Education Fires Back Again

There is another contribution from the Education community:

How to do the sums for an excellent maths curriculum

This one does not directly address the open letter, although, given the framing and the links, it is difficult to not see the article as an intended rebuttal. Again, we know little of the authors, and we have not read the article with any attention. We’ll be interested in what commenters think. (Ball-not-man rules still apply.)

UPDATE (10/06/21)

Glen has pointed out that the article is from April 21. So, it is definitely not in response to the open letter. However, the article came out soon after the ridiculous, pre-emptive strike statement from AMSI, AAS and others, and in its first sentence the article links to the reporting of this statement. Whatever merits it might have, the article is not an innocent reflection on educational method.

UPDATE (10/06/21)

As indicated by SRK, there is now (in effect) a response from John Sweller.

Maths Ed Fires Back

Today in The Conversation there is an article firing back at the open letter to ACARA:

The proposed new maths curriculum doesn’t dumb down content. It actually demands more of students

We haven’t read the letter, and we don’t know the authors, or of the authors. We’ll try to read the article and comment on the article soon, modulo home schooling and general exhaustion. For now, people can comment below (respectfully and on-topic and on-the-ball-not-the-man). We’ll be interested in what people think.


UPDATE (28/6/21)

We’ve finally had the time to read this article. The comments below suffice, and we’re not going to waste our or others’ time with a detailed critique. .

Seriously, that’s the sum of the defense of the draft curriculum? That’s all they got?

Open Letter to ACARA and the ACARA Board

The following is an open letter to David de Carvalho, CEO of ACARA, and to the ACARA Board. regarding the draft mathematics curriculum. The home of the letter is here, you can sign up here, and the list of current signatories is here.

Disclosure: The letter was not my idea, and it is not my letter, but I had a hand in bringing the letter to fruition. As to why I think the letter is important, see here.

UPDATE (08/07/21)

The sign-up page for the open letter has now been closed. Greg Ashman, the boss of the open letter, will submit (or has already submitted) the letter and the list of signatories today, to ACARA and to the ACARA Board.

Greg Ashman deserves a huge thank you from the Australian maths ed world. Greg instigated the open letter, and managed it through, and it simply wouldn’t have existed without him. There are also a number of other, anonymous or semi-anonymous, people who deserve a very big thanks. Some for their persistent and incredibly irritating hammering on various drafts, and some for helping to sign up various Mr. Bigs.

And, a very big thanks to the hundreds of people who signed on to this strong and public declaration.


Open letter to Mr. David de Carvalho, CEO of ACARA, and the ACARA Board

On 29 April 2021, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) released its draft revisions to the Australian Mathematics Curriculum, with a consultation period ending on 8 July 2021. We are a group of mathematicians, mathematics educators, educational psychologists, parents and members of the public who take an active interest in mathematics education and in the curriculum. We agree that the Mathematics Curriculum desperately requires reform; it is repetitious, disconnected, unambitious and is lacking in critical elements. We are pleased that efforts to reform the curriculum are underway. We are profoundly concerned, however, with the structure of the current draft and with many of the proposed changes within.

The primary source of our concerns is the proposal to replace the four Proficiencies in the current Curriculum with the draft’s thirteen “Core Concepts”, grouped under three “Core Concept Organisers”. The Proficiencies – understanding, fluency, reasoning and problem-solving – are well-understood and provide a clear structure for teaching mathematics. In contrast, the Core Concepts are often poorly defined and overlapping, vary massively in scope and breadth, and their groupings into Core Concept Organisers, including the faddish “Mathematising”, are a mostly arbitrary and at times contradictory categorisation. The critical element of “thinking and reasoning”, for example, has somehow been reduced to just another concept among thirteen, sharing equal value with wordy descriptions of simple ideas. The end effect is a framework of little practical value as a guiding structure.

The Core Concepts are confused and confusing, but it is clear that they represent a push toward a central role for “problem-solving” and inquiry-based learning. Solving problems is obviously a core aspect of mathematical practice, is an important goal for mathematics education, and is already listed as one of the four Proficiencies in the current curriculum. The issue with the draft curriculum is that its “inquiries” are unanchored by clear and specific content, by underlying knowledge and skills. Moreover, the “problems” suggested to be “solved” are mostly exploratory and open-ended, effectively unsolvable and of questionable pedagogical value, and with little or no indication of the specific desired learning outcome. Insufficient attention is given to carefully constrained problems facilitating the practicing and subsequent extension of already mastered skills. Making things worse, the inclusion of inquiry methods in the content descriptors results in the descriptors being almost useless as determiners of actual content. This obscures the key ideas and basic skills to be learned, which are the foundational elements essential for any effective mathematical practice, including for problem-solving.

The draft is not so much pushing problem-solving as it is pushing for learning through activities referred to as “solving problems”, but which are actually ill-defined explorations. We do not believe that a curriculum document should mandate a specific method of mathematics teaching, and it is especially concerning that the draft curriculum is extensively mandating learning through “exploring” and “problem-solving”. There is strong evidence to indicate that methods without a proper balance that includes the explicit teaching of mathematical concepts are less effective, in particular for younger students grappling with new concepts and basic skills. The content of the mathematics curriculum, even for the lower years, is the result of millennia of human endeavour across cultures around the world – it is neither fair nor realistic to expect students to retrace this journey with a few pointers and inquiries in a few hours per week.

The emphasis in the draft curriculum on open-ended inquiry, without the systematic building of coherent knowledge, creates further serious issues. Some indication of these issues is provided in the following paragraphs, but many, many more examples could be given.

The delaying and devaluing of fluency, of “the basics”

The draft curriculum includes some particularly concerning Content descriptors, and rearrangement of material. The learning of the multiplication tables, for example, is first addressed only in Year 4, where it is framed in terms of “patterns” and “strategies”, with no emphasis on mastery. Similarly, the solving of linear equations such as ax + b =c, a foundational skill for all secondary school mathematics, is pushed in the draft from Year 7 to Year 8. There is simply no valid argument for these, and many other, dilutions and delays. Indeed, the draft curriculum has squandered the opportunity to address some glaring problems with the timing and emphasis of content in the current Curriculum.

