Education Readings June 26th

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

This week’s homework!


Hattie’s research: Is wrong Part 5 – this should clinch it.

Education academic John Hattie has been in the news recently as part of another self promotion tour. Here’s Kelvin Smythe’s latest critique of his so-called research that is being used by governments as an excuse to rip apart and privatise primary education.

“At some time in the future, Hattie’s research and his opinions will be revealed for what they are: a huge charade. But you don’t need to wait – all you need to do is read the postings in the Hattie series and clear-sightedly and undistractedly employ your critical faculties. Everything about Hattie’s research is false except for some opinions which, while true, are also false, because he claims them to be evidence-based.”

Can data really define ‘coasting’?

Think things are bad in your neck of the woods? How about new legislation in England defining and targeting ‘coasting’ schools and then using this to force schools to become academy (aka charter) schools?

‘Coasting’ suggests a lack of effort but all we have, with results data, is a statistical end product: the output numbers. Teachers could be working phenomenally hard, and yet failing to improve results as much as outsiders might wish, because schools, in reality, do not have full control over results. These are, inevitably, subject to unpredictability, from the motivation and ability of pupils to ‘perform’ on the big day to the vagaries of marking. And there may be a sense of a zero-sum game: ‘below-average’ schools will always be penalised, even if all schools are working very hard, if the indicators used are based on comparing one school’s results to others’.

1984 Arrives Thirty Years Late: Say Goodby to Privacy Forever if This Bill Passes

This article by Diane Ravitch highlights concerns in USA; however the implication for other countries is just as ominous as similar data collection systems are established and extended.

‘What it really means is that the federal government will:

 authorize the creation of a federal database of all college students, complete with their personally identifiable information, tracking them through college and into the workforce, including their earnings, Social Security numbers, and more. The ostensible purpose of the bill? To provide better consumer information to parents and students so they can make “smart higher education investments.”’

Big Bird Can Close the Achievement Gap? Not So Fast…

Here’s a response to a recent news item that highlighted the benefits of Sesame Street.

“Don’t get me wrong: I love Big Bird as much as the next guy. But when people start talking about how Sesame Street is just as effective at closing the achievement gap as preschool, I start to worry that we’re becoming enamored with a seductively simple characterization of a deeply complex problem.”

Deeper Learning in Practice

“Across the education sector, we define what students need to know and should be able to do for succeeding in college and career. We know that they need more than just the ability read and write — today’s constantly changing workforce shows that they must be able to master academic content, communicate and collaborate effectively, think critically, and become life-long learners. Supporting students as they develop these skills, understandings, and mindsets often requires a shift in how we think about classroom learning and the competencies needed by teachers to facilitate that learning.”

Debunking 10 Big Myths About Gifted Kids

“Here are myths about gifted kids and some realities, based on years of classroom observation and interaction with teachers who work with them.”

Teachers’ fightback against the destructive ideals of Germ has reached global proportions

“The fight takes different forms in different countries, but there are common threads throughout. Not only are the attacks part of the same neoliberal agenda but, in each case, resistance relies on the ability of education unions to mobilise the mass of their membership, developing their political consciousness through struggle. Teachers and their unions emerge from this process changed — stronger, more democratic and with a wider vision for education.”

Beliefs about innate talent may dissuade students from STEM

This is a lengthy article, which also includes a couple of videos, and is very worth reading.

“We need to abandon dangerous ideas that some people just can’t do math. Neuroscience and educational research flatly contradict such beliefs. As the new study suggests, valuing hard work over innate “genius” might even spur students to tackle new challenges.”

This week’s contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

Lessons from Finland

Finland, as ever, offers a high trust community orientated alternative to the GERM corporate  target based model the Anglo American world is taking.

“In recent years, Finland’s students have been at the top or near the top on a range of international indicators. Furthermore, Finland’s commitment to social equity has led to low levels of variance in student results from school to school.However, this has not always been the case. In the early 1990s, Finnish students achieved mediocre results on international tests such as PISA and TIMMS. Yet, they turned this around. Notably, they didn’t do this through introducing high-stakes testing, introducing charter schools, or enforcing superficial compliance with central mandates. Rather, they did it through placing teachers at the very heart of school reform.”

How Can Teachers Develop Students’ Motivation — and Success?

Most teachers will have heard of Carol Dweck but how many implement her ideas in their rooms?

“What can teachers do to help develop students who will face challenges rather than be overwhelmed by them? Why is it that many students seem to fall apart when they get to junior high or middle school? Can the “gifted” label do more harm than good? Do early lessons set girls up for failure? Is self-esteem something that teachers can or should “give” to students? Those are some of the questions Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Columbia University, answers. Some of her responses will surprise you.”

Why Glorify Failure to Enhance Success?

The difference between mistakes and failure – and the teachers role in helping their students.

“Teachers must help  students understand that the conditions for success are within their control and that thry will help them remedy their learning errors when they occur. Teachers, must have a growth orientation to learning, and help their students develop the same orientation. As Dweck reminds us, a growth orientation creates motivation and enhances productivity. When shared by both teachers and students, it also builds positive relationships.”

Academic subjects alone won’t ‘set every child up for life’

Beyond the basics! The importance of innovation and creativity

“What successful employers, big and small, hi-tech and no-tech, are crying out for are recruits who are innovative and creative, who can think laterally, communicate clearly and work as part of a team. These are all abilities that are most effectively developed for children through the arts and music.”

