparency, and attempts by schools and the education system to hide as much from the public as possible, while continuously asking the public for more and more and more and more taxpayer funding.

Added to this is the almost universal insistence by most teachers and schools to import everything they can with their taxpayer funding, eventually leading to almost no innovation within the education system, and almost no on going development in any area.

In effect, the education system has become a totally lazy system that now gobbles up taxpayer funding for no forward progress.
Posted by vanna, Friday, 17 December 2010 6:00:26 AM
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The evidence that Kevin relies on for his various positions is both diminishing and dated.

He mentioned my recent piece in the SMH but hasn’t displayed any evidence that he has even read the couple of documents on which I based my article.

One is a very recent OECD analytical review of markets in education . To cut a long story short it concludes that “There is little evidence that the introduction of market mechanisms in education is more effective in reaching the “hard core of education” than other policies are”.

The second is the PISA Australian report which states that “the effect of aggregated high levels of socioeconomic background can be seen in Australia’s school system, in which we have many children of parents with high socioeconomic backgrounds pooled into the independent school sector and, to a lesser extent, the Catholic sector. …. after adjusting for student and school socioeconomic background, there are no significant differences between the results of students in government schools and those in independent schools.”

Another PISA report, available at,3343,en_32252351_46584327_46609827_1_1_1_1,00.html also rains on Kevin’s parade.

Three thoughts. Firstly, the differences in the ownership and/or management of a school has little significant impact on student outcomes. We began to discover this a decade ago - but it does challenge assumptions held by KD, amongst others.

Secondly, the increasing social and academic divisions between schools, is not just a public Vs private issue. Such divisions are substantial between and amongst both public and private schools. These problems will become increasingly evident in My School 2.0.

Thirdly even ACARA is discovering that two thirds of the achievement profile of a school is not due to the school – it walks in through the gates each day. The school effect isn’t even the remaining third – it is much less. To improve student achievement we have to deal with the 100% of the factors that make a difference – both inside and outside the school
Posted by Chris Bonnor, Friday, 17 December 2010 4:22:14 PM
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Chris Bonner,
If as you say it is the fault of the parents, and not the schools or the education system, then how does this explain the disinterest in science and maths now so widespread throughout the education system, and the belief by universities that they will have to either carry out remedial programs for intending maths and science students. or drop enterance requirements even further to attract students in the first place.

If the universities have to carry out remedial programs, then it would be interesting to know how many years a student is behind before they reach university (coming from either a private or public school).
Posted by vanna, Saturday, 18 December 2010 8:09:31 AM
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Vanna, my viewpoint regarding your query is that a rough estimate of 4 years [Years 7 - 10] many students are behind in basics such as English, Science and Maths.

At the last minute, during years 10 or 11, students who are serious about completing year 12, voice their predicament to parents, who appoint a uni student or tutor for their teenager once or twice a week during Years 11 and 12 [reference: two older children, a 21 year old nephew, another couple of neices and nephew all in high school, girlfriends' kids in high school, educationalists in my family, teachers observed during classes on occasions, marking observed and many teenage girls who have struggled struggled struggled to Year 10, many bombing out as a result of the system and not having their fathers around in their lives.

Another issue I wish to highlight; some Secondary School teachers who have qualified in recent years appear to be four years behind in their basic education, particularly in relation to english and mathematics. Poor grammar and sloppy basic english is an encouraged lifestyle by teachers, in addition to basic content requests, poorly written requests, and repetitive requests.

Most of my son's assignments for the past few years have included the request from teachers that the limit of words/content is 800 (words - 1,000 words) and submitted via the internet or a typed hard copy using basic english useage.

Q: How is a teenager able to broaden or expand his vocabulary when LIMITED to 800 or 1,000 words [a page and a half at most] including the title, bibliography and details of the student.

Most schools will not accept hand written assignments, not allowing for families whose internet has crashed, bills temporarily unpaid, power outages or the expensive printer cartridges running out unexpectedly.

Another point: How on earth are teachers expected to teach students adequately when it is often the teachers who require further studying on the basics of maths, english and science?
Posted by we are unique, Saturday, 18 December 2010 10:18:26 PM
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I am referring here to Secondary qualified teachers and not targetting Primary school teachers well versed and educated in teaching years 4, 5 and 6]. Most primary school teachers I have observed possess excellent english and maths comprehension personally, along with teaching skills and styles.

Often teachers cannot spell or comprehend a student's assignment accurately during marking. I have read the odd comments on my son's assignments whereby teachers have misinterpreted or ignored sentences and whole blocks of work that concisely addressed the assignment requests.

Some teachers do not bother making any comments on assignments whereby a great deal of research and hard work performed. Assignments were handed in on the due date, only for the Teacher to be off sick for a week then resign or move interstate. This occurred on many occasions during my son's initial 3 years of Secondary schooling.
Posted by we are unique, Saturday, 18 December 2010 10:20:57 PM
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