The loss of natural mathematical connections

Mathematics in the current Curriculum consists of three strands, but the draft has split these into six strands. The very natural Number-Algebra strand, for instance, has become separate strands of Number and Algebra. This is unwieldy, effectively requires a redefinition of “algebra” and, most damagingly, it severs the critical pedagogical link between these two disciplines. Similarly, the strands of Measurement-Geometry and Statistics-Probability have been split into Measurement, Space, Statistics and Probability, for no benefit or good purpose.

Shallow conceptualisation

Notwithstanding ACARA’s repetitive claims to be promoting “deep understanding”, the draft’s overwhelming emphasis on investigation and modelling has resulted in many critical mathematical concepts being underplayed and, in certain cases, not even being named. In Algebra, for example, fundamental terms such as “null factor” and “polynomial” and “completing the square” rate not a single mention. To give an analogy, it is as if a curriculum on Politics failed to mention “sovereignty” or “citizenship” or “separation of powers”.

The devaluing of mathematics

The problem-solving, investigation and modelling that is advocated by the draft curriculum is very heavily weighted towards real-world contexts. Indeed, the definition of “Problem solving” provided in the draft Curriculum’s “Key considerations” section explicitly mentions solving problems relating to the “natural and created worlds”, and pointedly omits references to solving problems stemming from mathematics itself. This approach squanders an excellent opportunity for students to gain an appreciation of mathematics as a beautiful discipline, a discipline which can be its own goal. This devaluing of mathematics is starkly displayed in the description of, and in the very name of, the Space strand. Whereas Geometry is concerned fundamentally with the study of abstract objects and their properties, the Space content is heavily slanted towards the study of real-world contexts. Learning in genuine real-world contexts is much more difficult, because the real world is inevitably full of distractions that cloud the clear principle to be learned.

Mathematical errors and non sequiturs

Some errors in the draft are subtle, but many are not. There is no purpose, for example, in directing students to “investigate … Fibonacci patterns in shells”, since such patterns simply do not exist. Such errors and confusions would typically be caught during a proper review by mathematicians; their existence in the draft curriculum places into serious question the nature and the extent of ACARA’s consultation process.

Finally, we make two points about ACARA’s presentation and promotion of the draft curriculum.

Part of ACARA’s justification for the strong emphasis on problem-solving has been that the mathematics curriculum in Singapore, an education system that performs extremely well in the mathematics component of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), places an emphasis on problem-solving. We seriously question whether the Singaporean sense of “problem-solving” bears even a remote resemblance to ACARA’s use of the term but, in any case, ACARA’s justification fails on its own terms. To begin, there are other education systems that also place a premium on problem-solving but that do not perform at anywhere near the level of Singapore in PISA mathematics. Further, whatever the role of problem-solving in the Singaporean curriculum, this curriculum is also very demanding in terms of fluency with basic skills; no comparable requirements exist in the current Australian Curriculum, and the draft curriculum only pushes to weaken these requirements. The further elimination and weakening of fundamental skills will contribute to the root cause of Australian students’ slipping in international comparisons: the students end up knowing less mathematics.

Secondly, an important aspect of ACARA’s review is that it was intended to be modest in scope, with a focus on “refining” and “decluttering”. The draft curriculum fails in both respects. The radical introduction of the Core Concepts structure and “Mathematising”, the separation into twice the number of strands, the multipurpose nature of the Content, is all the antithesis of modest. This new structure is, inevitably, much clunkier, with massively increased curriculum clutter. The draft curriculum is barely readable.

In brief, the draft curriculum is systemically flawed. It is unworkable, and it fails to capture or to promote the high standard of mathematical knowledge, appreciation and understanding that Australia’s schoolchildren deserve.

The Australian mathematics curriculum requires proper review. Such a review, however, must be undertaken without a pre-ordained outcome, and with the proper participation and consultation of discipline experts. Indeed, ACARA’s own terms of reference for the review specify that the content changes are to be made by subject matter experts, namely mathematicians. It is difficult to imagine that this was the case.

We urge ACARA to remove the current draft mathematics curriculum for consideration and to begin a proper and properly open review, in line with community expectations and with Australia’s needs.


The ACARA Page

Honestly, it wasn’t our intention to write three hundred posts on ACARA and their appalling draft mathematics curriculum. But, we did. Given that we did, it seems worthwhile having a pinned metapost, so that anybody who wants to can find their way through the jungle. (There’s probably a better way to do this, with a separate blog page or whatever, but we can’t be bothered figuring that out right now.)

So, here we are: the complete works, roughly in reverse chronological order, and laid out as clearly as we can think to do it. It includes older posts and articles, on the current mathematics curriculum (which also sucks) and NAPLAN (which also also sucks).

Continue reading “The ACARA Page”

Alan Tudge, Annotated Again

A bit over a month ago, Alan Tudge, gave a major policy speech, Being our best: Returning Australia to the top group of education nations. Tudge’s speech, which we annotated here, was not all bad, a weird mix of goods and stupids and non sequiturs; we graded the speech a C+

The most encouraging part of Tudge’s speech was the promised scrutiny of teacher training and, in particular, of the pointless, ridiculous and actively destructive 2-year Masters that is currently required. Now, about a week ago, Tudge’s office issued a media release, announcing a review into initial teacher education. The media release was accompanied by a Tudge-fed puff piece in the Australian Financial Review (paywalled). What follows is our annotation of Tudge’s media release, followed by a quick discussion of the AFR report.

Initial teacher education review launched

Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge has today launched a review of initial teacher education, a key element of the government’s ambition to lift Australian school standards.

A key element? Well, that is depressing.

Last month, the Minister outlined a new target to return Australia to the top group of education nations globally by 2030, noting that our school standards have steadily slipped over the last two decades.

The review of initial teacher education courses is the most critical element towards lifting standards,

No, it is not.

noting that the quality of teaching is the most important in-school factor influencing student achievement.

Yes, it is. Initial teacher training, however, has, and can have, almost no bearing on the quality of teaching. Pretty much all ITE can do is get in the way and screw people up and piss people off. 

The review will address two key questions: how to attract and select high-quality candidates into the teaching profession,

You need a review to tell you to have the job pay more and not be so burdened with government-imposed garbage? 

and how to prepare them to become effective teachers.

