Page 1479 - Week 05 - Wednesday, 6 April 2005

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In yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald, there is an article about a system of schools in the United States called the Met. This system was begun because people like me, who have been around education since the 1970s, recognise so much of this. It is amazing; it is as though the wheel has been reinvented. I like to think the wheel has been running ever since we first understood that the way students learn varies between them. The article states:

Three decades ago school teacher Dennis Littky took himself off to a cabin in the forest of New Hampshire in the US north-east. There, he chopped wood and pondered his great passion: the future of education.

As far as Littky was concerned, secondary education was in a state of meltdown. … bored, disaffected students who failed to reach … their true potential. The big question … was what could be done ...

Littky pondered this matter and became headmaster of a run-down high school in a nearby town. There he put his theories into practice. The article continues:

The school he’d taken over had a terrible academic record and a history of disciplinary problems. Littky cut class sizes, abandoned the syllabus, threw away textbooks and asked the students to write their set of rules. Parents and the community were appalled, and banded together to try to get him fired.

However, he hung onto his job. The result was that the dropout rate at his high school fell from 10 to one per cent and the number of students applying for university had shot up from 10 to 55 per cent. Littky was voted school principal of the year.

The article goes on to say that that was only the start; there are now a series of these sorts of schools all over America. The Dutch government has actually sent some school principals to have a look at them to see what they can learn.

Mr Deputy Speaker, why am I bringing this to your attention? How interesting! In the ACT a number of years ago, there was, in fact, the model of this kind of school. It was called the School Without Walls and it was set up to serve exactly these kinds of students who were not prospering in the ordinary, conventional high school system. That school was closed, and now functions that are a little similar to what it did occur within the walls of Dickson College. However, I would argue that the fundamental nature of that school has been changed.

I also want to end off with a sad little piece. Who funds these schools in the US? Mr Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, was so impressed that he donated $52 million to help set up 70 more Met schools.

MR DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member’s time has expired.


MR GENTLEMAN (Brindabella) (6.14): Last Sunday, I attended an important event in Canberra: the launch by Mr Hargreaves of a book recently published by local publishers, Ginninderra Press. The launch by the minister was held in conjunction with the public

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