Stuff I believe

It was interesting to follow the tweets of @BiancaH80 and @durk94 tonight, as they discussed the school funding data available on the MySchool website.

To be honest, in the interests of keeping myself in a positive and generative work state of mind I’ve avoided looking at the new MySchool site at all (and no, I’m not going to hyperlink to it because I don’t think it deserves the traffic).  Next week I’m going to have to though, so I can talk about it with my students in class.

ohmmmmmmm…

Even though I now work at a university, which involves striving for curriculum excellence in schools in every sector, I maintain my firm commitment to the social justice agenda of supporting public education.

However, government departments of education tend to be clunky, inefficient, wheel-reinventing institutions.  I know, I used to work in one.  And if I returned to teaching you’d find me back there.

But while funding and resource benchmarks are a large part of the problem, a widespread lack of willingness to consider radically shifting our models of curriculum ‘delivery’ prevents the construction of a meaningful way forward, in my opinion.  The composition of the local student ‘community’ and its relationship to the related local ‘campus’ needs to be significantly rethought.

So I’m posting my tweets for tonight up here, just for the record.  I’d be interested in hearing other people’s visions for the school campus of the future.  Will there still be a distinction between ‘public’ and ‘private’?

I hope not.

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  1. #1 by David Chapman on March 21, 2011 - 5:44 am

    Just a few quick thoughts this morning. In short, I think your are quite right in your post here.

    I currently teach in the private system, and this is likely due to my own education being largely within that same system, and ultimately a familiar place to find employment (after some overseas experiences). My public education and teaching experience has been limited to a short time in primary school, but I did choose to do my University training (including teacher training) via the public (yay Newcastle Uni!).

    I have long been a supporter of public education (which sometimes leads to strange staffroom conversations), but from my position I can see the benefits and reasons why parents pay the fees to send students to us. However, the segregation and the disparity between the systems bothers me.

    Then I looked at the myschool info. Now perhaps I should dismiss the financial info as I do the NAPLAN results. In my opinion there is almost no value in presenting those test results, and that direction is causing far more problems than it is solving. However – I will be honest, the financial data did surprise me. A lot.

    Where I live (Lake Macquarie/Newcastle region) the differences between the private and public schools is immense. Perhaps not as great as some of the schools in Sydney and Melbourne, but still quite great. Resources available to teachers, teaching spaces and facilities are quite obviously under funded in the local public schools.

    My surprise then was to read, via myschool data, that the total funding per student is actually quite similar in our area. There are exceptions of course (a couple of the top private schools have much more per student), but in my school and my partner’s school, the amount is almost the same as the public schools. I am referring to total funding – including all government sources and fees, per student (we receive about 60% of the State+Fed funding per student).

    I can only guess as to the differences then in the school campuses and resourcing – but it does indicate to me (if again, if we accept the data as being somewhat accurate) that there is distinct advantages in having a more direct control of budgeting amongst other things.

    To get back to the main topic of the post however, education certainly does need to improve in terms of structure and funding. I am very uncomfortable with the public and private divide – and in my perfect world it would not exist. Schools would be well funded places of learning with engaged students, parents and teachers. Learning would offer a variety that suited interests and abilities, and did not attempt to teach according to a chronological age or single learning style.

    I say we start with getting rid of the factories.

  2. #2 by BiancaH80 on March 23, 2011 - 7:27 pm

    The initial prompt for this discussion was my sadness at seeing private schools doing radically new things in a school setting – something that can only come about through money – and I know that our schools (public schools) just can’t – and never will be able to – compete with the type of infrastructure and technology that private schools have. Irrespective of the figures on the MySchool site.

    I want to have wonderfully, flexible learning spaces that can easily adapt to student and teacher needs. I want to have space where students can escape the noise and work independently (in the cave) or sit in small groups and collaborate without disturbing others (wateringhole) as well as a large area where me and my students can explain/present/model/tell stories (campfire) … but I have four brick walls and a white board. I do the best I can with what I have – 30 square desks and 30 plastic chairs, a white board, a DER netbooks attached to a portable projector which works if I’m lucky. My room transforms every lesson, every day. My walls are decorated with colourful posters – walls that were painted by my husband. I have new carpet which is pretty cool.

