The Quantification of Education and the Reorganisation of Teachers’ Work

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 17:30
Oral Presentation
Nerida SPINA, Queensland University of Technology, Australia
Barbara COMBER, University of South Australia, Australia
This paper explores how the everyday work of teachers is organised by powerful interconnected global, national and subnational power relations that rely on the quantification of education. The research reports on the experiences of 24 teachers in two Australian public schools – one secondary school and one primary school – as they worked with various forms of educational statistics. The study used an institutional ethnographic method of inquiry to empirically trace how teachers’ work was connected to power relations that operated from beyond their local schools through the multiplicity of texts and discourses prioritising the quantification of education. The study explicates how teachers’ work is connected to chains of texts that enforce the production and collection of educational data by linking numbers to funding and performance management. These texts have a significant role in organising teachers’ work both in and out of the classroom across the school year. In the classroom, this included a reorientation of pedagogy, curriculum and assessment towards content tested in high-stakes tests. Outside of the classroom, teachers are undertaking a range of calculative work including the analysis and recording of statistics and participation in new forms of work such as so-called “data conversations” and meetings. This orchestration of teachers’ work is also bound up with issues of equity with the re-emergence of practices known to increase inequity such as streaming students by ability, and focussing pedagogic attention on students most likely to achieve the greatest gains on accountability measures.

While public and institutional discourses often frame teachers’ work in terms of individual performativity, suggesting that decisions to teach to the test are made by individuals, this research demonstrates that key aspects of teachers’ work are orchestrated by external forces through series of texts that flow from governments to bureaucrats and ultimately into schools.