Two years ago, we annotated parts of a speech that ACARA CEO, David de Carvalho, gave at The Age Schools Summit. De Carvalho’s stage-setting for ACARA’s soon-to-be-released draft curriculum was nonsense throughout, and included a cunning reference to the “Joint Maths Statement” from “five of the leading maths and science organisations” supposedly supporting the then secret draft curriculum; it only emerged a year later that ACARA had prior knowledge of, and appears to have been intimately involved in the production of, this purportedly independent statement. Classy work from a classy guy.
Now, this last week, De Carvalho has given another speech, at the SMH Schools Summit. De Carvalho’s latest speech is not cunning, it is simply boilerplate nonsense. Still, when ACARA’s CEO spouts a speech of nonsense, it is appropriate to call it out. Greg Ashman has already done so, very well, while noting that he has met De Carvalho and that he likes him. We are not so collegial. We have not met De Carvalho. We do not like him. We dislike De Carvalho’s cheap philosophy, and we really dislike his continual strawmanning the proper and detailed criticism of ACARA’s appalling curriculum and the secretive, scheming manner of its production and promotion.
De Carvalho’s latest speech is titled Connections between national curriculum and assessment. Near the beginning, De Carvalho notes the “controversy” that occurred once ACARA’s draft curriculum had been released:
Such controversy is a positive sign of a robust democracy. The national curriculum should be contested, but at the end of the process the curriculum was signed off by all ministers. … It therefore represents a consensus forged through conversation and compromise which is a hallmark of democracy.
Then, it’s onto the curriculum:
The Australian Curriculum is not a detailed syllabus … It is a high-level framework we would designate as the INTENDED CURRICULUM.
“high level framework” is a mighty grand term for a bloog of amorphous, ignorant nonsense.
For the INTENDED curriculum to be effectively learned requires that it be converted into a PLANNED curriculum at the school and classroom level. This necessitates whole-school curriculum planning, along with jointly planned units of work and lesson plans.
A bunch of words that sum to the fact that ACARA has provided teachers with bugger all clue of either what to teach or the proper resources with which to teach it.
ACARA has been asked by Education Ministers, as part of the National Teacher Workforce Action Plan, to consult widely in examining ways to develop and make available to teachers, optional supports of this kind to assist the implementation of the national curriculum.
Hands up anybody who expects ACARA to “consult widely”, or who expects that the eventual “optional supports” will consist of competent, clear and easily usable resources. Anyone?
Now, to the “dichotomies”:
3: Don’t fall for false dichotomies
At this point, a small digression. You’ve no doubt all heard the saying, “To every complex problem there is a simple answer, and it is usually wrong.”
Yes, and Mencken’s simple truism, as garbled by De Carvalho, is often enough wrong: more than occasionally, there is a simple answer that is also correct. Noisy disagreement with a simple claim does not imply the existence of a substantial counterargument. The irony here is that if anyone knew horseshit when he saw it and was willing to call it out, it was H. L. Mencken.
The sheer complexity of the educational enterprise makes it very tempting to over-simplify issues as a means of reducing the cognitive and emotional burden of engaging with them, or more subtly, as a means of finding comfort in membership of a tribe that gives one a strong sense of professional identity.
Have you talked to any teachers lately? How about the over-complicating of issues as a means of increasing the cognitive and emotional burden on teachers? Maybe spend a little time pondering that?
So, we see an increasing tendency for turning professional discussions into debates about curriculum and pedagogy, in which people take up entrenched positions on one side or the other, displaying little interest in dialogue with those with different perspectives and experiences.
ACARA, heal thyself.
This is pretty rich, given that a fundamental reason for the awfulness of the curriculum is the dominance of education academia, and thus of ACARA, by “one side”. If the “other” had even gotten a look in, ACARA’s curriculum could not possibly have ended up so damn bad.
In curriculum, we have the “knowledge” tribe lining up against the “skills” tribe. But you can’t develop one without the other.
No, you idiot. If you’re gonna play stupid “tribes” games, at least contrast the “knowledge and skills” tribe with the “understanding” tribe. But that’s also not it.
And in pedagogy, you have the direct instruction tribe lining up against the inquiry-based learning tribe, with each insisting that their approach is always and everywhere the best, even though, on close inspection, both approaches often entail elements of the other.
Well, at least this time he got the tribes right, even if they’re stuffed with straw. And, as Ashman bluntly notes, De Carvalho ignores that one tribe has a much greater hold on power and the other tribe has a much greater hold on reality. These things matter.
The bigger conversation, to quote John Hattie, is how teachers can choose the right approach at the right time to ensure learning for the students they are teaching, and how both dialogic and direct approaches have a role to play throughout the learning process, but in different ways.
Yeah, yeah. A bit of this and a bit of that, which somehow got translated into the mathematics curriculum drowning in “modelling” and “investigating” and “exploring” real world tripe.
This is because teaching is an ethical activity.
What? How did “ethical” get in there?
The practical ethics of teaching means pedagogical tribalism is best avoided.
We’d call it “sense” rather than “ethics”, but whatever. In any case we’re still waiting for ACARA to heal thamself.
Then, it’s on to NAPLAN, which we cannot be bothered hammering again. Ashman has a point, that NAPLAN tells us something, even if it is not clear what. But NAPLAN certainly tells us a hell of a lot less than it might and that most people imagine. Numeracy is not mathematics and is barely anything. NAPLAN was junk, is junk, and will always be junk.
There is one aspect of De Carvalho’s NAPLANing, however, that needs to be addressed:
The NAPLAN results which are sent out later this year will include the new proficiency standard with 4 levels of achievement: Exceeding, Strong, Developing and Needs Additional Support.
If De Carvalho had been a little more honest, he might have also noted that ACARA had first concocted the Orwellian term “Developing” for the lowest group of students, before the (more or less) accurate “Needs Additional Support” was demanded by the education ministers.
The standard for proficiency is set at a challenging but reasonable level. If a student is in the Strong or Exceeding categories …
These are important changes that support higher expectations for student achievement.
Maybe. ACARA has claimed that “the standard for proficiency” has been raised, a claim parroted by the usual media parrots, but we have not yet seen any details to back this claim. All that ACARA appears to have made publicly available is a vacuous FAQ.
There is another Maybe. ACARA’s proposal for the proficiency standards, including weakening the “national minimum standards”, from around 14% of students to an initially calibrated 10%, the very opposite of “higher expectations”. ACARA’s proposal of 10% may have been overruled – with no thanks to ACARA – but we have not even seen a claim that such has occurred.
Whatever the expectations for students, the expectations for ACARA have been fully met once again: proud declarations of success clouded by obfuscation and half-truths.