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Putting critical information literacy skills into action – use them or lose them

To make good use of exciting learning experiences students need a full range of literacy, numeracy observation , inquiry, and expressive skills to be in place. Real literacy requires a context, or need, so that students can see the point of acquiring such vital skills. Literacy and numeracy are all about gaining meaning and power. Exciting studies provides the context for such learning.”

The artistry of the teacher

The killing of a Vikings’ chieftain’s horse – and the artistry of a creative teacher

“Teacher artistry and sensitivity is required to enter into dialogue with the individual learners to help them develop in-depth thought. Lack of depth and understanding is all too commonly seen today in students’ observational or scientific writing as well. How do you help a student get the most out of an experience? Read on.”

Write Now Read Later

“These days reading, or better still the language arts ( now called by a more technocratic title ‘literacy’) seems to have been taken over by academics who are pushing a phonemic approach onto schools – ‘P’ Pushers! This is an approach that distorts the organic relationship between experience, oral language, writing and reading – all premised on a need to make meaning and to communicate. The traditional language arts programme has also been distorted by those who are peddling an meta-cognitive approach that sees acquiring reading skills as an end in themselves.”

Education Readings June 19th

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

This week’s homework!

Hattie warms up Visible Learning for Pearson; also Hattie and Pasi Sahlberg on YouTube

Kelvin Smythe targets John Hattie’s latest ‘research.’

“Hattie’s research is rubbish.

For him, the beauty of it being rubbish is that it allows him to say it says whatever he likes.

In his latest trick he has produced a new book called The Politics of Distraction: What doesn’t work in education.”

School starting age: the evidence

Thanks to Cam Lockie for this:

Interesting research from the University of Cambridge, which runs counter to the usual spin from the school reform movement.

“In my own area of experimental and developmental psychology, studies have also consistently demonstrated the superior learning and motivation arising from playful, as opposed to instructional, approaches to learning in children. Pretence play supports children’s early development of symbolic representational skills, including those of literacy, more powerfully than direct instruction. Physical, constructional and social play supports children in developing their skills of intellectual and emotional ‘self-regulation’, skills which have been shown to be crucial in early learning and development.”

The Common Core can’t speed up child development

When did the science matter to the ideologues?

“However, for skills in what Bloom calls the “cognitive domain,” the school curriculum has become blind not only to the progression of normal child development but also to natural variations in the rate that children develop. It is now expected that pre-school children should be able to grasp sophisticated concepts in mathematics and written language. In addition, it is expected that all children should be at the same cognitive level when they enter kindergarten, and proceed through the entire grade-school curriculum in lock step with one another.”

How Early Academic Training Retards Intellectual Development

Following on, here’s Peter Gray’s contribution to this theme. Maybe one day our leaders will realise that there’s more to education than ideology and economic theories.

“Now, here’s the point to which I’m leading.  It is generally a waste of time, and often harmful, to teach academic skills to children who have not yet developed the requisite motivational and intellectual foundations.  Children who haven’t acquired a reason to read or a sense of its value will have little motivation to learn the academic skills associated with reading and little understanding of those skills.  Similarly, children who haven’t acquired an understanding of numbers and how they are useful may learn the procedure for, say, addition, but that procedure will have little or no meaning to them.”

ALL Babies Walking By Six Months Old… A Satire on the Common Core Charade.

“It was ensured, by adhering to these rigorous standards, ALL babies would be on track for the Olympics and/or professional athleticism. No one questioned the age appropriate sports standards. No one questioned who wrote the standards… and those who did, in any way, were looked down upon.   Many, at first, even believed these standards were appropriate, necessary, and the answer to preparing the babies for a solid future in professional athletics and quite possibly a turn in the Olympic Games.”

The Education Revolution will Not Be Standardized: The “Moral Imperative” of Testing Refusal

“The bigger picture underlying the battle against neoliberal/corporatised education:

Education reform is not happening in isolation. To revolt against testing as vehicle for the destruction of our schools, our communities and our children is to recognize that education is merely one piece to a bigger puzzle of corporate global control over our lives (energy, food, prisons, industry, etc etc).”

Myth: You can do more with less

Another Pasi Salhberg article – any other comment needed?

“Some economists have calculated how much students’ achievement could be improved by enhancing the quality of the teaching force. An efficient way to do that, they argue, is to find poorly performing teachers and get rid of them. Then, bringing young, enthusiastic talent into these classrooms will actually lead to the betterment of education at the same time when resources diminish. Within this logic lie three fallacies that, if taken as facts, will be harmful for the teaching profession and thereby for the entire education system.”

Finland’s Latest Educational Move Will Produce a Generation of Entrepreneurs

And yet another article about Finland….

“The new approach aims to encourage different kinds of learning, shifting from facts to problem solving, individual work to collaboration. In other words, instead of skill-oriented instruction, this topical structure prioritizes the four Cs—communication, creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration—skills that are central to working in teams, a reflection of the ‘hyperconnected’ world we live in today.”

This week’s contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

8 Wishes for My 3-Year Old About the Future of Education

Bruce’s comment: this is a feel good link. What would you wish for in education for a three year old? A good question for schools to ask their parents! Here is one dad’s wishes for his three year old and all the wonderful educators  along the way.

“You may wonder what your educational journey will look like. Honestly, every person’s experience is different. I am hoping that my journey can be a guide for yours, but also that you are able to set your own path. Right now I see an educational system that is evolving, and hopefully it is evolving to meet your needs, wants, desires, and passions. It is my wish that your educational journey will be successful beyond your wildest imagination.”

