ACARA, and the Compliant Foolishness of Education Reporters

Where’s Rebecca Urban when we need her?

Last Friday, Australia’s Education Ministers met to discuss and potentially to approve, the redraft of the Australian Curriculum. That’s nine months after the launching of the original draft curriculum, in April last year. Nine months of those busy little ACARA beavers secretly working to allay public contempt for the original draft, all without a single hint of further public inspection, much less public consultation. Not to worry, though. Jordan Baker, the Sydney Morning Herald’s intrepid Education Editor, had the reassuring scoop.

Friday morning, in prime time before the Ministers’ meeting, Baker had a front page report, Christian and Western heritage elevated in revised national curriculum. Baker’s report began,

A revised national curriculum will elevate the study of Western and Christian heritage in history, remove references to the Anzac legend as “contested”, cement the importance of phonics in teaching reading and reverse changes to maths that left experts worried the subject was being dumbed down.

That’s a pretty bold statement of fact about an invisible redraft. No quotes, no pseudo-disowning “sources say”, just a straight out statement of supposed fact. And what is the basis for Baker’s statement? Well, it appears that Lucky Jordan got handed some notes:

A briefing to ministers ahead of Friday’s meeting, obtained by the Herald and The Age, shows …

Gee. A briefing to the education Ministers just prior to their discussion of the invisible redraft of the Australian curriculum. Who might have been briefing the Ministers? Who might have perceived some benefit in providing advance viewing of this briefing to an accommodating media? Of course it couldn’t have been ACARA, since they’re just a mild-mannered data-and-documents club. ACARA would never stoop to sneaky-feeding the media.

It is pretty obvious that what Baker is so proudly megaphoning is utter nonsense. But let’s continue, to consider what we can of ACARA’s reassuring “changes” to the draft mathematics curriculum. (We’re far from convinced that the changes to any other aspects of the curriculum redraft can be any more reassuring, but we’ll leave others to battle those battles.) As the title of the article suggests, Baker is largely concerned with the culture war aspects of the curriculum redraft, and then phonics and the reading wars comes a distant second. Eventually, Baker gets to the mathematics:

The changes to maths “lift the current standards expected of Australian students,” the briefing said.

Yeah, right. Saying it makes it true.

They reverse a controversial decision in the draft – released earlier last year – to push back the introduction of times tables from year 3 to 4 and postpone linear equations from year 7 to year 8.

Big fat hairy deal. Yes, these specific decisions in the original draft were truly idiotic and indefensible, but the reversal now of these decisions is absolutely meaningless, even ignoring the appalling manner in which these topics are to be taught, in whatever year. It was always clear that ACARA would be willing to sacrifice such specific idiocies in an attempt to save their general idiocy. So, is there anything to indicate that ACARA has recanted on their general idiocy? Well, Baker offers this:

The latest version of the curriculum also brings the teaching of Pythagoras forward from year 9 to year 8, inequalities from year 10 to year 8 and clarifies that references to “problem-solving” relate to maths problems, not to a contested method of teaching known as “inquiry learning”.

It is a pity that Jordan Baker has no sense of the propaganda she is being fed. It is a greater pity that there is no evidence that Baker cares.

To begin, the moving of “Pythagoras” from year 9 to year 8 has absolutely nothing to do with “the latest version of the curriculum”; this change had already been proposed in the original draft. Thus, any reference in the briefing to “Pythagoras” has nothing to do with ACARA having addressed the ton of valid criticism of the original draft, and everything to do with selling the redraft. Moreover, while in principle the moving of “Pythagoras” to year 8 is a positive, the indications are that ACARA will, as they almost invariably do, screw it up. (Well, screw it up worse.)

Similarly, but worse, we have the proposed moving of “inequalities from year 10 to year 8”. Once again, this is nothing but the re-puffing of changes that had already been proposed in the original draft. Unlike “Pythagoras”, however, the moving forward of inequalities is purely and simply a mistake. The draft curriculum, and the current curriculum, is so weak on algebra, so weak on the notion of equality, taking away precious early time to study inequality, including with “the use of graphical software“, is just going to stuff things up further.

Finally, the curriculum redraft supposedly “clarifies” that references to “problem-solving” in the draft “relates to maths problems”. Yeah, we bet it does. Anybody who has been paying attention, which, unfortunately, does not appear to include Baker, would be aware that there is not a snowflake’s chance in hell that ACARA has removed the inquiry learning from the draft, or that anyone at ACARA has the remotest clue what a genuine maths problem looks like. Real-world enquiry is what ACARA is. They know no other way.

