Being Carvalho With the Truth

There are bigger, stupider fish to fry, but this also needs to be done, and it’s now or never.

Earlier this week, David de Carvalho, the CEO of ACARA, gave a speech at The Age Schools Summit. flagging the Daft Australian Mathematics Curriculum (the spelling is correct). Our most recent WitCH is based on an excerpt of de Carvalho’s speech, but the entire speech — also condensed to an op-ed — is worthy of scrutiny. And so, here we are.

Below are parts of de Carvalho’s speech that relate in some manner to the mathematics review, followed by our, mostly redundant, comments. What de Carvalho says is clear, and clearly ridiculous.

The data that we get from NAPLAN is important, but it is not a measure of overall school quality, and we need to remember that education is a complex multi-dimensional process where improvement does not rely on the rationalistic analysis of data and the application of associated managerial techniques.

“Rationalistic” is now a boogie-man word? That’s where we are? And once again, we have this idiotic selection: NAPLAN or touchy-feely. A pox on them both.

For the thousandth time, NAPLAN is garbage. Numeracy is garbage. And, while we’re at it, PISA is garbage. If there were decent national tests of arithmetic and mathematics, these would be a godsend; the subsequent “rationalistic analysis” would do more than anything else imaginable to lift Australian mathematics education. But, of course, courtesy of two very poxy houses, there’s not a snowflake’s chance in Hell of this occurring.

This is because the essential nature of education is that it involves a sense of historic continuity and conversation between generations, between teachers and their students, where a learner is engaged in the process of becoming a well-rounded human being …

This conversation between the generations is the basis of the curriculum.

An A+ for irony. If there is one central theme to the now decades of destruction to Australian education, it is an utter contempt for the past, the active denigration and wilful forgetting of Australia’s one-time educational excellence.

Up to now, we have been working with 18 teacher and curriculum reference groups established to support the review, made up of 360 teachers and curriculum authority representatives from across Australia, as well as consulting with our peak national subject bodies and key academics. I’ve also had discussions with the staff from 24 primary schools across the country.

That’s a lot of people. What could go wrong?

But on Thursday, we begin public consultations on the proposed revisions to the Foundation to Year 10 Australian Curriculum.

No, you aren’t. You are permitting people to fill in a survey, which, presumably, will never see the light of day. In no manner does this sham hold ACARA publicly accountable to publicly available opinion.

I’ve heard some stakeholders say that we should be “taking a chainsaw to the curriculum”, but chainsaws are not particularly subtle, and can leave an awful mess behind.

What is currently wrong with the Australian Curriculum is also not subtle. We’d go for dynamite, but a chainsaw would do in a pinch.

We need to avoid perpetuating a false dichotomy between factual knowledge and capabilities such as collaboration and critical thinking.

Yes, …

You can’t engage critically and creatively on a topic if you lack the relevant background knowledge …

Go on, …

So the ability to recall facts from memory is not necessarily evidence of having genuine understanding.

A very cute straw man, but please continue.

A student might, for example, memorise the formula for calculating the length of the hypotenuse if given the length of the other two sides of a right-angle triangle, but do they understand why that formula, known as Pythagoras’ theorem, works every time? The process of discovering that for themselves, with the assistance of the teacher, is what makes learning exciting. And it’s what make teaching exciting. Seeing the look of excitement on the face of the student when they experience that “aha!” moment.

Ah, so that’s what you’re getting at. You nitwit.

This example is so monumentally, multidimensionally stupid, it has its own post.

Some learning areas have only required some tidying – but others have required more focus. Maths for example has required greater improvement and updating.

If we look at our PISA and our TIMSS results, Australian students are not bad at knowing the “what”, but we are not as strong at “why” of mathematics, …

This is, to use the technical term, a fucking lie. It is an absurd, almost meaningless dichotomy. And you forgot the “how”, you idiot. But in any case Australian students absolutely suck at the “what”, and the “how”, and ACARA damn well knows it.

This is THE lie. This pretence, that Australian maths students are doing just fine on the basic knowledge and skills, is why it is absolutely impossible for ACARA to revise the mathematics curriculum in a meaningful manner. This is why, without even needing to read it, you know the Draft Curriculum is a farce.

… this joint statement from five of the leading maths and science organisations in the country is an indication of the level of interest out there about the curriculum.

Yep, “five of the leading maths and science organisations” can endorse this poisonous twaddle. That’s where we are.

Again – knowledge and capabilities being acquired together.

Mate, it doesn’t work that way. More often than not, and particularly in primary school, your precious “capabilities” are just getting in the damn way. You can wish it all you want, but learning mathematics just doesn’t work that way.

It should be noted that the current Australian Curriculum in Mathematics already includes four Proficiency Strands: understanding, fluency, problem-solving and reasoning. The issue has been that these proficiencies have not been incorporated into the Content Descriptions, which is what teachers focus on.

So the major change we have made in the proposed revisions to Maths is to make these proficiencies more visible by incorporating them into the Content Descriptions.

In other words, you are changing the Curriculum content, and you are pretending that these changes are simply an innocent act of tidying up. Do you imagine anyone believes you?

It is also important to note that in proposing these revisions, ACARA is not making any recommendations about pedagogical approaches. 

So that Pythagoras nonsense back there was just for the Hell of it? There’s a technical term for this. What was it again?

I expect we will see a stirring of the passions.

So you’re ok with passions. How do you feel about white-hot fury?

No doubt some will argue the proposed revisions don’t go far enough, while others will say they go too far, …

Of course it never crossed your mind that people might say, accurately, that you’re going in entirely the wrong fucking direction.

This discussion and civil debate is a good thing.

It is not a discussion, it is a fait accompli, and there is no benefit here in being civil. What is called for is complete and utter contempt.

7 Replies to “Being Carvalho With the Truth”

  1. Here in Germany the time between two reforms of the mathematics curriculum is currently about 2 years (in the good old days it was about 10 years). And each reform of the last 40 years was endorsed by all the math organizations we have. What I’ve learned is that if a reform goes from A to B and then back from B to A because B didn’t work, then the latter A is much worse than the first one. So the last thing you want is a change in mathematics education. Cling to what you have for as long as possible even if you think it is crap.

  2. Carvalho’s comment about NAPLAN is interesting in light of how the results are interpreted. For example, in one advertisement for a leading teacher today I read that a key performance indicator is “Improvement in NAPLAN data for literacy and numeracy”. So NAPLAN results are used to assess the performance of leading teachers.

    1. For once, I don’t think this is ACARA’s fault (although the stupidity of NAPLAN most definitely is). I don’t think ACARA encourages or wants the glorification of NAPLAN scores.

      1. The various ways in which the results of tests like NAPLAN can be used, or misused, has been discussed by Daniel Koretz in his book “The testing charade: Pretending to make schools better” which was written from a US perspective but has relevance elsewhere.

          1. Koretz is writing about high-stakes tests, rather than tests per se and their effects on education in the US. When I read this – I must read it again – I recall getting the impression that the US leads the way in education; that is, we are following.

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