Thank-you for your comments, which are commonly held by many teachers & parents.
A couple of points just to clarify.
Politicians from both sides have done everything they can to improve education. COAG agreed to the 2005 literacy inquiry recommendations. Politicians only have the power to set directions and allocate funds. They don’t have to power to go into Universities and demand Uni lecturers change the content of their lectures, or go into classrooms and demand teachers change the content of their lessons. It is the fault of the ‘Education Blob’, i.e. education bureaucrats, teacher educators, school Principals and teachers themselves who have ignored the inquiry recommendations.
The meme that Asian students are good at test taking but not good at problem solving is a myth! There is lots of evidence that ‘higher order’ skills like creativity depend on mastery of ‘lower order’ skills like decoding, spelling, basic maths algorithms etc. Successful Asian school systems teach basic skills well, close the tail end of under-achievers and allow high-achievers to excel.
By comparison, in Australia, we have nearly half of all students leaving school with basic literacy and numeracy skills too weak for adult activities, (Australian Bureau of Statistics). This high percentage cannot be blamed on Indigenous students in remote communities or non-English-speaking recent migrants. The percentage is too high for this explanation.
If nearly half of our school-leavers can’t even read the instructions on a bottle of cough medicine and know what dose to take, they certainly can’t succeed at more complex activities.
One real world example of the success of Asian students is that most start-ups (new creative enterprises) in Silicone Valley are being created by Asians.
As for teacher-training, I agree that someone who has done well academically themselves might not be able to teach effectively - without having received good training themselves in how to teach effectively! We know, from among other things, the 2005 literacy inquiry into teacher training, that all our Schools & Faculties of Education advocate the ‘constructivist’ philosophy which has been proven to be less effective and especially less effective for students with disadvantages. So even the most competent mathematician gets indoctrinated in ineffective teaching strategies when they do their compulsory teacher education course that permits them to teach.
The quotes below hit the nail on the head;
Inept Teacher Training by Walter E. Williams, (John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University) May 30, 2001 "American education will never be improved until we address a problem seen as too delicate to discuss. That problem is teacher philosophy and incompetence. If we were serious about efforts to improve public education, we'd shut down schools of education. Why? Schools of education, either graduate or undergraduate, represent the academic slums of any university. They're home to students who have the lowest academic achievement test scores, be they the SAT, GRE, ACT, MCAT or LSAT. They're also home to professors with the lowest academic respect.
Ed Schools in Crisis by Martin Kozloff, Ph.D. (Watson Distinguished Professor, University of North Carolina at Wilmington) Excerpt from the introduction:
There is a war in public education. The war is over beliefs about how children learn and what they need to learn; about the most effective ways to teach reading, math, science, and other bodies of knowledge; about accountability and moral responsibility for educational outcomes; about what teachers need to know how to do and who should train and certify them. ... Clearly, schools of education are part of the war. The question many persons ask is whether they will, or even should, survive it.
Dr. Kozloff goes on to summarize the major personalities and organizations involved in this "war" and outlines a 10-point critique of ed schools:
ed schools offer little convincing evidence that new graduates know how to teach
new graduates are not taught exactly how to teach and are ill-prepared when they have their own classrooms
the dominant majority of professors in typical ed schools (i.e., progressive and constructivist) arrogate to themselves and to their schools a mission and social agenda contrary to what is wanted by the public
ed school teacher training curricula rest on and are misguided by empirically weak and logically flawed faddish constructivist speculations
when teachers use so-called developmentally appropriate, progressive curricula and teaching methods taught in ed schools (such as a whole language approach to beginning reading, constructivist math, and inquiry approaches to literature and science), a substantial proportion of school children do not learn
ed schools do not adequately teach students the logic of scientific reasoning
education professors typically read little that challenges what they already believe
education professors regard their activities as a form of play
ed schools attempt to maintain the appearance of being self-reflective, in touch with scientific research in the field, and responsive to the needs of schools by conjuring up one after another innovation or initiative
unlike medicine, structural engineering, and food science, ed schools do not have a knowledge base shared within and across schools, and that rests on scientific research.
To your fourth point, increasing the number of students undertaking academically rigorous STEM (& Humanities) subjects in high school depends on the school providing teachers capable of teaching these subjects, and providing a Prep/K - Year 12 syllabus that enables mastery of subject matter. Instead, many schools pressure their students to take the least challenging subjects, and many schools encourage their students to drop maths in Year 10.
The problem here is circular.
Teacher education doesn’t give teachers the evidence-based information they need to teach effectively, schools don't provide teachers with an effective syllabus to follow, students are not given teachers who have the knowledge to teach high-level STEM (or, for that matter, rigorous Humanities) content, the least academically successful high school student who can’t get into any other University course can always find a place at an Ed School where they not given evidence-based information … and we go around again.
To your fifth point about evidence based education, there are many finer-points that are the subject of much discussion and require further scientific study to clarify, but the main points of evidence-based education have been proven beyond doubt;
More effective - direct, explicit, intensive and systematic teacher-directed instruction based on a ‘road-map’ syllabus of subject content presented in a logical hierarchy of simple to complex, allow enough practise for students to master each set of skills before moving on to the next, regular objective testing of specific skills with immediate correction and feed-back to monitor progress, and immediate remediation for students who are not making adequate progress.
Less effective - Progressive, Whole Language, constructivist philosophy, teachers as guide on the side, discovery, hands-on learning, project-based, developmentally appropriate practice, no/not enough testing, practise, remediation, and OBE (outcomes based curriculum) etc.
To your fifth point about the over-crowded curriculum, my immediate response whenever I hear this is since teachers are not teaching decoding/encoding and maths basic skills, they have lots of time for all the other time-wasting nonsense like colouring-in, cutting and glueing, and covering everything with glitter. Sigh!
Primary teachers complain incessantly about the over-crowded curriculum, but there is nothing in our education system that prevents a teacher from teaching children to read, spell and do their sums. There is nothing that forces a primary teacher to devote an hour of class time every day to ‘show & tell’, instead of sound/letter correspondences and blending & segmenting. Or forces a teacher to ask children to pile pasta in groups instead teaching the times tables.
To your last point about children’s anxiety, the reason children are anxious is because their teachers & schools doom them to failure by not teaching them effectively. The children are not taught what they need to know to succeed and when they fail, the child not the teacher/school is held accountable.
The constructivist philosophy that is so entrenched in our education system puts the responsibility to learn on the child, and removes the responsibility to teach from the teacher/school, i.e. if the child is not learning, there is something wrong with the child. Evidence-based education, on the other hand, is based on the understanding that if the child is not learning, there is something wrong with the teacher/programme.
Thank-you again for posting. Open discussion is the best and only way to improving education for our children.
PS, for those who don’t know me, I was a Committee member of the 2005 National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy.