Principals with principles

 Aussie Friends of Treehorn
encouraging adults to think sensitively, to care for kids, to make wise choices….with their hearts in gear, their pens active and their votes available .

It must be difficult for a 2015 school principal with principle these days….to conduct curriculum activities using the best of what is known about learning within an institutionalised context, and also coping every day with the demands of a political whim that actually impairs cognitive development of school children.  The 2008 whim was based on a belief, held more by significant politicians of the time than by any other sector,  that school children learn best when the school climate  is one of heavy rigour and driven by fear of testing results.  So, there is an extraordinary amount of school time nowadays that concentrates on measuring parts of schooling that only testing experts,  employed by such politicians  believe should be taught and tested. Principals are stuck with organising a byzantine system of control that keeps pupils and teachers  in line; and parents in the dark.

As Professor Costa [Calif.StateUni.] states : “What was educationally significant and hard to measure has been replaced by what is educationally insignificant and easy to measure. So now we measure how well we taught what isn’t worth learning.”    School principals with principles are expected to maintain this farce and are expected to hoodwink the public  on the virtues of running schools based on the whims of teaching-inexperienced measurers employed somewhere else.  The logic that teaching a child how to fill in the right bubbles on a piece of paper somehow helps the child to read better, calculate more accurately and develop profoundly in other critical literacy and numeracy skills is twisted logic. It is the kind of logic that a full generation of wise school leaders have had to tolerate.
Many educators believe that the use of such data to make judgements about schools is a sneaky, dishonest  scheme to privatise Australian schools, to undermine Gonski recommendations and to maintain the flow of money to testucating, publishing and computer programming corporations.
It’s a real dilemma for principals with principles. The forces that have no regard for children’s feelings nor parental concerns are very powerful. While a self-respecting principal can call upon his or her professional ethics to deny access to his or her classrooms, it’s a very brave thing to do under the existing political, totalitarian-based regimes since 2008. The hubristic arrogance of lawyer-trained Ministers has been and is so overpowering.  It’s possible only for  principled principals to reform as an ethical, professional group. Even then, they need to be strong to protect school children the way they should be protected.
Sometimes, chances come at Conference time for large organisations which principals and teachers subscribe to, at great expense. No free rides. The really productive ones are those run by subject associations but,  during the coming month or so, there is a number of conferences with highbrow connections:
Australian Council for Educational Leadership –Sydney – “Setting the Learning Agenda. Courage and Commitment to Lead”. [ The title suggests that the likes of NAPLAN, Direct Instruction etc. might be coming to an end very soon.]
Australian Secondary Principals Association –  Attendance at ACEL Conference suggested.
Australian College of Education – Sydney – “Education on the Edge.”  [Sure is. Should be some fireworks. Methinks it’s toppled already.]
Australian Primary Principals Association – Hobart –  “The Heart of Leadership”  [In view of leadership principles involved in the dispensing of NAPLAN tests, – see above- the outcomes of this conference should be momentous.]
Australian Government Primary Principals Association – [No conference. Unsure of its place in the schooling landscape.  Allied with APPA or trods on its toes?  A CIA outpost?]
Association of  Heads of Independent Schools of Australia – Sydney– “Culture, Character, Collegiality. “  [ Jolly good.]
At such conferences, some of the most productive time is spent in rooms, bars, coffee shops and  cafes  discussing the major issues of the day or just ‘chewing the fat’ about major issues affecting Australian schools.  Under such conditions, one would imagine that principals with principles would discuss what they are going to do about NAPLAN and its control over Australian schooling. With the conversions to tablet use, this period of 2015 is super-critical for serious decision-making that can have  its foundations in sessions like these.  Indeed….It’s  time for all schooling-connected organisations to get together. As Professor Kenneth Wiltshire says, “The whole of the NAPLAN plan needs to be put on hold…” [Treehorn 3 Aug.2015] Yes. It’s serious business, that can’t be neglected.
Supposing that conferees were challenged by a comprehensive list of comments and examined them comment by comment,  about  standardised blanket testing provided by Marion Brady of The Washington Post………..
– provides minimal to no useful feedback for classroom teachers;
– leads to neglect of music, art, other oral ways of learning, physical health;
– unfairly advantages those who can afford to pay for out-of-school tutoring;
– hides problems created by margin-of-error computations in scoring;
– penalises test-takers who think in non-standard ways [which the young frequently do]
– radically limits teacher ability to adapt to learner differences;
– gives control of the curriculum to test-manufacturers’
– encourages use of threats, bribes, and other extrinsic motivators;
– uses arbitrary, subjectively-set pass-fail cut scores;- 
– produces scores that can be [and sometimes are] manipulated for political purposes;
– assumes that what the young will need to know in the future is already known;
– emphasises minimum achievement  to the neglect of maximum performance;
– creates unnecessary pressures to cheat;
– reduces teacher creativity and the appeal of teaching as a profession;
– lessens a concern for and use of shared evaluation techniques
– has no “success in life”  predictive  powers;
– unfairly channels instructional resources to learners at or near the pass-fail score;
– are open to massive scoring errors [as has already occurred] with life-changing consequences;
– are at odds with deep-seated ‘fair go’ Australian values about individuality and worth;
– Create unnecessary stress and negative attitudes towards learning;
– perpetuates the artificial compartmentalization of knowledge by field;
– repels a wholesome holistic attitude towards inter-discipline learning;
– channels increasing amounts of tax-money into corporate coffers and special programs instead of general classrooms;
– Wastes the vast, creative intelligence and potential of human variability;
– blocks instructional innovations that can’t be evaluated by machine;
– unduly rewards mere ability to retrieve second-hand information from memory;
– subtracts from available instruction time;
– lends itself to ‘gaming’ – use of strategies to improve the success–rate of guessing;
– makes TIME – a parameter largely unrelated to ability – a serious factor in scoring;
– creates test-fatigue, aversion to subjects and an eventual refusal to take tests seriously;
– is a monumental waste of money and time;
– destroys institutions’ reputation  and that of the profession in myriad and unsuspected ways
Wouldn’t you like to be a fly on the wall if any group  dared to discuss some of these comments….and follow it through??
If significant teacher groups or learned societies should examine a few of these factors seriously……’s bye-bye NAPLAN.
When? 2015?
Phil Cullen  41 Cominan Avenue  Banora Point  Australia 2486  07 5524 6443              

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