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Parents and Teachers - is there a Great Divide in Education?

By Yvette Vignando - 30th January 2011

P.S. I was interviewed about this topic on The Kerri-Anne Show on 31 January. You can watch the brief interview here: Kerri-Anne Show

Today the Sunday Telegraph published a story headlined "Our Great Divide on Schools Revealed." The gist of the article is that parents want more say in the running of schools and they want the best teachers rewarded. I say yes to both of those ideas but I don't believe there's necessarily a "deep divide".

The Telegraph Report on What Parents Want

  • 93% of parents said teachers should receive annual performance reviews
  • 76% of parents said the best performing teachers in public schools should be paid more
  • 82% of parents said feedback from parents should be part of teachers’ performance review
  • 84% of parents said they want more information about their children’s schools BUT only 31% think that the MySchool website provides the "right information" to judge school performance.

The survey also indicated that:

  • over 50% of parents think schools should be rated so that they can assess the performance of schools and so that pressure can be put on government to improve those schools

   To me, it's clear that parents are much more interested in improving and reviewing the quality of individual teachers than they are in comparing schools. Parents also want better public schools.

Speaking as a Parent, This is What I Want

I want this for parents in Australia:

  • to know more about how our own children are performing in class and their potential to perform better.  I want more individualised, less formulaic reports and a more differentiated curriculum in the classroom.
  • to give regular feedback to school Principals about how our children’s teachers are performing AND how our children’s schools are being managed.
  • to know that our feedback is being acted on where there is merit in the feedback.
  • to know that our schools' Principals have the financial and human resources to act on the feedback they get from parents.
  • to know that our children will be safe and happy at school = discipline and care for the social and emotional development of our children.
  • like the 92% of respondents surveyed on the happychild website (see left-hand column) I want emotional intelligence (social and emotional skills) taught in schools.
  • to have our teachers paid well and performance–managed like other critical professional groups in our community.
  • Like 89% of respondents reported on in the Sunday Telegraph article, I want more money to be spent on public schools

And What Do Teachers Say About Performance Ratings?

The Telegraph article reports that:

  • 49% of teachers surveyed do not want excellent teachers to receive more than their colleagues that under-perform. This could be for two reasons – either they don't think there are sufficient systems in place to provide accurate performance review (true, in my opinion) or they are philosophically opposed to the idea. I don’t know which and I would love the answer.
  • 90% of teachers believe that colleagues who underperform should be encouraged to change profession.
  • 48% of teachers do not want “bad teachers” to be sacked: it's not clear in the article what they do want to happen to those teachers.
  • teachers "do not want parents to help review teacher performance". (I'm unsure of the source of this statement.)

I tried to contact the author of the article in the Sunday Telegraph to find out how many teachers responded to the survey and to obtain the results of the teachers' responses to the survey (not published) but I was told he is not available until Tuesday and nobody else could answer my questions. I don't know if the figures reported about teachers are from the same survey.

Is There a Divide Between Teachers and Parents?

I do think that higher performing teachers should be rewarded like other professionals: with higher pay, public recognition for their achievements and more opportunities to progress through their profession and take on leadership roles. But I don't think there is a system or resources in place to allow for Principals and the DET to conduct reliable performance reviews of individual teachers in public schools. (I suspect that a similar comment could be made about private schools and their governing associations.) Principals simply don't have the time, systems or people available to do this.

Some teachers may be feeling defensive about parents wanting more input and voice on what they expect.  A minority of teachers may even feel that parents are not sufficiently qualified to comment on the quality of their child’s education. However, I suspect the majority of teachers are concerned that the same unpopular approach of the MySchool website project (that, according to the Telegraph survey, only 31% of parents support) would be applied to them having their performances reviewed. Or is it something else that teachers are concerned about? I would love to hear your views.

The bottom line for me is that parents must have a say in the quality of their children's education. And another disclosure: I don't like the MySchool website and I would never use it.

Where Does the "Divide" Between Parents and Teachers Come From?