    I’m very, very lucky to have access to a number of IWBs around the school … I know i can move my class around the physical landscape of my school to find ‘spaces’ that suit a collective purpose … but never really individualised purposes. It makes Project Based Learning that much more difficult. 30 growing bodies moving around the room, negotiating projects, products, talking together, asking for help … you can picture the chaos, right? We’re often spilling into the hallway, the quad. Like I say, we make do.

    I see other schools who have executive that encourage, celebrate, sometimes even require/demand innovative teaching practices and provide teachers with relief and incentives to implement exciting things. (and by no means am I suggesting public school executive don’t do what they can to foster innovation) I guess for a private school this type of approach to teaching and learning is as much to do with marketing and remaining competitive in the market as it is to do with learning. Or is that just me being cynical?

    Being bold and changing how you teach (for the betterment of our education system and our current/future students) – the mental and physical landscape of your teaching practice – is damn hard. But it’s harder in the public system for a whole bunch of reasons that I’m naive to. And yeah, that makes me sad.

    • #3 by kmcg2375 on March 23, 2011 - 10:11 pm

      The thing that makes this scenario that much worse, is that after visiting a few different types of private schools, I can tell you that some of them have really misallocated resources, and many have spaces that are downright shabby. Seriously, some parents out there are really getting ripped off. Here’s a tip parents – how many classrooms in your school are organised in rows??

      On the subject, when will we stop trying to dress adolescents in suit jackets and ties? Seriously. It’s not impressive, just a little bit sad. Don’t gentrify my playground…

      Bianca, maybe think of it more as teaching valuable lessons about adaptability…? #positivespinforeverythingmmmhmm

      • #4 by David Chapman on March 24, 2011 - 6:21 am

        At the risk of stating one of them obvious things – I too have often seen massive wasting of resourcing in schools. It is a crying shame when you see other teachers trying so hard to do innovative things with not much.

        So the question is – how do you get funds to those who need it? AND/OR how do inspire all teachers to maximise learning and innovate?

        Perhaps there needs to be increased networking, sharing of information, and an attempt to reach consensus on appropriate amounts of funding – and support mechanisms.

        At least there is funding for the brick wall I am beating my head against.

  3. #5 by kmcg2375 on March 24, 2011 - 2:54 pm

    One thing that occurred to me awhile ago – if every teacher in the school sprawled across the space in the way that some of the more innovative teachers do (like Bianca above, taking her class out into the playground or to alternative learning spaces) it just wouldn’t work. It would be chaos – like trying to teach English during recess!

    So for widespread innovation or change to take place, it is going to take a serious replanning (and of course, as much as we can muster, reinvestment) in the construction of 21st century-appropriate learning spaces.

    At my old school (of about 1200 students) each period there was only space for two classes in the library. Only ever about 4-5 working trolleys of 15 laptops. ONE tiered AV room! Two permanent computer labs…but only with 15-20 computers in them, and often filled with timetabled classes. The only Drama space in the whole school was this year slated to be turned into a 3rd computer ‘lab’.

    These kinds of arrangements are downright clunky. Too many of the spaces in schools are configured as ‘classrooms’, in a highly industrialised fashion. As long as this is the ‘norm’ and everything else is constructed as ‘the other’, there wil NEVER space enough for us all to run the lessons we want to have.

    imho.

  4. #6 by David Chapman on March 24, 2011 - 3:12 pm

    I think you may be onto something there Kelli. I thought I had a win late last year by getting admin to turn our old library into a multi class learning space (we had a new library built under the BER). The possibilities were going to be amazing. At the last minute there was a change of mind and it was converted into another two classrooms instead. Needless to say it nearly brought on a case of ‘I don’t want to work here anymore’.

    Clearly education has a need for real estate (like many other human activities), and the use of the spaces is critical. It we keep building according to factory plans – we will keep getting factory outputs and processes. If we start to change our priorities with the spaces – that will only help the motivated teachers to innovate.

    • #7 by kmcg2375 on March 24, 2011 - 3:39 pm

      I wonder what the result would be if we didn’t invest any more than we already do, but just stripped the tables and chairs out of, say, one third of the rooms in the school, and spent the annual furniture budgets of the next few years decking the ‘empty’ rooms out en entirely different way.
      The kids already have the laptops, and apparently sitting down too much is bad for your health to boot:
      http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/288480

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