And that’s it. That is apparently the basis for Baker’s grand, unqualified statement on the new and improved curriculum redraft. A redraft, we remind you, that is invisible, that the public has not been permitted to see to assess for themselves. Baker, of course, does not even hint that there is a problem with this, that her whole report exists in an atmosphere of nothingness.

Baker’s pre-match spruiking was followed up the next day with a post-match summary, cowritten by Age Education editor, Adam Carey. That straighter report indicates that the mathematics redraft has not been signed off on, although our pessimistic reading between the lines is that this will occur soon, and after at most token improvement. What is most interesting about Baker’s and Carey’s report, however, is that it makes Stuart Robert appear to be a hell of a lot smarter than James Merlino. What a world.

28 Replies to “ACARA, and the Compliant Foolishness of Education Reporters”

  1. Since you mention Merlino and intelligence, I would (with apologies) like to digress …
    Jon Faine wrote a very interesting piece in the Age on Saturday: https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/how-to-tackle-the-teacher-shortage-20220204-p59tvr.html

    Faine’s article exposes the mealy-mouthed rhetoric coming from these politicians for what it really is – total bullshit. Their plans all sound terrific (Ultra-Net, anybody?) but there’s NEVER any detail on how the plans will actually be executed. It has been a constant disappointment to me that our fearless Unleaders never get challenged on the DETAILS upon which the plan will succeed or fail. And it also exposes the VIT as the useless, parasitic entity that we all know it is. Hopefully Faine’s article was widely read – he seems to be the only one that’s exposed the bullshit. (And Jon, if you’re reading, I still miss you from 774 ABC). And don’t get me started on the lack of cleaners in schools, thanks in no small part to past and present decisions made by the DET.

    And on the topic of invisible re-drafts “that the public has not been permitted to see to assess for themselves”, exhibit B is surely the Mathematics Stupid Design. It’s very unfortunate – to put it nicely – that both the Daft National Curriculum and the Mathematics Stupid Design have both been Mathematically Mangled.

    1. Thanks, John. I like Jon Faine a lot, although I had mixed feelings about his column. I don’t disagree with what he he is saying, but he seems to me to be focussed on the flames, rather than the fuel for all this nonsense.

      1. The report makes no mention of whether all of the fabricated and gratuitous ATSI mathematical elaborations have been deleted or whether they remain.

        Nor does it mention if ACARA decided to include the scholarly references to indigenous mathematics it undoubtedly consulted so that teachers might have the opportunity to construct their own elaborations using indigenous mathematics discussed in these references.

        1. Hi, John. I’m not sure “fabricated” is quite a fair description, although “gratuitous” certainly is. As is “strained”. Also, the draft seemed to skirt around the idea of declaring there to be “indigenous mathematics”, as opposed to illustrations of or scenarios for mathematics contained within indigenous culture. The latter is still contentious, but it is not straight-out nonsense in the manner of the former.

          In any case,

          1) ACARA has given no public indication of the changes from the released draft.

          2) One can still make guesses as to what changes, if any, have been made to nature and number of the indigenous elaborations.

          Regarding (1), obviously ACARA has strong self-interest in keeping their new twaddle to themselves, but I think they are also caught in their own mess. The official plan was to release a solid draft for public comment, and then, after a few tweaks, have the draft approved by the education ministers. ACARA have obviously had to do way, way more than a few tweaks, even if only to pretend there has been more substantial change, but the Terms of Reference don’t cover how such a substantial rewrite should be reviewed, or by whom.

          Regarding (2), my guess that the number of ATSI elaborations will be substantially lowered, but that their content and wording will be largely unchanged. The public objections largely ignored the ATSI mess, partially because of politics or diplomacy or cowardice, but mostly because other problems with the draft are so much greater.

          1. I meant ‘fabricated’ in the sense that no such indigenous mathematics exists in many of the elaborations given by ACARA. How interesting that the draft skirts around the idea of declaring there to be “indigenous mathematics”. Of course it skirts, because ACARA knows that there is no evidence for indigenous mathematics and therefore all the ATSI elaborations are a fraud. There is absolutely no evidence that mathematics was used by indigenous Australians in the way the ACARA elaborations would have you think.