Improving Our Schools From the Inside Out

Bruce’s comment:  Difficult times for teachers in America. In light of the current issues flooding our education system, from an overemphasis on standardized testing to a shaky implementation of the Common Core State Standards, veteran teachers are turning to extreme measures to stress their dissonance: resigning. Let’s make sure things don’t get so bad in NZ but we know of some teachers who have had enough.

“Foremost, I cannot imagine what it must feel like leaving a profession that you love out of frustration and hopelessness. I am in no position to judge any teacher who expresses his or her grievances publicly and resigns.

But what happens to the teachers who decide to stay?

What happens to the next generation of teachers who are committed to the profession irrespective of decisions made outside of their personal classrooms? I refuse to become jaded and cynical or simply apathetic, counting down the days until retirement.”

How Student Centered Is Your Classroom?

How student centred are you in your school/classroom?

“In the education world, the term student-centred classroom is one we hear a lot. And many educators would agree that when it comes to 21st-century learning, having a student-centred classroom is certainly a best practice. Take some time to think about where you are with creating a learning space where your students have ample voice, engage frequently with each other, and are given opportunities to make choices.Use these questions in this blog to reflect on the learning environment you design for students in your class.”

Study: Feedback doesn’t always help students

The dark side of feedback.Under some conditions, we may need to refrain from ‘rescuing’ children by providing them with feedback, and instead let them struggle, engage and learn on their own. As well the concept of feedback implies teacher know best and can easily lead to a compliance mentality.and diminishing creativity.

“A new Vanderbilt University study challenges the assumption that feedback is always a good thing, at least for student learning.The study, conducted by Emily Fyfe, a doctoral student at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of Education, suggests that once a lesson is taught, immediately telling students if they are solving problems correctly or incorrectly can lead to lower performance on subsequent problems and post-tests. If a student is working on problems before learning the material, however, immediate feedback is helpful.”

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Together principals can do it

An oldie that Bruce wrote in 2005.

“The true challenge  is for groups of principals to find their common voice – what  is it that they  all believe is important and would focus and engage the energy of them all? The trouble is individual principals are loath to show their ‘real cards’ and share important educational issues. Our system in NZ since the mid 80s had bred into them a competitive ethic and, as well, it is not good form to admit weaknesses to others.”

L.I.S.P. New Zealand’s lost research!

New Zealand’s Learning in Science Project had huge potential but was cut off before it really had a chance due to a change in the political climate.

“Research showed that the ‘prior ideas’ a student brings to any learning situation , if not aligned with the teachers concepts, remains the view the learner holds, even if they know the ‘right answer’ to give back in a test. This has dramatic implications for teachers and teaching and explains why so much of what is taught is soon forgotten or fragile at best. As David Ausabel (68), the educational psychologist wisely wrote, ‘The most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows; ascertain this and teach accordingly’.”

Towards a creative school.

Bruce’s comment: Rear vision thinking – the schools’ default mode?

“It is sad to see schools happily ‘driving into the future using their rear vision mirrors’. Just as our students are entering a world beyond our comprehension we are busy ensuring they will be able to cope with a past age. There is more than a whiff of Victorian ‘three Rs’ around our schools as teachers focus on testing children in what are considered the two areas of concern literacy and numeracy. All this conformist formulaic ‘one size fits all’ teaching is leading us back to the standardisation of Henry Ford who one said, ‘you can have any colour you like as long as it is black’.”

Points of view from Mount Eden School

The New Zealand Curriculum – a lost opportunity? A focus on implementing the New Zealand Curriculum – ideas from Mt Eden Normal 2007.

With regard to the ‘new’ curriculum principal  John  Faire said that, for many, it is a bit ‘back to the future’ and that the curriculum statements and accountability demands imposed since the early 90s had all but ‘squashed out the creativity’ that was to be seen in the 70s and 80s.  It is now he said, quoting from Stoll and Fink , ‘about teaching and about time.’ The front half of the ‘new’ curriculum he said approvingly is ‘future focused’ but the ‘second half’ is the ‘same old same old’. John hopes that the  NZC’s more creative future focus is not lost due to accountability demands.”

Unfortunately the situation has become more difficult for such creativity since John’s presentation in 2007 and his advice is now more relevant than ever.

Cultural changes

Aussie Friends of Treehorn


Cultural Changes over 70 years

School Culture after School Culture


I went to Teachers College with a group that is holding its 70th Anniversary reunion this week. We all went in different directions from College in that immediate post-war period, but I hung in there with some others dedicating our lives to the primary schooling of young children. I’ve been privileged to have shared such a vocation with other serious teachers for so long. I have never retired from this because there is always something of intense interest going on. Primary schooling has proved to be the most wonderful and exciting of the caring professions. I left the Queensland Education Department in 1988, grateful for the wealth of experiences that it provided and ready to take up more study of primary schooling.

Please allow me to present my view of the 70 years in a special way. I’m prompted by the title of Kate Atkinson’s book : Life After Life , the story of a lass born in 1910 who lives her life over and over again. Finally she lives the life that she wanted to live. Since schooling was my passion and primary school children were my focus, I can divide my time into a School Culture after School Culture with an unfulfilled desire to inhabit, in my twilight years, a schooling culture based on children learning how to learn, each seeking high personal achievement in the essentials [as I see them] with a high desire to want to learn for the rest of their lives….with each child wanting to be a ‘Dick Smith” because they learned ‘how to learn’ at school, an autodidact who wants to learn. Since no one child is any ‘smarter’ at learning than any other, I believe that this is proper and possible, given a mature understanding of what ‘teaching and learning’ is. We need to help the big-end-of-town boganaires how to understand ‘teaching and learning’ as a democratic, nation-building dynamic. Sciolist measurers cannot help. They live in another world. Real, child-focussed teachers can.
[When Dick Smith received an Order of Australian recently, he was proud to reveal that he had been rated as 45th out of 47 in the testing culture of the time……a dismal failure!!! Who would, in the present culture, allow him to enter a private school? He’d be told to stay home for the NAPLAN tests, surely. He’d learned how to learn what he wanted to learn.]

