Monday, May 02, 2011

Schools that cheat

NEXT month the latest round of National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy tests will occur. Some students will not be attending. This is because schools have recommended the parents keep their children at home. The reason is these children are deemed a potential hindrance to overall school test scores.

It is not that these children are necessarily those allowed to be excused under the protocols for NAPLAN. Children who have a significant disability that renders them incapable of being tested under NAPLAN specifications, or children from a non-English speaking background who arrived in Australia less than one year before the tests, do not have to sit them.

Even while these conditions are clear, some students will be absent for no reason other than the tests are likely to cause "stress". This at least was one of the scenarios exposed in The Australian on April 11 concerning Queensland's Miami State High School.

The school has encouraged about a dozen parents to keep their children at home. Such school-sanctioned wagging is to enable supposedly low-performing students not to influence the NAPLAN results as quantified on the My School website.

Queensland has an unenviable track record where fudging NAPLAN results is concerned. Last year, there were 23 allegations of cheating on NAPLAN levelled against state schools and five against non-state schools. While the details were not released at the request of state Education Minister Geoff Wilson, "unethical" behaviour of some Queensland schools is a euphemism for non-attendance.

Cold comfort though it may be, Queensland does not lead the nation on schools asking children to stay home at NAPLAN time. Victoria has the lowest NAPLAN participation rates in the country.

In the Year 3 writing test 94 per cent of students in Victoria sat the tests in 2008 compared with 91 per cent last year. This represents a drop of 2000 students. For Year 9 numeracy, 1934 fewer sat the test last year than in 2008.

It's a reality that prompted state Liberal Education Minister Martin Dixon to say of the Education Department's assiduousness under Labor: "If it had been rigorous, we wouldn't have seen falling participation rates."

Having children who do not fit the exclusion conditions stay away and not sit the tests is simply cheating and an unsubtle attempt to skew the tests results published on My School. This was never the idea of the tests.

NAPLAN is part of Prime Minister Julia Gillard's commitment to the "transformative" nature of education. There is a good reason for NAPLAN to be a test for all. Without a full cohort of participants, the national data is rubbery.

Australia's performance on international education skill assessments is declining. The OECD's 2009 Program for International Student Assessment for 15 year olds showed Australia had declined 13 points in reading since 2000 and had slipped 10 points since 2006 in mathematics.

But according to Australian Education Union's national president, Angelo Gavrielatos, teacher unions are to be congratulated on their obdurate anti-NAPLAN stance. Gavrielatos paid tribute to unions stymieing the tests in the AEU's national conference in January, lauding those foot soldiers who "put their careers on the line and faced threats of disciplinary action or dismissal over the union's campaign against NAPLAN testing, the misuse of data and school league tables".

I am supervising NAPLAN tests next month. The reality is that NAPLAN has begun to take on its own momentum. It has morphed into something it was never intended to be. The tests were to be a moment in time, a core sample of basic skills, not a prepared examination.

Underperforming schools were to get an increase in support to assist in bringing the results up to speed. The intention was about identifying weakness and high performance and increasing achievement overall.

But the preparation for NAPLAN tests has increased significantly. As this newspaper pointed out on April 13, Gillard, when she was education minister, foresaw the dangers. She asked the Education Department to "consider limits on practice time".

This, it can be argued, is another kind of cheating. If you prepare children for NAPLAN, teach to the test in other words, you are cooking results.

I have seen practice papers. The curious thing about them is the suggested answers to the questions provide detailed annotations for the teacher, including basic grammar and spelling explanations. That says a lot about the quality of the teachers. It seems they are assumed to know nothing and understand less.

In principle NAPLAN is an imperative educational reform. In practice it's been hijacked by nervous schools wanting a better result on My School and unions not wanting to have bad teaching exposed. Strange bedfellows indeed.


Absurd chase regulations lead to mutiny in the W.A. police

If some crook kills himself by speeding, how is that the fault of the police? Good riddance to bad rubbish

Western Australia's police have been issued with a union directive banning high speed pursuits - a move condemned by Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan as a recipe for "anarchy" on the roads.

