Easy to Blame Teachers, But Hard to Determine Causal Factors of Education Quality

Notes from “Teachers under the pump – and over a barrel – and up the creek: Reframing the current debates about ‘quality’ of education

We want to feel that education would “lead to the threshold of a just society in which inequalities due to personal background and circumstances have been eliminated” (Anderson & Vervoorn, 1983), and that “education should be emancipatory in its nature …concerned with social justice, transformation, and redressing social inadequacies” (Gale & Cross,2007, p. 19)

So when some (Leigh and Ryan) see this happening, they’re quick to blame the teachers and schools for “doing it wrong”.

That’s not necessarily correct.

However their research data is at best unreliable and their methodological assumptionsand tools are inappropriate. Their claims do not stand up to close scrutiny.

Common for teachers to be blamed.

While teachers “ought to be the leading agents of change, they are instead often the main obstacles to it” (Lowe & Holt, 1998, p. 23); that many students are capable of learning better and significantly more than they do (Lowe & Holt, 1998); and that teaching and learning are the “are as demanding reform and renewal [that] requires a more varied pedagogy” (Lowe & Holt, 1998, p.29).

The most powerful lever for reform is the transforming of teachers’ practice. (SOFweb,2003 http://www.sofweb.vic.edu.au/pedagogy/)

These sound like praise, but are blaming teachers for not living up to the standard.

The methodological assumptions and tools used to reach these conclusions are inappropriate.

As Gale (2006, p. 99) points out “accounts of what is wrong with teaching rarely begin by exploring the politics of schooling and almost never by placing it within broader socio-economic contexts”.

Leigh and Ryan(2008) use a technique known as the Oaxaca Decomposition (1973) in their attempt to separate the effects of changing demographics.

They rely on certain statistical assumptions that were not developed for this particular purpose and that largely ignore or are unable to take into consideration the changes in complexity of schooling in the past 4 decades. Others have critiqued such a use of the Oaxaca decomposition because:The [Oaxaca] technique fails to limit the influence on the probability that the outcomeoccurs at increasingly high asset levels … and thus is likely to be overstating the impact of student differences in achievement levels on demographic differences. (Fairlie, 2006, p. 9and 11)

Leigh and Ryan themselves warn that their ‘datasets do not contain a comprehensive set of demographic characteristics’.

Their argument follows the (il)logic that if student achievement is low then it is because teacher standards and quality have dropped so far, BUT many other factors were ignored. Eg:

In 1964 the children researched were mostly born in Australia (in 1951), and their parents were white and Anglo – while the 14 year olds in 2003 were born in 1989 and came from very different backgrounds. In 1964 according to ABS, the proportion of the overseas-born population haddeclined to 10%. In comparison in 2005, the number of overseas-born Australians passed 4.8 million, representing 24% of the total population.

On Better Benchmarks

Increasingly the media have become ‘significant players … within the context of influence that produce education policy … in relation to the learning required to know how to teach and what to teach’ (Gale & Cross, 2007, p. 5).

Definitional changes affect comparisons over time.

Student:teacher ratio is the ratio of thetotal number of school students to the total number of school teachers, including school principals, deputy principals, careers teachers etc. It is not a measure of class size (Burke &Spaull, 2001).

(even though it’s often used as such)

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Jordan is a freelance engineer with full-stack chops, and an eye for analytics and growth.