The My School website is big news down under right now.
I would love to be writing something insightful about this big issue right now but am finding it hard to really pull together my impressions and thoughts in order to convey to readers beyond the boundaries of Terra Australis. Its launch was right at the start of the school year and even though every principal made it their first order of business to get access as soon as the site went live, most rank and file teachers were too busy, well, teaching to get much of a look, let alone a solid impression. My own boss was very interested in the system used to create Statistically Similar Schools which gives each school a ranking number which is a very different comparison tool. In order to compare local schools, one would need to be prepared to do some laborious data scraping.
I had my first real look last night where after checking out my kids' school, I thought that I'd take a tour through my teaching career and see what this site would tell me about the schools where I have taught. That was interesting. Apparently, the school I taught it in my five year stint in Port Augusta is more disadvantaged than many of the schools in the socially disadvantaged Northern suburbs of Adelaide, and the rural Area School where I taught through a variety of year levels in a variety of roles over nearly two years had a higher rating than my current suburban Adelaide setting. One school would not even come up in the search field so I assume that is one of the glitches still to be ironed out. Apart from that, glancing at NAPLAN shades of green or red seemed to confirm this particular world view.
For a decent comprehensive analysis of the My School website launch, I suggest you read Darcy Moore's blog post. If you're inclined to be more cynical about government accountability initiatives (as I am) then Dean Groom's take is worth a look as well.
I also did what every other tech-loving educator does when pressed for time - check the #myschool hashtag on Twitter. Over the time I checked there were tweets from journalists bemused at any negativity from the education quarter, punters squaring off against each other to find the "worst" school in Australia, parents who couldn't find their kids' school, would be league table creators bemoaning the data access, website designers pointing out the design flaws on the site and others prepared to take on the knockers.
My favourite tweet comes from Burnt Sugar:
#myschool it really doesn't tell the whole story - but we knew that
I agree, Burnt Sugar’s tweet is deceptively sage and many parents and citizens generally get that – thankfully.
If one is an educator and analyses the MySchool site negatively, many assume that is ‘just’ a teacher following the union’s line or is worried about their own accountability. I think it important to curtail cynicism, it can be part of the 5 second soundbite thing where sides square-off against each other, and look at the situation as ‘objectively’ as possible. I cannot believe that Rudd or Gillard have any other intention except improving education but the approach is designed to shake things up in the context of a 3 year election cycle. The site, I suspect, will have more supporters than detractors in the community and as such, suits their political needs. Either way, it is flawed, incredibly risky education policy. Our community needs to understand the debate to make an informed opinion. In many ways, ‘the similar’ schools index is the most concerning aspect of the site. More on that at my Pt II post.