            Your observation (which is almost certainly true) that:
            “The official plan was to release a solid draft for public comment, and then, after a few tweaks, have the draft approved by the education ministers. ACARA have obviously had to do way, way more than a few tweaks, even if only to pretend there has been more substantial change”
            is very interesting … Public scrutiny of the first draft revealed uncountable disasters and mistakes. Doing “way, way more than a few tweaks” essentially produces a new draft and certainly does not guarantee that it will be any better. To make an analogy to a piece of school assessment – the writer sends the first draft out to the teaching team, the teaching team gives feedback and the writer acts on that feedback. No teacher in their right mind would think that the next draft should go straight to the photocopier without being seen and – as is most often the case – further feedback given. I’ve seen school assessment that still resembles chicken vomit after three rounds of feedback.
            (Writers of trial exams are particularly familiar with this process).

            In ACARA’s case, the first draft was so very, very poor that feedback on the new draft should be mandated. ACARA’s first draft proved overwhelmingly that it cannot be trusted. If ACARA triumphantly releases a final draft without further public scrutiny and consultation, there needs to be a revolt by teachers, parents, schools, mathematicians, scientists and all other people interested in the future of education in Australia.

            I wouldn’t trust ACARA to organise a meat tray at an abbatoir.

            1. Ugh!

              John, I’m all for strong criticism of ACARA, obviously, but it has to be accurate. Your first paragraph is just ranting. The fact that there is no indigenous mathematics in any meaningful sense does not preclude the possibility of meaningful ATSI elaborations.

              I agree with your second and third (and fourth) paragraphs, but you’re missing the point. These big projects have a process, defined by the Terms of Reference and related documents. But that’s all been screwed up, because (1) ACARA’s draft sucked and (2) ACARA consciously froze out mathematicians (and other discipline experts) from any consultation, much less active involvement. ACARA is now pretending, or attempting to pretend, to address these issues. I’d bet the house on the latter, but that’s not the point. The point is there is no properly legislated and defined process for the review of the curriculum redraft.

              1. Yes, you’re right: “The point is there is no properly legislated and defined process for the review of the curriculum redraft.”
                That is the very big point.

                Re: “The fact that there is no indigenous mathematics in any meaningful sense does not preclude the possibility of meaningful ATSI elaborations.”

                I – kind of – accept that point. But I wonder how many teachers would look at the ATSI elaborations and think that they *did* suggest the existence of an indigenous mathematics heritage. Maybe I’m just blurring the line between gratuitous bullshit and fabrication.

                There are many more groups that could put their hand up for a couple of ATSI elaborations. The woke politicising of mathematics is a strong argument for just getting rid of all the bullshit contexts and simply focussing on the actual mathematics. But that won’t sit well with the wokesters.

                (I remember disastrous attempts a few years ago now to give maths some ‘street cred’ contexts: https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/teacher-hands-out-racist-maths-8102439)

  2. If the 2022 GAT is anything to go by, teachers will find out about the changes through the media…

    The elephant in the room remains regardless of any tweaks though: schools are meant to be preparing students THIS YEAR, in Units 1&2 for the new study design in 2023 and yet the “guidance” has been a few dot-points.

    Hmmm…

    Wonder how the publishers of textbooks are feeling right now. Or worse, the poor people asked to write the content.

    Three drafts, JF, may not be enough to find said chicken vomit. Well, if 2016 was anything to go by…

    1. Three drafts … It all depends on who’s doing the vetting and how competent and honest the writer is. 2016 is *exactly* why I *never* let an assessment go to print until I’ve seen the final draft. (Even then I’ve been burnt – an earlier draft that mysteriously gets printed instead of the final draft …)

      Re: Publishers of textbooks. Someone find me a surgeon for my bleeding heart.
      As for the “poor people asked to write the content”, there won’t be much new material to actually write. The writers will simply re-distribute and re-organise existing material from several current textbooks (as well as old textbooks that the publisher owns the rights to) and delete unwanted content. Plus, the writers should know what the score is. The only way they’ll be poor is in the form of payment (but you don’t write textbooks for the money).
      The publishers will have textbooks ready to print within a couple of months of the new Stupid Design finally being published, don’t you worry about that. (And for all we know, they’ve already been given the new Stupid Design). Maybe Cambridge will publish *all* of the content this time.

      1. Apologies, JF, sarcasm in print is something I struggle with when sober.

        Which seems to be more common in February than any other month.

        And yes, I keep a spreadsheet…

        Maybe when I die it will form the basis of a FM SAC.

        1. Yes, nuance can sometimes/often get lost in print. Looking back, and knowing you (as well as you can know anyone via a blog), I can see the sarcasm. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t surprise me if some people took your ‘concerns’ seriously so I’m glad I was originally oblivious.

          I’d actually bet money that the publishers have been given the final Mathematics Stupid Design ahead of teachers and the general public. That would be consistent with VCAA’s \displaystyle modus \displaystyle operandi (of not giving a flying Philadelphian apt about teachers).

