Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Faddish educational experimentation condemned

It is time to stop introducing change in the nation's classrooms without discovering whether students' learning improved as a result. In an interview with The Australian just before stepping down as president of the NSW Board of Studies, Gordon Stanley also questioned whether school curriculums contained too many subjects, making it difficult to sustain quality across the board.

He said school systems had placed a premium on innovation for its own sake, without evaluating what worked. "The people most opposed to the collection of evidence hold a strong philosophical position, and they're not interested in any challenges to that position," he said. "But one needs to support those belief positions. It's unfortunate if you just want to have debates about philosophical positions without coming down to an analysis of what the implications of these are for learning. "When you're focused on evidence-based practice, you keep focus on the question of what really works instead of having a debate about the philosophy you hold."

Professor Stanley is stepping down after 10 years to become the Pearson professor of educational assessment at Oxford University, and the founding director of the Oxford University Centre for Educational Assessment. During his tenure, the NSW Higher School Certificate has been held up as the gold standard for the nation and is recognised internationally.

While Professor Stanley nominates the integration of vocational courses in the HSC as one of his biggest successes, he questioned the range of subject choices facing students. "I suspect we have too much choice, and too much choice can be confusing for students," he said. "It's worth asking the question whether we've gone too far in differentiating the curriculum. "The more offerings you have, the harder it is to provide well-trained teachers in all these areas. At an individual school level, it's hard to provide all those options for students. And the more differentiated the curriculum, the more expensive it is to deliver."

NSW has also been more successful than other states and territories in withstanding the fads that pass through education, such as integrating history and geography into Studies of Society and the Environment, as occurred elsewhere in the nation. Professor Stanley said NSW "connects with (educational fads) but we don't yield to them without trying to get an understanding of whether in balance they're the appropriate direction to go".


Some climate skepticism that has generally gone unnoticed

The media have noted only the drastic cuts in emissions that the Garnaut report said would be needed. But that pesky Andrew Bolt has looked at the report in detail:

KEVIN Rudd's global warming adviser has had a rude surprise. Professor Ross Garnaut has invigorated a debate on catastrophic man-made global warming that Al Gore, and most journalists and politicians, keep claiming was over years ago. In fact, he's even wondering if some scientists have played funny buggers.

Garnaut, hired to tell Labor how to cut greenhouse gases, yesterday released his interim report, saying most scientists felt we were running out of time: "The world is moving towards high risks of dangerous climate change more rapidly than has generally been understood." This was honey to alarmists, but Garnaut also admits his review of the global warming science "takes the work of the IPCC as its starting point".

That's a problem. This Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change is the United Nations body that persuaded governments we're doomed unless we get less gassy. But Garnaut concedes the IPCC has in fact been accused - not least by an all-party British House of Lords inquiry into climate change - of using dodgy science, excluding dissenters and sexying up findings. Or in Garnaut's more polite words, of lacking "objectivity" and giving in to "political considerations".

As Garnaut says, its critics include top scientists such as hurricane expert Chris Landsea, who quit the IPCC to protest (in Garnaut's words) the "mispresentation of climate science" by colleagues.What's more, despite claims the "science is settled", Garnaut found the science of man-made warming was of a "qualified and contested nature", and he was in "no position to adjudicate on the relative merits of various expert scientific opinions". He just had to go "on the balance of probabilities" - with this controversial IPCC and the majority of scientists whose views it represented.

But he urged that the global debate be made "open to alternative perspectives beyond the IPCC", and said he'd recommend a "strengthening (of) the pluralist character of the Australian research efforts".

Meanwhile, Britain's Hadley Centre reports a global drop in temperature in the past 12 months, backing up predictions that 1998 will still remain the hottest year on record. No one knows if global warming has stopped. But with even Garnaut wanting a more balanced debate, it's best to be wary of the people shouting once more that it's time to panic.


Time to put an end to inflationary, profligate spending

THE Business Council of Australia's budget submission is a devastating critique of the short-sighted policies and wasted opportunities of the Howard years. It paints a picture of a bloated, spendthrift government squandering a windfall in revenue of $87 billion that dropped into its lap from the China boom from mid-2002 until 2007. It reveals a government that took the easy option of handing out largesse through welfare transfers, even as the need for welfare dwindled and unemployment all but disappeared across most of the country. Despite the small-government rhetoric of his party, Mr Howard baulked at cutting government expenditure, presiding over an ever larger bureaucracy. Public service numbers increased by 40,000 in the past five years, with a 16 per cent increase in past two.

