Does anybody ever properly read Terms of Reference? Probably not, and in the case of ACARA’s Terms of Reference for their curriculum review, this was a fatal error. The Education Minsters who approved ACARA’s ToR screwed up. Royally.
Below, we work through the ACARA’s Terms of Reference, section by section, highlighting critical aspects to the review of the mathematics curriculum. We’ll indicate how the ToR gave, and continues to give, ACARA license to consciously and to thoroughly ignore mathematicians, as well as education ministers. We shall also indicate how, nonetheless, ACARA have violated their own Terms of Reference whenever and however it suited ACARA’s real agenda.
On 12 June 2020, Education Council tasked ACARA to undertake a review of the Australian Curriculum for Foundation to Year 10 (F-10) … ACARA will work in close consultation with the profession and key stakeholder groups … [emphasis added, here and throughout]
Absurdly, nothing in the ToR indicates the “profession” that was to be “closely consulted”. Certainly, mathematicians were not closely consulted, or consulted at all, either as members of a “profession” or as a “key stakeholder group”, a phrase repeated ad nauseam. For reviewing the mathematics curriculum at least, ACARA worked overtime to “consult” with education-aligned mates, and only with education-aligned mates.
The review will aim to improve the Australian Curriculum F-10 by refining, realigning and decluttering the content of the curriculum
Somehow, all this “refining” and “decluttering” has increased the current curriculum’s 73 pages to the draft’s 159 pages. Any more refining and decluttering and the thing will have to be published as a multi-volume set.
The draft is a bloated, ideologically driven mess, but the draft also violates the ToR in a much more important manner. The stated Aim is self-evidently modest, effectively an instruction to tidy things up. Which does not remotely resemble what ACARA has done to the mathematics curriculum. There is also absolutely nothing in the Aim, or anything in the Terms of Reference, that gave ACARA the license to undertake such a radical overhaul. ACARA simply ignored the clearly stated Aim of the curriculum review.
Specifically, the review will:
a) refine and reduce the amount of content across all eight learning areas of the Australian Curriculum F-10, with a priority on the primary years, to focus on essential content or core concepts
To the extent that this is true, it is absurd and a disaster. There has been no reduction in the pointless, endless pseudo-real-world nonsense; the very opposite has occurred. What has been reduced is attention to the proper development of fundamental knowledge and skills.
b) improve the quality of content descriptions … by … ensuring consistency and clarity of language and cognitive demand
This is false, amounting to farce.
c) rationalise and improve content elaborations, ensuring … the most authentic ways to treat general capabilities and cross curriculum priorities …
Whatever “rationalised” is intended to mean, it hasn’t happened. The current curriculum has 421 elaborations; this has been “rationalised” to the draft’s 1132 elaborations, many of which are pointless, or much worse.
the learning areas of Mathematics and Technologies will be prioritised in the review timeline
This is unclear, but “prioritised” cannot mean “do whatever the hell we want, and ignore the rest of the Terms of Reference”.
content changes will be made by subject matter experts and …
Evidently, they were not. It is unclear how ACARA interprets “subject matter experts”, or the nature and the extent of the role of these supposed “experts”, but the resultant product exhibits anything but mathematical expertise.
LEARNING AREAS: CONTENT
Content descriptions specify the knowledge, understandings [sic] and skills that young people are expected to learn
The problem is, ACARA’s “understandings” are absurd, and they swamp the knowledge and skills.
The review will look … to focus on the development of foundational literacy and numeracy skills and personal and social capability in the early years.
A “focus” on “foundational numeracy” that removes counting backwards and telling time to the half-hour. All this “foundational numeracy” seems to amount to playing with blocks and coins for three years.
LEARNING AREAS: ELABORATIONS
Content elaborations are optional elements … they provide teachers with suggestions …
ACARA manipulates the “optional” aspect of the elaborations into an all-purpose and unassailable argument that ACARA can do whatever they damn well please with the elaborations and no one has grounds to object. The argument is offensive and absurd. It is absurd to include hundreds of elaborations to “model” and to “explore” and to “investigate” and then proclaim, with Snow White innocence, “Oh, they’re just suggestions”.
Moreover, the Terms of Reference explicitly deny ACARA a free hand to write whatever they please:
The review will look to
a) reduce the number of content elaborations …
As noted above, the the number of elaborations has been “reduced” from 421 to 1132. ACARA has blatantly violated the terms of reference.
b) improve the quality of content elaborations ensuring they … they make the content descriptions … accessible and meaningful to teachers and provide illustrations and suggestions of how to program and teach the content
Similarly, this guideline, has simply been ignored. Most of the elaborations are poor. Specifically and much worse, the vast majority of the elaborations provide no guidance on teaching the content or mastering the skills. Rather, the elaborations indicate how to apply the content and, much more often than not, by way of aimless and valueless real-world exploration. There is very little genuine elaboration of teaching unless, that is, one regards the exploration nonsense as a way to “teach the content”. Which of course ACARA does, again while affecting Snow White innocence. The changes to the elaborations blatantly violate the Terms of Reference, and they are a recipe for disaster.
ACARA curriculum officers will lead the review process in each learning area, engaging a small team of subject matter experts and practitioners to assist in the content refinement.
As we have noted above, whatever team ACARA engaged and however it engaged them, it did not in effect include “subject matter experts”.
Meaningful consultation with jurisdictions and teachers will be key to the review process.
But not with mathematicians.
ACARA will establish two new reference groups for each of the eight learning areas as the formal mechanism for consultation and feedback throughout the review process:
a) A teacher reference group, made up of practising primary and secondary teachers nominated by state/ territory education authorities and the non-government sectors, to provide practitioner feedback on content changes
b) A curriculum reference group, made up of learning area curriculum officers/specialists from state/ territory education authorities and the non-government sectors, to provide jurisdictional advice and feedback throughout the review process.
Neither of which contains a single mathematician.
ACARA’s F-12 Curriculum Reference Group will be the key advisory group …
But of course. Apparatchiks are the keystone to a strong mathematics curriculum.
Subject matter teacher professional associations, teacher unions, academics, principal and parent groups and other key stakeholder groups will be extensively engaged and consulted throughout the review process in a range of ways appropriate to each learning area.
It is not clear whether “academics” refers to mathematicians or mathematics education academics. In any case, mathematicians as a “key stakeholder group”, or otherwise, were not “extensively engaged and consulted”. They were consciously and systematically ignored.
The Terms of Reference written by ACARA gave themselves the license to wholesale ignore proper academic input. The grotesque progeny of such incestuousness was entirely predictable.
The review will commence in 2020 following Education Council’s agreement to the terms of reference, and the review of all learning areas will be completed by the end of 2021 …
So, like the Doomsday Machine in Dr. Strangelove, the draft curriculum will be released on schedule, no matter how appalling it is and no matter the havoc it will wreak.
ACARA, while ignoring its own systemic violation of the Terms of Reference, has claimed powerlessness in the face of the timeline, as an excuse to completely ignore mathematicians and ministers, and to plow ahead. It is hypocritical and it is obscene.