The commercial transformation of public education
Number 5, September 2006;
A review has examined the scope and variety of commercialisation trends in US schools. The review identified three varieties of school commercialisation: selling to schools (vending), selling in schools (advertising and public relations) and the selling of schools (privatisation). The Commercialism in Education Research Unit (CERU) tracks commercialism in schools indirectly by monitoring media reports, and organises the reports into eight categories. They are corporate sponsorship of programs and activities, exclusive marketing agreements, incentive programs using commercial products and services, appropriation of space for advertising, corporately sponsored educational materials, electronic marketing targeting students, privatisation, and fund-raising relationships. All categories have shown a sharp increase over the past 15 years. Education Management Organisations (EMOs) are entities that run schools as for-profit organisations. The exact size of this industry is difficult to ascertain, but EMOs were known to operate 417 US public schools in 2002. The trend has been from the former to the latter. A case study of Edison Schools Inc. suggests the economic models on which for-profit schools are based are not viable. More recent initiatives, Knowledge Universe and K12 Inc operate 'virtual charter schools', which currently receive the same funding as 'real' schools, although students are taught at home via a web-based curriculum. Of concern was the 1994 General Agreement on Trade in Service (GATS), in which education is seen as a business as opposed to a public service. Recently there have been challenges to school commercialisation from parents and citizen groups, legislators and via court action. Market values are about buying and selling, but offer no guidance on values or fairness and thus cannot represent the interests of all students.
Subject HeadingsCommercialization of education
The twenty-first century workforce: a contemporary challenge for technology education
Number 8, June 2006;
Recent reports examining the importance of technology to the US suggest a clear need to improve technology education. Many of these reports describe the critical role of science and technology, but few address technology education. Technology is one of the major factors influencing economic progress, and technology education is fundamental to achieving workforce competencies. These competencies include critical thinking, problem solving and reasoning. Achieving higher levels of technological literacy is an imperative for all nations. This must include K–12 education. Four requirements to improve technology education are identified: high-quality teachers, rigorous content and coherent curricula, appropriate classroom assessment, and appropriate accountability. Four reform initiatives are proposed for technology education. These are directed towards purpose, policies, programs and practices. All are to be applied to each of the identified requirements for reform. See also earlier article by Rodger Bybee on the journal publisher’s website.
Key Learning AreasTechnology
Subject HeadingsUnited States of America (USA)
Number 10, June 2006;
The emphasis on accountability instigated by the USA’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) policy has meant that many schools are practising ‘educational triage’. Students who are certain to pass assessments and those who have little chance of success are suffering, as time and resources are directed towards students who are on the threshold of passing. The students most in need of assistance are being left further behind as non-contributors, or even liabilities, to their school’s statistical performance. This stigmatisation can begin as soon as they enter school, earning them the tag of ‘no-hoper’ throughout their school life. Also left behind are those children who ‘do not count’ on state tests, such as those who enter a school too late in the year to contribute to test scores, or those in minority groups too small to cause a school’s scores to be disaggregated. While the stated intent of NCLB was to push schools to improve outcomes for all students through the use of accountability measures, it has given rise to a variety of ‘gaming’ strategies by schools that artificially inflate their performance. These strategies range from retaining students to delay test-taking and diverting resources away from lower-stakes subjects, to outright cheating. ‘Data-driven’ decisions may appear to remove responsibility from human actors as to who should receive most assistance in the classroom, but they provide only false validation. Decisions about resource allocation in education have significant ethical ramifications, and should not be left to numbers alone.