The BCA report, which echoes The Australian's major criticism of the Howard administration, will ring true with former treasurer Peter Costello who tried, with little success, to rein in his boss's profligate spending. From this point of view the report will gladden the hearts of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Treasurer Wayne Swan and Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner, who have incessantly reminded us of the failings of the previous government. Nonetheless, the challenges for the Rudd government outlined in the report are huge. Mr Rudd, Mr Swan and Mr Tanner have so far talked the talk on fiscal conservatism, spending cuts and federal-state reforms but now they have to walk the walk.

The Australian strongly supports the government's $31 billion tax cuts because as we said in our February 15 editorial they will provide the incentives for an additional 65,000 workers to join the labour force, precisely what is needed with workers in such short supply. We also argued, and the BCA sets out the case eloquently, that to ensure the tax cuts are not inflationary, the Government must reduce expenditure by $31 billion over the same period. To do this requires taking an axe to welfare, and as the BCA report demonstrates, welfare transfers have boomed even as unemployment has plummeted. Taking away handouts, even from people who patently don't need them, is never easy. But Mr Swan would be well advised to make the deepest cuts in his first budget both because it is now that he needs to reduce inflationary pressures and because he is at the greatest distance from the next election.

The greatest challenge facing the government at the moment is how to grow the economy without accelerating inflation. With unemployment at 30-year lows the question is where to find workers. One very good place to start is the Government. Reducing the size of the public sector, where wealth is distributed, frees up people and resources to work in the private sector, where wealth is created. Smaller governments are also more efficient. As the BCA report shows, despite the massive increase in government expenditure per person in real terms since the early 1990s, the gap between the rich and the poor hardly changed. Despite the protests from class warriors on the Left throughout the Howard era, incomes in 2005-06 were distributed almost exactly as they were in 1994-95 with the share of income earned by the bottom 20 per cent unchanged. Since then the incomes of the bottom 20 per cent have improved but not, significantly, because of welfare transfers but because more people in the bottom 20 per cent have entered the workforce.

Up to now, Mr Rudd has enjoyed massive approval for undertaking major symbolic acts - signing the Kyoto protocol, saying sorry to the Stolen Generations - but the time for easy, pain-free politics, is over. In Aboriginal affairs it is time to make practical reconciliation work, in climate change it is time to face up to the fact that cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are going to push up the price of power, water, petrol and food. In economics it is time to recognise that in order to manage inflationary pressures it is essential to put an end to undisciplined government spending and to make government smaller and more efficient.

Although the task is daunting it is not without precedent. During the Hawke-Keating era, Labor undertook unpopular and painful economic reform and won four elections. Mr Rudd can make equally tough reforms if he stares down the Left of his party and brings the public with him.



Three current articles below

Ambulances wait three hours to hand over patients

No reserve capacity at hospital for surges in demand

This scene outside Cairns Base Hospital's emergency department yesterday is another stark reminder why the region needs a new hospital, now. Ten ambulances were queued outside the choked department by early afternoon, forcing frustrated paramedics to wait for up to three hours before unloading patients.

Officers said they had been putting up with the "bad old days" of no emergency beds for at least a week but yesterday's jam-up had gone from bad to worse as the day went on. "It's beyond a joke," one told The Cairns Post. "Something's got to change." Queensland Ambulance Service area director Warren Martin, who oversees a fleet of 12 vehicles across Cairns, Smithfield and Edmonton, said up to 10 ambulances were effectively out of action for hours. The situation peaked about 2pm when several patients arrived around the same time, causing 10 or 11 ambulances to back up, Mr Martin said.

But he stressed that while the ambulance gridlock outside the emergency department, also known as "ramping", was still happening, new systems to fast-track patients were helping. "It means that when we do ramp, it's not lasting as long," Mr Martin said. "Today was just one of those days." All the patients forced to wait in ambulances yesterday were being closely monitored by emergency doctors, and were in the mid-urgency rather than high-urgency categories, he said. "It's a bit of a cross-section, everything from gastro upset tummies to someone with abdominal pain . I think the hot weather back with a vengeance today has been knocking older people around a bit," Mr Martin said.

