Thursday, January 28, 2010

The social class effect on education now clear in Australia too

Leftism leads to some odd outcomes. To avoid making poor schools look bad, the Australian government classifies schools on a social class basis. Schools in wealthy areas are compared with other schools in wealthy areas and poor schools are compared with poor schools. And hey presto! It doesn't matter much whether the school is a government one or a private one. Schools drawing on wealthy areas all do well, with only random differences between them. Once again we find that social class is by far the biggest influence on educational outcomes. Why? Rich kids tend to be smarter and kids from wealthy areas also tend to be better behaved. There are not many disruptive ferals or "minorities" in wealthy areas. Note that Australia's Leftist Prime minister sends his kid to a private school. Leftist politicians do the same the word over, despite it being against their ideology. "Equality" is only for "the masses". Some pigs are more equal than others, as Orwell said

PUBLIC schools in wealthy areas are outperforming some of the nation's most expensive and prestigious private schools in reading and writing, according to the Rudd government's controversial new My School website. But Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's old school, Nambour High in Queensland is struggling, with Year 9 results below the average of all schools national literacy test results across Australia in writing, spelling, grammar and numeracy.

For the first time, the national literacy and numeracy tests of nearly 10,000 public and private schools are available for parents to compare online and the results are in many cases surprising. The website, which has been criticised by some teachers and principals, went live at 1am this morning and has experienced some technical problems. Education Minister Julia Gillard said today the technical difficulties reflected the fact that parents were “voting with their fingertips” to log on and check their school at 3am, 4am and 5am. “What that means is around the country parents were hungry for this information,” she said. “The site is experiencing huge demand. Obviously people are very enthusiastic to jump on the My School website and to have a look at their local school. So if people try again, obviously we're trying to space demand during the day.”

The deputy prime minister said while she had the greatest respect for teachers she was determined not to buckle in the face of teachers' unions threats to disrupt NAPLAN tests this year in a protest against the site. “The AEU has called this one wrong,” she said.

The website uses complex methodology to compare statistically similar schools to reveal some private schools are "coasting" by performing above the average of all schools but in some cases below the performance of similar schools. For example Geelong Grammar's Toorak campus in Victoria, which charges nearly $30,000-a-year in Year 12 fees and was once attended by Prince Charles, performed substantially below the average of similar Year 3 schools in spelling. It was also below the average of similar schools in reading, grammar and numeracy.

A comparison with other similar schools claims Year 3 students results at Geelong Grammar were "substantially below" the performance of similar public schools at Camberwell Primary in Melbourne, Castle Cove Primary in NSW, Epping North Public School in Sydney and Stirling East Public School in Adelaide. By comparison, students at the James Ruse Agricultural High School in Sydney, a selective public school for the "gifted" performed substantially above the average of similar schools and all schools in Australia across all measures.

In WA, girls at the Presbyterian Ladies College at Peppermint Grove, where fees can top $18,000-a-year, were below the average of similar schools in Year 5 reading, spelling and grammar and substantially below average in Year 5 and Year 7 numeracy. However, the school remained above the average of all schools across Australia.

At the Cranbrook School in NSW, where media heir James Packer once attended, students were below the average of similar schools in Year 9 results for reading, writing, spelling and grammar. However they were substantially above the average across all schools in Australia.

In Adelaide, students attending the prestigious Prince Alfred College, which educated cricketing greats the Chappell brothers, Year 3 and Year 5 results were below the average of similar schools in reading. Year 5 test results were also below the average of similar schools in writing, spelling, grammar and punctuation.

At St Peters College boys school in Adelaide, which boasts of "three Nobel laureates, forty one Rhodes scholars and eight state premiers", results were below the average of similar schools in writing, spelling and grammar for Year 3 NAPLAN results. By Year 5 results had improved with students outperforming all schools but still close to the average of similar well-heeled schools.

In the ACT, Radford College, a private school Mr Rudd's son Marcus attends, students outperformed similar schools in reading, writing, grammar and numeracy. Tony Abbott's old school St Ignatius Riverview at Lane Cove in NSW, students performed substantially above the average of all schools but below the average of similar schools in Year 9 results for writing and grammar.