United States of America (USA)
Number 2, June 2006;
Most literature on teacher professional development seems to assume that sufficient resources will be available to enable teachers to implement what they learn. A study was undertaken of 30 physical education teachers from an urban school district in the USA that had received a Physical Education for Progress grant. The grant enabled the teachers to attend a professional development program that included the provision of a substantial package of instructional resources. All the teachers had little physical education equipment prior to the program; they sometimes resorted to purchasing classroom resources themselves. The impact of the new resources was assessed through interviews and classroom observations. Unsurprisingly, all the teachers reported that the resources helped them implement their lessons, significantly improving opportunities for students to practise core skills. Modified resources appropriate for each age group also reduced student injuries and increased the range of skills they could learn. Unexpectedly, the teachers also demonstrated strong emotional reactions to the resources. Teachers and students alike found their enthusiasm for physical education was uplifted by the new equipment. Self-esteem was also raised, as underprivileged students felt ‘worthy of good stuff’, and teachers took pride in their well-resourced departments. However, the resources also engendered deep concerns among the teachers. The opportunity for all students to practise skills simultaneously was sometimes overwhelming for those who had grown accustomed to a less stimulating but more orderly turn-taking regime. Safeguarding the equipment was also problematic, especially in schools where physical education resources were seen as common property for any school activity. Some teachers found themselves cast in the uncomfortable role of ‘heavy-handed guardian’, eager to preserve their prized resources but fearful of damaging relationships with other staff. The research implies that professional development for any subject should take into account the need to provide adequate resources to implement change. It also reveals the crucial importance of recognising educational change as a 'human affair', and of addressing both the positive and negative emotional responses it may provoke.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsSchool equipment
Teaching and learning
Number 2, June 2006;
England’s National College for School Leadership (NCSL) was established in 2000 in response to a growing emphasis in educational thinking on leadership as a catalyst for school improvement. The college offers a range of programs for school leaders at all levels. The article focuses on one component of the Headship Induction Program for new principals, New Visions. The New Visions’ approach assumes that a process-based learning model, anchored in participants’ own schools, will be more effective in training school leaders than traditional content-based courses. The model recognises three key sources of knowledge: individual principals’ knowledge; theory and research; and the knowledge created by a community of principals. Short articles by leadership experts, action learning and group discussions are used to bring these three sources together. The response from participants in the program’s pilot was exceptionally positive. Further evaluation was subsequently undertaken to assess the program’s impact in schools, including interviews with program participants as well as other administrators and classroom teachers within their schools. Several participants reported that the program had enhanced their confidence and personal development, a view widely supported by their colleagues. Changes in leadership practice arising from the program included a greater emphasis on sharing leadership and building leadership capacity within the school; a focus on ‘leadership for learning’; and changes to school organisation and communication processes. Although it is difficult to establish a clear link between changes to leadership and classroom practice, it appears that ‘leadership for learning’ had impacted on classrooms through raised expectations on teaching staff, greater incidence of model teaching by principals and increased monitoring of pupil and teacher performance. The motivation engendered by the program may also have contributed to improvements in learning outcomes in some participants’ schools. As school leadership is filtered through many layers before its influence on learning may be felt, further research is necessary to better establish the link between leadership development and improved student outcomes.
Key Learning AreasHealth and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Number 2, June 2006;
In 2005, the British Government launched a new scheme in England to support teachers’ professional development at the Masters level and above. An estimated 5 per cent of teachers in England undertake postgraduate study as part of their continuing professional development, but the number of teachers who complete a qualification is much smaller. Researchers surveyed a sample group of teachers undertaking postgraduate study to ascertain possible reasons for non-completion. Half the group had completed their coursework, and half had not. The vast majority of the 46 surveys returned came from teachers who had completed the coursework, suggesting that further research using different methods might be needed to canvass reasons for non-completion. Returned surveys nonetheless highlighted issues that were important to respondents in completing academic work. Responses showed a preference for reflective, practice-oriented tasks over theory or personal reading and writing. Deadlines needed to be clear, built into the course structure from the start, and fitted around the demands of the school year. Several respondents had encountered difficulties obtaining support from their schools, either finding that insufficient time was allowed to them to complete assignments, or feeling that the qualification they were pursuing was not valued by the school. A substantial proportion of respondents were undertaking studies because they valued them personally, rather than because of their employers’ recognition of their professional value. The research has sparked changes to the courses from which participants were surveyed, including improved support for developing academic writing skills, and increased opportunities to obtain formative feedback on early assessments. The research suggests that, while significant personal commitment and self-management is required from any teacher undertaking postgraduate study, course providers, schools and education authorities can and should provide support to teachers to improve the completion rate.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Teaching and learning
