Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Partners in Design: Co-Inquiry for Quality Teaching in Disadvantaged Schools

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Partners in Design: Co-Inquiry for Quality Teaching in Disadvantaged Schools

Article excerpt

Neoliberal education policy governance: standardised testing, accountability and audits

Much has already been written about the ways in which education systems across the globe are increasingly shaped by neoliberal 'practices and technologies of government' (Dean, 2014, p. 12). Neoliberalism is a complex, multifaceted, divergent and emergent thought collective, and it has shaped schooling systems across the globe in similar directions. For example, neoliberal modes of governance, including managerial techniques such as 'setting targets, monitoring and holding children and the workforce responsible for outcomes' (Gunter, 2013, p. 204), are significantly reshaping public sector education systems. The work of school leaders, teachers and students is increasingly governed by performance indicators, such as test score results on international (PISA, TIMMS) and national standardised tests. In addition, reports of these national test score results are released via print publications and web-based media to publicly identify schools as high or low performing.

While there are common elements to these neoliberal governance regimes and technologies, they are actively 'mediated, translated and recontextualised within national and local structures' (Lingard, Mills & Hayes, 2000, p. 80) to create common practices with distinctly different forms in the Unites States, Australia and New Zealand. In the United States, neoliberal educational governance of public schools has taken an entrepreneurial approach encompassing 'charter schools, business-style accountability for teachers and principals, and merit bonuses for top performers' (Russakof, 2014, p. 2). These top down education reforms involve the recruitment of so-called high-performing teachers and principals; the building of sophisticated data and accountability systems; the expansion of charter or independent public schools and the weakening of tenure and seniority protections for teachers (Russakof, 2014, p. 3). Within the accountability reform paradigm, teachers' work is evaluated in terms of value-added measurements which claim to assess individual teacher productivity against individual student test score performance, and rank and merit-pay teachers accordingly (Goldstein, 2014; Hursh, 2013). National standardised testing within this model of education reform has high stakes consequences, including loss of jobs for teachers, and closure of schools deemed not to meet performance standards. Some perverse effects of these public school education reforms in the US include the increasing racial resegregation of schools in high poverty communities (Goldstein, 2014; Hursh, 2013).

While New Zealand has not adopted national standardised testing, in 2010 it introduced a system of 'National Standards' with teachers expected to make an overall judgement on students' learning performance against these standards, using a range of formal and informal assessments (Thrupp, 2013). These overall teacher judgements (OTJ) of student learning performance are reported individually to parents and at an aggregated level to the New Zealand Ministry of Education and made 'available on the Ministry's 'Education Counts' website, www.educationcounts.govt.nz' (Thrupp, 2013, p. 100). The aim of the National Standards approach was to increase accountability to parents and communities especially enabling access to information on how parents could support their children's learning. Designed to avoid the perverse effects of national testing, including a narrowing of the curriculum, reduction of teacher professionalism, and increased stress on students, this approach has also been the subject of discussion.

Using a small set of schools as a case study, Thrupp (2013) argues that National Standards may have produced problems such as inexact 'league tables'. As data from schools have been released into the public domain, it has become possible to make comparisons, of sorts. The problem is that the evidence of learning produced through OTJ makes it difficult to get consistency across schools and across year levels (McNaughton, & Jesson, in press). …

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