You can’t. Give it up. Teachers learn by teaching and reflecting and teaching, and that’s pretty much it. KKK.

Since 2006, the number of top students choosing to study education has declined by a third, and many teachers are still graduating from their courses insufficiently prepared to teach in a classroom.

What does this mean? No one is prepared for their first class.

The review will be conducted by a panel chaired by former Department of Education and Training Secretary Lisa Paul AO PSM, supported by:

    • Malcolm Elliott – President of the Australian Primary Principals Association 
    • Derek Scott – 2019 Australian School Principal of the Year
    • Bill Louden AM – Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Western Australia

We do not know these people, but some form of reverse Groucho applies. Anybody who has risen to prominence in the current educational system is almost certainly unqualified to review the current educational system. 

The first public discussion paper will be released by June, followed by a period of public consultation. The review will be completed in six months.

This is Sirens of Titan. Is there any evidence that at any time, in any place, “public consultation” has had any effect whatsoever? 

Minister Tudge said Australia’s teachers are some of the most dedicated and hard-working in the world and the review would help grow and support the workforce.

One of the main aspects of being an adult is learning to judge people on what they do, rather than on what they say. If only we had more adults.

“Particularly over the last year, we have seen how important our teachers are to Australian kids and we want to provide them with the best platform to produce better student outcomes,” Minister Tudge said.

“We used to consistently be in the top group of education nations and I am confident we can get there again.

If you are, you’re a fool. 

“The recommendations of this review will help ensure we attract high-quality, motivated candidates into teaching and develop them into teachers with the skills our students need.

No it won’t, and no it won’t.

“We want the finest students choosing to be teachers and we also want to make it easier for accomplished mid- and late-career individuals to transition into the profession, bringing their extensive skills and knowledge into our school classrooms.

This seems to be hinting at having at least some prospective teachers avoid the idiot Masters. Of course, all prospective teachers should be permitted to avoid the idiot Masters. 

The review builds on the reforms the government has already made to improve ITE, including assessing and accrediting ITE courses and testing graduates’ literacy and numeracy before they can enter a classroom to teach.

Meaning ACER’s grotesque and pointless literacy and numeracy test? That’s an example of the brilliance to be expected from this review? Lord spare us.


The media release is not great, although it is standard to oversell the importance of such a review, and to avoid declaring the pre-determined conclusions. More forthright is the accompanying puff by AFR education editor, Julie Hare (paywalled). Hare’s Tudge-fed piece, titled Alan Tudge’s 10-year plan to get schools back to basics, is both encouraging and deeply discouraging.

The encouraging aspect of Hare’s piece is Tudge’s explicit questioning of value the 2-years Masters:

“People just used to have to do a nine-month diploma of education. And that was when our education standards were much higher. In the UK, it’s a nine-month diploma and their education standards are going up, not down. So if others can do it, and we have done it in the past, I can’t see why we can’t do it in the future.”

One discouraging aspect is Tudge’s genuflecting to “technology”, pretending that Khan Academy or some such nonsense is going to help. That “quality of teaching” thing sure lasted a long time. And, much more discouraging, it is pretty clear that Tudge, and Hare, have absolutely no clue what “basics” means.

Hare’s report goes on and on and on and on about Australia’s PISA scores. It is a theorem, if someone rabbits on about “basics” and PISA (and/or NAPLAN) then they have no clue about the meaning of either “basics” or PISA, or both.

Overall, we’ll give Tudge another C+ for this one. Tudge tries, but he is just a C kind of student.


UPDATE (27/04/21)

Tudge is about to give a speech at The Age Schools Summit, whatever the Hell that is, and has given early access to his speech, at least to The Age. It seems clear that Tudge thinks it’s all about “the quality of teachers”, nothing about funding and, incredibly, nothing about Australia’s education system being intrinsically and fundamentally fucked. If Tudge clearly doesn’t realise the idiocy is entrenched in ACARA and State authorities, administered by the high-profile clowns that he’s about to pal around with, then fuck him. He’s useless.


UPDATE (27/04/21)

Below is Tudge’s press conference from April 15, announcing the ITE review. The discussion is more wide-ranging than the media release, and is more encouraging. Tudge says some of the same dumb things, but he also says some smart things, starting around 6:00. (Lisa Paul, who will head the review, says some really dumb things, starting around 10:30).

Alan Tudge, Annotated

Alan Tudge, the Federal Minister for Education and Youth is, of course, an asshole. He is a nasty, down-punching, vindictive, glass-jawed, born to rule shithead. But, is Tudge an idiot?

Yesterday, Minister Tudge gave a major policy speech – Being our best: Returning Australia to the top group of education nations. The title indicates the subject, and a very smart teacher-friend of ours suggested Tudge’s speech was “quite good”. So, we read it. Our feelings are mixed.

What follows is Minister Tudge’s speech,* with our brief thoughts – critical and supportive – interlaced. At the end, we give a quick summary of our thoughts.


My argument today is that we are not yet living up to this aspiration of a world class education system set out in [the Alice Springs Mparntwe] Declaration where every child is reaching their potential. In fact, based on international benchmarks, we have moved further away from it over the last twenty years.

I want to take you through the evidence of this and outline where I believe we need to focus to lift school standards and realise the aspiration of that Declaration. There are many great reforms already in place, but more will need to be done.

We should set ourselves a new goal of being back amongst the world’s best within a decade.

We will only achieve this if we work together. The Australian Government does not run schools, and no state or sector can achieve this goal alone. My approach will always be to work collaboratively with those who share the ambition of a world-class education system that provides opportunities for every student.

I have spent two decades involved in schools policy in some form – from working with Dr Brendan Nelson when he was Education Minister, to assisting with some of the toughest schooling challenges in remote communities as Noel Pearson’s Deputy Director, to being a founder of Teach for Australia, and then in parliament, as a member of the Parliamentary Education Committee and as the Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary looking after indigenous affairs.

We know very little about it, but our understanding is that Teach for Australia is a very good thing. (EDIT 13/03/21: And maybe not. See the comments below.)