When will they ever learn?

Australian defence bureaucrats always want to buy cutting edge technology -- which often does not work. When will they learn to buy the best of what is available "off the shelf" -- i.e. already-proven equpiment. They could, for instance, have bought Swedish "Gotland"-class boats, which are so good that the U.S. navy has recently hired one.

Instead of cutting edge equipment, what we often end up with is useless equipment, as seen below. It's the politicians' job to impose a bit of realism on the starry-eyed enthusiasts but the politicians are mostly just as bad

THE navy's trouble-prone $6 billion submarine fleet has been reduced to one operational boat, raising serious questions about the long-term serviceability of the six Collins-Class vessels designed to serve as Australia's frontline strike weapon. Chief of the navy Russ Crane yesterday confirmed a generator failure last week on board HMAS Farncomb meant the submarine would have to be returned to dry dock for urgent repairs.

Opposition defence spokesman David Johnston said by his count, the Royal Australian Navy's operational submarines were now down to one - HMAS Rankin - and the government had a major maintenance crisis to solve.

Citing security grounds, the navy declined to answer questions from The Australian about the number of submarines it can put to sea. However, senior defence sources confirmed Senator Johnston's claim that only one boat was available for training and operational duties.

Farncomb's generator failure marks the latest in a run of serious mechanical problems plaguing the Collins-Class fleet. In a brief statement, Vice-Admiral Crane expressed frustration at news of the latest mechanical breakdown. "I am very disappointed by this development," he said. "Navy will continue to work with the Defence Materiel Organisation, industry and ASC (Australian Submarine Corporation) to determine the extent of the issue and rectify this problem. "We are working hard to ensure this fault is rectified as soon as possible. "The Australian public, the Defence organisation and our navy family expect nothing less."

Battered by morale problems linked to crew shortages and engine malfunctions, the generator breakdown is just the latest blow against the elite silent service. As reported in The Australian on October 12, the submarine fleet is already operating under severe restrictions because of crippling mechanical and maintenance problems linked to chronic engine problems. Under ideal conditions, the RAN likes to have two subs ready for deployment, two in training or basic maintenance and two in deep maintenance.

But some senior engineering experts have warned that the Swedish-supplied Hedemora diesel engines may have to be replaced - a major design and engineering job that could take years to fix and cost hundreds of millions of dollars. So serious are the problems that DMO has placed the Collins boats at the top of their "projects of concern".

West Australian Senator Johnston said a major hole existed in Australia's front line of defence. "I think we're down to one and that's (HMAS) Rankin tied up at (HMAS) Stirling (navy base)." The woeful service record of the Collins-class subs raises questions about the RAN's ability to operate a planned expansion of the fleet to 12 new boats recommended in last May's Defence white paper.


New Liberal Party website in the works

THE Liberal senator sacked from Malcolm Turnbull's front bench for online comments about a colleague risks courting controversy again with the web. South Australian Cory Bernardi, now parliamentary secretary assisting Tony Abbott, admitted to The Australian yesterday he had provided web hosting and a domain name for a new political website,

Five days before it opens for business, Menzies House is already billing itself as "the No 1 Australian site for conservative, centre-right and libertarian thinkers and activists". It provides no details of who is behind the site, but its motto reads: "There's room for everyone." The claim has provoked derision from some of the Right warrior's parliamentary colleagues. "There won't be room for everyone if Cory's pulling the strings," one joked to The Australian.

Senator Bernardi insisted he would be "absolutely removed" from editorial decisions. "I thought this was an excellent idea because there is not a single area on the internet . . . where those who are Liberal supporters can gather, debate, discuss," he said yesterday. "I've been dealing with the editors but it's all their baby now."

But one of those editors is a member of Senator Bernardi's own staff, Chris Browne. Another is Tim Andrews, the former president of the Australian Liberal Students Association, a grouping that traditionally backs the party's Right. Senator Bernardi told The Australian he had emailed his parliamentary colleagues last week to promote the site and ask for contributions.

