Australia proposes mandatory arts curriculum

Australia released this week a draft curriculum that will make arts education mandatory through year 10. The plan requires schools to offer dance, drama, media arts, music and visual arts classes to students, but leaves some discretion for the exact scheduling and content of the courses.

Districts will also have the “flexibility to teach subjects discretely or integrate content across a number of arts subjects into teaching programs,” according to the draft curriculum. In the early years of schooling, students will be involved in all five art areas. By year 9 or 10, they will have the opportunity to specialize in one of the areas.

The new plan, which is currently open for public comment and will not be instated until 2013, was praised by Education Minister Peter Garrett. “I’ve been a passionate advocate of the importance of arts as part of a comprehensive, well-rounded education,” he said. “Learning subject areas like music and drama inspires creativity, encourages young people to think critically, helps develop their sense of identity and can provide great benefits for learning in other core areas.”

Yet, there are lingering questions that the draft does not answer. There is no specific information about how many hours will be spent on arts education, for example, meaning teachers are unsure of what will be demanded of them, according to The Canberra Times.

“We value the arts,” said Australian Teachers Federation. “We’d be encouraging those teachers working in the arts to be commenting [on the draft plan] and making sure the voices of their profession are heard.”

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Has Australia wasted $320 million?

A new report out by the Australian National Audit office reveals that the over $320 million the country’s government spent on a new literacy program has had no effect on national test scores. The money, the first installments of nearly $540 million dollar, four-year program, was not necessarily wasted though, with the audit office calling the results “mixed.” 

Although the literacy program did not lead to significant difference on Australia’s national standardized test for schools that received the funding as opposed to schools that did not, the audit said it might be years before an accurate assessment of its impact can be done. 

Government officials offered a similar argument, reported the Sydney Morning Herald:

The Education Minister, Peter Garrett, defended the programs yesterday, insisting they had brought positive effects to the schools involved. His spokeswoman said it could take several years for the effects to be felt.

”Overall, there have been positive signs that the [literacy program] is making a difference for students falling behind in participating schools,” she said. ”For example, between 2008 and 2011, schools participating in the national partnership had a higher proportion of students above the national minimum standards for [national standardized tests] in both year 3 reading and year 5 numeracy.”

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"It will be an increasingly plural higher education world. And models of higher education will no longer be dominated by Anglo-American ideas… We seem to be able to maintain our standing in higher education and research but what we don’t seem to be able to do is lift it, which is what the Asian countries are doing at a very fast rate."

Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at the University of Melbourne, at the  International Academic Consortium for the 21st Century conference

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"Over the past few years, schooling in the US, Britain, Australia and New Zealand has become a test-driven, fear-based operation. Effective teaching-learning strategies are being contemptuously ignored. Preparing for the tests dominates school time and pushes creative aspects of the school curriculum out of the way"

— Phil Cullen, former Primary Education Queensland director and a member of a group Australians that are calling for a boycott of the country’s annual standardized exams

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"It’s not the case that we have a bad education system, but I think what’s happened is we have been napping when other countries have progressed."

Australian Minister Assisting for School Education Brendan O’Connor

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Australia prepares for merit pay plan

The Australian government is moving forward on plans that would give its top teachers a one-time bonus, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Those deemed “highly accomplished” would get $7,500 and “lead teachers” would earn $10,000 in 2014.

But some are worried that the performance pay system is happening too quickly, without the time to develop a good way to measure teacher effectiveness. As Lawrence Ingvarson of the Australian Council for Educational Research put it:

"[The current plan] will leave only 2012 for development, which is unlikely to be enough time to develop and trial assessment methods for their validity and feasibility or to check reliability and fairness in the systems for scoring the evidence. 

It would be risky to go to scale with a certification system without strong evidence that its methods are feasible and that it can, for example, distinguish teachers who meet the standards from those who do not. Without rigour, certification schemes lose respect and waste money; or worse, are distorted and lead to a loss of credibility in the profession.”

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Teach For Australia draws criticism for low retention

Teach for Australia, which - like it’s American counter part- trains teachers-to-be for six-weeks before assigning them their own classroom in high-needs schools for two years, has lost nearly half its teachers from the pilot program. 

"Of the 45 graduates who began the two-year program in 2010, two dropped out in the first year, nine are going into another industry, nine are doing something else in the education field, such as a master’s of teaching, and 25 are remaining in the classroom," reported The Age.

Teach for Australia, funded by the government, has gotten rave reviews from the schools where it places its teachers. But other educators are still not convinced:

Australian Education Union president Angelo Gavrielatos said the government had refused to take heed of US evidence, which showed an extremely high attrition rate with similar programs.

Gavielatos said Teach For Australia cost 15 times more than a traditional teacher training program. “There is no doubt the money could be better spent and targeted to boost pre-service teacher education.”

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Are Australia’s private schools better than public ones?

New research from Australia suggests that students in the country’s private schools - both independent and Catholic - out perform their peers at public schools, even when student background factors are taken into consideration, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

The findings, reported in The Australian Economic Review, contradict a study from last year by the Australian Council for Educational research, which found no significant different in test scores in international tests once socioeconomic background was accounted for. 

The new study, though, showed that in national literacy tests - where the average test score is 500 points - “independent schools produced average scores that were 33 points higher than those of government schools. Average schools in Catholic schools were 25 points higher than those in government schools. Only about half of these differences could be attributed to differences in student background,” the Herald reported. Notably, the difference in test scores decreases as students get older. 

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National curriculum threatens Australia’s innovation

Leading British educator Stephen Hepplen is cautioning Australia against its federal education reforms, which include a national curriculum, arguing they’ll stifle creativity at the state level. 

"One of the huge advantages in Australia is the states have taken it in turns to lead," He told The Age. “With standardization you lose the ability for one state to innovate and pass the baton on to another.”

Australia’s first national curriculum was endorsed by all the country’s education ministers last December, covering English, Math, Science and History through tenth grade. The ultimate goal, according to the government, is a curriculum that goes through twelfth grade and also includes Languages, Geography, Art, Health, Physical education, Information and Communications Technology, Design and Technology, Economics, Business and Civics and Citizenship. 

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Australia to get third private university

Australia is about to get it’s first new university in more than 20 years, bringing the tally up to 40 schools, reports Adelaide Now. Torrens University, a for-profit school set to open in 2013, will be the country’s third private school.

Owned and operated by Laureate Education, which has a network of 58 universities throughout the world, Torrens will not receive any public money. Instead, it will charge students between $68,000 and $89,000 for degrees. The schools needs at least 1,500 students to break even and expects there to be a roughly equal split between domestic and foreign students. 

International student enrollment in Australia has been dropping, due to problems student visa requirements (this summer over 15,000 students were sent home for breaching conditions of their visas) and the high Australian dollar. The student visa rules were relaxed slightly this fall to try and attract more foreign students.

Still, for the foreseeable future, competition for them among Australia’s universities will be stiff. Torrens hopes to be able to use its network to stand out:

"Those studying at our new university, Torrens University Australia, will undertake part of their degree program here in Adelaide and part at other Laureate campuses around the world," Laureate Asia Pacific managing director Michael Mann said. To go head to head with public universities in Australia would be very, very difficult. We have to be different, we have to be attractive.”

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