Characteristics of effective spelling instruction
A review has examined literature published over the past three decades on how to teach spelling. One issue it addresses is how best to select words for children to learn to spell. The great majority of teachers in the USA rely on the traditional method, using commercial textbooks on spelling instruction that provide word lists and exercises selected and sequenced by publishers. The approach rests on direct instruction, weekly tests and set rules for spelling. The transitional approach supplements these methods by selecting some spelling words from reading and writing material used by the students in a variety of subjects, and by using alternative learning methods such as word games. Students are tested through the week on words missed in tests. Under the third, student-oriented approach, word lists are personalised to recognise each student’s performance level in reading and writing. Students are tested by being asked to identify the words they have misspelt in their writing, a technique used to overcome the problem of students memorising the correct spelling of words for tests and then forgetting it. The article also examines the value of word lists more generally. Experts have recommended that spelling lists be used for high frequency words, with the spelling of other words taught incidentally during reading and writing work. Other research has found that the word list format is suitable when young children study high frequency words, and when students are required to correct their own spelling. Word lists have been found ineffective when coupled with other techniques, for example when students have to write out misspelt words repeatedly, or when students rely heavily on phonic rules. Word lists should be tailored to the developmental level of individual students. According to one survey’s findings, teachers tend to tailor word lists for struggling spellers by giving them fewer words, but it is more effective to give them easier words, pitched below their ‘frustration level’.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
United States of America (USA)
English language teaching
National curriculum collaboration in senior secondary schooling
Number 3, 2006;
The senior secondary curriculum in Australia should reflect local contexts while also offering students equal access to ‘the fundamental knowledge, principles and ideas that make up school subjects’. To this end, the report Australian Certificate of Education: Exploring a Way Forward recommends national curriculum collaboration to establish essential, mandated curriculum content across the country. The recommendation does not imply ‘the introduction of a single “national curriculum” specifying what all students should study’. It does note however that it is not currently possible to compare students’ achievement levels between jurisdictions. The problem is aggravated by different reporting mechanisms between education systems. The report recommends that national subject panels be set up with responsibility for developing achievement standards. The standards should recognise international benchmarks. The mechanisms for collecting and evaluating student achievements would be decided by local jurisdictions. The proposed reform would measure students’ key capabilities. The proposal recognises a change in the purpose of senior secondary schooling, the focus of which has moved from preparing a minority of students for higher study and professional careers, to preparing all students for civic responsibilities and ‘all varieties of employment and ongoing learning’. At present students learn generic skills and attributes within subjects. Key capabilities are significant enough to be assessed directly. The report recommends that a national Year 12 test should be used to assess reading literacy/verbal reasoning, mathematical literacy, written English and ICT literacy. A national approach is endorsed by major employer groups, which have identified ‘employability’ skills in communication, teamwork, problem-solving, self-management, ongoing learning and technology. The proposed national test would also improve the comparability of university ENTER scores between jurisdictions. The move to greater national collaboration in curriculum reflects international trends, as seen for example in the European Union.
Subject HeadingsFederal-state relations
Senior secondary education
Putting life into history: how pupils can use oral history to become critical historians
Volume 123, June 2006;
In England an oral history project to investigate ‘yob culture’ has engaged students at Key Stage 3 (aged 12–14) with History as a subject area, and has given participants a range of inquiry skills. The project involved 18 students in Years 7–9 based at Stoke Newington School in Hackney, a comprehensive in North London. The school’s humanities department ran the project. Students were put in teams of three, mixed in terms of age level, academic achievement and skills in talking, listening and writing. Participants were asked to interview local people to investigate the question, ‘Were children in the past more respectful of authority than children today?’, a topic covered extensively in the local media. The project was funded as part of a whole-school citizenship program, enabling its organisers to hire an experienced radio producer to advise the students on interviewing, editing procedures and the software used in technical production. Students reported the results of pilot interviews back to the entire group of participants. This feedback led to closer examination of the topic itself, and the students' different concepts of historical truth and the role of ordinary individuals in history. Six local people were then interviewed. They were aged between 55 and 81 and represented a mix of gender, class and ethnic backgrounds. The project explored the students’ own opinions about the topic and their understandings of the reliability of interview evidence. Students developed a view of a past society that had closer and more supportive community and family ties, which was also more formal than today, more socially constrained, less tolerant and less socially aware. The project gave the students a sense of the relevance of history to a contemporary debate.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Subject HeadingsGreat Britain
Project based learning
Will national consistency raise curriculum quality?