The union took action yesterday morning in frustration at disciplinary action taken against officers, who have been accused of driving too fast in pursuits.

It comes as two men were killed after the stolen car they were driving slammed into a tree in the WA Wheatbelt, as police gave chase. The men, believed to be in their early 20s, died when the stolen black Holden Commodore crashed on the Great Eastern Hwy about 2km east of Carrabin, a roadhouse stop between Merredin and Southern Cross.

Officers from the Internal Affairs Unit and Major Crash Squad yesterday afternoon travelled to the Wheatbelt to investigate the circumstances leading up to the deaths.

The union is particularly irate about the use of automatic vehicle locators (AVLs) in police cars to build a case against the officers. The union argues the locators are inaccurate at recording speed.

In an email memo sent to the state's 5800 officers, the union advised that its board of directors had voted unanimously to an "absolute, total and immediate ban on all police pursuits".

Just hours later, two men were killed near Merredin when a stolen car slammed into a tree as they were being chased by police about 12.20pm.

Mr O'Callaghan called the union action irresponsible and urged officers to do their jobs. He has called an urgent meeting with the union for Monday to discuss the issue. "I don't think this action is satisfactory at all and I think potentially it could lead to some level of anarchy if it becomes a common approach to high-speed pursuits," he said.

Union president Russell Armstrong said the directive had been issued because "inaccurate information" from AVLs in police cars had led to disciplinary action against several police officers. AVLs are not certified speed detectors.

"These (offenders) are breaking into houses, stealing cars and goading police officers and when something goes wrong the police are the worst in the world. We have had enough. We want some protection," Mr Armstrong hit-out. "The AVL is not infallible and has shown to be grossly inaccurate on a number of occasions."

Mr Armstrong issued an additional threat if police hierachy did not resolve the concerns by May 11, the action would be extended to emergency and priority jobs, which include armed hold-ups, life-threatening incidents and volatile situations.

In WA, every police car is fitted with an AVL, a device operated by a global-positioning system, which provides information about the car's location and speed to the Police Operations Centre.

Two officers were recently disciplined over a chase of a stolen Ford Falcon V8, in which the car crashed killing the 15-year-old male driver in Noranda on April 15.

The Sunday Times understands the AVL registered the police car travelling at 164km/h during the April 15 chase, as officers on board verbally reported that their speed was 144km/h. There were also discrepancies between an independent witness who reported seeing the police car stop at a red light and the AVL's information that it did not stop. "These officers were (internally) charged despite the AVL not being a certified measuring device and contradictory evidence from both officers and independent witnesses," Mr Armstrong said.

Under the force's 140km/h speed cap policy, which came into effect in 2000, officers cannot engage in a pursuit that exceeds 140km/h without permission from the Police Operations Centre duty inspector. If the driver contravenes the policy without authorisation, the automatic locator triggers an alert to a supervisor.

Mr O'Callaghan said the AVL could not be used to criminally prosecute a police officer for a speeding offence, but had been used for internal disciplinary action.

"I'm a supporter of high-speed pursuits, you can't have anarchy on the roads and I think the public of Western Australia support it," he said. "But we do have to have boundaries because if you don't have boundaries in place terrible things can happen.

"If people out there on the roads know that police simply won't bother to pursue then we might have people that commit offences thinking they can get away with it. "I think what the union is doing is they're making a rod for their own backs. Ultimately I think many police officers will make the choice to do their job properly."

Last month, WA Coroner Alistair Hope recommended the blanket rule allowing police to drive up to 140km/h should be abandoned and speed restrictions be linked to the posted speed limit, arguing 140km/h may be suitable in 110km/h zones but not in built-up areas. He also recommended the continued monitoring of all pursuits through the AVL system and for video cameras to be fitted to police cars.

The findings came after an inquest into the deaths of four men during separate police pursuits.

Acting Police Minister John Day said he hoped there would be a swift resolution to the dispute to ensure the public's safety.


