THE just-released National Professional Standards for Teachers, detailing the characteristics of successful teachers and what constitutes quality teaching, apparently, is at the "leading edge of international practice" and is "fundamental to improving educational outcomes for young people".
How do we know?
Because Tony Mackay, the chairman of the body responsible for the teaching standards, the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, told us so (The Australian, February 10).
In the cliches much loved by Australia's educrats, Mackay boasts that the standards "make explicit the elements of high-quality, effective teaching in 21st century schools", will ensure that "good teachers" become "great teachers" and that the new standards will "enable teachers to constantly strive for excellence".
Mackay also claims the new standards are not about "simple measurement or ticking a box" and that the "standards unambiguously define what is expected of the new teacher and a more experienced teacher".
Not so. The seven standards and accompanying 37 focus areas and 148 descriptors, much like a corporate-inspired, performance management model for staff appraisal, impose a bureaucratic, time consuming and checklist mentality.
The result? Teachers wanting certification or promotion, instead of focusing their time and energy on being effective and inspirational classroom teachers, will have to spend most of their time collecting reams of evidence, attending fruitless in-service programs and genuflecting to education fads such as personalised learning, open classrooms and treating children as knowledge navigators.
Descriptors requiring graduate teachers to "include a range of teaching strategies in teaching", and "Demonstrate the capacity to organise classroom activities and provide clear directions" and "Understand the relevant and appropriate sources of professional learning for teachers" are also vague and generalised.
Most of the descriptors in the AITSL document are motherhood statements reinforcing progressive educational orthodoxy, and the reader searches in vain for any mention of the need for teachers to be judged on how effective they are in raising standards and improving students' results. While testing and examinations should never be the sole measure to judge teachers, students, parents and the wider community have every right to expect that an important aspect of any teacher's employment is to get students to succeed in their studies.
Worse still, the new national standards document, approved by all Australian education ministers last December, fails to detail what evidence will be used to prove that teachers have met the various standards or to ensure that the assessment regime for teachers is rigorous and credible.
The fact that little thought has been given to what evidence will be used to demonstrate whether teachers are effective or not is made worse by the reality that teacher promotion, at least for the first eight to nine years across the different states and territories, appears to be automatic.
Under the present situation, as noted in an Australian Council for Educational Research paper titled Research on Performance Pay for Teachers, "it is rare for increments to be withheld" and it "is difficult to find systematically gathered evidence about underperforming teachers in most school systems".
Much of the Rudd/Gillard inspired education revolution is imported from Britain and the underlying rationale is for increased government intervention and control via bureaucracies and quangos. Copying Britain is understandable given Tony Mackay's involvement with prime minister Tony Blair's favourite think tank Demos and the fact that Tom Bentley, now a senior adviser to Julia Gillard and also with her when she was minister for education, was also involved with Demos as director.
State and territory schools, both government and non-government, are being forced to abide by the dictates of Canberra and ALP-appointed education apparatchiks whether we are talking about the Building the Education Revolution infrastructure program, the national curriculum, national testing or the My School website.
The establishment of AITSL and publication of the National Professional Standards for Teachers are no exception.
Yet there is an alternative.
Instead of enforcing a one size-fits-all command and control model, give schools the autonomy and flexibility to design and implement their own approaches to teacher certification and evaluation.
While the Australian Education Union, given its self-interest, opposes giving schools the power to hire, fire and reward teachers, there is increasing evidence that such policies lead to stronger outcomes.
Such freedom explains why Catholic and independent schools, even after adjusting for the socioeconomic profile of students, do so well academically.
Significantly, the British Secretary of Education, Michael Gove, is adopting such an approach in order to rectify the mistakes of the Blair years.
In an interview with Britain's The Guardian, Gove repeated his promise to abolish quangos such as the General Teaching Council for England and the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency on the basis that: "There are too many quangos that take up a school's time without leading to any real benefits to standards.
"Teachers tell us that they have to spend hours outside the classroom going to meetings and filling in forms because of bureaucratic requirements. It takes time away from the core purpose of improving learning".