Controversial Education Issues – Declining Standards in Public Schools

One of the most controversial education issues today is the continuing decline in student learning standards at state schools throughout Australia, which is an issue of concern to both the public and the government. Hardly an election, be it State or Federal, goes past without the education band wagon being wheeled out, with promises of reform and greater spending to cure the problem.Yet the problem persists despite a myriad of “solutions” being applied ranging from increased spending, shifting the focus onto e-learning and various curriculum and assessment frameworks.Why is this problem so persistent? Despite intermittent efforts by the media to make teachers the scapegoat for the drop in standards, the blame lies neither with them nor with the students involved. At present, students can only be kept from progressing to the next year level if the parents of the student give permission. This sounds fine in theory, but in reality this permission is rarely if ever given. In the ten years I have worked as a teacher in Australian government schools, I have only seen one case of this.This means that students are promoted to the next year level regardless of their skill level. The students are aware of this and as a result the completion of set work in the classroom has become optional. It is worth noting that private schools are not subject to this ridiculous situation.Since there are no standards for moving up to the next year there are many students at any given year level that are well below the expected standard. This not only increases the workload of the teacher taking the class, but also diminishes the learning opportunities of those students who are interested in the work.Behavioural issues go hand in hand with a poor skill level in a subject, as the student who is behind the expected level is frustrated by work they do not understand due to not having a good grounding in the subject from previous years.Various solutions to these problems have been put forward including individual learning plans, open classrooms, task based learning and assessment, the list goes on and on. Most of these so-called solutions mean endless work for the teacher while producing no noticeable improvement in student outcomes. But the fact remains that none of these reforms address the basic problem of students not being required to pass to a specified standard. There will be no significant improvement in student academic achievement in core subjects such as English, Math and Science until minimum pass standards are re-introduced. Everything else is simply rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.