Senator Bernardi was sacked from the front bench last year for refusing to retract claims made online that one of his colleagues, believed to be his fellow South Australian and factional rival Christopher Pyne, had told him during a golf game: "I live in a Liberal seat so I had to be a member of the Liberal Party to get into parliament. If I lived in a Labor seat I would have joined the Labor Party."

Independent but party-aligned websites are becoming increasingly powerful around the world as leaders' offices tighten their grips on parliamentarians and party machines. British political commentators have claimed the five-year-old Conservative Home website has supplanted the London Daily Telegraph newspaper as the in-house journal of the Conservative Party.



I have given up recording here the disaster that QANTAS/Jetstar constitutes but anyone thinking of flying on either airline will find all the latest horrors chronicled on my QANTAS site


Three articles below

Official Australian climate alarmist retreats a little

Most of the remarks by Britain's John Beddington below are as alluded to yesterday in a post sourced from Andrew Bolt. But at that time Penelope Sackit had only alarmist things to say. In the report below we see that she has moved closer to Beddington's more responsible position. Beddington is a biologist and Sackit is an astronomer. Neither sounds like a plausible expert on climate science but Penny is probably the one who is most aware of that deficiency -- so she sticks to dogma for fear of making a mistake. I am beginning to think that my qualifications in social science make me as good an "expert" on climate matters as many of the so-called experts

THE impact of global warming has been exaggerated by some scientists and there is an urgent need for more honest disclosure of the uncertainty of predictions about the rate of climate change, according to the British government's chief scientific adviser. John Beddington said climate scientists should be less hostile to sceptics who questioned man-made global warming. He condemned scientists who refused to publish the data underpinning their reports.

Australia's chief scientist, Penny Sackett, told The Australian last night she shared Professor Beddington's concerns. Professor Sackett said climate change was a scientific reality but there was a need for absolute openness and rigour in the presentation of evidence, including recognition of which aspects of climate change science were imprecise and required further research.

Professor Beddington said public confidence in climate science would be improved if there were more openness about its uncertainties, even if that meant admitting that sceptics had been right on some hotly disputed issues. He said: "I don't think it's healthy to dismiss proper scepticism. Science grows and improves in the light of criticism. There is a fundamental uncertainty about climate change prediction that can't be changed."

He said the false claim in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2007 report that the glaciers would disappear by 2035 had exposed a wider problem with the way some evidence was presented. "Certain unqualified statements have been unfortunate. We have a problem in communicating uncertainty. There's definitely an issue there. If there wasn't, there wouldn't be the level of scepticism. "All of these predictions have to be caveated by saying, `There's a level of uncertainty about that'."

Professor Beddington said particular caution was needed when communicating predictions about climate change made with the help of computer models. "It's unchallengeable that CO2 traps heat and warms the Earth and that burning fossil fuels shoves billions of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. But where you can get challenges is on the speed of change. "When you get into large-scale climate modelling, there are quite substantial uncertainties. On the rate of change and the local effects, there are uncertainties both in terms of empirical evidence and the climate models themselves."

He said it was wrong for scientists to refuse to disclose their data to their critics: "I think, wherever possible, we should try to ensure there is openness and that source material is available for the whole scientific community." He added: "There is a danger that people can manipulate the data, but the benefits from being open far outweigh that danger."

Professor Sackett said there was no real dispute within the scientific community about the reality of climate change but she wanted non-scientists to have greater access to the evidence to help inform the necessary public debate about crafting policy responses to the problem. "The public must be provided with the best possible advice," Professor Sackett said. "It must have available to it some understanding or the ability to develop an understanding about which issues the science is quite clear on and where there is less precision in our understanding." For example, Professor Sackett said, while the reality of climate change was clearly understood, there was less certainty about its effects on rainfall patterns in Australia. More research was required before conclusions could be drawn with any scientific confidence.

She said the work of Australian climate change scientists had been "quite good" and that people should not assume that because some British research had been questioned there was a doubt over the existence of the phenomenon.

Opposition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt said the scientists were correct, and he accused Kevin Rudd of taking a "McCarthyist" approach to anyone who disagreed with his views on climate change. "While I happen to believe the balance of science is that there is climate change, unlike the Prime Minister I believe it is a breach of democratic responsibility to demonise scientists and the three million Australians who disagree with me," Mr Hunt said.

