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Inside Teaching : April 2010
Inside Teaching | April 2010 ON MY SHELF 42 Sam Chaltain is an American author and educator whose writings have claimed prime position on my book shelf in recent months. Chaltain is National Director of the Forum for Education and Democracy, a Washington DC-based education think tank. In advance of Chaltain’s recent visit to Australia, I found myself deeply engaged by the passion and clarity with which he writes on education in general and school performance in particular. Chaltain’s writing is of direct relevance to the ongoing debate in Australia about how we measure and report success in schools. Australian educators have watched as the Commonwealth government attempts to implement its ‘Education Revolution,’ which includes record investment in digital technologies and school infrastructure, new initiatives to improve the quality of teaching and reward high-quality instruction, and the launch of new mechanisms, most notably the My School website, to measure and track school performance. On 1 February, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd promised to expand My School to include a national parent survey on bullying and teacher quality, and spoke of providing what he called a more ‘rounded view of a school’s overall culture.’ With reforms that aim to expand and deepen our understanding of school performance, the crucial question is how we define and measure excellence in education. I think the recent government actions are positive signs, but also think there’s a long way to go before Australians are given a holistic and balanced picture of school success. In an opinion piece called ‘The big picture on school performance,’ Chaltain proposes a broad, flexible new scorecard for assessing school performance. He calls it the ABC of school success and describes five component categories: achievement, balance, climate, democratic practices, and equity. These five universal measurement categories, Chaltain argues, could provide both structure and freedom, allowing individual schools to choose which data points to track under each category. Achievement should be expanded to incorporate additional factors that are critical to closing the achievement gap and improving student learning. Measures to improve student learning could include assessments that require students to conduct research and scientific investigations, solve complex real-world problems in mathematics, and defend their ideas orally and in writing; and learning support programs that address individual student needs and ensure that all students succeed. Balance is a fundamental part of the human condition. Schools should help develop children who are healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged at school. Measures to ensure balance could include the provision of sufficient opportunities for enrichment activities like dance, art and physical education; and the provision of regular opportunities for teachers from different disciplines to communicate with each other, and work together and support each other in their professional practice. Climate refers to a school’s overall culture and learning environment. Greater emphasis should be placed on creating an environment that is healthy and high functioning. This could be measured by using the Comprehensive School Climate On my shelf aDaM sMitH explains what he’s reading right now about the big picture on school performance.