Number 3, 2006;
The current political debate about a national curriculum rests on underlying disagreements between governments in Australia over appropriate curriculum content, the balance of Federal–State jurisdictional authority, and the Australian Government’s ‘broader strategy of transforming the cultural landscape of Australia’. However there has been a more general debate in the school education community on the value of greater national consistency in curriculum. Greater consistency has been advocated as a means to reduce disruption for students moving between jurisdictions, but consistency is unlikely to solve such problems without extreme levels of regulation. This argument for national consistency relates mainly to the teaching of particular content sequences, rather than the development of broader concepts and skills. The needs of students moving between jurisdictions have also been used to call for a national leaving certificate. However this proposal underplays the value of the current ENTER arrangements in assisting tertiary selection authorities. Employers have valid concerns about the quality of interstate applicants, but have become too narrowly focused on ‘employability skills’ in isolation from other elements of schooling. Variations in the curriculum between jurisdictions cannot be justified on geographical grounds, but they do reflect different histories and philosophies of education systems, the variety of which helps to develop the quality of curriculum in Australia. Most State and Territory governments have been introducing their own extensive curriculum reforms, so there is a danger of ‘change fatigue’ in schools. The two most promising current suggestions for reform build on existing approaches rather than demand wholesale change. They are Alan Reid’s call for a range of ‘capabilities’ to be added to existing leaving certificates, and the ACER proposal for the introduction of a national certificate, with later incremental change to the curriculum. However these proposals too cause some concerns. If they are implemented, curriculums may become too narrowly focused on the academic content of interest to universities, and on ‘employability’ skills, at the expense of other generic skills. This pressure may also lead to fragmentation, perhaps in the form of separate courses for employability or even schools specialising in these artificially prioritised areas.
Contrasting orientations: STSE for social reconstruction or social reproduction?
Number 5, May 2006;
The article documents issues surrounding the creation of an alternative science curriculum by three teachers in Ontario. Science-technology-society-environment (STSE) education has been advocated for two decades in Canada as a means to improve students’ scientific literacy. However, in Ontario province the STSE-based Science in Society course was discontinued in 2003. STSE has instead been integrated across the rest of the science curriculum, but with a strong emphasis on industry and technology rather than social issues connected with science. The new provincial curriculum sets specific ‘expectations’ as standards that all science teachers are required to follow. Any locally set courses must be approved by the Ministry of Education. The three teachers developed an alternative STSE curriculum designed to address perceived shortcomings in the official science course. The teachers applied a ‘transformational’ model curriculum, as espoused by Paulo Freire. The model has a critical approach in which subject content is immersed in the larger context of society. Students are taught to identify social issues associated with science topics and to take action around social issues as part of their learning. Analysing the curriculum, they found that ‘critique is reduced to an exercise in determining which fact is correct and which argument is valid’, a method that avoids any questioning of underlying social assumptions. On the topic of genetics, for example, the curriculum asks students to summarise major scientific discoveries, describe and analyse examples of genetic technologies and identify and describe Canadian contributions to genetics, and does not direct them towards the investigation of social debates around the topic. The scope for teachers themselves to invite debate is severely limited by their obligation to equip students to meet the many standards set for them in the curriculum. In contrast to the ‘specific and uncontroversial’ standards set in the official curriculum, the expectations in the alternative curriculum ‘are more open-ended and focus more on decision-making and critique’. The article describes the process by which the alternative course was ultimately rejected by the province’s curriculum authority, and includes two appendices, which outline the structure of school governance in Ontario and set out the teachers’ proposed curriculum.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsScience teaching
The Ontario Library Association
The contribution of school libraries to student achievement has been investigated by a Canadian study. The study was conducted jointly by a research team at the Faculty of Education at Queen’s University and People for Education, a parent research group. It examined assessment data for 50,000 students in Grades 3 and 6 at publicly funded primary schools in Ontario province, and People for Education’s 2004–05 data on school library staffing, opening hours, collections and fundraising activities. The study found that Grade 3 and 6 students in schools with teacher librarians were more likely to report that they enjoy reading. It also found that schools without trained library staff tended to have lower achievement levels at Grades 3 and 6. Surveys by the provincial government’s EQAO assessment agency identified a drop over the past five years in the number of students who said they enjoyed reading. Over the same period there has been a decline in the number of teacher librarians at Canadian primary schools. The findings are supported by previous research conducted in several states of the USA by Keith Curry Lance. One of the findings of these evaluations was that well-funded library media centres significantly improve reading achievement for disadvantaged students. The article includes statistical, historical and regional details of school libraries in Canada, and makes recommendations to the Ontario provincial government.
