Teachers and student reporting

After a month traveling in the USA and visiting TAM6 this little black duck has made it back to Adelaide. Stories from the United States of Woo will appear as I regain my grasp on reality, it took a dent over the 3 weeks and 4000 miles of driving on the wrong side of the road.
Anyway, in todays Advertiser we have a story of teachers yet again complaining about having to grade their students (or are they called “customers” in this postmodern world of woo?) using an A->E system. Evidently such a system may be “damaging to students’ self-esteem”.
Heaven friggin’ forbid we actually tell students when they are crap or need to pull the finger out. The reason to pull the system? “It’s a “hangover” from a previous government”. So that’s the criteria? Sheesh. Having had 2 children go through the public education system I feel I have ability to comment on the system of public education we have.
It’s crap.
Pure and simple crap and most of the issues stem from exactly the same people who lead the teachers. The current state of our science and math education in public primary schools is abysmal, science rooms converted to store rooms, no science teachers and teachers with other backgrounds in the arts shoehorned into teaching maths badly and without any enthusiasm.
And yet whenever their is an idea that sounds progressive, like grading students objectively or even  grading the quality of teachers and rewarding them for performance it is pooh poohed by the teaching union and the political lackeys with close ties to teaching. And here  we have  these same people wanting to pull an objective  measuring system for one based on words.
I hate to be the bearer of  bad news but our children will be competing for education and employment and careers in a world where objectivity and reality are the norm. Sticking your head in the sand and not calling a spade a spade when little Johny or Mary is struggling with learning is verging on child abuse. You are lying to children to protect them from reality. In no way does this help a child with their self esteem, good bad or indifferent.
My wife and I have many friends with teenage children, many are now finishing off high school and there is a disturbing trend. Throughout their (public) school life they got great grades and everything was rosy. However when it came to the independent SACE exams which contribute to a SACE score and is used for higher education entrance they flunk out. Everyone seems surprised until you ask about the grades the public schools were giving. Now, we know these kids and have known many from kindergarten and if a kids not too bright then it’s pretty apparent. And yet the schools were giving great grades. Sure, it made the teachers look OK but the kids are stuffed when their plans fall into a heap and reality strikes. IMHO this is very, very cruel however the system responsible seems to put the welfare of the teachers career above that of their children. And that sucks.
From first hand experience many teachers need a serious amount of retraining, to put it politely. In a private school they would simply be sacked. And yet at every twist and turn many teachers and their union put their members welfare and careers above that of their students. They will block teacher grading, student grading or any suggested the public education system is broken.

You may wonder why I’m talking about this, what has it to do with skepticism? Well, we are currently looking at where we can get the best bang for buck in promoting science and critical thinking in general and school age children have the best opportunity for developing these skills. (Adults have missed the boat but thats a separate story.) However to promote critical thinking, math and science in schools we are going to need to work with the system and there’s the rub.
The sort of people of run the countries education systems do not even recognise that objective measurements and comparisons are useful.
Although considering how few have any scientific background this should not come as surprise. With such a blatant ignorance of objectivity and disconnect with reality this will not be an easy task. However the world of Woo has similarities with Wack-a-Mole, it doesn’t go away easily and if there is something that is apparent after the last few decades,it  is that fighting woo as it raises it’s head is not a winning long term strategy.
Now before I get flamed I’m not saying all teachers are crap. Ok, just most of them. And the last thing they want is any system that will allow a measurement of their performance. Either directly or through their students grades. It’s perfectly natural and I understand the psychology behind such things. However in the long run it’s damaging to a lot more that just esteem and the declining ranking of Australian students in various internationally measures is not good. Until the teachers union sorts it’s leadership out with a serious dose of reality I’m afraid it will be same ol’, same ‘ol.

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6 Comments on “Teachers and student reporting”

  1. podblack says:

    I only have one link in response. You see, they TRIED getting rid of that here in Western Australia. I spent the past… I think maybe six to seven years under that system?

    Some reading here: http://tinyurl.com/dumbingdown

  2. Nigel says:

    Yep I simply don’t get it. Aren’t teachers proud when their students do really well, even displaying greater levels of understanding than themselves?
    Whatever happened to the idea of challenging people to get the best out of them? Sure, it’s more difficult and more work, but the sense of reward and pride when you have helped someone else do something amazing or succeed.
    What the hell is wrong with competition and challenge?
    Why is society turning into pile of pussies wrapped in cotton wool with no guts for a real challenge?
    Why are we wasting our greatest resource, our children, with inane education programs that will not prepare them for the real world and the future?
    Like, WTF, talk about denying reality!

  3. Donalbain says:

    Grading on an A-E basis is ONLY useful at the very end of a course, by which I mean at the end of school. Before that, it has very little value at all. I am a teacher of high school science (mainly physics) and I NEVER give a kid an A-E grade. Ever. If there is a test, they will get a % grade, but for the vast majority of the time, I will only put comments in the students books. This practice is supported by research as it seems that if you give a grade AND a comment, then only the grade will be noticed by the child, and if you put just a grade with no comment then you are not aiding learning. It is far more useful for a student to be told “You need to put error bars on your graph” than to be told that they got 7/10 or a B grade. As for preparing them for the real world, when was the last time anyone told you that what you did was 65% satisfactory, or that they think your report on the Anderson Account deserved a C?

  4. podblack says:

    By the way – have you heard of this fellow and would he be interested in presenting at the conference… ?

  5. Tayls_81 says:

    ere, ere!

    Do you have any thoughts on how to implement a performance based system that would work for teachers?

  6. Nigel says:

    Caveat: I’m a parent of 2 and not a teacher. I have only taught at Uni. level, not to kids.
    Here’s the environment teachers have: different kids initial skills, different rates of learning, differing family situations, different resources both within schools and between them.. All of which affect potential learning outcomes. This is why taking a snapshot of kids every few years might be good for the kids and parents but is useless for the teachers and education departments IMHO.
    Now, the annual aim of teaching would be to improve the knowledge and thinking of students over the year. i.e. they know more and are better thinkers at the end of the year than the start.
    To me what I’m about to say sounds stupid because i have never seen it done. If you really wanted to measure how well a teacher performed you would need to measure the kids at the start of the year and then at end of the year when it comes to how well they think. It would then be the relative improvements in the kids that count, not the absolute ability of the kid. And this wouldn’t be dodgy IQ tests but tests on critical and creative thinking ability and also some sort of measure of social interaction and responsibility.
    Measuring absolute amounts of knowledge is tricky because how well they can think will affect how much stuff they can learn. And some people can think really well but can’t remember things, whilst others have great memories but are not very flexible thinkers. And we need both in society.
    As for how to practically do this, the tests are going to need to be automatically done and measured otherwise the workload would be ridiculous. And I really have doubts about how well a machine can measure a kids creativity and thinking ability. (There are tests for measuring critical thinking ability and they can be automated however so there is some hope.)
    What I do know is that measuring kids at different schools, from different backgrounds and different education experiences to date and then comparing them is not a scientific way of doing things unless there is a truckload of factors so you are comparing apples with apples.
    At the end of the day we must introduce some system that can provide feedback that can show where a teacher has not had success after 40 weeks of trying. We then need a system that provides suitable help for the student and feedback to the teacher so they can learn why their teaching did not work.
    It’s called constant improvement and it’s what clever people do.

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