What if giving students what they ask for is not the solution?

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A group of academics have written a piece for The Conversation where they have a dig at teachers and schools. This has recently become something of a trope. This time, the argument centres on alternative provision of ‘flexible learning options’. South Australia has embedded a system of flexible learning options into its education system but data on its effectiveness is hard to come by.

The authors argue that there are suggestions that disabled students are over-represented in these alternative forms of schooling and that the outcomes that are available to analyse are not great – just 5 % of students complete Year 12 certification versus 52 % in government schools.

In a style that has become normalised in recent weeks, the authors conclude this is about regular schools dumping kids into the alternative system because schools cannot be bothered with the effort required to educate them.

“Students will continue to experience difficulties in mainstream schools, but flexible learning options seem to be a convenient way for these schools to shirk responsibility for managing these difficulties.

Schools need to be responsive to the most disadvantaged students and not seek to exclude them to a lesser form of education. Mainstream schools should reassert their purpose of being for all students and examine how they can offer more engaging and inclusive schooling practices that enable more hopeful futures.”

Harsh.

Yet track back through the argument and something about it is odd to those of us who are acquainted with the school behaviour debate. Apparently, these alternative schools are paragons of progressivist educational practice:

“Flexible learning options emphasise case management for specific needs, with attention to personalised learning programs and remediation. The removal of structures such as uniforms, age-graded lessons and strict discipline codes are a positive alternative for students disengaged from mainstream schools.”

Huh. So why are they not working?

David Armstrong, one of the authors of the piece in The Conversation, has previously argued that, “The ‘behaviour management’ concept is outdated and requires urgent reform.” Perhaps this is what has blinded him to one possible explanation for his findings: Giving students exactly what they ask for such is not a recipe for educational success. If true, this seems like something of a flaw in the broader plan.

2 thoughts on “What if giving students what they ask for is not the solution?

  1. At the time, flexible learning options was hailed as a way to support social inclusion.

    And here we have it. Rather too many of the progressives aren’t interested in more children learning better. Their goals are entirely social and political.

    We know Grammar schools in England enhance social mobility, allowing clever kids from poorer backgrounds to advance. But the progressives oppose them tooth and nail, because they don’t like the social implications — no-one must have a better opportunity, even the clever hard-working students. A reverse Lake Wobegon, where no-one can be above average.

    Progressives in New Zealand consistently propose solutions that remove the teacher from teaching their class in their room. The concept that a teacher might be in charge of the learning of students, rather than a facilitator and equal is anathema. That the teaching profession opposes them, mostly passively, is of little concern.

    So it is in Australia. The proponents of alternative schools aren’t worried that they give lower grades. They want them for social reasons. And if they can suggest that traditional schools are being social unjust, then they’ll use that stick quite happily.

    Mainstream schools should reassert their purpose of being for all students and examine how they can offer more engaging and inclusive schooling practices that enable more hopeful futures.

    Not teach them better, note. But be “engaging and inclusive”. They’re quite blatant about it.

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