United States of America (USA)
The way we learn
Number 1, September 2006;
Authentic decision making is based in what the individual wants or needs to know to solve a real-world problem. Brain research has contributed to educators' understanding of the nature of decision making. The brain's prefrontal cortex has been linked to the mental functions of problem solving, planning, decision making, time management, persistence, risk assessment, judgement and impulse. Brain research also suggests that knowledge is represented by organised configurations of neurons that fire together, known as cognits. Cognits can be simple, such as remembering a simple fact, or complex, such as dealing with personal experiences. To develop rich cognits, students must undergo sensory and emotional experience, make associations with earlier knowledge and experience, ask questions and develop a focus that leads to a research plan, and take action. The Adelaide-based Learning to Learn initiative applies recent neuroscience research. The initiative, currently involving more than 100 schools, is showing impressive results. The program is based on authentic decision making and uses 'global experience' to introduce a topic to students. A global experience is one that engages the senses directly and creates an emotional and visceral response. This can be done for any subject or year level. A unit on sustainability used a three-day camp along the Murray River as a global experience. This complex but powerful method of teaching works best when teachers maintain a relaxed, alert classroom atmosphere, so students feel confident, competent and motivated. In the Learning to Learn initiative, this is done by intentionally scaffolding learning, striving to establish the same rules for teachers and students, and building in extensive interaction among students, teachers and other adults.
Thought and thinking
Teaching beyond the book
Number 1, September 2006;
Good teaching makes content meaningful for students, however there is no set formula for all students. There is considerable benefit in observing students and teaching to their strengths. Teachers who see the strengths in students teach positively. This can involve the use of Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences to present material in different modes. Students who may lack skills in some areas can display their strengths in other areas, thus demonstrating their capability. Problematic students become promising students, their achievement levels rise and parental attitudes to schools improve. Teaching to student strengths helps students see strengths in one another and understand the importance of the contribution of each to a larger goal. Teaching to student strengths can be done by linking the required learning to what students already know, what they want to know and what they have a passion for. This in turn leads to an understanding of content and an affinity for inquiry.
Subject HeadingsMultiple intelligences
Student competence in understanding the matter concept and its implications for science curriculum standards
Number 5, May 2006;
A recent study in the USA suggests curriculum framework documents may overestimate student competencies in science. The study evaluated students’ scientific competencies by investigating their understanding of the concept of matter. Matter is one of the themes commonly used to unify the science curriculum. It is explored in terms of topics such as separating mixtures, the distinction between chemical and physical properties, and the particle model of chemical change. The study compared results from the US national sample for the 1995 Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) with the suggested competencies related to the concept matter in the 1993 Benchmarks for Science Literacy and the 2001 Atlas for Science Literacy. Students at all three tested levels, ages 9, 13 and Year 12, were found to be underperforming against the frameworks' suggested standards. The two appendices list relevant TIMSS items and their related US science education standards, and summary percentage figures of student results.
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