It is not difficult to understand why so many don’t subscribe to the notion that learning how to learn should dominate schooling. Did you know that many of the upper class, estranged from social reality, those who shape our society now, opposed the institution of free, compulsory education even in our earliest days? They thought that it was likely that some of the lower class would grow beyond their assigned social position, by doing a dicksmithery. Such learners can be dangerous because they use their whole brain. What would happen to industry if the lower classes started to think?

I have identified three or four distinct schooling cultures during my time.

When I started teaching in 1946, state secondary schooling was a rarity. I think that there were about ten state High Schools in the state and some “high tops” , secondary departments attached to primary schools, conducted under state department auspices. Earlier in the piece, state high schools were not allowed to be constructed in towns that already had a grammar school. Since school attendance was compulsory for 6 to 12 year-olds….later 14 year-olds, the curriculum was devised to suit these ages. Most pupils left school at age 14 to gain employment. Few went further. As I count the 40 pupils in my Year 6 class photograph, I notice that only 3 of us survived to the Senior end of schooling. In today’s terms, that’s a large ‘drop-out rate’. While the keen observer will say that there is a much higher voluntary ‘drop out’ level of learning essentials these days, we know that it is close to the truth and we know the reasons why. The numbers of ‘on the spot’ drop-outs are prolific and they are finding other things to do…..bullying, experimenting with drugs, hooning….anything to get away from the NAPLAN tests’ reminder that they are boofheads.

1. When I started teaching it was a pure Jug-Mug culture.

The nature of teaching was completely ‘chalk-talk’, ‘jug to mug’, direct instruction from the first year at school to the final year in the prevailing culture up to about the 1960s. Classrooms were designed for this ‘ jug-to-mug’ instructional principle. Long desks and forms faced a blackboard with a large space between the desks and the black-boards reserved for the teacher only. Pupils were allowed about a metre square of space in which they sat for up to five hours per day, on backless forms. Some rooms had a podium across the room in front of the blackboard for the teacher to be more domineering and controlling. In some rooms, the seating was arranged in grandstand style with participants looking down on the instructor and the blackboard. Pupils were expected to learn how to pass tests, using a pad and pencil only. The very young used slates. Easier to lick. Each grade level was expected to concentrate on those subjects that were examined at the Scholarship Examination that marked the end of primary schooling. Art, for instance. was not an official school subject for many years. In my neophyte years, art, music, physical education and other airy-fairy non-paper-based examinable subjects were dropped once the Inspector left the school on his [yes – male,only] annual visit.

Inspectors as the regulators, monitors and advisers of the system’s requirements visited schools and conducted tests of their own construction, on which many judged the abilities of the children, the teacher, the head teacher [as we were known] and provided an assessment of the school itself. When I started inspecting, I refused to give such tests neither did I rate the school. I tried to describe the climate of learning that, I opined, each school offered.

From 1875, when Queensland’s Department of Public Instruction was first commenced, through to to 1946 when I started teaching, not much had changed. The system was based on British traditions of adult-dominated instruction linked with vigorous fear-of-failure testing. When one visited a school during this period, only the voices of teachers dominated the airways. It was a rigorous culture, designed to install conformity and obedience in order to prevent children from developing idiosyncratic cognitive styles which were too difficult for us to lead and monitor. Then, the system culture started to change for the first time in over a century. It started in England. It was difficult for sciolists and left-brained folk to handle at the time. .

2. A Freedom-to-Learn culture was emerging.

Supported by notable thinkers of the day, Sir Alex Clegg, Eric Hake, Edith Biggs, Marion Parry and the like, teachers endeavoured quite seriously to profit from their analysis of their wartime experiences. Did a classroom need to built according to one stifling teaching mode? Children seemed to have learned better in open spaces using anything available as teaching aids and helping each other to learn, to talk to each other and discuss. England had had a useful war, schooling-wise. Apart from anything else, they began to question themselves Unfortunately, Americans became interested and, after studious examination of British schooling, they approved and tried to package it and name it… they tend to do. We Aussies, as usual, listened more to American educators who had started to describe schooling in arcane terms like “open” aka “progressive”, like “traditional”, like ‘integrated day’. Because classroom changed from being “sit-stilleries” to active learning, serious Australian school architects took up the challenge. The shape of schools changed dramatically to allow teachers and pupils opportunities to indulge in tasks in all kinds of learning environments in which children were comfortable and active in their learning pursuits. These were exciting times, but many parents and others, products of the Jug-Mug culture, were perplexed when they saw pupils talking to each other in learning sessions, studying in pairs and in groups, measuring, constructing, painting, reading, studying on their own, sitting or lying on the floor to write, laughing in class, using the room during lunch breaks.

