PoSWW 12: They is Bach

There’s much we could write about Matthew Bach, who recently gave up teaching and deputying to become a full-time Liberal clown. But, with great restraint, we’ll keep to ourselves the colourful opinions of Bach’s former school colleagues; we’ll ignore Bach’s sophomoric sense of class and his cartoon-American cry for “freedom”; we’ll just let sit there Bach’s memory of “the sense of optimism in Maggie Thatcher’s Britain”.

Yesterday, Bach had an op-ed in the official organ of the Liberal Party (paywalled, thank God). Titled We must raise our grades on teacher quality, Bach’s piece was the predictable mix of obvious truth and poisonous nonsense, promoting the testing of “numeracy” and so forth. One line, however, stood out as a beacon of Bachism:

“But, as in any profession, a small number of teachers is not up to the mark.”

We is thinking that is very, very true.

25 Replies to “PoSWW 12: They is Bach”

  1. I am going to be very, very restrained in this comment. (Marty, please delete anything you feel crosses a line or is out of order).

    If you raise the “bar” on admitting people into teaching degrees, less people will qualify as teachers unless more apply. Which they won’t. Teaching is not “capped” in any sense. What if instead we raised the bar for institutions to be allowed to train and assess teachers? What if an institution that trains science teachers had to have, I don’t know… a scientist? on the board as a key advisor…?

    What if the VIT spent more time auditing what the institutions did and less time auditing the teachers themselves?

    Teacher bashing is an easy sport – any politician can do it and a fair number of op-ed writers or keyboard warriors will always be willing to say how they think schooling can be improved and they should know because they went to school and/or had kids who went to school. It is pathetically weak logic, and I would expect an elected representative (especially one with the title Dr…) to be a bit more aware of the weakness of this argument.

    Sure, it will draw the same crowd of “wow, you’ve said what I’m thinking” commentators and appeal perhaps to a voter-base but what is the real motivation of writing such a piece? Nothing helpful that I can see.

    But what would I know – I’m just a teacher.

    1. Hi, N8. As long as we’re on topic, “fewer people”, not “less people”.

      To be fair to Bach, his op-ed wasn’t primarily a teacher bash. Mostly it was just noisy and ignorant and solutionless (and ungrammatical). Of course you are correct: whatever else, demanding an increase in teaching standards without offering better training, more respect, better pay and better conditions is a fantasy. Bach considers some of this, but mostly wants to whine about unions and identity politics and the like, which has merit but is not the main game. And, his promotion of numeracy and PISA and ACER is utterly clueless.

      Why did Bach write the piece? Intellectually, Bach’s just another neoliberal Friedmanite nitwit, glorifying the private sector and denigrating government. So, I’m guessing he’ll push for making government schools as privatish as is politically possible; rather than improving governance, he’ll look to minimise it. And why write the piece now? Pretty obviously, Bach is gunning to be the shadow minister for education. And then, who knows? MLK had a dream, and we’re guessing Bach has one, too.

      1. I went and re-read the article aloud with some colleagues. The second time around it was a lot more like, “here is a story about a useless teacher I once knew…”

        And thanks, “fewer” is a word I often forget to use!

        1. The anecdotes are reasonable enough for colour, but one expects more substance from someone with academic pretensions. Bach’s silly little IPA piece was similar, but worse.

  2. Some random thoughts.

    Given that “is” is singular, it seems that it’s the “small number” that is not up to the mark, not the teachers? Or perhaps the honorable member cannot write.

    As a volunteer at a homework club, I do see some dirty teacher deeds. For example, a student in a major test received ~60% where I would have given > 90. The problem in dispute was to give the scale factor for two similar triangles and then use it in further calculations. The student had used a correct scale factor going from the right triangle to the left and was correct thereafter, whereas the teacher assumed left to right, decided the scale factor given was wrong and read no further. The student was shattered but too shy to complain.

    Then again, I’m told that teachers are required to spend hours doing pointless admin crap these days. So perhaps we should expect ambiguous test questions and marking based on final answers only.

    1. Hi, tom. The honourable member is actually a decent writer, even if most of what he writes is predictable and pointless. He was simply unfortunate to have made a grammatical error in a critical, sermonising sentence. But, I wasn’t gonna let it pass, and the rest of his op-ed made it worth the whack.

      Teacher grading can be appalling in both directions, too sloppy-hard and too lenient. But this is not primarily a teacher issue, it’s a systemic issue of the idiotically anal-retentive manner in which teachers are instructed to assess.