Mr Martin said he was "really looking forward" to next year's expected completion of a major expansion to the emergency department, which would double its size and add 12 more beds. A Queensland Health spokesman attributed the delays to a rush of patients at once, with 30 arriving during the most intense period of 12.30pm to 3pm, or about 12 an hour. On a normal day, the department averages five patients per hour. The spokesman said his information was that the maximum number of ambulances waiting at one time had been eight.


Butcher doctor. Your regulators will protect you (NOT)

THEY call him the Butcher of Bega - a NSW doctor who has committed such monstrous acts that hundreds of terrified victims have remained silent for more than five years. Dr Graeme Stephen Reeves is alleged to have routinely mutilated or sexually abused as many as 500 female patients while he was working as a gynaecologist and obstetrician at various hospitals across Sydney and the NSW south coast.

Despite the NSW Medical Board ruling he had psychiatric problems which "detrimentally affect his mental capacity to practice medicine" more than a decade ago, he managed to continue treating women without detection in a devastating trail of botched operations and negligence.

Hundreds of former patients have come forward with harrowing and graphic evidence about Dr Reeves, who was struck off in 2004 for breaching practice restrictions. As many as 500 emails from women were received by the private watchdog, Medical Error Action Group, last week telling of their humiliation and pain after parts of their genitals were removed or sewn up without their consent.

The outpouring came after a former patient of Dr Reeves, Carolyn Dewaegeneire, broke her five-year silence with two other women to give a public account of her ordeal on Channel 9's Sunday program last weekend.

Despite the shocking revelations on the program, Dr Reeves is still not being investigated by the police, the NSW Medical Board or the Health Care Complaints Commission, over the latest allegations. He is also free to re-apply to return to medical work at any time after serving a three-year ban. Dr Reeves has refused to comment on the allegations. The hospitals where Dr Reeves has practised include Hornsby Ku-ring-gai, Sydney Adventist at Wahroonga, The Hills Private at Baulkham Hills, Royal Hospital for Women and the Bega and Pambula hospitals.

Source. More here and here

Rudd guarantees private health rebates

With over 40% of Australians having private health insurance, any other policy would lose him heaps of votes next time

KEVIN Rudd has guaranteed private health insurance rebates will remain in place despite a"root and branch" review of health spending announced today.

Mr Rudd has also appointed one of the architects of Labor's 2004 Medicare Gold policy to provide free medical care for people aged over 75 to the new commission to overhaul health and hospital spending. In an opinion piece written for newmatilda.com in 2004 titled Why Labor should stick with Medicare Gold, Professor Stephen Duckett, a respected health economist, argued the principles of the policy still stand. He has also argued the take up of private health insurance has led to longer waiting lists at public hospitals.

The Prime Minister announced today that cabinet had signed off on a new commission to examine hospital and health spending. "There's no point just tinkering with the system. We've got to look at this root and branch,'' Mr Rudd said today. But asked today whether the new National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission would consider changes to the 30 per cent private health insurance rebate, which was opposed by Labor in the past, Mr Rudd said the rebate was safe. "The private health insurance rebate remains unchanged and will remain unchanged,'' Mr Rudd said today.

The new Health and Hospitals Reform Commission will be headed by Dr Christine Bennett, a former chief medical officer for private insurer MBF. Dr Bennett is CEO of Research Australia who has also worked as a specialist paediatrician focussing on population health and research in child and women's health. She has also worked as the chief executive at Westmead - Australia's largest teaching hospital.

Health Minister Nicola Roxon said today the appointees where "top quality people". "This is a new chance to design some of the features required to have a sustainable system into the future,'' she said. Mr Rudd said there would be three reporting deadlines. The first deadline would be mid-year to provide some interim advice for the COAG working groups on hospital reform, with an interim report at the end of the year and a final report in 2009. "Critically, the need for a greater focus on prevention,'' Mr Rudd said. "Unless we deal with these, the impact on our community in terms of well-being.and workforce participation will be huge.''

Professor Duckett, an economist, curently heads the Queensland Health Reform Team. He was Secretary of the Australian Health Department from 1994 - 1996 and has held leadership positions in the Victorian Health Department, at La Trobe University and as Chair of the Boards governing The Alfred and the Brotherhood of St Laurence. But the Medicare Gold policy was lampooned during that election campaign by former Treasurer Peter Costello as "underfunded, undercosted, unsustainable and unbelievable" was later dumped by then opposition health spokeswoman Julia Gillard after the 2004 election.


No comments: