Wednesday, August 12, 2009

David Penberthy, League Tables, and a scorched earth policy for public education

I guess worse things happen in life every day than me finding it hard to pick a fight with Janet Albrechtsen, as she bemoans the tendency to diagnose kids with behavioral disorders (Don't shrink wrap the kids).

Sure I can't kick her in the shins, then sulk under the bed this time, but there'll come another day, and then we'll see.

One of the more depressing things about America - quick, hit me up with a Prozax or a Zoloft - is the way kids are routinely given psychotropic medications, with one study suggesting that American kids were three times more likely than European kids to be prescribed stimulants and antidepressants.

But then American military pilots routinely take amphetamines to fight fatigue, and then sedatives to induce sleep between missions. Yep, America is the land of go pills and no go pills, and the drugs are legal. Pilots aren't required to take them, but their careers may suffer if they refuse. (here)

Meantime, who better to pick on than David Penberthy, fearless leader of Australia's cheap skate dumb ass conversation The Punch, and his contribution to the league tables for schools debate in Defenders of public schools are their worst enemies.

Penberthy has found a new hero in Ken Boston, but I'm not sure he quite understands what his new hero is saying.

Which is that simplistic league tables will be useless. Which is surprising, given that Penberthy quotes him at length:

Boston, who is meeting Julia Gillard and members of the PM’s staff today, said there was limited value in having “opaque” league tables, rather a more direct and detailed account of school performance which gave parents and communities the clearest possible picture of what’s really going on at the local school.

He said the controversial league tables introduced in the UK are “far from transparent.”

“We need rich reports which explain why a school may be performing less well, not just simplistic league tables,” The Australian quoted Dr Boston as saying yesterday. “Don’t massage the data, no jiggery-pokery, no smoke or mirrors, just present the data as it is. My belief is that this would offer greater public accountability than league tables.”

The teaching unions are already on the record in their vehement opposition to the league tables which Dr Boston says are impenetrable or meaningless.

Huh? The unions are vehement in their opposition to tables that are impenetrable or meaningless?

Well surely that means Penberthy's and the Daily Terror's campaign in favor of league tables is somewhat at odds with the good doctor's thinking? How to spin this into an even more fear inducing strike into the heart of the evil teachers' unions?

Clearly, the proposal of plain English reports, jam-packed with meaningful detail, will be an even more chilling proposition to the unions, as they have shown that the one thing they abhor in the public system is transparency and the industrial repercussions it brings.

But, but, but what about the league tables we all so adore? What happens to them? After all, teachers should be able to be moved along, just like Penberthy was shown the revolving door when it came to editing the Daily Terror. Is that why he just loves chilling propositions as educational policy? Strike fear and loathing into the hearts of teachers? Turn those schools into gulags? Make sure that the guards guarding the guards have plenty of time for tactics imported from east Germany in its prime?

Well one thought by Ken Boston immensely pleases Penberthy. Scorched earth. Where once was a school, raze it to the ground:

The proposal by education guru Ken Boston to shut down failing schools, sack their principals and replace their teachers is the scholastic equivalent of what’s known as “Ben Tre” logic, from the Vietnamese town of the same name where an American major famously reasoned that “we had to destroy the village in order to save it.”

So what are the educational benefits to be found in blasting and scorching the earth?

The people who will be the most outraged by Ken Boston’s radical but welcome suggestion, made at an Australian Primary Principals Association forum on Monday, are the self-styled defenders of public education in the Teachers Unions.

Ah, it'll really piss off the teachers' unions. The self-styled defenders. Now that's an outcome. But what about the students? Get out of it. Let's just bash up the unions. 

Fight, fight, fight.

It’s time that someone rang the school bell on the intellectual contribution these unions make to the quality of the public education.

But as a former school bell ringer (and teacher's pet), I feel qualified to ask if Penberthy is the man to be ringing the bell. Especially when the last third of his enthusiastic support for a scorched earth policy involves a specious bout of special pleading for the Daily Terror and its infamous 1996 front page denigrating the kids of Mt. Druitt.

Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell has spent the past two months sounding more like a future Media Watch host than the next Premier as he maintains a baffling rhetorical alliance with the Greens over the Mount Druitt High School affair, where The Daily Telegraph ran a controversial front-page story in 1997 headed Class We Failed, illustrated with a picture of that year’s HSC class at the impoverished western Sydney school.

In my view, and I was not working for the paper at the time, the story was a noble and sincere campaign for a fair deal for kids and families in one of the newspaper’s heartland – but over the top in its illustration, given the distress it caused the kids on the front page.

Noble and sincere? Wash out your mouth with soap, young man. Now children I want you to write a five hundred word essay on logical thinking, and in particular how "noble and sincere" can be co-joined with "over the top in its illustration." And why causing distress is always for the best, even if the distressed never manage to understand it.

Ah well, of course it was just an unfortunate mistake, especially as it gave the unions endless fodder with which to beat up the government and the Daily Terror. And worse still the students won their court case. Against the noble and sincere newspaper.

But you will be pleased to know that thanks to that front page, the Daily Terror revolutionized education in this state, to the point where you might even ask why we now need league tables:

It was an angry front page. And if you’re prepared to accept the commercial reality that newspapers are businesses, then logic must tell you that no newspaper would risk circulation in its heartland by being deliberately cruel to a bunch of kids. It follows that the only reason the newspaper would have done it was to get the issue on the agenda for government, and to secure much-needed funds for the state’s most under-performing school.

Which is exactly what happened.

As a result of a government inquiry five senior schools in the area were shut down and combined into what is now Chifley College, where the curriculum was revolutionised, teacher numbers increased, new funding was allocated.

In 1996, the ABC’s Radio National chronicled the turnaround at these new western Sydney campuses, where that year a stunning 92 per cent of kids did the HSC.

Stunning, great, marvelous. Non union teachers numbers increased no doubt.

But while it was a tremendous, wonderful, revolutionary turnaround success, no paper would ever do it again. Truly, cross their hearts and hope to die:

Anyone who would argue – or anyone such as O’Farrell who would be swayed by their argument – that the publication of school league tables would invite the annual publication of Mt Druitt style front pages is wrong.

I don’t think any paper in Australia would give another story the same treatment - not just because The Daily Telegraph was sued and lost, but simply because these kids were so upset by what happened that a noble campaign on their behalf ended up looking like an attack on them

Yeah, so you drop kick dead head loser Lebanese and Islamic students out in the west - yeah, you know who I'm talking about, the ones creating all the social problems and disturbances and becoming fodder for wild eyed dangerous terrorists and drive by shootings - you lot - are perfectly safe, because the Daily Terror and  its noble writers and their noble campaigns will only work together in harmony to make sure students of middle eastern appearance are given every chance of success in their scholastic studies.

But anyone who values transparency in education should also see though the disingenuous recycling of the Mount Druitt case by the teachers unions. There are plenty of other Mount Druitts out there. And the union, like those parents with Munchausens disorder, has shown by its actions that it’s more comfortable with continuing and avoidable under-achievement by working class children, than any performance-based scrutiny which may put the screws on its members and result in real change.

And there you have it, in Penberthy's disingenuous scribbling, the heart of the matter and the nub of his disease. While he claims to have loved his public school education, he certainly has it in for teachers. Because he so loves the punitive: putting on the screws is his fondest dream and wildest hope, as if education was some kind of 24, where Jack Bauer style torture was the only way ahead.

Scorched earth, put on the screws, sack 'em all, kill the losers, nuke 'em, die unionists die? This is the language of a debate about education and how to improve educational standards?

Curiously and bizarrely, the Daily Terror does have one writer who shows some sympathy and understanding of education, and its dilemmas, especially public education. How about her observation:

Only 2 per cent of the nation's private schools are audited but they were given over $30 billion in the 08-09 federal budget- no questions asked. In no other industry in no other part of the world where public funds are involved would this be acceptable. If you read about it it happening anywhere else you would assume it was a junta rorting public coffers to benefit its own children. Perhaps that is what is happening in Australia - it certainly feels like it.

Sssh, walk on by. Don't worry about taxpayers funding the teaching of creationism. Or scientology.

Or perhaps go to Maralyn Parker's blog, here, and sample what she's got to say. You won't feel as if you've been shouted at through a foghorn, Penberthy style. You might even learn something about the way positive messages and insights can produce positive thinking and changes ...

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments older than two days are moderated and there will be a delay in publishing them.