“Hey Policy Makers! Leave Jeanette alone!”

Year: 2019

Author: Newman, Steven, Buchanan, Rachel

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

A century of public education reform in the US has been famously termed ‘Tinkering towards Utopia’ by Tyack and Cuban. This paper examines Australia’s version of the utopian tradition of social reform through schooling, ‘education for equity’. Massive gains towards educational equity were made from the mid-nineteenth century in Australia. In the space of two generations the education system was reconfigured to achieve almost near universal literacy, a reversal of the under-education of girls, and access to secondary school education for all students regardless of social background. Yet since the 1990s progress towards educational equity has become incremental rather than monumental. While the 1999 Adelaide Declaration enshrined social justice as a national educational goal, the 2008 Melbourne Declaration shifted the discourse to one of ‘equity’. A variety of policy reforms have rapidly reconfigured the work of teachers in the last two decades, from the introduction of the NAPLAN and the My School website, to Professional Standards for teachers and Principals, the introduction of a national curriculum, a common school starting age and the elevation of the school leaving age, a digital education revolution, and changes in access to the profession and increased accountability. Arguably these reforms have generated barriers, rather than progress, towards equity. Drawing on auto-ethnography and Australia’s history of education policy reform this paper provides an account of the reform fatigue that occurs when education policy is used as an attempted panacea for Australia’s social problems.