Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

An Education Revolution in Australia

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

An Education Revolution in Australia

Article excerpt

Readers in United States will marvel at the speed and scale of the education revolution unfolding in Australia.

Starting in 2011, Australia will have a national curriculum. The national curriculum will be implemented in two stages: English, history, mathematics, and science (2011) and geography, languages, and the arts (2012). In addition, the National Curriculum Board has been subsumed in the recently established Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Agency (ACARA), headed by Barry McGaw, former head of the Education Division at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Agreement on these matters would not have been possible two years ago. The previous federal government--formed by a coalition of the Liberal and National parties--made several attempts to win approval on testing regimes and a national curriculum. These efforts were thwarted by state governments, all of which were led by the Labor Party. When the Labor Party, led by Kevin Rudd, won the national elections in 2007, the new political alignment became a key factor in recent rapid change.

While Australian government is in some ways similar to that in the United States--Australia is a federation of states and autonomous territories governed at the national level through a House of Representatives and a Senate, with constitutional powers for education lying with the states--the federal government plays a major role in education because it has the power to make conditional grants to the states. In addition, there is no constitutional barrier to grants being made directly to private schools, which educate about one-third of students and, in the capital cities, more than 50% of senior secondary students.

In 2008, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard went on an international fact-finding tour, during which she examined the approach used in New York City for the public reporting of school performance. However, she did not copy New York's accountability system. Instead, Australian parents will be able to learn how schools perform on key indicators relative to 'like schools', that is, schools with similar intake profiles. These indicators include attendance rates, sources of funding, and results on national tests in literacy and numeracy.

These measures are very contentious in Australia. There was unrelenting opposition from most stakeholders to using the New York approach. …

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