A couple days ago the Sydney Morning Herald had a report and an editorial, on changes to New South Wales’s mathematics curriculum. The SMH combo is weirdly contradictory. It is difficult to make any proper sense of the story, and it appears the SMH writers tried but didn’t quite succeed.
The unsigned editorial is titled,
OK, so the goal is to get more kids to be doing the (very good) advanced senior mathematics subjects. Excellent. And how is this to be done? Well, the companion report, by education reporter Christopher Harris, is titled,
Uh, what? They’re gonna get more kids ready for advanced senior mathematics by ending streaming? Yeah, sounds like a plan. An incredibly stupid plan.
Harris’s report begins,
A major redesign of the state’s maths curriculum will abolish the current three-tiered course structure in years 9 and 10 in favour of a single “core” unit of work which teachers will top up with additional content to stretch students.
So, the current structure, which is pictured above, is to be replaced:
… a decade-old three-tiered system will be ditched for a single “core” unit of work that is designed to give more teenagers the critical foundational skills needed to attempt higher levels of maths later in their schooling.
Why are they doing this? Well,
The NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) says the new “Core-Paths” structure … means year 9 and 10 students will no longer be locked into rigid pathways …
The rewritten maths syllabus aims to scrap rigid pathways …
The new structure was a bid to abolish the rigid pathways …
“The flexible new Core-Paths structure means students will no longer be locked into rigid pathways …” a NSW Education Standards Authority spokeswoman said.
Yep, the key phrase is “rigid pathways”. Offering students a proper preparatory course for advanced mathematics is being rigid.
But, maybe this new Core has something to offer:
Eddie Woo … said the core section of the new curriculum had more content than the minimum students must cover in the current … 5.1 course.
Moreover, this new Core has an emphasis on “critical foundation skills”. What does that mean? Well,
Under the new syllabus, Woo said there would be greater emphasis on the connections between concepts rather than learning mathematical skills in isolation.
This is NESA’s grand plan to increase enrolment in advanced mathematics: don’t teach mathematical skills “in isolation”. A plan with which Eddie “Too Much” Woo seems fine.
How can this possibly work? Off course it can’t, but it’s OK, since schools are already figuring a way out of the mess:
The changes to the maths syllabus … have prompted some schools to warn students entering year 9 that they require outside tutoring to prepare for higher-level HSC mathematics.
Yep, NESA embarks on some equity binge, and the schools just give up, waving Good Bye and Good Luck. But, not all schools:
Several schools say they are planning to run streamed classes next year, with some flagging those in the standard tier will be able to attempt advanced mathematics in the HSC but will require additional support.
So, the schools that haven’t lost their minds will replace streaming by streaming.
What a mess, and what a mess of reportage. It all smells as if it were intended to be a standard puff piece, prompted by some NESA publicity push: throw in a few smiling quotes, add a little colour and there’s your story. Then, it slowly dawned on the SMH guys that NESA’s plan is maybe a little more nuts than presented, and the reporters got tangled. They couldn’t quite frame the story as the standard puffery but they weren’t quite clear-headed and/or brave enough to report the proper story: NESA screwed up.
A hint to education reporters, everywhere: the story of modern education is Harrison Bergeron. Always.