Home' Teacher : September 2009 Contents 20 TEACHER SEPTEMBER 2009
An international team of researchers led by
Professor Brian Byrne from the University
of New England has found that quality of
teaching accounts for eight per cent of the
variation in children's learning in their first
three years at school, lower than research
claims that it accounts for 30 to 40 per cent
of the variation.
Byrne's team has followed about 500
pairs of identical twins in Australia and
the United States through their first three
years of schooling.
As identical twins share the same genet-
ically-determined native ability, live in the
same household and attend the same school,
they should -- if teachers have the large effect
sometimes claimed for them -- progress, on
average, at different rates when one twin is
in a different classroom from the other.
For around half of the pairs of twins
in the study, both children had the same
teacher, while for the other half, each of
the two children had a different teacher.
The researchers found that the difference
in literacy levels between twins who had
different teachers was only eight per cent
greater than that between twins who had
the same teacher. According to Byrne, 'It's
not the kind of difference you would expect
if 40 per cent of the variance in children's
reading and spelling could be attributed to
Byrne says the study findings suggest
that 'teachers are more similar than dif-
ferent in the quality of literacy instruction
they deliver, and, because Australia does
pretty well in international comparisons of
literacy, that quality appears to be of a good
League table argy-bargy
Australia's Commonwealth, state and ter-
ritory Education Ministers agreed back in
April to ensure 'that schools provide clear
performance reporting to parents, carers
and to their local communities' in the form
of nationally consistent information about
each school's results, workforce, financial
resources and student population, but stand
by for some argy-bargy as that agreement
closes in on an implementation date.
In New South Wales in June, the opposi-
tion Coalition, with cross-bench support,
managed to win a parliamentary vote to ban
newspapers from publishing league tables.
No worries, Commonwealth Minister for
Education Julia Gillard told Channel 10's
Meet the Press. She would put the data on
the performance of NSW schools in national
tests, rated against the performance of other
schools, on a website instead.
Speaking in June ahead of a series of
nation-wide seminars for school leaders on
the use of student achievement data in July,
the chief executive of the Australian Council
for Educational Research (ACER), Professor
Geoff Masters, said Australia had the oppor-
tunity to learn from overseas experience and
avoid simple but problematic approaches to
the construction of school league tables.
'If test results of all schools are reported in
a simple league table, it is difficult for read-
ers to know whether differences between
schools are due to the quality of teaching or
to differences in the populations they serve,'
Professor Masters said.
An alternative, Professor Masters sug-
gested, is to report actual test results and,
if these are to be compared, to restrict com-
parisons to schools in similar circumstances
and with similar student intakes.
According to Trevor Cobbold, an econo-
mist for the Australian Productivity Com-
mission for more than 30 years and national
convenor of the Save Our Schools public
education advocacy group, a Save Our
Schools study released in August shows that
the Commonwealth government's proposed
school comparisons for local areas would
compare rich schools with poor ones.
Back in August last year, Prime Minister
Kevin Rudd, speaking at the National Press
Club, described a national league table as,
'One which would try and line up a com-
prehensive government school in the outer
suburbs of, you know, Brisbane, Sydney or
Melbourne with the likes of Geelong Gram-
mar and the rest. Far better it is that instead
you have a system whereby schools which
broadly have common characteristics, com-
mon socioeconomic profile across the coun-
try within government and non-government
systems for that data to be readily compara-
ble. That's what we're talking about.'
Trevor Cobbold isn't so sure. 'Our study
shows that the PM's promise that govern-
ment schools in disadvantaged areas would
not be compared with the "likes of Geelong
Grammar and the rest" is completely false,'
'A local area school performance table
for Northern Geelong will compare one of
the richest schools in Australia -- Geelong
Grammar -- with government and Catholic
schools in Corio and Norlane, which. . .
serve com munities with high levels of pub-
lic housing, a large migrant population, low
education and high unemployment.'
Cobbold, called on the Commonwealth
Minister for Education to ditch the publica-
tion of school comparisons in local areas.
'The argy-bargy on this is going to be
significant with the states,' Rudd told the
National Press Club last year. 'We accept
that,' he added, 'but we intend to prosecute
this and we have some way to go yet.'
DEBATE OVER SCHOOL LEAGUE TABLES IS HOTTING UP, REPORTS
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