Noel Pearson’s work on education seems worth evaluating and difficult to evaluate, and we won’t attempt it here. We have not much liked anything we have read by Pearson, and he may be a fool. But, at least Pearson doesn’t suffer other fools, and he’s put his heart and soul into trying something different. We’re open-minded.

I have learnt that there is no silver bullet in education. However, I have also learnt that there is good evidence of what works, and that if we are focused, amazing things can be achieved. This is about our children and our nation’s future so what can be more important!

Where I want to start the discussion today, however, is on school funding. I have watched or been involved in the funding debate for many years and I am pleased that the school funding wars are now over.

Yes. We lost.

Funding for schools has increased by 38% in real per capita terms over the last decade. The School Resourcing Standard model for funding schools has been agreed by the Commonwealth with all State and Territory governments.

Since 2013, the Australian Government’s school funding has increased in nominal terms by 80% to a record $23.4 billion, and we have committed a further 40% increase to reach $32.8 billion by 2029. From 2013 to 2029, government schools funding will increase the most by 193%, catholic schools by 109% and independent schools by 161%.

Scotch College gets an eighth polo field

The federal funding is locked in and agreed through to the end of the decade. The states and territories will need to live up to their side of the bargain also, but with record funding to all schools, our focus is now on how to use the money not how much schools should get or the distribution between the sectors.

Tudge really is an asshole. The federal funding of private schools is obscene.

I mentioned at the outset that over the last two decades, international benchmarks suggest we are moving away from the ministerial aspiration of a world class education system. Our standards have dropped in both absolute terms and relative to other countries.

Consider the evidence, as provided by the most authoritative international assessments: the OECD’s PISA tests of 15 year olds.

Since 2000, Australia’s performance in reading has declined by 26 points, or the equivalent of nine months of schooling.

In maths, we have fallen 33 points since 2003, or by 14 months of schooling.

Tudge is, of course, unaware that PISA’s testing of mathematics is garbage. No one should pay any attention whatsoever to PISA.

In science, we have fallen 24 points since 2006, or by 11 months of schooling.

This decline has been consistent across different groups of students. Our top students are less likely to score in the highest achievement bands and our lower performing students are more likely to have fallen below the proficient standard. The problem is not a growing divide in student results; it is a decline in performance across the board.

As our student results have fallen, we have dropped behind more and more countries.

In the early 2000s, we ranked 4th internationally in reading, 8th in science, and 11th in maths. By 2018, we had fallen to 16th in reading, 17th in science and 29th in maths.

We are being significantly outcompeted in our neighbourhood. For example, Australian students are now, on average, about one and a half years behind Singaporean students when it comes to reading and science, and three years behind on maths.

But it is not just the Asian tigers that have leapt ahead of us. The UK, Canada and New Zealand – all countries we used to outperform in education – are now ahead of us on all three assessment domains.

If this was our economy, this decline would be a national topic of conversation. Perhaps the lack of attention is because the decline has been gradual rather than sudden. But when viewed over a twenty-year period, it is profound – and it will have consequences for our long-term productivity and competitiveness if we cannot lift our education performance.

Two other international tests do not show quite the decline as PISA. TIMMS (which covers mathematics and science) and PIRLS (which covers reading literacy) have shown slight upticks recently. Our performance in TIMSS in 2019, especially in Year 8, was promising and perhaps an early indicator of a turnaround. I hope this is the case.

A false hope. TIMSS is an excellent international test of Year 4 and Year 8 mathematics (and science), and our education overlords should really, really really be paying attention to what it tests and Australia’s (woeful) performance. But “Australia” did not improve in 2019: all of the improvement indicated by the Year 8 TIMSS results was in New South Wales.

There is no consensus as to why our performance has declined over the last twenty years.

It is certainly not because of a decline in funding. As outlined, our funding has gone up considerably in real per capita terms while at the same time our standards have declined.

Nor is it class sizes which have steadily declined over the past few decades and are now considerably smaller than other countries that significantly outperform us. Moreover, many of our schools are now brand new, with facilities that older generations look at with envy.

But these things don’t have as much of an impact as what happens inside the classroom. The quality of the teaching, the rigour of the curriculum and the discipline in the classroom matter most.

Tudge is correct, and this is hugely important. The blowing of money on polo fields and technological snake oil hasn’t helped, and Tudge ignores the massive and insane administrative-accountability burden that has been placed upon teachers. Nonetheless, he is correct. KKK.

So how do we get Australia back to being amongst the best in the world?

The first step has been done; state and territory ministers, along with the former federal minister, have agreed the ambition to be world class.

Whoa. Big first step. Let’s all be sure to catch our breath.

But we should go further.

Really? That first step was just so helpful, maybe that’s enough.

We should set ourselves a 2030 target to be again amongst the top group of nations across the three major domains of reading, maths and science. We used to consistently be in the top group, which means we can get there again.

Fine. By what measure of success? PISA results? TIMSS results? 

I will be taking this to the next Education Ministers Meeting in April.

Such a target would then become a guiding principle and place urgency to the task.

Ten years is a reasonable, while ambitious, timeframe to again be amongst the top nations. By achieving the goal, we would be living up to the aspiration of giving Australian students the opportunity to achieve their best.

We have many building blocks already in place to achieve the target.

For example, there are already great initiatives in place across a variety of areas and I commend the state education ministers and Minister Tehan and Birmingham for these. This includes accreditation of initial teacher education courses, the Year 1 phonics check, the national unique student identifier, a new education evidence institute, and many more reforms.

Great to see phonics noted. The teaching of reading in primary schools is arguably worse and more damaging than the teaching of arithmetic.

I will continue to work with the state and territory ministers to implement these initiatives. They will make a considerable impact.

I will also prioritise new reform areas in the months ahead to accelerate our progress.

Building on our progress to date, my focus and the Government’s focus will be on three areas: quality teaching, particularly initial teacher education, curriculum and assessment. In addition, I will be leading a continued focus on indigenous students, particularly those in remote communities, whose level of educational attainment remains catastrophically poor.

Let me start with quality teaching.

We have tens of thousands of passionate teachers who transform our children’s lives, giving them skills that they seem to magically acquire. After parents, they are frequently the most important person in a child’s life, and in some cases, the most important person.