In Australia, teachers have not been professionally developed and paid in a way that treats them as respected and vital members of the community - not in the same way that other critical professions are treated (e.g. doctors, judges). Being public servants, public school teachers are also at the mercy of ever-decreasing budgets and political debates about public versus private education. Even private school teachers, in my opinion, are a victim of this history. The HSC mark required to train as a teacher in Australia is still relatively low and teaching is, on the whole, not a first choice profession for our top High School and University graduates.

The "divide" whether it is deep or superficial has come about because parents are (rightly so) becoming more sophisticated and demanding consumers of the education system and teachers are feeling that pressure.

At the same time that parents are demanding more from public schools, the government has been reported to have more than doubled funding to Sydney’s richest private schools over the last decade. Parents are making massive sacrifices to send their children to private schools where they believe (rightly or wrongly) that their child will get a better education – the survey reports 61% of parents think their child will have a better chance of academic success in a private school.

If the Federal and state governments don't put in place a system for raising the status, quality and salaries of teachers in public and private schools in Australia and if they do not give parents more of a voice – students will continue to be deprived of the opportunity they deserve to reach their personal potential.

image freedigitalphotos.net Filomena Scalise

Comments (5)

"And finally, whilst the

"And finally, whilst the PDHPE curriculum does require teachers to address the emotional wellbeing of children in the curriculum I do know that in most classrooms and schools there is little time and few resources allocated to do this in an explicit way. Teachers care deeply about their students emotional wellbeing but for EI to be part of the curriculum in any meaningful way, education policy across Australia needs to include an evidence-based social and emotional learning curriculum and provide teachers with time and resources for training and implementation. "

I absolutely support this statement. Any time 'you can do it', mind matters or even rock and water is brought up the PE HT is quick to say they teach it. Bullocks they do.

Not all staff no matter their teaching area are suitable for teaching this. Some IA guys are great and some are terrible, same with english, maths AND PE.

I just basically picked a few

I just basically picked a few bits to comment on from the blog. I could seriously go on forever!!!!!!
1. “93% of parents said teachers should receive annual performance reviews”
In NSW we do. I do not believe any parental input should contribute to this. I feel there are too many “ greying” factors. Such as the word of kids, personal feelings of parents towards school in general (or in my school’s case, that school and it’s teachers specifically) and just simply because I feel that I have the right as a professional to expect to be judged by those qualified to do so. I am not defensive about this and I don’t think many teachers are but over the years I have come to realise that everyone holds onto their own experiences of school. Those who had negative experiences carry it with them and are more than prepared to take it out on any teacher they meet. My husband was stunned when at our first party together meeting strangers that the attack (the ones I was used to and I found inevitable) occurred. Some guy with a chip the size of Uluru planted firmly on his shoulder from High school came at me. *sigh*. There are not many public teachers I know who don’t expect that. So when you suggest parental or public feedback………this is what we get. We get it from politicians, media and the general public.
Mind you, on the occasions I have received positive feedback – a thank you phone call, a hug, a card or a hand shake from parents it is all the more sweeter.
2. “I want more individualised, less formulaic reports and a more differentiated curriculum in the classroom.” So do I. However, to do this we need to lower class sizes across the board. This means talking about CAPS on class sizes..not average class sizes.
3. I do not believe in performance based pay. I really feel that if money motivated us many of us would be in a different profession as our qualifications give us a higher earning capacity elsewhere. Plus no matter how well intentioned any merit system is, no matter how hard they try to be broad in their approach – it will inevitably be focused on the ‘top’ students. The successes I hold close to my heart are not with those students but are of no help on my CV nor would they be of help when getting more cash.
4. The ‘bad teacher’ problem falls into the flip side of this. What is a bad teacher? What therefore, is a great teacher? The extremes of both are obvious but in from that it becomes unclear. I worked with a guy who always got exceptional maths results…in particular in the extension classes. When disciplining other (lesser in his mind) students he was mean “see that brick….that brick’s smarter than you”….is one I remember being very deliberately, publically thrown at a child. Is he a good teacher???? Is he ‘fixable’? Is he worth ‘fixing’?
5. The myschool website is shit. I want to be more articulate here but it disgusts me so much I can’t.

I want a government to say they believe in the public system. I want a government to then demonstrate that through funding that is fair. I want a government to show public school teachers support. Not through awards. But through speaking clearly BESIDE us about a vision for education that is genuinely egalitarian.