It became apparent during this period that schools can be a pretty soft target for exploitation and political hoo-haa. . Moral campaigners flexed their twitching muscles and claimed the right to punish those who tried to teach children how to be human. M:ACOS. Their network of alphabetical groups had special tactics designed to influence political decisions, that I describe in my USG monograph Back to Drastics, a prophetic title, as it has turned out to be. They were remarkably successful. They used tactics [group phone call, letter-writing, hanging around parliament for a spare ear, concentrating on pollies’ wives etc.] that could be used these days to have the likes of NAPLAN banned, but religious bad-ass biblical fervour has greater fire power for a social conscience than caring for kids’ emotional and educational welfare. Again, the products of the bang-crash-wallop Jug-to-Mug years [us] don’t believe that the effects of a very deliberate emotional abuse scheme such as NAPLAN show too much. Physical and sexual abuse in schools tend to capture more media attention than does extreme stress, sleeplessness, crying, vomiting, hatred of school subjects and of school itself, all built-in to a political stunt forced on teachers. There is no doubt that NAPLAN’s reliance on the use of fear as the only motivator for learning, leaves deep and lasting scars for a lifetime. The destruction of a child’s self-worth is close to criminal behaviour. Sadly, adults just don’t seem to care. The story of Treehorn illustrates this well.

This 1960s to 1980s period was the most exciting in the history of schooling in all western countries and produced more scholars than in any other period of world history. There was a distinct change from heavy handed chalk-talk adult modes of domination to more productive maieutic child-centred strategies. It paid off in spades. The advances in the sciences and technologies were spectacular and the creative arts, especially down-under, equalled or surpassed many other countries. The new century looked like having a truly focussed learning culture in which all individuals, no matter what their social status, genius, mental or physical health could seek to learn as much as they possibly could. A platform was being laid for the future that augured well. Attention to the creative arts was phenomenal. Music leapt from drum and fife bands to full orchestras in primary schools. Art leapt from crayons and plasticine to the use of the world’s resources. Learning and the quest for high achievement was a feature of school because children liked learning.

3. Then managerialism hit the fan and spread its contagion.

Its onset was the craziest cultural period of all – the 1990s. It was cunningly installed by Harvard-influenced University business study graduates. The late 1980’s ‘reforms’ in Queensland were imposed on schools in a subtle, well organised, underhand way. ‘Schooling’ disappeared from lexicon of departmental proceedings. We were outsourced, down-sized and multiskilled on all fronts just for the heck of it, with no discussion on how it would effect kids . Any resistance was shut down or hidden. Schooling became a confusing mess. A new ‘standards’ meme was invented, this time a New York invention, and the big end of town fell prey to stupid gossip.

The Inspectorate and school divisions were closed down in 1990….schooling was tossed out with the bath water and ‘organizational method’ took over. Kids didn’t matter. Inspection of schools by real experts, the only reliable method known to man for auditing the progress of every school and every teacher …experienced experts working with fellow professionals……clout with knowledge, compassion and humanity , disappeared in favour of money-making fear-based tests.

4. The money-making culture started.

Australian practitioners were so confused by internal arrangements that they dropped the ball when rookie Kevin Rudd and his hip-attached Deputy decided, on the advice of the big-end of town, to radically alter schooling in Australia. When Julia called on the emperor for riding instructions in New York, she met a sweet-talking maverick who ran a school district whose operations were entirely based on fear. Teachers lost their jobs if their blanket test class results were poor. Principals lost theirs, if the school’s results were poor. Schools were closed if test results were beyond rescue. Pupils became mental wrecks with fear of failing and all sorts of shenanigans ensued.

Never mind, Joel Klein the test king introduced his scheme to Australia, following his persuasive style at meetings of the large banking and corporate institutions, then undertook to manage the Murdoch testing empire. He was on a good thing. Millions per annum. The testing business is big, big, big. The sale of testing material and, now, tablets for fast delivery of tests and allied programs will help the emperor to accumulate billions of dollars, according to what he tells us. Parents are hoodwinked into believing that the tests are somehow magical and are necessary. The government of the day refuses to publish that parents have a choice. It is never asked of them as a democratic government would do. They have to find out for themselves.

This money-based system of conducting a school system leads to divergent operations that make no education sense: charter schools aka public-private schools as a pretence for school autonomy, shifting year levels between primary and secondary schools because the test culture can be maintained easier, using NAPLAN results as an entrance requirement even between state schools.

It also reveals a level of political skulduggery of a new kind. The cost of conducting NAPLAN tests in the future is hidden in state and commonwealth treasuries. It must be in the billions of dollars, but did not deserve a mention in the budget presentation, and no one seems to know , if one enquires. It’s a really crazy business, and is allowed to exist because of our traditional fixation with blanket testing at various levels of schooling are part of school routine.

We need a deep and thorough conversation about kids at school. How do they learn and achieve? NAPLAN has shown that it damages children’s enthusiasm and cognition and deep social calamity. It is downright dangerous.
We need to develop a learning culture.

A river of fear has flowed through school syllabuses for centuries.
The task of this century is to try to stop the flow.

Phil Cullen 41 Cominan Avenue Banora Point Australia 2486 07 5524 6443

A GREAT TITLE – The Killing Season

Pupil Treehorn:           Why can’t we kids have a test-free, pupil-centred, achievement-oriented, holistic-learning-based-curriculum?  Why? Why?

Klein testucators:     Why can’t we have a profit-based, stress-laden, teacher-squirming, unreliable test program.  That’s what we have. We can’t change it.

Treehorn:                    Why can’t you replace tension with challenge, fear with encouragement, ritual with creativity, teacher-bashing with professionalism, subject-hate    with love-of-learning, time-wasting-tests with shared-evaluation ?

Testucator:                 Simply : We don’t know HOW. We’ve lost it.