Heretical Australian Bishop gets a well-deserved boot

The usual arrogance that goes with "liberal" opinions. The man thinks his personal opinion should override centuries-old church teachings! It sounds like the Pope has been exceptionally patient in fact. The guy will find a happy home in the Church of England, however

THE Catholic Bishop of Toowoomba, William Morris, has been effectively sacked by Pope Benedict XVI over doctrinal disobedience for his support for ordaining women priests and other liberal reform.

Bishop Morris, 67, complained in a letter to his followers, read at weekend masses, that he was leaving unwillingly and claimed he had been denied natural justice.

He said he had taken early retirement because "it has been determined by Pope Benedict that the diocese would be better served by the leadership of a new bishop", The Australian reported.

In his letter, Bishop Morris said the Vatican's decision was sparked by complaints to Rome about an Advent letter he wrote in 2006. In that letter, he argued that with an ageing clergy the church should be open to all eventualities, including ordaining women, ordaining married men, welcoming back former priests and recognising the validity of Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting Church orders.

It is believed the Vatican had also recieved complaints about the material included in sex education programs in diocesan Catholic schools.

The style of Bishop Morris's departure is unprecedented in that he has made his disagreements with the Vatican so public. In previous years, bishops who fell from favour have usually resigned on the grounds of ill health, or no reason has been given for their departure.

Priests called a meeting at St Patrick's Cathedral to consider what action can be taken, including the possibility of a mass resignation of clergy. But one senior priest who has followed the bishop's controversial career said Bishop Morris had brought about his own demise because "you can't keep telling Rome to get stuffed".


Poll shows Queenslanders against planned carbon tax

And Queensland is the swing State that makes or breaks Federal governments

QUEENSLAND will be at the centre of the Government's battle to win support for its carbon tax, with a new poll finding the state has the strongest opposition to the plan.

A Galaxy poll commissioned by the Australian Coal Association found the highest opposition to the tax was in Queensland mining towns, where 73 per cent of voters were against it.

The findings come as the Federal Government talked down the likely level of the carbon tax in an attempt to argue the climate change measures would not cost jobs in high-polluting industries.

New Treasury modelling shows the carbon tax would have a minor impact on production costs of coal, steel and aluminium compared with the hit from the high Australian dollar and commodity price movements.

But Australian Coal Association chairman John Pegler warned the tax could be the end for Queensland coal mines.

"As the cost of this rolls along over time, it's going to cost jobs. It will certainly cost investment," Mr Pegler told The Courier-Mail.

Coal miners would support a different carbon pricing scheme if they had greater protection, Mr Pegler said.

The poll, which surveyed 1400 voters on April 12 and 14, found 63 per cent of Queenslanders opposed the tax compared with 55 per cent nationally.

Even more worrying for the Government, 77 per cent of voters across the country thought the carbon tax would leave them worse off. Only 6 per cent believed they would be better off.

A breakdown of the poll results in Queensland mining towns - in electorates including Capricornia, Dawson and Flynn - showed only 1 per cent thought they would be better off.

Almost half the respondents in coal towns in Queensland and NSW said they were unlikely to vote for a candidate who strongly backed the carbon tax. In metropolitan areas, the figure was 41 per cent.


The case against a popular Australian historian

Manning Clark was revered by almost the entire Australian political Left, including members of Labor party governments

By Ross Fitzgerald

After I'd left school and finished my PhD at the University of NSW in 1976, my brilliant but idiosyncratic biology teacher Norton Hobson confided that he was an ex-member of the Communist Party who worked as a part-time operative for the Victorian State Special Branch and for ASIO, supplying information about staff and students alike.

When I flew to Melbourne in late 1970, Hobson said that he had always regarded Manning Clark as a "crypto", that is, someone who kept his membership of the Communist Party and-or his strong support for the party a secret because he could be more useful that way than as an openly CPA member.

