Friday, January 24, 2014

High private school fees don't guarantee a better education than a state school (?)

The hyphenated lady below offers only assertions rather than evidence -- assertions which implicitly brand as idiots the 40% of Australian parents who send their children to private High Schools.  Her basic claim is the same one that underlay America's failed "busing" policies  -- the claim that "society" is somehow benefited by throwing capable students into chaotic classrooms alongside less capable students


NEWS that a private school education now can cost the same as a small apartment for each child surely begs some serious cost-benefit analysis.  What is it that people think they are buying when they cough up that big chunk of dough?

A slow burn towards an excellent Overall Position score for their child?  Their kid's sure-fire success in life?  A well-adjusted, confident end product?  Someone with highly placed industry contacts to spare and a Certificate of Education to die for?

Stretch it in any human direction and it is certainly high risk in investment terms.  Most of all, I contend that such an investment, and the rush to do it, makes us all poorer.

The cost of education in Australia has risen at more than double the rate of inflation during the past decade and the perception that price point dictates quality has climbed in line with this.

In Queensland, about 70 per cent of students still attend state primary schools, with the remainder attending Catholic or private schools. In high school, the split is about 60-40.

Statistics released about six months ago showed the cost of raising children had doubled in five years, mostly because of childcare and education costs.

The drift towards independent schools makes Australia an oddity internationally. In the US, one-tenth of students receive private school education. In Britain it is even less than that.

The fact that our [federal] government [partly] funds independent schools makes us even odder.

The movement towards private schools is partly due to perception, some of which is rooted in increasing truth, and some is baseless scuttlebutt. The whispers grow into murmurs, then voices, then somehow become accepted fact.

The stereotyping goes like this: state schools are lawless, manky places where students run riot in overcrowded classes. Learning is difficult, problems are many, opportunities are few. Teachers are wrung out and parents don't really care.

Private schools are disciplined, ordered places. Teachers are the cream of the crop. Families who send their children there value education more. Children are given chances to do extraordinary things, get amazing support and are stimulated with state-of-the-art equipment and facilities.

Of course neither is absolutely true or false, but still the cliches survive and thrive. [Both are true enough to be influential  -- JR]

The problem is that it leads conscientious parents to the conclusion that private schools are simply better and, because they don't want their children to be left behind, they want to buy their children a big slice of that.

Stripping the middle-class kids out of the state system leaves it weaker, has implications for future viability and has consequences for the children who remain in it.  [So capable children should be held back to help the less capable children? -- JR]

In places such as the US and the UK, public school students have parents who might just as likely be doctors and lawyers as farmers and tradies - or unemployed.

Here, most caring parents agonise over where to send their child to school. This is true of diligent state, Catholic and independent school parents equally.

We are defensive of our choices. Independent school parents don't like the word "elite" being used. State schoolies don't like the implication they have made the bogan choice or don't care about their kids.

Parents who don't want their child to be left behind study school results, and schools that have disproportionate numbers of advantaged students are always going to come up looking rosier next to a mix of all-comers.

Education minister Christopher Pyne says the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results show that money is not the answer for better educational outcomes.

But children from such homes are always going to do better, no matter where they learn. If they are read to, played with, exposed to culture, fed good food, have a home and a family, they have a real shot at being achievers academically. It is not rocket science.

And so we have a drift towards independent schools, partly driven by fear and partly because the more good people shirk the state system, the weaker the system becomes.

Make no mistake: there is more to education than coursework and achieving a certificate of education. And despite their claims, independent schools do not own the market on values, or building resilience or citizenry.

The bottom line is that an independent school isn't a broad mix of society, no matter how much parents might claim it is.

While there are certainly families whose finances are stretched and who make sacrifices for their kids to attend an independent school, the families who are truly disadvantaged could only have children there on scholarships.

Parents who pay for private school education, particularly for the most expensive schools, deny their children a basic education in what their own society is like.

In the wash-up, the cost-benefit analysis of investing heavily in a child's independent school education might be found to be worth it for a few, but the price is too high for society.


Human rights chief backs public servant's sacking over tweets

Tim Wilson says their right to freedom of speech is outweighed by their obligation to their employer

Ms Banerji, an immigration Dept. employee,  regularly posted hate-filled  tweets about Australia's immigration detention policies, the security company that works at detention centres, and government and opposition frontbenchers.  By day, Banerji’s job was to communicate government policy. By night, she was attacking that policy

Michaela Banerji was sacked by the Immigration Department over posts on Twitter. She argued in court the tweets were covered by an implied constitutional right to freedom of political opinion.

