David de Carvalho, Annotated, Again

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.

Although unintentional, “forged” is almost the perfect word. The “conversation and compromise” was largely farcical, resulting in meaningless change.

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.

17 Replies to “David de Carvalho, Annotated, Again”

  1. “…pedagogical tribalism…”

    Unfortunate choice of words.

    But then, the entire speech looks like it was an unfortunate choice.

    In fact, choosing to speak was an unfortunate choice.

    Quoting Hattie though – that was just stupid on David’s part.

  2. How are the students in my school travelling compared with previous years? How do the results of students at my school compare with the results of students in other schools? If you want answers to questions such as these, go to My School. A few clicks will reveal the answers.

    If the results of NAPLAN do “not measure overall school quality”, ACARA should consider not putting them on the My School website at all. Putting these results on that website simply encourages people to use NAPLAN results in this way – and not only media people as suggested by Mr de Carvalho.

    Parents, teachers, school administrators use My School for precisely this reason. People just don’t have the time or resources to do much more. Today I searched Recruitment Online and found 50 advertisements for jobs in Victorian government schools that mention NAPLAN, usually to demonstrate the overall quality of the school; e.g. “Our commitment to student success is reflected in our NAPLAN data”.

    I am pleased that it is admitted that the NAPLAN time series has been interrupted several times. This is a point I have often made. Will My School continue to show time series data from NAPLAN?

  3. I just don’t understand the contribution that this speech is trying to make. My brain doesn’t understand its rationale for existing.

    1. Possibility 1: the orator wanted to remind the public of their existence.

      Possibility 2: the orator thought the public cared about their opinion.

      Possibility 3: not happy with the previous commentary Marty and others gave to their previous speech, the orator decided to try again.

      I really hope it is (3).

      1. Guys like De Carvalho get invited to such events as a matter of course, and that is reasonable. What is not reasonable is a flimsy and manipulative defence of ACARA’s nonsense.

          1. I don’t understand why it is reasonable to expect him to be invited.

            If I was invited to speak somewhere for no reason I’d just decline. If I accepted, I’d expect to look like a fool.

            Of course he talks blather if he has no actual reason to be invited. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. What is he supposed to talk about?

            Do these people get invited so that they can be made to look like fools? Like I said, I don’t get it.

            1. He’s not being invited for no reason. He’s the official spokestwit for ACARA, which is responsible for the Australian Curriculum and NAPLAN, both of which have a big role in schooling and how it is perceived. True, such Authority spokestwits will always talk in AdminSpeak and say little of substance, so it’s all a bit of a ritual. But I still think it makes sense, and it is certainly to be expected.

              I think what makes it so evidently silly here is: (a) ACARA is a basket case; (b) De Carvalho likes to think of himself as a deep thinker, and isn’t; (c) De Carvalho is unlucky enough to have guys like Greg Ashman and me to call him out.

    Once we had one category for failing students: “below national minimum standards” now we have two: “Developing” and “Needs Additional Support”.

    1. Long ago we used the term “fail” in grading assessments. Some assessments were even called “Pass/Fail” assessments. We tend not to use “Fail” any more in education circles. In assessing the work of a student, a teacher should strive to use the results to guide the student in making the next step in his or her learning. Words such as “Pass”, “Fail”, “Developing”, “Needs additional support” are not particularly helpful. English is a subtle language and ever changing.

      It’s not easy to provide high-quality feedback. I had a colleague who worked in humanities. When he marked essays, he would provide each student with a document that discussed how the essay could be improved, and the strengths of the essay. The document was usually about one page. And he had large classes; maybe about 80.

      Another colleague who taught English would provide students with an audio-tape that recorded his comments on their work with his suggestions. (Obviously, this was long ago.)

      I was told about an academic who insisted that his students submit draft essays. He would give them detailed comments on their draft with recommendations for improvement. When a student submitted the final version of the essay, the student was required to state how he or she responded to each of the recommendations. Then the academic had marked the essay, he gave it only a numerical grade without comments. He knew that students would read only the grade.

      In mathematics, it need not be so difficult. One can usually give students complete solutions to a test, discuss the solutions in class, and students can see for themselves how their answers could be improved. This happened (sort of) even when I was an undergraduate: the lecturer would post hand-written solutions on the notice board and students would crowd around the notice board trying to read the lecturer’s writing.

      The development of the use of rubrics is a step in the right direction.

      1. Terry, you’re missing the point. The point is that children are fragile little flowers, and that telling them they haven’t learned anything, and that they won’t learn anything unless they sit down and do some work, will utterly destroy them, leading them to a life of drugs and degradation.

        1. Or they might just say, “I failed my maths test. I am hopeless at maths. I give up on maths.”

              1. yes, we all have. And the critical thing at that stage is to lie to them, so they only figure out ten years later the nature of the game.

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