YvetteVignando's picture

Jan - Reviews of teacher performance and PDHPE

Jan, that's a great contribution to the public information - thank you - and also a great indication of how the message about review and improvement of teacher performance is not getting out there to the public. In many cases that message is being highjacked by the stories of what goes wrong in education of course. I hope you will keep commenting here so that the facts are explained.

I guess though, the reality is that parents in the public education system and the private education system see some teachers that are not performing to the levels that they as parents expect - I agree that sometimes those expectations are misinformed or unrealistic. However, I do think that there are still many parents who are educated and informed enough to have their views listened to and considered.

Our kids have been very fortunate in their public education with the quality of the schools and the teachers but I do know of many stories where that is not the case. So whilst the policies may be rigourous, the practice is not always - and I suspect this has a lot to do with the lack of support and resources given to Principals, teachers and schools - and I include in that a sufficient budget for professional development. If 89% of parents are saying that public schools should be given more money - we know there is something terribly wrong.

I have heard fabulous things about the funding and success of education in Scandinavian countries from a friend who studies education; I would love these examples to be looked at by the Federal government also when formulating education policy. I have been told (unsure if correct) that the current policy-makers look mainly to US examples (and NY in particular) for best practices in education?

And finally, whilst the PDHPE curriculum does require teachers to address the emotional wellbeing of children in the curriculum I do know that in most classrooms and schools there is little time and few resources allocated to do this in an explicit way. Teachers care deeply about their students emotional wellbeing but for EI to be part of the curriculum in any meaningful way, education policy across Australia needs to include an evidence-based social and emotional learning curriculum and provide teachers with time and resources for training and implementation. Okay, getting back down off my soapbox now. Many thanks Jan.

Yvette, Thank you for your

Yvette,

Thank you for your ongoing commitment, dedication & enthusiasm to the wellbeing of all young people. You make an invaluable contribution & many people benefit significantly from all aspects of your work.

I think it is important that some facts surrounding public education are presented as opposed to opinion or qualitative data & opinion.

Within the public education system in NSW there are extremely rigorous teacher performance review systems in place. These are based against a set of comprehensive standards. Reviews are conducted annually and are far from a snapshot of performance.

These reviews are differentiated according to leadership & promotion positions within the system & involve personal learning plans, conferencing, observation & documentation over a period of at least 3 terms & in the case of Principals, over 4 terms.

Teachers who experience difficulties with their performance have a vast array of comprehensive & targeted support mechanisms available, both informal & formal. School leaders implement these as appropriate with the aim of ensuring improvement & quality teaching & learning. However, when these programs are not successful, teachers may be removed from the classroom environment.

With respect to the emotional wellbeing of children, public school teachers do teach this both explicitly & implicitly. All syllabus documents contain objectives & outcomes relating to the holistic development of students & specific syllabus areas develop this as an integral component of the curriculum. An example is the PDHPE K-10 curriculum.

Schools in the public system are required to have strong systems, policies, processes & practices to support students in all aspects of their development as young people. The number of these programs is enormous & extremely comprehensive & supported through a rich array of authentic and rich co-curricular activities.

Within the system of public education, schools also undergo a review process. It is important to note that these reviews are extensive, based on thorough analysis of quantitative data, observation of practice, documentation & policy as well as comprehensive surveying of students, parents & teachers.

Jan

I'm warning you in advance,

I'm warning you in advance, Yvette, this is going to be LONG LOL

"76% of parents said the best performing teachers in public schools should be paid more"

