Friday, July 27, 2007

Teachers' union beats attempt to set standards

TEACHERS have inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Iemma Government demands by blocking student report cards. The NSW Teachers' Union has won a three-year battle to stop a "one-size-fits-all" report that would have ranked children in the classroom based on their performance. Public school teachers are now gloating that not one of them has been disciplined over the refusal to prepare the reports requested by Premier Morris Iemma.

Mr Iemma championed A to E grades two years ago, saying he could not understand his daughter's report and needed a meeting with the teacher to determine her ranking in class. "The report that came home was confusing to us and required very careful reading and raised a number of questions that we could only have addressed at the parent-teacher night," he said in 2005.

But now, Mr Iemma's demand for a simple, uniform report card system has been stymied, with different approaches being taken across schools at the behest of the Teachers Union. Teachers were taken to the Industrial Commission after banning the new reports claiming they would label children as failures and could be used to judge their work in class. The union has told each of the state's 2240 schools to decide their own preferred format for student reports. The successful campaign effectively prevents any comparisons of performance between students, teachers or schools.

Threats by the Howard Government to withdraw $3.7 billion in school funding if the reports were not implemented also have come to nothing. The Daily Telegraph can reveal that many schools across the state are not grading students on an A to E scale or telling parents they can request details of their child's ranking. "The majority of NSW public schools did not conform to the department's reporting requirements," a fax sent to schools by the union during term two said. "No federal funding was lost. No teacher was disciplined."

Primary Principals' Association president Geoff Scott said yesterday that individual schools were deciding the best way to report to parents. "There is variety . . . most schools have reached a compromise with their communities on Plain English reports," he said. "There is no compiling of league tables ranking students." Public Schools Principals' Forum chairwoman Cheryl McBride also said a "whole lot of schools are doing their own thing in consultation with their communities". "Many schools are not doing A to E but are using word descriptors (such as 'outstanding' or 'limited' to indicate a student's progress)," she said. "Some have made up their own (descriptors) or are using just four instead of five. "There won't be a direct comparison between schools because of the differences (in report formats)."


Leftist Catholic Bishops' pious but ignorant blather about black suffering

By Christopher Pearson

A FEW years ago I had a conversation with a friend who was just about to be made a Catholic bishop. He was apprehensive, he said, because almost without exception the process of gaining a mitre involved a sudden loss of brains and backbone. He felt reasonably confident it had always been a problem, but that the Australian church was in a particularly parlous condition. Happily, he shows no signs of spinelessness to date, nor has he lost his sense of humour. Several of his brother bishops also display some capacity for wit and judgment. While no one pretends they are by any stretch of the imagination an illustrious body of men, as individuals they are often quite rational and well-adjusted. It's when they act as a group that most of them make fools of themselves.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference is an organisation philistine enough to have dispensed with the apostrophe in its name, in much the same way that Catholic education has resolved not to teach its charges the rudiments of grammar. To visit its website is to enter a twilight world of dullards; a clerical and lay bureaucracy that exists principally to issue press releases about itself and its doings. As you'd expect, its self-importance and delusions of omnicompetence know no bounds.

I have often had occasion of late to comment on the antics of social justice operatives on the clerical Left. The St Vincent de Paul Society's absurd posture on welfare reform comes to mind, along with episcopal pronouncements on Work Choices that might as well have been scripted by Hawker Britton, federal Labor's chief spin doctors. Then again, Catholic Health Australia head Francis Sullivan gave a ringing endorsement to Medicare Gold just as the wheels were falling off Mark Latham's campaign in 2004.

In each case there was a crude attempt to enlist Catholicism into party politics. St Vinnies quasi-Marxist rhetoric never betrayed the least understanding of the dangers of passive welfare or that keeping the minimum wage relatively low led to the creation of many more entry-level positions. Anti-Work Choices diatribes from the bishops invariably take the side of lower-paid workers, but at the expense of the unemployed, and never seem to grasp how it is that people are priced out of a job. Sullivan's enthusiasm for Medicare Gold blinded him to how unaffordable it was and the ways it distorted health priorities on the basis of age rather than need, but at this distance I suppose it may charitably be classed as a sudden rush of blood to the head.