Essential Viewing: 

Aussie Friends of Treehorn

Treehorn is the hero of a children’s book called The Shrinking of Treehorn by Florence Parry Heidi. It’s about a small boy with enormous problems, who remained totally ignored by all adults, including his parents, teachers and principal during an important period in his life. Like all young school pupils, he came to learn that adults don’t take much notice of school kids, no matter how dire the circumstances. Children are left on their own to survive, despite the stress that  some very cruel adults impose on them – like the operators and users of NAPLAN the Wombat tests. The Shrinking of Treehorn is a powerful story with a morally-stunning conclusion.

A GREAT TITLE – The Killing Season

When they were joined at the hip, he said unto her, who was Minister for Education . “Go forth and find a scheme whereby we will straighten out those state schools  whom our ultracrepidarian masters tell us need a shake up.”  Fond of using long words, he added, “If the plebs don’t like it, let them send their brats to another school, until they find one that suits them.” Preferably private.

She found a u-beaut scheme in a few minutes – at a cocktail party in New York – and the rest is history.

Realising that serious educators in Australia would not be too keen to treat Aussie children and teachers in the same callous  way that they were being treated in New York, the home of Australia’s emperor, he who must be obeyed by all neo-con political parties [that’s Labor and Liberal down under] , our rookie political schemer had to devise a schooling system that he liked and that suited his purpose…..and hers.

It was a piece of cake.

First trick was to arrange for the Chancellor Klein, the sweet-talking maestro himself, to visit down-under to talk to those who know all that is needed to be known about schooling – the banking fraternity, who paid his way, and their fellow corporate geniuses. He did the job well within a few days; and Kleinism,  described in his home-town as ‘fear-based schooling’, was here to stay.

Schoolies, who traditionally care for kids as learners, would present a problem.  Knowing that they are usually nice, compliant, easily bent towards any kind of change they were an easy push-over after a work-shop or two of  specially chosen participants and forming a governemtent sponsored association that would do as it was told…a masterly manouvre.

Next was to appoint a special-services unit that would control the introduction of a BST [Blanket Standardised Testing] industry that would be able to hoodwink the population into believing that fear-based testing is the only method of promoting learning and achievement under the guise of better scoring on a one-size-fits-all annual testing basis.  Australia has always had a surplus of measurement gurus with international reputations who have always had more than their share of influence over state departments over the years; so the formation of ACARA  to eventually take-over Australian schooling took little time to establish.

What about the control over parents?  ‘Seasy.  Let’s not tell them. Let them believe that testing is good for kids, that NAPLAN is a regular part of school routine, that they do not have a choice. Order school principals not to mention it and to demand parental compliance. What do you think Australia is? A democracy?

Transparency ? What’s that?

Well you may ask if the effects on children’s social and emotional development was discussed during the pre-NAPLAN era….or even during?   Did the know-it-alls and their henchmen give any consideration to increases in other aspects of child development – cheating, bullying, drug-taking, stress-related illnesses, cognitive disinterest, dislike of schools and of important school subjects – known associates of examination fever?  Well? Did they?

Well may you ask if the effects on the general curriculum, on the time spent in schools on ‘test prep’ [as the Yanks call it], on the natural holistic aspects of learning, on the probable use by private schools of the test results for enrolment purposes or any other shameful effects on children’s cognitive development were dealt with early in the piece. Well?

It was killing time. Who cares about kids?   Who cares about their parents?

The season remains open. Kill kid’s enthusiasm!



Phil Cullen  41 Cominan Avenue  Banora Point  Australia 2486  07 5524 6443

Education Readings June 12th

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

This week’s homework!

Showing Up

Excellent post by Peter Greene highlighting the importance of teacher-pupil relationships in the learning process.

“Attempts to “teacher-proof” classrooms by using carefully constructed lessons and word-for-word scripting are attempts to make showing up irrelevant. Whoever shows up in the classroom, the reasoning goes, the lesson will go on exactly the same. But teacher-proofing a classroom is like husband-proofing a marriage, trying to come up with some set of rules so that it won’t matter who shows up to fill the husband role, the marriage will work just fine. That’s crazy talk. If the teacher doesn’t really show up as a living, breathing human being, students cannot be engaged.”

Don’t Overthink It, Less Is More When It Comes to Creativity

Did you ever find that group brainstorming doesn’t work that well? Maybe this is why:

“Most of us have experienced writer’s block at some point, sitting down to write, paint or compose only to find we can’t get the creative juices flowing. Most frustrating of all, the more effort and thought we put into it, the harder it may become. Now, at least, neuroscientists might have found a clue about why it is so hard to force that creative spark.”

Let Kids Fidget in Class: Why It Can Be Good For Those with ADHD

“Are you a pen-clicker? A hair-twirler? A knee-bouncer? Did you ever get in trouble for fidgeting in class? Don’t hang your head in shame. All that movement may be helping you think. A new study suggests that for children with attention disorders, hyperactive movements meant better performance on a task that requires concentration.”

Why America Demonizes Its Teachers

“The issue of teacher responsibility for student performance must be placed within this broader social context of what has been happening outside the American classroom for the last 30 years. Only in this way will the discussion about student learning become more realistic, and honest, and why singling out teachers alone distorts the true nature of both the problem and its solution.”

Reading Readiness Has To Do With The Body

This is well worth reading and shows that the move for earlier and earlier ‘instruction’ is potentially damaging to children who are not developmentally ready.

