Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Poisoned Carrot

In the classic fairy tale, the evil queen offered Snow White a poisoned apple. In their battle for chess supremacy in 1972, Boris Spassky offered Bobby Fischer a poisoned pawn. (Fischer took it, and lost the game.)

Now Julia Gillard has offered the Australian public a poisoned carrot.

Yesterday, Gillard announced new education policy as part of her election pitch. The plan is to reward schools where student achievement has improved. Primary schools would be given $75,000 and high schools $100,000 for improvements in student performance in the areas of literacy and numeracy.

This scheme apparently would begin in 2013 and work in conjunction with the MySchool website. (In other words, by comparing NAPLAN results from year to year.)

Another part of this plan is for teachers to earn an extra 10% of their salary (up to $8,000) if they meet new performance benchmarks.

Of course, this is all just recycled ideas from NYC's Joel Klein. Ideas which have been roundly criticised by educators far and wide, and which recently have taken a battering. I can't say that it came as a complete surprise - there's been speculation about this ever since Gillard pulled out the MySchool website and foisted it on schools.

The problem is that while educators can see this "policy" for the dreck it is, many parents/voters may well be swayed by the idea that this is a progressive step that will improve schools, and don't understand that excessive focus on the results of a small set of tests actually hurts schools by leading to a narrowing of the curriculum, teaching to the tests and reduced standards rather than improved ones.

Will the voting public take a bite of this poisoned carrot? I fear the worst.