No such excuse can be made for the latest outrage, a statement issued by the bishops' conference on July 7 on the federal Government's intervention in remote Aboriginal communities. Their lordships had more than a fortnight to think about the moral and legal niceties before delivering a considered opinion. Instead they appear to have delegated the task to an ideologically driven subcommittee. The statement says, among other things: "The response must be designed and implemented so as to support, rather than undermine, the future sustainability of remote Aboriginal communities. Talk of 'mainstreaming' calls to mind the following warning about the dangers of 'ethnocentricity'. The rejection of differences can lead to that form of cultural annihilation (that) sociologists have called 'ethnocide' and (that) does not tolerate the presence ofothers except to the extent that they allowthemselves to be assimilated to the dominant culture."

The Uniting Church, Wesley Mission and the National Council of Churches had already criticised the federal Government's intervention. The statement was simply a sign of solidarity from the Catholic wing of the wet Left. The nifty quote about ethnocide from a dusty 1988 document The Church and Racism, care of the Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace, was a way of upping the ante. One battle-scarred insider explained it to me as a case of "the theology of the meaningless gesture, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing".

Potential ethnocide or cultural genocide is not a charge to be levelled lightly at a government; at least not if the body doing the accusing wants to continue to be taken seriously. Can their lordships have forgotten (or perhaps not noticed) that the Howard Government's intervention enjoys the support of federal Labor, all the state governments, even the Northern Territory Labor government and Aboriginal leaders such as Labor's former party president Warren Mundine, Noel Pearson and National Indigenous Council head Sue Gordon?

Gordon, a magistrate of great experience, recently commented on the problems of an estimated 1000 remote communities with less than 100 members: "Many settlements consist of a few families who've regained access to traditional land through recognition of land rights. We don't believe the Government should be funding communities of less than 100 people. We can't put a school in every remote area. It's just too costly."

Thirty years ago most Australian Catholic bishops had a good grounding in the business of providing parochial schools in remote areas. No one at the time could have accused them of indifference to the pastoral needs ofscattered flocks, but they were hard-headed pragmatists who did their best with limited resources. The present generation seems to imagine any indigenous group, regardless of size and location, is entitled to First World standard schooling and that anything less is potentially a form of cultural annihilation.

Gordon is the head of the Government's NT taskforce and it's safe to say that she would not have lent her considerable authority to the intervention unless she had been convinced the Howard Government was serious about making it work. A lawyer by training, she has repeatedly defended ad hoc measures, including taking control of remote settlements for the next five years, promoting 99-year leases to encourage economic development and private home ownership, and compensation on just terms where land is being taken back into public ownership. She has rejected point-blank claims that the federal plan is a smokescreen for another stolen generation or a land grab or a stealthy attempt to mine Aboriginal sites for uranium.

The bishops' conference statement assumes native title is a self-evident good that should be regarded as sacrosanct rather than the weakest and least fungible form of property right. It also lends credence to the land grab hypothesis. "The Government needs to demonstrate why action to address child abuse in Aboriginal communities requires amendments to land rights and self-government legislation."

On the same day as their lordships' ill- considered response, Pearson wrote a long, trenchant column in Inquirer. He, too, is a lawyer with extensive experience in land rights negotiations, a long-time admirer of the Keating government who'd know a land grab if he saw one. "This is my two-step reasoning for supporting intervention," Pearson wrote. "The first step is that you have to know what happens in these communities, week in, week out. Urban-based critics simply do not know the realities. Neither did 90 per cent of Australia until recently. There is now no excuse because there has been a major expose and official report in almost every jurisdiction. The second step is that once you have knowledge of the realities, you must find their continuation unacceptable. Therefore you support intervention."

On the question of land he had this to say: "If political circumstances became such that we were forced to prioritise, I would place social order ahead of land rights. Of course the land problem is being overstated. I have constantly asserted that the Howard Government's one failing in indigenous policy is that it has Tourette syndrome on some ideological questions. I find the land provisions more clumsy or ill-conceived from the point of view of workability than undermining land rights. If there is a land grab, then it is principally being grabbed for the benefit of Aboriginal families obtaining private leasehold title for housing or businesses."

When it comes to assessing the takeover of remote communities in the NT, the public will take far more notice of Gordon and Pearson than the bishops' conference because they know what they're talking about. If the bishops ever wonder why their authority is steadily dwindling, they'd do well to consider this latest foolishness and take steps to dissociate themselves from any group statement they haven't read and don't wholeheartedly support.


Urgent action needed to stop black mothers drinking: doctor

And how is Dr. Lamebrain going to do that? Prohibition?