          Interesting to see that the MAV have hardly been on the front foot to help teachers prepare for 2023 (or even 2022). Teachers are dreaming if they think they can go to a couple of commercial PD sessions towards the end of the year and get magically empowered. There will be snake oil sellers everywhere at the end of the year. (I might go to a couple and have me some fun). As I’ve said elsewhere, the only way to (properly) prepare is to do the hard work \displaystyle yourself and that takes a lot of time and effort. There is no substitute. I suspect many teachers are hoping that teaching and learning from the textbook will be the panacea for all their troubles. Many will be hoping they can get by vicariously off of the hard work of others. (And yet teachers constantly complain about students doing this …) From 2023 the bar for mediocrity will be at a new low.

          As we’ve all seen, even the best textbook is third rate out of a bunch of fifth rate textbooks. I wonder how many of the textbook writers actually have an expert understanding of the new content …? Looking at what’s in the current textbooks, I’d guess the understanding is superficial at best.

          1. I really couldn’t care much less about textbook content. My school will probably go with one of the major titles, I might be asked for an opinion and we might see some sample pages before September.

            What I’m waiting for is the VCAA “sample exams” which, if 2016 is an indication will be 90% recycled material.

            1. Yes, we all need to very clearly tell VCAA that ‘sample exams’ don’t cut the mustard, exactly for the reason you stated: They’re 90% recycled material and therefore 90% irrelevant.

              What’s needed are questions, and plenty of them, directly related to the NEW content. Questions that add clarifying substance to a weak-as-piss Stupid Design.

  3. From today’s Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2022/feb/13/cracking-the-formula-how-should-australia-be-teaching-maths-under-the-national-curriculum

    Unfortunately it is uncritically stated that “maths experts” are divided between explicit teaching and inquiry learning. And completely irresponsible reporting to have Peter Sullivan quoted, without disclaimer, in favour of inquiry learning – isn’t he one of the authors of the draft maths curriculum, or at least previous iterations of the curriculum?

    1. Jesus. A new day, a new reporter idiot.

      Thanks, SRK. I’ll read closely and post later. On Sullivan, no I don’t think he’s been involved with the draft curriculum. He is/was the King of the current curriculum.

      1. Sullivan’s entire academic career is based on constructivism. So of course, regardless of what the evidence says, he will support constructivism or any of the other fancy names it re-brands itself with. (Look at Cretinism *ahem* I mean Creationism and its re-branded successor Intelligent Design). It’s called confirmation bias. It’s alive and well and living in these influential so-called educational ‘experts’. I wouldn’t trust these self-styled, so-called ‘experts’ to teach a dog how to piss on a tree.

        Indeed, King of Shit.

    2. My first question when reading articles like this one is:

      “Who decides which commenters are EXPERTS and which are more akin to old men yelling at clouds?”

      The second type is probably the classification to which I have been permanently assigned… but that is to miss the point.

      If the authors of these articles are not actually in the world of education, far less Mathematics education, how do they judge who the experts are? Perhaps the first question should be: “was your PhD in Mathematics or Education?”

      But that would be more confirmation bias on my part, perhaps.

      1. Hi, RF. The answer to your question is very easy: Peter Sullivan is an expert, and I’m an old man yelling at clouds.

        1. Who decided this though?

          (Not that I disagree necessarily. Indeed, yelling at clouds is occupying a greater proportion of my time than ever now… so I’m grateful to have you there to show us novices how it is done!)

          1. Society decided this. Society decided that formal qualifications trump all else. Even if the qualification is in a thoroughly perverted discipline, such as education.

              1. Because these people are self-aggrandising, attention seeking grafters.

                Their stupid ideas get oxygen as a consequence.

                And it’s easier for lazy, ignorant and dumb policy makers, reporters, teachers etc. to go to where the most noise is. The bad side of natural selection.

                And yes … the ideas of Boaler \displaystyle et \displaystyle al are typically “so much stupider”.

                1. Thanks, John. Obviously Boaler is the Queen of self-promotion but, to be clear and to be fair, I don’t think Sullivan is in this category. In Sullivan’s case, I think it’s just that his ideas are fifth rate, and then Sullivan’s rise is just a natural consequence of the general perversion of education research.

                  1. I agree. He seems to mean well, rather than misrepresenting the data to create self-serving, self-promoting hyperboale(r).

                    ‘Education research’ is an oxymoron.

      1. Yeah, the stock photos that get pulled out every single time (the nonsense-filled blackboard and the one with the teacher pointing to a student) are about 40 years and only fool the rubes (that is, most of the readers).

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