Quality teaching is by far the most important in-school factor in determining student performance. If we get this right, we will achieve our goal.

Tudge is correct.

Consider: a student with a teacher in the top 10% of effectiveness achieves in a half a year what a student with a teacher in the bottom 10 percent achieves in a year. That is, a good teacher has twice the impact of a poorer teacher on student learning.

What does this even mean? How does one begin to quantify “effectiveness” and “achievement” and “impact”? This numerology suggests that Tudge has no clue how to evaluate the quality of a teacher or their teaching.

Most of the challenge of quality teaching lies with the states and the non-government education authorities who employ the teachers and run the schools. They manage the issues associated with salaries, conditions, hiring, and firing. There is still much work to do on this front to better reward the brilliant teachers and to more easily let go the ones who are better suited in alternative careers.

The federal government’s main leverage over quality teaching is its funding of universities to deliver Initial Teacher Education courses, and through the provision of high-quality teacher professional development.

All teacher professional development is pointless and a waste of everybody’s time, as a matter of fact and, pretty much, of necessity. Teachers learn by teaching, then reflecting, then teaching again, and that’s pretty much it. KKK.

Our Initial Teacher Education courses play two central roles – selecting the future teacher workforce and then training that workforce.

Top-performing education systems set high standards for who becomes a teacher. They know and apply Michael Barber’s maxim that, ‘the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers’.

Finland, for example, rigorously assesses potential teachers through standard school leaver exams, additional tests of critical thinking, and mock teaching activities. Only one in 10 applicants make the grade. Singapore has a similar level of selectiveness.

Once selected, top-performing systems ensure that teachers are rigorously trained, equipped with the skills, confidence and knowledge to be highly effective from day one in the classroom. The best ITE courses are focused on practical capabilities, essential content knowledge, and proven pedagogical strategies rather than fads. For example, primary teachers in Singapore are rigorously trained in systematic and explicit teaching of grammar – a key to great literacy teaching.

This is sounding better. We’re not convinced that Finland is the great role model it is sometimes presented as, but at least Tudge is saying the right words. The noting of teaching grammar, which is currently non-existent in primary schools, is particularly good to see.

In Australia, we have made real inroads into the task of raising standards in the selection and training of our teachers in the last few years.

No we haven’t.

Guided by the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG) recommendations, every initial teacher education course must now be assessed and accredited. This is a big breakthrough that over time will be fundamental to improving student outcomes.

We very much doubt it. Before reading Tudge’s speech we had not heard of the TEMAG report or the Government response. To us, it appears to be very much the standard swill.

Further, every teaching student now sits a test before graduation to ensure they have personal literacy and numeracy skills that are in the top 30 per cent of the adult population. If they do not pass the test, they cannot enter the classroom to teach.

ACER’s literacy and numeracy test is pointless and evil. We haven’t yet written on this obscenity, but it is on the list.

In addition, we have invested in Teach for Australia, a proven model that I helped found, that supports an accelerated pathway into the classroom for top graduates from non-teaching faculties.

We have made good progress, but there is still room for improvement.

We are still not consistently attracting the best students into teaching.

So you’re gonna offer teachers more money and make the job less shithouse? Or, is that suggestion too weirdly free market for you?

Moreover, some teachers are still graduating from their courses insufficiently prepared to teach in a classroom either because there has been too much focus on theory at the expense of practice, or because evidence-based teaching methods are not taught. I hear this consistently from school principals and graduates alike.

The OECD data backs this up: teachers in Australia feel less well prepared than the OECD average across curriculum content, pedagogy, managing student behaviour and monitoring student development.

La Trobe University has recently offered a short course in teaching phonics to existing teachers. A thousand teachers have signed up already. It is great that they offer this course and teachers are keen to learn, but it is an indictment on some education faculties that they were not taught this in the first place given how clear the evidence is.

The next evolution of reforms is needed, to build from the TEMAG reforms. I will soon be launching a review to help shape such reforms. This review will investigate where there is still further work to do to ensure that all ITE courses are high-quality and adequately prepare our teachers to be effective from day one.

This has been talked about for almost two decades now, going back to the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy in 2005, so l will be impatient with education faculties that are not implementing evidence-based practices. It is the kids that miss out!

This is very good to read, but the weak point is the term “evidence-based”. What counts as evidence, and who will evaluate the evidence? Think of the craziest education idea, and you’ll be able find “evidence” to back it, and an education “authority” claiming to be convinced by that evidence.

Further, for many of the changes that a sane person would make, is any evidence required or helpful? Does anyone need evidence, for example, that if kids aren’t sitting still and paying attention to a teacher then they’ll learn bugger all? Sure, Tudge needs “evidence” for political reasons, but to appreciate the major educational and cultural changes required, all one needs is a sense of history, a pair of eyes and a brain. 


I will also be looking for mechanisms to enable school principals and expert teachers to have a greater input over the content and delivery of teacher education courses in a similar way that practitioners and employers are in medicine and law.

We need to find additional pathways to attract outstanding students to teaching, including talented mid-career professionals.

This is very good. Intended or otherwise, it is more viewing teaching as vocational rather than professional.

Twenty years ago, when our standards were higher, a person could be trained to become a teacher through a one-year Diploma. Now it takes a minimum of a two year Masters. It would be a rare mid-career person who could afford to take two years off work. Shorter pathways are required.

For everyone. The push from a 1-Year Graduate Diploma to a 2-year Masters was monumentally stupid: needless, costly torture to trainee teachers, and almost certainly lowering teaching standards.

We need a system that recognises that many professionals have deep expertise and relevant experience that would make them highly impactful teachers. I would love to see more engineers and accountants, for example, using their mathematical expertise to help us address our critical shortage of maths teachers.

In the end, the quality of teaching is the most important factor in student outcomes. It is my most important priority when it comes to schooling.

That Tudge listed this as his first and most important priority is very good.

My second area of focus will be on the Australian Curriculum, which is currently under review by ACARA.

Tudge is presumably unaware that ACARA is run by clowns.

This is an opportunity for us to take a step change improvement and put us on the pathway to again being amongst the top nations.

