What new international data from the OECD reveals is not pretty: students not listening to their teachers, teachers having to wait too long for students to quieten down and start work, write Peter Goss and Julie Sonnemann in The Guardian.
The federal education minister, Simon Birmingham, is unimpressed. He sees a discipline problem and is talking about working with families and parents to improve student attitudes to school. So far so good. After all, prevention is better than cure.
But the minister is also promising a “zero tolerance” approach to bad behaviour in Australian schools. He should drop that phrase. It comes from the United States, loaded with baggage, and it can do more damage than good.
The minister was responding to a new Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) report from the OECD, which shows that 40% of Australian students agreed that “students don’t listen to what the teacher says” in most or every lesson.
Poor behaviour in class is not acceptable but zero tolerance is not the answer. Two decades of US experience with “zero tolerance” policies in schools tells us that it doesn’t work.
Punishment such as expulsion or suspension from school disproportionately damages students who have the highest educational and social needs.
A knee-jerk focus on discipline risks masking a more pervasive problem in our schools: quiet student disengagement.
The evidence shows that the teacher’s ambition should not necessarily be a quiet classroom but a genuinely productive class. The broader aims are to help students feel comfortable, be confident in their own abilities, be willing to take part and make mistakes, and be keen to challenge themselves in learning. Noise can be part of this but it must be productive.
Programme for International Student Assessment (Program for International Student Assessment)
Engaging students: creating classrooms that improve learning (Grattan Institute)