Phil Jones, the director of the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit and a contributor to the IPCC's reports, has been forced to stand down while an investigation takes place into leaked emails allegedly showing that he attempted to conceal data. In response to one request for data, Professor Jones wrote: "We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?"

Professor Beddington said that uncertainty about some aspects of climate science should not be used as an excuse for inaction. "Some people ask why we should act when scientists say they are only 90 per cent certain about the problem," he said."But would you get on a plane that had a 10 per cent chance of crashing?"

Mike Hulme, professor of climate change at the University of East Anglia, said: "Climate scientists get kudos from working on an issue in the public eye, but with that kudos comes responsibility. Being open with data is part of that responsibility." He criticised Rajendra Pachauri, the IPCC chairman, for his dismissive response last November to research suggesting that the UN body had overstated the threat to the glaciers. Mr Pachauri described it as "voodoo science". Professor Hulme said: "Pachauri's choice of words has not been good. The question of whether he is the right person to lead the IPCC is for the 193 countries who make up its governing body. It's a political decision."


Climategate gives lord of the sceptics plenty of ammunition

The visit to Australia this week of Lord Christopher Monckton - the world's most effective global warming sceptic - couldn't have been better timed. Hot on the heels of the "Climategate" email leak, which called into question the "tricks" used to sex up the case for the war against global warming, have come back-to-back revelations tarnishing the reputation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

First domino down last week was the claim in the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report in 2007 - the one that won it a Nobel Prize - that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035. As one of the most dire climate change outcomes, this claim received enormous publicity and was often cited by politicians. But, it turns out, the evidence was based not on credible peer-review science, but on an unsubstantiated report by the environmental group World Wildlife Fund for Nature. It stemmed from a 1999 beat-up in the popular journal New Scientist that featured an interview with an obscure Indian scientist, Syed Hasnain, who has since admitted his glacier prediction was "speculation". Hasnain now works for the Energy and Resources Institute in Delhi, whose director-general, Rajendra Pachauri, is also head of the IPCC.

Even murkier is the fact the glacier furphy reportedly netted lots of grant money for the institute. "My job is not to point out mistakes," Hasnain told The Times of London. "And you know the might of the IPCC. What about all the other glaciologists around the world who did not speak out?" Yes, what about them indeed. Are scientists just cowardly? The mendacity of the IPCC came to light when the Indian Government fact-checked its glacier claim. Belated scrutiny of the 2007 report has uncovered other bogus claims, and at least 16 WWF references.

The next domino to fall was the IPCC's assertion that global warming was to blame for weather disasters such as hurricane and drought. The Sunday Times in London reported this was based on an unpublished scientific paper that had not been peer reviewed, and that, when it was published in 2008, had found no link.

The latest revelation is that an IPCC claim about the Amazon rainforest was also drawn from a WWF report. The IPCC says it is simply a "human mistake" to parrot WWF press releases, as if they are credible science and not green propaganda, and no one bats an eyelid.

Well, except Monckton, who has been batting his considerable eyelids (large because of a thyroid ailment) for years over bogus claims. He even succeeded in having a table in the 2007 report corrected after he pointed out that it overstated sea-level rises tenfold.

Having been singled out for vilification last year by Kevin Rudd in an extraordinary speech, Monckton finds the times suit him well. Rudd's vehemence attracted the attention of semi-retired engineer John Smeed, who splits his time between Lane Cove and Noosa. He and another engineer, Case Smit invited Monckton to Australia, footing the $100,000 bill for his eight-city tour from their own pockets, offset by donations.

I was invited to a small lunch for Monckton this week, hosted by Smeed and a Newcastle engineer, Jeff McCloy. In person, Monckton is taller and more serious than he appears on screen. Being a mathematician he has a logical mind, as well as irrepressible self-confidence, which makes him a formidable opponent for climate alarmists.

Andy Pitman, a co-director of the University of NSW's Climate Change Research Centre, complained on ABC radio this week that climate sceptics are so "well funded, so well organised [and] have nothing else to do . . . They are doing a superb job at misinforming and miscommunicating the general public, State and Federal Government." Huh? How can climate alarmists pitch themselves as the underdog when they have had on their side the full force of government (and opposition until lately), media (apart from a few individual holdouts) and big business?