So what of the proposition that Manning Clark was a crypto-communist? On one level, because in those days the CPA was such a highly disciplined organisation, it seems unlikely the party would have wanted to recruit as a member someone such as Clark who was extremely erratic and who for most of his life had a severe drinking problem.

Yet because the historian was such a leading member of the Australian intelligentsia, it may have been the case that the CPA would have welcomed Clark's support.

This certainly applied to Clark's 1960 book Meeting Soviet Man, which detailed a trip, paid for by the Soviet Union, that he took in 1958 accompanied by the hardline Australian communist writer Judah Waten and the poet Jim Devaney.

This short book was effectively a pro-Soviet tract. At this time, Clark had already started to learn Russian. That Clark should have written such a paean for the communist state so soon after Nikita Khrushchev's so-called secret speech of March 1953 denouncing Joseph Stalin, and the brutal Soviet invasion of Hungary in November 1956, would suggest Clark was, at least, an ardent fellow traveller. Also it's important to remember that, in this dreadful book, Clark described Vladimir Lenin as "Christ-like in his compassion".

Significantly, in an interview with Gerard Henderson at his home in Canberra in November 1988, Clark conceded Meeting Soviet Man was "not an aberration so much as an error of judgment in not making clear what I really had in mind". This interview is dealt with in depth in Henderson's chapter on Clark in his book Australian Answers, published in 1990. But what Clark actually had in mind in his 1960 book he never divulged. Certainly, the historian wrote unequivocally of his 1958 experiences of communist Russia that "whoever lives unmoved in Moscow must have a heart of stone". Certainly at that time, at least as expressed in the book, he had a very positive opinion about what life was like for the average person in communist Russia.

In June 1970 Clark again visited Russia at the Soviet Union's expense. Although this was a time when many dissident Russian intellectuals were still imprisoned or kept in psychiatric institutions, Clark gave a laudatory speech praising the Soviet Union and in particular Lenin, who he described as a great "teacher of humanity".

Even though he definitely did not get the Order of Lenin, Clark certainly received, on June 22, 1970, at the presidium of the Supreme Soviet, a Lenin Jubilee Medal to celebrate the centenary of Lenin's birth in 1870. Other of the many overseas recipients of the Lenin Jubilee Medal included delegates from North Korea and East Germany. That in 1970, after the brutal Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and with Leonid Brezhnev's ongoing repression of Soviet writers and intellectuals still in full sway, Clark should praise the Soviet Union without even mentioning the many victims of communist totalitarianism, is puzzling. Indeed it seems inexcusable.

And it's certainly true that back in Australia Clark was a strong supporter of the Australian-Soviet Friendship Society and a regular visitor to the Soviet embassy in Canberra.

Then there is the fact of his close and continuing friendship with his ex-academic colleague from the University of Melbourne, the well-known New Zealand-born, Oxford-educated communist Ian Milner, who undoubtedly was a spy for the Soviet Union and who defected to communist Czechoslovakia in 1950. Milner later worked for the Czech secret service spying on foreign visitors and also on students and his colleagues at Charles University in Prague.

Clark must have known that Milner was a committed communist yet he saw fit to visit Milner twice in Prague, once in 1958 straight after his trip to Russia and, again, in 1984.

Indeed five months before his death, Clark wrote to Milner: "I see us all as people who have lost their 'Great Expectations', either in any world to come, or in the here and now. [J]ust because 1917 fell into the hands of spiritual bullies, that does not mean we should give up the hope of stealing fire from heaven - or that we should bow down to 5th Avenue."

Even if Clark was not an active Communist Party operative, it seems indisputable that he was a strong supporter of the Soviets. To deny this seems as ridiculous as Gerry Adams, or his supporters, denying that Adams had once been a leading member of the IRA.

Many people, including Clark's most recent biographer Mark McKenna, argue that Manning Clark was a person who never made up his mind about the Soviet Union.

But even if this were so, what would the attitude be to an intellectual and historian who never made up his mind about Fascist Italy or Nazi Germany? Such a position would, rightly, be denounced. And would such a person be excused for sitting on the fence? Not on your nelly.


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