How do we assess what makes up a "best performing teacher"? Can this question ever be answered? I'm not sure it can when all students are not equal. In fact whether a student is successful in the education sector is closely related to their socio-economic background. More than thirty years of research shows that a child's educational outcomes are closely aligned with the educational attainment of their father; obviously more exploration needs to be done now that mothers are becoming more educated...and not just any mothers; elite class and middle class mothers are those who have retained and succeeded in educ. Many decades of social research shows that middle class students retain and succeed in the education system...the statistics show that past and present uni enrolments are made up of mostly middle class students. So in effect "best performing" teachers are those from higher socio-economic locations...But what about those teachers who work in low socio-economic areas? those locations where students don't succeed or retain in the education system like middle class students...places like where i began my high school experience, the notoriously challenged James Meehan High School in Sydney's south west? The statistics show that students from schools like this don't retain or succeed in the system in comparison to middle class education settings but, does this mean the teachers who work bloody hard with the kids who come from tough family situations aren't the 'best performing' teachers??? Make no mistake; all schools, including state schools, are not equal. if we ignorantly follow the government's lead then yes we will judge teachers entirely on student performance and retention etc What about teachers who teach students who are challenged with special needs? Some students will NEVER have the same educational outcomes as those who are more able than them both intellectually and physically...students who have hearing difficulties are very likely to have low literacy outcomes because language development is closely related to literacy development and outcomes. ARe the teachers of these students to be treated in such punitive ways because their students will never attain in the same ways?

The reality is that a teacher is not entirely responsible for a student's outcomes...it's a much more complex discourse than that. Generally speaking teachers want the best for all of their students; including the students who have to work much much harder to succeed in and through education....so rewarding 'the best' teacher is a ridiculous notion that won't achieve anything other than motivating state/public teachers to try and get into the 'best' (middle class) schools or go to the private sector...or leave the profession entirely.

"82% of parents said feedback from parents should be part of teachers’ performance review"

Education is a gatekeeper in our society. It opens the gate for some to succeed and closes the gates to others. And it's not random in the way that it opens and closes the gate...Mostly middle class students will succeed in the system and those stratified below won't. Yes, we all know someone from 'the wrong side of the tracks' that succeeded but the overall statistics tell a very scary class oriented story of exclusion. So if education is a gate keeper that sorts according to class then this has become a social justice discourse...and if we're talking social justice then this discussion has suddenly become political! Do i want parents to input on teacher performance which is directly related to social justice? NO. I don't. I don't want someone's uneducated/uninformed opinion regarding this complex issue to weigh in on teacher performance because this discussion is not as simplistic as student outcomes. Should parents have input regarding their child's education? Yes. Schools are dynamic communities of learning where parents should be actively involved and welcomed, but until they understand that education is a discourse about social justice and thus is political they should not have input regarding teacher performance.

An example of why i don't want just anyone having input evaluating teacher performance occurred only two weekends ago at a dinner party where another guest was adamant that teachers should teach with an autocratic leadership style. In her words "teachers should just tell kids what to do and kids should just do it". Her notion was that if student compliance was achieved that learning would occur however this is not the case. Recent research, (to which my own is connected), clearly illustrated, on video data, students behaving in compliant ways but were not engaged in learning tasks (the sneaky little horrors lol). Autocratic leadership styles do not allow for students to develop the capacity for social/emotional learning such and co and self-regulation. Do i expect parents to know this complex theoretical component of my profession?? No i don't but i also don't want their unfounded feedback whether good or bad because it has no capacity for teachers to become professionally more proficient. So it's not only the lack of knowledge regarding the politics of education that informs my decision regarding parents not having input on teacher performance, but also because of their lack of understanding about the theory and practical aspects of teaching.

"The survey also indicated that:

over 50% of parents think schools should be rated so that they can assess the performance of schools and so that pressure can be put on government to improve those schools. "

The govt (past or present) will not improve schools based on a rating, they will keep on doing what they have always done; to blame teachers and school settings for the outcomes of students without taking into account the DECADES of academic and social research that shows that student outcomes are very closely related to their familial background . A govt doesn't have to pay for an issue that isn't their fault/responsibility and thus it is entirely advantageous for them to blame teachers and schools for poor performance at the school and student level.

Education is such a complex issue that is so often over simplified by the media...Education is supposed to give us all an equal chance to succeed in life, but sadly it doesn't. We get bombarded with ideologies that on one hand blame the individual for not succeeding in school and then on the other hand blames teachers and schools for poor student outcomes when in reality the government (past, present and future) has control both fiscally and administratively and is motivated by votes rather than any ideology that relates to making life better for us all.

Thanks for the opportunity to weigh in on the issues of education.

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