“We know that our little ones walk and talk on their own timetables. No rewards or punishments are necessary to “teach” them. Yet children are expected to read, write and spell starting at five and six years old as if they develop the same way at the same time. Academics are pushed on preschoolers with the assumption this will make them better students. This approach is not only unnecessary, it may be contributing to problems such as learning disorders, attention deficits, and long term stress.”

I worry about teachers who blog

Some excellent advice here:

“By all means, ignore the above thoughts and blog away to your heart’s content. I can’t stop you. But hopefully, just hopefully, albeit you write like no one is reading to help you grow and develop professionally; hopefully you’ll just stop for a minute. Do what’s right. Think about your audience and credit where appropriate. I know that I could’ve done better in the past. As I’ve learned, perhaps we all can too?”

Is school improvement a myth?

“My heart aches for kids who receive a substandard education. I believe that much of what happens inside schools needs to change. But the only way we will make great strides in this area is to give up on the myths that have led us to that point– to be really precise and logical about what it is that we are trying to improve and how to measure it.”

Principal: I’m retiring because Common Core puts test scores before children

Contributed by Ken Woolford from Queensland, Australia.

“I bristle when I hear that evaluating teachers by test scores is needed to “hold them accountable,” as though teachers are outlaws or laggards. If there are some who are not doing their job, it is our responsibility as principals to address the problem. We should not destroy our schools to create a bell curve of accountability performance, which is created when we compare teachers to each other using student test score growth.”

This week’s contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

Five Methods To Get Students Asking Essential Questions

“If  the true goal of education is inspiring students with a lifelong capacity and passion for learning, it is at least as important that students be able to ask the right question as it is to know the right answer.”

4 Misconceptions About Teaching and How to Avoid Them

“Let’s put some focus on strong misconceptions about teaching and the teaching profession, and not the teachers. We know the world is full of great teachers. Making generalizations, assumptions, or misconceptions about teaching would be fruitless. So let’s focus on the profession itself and it’s changing nature.”

Need a Job? Invent It

Education for a new world by Tony Wagner:

”Reimagining schools for the 21st-century must be our highest priority. We need to focus more on teaching the skill and will to learn and to make a difference and bring the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation into the classroom: play, passion and purpose.”

From Bruce’s “goldie oldie” file:

Ways of exploring a bridge

“An idea that was around well before the idea of ‘multiple intelligences’ emerged was to encourage children to explore and interpret their environment using a number of frameworks or viewpoints; the more frameworks, or ways of seeing, the bigger their ‘net’ to capture experiences.”

Beautiful minds – ‘in a world of their own’.

“Savants.The capacity of the brain is infinite. Lucky for most of us so called ‘normal’ people our brains suppress, or filter out, most of the information coming our way but for the savants their brains take in everything in their particular sphere of interest without interference. It is as if they have no ‘delete’ button; their mind, like a ‘Google’ search, recalls everything! And as a result they miss out on capacities such as social and practical skills that we all take for granted.”

The End of Education

Bruce’s comment: Something to think about. Is the intrinsic purpose of education coming to an end? Education is not chasing a grade. It is not chasing a college or a job. If you do that you may get what you want, an “A” or a “B,” but you will never be educated.An education is a process. It has a beginning but no end. It continues throughout life. It is learning to see and think.

“The reduction of things to the quantifiable and to an end makes shallow a world that is deep; it makes dull a species that should be complex; it makes unthinking, uninvolved humans; it reduces human life to quantities: more money, more fame; more things, higher test scores. We aren’t interested in education; we are interested in getting things out of what passes for education.”

Re-imaging education; lessons from Galileo and Brazil.

The importance of educational deviants.

“Education stands at a crossroad caught in the lights of market forces ideology which blinds all but a few to beginnings of a new era some call the Second Renaissance – a new creative era. In his 1980 essay ’The World of Tomorrow and the Person of Tomorrow’ psychologist Carl Rogers contemplated the kind of people that would usher in the new era as people with the capacity to understand , bring about and take part in a paradigm shift.”

Education Readings June 5th

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

This week’s homework!

Why Technology Will Never Fix Education

This article is about higher education but the points made are transferable.

“So what is to be done? Unfortunately, there is no technological fix, and that is perhaps the hardest lesson of amplification. More technology only magnifies socioeconomic disparities, and the only way to avoid that is nontechnological: Either resolve the underlying inequities first, or create policies that favor the less advantaged.”


“The question becomes when will we get to the point where EVERYONE is ready to realize that good teaching matters WAY more than good technology?”

Excellence is not the only point of education

“The meaning of words like excellence can quickly become culturally ingrained common sense. Yet we often fail to question how such taken-for-granted meaning is symptomatic of our changing education system. Rather than embracing it, children, teachers, students and academics should revolt against the current construction of excellence.”

Here’s What We Have to Stop Pretending.

Thoughtful post by Bill Ferriter, in response to Scott McLeod’s Scott McLeod’s We Have to Stop Pretending project

“If we are going to make schools different, we have to stop pretending that “engaging learners” and “empowering learners” are the same thing.”

Q&A With Sir Ken Robinson: Education Has to Be a ‘Human Business’

Thanks to Australian reader Bruce Jones for this link. He comments: A little gem from Sir Ken, up to his very best.  The audio with the article is great listening and I think his book would be worth the purchase price.

“I think the key to this is that education has to be recognized as a human business. It’s a personal process. We’re dealing with living human beings in the middle of all of this. They’re not statistics or data points. They’re not data sets from a test schedule. These are living people with feelings and aspirations and hopes and ambitions and fears and talents, like you and me and everybody else. As soon as you recognize that education is not a processing plant, it’s about people, then the whole equation starts to shift around. My argument, really, is that we should be personalizing education, not standardizing it.”