      1. We are getting off the main thread (my bad habit), but I would like you to enlarge on what you say. To me, the example I quoted showed the the teacher was incompetent, or lazy, or crushed by the workload. Maybe all three. Or maybe she is a history teacher dragooned into teaching Year 9 mathematics.

        1. Hi, tom. I don’t mind digressions, but I’ve had a post in mind that is related to this point. I’ll push that post nearer to the top of my ever-expanding to-do list. (You know that problem about the worm walking on the expanding rubber road?) Hopefully in a day or so.

        2. Doesn’t it depend on the marking scheme used for the assessment in question?

          Sometimes, you read these documents and a lot of good, correct working goes unrewarded as the only marks given are answer marks, not method or reasoning marks.

          Sometimes the marking scheme says to penalise accuracy (too many/not enough decimal place/significant figures) and other times it doesn’t.

          Criteria based marking (as sometimes used in IB schools and non-VCAA exams) is even more difficult to interpret sometimes.

          So it may have been the test and or the marking scheme which was wrong, not the teacher and, in the absence of evidence to decide for myself, the example lacks a bit of meaning.

          Marty’s point though is a valid one – quite often examiners are given awful questions to mark according to equally awful marking schemes and yes, sometimes the examiners get different results. It doesn’t mean the examiner was lazy or incompetent. The exam setter however… that has been written about a lot on this blog.

          1. Hi RF, just to be clear, I don’t think we’re talking about Year 12 VCE, although VCE and lower level assessment reflect each. (tom, please indicate if I’m wrong.) Still, as you suggest, most maths assessment is common to a number of class, with a common assessment scheme. Then, that scheme hamstrings all teachers. But that doesn’t explain the systemic craziness.

            1. Marty, you’ve met a few teachers in your time. How many of them do you (honestly) think could write a marking scheme that their colleagues could properly follow?

              I’m guessing less than all of them. And it is not just the teachers who are outside their subject area. They tend to write “safer” assessments but (in my experience) but that can mean less problematic marking schemes as well…

              …and hence more consistent marking.

              1. RF, I’m not necessarily blaming the teachers, although I’m not automatically exempting them either. My feeling is that most teachers have no sense that their grading schemes are ludicrous, which almost all of the schemes are.

                1. In my experience, not many teachers have grading schemes. Which is possibly the source of the issue Tom has identified.

                    1. There is a difference between answers and a marking scheme.

                      The rest is a story for another time.

  3. It is often said that marking mathematics is easy: everything is right or wrong, and there is some truth in that. Many years ago, I investigated research into marking mathematics papers at university. The variation in marking was extraordinary.

    Today we have rubrics to guide our marking. However, I am not convinced that a set of rubrics is appropriate for mathematics. This explains why, in my limited experience, the Mathematics Department drags the chain in the school when it comes to developing rubrics.

    The sad thing is that the closer we get to year 12, the greater the tendency to teach to the test. Students, and their parents, tend to focus on the VCE examinations. (Here VCAL has a distinct advantage because there is no final assessment.) Recently I described assessment in VCE mathematics as piecewise summative assessment. We do a few chapters, then have a SAC; do a few more chapters, another SAC; …

    No need for me to sound off again about multiple choice questions except to say that I am concerned about the validity of scores from such tests.

    The elephant in the room is the development of AI to do the correction. I see this as almost inevitable. No more red pens!

    1. I’d really prefer the discussion returned to deciding whether Bach is dumb or dumber, but since we’re here:

      *) Grading maths tests becomes much easier once you realise students’ answers are not right or wrong.

      *) There is nothing wrong with teaching to the test, as long as the test doesn’t suck.

      *) The elephant in the room is not AI correcting the test; the elephant in the room is AI taking the test.

      1. Bach’s article reads like a cheap Andrew Bolt offering with a few less back-flips (so far).

        And AI is at least (in theory) intelligent, unlike the reasons behind Bach’s argument (if you can call it an argument).

        Bach’s test for teacher quality misses many of the other elephants in the room.

  4. I got through the pay-wall without paying and read the article. His point on too much autonomy for new teachers resonated with me. I know of several instances where new teachers were assigned subjects that they were not qualified to teach, or classes that required considerable experience in classroom management with no support – which reminds me …

      1. I do think it’s a bit harsh to criticise him for one grammatical slip. In my last teaching job, the school asked teachers if they would like to have another teacher come to their class, watch, and comment. I volunteered immediately. An assistant principal came and sat in a double lesson. At the end of the lesson, I left about 10 minutes early so that she could get feedback from the students. The next day we went through her notes – which she passed on to me. I found the exercise useful, and I’d do it again.

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