The debate was ignited again this week by the resignation of Australian Taxation Office official Darryl Adams, who said he was still being pursued over a tweet he sent from a parody account two years ago.

Public Service Minister Eric Abetz welcomed the resignation, saying it should be a warning to public servants that they had a responsibility to think before they tweeted.

Mr Wilson backed the minister's stance on Thursday, saying public servants had no constitutional or human right to break their employment conditions. "Of course people have a right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression, but these people have signed on to employment agreements," Mr Wilson said.

"So if [the tweeting] relates to the areas in which they're working in, as some of these cases do, then they really have opted out by accepting the employment questions.

"I don't think there's any ambiguity in some of them, that they shouldn't be engaging in public discussion about matters in which they are directly responsible."

Mr Wilson, who is outspoken on the topic of free speech, said public servants had the option of quitting their jobs if they were unhappy with the activities of their department.

"They have the choice to seek employment elsewhere if they wish to express those views," he said.

Asked if tweets sent under pseudonyms or from parody accounts might be treated more leniently, Mr Wilson said no.

"That's quite irrelevant because they have, in some cases, access to privileged information and they have signed up to those employment conditions," he said. "It doesn't matter, when it comes down to it, because they have signed up to those conditions. It doesn't matter if they then go off and surreptitiously do what they want to do.

"Their right to free speech is not being impinged at all. They have voluntarily signed up to a standard, a code, and if they are in breach of that code, the public service is well within their rights to terminate them."

Ms Banerji failed in her bid to have the Federal Court force the Immigration Department to reinstate her, and has taken her case to Fair Work Australia after rejecting a settlement offer from the department.

Mr Adams, who could not be contacted on Thursday, was punished in September 2012 for a tweet he sent in January that year describing anti-porn campaigner Melinda Tankard-Reist as "rootable".

He was investigated again after the matter was raised last year in Senate estimates and in the media. He was facing new "sanctions" when he resigned this month.


Joe Hockey warns union on Toyota's future

THE manufacturing workers' union is "at war with Toyota" and is threatening the car maker's future in Australia, Treasurer Joe Hockey has warned.

The company wants to slash labour costs by $17 million by cutting pay and conditions but is facing strong resistance from staff and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU).

Mr Hockey says the AMWU is playing a dangerous game.  "The union, the AMWU, is at war with Toyota," the treasurer told ABC radio today.  "They are creating the conditions that make it extraordinarily difficult for Toyota to continue producing cars in Australia."

The Victorian government this week presented its plan to save Toyota's local carmaking operations, asking the federal government to make a significant contribution to Toyota to ensure it builds the next-generation Camry in Melbourne beyond 2017.

The plan follows last year's decisions by Holden and Ford to pull out of local manufacturing in the coming years.

Toyota headquarters in Japan will announce its decision on Australian manufacturing later this year.

But Mr Hockey has again made it clear that he has no plans to extend subsidies.  "We are being fair dinkum with Australian business that you cannot continue to rely on government support, on taxpayer support, in order to remain profitable," he said.  "You actually have to be profitable on your own two feet like every other business in Australia."


ABC sticking to its illegal immigrant story as 'abuse' doubts mount

THE ABC has defended its editorial processes against a rising tide of criticism of its reports that Australian navy personnel beat and burned asylum-seekers during a tow-back operation earlier this month.

This is despite strong assertions from the government and the Australian Defence Force that the claims are unfounded and another television network, Seven, treating the asylum-seekers' allegations with much greater scepticism a fortnight earlier.

The reports, by ABC Indonesia correspondent George Roberts, featured prominently on the network's radio, television and online platforms on Wednesday. They centred on video footage of the asylum-seekers receiving treatment for burned and blistered hands at a medical facility in Kupang, West Timor.

The asylum-seekers claimed the burns were a result of being forced to hold hot engine pipes by navy personnel. They also alleged they were badly beaten by navy personnel before their boat was turned back to Rote Island on New Year's Day.

"This video and the version of events given by Indonesian police appears (sic) to back up the claims of mistreatment first made by the asylum-seekers when they spoke to the ABC a fortnight ago," Roberts said in a video report.

ABC news director Kate Torney yesterday defended the reports. "These claims are indeed difficult to verify and we have reported that too, along with Immigration Minister Scott Morrison's emphatic denials," she said.

