We’ve never written about the Australian Council for Educational Research, except in passing. Unlike VCAA and ACARA, for example, ACER has not appeared to be omnipresently idiotic. For the most part ACER just professionally goes about its business, quietly screwing things up.
On occasion ACER’s CEO, Professor Geoff Masters, decides to be less quiet, and this is typically a mistake. Such was the case a few days ago, with the publication of an article by Age Education Editor, Robyn Grace. Her article is titled,
Level up: Why this expert thinks age-based school grades should be abolished
Grace’s article is rather aimless, quoting a number of would-be experts spouting a mixture of platitudes and nonsense. The headline act, however, “this expert”, is Professor Masters. As Grace’s title suggests, the Professor makes a complete idiot of himself.
Grace’s article begins,
School students would progress through levels similar to music lessons or video games, rather than aged-based grades, under an overhaul of education aimed at moving away from the “conveyor belt” model that can leave many students behind.
Professor Geoff Masters … has proposed a revision of schooling, saying the system is stuck in a 19th-century, assembly-line model that pushes students through grades at a fixed pace without considering their individual proficiency.
The problem is the very large range of students’ abilities and knowledge at a given year level:
Masters … said there could be up to six years’ difference in the levels of knowledge in each class, which was impossible for many teachers to manage.
What’s going on? Well,
[Masters] said the current system was beholden to an overloaded curriculum that dictated what children would learn according to their age, rather than their readiness, then automatically pushed them to the next stage at the end of each year.
Ignoring his unexplained and thus meaningless whack at an “overloaded curriculum”, Masters is not yet addressing the critical and underlying problem, the reasons for students’ lack of readiness. After Grace includes some par for the course references to PISA and NAPLAN scores, Masters gets to this, badly:
Masters said the best predictor of where students would be at year 9 was where they were at an earlier age. … [Masters] said the key to helping children learn was early intervention, then constant monitoring to assess their progress.
“I think part of the problem has been that we haven’t done that as well as we could.”
Well, yes, early intervention and subsequent monitoring is good, and better intervention would be better. But why is so much intervention required? Masters fails to deal with the reality that Grace just pointed out via NAPLAN and PISA (and, much more importantly, TIMSS), that we are not simply considering a few stragglers who need intervention. Rather, we are dealing with an entirely dysfunctional primary education system, which is screwing up the majority of kids, and which is forcing attentive parents to do it themselves or to pay a small fortune for third party tutoring or to pay a very large fortune to obscenely expensive private schools.
But let’s get on to Masters’ other, genius solution.
Masters said school tutoring programs had addressed the problem to some extent,
Well, no, not much, but go on:
but the entire schooling model needed examining.
So far, so good.
“Think about what happens in music, for example, where you can be at grade four piano whether you’re six years old or 86 years old, because grade four piano means something in an absolute sense”
Uh oh. Is Masters really suggesting putting lagging teens in with precocious toddlers? Well,
“I’m not suggesting that we’d suddenly have a 15-year-old sitting down with an eight-year-old.”
What I am saying is that we need to better recognise the variability that currently exists within year levels. And we need to do more, not just push it back on to teachers and say you solve the problem. We need more systemic responses to that reality.
Ah. In other words Masters is suggesting absolutely nothing of substance whatsoever, except to end year level curricula, which amounts to throwing in 15-ers with 8-ers or something just as demeaning and demoralising. But sure, it’ll get the straggler kids off the conveyer belt, and on to, well, nothing; they can sit where they are and not learn the same stuff, year after year after year. But at least it’s not a conveyer belt, right?
Masters, to put it bluntly, is out of his mind. Kids do not intrinsically vary that much, not in such massive numbers. So, what is required, obviously, for all kids, is an expectation of an acceptable level of mastery at each year level, and a testing of such mastery. This simply does not happen and until it happens we are doomed to listen to clown-experts such as Masters proposing nonsense-genius solutions that they cannot even voice in a coherent manner.
How can can such nonsense come out of something like ACER? Well, ACER is apparently in charge of the next round of PISA nonsense. And, Masters is the guy who claims we’re all spending too much time on the basics. And, ACER is currently deep in with LEGO, on how we can play our way out of our educational malaise. So, after all, no surprise whatsoever.
It is clearly time to pay much more attention to Professor Masters and to ACER’s nonsense.