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.