But the claims, which were also broadcast to the Asia-Pacific region on the ABC's Australia Network service, have been emphatically denied by the head of the navy, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, and the government. Former Labor foreign minister Bob Carr told Sky News last night the claims should be tested but he was "disinclined to think that these are the things that Australian service people would do".

Tony Abbott, who last year accused the ABC of showing "very poor judgment" over its deal with The Guardian to air claims Australia spied on Indonesia in 2009, said on Wednesday there was "absolutely no evidence" the allegations of mistreatment were true.

Yesterday, The Australian revealed that two of the asylum-seekers were already suffering burns when navy personnel intercepted the boat, possibly caused when they tried to either restart or disable the boat's engine. And Indonesian police yesterday appeared to back away from suggestions they were endorsing the claims, saying the only evidence had come from the asylum-seekers themselves.

Australia Defence Association executive director Neil James said the reports should have been treated in the media with more scepticism and critical judgment.

He said that for the claims to be true, it would have taken several Australian sailors to hold an asylum-seeker's limbs against a hot engine. If that had happened, the other asylum-seekers would certainly have intervened.

"Australian sailors just don't do that and if one of them had he'd have been dobbed in by the others," he said.

Mr James added that when the Australians arrived at the scene, the engine of the asylum-seeker boat was already cold.

"If an Australian politician had made this claim it would have been challenged," he said. "It was particularly disappointing for the ABC to report this without applying more critical judgment.

"The chances of it being true were always much less than that of it being false."

Debate over the ABC's coverage spilled on to Twitter after Admiral Griggs dismissed the claims on Wednesday afternoon.

"Based on everything I know there is no basis to these allegations - none," he wrote on the social media site, triggering a deluge of responses, some of them challenging him to deny the allegations outright. Admiral Griggs responded: "I just did!!!!"

Among the Admiral's detractors was Dean Frenkel, a vocal expert and speech analyst who regularly contributes to ABC's The Drum and who referred to Admiral Griggs as a "dickhead" for his defence of the navy.

Another regular on The Drum, barrister and former Liberal candidate Greg Barns, weighed in, tweeting: "Scott Morrison, true to form, prepared to cover up alleged assaults by navy personnel. The navy is not beyond the law."

The Australian has confirmed Seven News received the same claims from the asylum-seekers, but chose to report them with greater scepticism along with still images of the burnt hands on January 9 and 10.

Seven Network director of news Rob Raschke said reporter Mia Greves and producers spent several days working on details of the story. "We realised we had to nail the details down," he said. "We had stills of the burnt hands but the issue was how they were actually burnt. We sought a response from both Immigration and Defence and the claims were strongly denied."

Greves said both she and her producer "were very sceptical from the start". She said: "We reported them only as claims and then we straightway showed Defence chief General David Hurley denying the claims."

Greves said the asylum-seekers made other allegations that they had been beaten, handcuffed and hit by navy members.

Seven also reported on its Sunrise program on January 9 claims by the asylum-seekers that the navy had ignored their requests to retrieve the bodies of companions who had drowned before the navy intercepted their boat. Seven put all the claims in writing to Mr Morrison before the January 9 broadcast and were given firm denials from both Defence and Customs. Mr Morrison later also denied that the claims were true.

The ABC reported the claims on its AM and PM radio programs and its main news bulletins, along with the denials by Mr Morrison. The claims were also broadcast into Asia on the Australia Network, although an ABC spokesman made clear Mr Morrison's denials were also broadcast.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop this month expressed concerns about programming on the Australia Network, which is run by the ABC as a "soft diplomacy" extension of the Department of Foreign Affairs. "I also have concerns about the quality of the programming and whether it is meeting the goal of promoting Australia's interests overseas," she said.

Torney yesterday described Roberts in a letter to The Australian as "a diligent, courageous and talented journalist".

"Along with other media we have interviewed the asylum-seekers making the claims of mistreatment, unlike other outlets we have also obtained video footage showing their injured hands, we have interviewed Indonesian police who confirmed that the asylum-seekers needed medical treatment and that they are investigating," she said.

Torney said the ABC approached the ADF for comment before publishing "and are still seeking their side of the story".

"No media organisation has done more than the ABC to investigate and expose the ramifications of people-smuggling through its extensive journalism across news and current affairs," she said.

"The mission of the Australian navy under Operation Sovereign Borders is certainly dangerous and difficult, but when serious allegations are made against our defence forces it is not the job of the national broadcaster to look away. The Australian shouldn't either."


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