Public opinion has changed as the credibility of the IPCC ebbs, the crippling cost of climate change measures becomes apparent and the array of rentseekers and phonies grows. Monckton is a man whose time has come because he owes nothing to anybody and he has the capacity to interpret the science to a public looking for answers.

As an adviser to Margaret Thatcher, he learnt that when you make policy about an issue that is outside your expertise, you must distill it down to one proposition. In this case, how much will a given increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere cause warming? The answer determines whether or not you spend trillions of taxpayer dollars "and wreck the economies of the West". Monckton pored over scientific papers on climate sensitivity and concluded the IPCC exaggerated climate sensitivity to carbon dioxide at least sixfold, so we have time cautiously to decide whether or not to attempt to change global temperature.

In any case, he says, what if every nation agreed to cut emissions by 30 per cent in the next 10 years? The "warming forestalled would be 0.02 celsius degrees, at a cost of trillions. There's no point doing it."

The last refuge of alarmists is the precautionary principle, in which we "give the planet the benefit of the doubt". But Monckton says bad policy guided by the precautionary principle has already led to the death of millions of people as the transfer of farmland to grow biofuels meant less food, higher prices, food riots and starvation. He cites the United Nations special rapporteur Jean Ziegler, who said growing biofuels instead of food when the poor were starving was a "crime against humanity".

Monckton says public opinion is "galloping" in his direction, which bodes ill for Rudd as he prepares to push through his emissions trading scheme next month.


Perils of population growth

Australia has a problem of immigration quality -- large numbers of unskilled, welfare dependant and crime-prone "refugees" are being let in -- but it has no problem with population quantity. Australia is roughly the size of the continental USA yet has only 14% of America's population. The map below should be instructive too. But accomodating more people would mean clearing more trees; building on more grasslands; building more dams and building more roads -- all of which are of course a horror to any Greenie

DO you get the feeling your back yard is getting smaller? Or that the patch of turf you laid last year has disappeared to be replaced by a slab of concrete? It’s one of Australia’s most pressing issues, yet political leaders refuse to do anything to stop it. I am referring to Australia’s surging population growth. Recent projections that Australia will have to accommodate 35 million people by 2050 - up from 22 million at present - is a worrying prospect.

In the post-World War II years, the rallying call in this country was to populate or perish - a response to the fear of military invasion from a powerful northern neighbour. This gave us the Baby Boomer generation, which is now nearing retirement and creating imminent pressures of an aging population.

The greying of the nation has prompted Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to espouse a new call for a “big Australia”, propelled by a higher birth rate and increased immigration. It’s a short-term solution to a long-term problem. What will happen in another 50 years? Will another prime minister call for an even bigger population boom to replace the generation reaching retirement then?

The population debate has been hijacked until now by economic greed and rationalism. The argument has been that the higher the population growth, the greater consumption will be and therefore economic prosperity and profit - at least for the wealthy few in society. Little or no attention has been paid to the limited availability of natural resources, the dire effect on the environment and loss of quality of life as more people compete for living space in our cities.

It is good to see that questions are finally being raised about Australia’s sustainable population. This week enterpreneur-adventurer Dick Smith became the latest in a string of forward thinkers who criticised Government plans to encourage population growth, saying Australia did not have enough water or food to support millions more people. He also urged slashing immigration and discouraging women from having more than two babies, thereby allowing population growth to be contained.

Just because people in many other countries have to live in cramped high-rises in concrete urban jungles does not make it a lifestyle model Australians should aspire to.

In 1798, the Rev Robert Thomas Malthus published his Principles of Population in which he stated: “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man”. He predicted that endless population growth would block progress towards a utopian society. As an Anglican minister, Malthus, believed that God had created an inexorable tendency to human population growth for a moral purpose, with the threat of poverty and starvation designed to teach the virtues of hard work and virtuous behaviour.

We carry a responsiblity to make the world a better place for the generations that will follow. Australia is well placed to embark on a journey to a more sustainable future. The future of the country may depend on it.


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