TER #019 – 23 March 2014

Come to our first TER Live event: BYOD Policy Forum on March 25

Subscribe to TERPodcast on iTunesAndroid Smartphones and on Stitcher Online Radio.

Main Feature: Interview with David Price, OBE, about his book “Open: How we’ll work, live and learn in the future.”

Regular Features: AITSL’s Teacher Feature, Erin and Angela discuss the things they love about teaching as a profession; Education in the News; Teachers’ Brains Trust, John Drake talks about ways to enhance creativity in the classroom; Mystery Educator competition. Don’t forget the first TER Live event at the Harold Park Hotel in Glebe on March 25th. 

Timecode and links coming soon(ish)!


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TER Live Event: BYOD Policy Forum – 25 March, 5:00pm

Teachers' Education Review

The first ever TER Live event is now confirmed and open for registration! The details are outlined in the graphic below, and you can click here for registration. The event is open to all teachers, school leader or those interested in technology in schools. The forum will revolve largely around Q & A, so the more people, and the more questions, the better!

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TER #017 – 23 February 2014

Teachers' Education Review

Teachers’ Education Review is now on Stitcher Online Radio!

Subscribe to TERPodcast on iTunes & Android Smartphones

Main Feature: EdSpark Edutech Startup Competition Finals. Regular Features: AITSL’s Teacher Feature, Cameron Paterson and Matt Estermann give advice to beginning teachers; Education in the News, another education review + why do conservative governments favour more expensive, less effective teacher training programs; Off Campus with Dan Haesler, positive psychology; Teachers’ Brains Trust, Sam Schroder introduces a ‘campaign of kindness’ to senior English classes.

Links and show notes coming soon!

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Weasel Words and School Autonomy

Recently, Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne announced that $70 million dollars would be made available to support public schools in becoming Independent Public Schools.

The plan was immediately and resoundingly rejected by many secors of society, with NSW Education Minister outright refusing to agree to the policy, claiming that there was not enough research of evidence to suggest that it wa sa good model for education.

What I intend to focus on in this post, however, is not the lacking evidence base in support of Pyne’s proposition, nor the fact that Independent Public Schools are widely recognised as being primarily an attack on public education and an move in the conservative’s ongoing battle to destroy unionism in education, nor highlight that the currnt government’s anti-unionism ideology is so overbearing, that Prime Minister Abbott blatantly lied about the effect of Unionised workers when justifying why his government wouldn’t support long-standing Australian company SPC, who were asking for only around 1/3 of he money being put into this move to shake up public education in Australia.

No, what I’ll be looking at is the government’s own language used to explain and justify the policy, and demonstrate how the use of language results in very little actually being communicated or committed to (admitted?) to by the government. They offer a single page of explanation for the policy on their studentsfirst.org.au website, which can be found here.

It begins:

Both internationally and in Australia, evidence emphasises the advantages of school autonomy as part of a comprehensive strategy for school improvement

Right off the bat, familiar weasel words appear in the use of the phrase “As part of a”. Remember all those childhood cereal commercials that tried to tell you that several hundred calories of sugar-coated flakes were “part of a complete breakfast”? It’s a phrase that means “The thing we’re selling may or may not be a positive part of the complete whole, and we’re trying to mask it’s deleterious effects behind a more holistic image in the hope of appearing to take a comprehensive view of the subject while ultimately just trying to sell you large amount of unhealthy processed sugar”.

The page continues:

In Australia, schools in all states and territories have been moving towards more autonomous and independent models to improve education outcomes.

While this sentence seems innocuous enough, the use of the simple conjunction ‘to’ between the two clauses make for a minefield of potential meaning. The first clause, that school sin Australia have become increasingly autonomous, is a factual claim that is easily verifiable, however to use ‘to’ to connect that fact to the motivation of improving school outcomes is to make a claim that requires significant further evidence before it can be taken as true. In fact, the primary counter-claim against Independent Public Schools is that it is not a policy aimed at improving educational standards, but a cost-cutting measure masked by educational concerns. That counter claim is backed up by the general failure of any nation’s implementation of models like IPS to yield significant improvements in academic results that can be directly attributed to the model. Therefore, for that statement form the government to be taken as true, further evidence is required.  In terms of argument, it falls under the heading of “that which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence”, and therefore offers no value to the discussion.

This is followed by:

The Australian Government also recognises that giving schools and school leaders greater autonomy can help improve student results.

Everything said about the previous sentence applies here. No evidence, no reason, just words. Meaningless words.


