No national schools' testing in 2010!

Issue 

There can be no National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy tests in 2010. The Australian Education Union's national conference in January reaffirmed that, if NAPLAN data was used by the media to publish league tables, teachers would not co-operate in implementing the tests this year.

The federal government and all state governments are to be condemned for doing nothing to prevent the publication of league tables in the January 29 Sydney Morning Herald, which used the data from the MySchools website.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and education minister Julia Gillard wanted the league tables to be published. The ranking of schools in such a way is an integral part of the "New York model" of education, of which Gillard is so enamoured.

The "name and shame" approach to education was pioneered in New York by Joel Klein, the guru of this educational neoliberal approach.

Klein, at least, was upfront about his belief that the media should be used to pressure schools and teachers. Unfortunately for him, the New York model is a failed model.

The model led not to improved educational outcomes for students, but instead to closing schools, sacking principals of "failed schools" and the further entrenchment of inequality of educational opportunity for students from low socio-economic communities.

Most importantly, there was no significant improvement in student outcomes.

So why is Gillard so in favour of such a failed and inequitable model?

The true agenda behind introducing league tables (which rank schools according to student outcomes, regardless of differences in cultural, economic or linguistic factors between the schools) is the destruction of teacher solidarity and the strength of teacher unions.

This will pave the way for dismantling a social, democratic model of schooling and replacing it with a corporate version.

League tables are only part of the agenda. It also includes performance pay for teachers, shifting schools away from being part of an educational system to instead be units that operate as small businesses, and giving principals more power to hire and fire teachers.
The strategy is to fragment school communities, turn teachers into competitors rather than colleagues and break the solidarity of teacher unionists.

Schools are to compete as rival businesses and principals are to function, as Klein puts it, as CEOs.

But league tables aren't just bad news for teachers.

They polarise inequity between rich and poor schools and students. Lower-ranked schools — deemed to be failing — lose the community's confidence, and are closed.

Naming and shaming "under-performing schools" does nothing to address the reasons why students are not performing as well in these schools as those in wealthier areas.
Consistent under-funding by state and federal governments, as well as socio-economic and cultural factors, are ignored by the argument that "under-performing schools" should be "outed".

How is it fair to compare the results of students in exclusive private schools whose parents are millionaires with those in public schools with students from poor backgrounds?

How is it equitable to compare the results of schools with English-speaking background student populations with those made up of predominantly non-English speaking background or even refugee students?

The dishonesty of the politicians and capitalist media in saying that their agenda is about accountability (giving parents information about their schools) and transparency is misleading, disgusting nonsense.

The fact is that data on the performance of their child's school has been available to parents in the form of annual school reports for more than a decade — in a form that is not so damaging to school communities.

Parents are not asking for league tables. In fact, both state and federal parents' associations are critical of league tables.

So much for giving parents what they want, as Gillard claims to be doing.

That's why teacher unions around the country will ban NAPLAN this year. Everyone concerned about the education of young people, and social justice, should support teachers when they refuse to administer the tests.

And parents should support the teachers by keeping their children home on the days that the NAPLAN tests are held.

[Pat Donohoe is a councillor of the NSW Teachers Federation, secretary of Canterbury-Bankstown Teachers Association and a Socialist Alliance activist.]