The Kimberley's senior paediatrician says an urgent study is needed to establish the number of children affected by prenatal alcohol disorders. Dr John Boulton says he works with other doctors, nurses and Aboriginal health workers who believe one in every three children in Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing are affected by the disease Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. It is an umbrella term used to describe the range of disabilities associated with prenatal exposure to alcohol. Foetal alcohol syndrome - which can cause facial abnormalities and learning difficulties - is the most readily recognised disease.

Dr Boulton says urgent action must be taken to stop Indigenous mothers drinking during their pregnancies. "The high level of alcohol abuse in Indigenous communities is a public health tragedy," he said. He says the inter-generational effects of alcohol abuse will continue if nothing is done.


Tasmania's child protection system waits too long to remove young children from bad parents

I suppose we should be grateful that SOMEONE in authority has noticed the obvious

TASMANIA'S child protection system waits too long to remove young children from bad parents, says the state's Children's Commissioner. Paul Mason said Tasmania should look to Queensland, where parents get one chance to mend their ways before a child is permanently removed. But he rejected Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop's call for children of drug addicts to be offered for adoption. Ms Bishop wants adoption, rather than fostering, used to separate children from parents addicted to drugs. Mr Mason said this would create another "stolen generation" and foster care was a better option because children were not cut off from parents.

"But I do agree with Bronwyn Bishop that child protection may take too long to explore the permanent placement option," he said. "The Tasmanian system repeatedly puts children back in homes that are never going to work, because the Government believes the best place for a child is with its parents. This is true to a point, when it is safe." He said drug, gambling and alcohol addictions were common in the child protection system and could contribute to bad parenting. "They all involve a parent putting their needs before a child's," Mr Mason said.

He said children aged under 3 who could not live safely at home should be placed in permanent foster care. "Tasmania should give the child's need for stability and safety higher priority than the needs of incompetent parents," he said. "They take a child out and put them back and take them out too often. If a parent can't take steps with their bad parenting after one or two goes, the department should look at permanent options for young children.

Ms Bishop told ABC's Four Corners last night evidence showed children living with drug-addicted parents risked death, abuse and neglect. "There are hundreds and hundreds of parents who are desperate to adopt children and give love and give good homes but there is this 'biology first' principle," she said.

Tasmania's acting Human Services Minister Steve Kons said the law stressed that families had the primary responsibility for the care and protection of their children. He said the law also recognised the importance of maintaining a child's link with its family and community. "Tasmania's focus is on improving our child protection system, to strengthen early intervention and family support services and prevent child abuse," Mr Kons said. [Empty blather]

TasCOSS and the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Council criticised Ms Bishop's proposal as dangerous, saying parents need support to kick addictions and keep children.



There is no end to official policies that are eventually seen as getting it exactly wrong -- though this recent one is rather tragic -- and when normal cyclic global cooling comes, official acceptance of the warmist scare will be seen to be yet another such folly -- much like that other famous Greenie false prophecy: Paul Ehrlich's "population bomb".

But I think there is always room for another example of official folly so let me mention one that has taken place in my home town of Brisbane.

In the old days, lots of people in Brisbane had rainwater tanks for domestic use, as the town water was rather "hard". Eventually, however, the town water improved and the tanks fell out of favour. But there were still a lot of them around. The local council eventually took notice of this and concluded that the old tanks were a health hazard. So it sent inspectors around telling people to pull down their old tanks on pain of prosecution. My neighbour over the road was one of those threatened and he did pull his tank down.

Now, however, Greenie opposition to dam building has ensured that Brisbane has a water shortage. So what is the council doing? Offering people $1,000 grants to install rainwater tanks! My bemused neigbour has signed up and reinstalled a rainwater tank roughly where his old tank used to be.

Betting that official wisdom is in fact official folly is probably the best bet in all circumstances. It is only official meddling in people's daily lives that caused the Brisbane rainwater tank fiasco. But the meddlers will always think that they know best. Don't believe them. It is almost certain that they will do more harm than good.

My FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC blog reports almost daily examples of know-alls who are getting it wrong. The whole concept of a "healthy" diet is fundamentally flawed, for instance. Who these days has not absorbed the message that a low-fat diet is healthier? The supermarkets are full of low-fat foods and the great sin of McDonalds is that their food is "high in fat". Yet a huge recent U.S. study of 50,000 people costing $400 million and lasting 8 years found absolutely no effect on health of a low-fat diet. Don't believe me? You can find the links to the actual journal articles reporting the findings in the right-hand column of my FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC blog.

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