The Alice Springs Declaration sets the objective of ‘promoting [a] world-class curriculum’. It is the right objective: without a world-class curriculum, we will not achieve world-class learning outcomes.

The curriculum sets the standard for the student outcomes we expect – and so our curriculum must reflect our aspiration to be among the best in the world again.

This can be done by benchmarking our curriculum standards against top performing countries like Singapore and using this analysis to set our expectations for student learning.

As with “evidence-based”, benchmarking is easily gamed and is effectively pointless, except for political purposes.

Education Ministers have given ACARA the job of refining, updating and decluttering the content across the current curriculum. By the start of next year, we will have a more streamlined, coherent, focused Australian Curriculum available to be implemented in our schools.

Signs are that this updating of the Curriculum will make things even worse. We hope to write on this in the next day or so.

We will not bridge the three-year gap between us and Singapore overnight, but my hope would be that our revised national curriculum will put us on a pathway over the next decade that will see Australia rise to the top tier of global reading, maths and science standards.

Within the national curriculum content, I would like to see greater focus put towards the fundamentals of reading, mathematics and civics and citizenship. These are the building blocks which underpin other content areas and set individuals up for a greater contribution in our society and democracy.

Yes! Finally, the three Rs! Reading, mathematics and … civics.

Jesus H. Christ. A proper classroom culture (not ScoMoFo’s fucking “Australian values” bullshit) is critical, coming before the three Rs.  But it’s not a goddam area of learning, it’s the way you create a medium for learning. 

Tudge’s push for “fundamentals” is very welcome, but he really screwed up the dismount.

I will have more to say on these content areas in the months ahead including how we can use technology better (particularly in maths teaching) to make up for teacher shortages in particular areas.

He means Mathletics, or some other brand of dog shit. Inevitably, this will be monumentally stupid and monumentally damaging.

We will need a renewed push in reading where too many are transitioning to secondary school without the fundamental reading skills.


We need to improve the knowledge that young people have of our society and our democracy.

Start with Peter Dutton and your other goon mates, you turd.

My third priority area will be assessment.

John Hattie’s research tells us that effective assessment and feedback influences student achievement as much as prior cognitive ability – that’s a significant effect that should make us sit up and pay attention. It’s clear that assessment empowers teachers – putting student data at their fingertips to personalise learning plans and address areas of weakness.

Our uninformed understanding is that Hattie is a bit of an idiot. But, good assessment is good.

This is why our national annual assessment of student progress – NAPLAN – is so important.

And bad assessment is bad. NAPLAN is garbage.

We must protect NAPLAN, and not give in to those who call for less accountability and less information for teachers and parents.

At the same time, we will continue to refine the NAPLAN tests to ensure they are optimised to provide the information that schools, teachers, parents and policymakers need to lift school standards. The shift to online assessment will be completed in 2022, which will help deliver results faster. This year, we will assess other opportunities to adjust the tests or their implementation.

A national, lower-year testing scheme for arithmetic and spelling-grammar and comprehension would be valuable and worth the effort. We cannot see how the idiocy of NAPLAN could ever morph into that. 

NAPLAN assessments must be supported by a range of other assessments. Great teachers use formative assessment on a daily or weekly basis to assess student learning and identify where more instruction and support is required.

We will do more to embed formative assessment in every classroom in the country. The Online Formative Assessment trial, initiated under the National Schools Reform Agreement, is being developed now.

This trial has great potential to increase the effectiveness of classroom teaching by making robust assessment quick and easy for teachers to regularly complete. It is critical that this trial delivers on its great promise, and I will be monitoring its progress closely and supporting its implementation.

I will also be looking into how we can develop a repository of proven assessment tools that teachers and parents can use, in classrooms and at home, to see how children are performing.

It’s not clear what this all means, but it sounds bad. Good teachers will always have their own methods, of varying degrees of formality, of assessing their students, suitable to the topic and the students. Perhaps Tudge is proposing to offer assistance for this, but it sounds more declarative and needlessly micromanaging.

Finally, I will continue the Government’s priority on indigenous students, particularly those in remote areas. This has been a long term commitment of mine, as it has been for many Australians. There are no simple solutions, but I do think we can do more. I particularly want to see a greater focus on the early years so that kids don’t start school from behind.

And you know, whatever the intention it’ll change almost nothing.

School education is a topic that every person has experience with, a view on, and every Australian should have an interest in. We have all been through the schooling system and many of us have children, nieces, nephews or grandchildren still in the system.

Overall, our school system works well. But as a whole we can do better to ensure that we deliver on our ultimate goal of ensuring that every child reaches their potential.

I am optimistic that we can lift Australian school standards to put us among the world’s best education systems again. And, more importantly, I am confident that we know what it will take to achieve this goal.

We will see.

*) We cut out a statement Tudge gave on sexual assault in schools, as well as the opening, boilerplaterish part of his speech.



OK, does anybody else have whiplash?

After reading Tudge’s speech, we wrote to our teacher-friend and graded it a D+, maybe a C. After reflecting and writing and reflecting, we’re probably willing to raise that to a C+ or B. Although containing a number of genuine idiocies, the speech is focused upon flagging genuine problems with Australian education, and suggests some plausible approaches to at least alleviate those problems. As such, we cannot see that Tudge’s proposals will end up causing much harm, and they may even do some good.

But not much good. At best, Tudge will be relying upon the evidence and the experts to implement changes. But, as we have queried above, which evidence and which experts?

The reality is, Tudge will be relying upon half-wits at ACER and ACARA and the like, along with God knows which academic nitwits. And what is the alternative? Who can you think of in Australia, who has both the educational clout and proper sense-knowledge-intelligence to make a decent go of Tudge’s proposals? Is there a single person?

Tudge’s speech is good in sum, but Tudge doesn’t understand the depth or the fundamental sources of the problem. To go properly into that is another, long, post. We’ll just make one note: any proposal for education reform that doesn’t begin with a blanket ban of computers in the primary classroom is not a serious proposal.

Yep, C+ is probably about right.

Shuffling NAPLAN’s Deckchairs

We’re late to this, but it’s gotta be done.

