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An Australian National Curriculum? (Dr. Kevin Donnelly)

Now that agreement has been reached that Australia will have a national curriculum, the next question is: “What will such a curriculum look like and how will it be developed?”  How we answer this question is crucial.

Those who remember the last attempt to develop a national curriculum, under the federal Keating government in the early 1990s, will understand that designing a national curriculum is far from easy.

In fact, such were the attacks on the then national curriculum that Australia’s education ministers refused to endorse the national curriculum documents at their 1993 meeting.

This first attempt at designing a national curriculum was attacked as offering a politically correct, ‘dumbed down’ and mediocre set of standards. 

Especially in the key areas of maths and science, professional bodies around Australia argued that the national curriculum was a ‘disaster’ and ‘substantially flawed’.

More recently Bruce Wilson, the head of Australia’s Curriculum Corporation, admitted that the first attempt to design a national curriculum represented, and I quote: “ an unsatisfactory political and intellectual compromise”.

How can we ensure that history does not repeat itself and that, once again, we end up with a failure?

Firstly, we need to acknowledge the mistakes of the past and make sure that they are not repeated. Instead of adopting education ‘fads’ like ‘whole language’ and ‘fuzzy maths’ we need rigorous, academic standards.

Instead of destroying history and literature by reducing education to a child-centred, process approach we need to identify essential knowledge, understanding and skills that all students have the right to learn.

Secondly, we need to identify ‘best practice’ in terms of what is happening internationally.  Academics and teachers in the USA argue, to be successful, that curriculum should:

  • Be related to specific year levels instead of covering a range of years;
  • Acknowledge the central importance of the academic disciplines;
  • Be ‘benchmarked’ against world’s best equivalent

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Letter #7: A Good Swift Kick (John Dewey)

This is the seventh in a series of articles from an ed school student working towards certification as a math teacher.  (Click for his first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth missives.)  As always, he prefers to remain anonymous. -ed.

One summer during college I had a brief stint working the night shift at an all night drugstore in a rather scary section of town.  On my first night, while waiting for someone to buy something or shoot me, the dead drunk security guard for the store came over and introduced himself.  He put his arm on my shoulder and muttered something that I couldn’t make out.  I kept asking him to repeat himself which made him angry until he shouted: “I said you don’t have to worry about anything with me around.”  I did not find this clarification reassuring.

This situation reminds me a lot of what I’m going through in ed school.  I am confronted with explanations I can’t quite comprehend, but whose clarifications upset me further.  A case in point is the textbook we are reading in my math teaching methods class.  The textbook is “Teaching Mathematics in Secondary and Middle School” by James S. Cangelosi.  Excerpt from Chapter 4:

“Because mathematics is widely misunderstood to be a linear sequence of skills to be mastered one at a time in a fixed order, some people think teaching mathematics is a matter of following a prescribed curriculum guide or mathematics textbook.  … “

That would be me.  Sorry, but I find that teaching the distance formula before delving into what is the Pythagorean Theorem, omits necessary logic and structure.  Or teaching the quadratic formula first with derivation later, or in some cases, no derivation at all.  That this

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The Facts on Federal Education Spending (Dan Lips)

Sweeping victories in the midterm elections have put Democrats in charge of the 110th Congress.  After twelve years out of power, what will Democrats seek to accomplish in federal education policy?

One common theme in their recommendations has been to increase spending on both K-12 and postsecondary education.  The Democratic Party’s 2004 National Platform criticized President Bush for “breaking his word” on No Child Left Behind and “providing schools $27 billion less than he promised, literally leaving millions of children behind.”  The platform also criticized the Bush administration for not providing enough federal funding for higher education and student loans, charging that “President Bush tried to charge more for student loans and eliminate Pell Grants for 84,000 students.”

Actually, federal education spending has grown dramatically over the past six years under President Bush and the Republican Congress.  But more importantly, whether it’s Republicans or Democrats increasing federal funding, more federal dollars have not improved American education in recent decades.

Consider K-12 education spending.  Annual U.S. Department of Education spending on elementary and secondary education has increased from $27.3 billion in 2001 to $38 billion in 2006, up by nearly 40 percent.  According to the department, annual spending on the Title I program to assist disadvantaged children grew by 45 percent between 2001 and 2006.  In 2007, the department will spend 59 percent more on special education programs than it did in 2001.

Unfortunately, there’s little reason to believe even these dramatic funding increases will lead to improvements in student learning in American schools.  Since the early 1970s, inflation-adjusted federal spending per pupil has doubled.  Over that period, student performance has not markedly improved, according to the long-term National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which is designed to measure historical trends.

Under a Republican-controlled Congress, federal spending on higher education has increased

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