Great schools have leaders and teachers who have the independence to make the decisions and develop the courses that best meets the needs of their students.

Here we see what is effectively a non-sequitur, in that it does not logically follow from the previous statements. This statement actually has nothing to do with the previous or following statements. Even if we accept this statement to be entirely true (and this webpage offers no evidence in order for us to do so) you will notice that the statement itself contains the implied assumptions that schools currently don’t have the capacity to develop great courses (they do!). This is the informal logical fallacy of begging the question. If the argument is to be made that schools currently do not have that capacity and that becoming independent with grant it, then make that argument! Unless of course, that argument is easily identifiable as false. Ultimately, again, this sentence adds no actual valid information, and appears to be a deliberate misdirection.

The page then goes on to say that the government is committed to supporting development of school leaders, and as a statement of intent, followed by two qualified “we know” statements, it again does not actually add information that can be verified.

So after the introduction, we actually have no reliable information about School Autonomy or its effects on education, nor references to sources we might evaluate for ourselves.

Then, after the heading “Independent Public Schools” we find…

The evidence shows, and overseas experience highlights, that increasing school autonomy can help lift student outcomes and better meet the needs of local communities.

More familiar weasel words appear. First of all, this statement makes a claim to evidence, yet offers none. But then it uses the word ‘help’. Any grade 10 English student should be able to identify how the word ‘help’ is used in advertisements for products that have no proven effect, just like vitamin supplements “help” your bodies natural defences, or ‘miracle diet foods’ “help” your natural metabolic processes. Like with the complete breakfast example, the use of the word ‘help’ here immediately undermines any suggestion that Independent Public Schools actually contribute toward improved student outcomes, and anyway, if the evidence exists, as this statement claims it does, then where is it?

The following statement uses almost exactly the same strategy, but uses the term ‘better placed to’ , which again does not guarantee a specific outcome but does sound suggestive of positive action and outcomes.

Then there’s this statement:

The Australian Government is responding to the growing demand for greater school autonomy and flexibility with its new $70 million Independent Public Schools initiative, that builds on current developments across the states to help schools become more autonomous and independent if they so choose.

“Responding to the growing demand?” What growing demand? Where is the growing demand? A simple poll result or parent survey would give some indication, but we aren’t even offered that. Lets consider the things in Australian society that there is a clear growing demand for: Same Sex marriage, Effective Action on Climate Change, an End to the Music Career of Justin Bieber. You know how we can tell there’s growing demand for these things? Public action, news stories, debates in parliament, polls and surveys showing clear preferences in public opinion.

You know what I haven’t seen? A single story – not one – of a community rallying to have their public school made independent against the will of the teachers or school administration.

Without evidence, this is another phrase that can be dismissed as entirely meaningless, and attempting to use positive language to imply justification.

The following statement is again another statement of intent, and therefore unassailable, though no justification is given for why “increased parent and community involvement” is a good thing, or what it will even look like in practice.

Then there are four short paragraphs that link to other government documents with information about Independent Public Schools for parents and carers. I will particularly tackle the ‘fact sheet’ in greater detail in a future post.

So in it’s official page outlining the plan for Independent Public Schools the government cannot offer us even one single verifiable piece of evidence to support their claims of the policies efficacy, and use several deceptive phrases and at least two logical fallacies that suggest either they don’t have anyone on staff who knows how to write a coherent piece of text, OR they are selecting words carefully to avoid addressing the issue of evidence while still seeming positive and official.

As a piece of written communication it does not offer any reliable information except for two vague statements about the governments intent regarding the program which let us know, at least, what they intend to do. We are no more enlightened about the efficacy of Independent Public Schools at the end than we were at the beginning, though potentially a bit more confused.

The site does, however, promise that there will be more information coming. I eagerly await it’s arrival upon my dissecting table.

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TER #016 – 09 Feb 2014 – Engagement, Curriculum and Pedagogy with David Zyngier

This is one of the best episodes we’ve produced to date. New format, new segments, consistent production values (I think!). Definitely feeling proud of this one.

Teachers' Education Review

Teachers’ Education Review is now on Stitcher Online Radio!

Subscribe to TERPodcast on iTunes & Android Smartphones

A new show format for 2014 with new features! Our main feature is an insightful interview with Dr. David Zyngier about pedagogy to encourage student engagement, factors that influence learning, PISA and more.  We introduce the first AITSL Teacher Feature, a new regular segment on the show. “Off Campus” with Dan Haesler on School Contentedness, Education in the News, and introducing “Teachers’ Brains Trust”! with Betty Chau about Positive Psychology.


More links and show notes coming soon!

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22 Responses To 22 Messages From Creationists To People Who Believe In Evolution

In my efforts to combat poor reasoning and illogical argument, I also like to acknowledge others on the same course. With all the media surrounding the farcical debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham on the scientific validity of Creationism as an explanation of existence, someone thought it would be clever to take photos of a bunch of people asking snarky, illogical and irrational question of Nye and ‘others’. This post from Robojustice Superfighter outlines just why the people in this photo are dong nothing but demonstrating how much they do not know, and how little they actually think about things.


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When journalists miss the mark (or, does Kevin Donnelly still want to brand gay people?)

This article from the Sydney Morning Herlad’s Gareth Hutchens highlights the fact that in Kevin Donnelly’s 2004 book he argued that sex education classes should be taught by heterosexual teachers because “many parents would consider the sexual practices of gays, lesbians and transgender individuals decidedly unnatural”.

Now there is no denying that this is an abhorrent sentiment on behalf of Donnelly (and given the book’s pedigree, by implication an abhorrent sentiment tacitly endorsed by Malcolm Turnbull and the Menzies Research Centre). Beyond the blatant bigotry of the attitude, the policy implications are downright totalitarian. Consider for a moment that in order to ensure that only ‘straight’ teachers teach sex-ed, it would require a policy of forcing all teachers to disclose their sexuality to their employer, in effect have it recorded as one of their ‘teaching qualifications’, and then having teachers actively denied the capacity to do their job based on their sexual orientation.

And then what happens if there is a school in which ALL of the qualified health/PE/Sex-Ed teachers happen to be gay? Does the school force someone to teach the topic outside of their subject knowledge? Now I understand than in Christopher Pyne’s world anyone who has ever had sex is arguably an expert in sex education (and therefore someone who has engaged in unsafe sexual practices who has contracted one or more STI’s is an expert above the rest!), but really, would Donnelly rather have someone with limited knowledge of sexual health issues teach the class and risk a poor quality of education (after all, what does his ‘Education Standards Institute’ webpage have to say about the issue of teacher quality and qualifications?) rather than have a trained teacher lead a class because they happen to be gay?

There is no denying that such sentiments are the semi-rational ravings of a fevered mind that likely fantasises about a world in which homosexuals must wear yellow arm bands to allow easy identification.

But there is a more concerning issue here about the level of account to which this article holds, or doesn’t hold, Kevin Donnelly.

The fact that he published those sentiments in a book book ten years ago is not news! Ten years ago the public attitude toward homosexuals in society was very different to today. While Donnelly’s views were bigoted and extreme,  they would have found much more sympathy among the unthinking Australian public,in a world where same-sex marriage wasn’t even really a topic of discussion and TV shows still featured blatantly camp gay stereotypes as comic relief. The world has come a long way on acceptance of homosexuality in society since 2004, and so it is not unreasonable to ask whether or not Kevin Donnelly’s views of the issue might have also changed. But the article does not ask that question.

Also, at the time Donnelly published that book he was not really anybody to pay attention to. This book appears to be his effort to clutch some public notoriety by courting controversy at the same time that he was planning a run for Liberal party preselection. But in 2004 the response ‘Kevin who?’ would not have been unexpected.

What IS relevant, and what the article kind of dances around, is the fact that, now, Donnelly is one of the two appointed heads of the Australian Curriculum Review, and what SHOULD be news is the story of whether or not Donnelly stands by his previous statements or is willing to distance himself from them.

Does the current head of the Australian Curriculum review still hold to views of homosexuals that, if implemented in policy, would require a public branding of homosexuals that would make Nigerian anti-gay extremists go weak at the knees?

Does the head of the Australian Curriculum review still hold views on homosexuals that would place bigotry and prejudice at a higher value than an individual’s academic qualifications and professional capacity to teach a subject?

Or does the head of the Australia Curriculum review recognise that in the past he has spouted hateful utterances that belie an ignorant disregard for individual human dignity, and is he willing to go on record stating that many of his previous publications no longer reflect his views, and thus meaning that for someone whose primary contribution to public discourse has been to espouse his own opinion, that in effect his entire public profile is no longer valid and people should just ignore him as they would any old man spouting bigotted statements in public?

If a reporter were to put those questions to Donnelly and then report on his response, or refusal to give one, now THAT would be news.

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