Some State education ministers, unhappy with NAPLAN, commissioned a review, which appeared a couple weeks ago. The Review considers many contentious aspects of NAPLAN, but we’ll focus upon “numeracy”, NAPLAN’s homeopathic proxy for mathematics. We’ll leave others to debate “literacy” and the writing tests, and the timing and reporting and so forth.

So, what might the Review entail for the Son-of-NAPLAN testing of mathematics? Bugger all.

Which was always going to happen. For all the endless public and pundit whining about NAPLAN, which is what prompted this latest Review, none of the criticism has been aimed at the two elephants: the Australian Curriculum, which underpins NAPLAN, is a meatless mass of gristle and fat; and “numeracy” is not mathematics, is not arithmetic, and is barely anything. The inevitable consequence is that NAPLAN amounts to the aimless testing of untestable fuzz. As Gertrude Stein would have put it, there is no there there to test.

This misdirection of the Review was locked in by the terms of reference. No mention is made of “mathematics” or “arithmetic”. The single reference in the Terms to “numeracy” is a deadpan call for “the most efficient and effective system for assessing key literacy and numeracy outcomes”, as if this were a clear and unproblematic and worthy goal. It is no surprise, therefore, that the Review gives almost no attention to arithmetic and mathematics, and the meaning(lessness) of numeracy, and indeed works actively to avoid it.

The Review includes a capsule summary of the Numeracy tests, a superficial comparison to PISA and TIMSS, and Australia’s relative performance over time on these tests (pp 34-42). There is no proper exposition, however, of the nature of the tests. There is nothing reflecting the hard fact that NAPLAN and PISA are pseudomathematical garbage. TIMSS, on the other hand, is decidedly not garbage, so what does the Review do with that? That is interesting.

In what could have been a beacon paragraph, the Review compares the Australian Curriculum with expectations on TIMSS:

“… The Australian Curriculum emphasis on knowing and applying is similar to TIMSS but the Australian Curriculum does not appear to cover some of the complexity that is described in the TIMSS framework under reasoning. It seems likely, too, that a substantial number of TIMSS mathematics items are beyond Australian Curriculum expectations for achievement, especially at the Year 4 level.”

In summary, the emphasis on “knowing and applying” mathematics in the Australian Curriculum is just like TIMSS, as long as you don’t really care how much students know, or how deeply they can apply it, or how successful you “expect” them to be at it. Yep, two peas in a pod.

What does the Review then do with this critical paragraph? Nothing. They just drone ahead. Here is the indication that their entire Review is doomed to idiot trivialities, but they can’t see it, or won’t admit it. They see the smoke, note the smoke, but it doesn’t occur to them, or they just can’t be bothered, or it wasn’t in their idiot Terms, to look for the damn gun.

Finally, what of the recommendations proposed by the Review? There are two that concern the testing of numeracy and/or mathematics. The first, Recommendation 2.2, is that authorities

“Rename the numeracy test as mathematics …”

Huh. And what would be the purpose of that? Well, supposedly it would “clarify that [the test] assesses the content and proficiency strands of the Australian Curriculum: Mathematics”. Except, of course, and as the Review itself acknowledges, the Numeracy test doesn’t do anything of the sort. And, even to the minimal extent that it does, it just points back to Elephant Number One, that the Australian Curriculum is not a properly sound basis for anything.

The isolated suggestion to rename a test is of course a distracting triviality. Alas, not all of the Review’s recommendations are so trivial. Recommendation 2.3 proposes a new test, for

“… [the] assessment of critical and creative thinking in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) …”

Ah, Yes. Let’s test whether ten-year-old Tommy is the new Einstein.

This is a monumentally stupid recommendation. Is Jenny the next Newton? Maybe. But can she manipulate numbers and expressions with sufficient speed and accuracy to hold, let alone mould, a substantial mathematical thought in her head? Just maybe you might want to test for that first? Is Carol the new Capote? Then perhaps first teach her the basics of grammar, first teach her how to construct a clear and correct sentence. Then you can think to tease out all the great works inside her. Is Fritz another Mozart? Gee, I dunno. How are his scales? And on and on.

This constant, idiot call for the teaching of and, worse, the testing of “higher order” thinking, this mindless genuflection to reasoning and creativity, is maddening. It ignores the stubborn fact that deeper thought and creativity in any discipline can only be built upon the craft, upon the basic knowledge and skills of that discipline. The Review’s call is even worse for that, since STEM isn’t a discipline, it’s just a foggy con job.

This Godzilla versus Mothra battle is never likely to end, nor likely to end well. On the one side are the numeracy nuts, who can’t see the value of skills independent of some ridiculous application. On the other side are the creativity clowns, who ludicrously denigrate “the basics”, and ludicrously paint NAPLAN as the basics they’re denigrating. Neither side exhibits any understanding of what the basics are, or their critical importance. Neither side has a clue. Which means, unless and until these two monsters somehow destroy each other, we’re all doomed.

A Quick Message for Holden and Piccoli

A few days ago the Sydney Morning Herald published yet another opinion piece on Australia’s terrific PISA results. The piece was by Richard Holden, a professor of economics at UNSW, and Adrian Piccoli, formerly a state Minster for Education and now director of the Gonski Institute at UNSW. Holden’s and Piccoli’s piece was titled

‘Back to basics’ is not our education cure – it’s where we’ve gone wrong

Oh, really? And what’s the evidence for that? The piece begins,

A “back to basics” response to the latest PISA results is wrong and ignores the other data Australia has spent more than 10 years obsessing about – NAPLAN. The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy is all about going back to basics ...

The piece goes on, arguing that the years of emphasis on NAPLAN demonstrate that Australia has concentrated upon and is doing fine with “the basics”, and at the expense of the “broader, higher-order skills tested by PISA”.

So, here’s our message:

Dear Professors Holden and Piccoli, if you are so ignorant as to believe NAPLAN and numeracy is about “the basics”, and if you can exhibit no awareness that the Australian Curriculum has continued the trashing of “the basics”, and if you are so stuck in the higher-order clouds to be unaware of the lack of and critical need for properly solid lower-order foundations, and if you can write an entire piece on PISA without a single use of the words “arithmetic” and “mathematics” then please, please just shut the hell up and go away.