Gifted and Talented

I recommend you all read this article by Nicholas Meier .

“My problems with the gifted education label are several fold. One is that it assumes a “fixed” belief in intelligence. These students are, by this term “gifted” in the sense that they are born superior intellectually in some ways—these gifts and talents are in some way innate. I find this problematic from both a scientific standpoint and from a moral standpoint.”


“I believe virtually all students can be gifted and talented if given the opportunity, and more importantly, there is no way to sort ahead of time those who can be and those who cannot.”

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but discovery has another mother

Are you surprised that schools destroy a child’s innate curiosity?

The research in my lab shows that far from nurturing curiosity, schools seem to repress it.  The pressures to deliver information, hone skills, stick to the plan, and avoid the unknown work against a child’s natural curiosity. However, it needn’t be so. Classrooms could be greenhouses for curiosity. Questions could be encouraged and guided, exploration could be at the center of the curriculum, and rather than being pushed to the side, children’s specific interests could be fostered. Given how central curiosity is to learning and to human progress, why not cultivate it?”

Standardized Tests: Symptoms, Not Causes

Interesting article by ‘Jersey Jazzman’ that unpicks the use of bell curves as a measure of success.

“Maybe we’d allow children to become themselves and realize their full potentials, free of the fear that their “failure” will inevitably banish them to a life of toil and misery. Maybe we’d start to see schooling not as preparation for a life of stepping on our fellow citizens, and instead as a process by which we become a people who balance our own self-interest with caring for our fellow citizens. And then maybe we wouldn’t feel the need to make these bell curves at all.”

Meet Learner 2.0

Another Steve Wheeler article:

“Teachers have long been advised to become ‘guides on the side’ so that learners can take responsibility. From Socrates through to Dewey, far sighted and progressive philosophers and theorists have consistently argued that students learn better when they lead their own discovery. But very few educators ever took up this challenge, preferring instead to remain ‘in control’ of the process of education, the expert sage taking centre stage. The advent of digital technology challenges this traditional model of education.”

This week’s contributions from Bruce Hammonds:

Business ‘guru’ Peter Drucker wrote, ‘the first country to develop a 21st century education system will win the future’.. Could be New Zealand if only…

Bruce’s latest article:

“I guess what is missing is the courage to take the lead. Principals seem to prefer focus on their own school ( compiling the best achievement data they can -‘ shonky’ at best) and no one seems to have the courage to take the lead to  encourage schools to  to work together towards realizing a creative education. And of course  many think that is what they already do, or that all is well. To me it all shows the power of the status quo  at best or self deception at worst. But surely there are principal groups who see that what they are currently doing is not the full answer?”

Why Do We Separate the Teacher From the Tech?

Excellent article by US educator Tom Whitby:

“We are often bombarded with many posts and articles about the successes and failures of technology in education. Too often these assessments are based upon the technology as if it were the only factor having any effect on the students in the classroom. Of course this overlooks something that has been pounded into educators’ heads for years: The greatest influence on students in the classroom is the teacher. That holds true with or without technology in the classroom.”

How to Transform Teaching with Tablets

A lengthy and very worthwhile article:

“Tablet computers alone won’t shift our thinking about teaching and learning, but technology adoptions can be powerful opportunities for school communities to engage in answering important questions. We’re hopeful that educators will take advantage of this chance to reboot and use new technology adoptions, not as a chance to hand out devices, but as an opportunity to rethink the purposes of schooling in the 21st century.”

Unexpected Tools That are Influencing the Future of Education

“While some schools are finding ways to let students take up the reins of their education too many are  beholden to a system that includes lots of standardized teaching/ testing  and intrusive accountability demands. Schools need to consider ideas that can transform teaching and learning before it is too late.”

Probing Question: Is art an essential school subject?

Bruce’s comment: For creative teachers stating the obvious – the arts are an essential part of education. From STEM to Steam.

“Eliminating the arts from the curriculum is short-sighted on a number of levels,” she says. “Seeing art as expendable indicates a deep misunderstanding of the role it plays at the center of learning. The visual arts are a powerful language for communicating concepts and theories in any field, both during the process of being developed and once they are finished ‘products’ to be shared with others.”

From Bruce’s “goldie oldie” file:

Be wary of ‘research says’, ‘best practice’ and ‘data driven’ ‘buzz words’ writes Dean Fink

“’Let me outline’, writes Canadian Dean Fink ( well known to many in New Zealand), ‘three words or phrases that agitate my crap detector – “the research says”, “best practice” and “data driven” instruction, leadership or whatever.Whether you agree or disagree with my analysis, I would like to hear from you about any words or phrases that have hidden meanings or at least attempt to distort the real meaning.”

Aesthetics: Where Thinking Originates

Wise words from Art Costa.

“Developing aesthetics through sensory experiences is vital to all learning and the basis of developing all sorts of language and creative expression. Children who do not experience such rich sensory experience will come to learning with restricted language acquisition facilities.”

The World Is Flat!!!!

What might education look like in a new ‘flat world’?

“In his book, ‘The World is Flat’ , Thomas Friedman shares how the convergence and explosion of new communication technologies and globalisation has ‘flattened’ the world allowing anybody, anywhere, to be connected anytime, with growing efficiency and speed. Others have called this convergence the beginning of the ‘Second Renaissance’ while others call it the ‘Age Of Creativity or Talent’.”