The NAPLAN Numeracy Test Test

The NAPLAN Numeracy Test Test is intended for education academics and education reporters. The test consists of three questions:

Q1. Are you aware that “numeracy”, to the extent that it is anything, is different from arithmetic and much less than solid school mathematics?

Q2. Do you regard it important to note and to clarify these distinctions?

Q3. Are you aware of the poverty in NAPLAN testing numeracy rather than mathematics?

The test is simple, and the test is routinely failed. NAPLAN is routinely represented as testing the “basics”, which is simply false. As a consequence, the interminable conflict between “inquiry” and “basics” has been distorted beyond sense. (A related and similarly distorting falsity is the representation of current school mathematics texts as “traditional”.) This framing of NAPLAN leaves no room for the plague-on-both-houses disdain which, we’d argue, is the only reasonable position.

Most recently this test was failed, and dismally so, by the writers of the Interim Report on NAPLAN, which was prepared for the state NSW government and was released last week. The Interim Report is short, its purpose being to prepare the foundations for the final report to come, to “set out the major concerns about NAPLAN that we have heard or already knew about from our own work and [to] offer some preliminary thinking”. The writers may have set out to do this, but either they haven’t been hearing or they haven’t been listening.

The Interim Report considers a number of familiar and contentious aspects of NAPLAN: delays in reporting, teaching to the test, misuse of test results, and so on. Mostly reasonable concerns, but what about the tests themselves, what about concerns over what the tests are testing? Surely the tests’ content is central? On this, however, at least before limited correction, the Report implies that there are no concerns whatsoever.

The main section of the Report is titled Current concerns about NAPLAN, which begins with a subsection titled Deficiencies in tests. This subsection contains just two paragraphs. The first paragraph raises the issue that a test such as NAPLAN “will” contain questions that are so easy or so difficult that little information is gained by including them. However, “Prior experimental work by ACARA [the implementers of NAPLAN] showed that this should be so.” In other words, the writers are saying “If you think ACARA got it wrong then you’re wrong, because ACARA told us they got it right”. That’s just the way one wishes a review to begin, with a bunch of yes men parroting the organisation whose work they are supposed to be reviewing. But, let’s not dwell on it; the second paragraph is worse.

The second “deficiencies” paragraph is concerned with the writing tests. Except it isn’t; it is merely concerned with the effect of moving NAPLAN online to the analysis of students’ tests. There’s not a word on the content of the tests. True, in a later, “Initial thinking” section the writers have an extended discussion about issues with the writing tests. But why are these issues not front and centre? Still, it is not our area and so we’ll leave it, comfortable in our belief that ACARA is mucking up literacy testing and will continue to do so.

And that’s it for “deficiencies in tests”, without a single word about suggested or actual deficiencies of the numeracy tests. Anywhere. Moreover, the term “arithmetic” never appears in the Report, and the word “mathematics” appears just once, as a semi-synonym for numeracy: the writers echo a suggested deficiency of NAPLAN, that one effect of the tests may be to “reduce the curriculum, particularly in primary schools, to a focus on literacy/English and numeracy/mathematics …”. One can only wish it were true.

How did this happen? The writers boast of having held about thirty meetings in a four-day period and having met with about sixty individuals. Could it possibly be the case that not one of those sixty individuals raised the issue that numeracy might be an educational fraud? Not a single person?

The short answer is “yes”. It is possible that the Report writers were warned that “numeracy” is snake oil and that testing it is a foolish distraction, with the writers then, consciously or unconsciously, simply filtering out that opinion. But it is also entirely possible that the writers heard no dissenting voice. Who did the writers choose to meet? How were those people chosen? Was the selection dominated by the predictable maths ed clowns and government hacks? Was there consultation with a single competent and attuned mathematician? It is not difficult to guess the answers.

The writers have failed the test, and the result of that failure is clear. The Interim Report is nonsense, setting the stage for a woefully misguided review that in all probability will leave the ridiculous NAPLAN numeracy tests still firmly in place and still just as ridiculous.

NAPLAN’s Latest Last Legs

The news is that NAPLAN is on its way out. An article from SMH Education Editor Jordan Baker quotes Boston College’s Andy Hargreaves claiming tests such as NAPLAN are on their “last legs”. This has the ring of truth, since Professor Hargreaves is … who knows? We’re not told anything about who Hargreaves is, or why we should bother listening to him.

Perhaps Professor Hargreaves is correct, but we have reason to doubt it. And, Jordan Baker has been administering NAPLAN’s last rites for a while now. Last year, Baker wrote another article, on NAPLAN’s “death knell”.

Regular readers of this blog would be aware that this writer would love nothing more than to see ACARA sink into the sea, taking its idiotic tests and clueless curriculum with it. But it’s important to understand why, and why the argument for getting rid of NAPLAN is no gimme. It is here that we disagree with Hargreaves and (we suspect) Baker.

Baker quotes Hargreaves on national testing such as NAPLAN and its “unintended impact of students’ well-being and learning”:

[They include] students’ anxiety, teaching for the test, narrowing of the curriculum and teachers avoiding innovation in the years when the tests were conducted.

Let’s consider Hargreaves’ points in reverse order.

  • Innovation. Yes, a focus on NAPLAN would discourage innovation. Which would be a bad thing if the innovation wasn’t poisonous, techno-fetishistic nonsense. Hargreaves, someone, has to give a convincing argument that current educational innovation is generally positive. We’ll wait. We won’t hold our breath.    
  • Narrowing of the curriculum? We can only wish. The Australian Curriculum is a blivit, a bloated mass of pointlessness.
  • Teaching to the test is of course a bad thing. Except if it isn’t. If you have a good test then teaching to the test is a great thing.
  • Finally, we have to deal with students’ anxiety, a concern for which has turned into an academic industry. All those poor little petals having their egos bruised. Heaven forbid that we require students to struggle with the hard business of learning.

There is plenty to worry about with any national testing scheme: the age of the students, the frequency of the tests, the reporting and use of test results, and the ability to have an informed public discussion of all of this. But all of this is secondary.

The problem with the NAPLAN tests isn’t their “unintended consequences”. The problem with the NAPLAN tests is the tests. They’re shithouse.