Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Teaching to the tests

Whichever way you look at it, the quality of teaching and, by extension, quality of teachers are central to the standard of education provided in our schools. The NSW government's initiatives to elevate the quality of new teachers, including the recent announcement of a compulsory literacy and numeracy exit test, are welcome.

Studies and inquiries have repeatedly found that a large proportion of pre-service teachers do not have strong literacy skills and do not have sufficient knowledge of the structure and meta-linguistic concepts of the English language. In order to teach children well, particularly those who struggle with reading, this knowledge is essential.

Universities have been admitting large numbers of people into teaching degrees who have not been strong students themselves, even though academic aptitude is one of the strongest predictors of teacher effectiveness. Around half of the people going into teaching degrees in 2014 had university entrance scores below 70. By comparison, the highest performing education systems around the world draw all of their teachers from the top 30%, if not the top 10%, of school graduates.

Ideally, universities would control the quality of teachers, but it is financially advantageous for universities to maximise enrolments in teaching degrees. Quality control has therefore become the government's problem. A federal government review of teacher education is currently underway - the latest of dozens of reviews conducted over the last two decades.

State governments do not have the authority to dictate entry standards for universities or prescribe what universities teach. What state governments can do is decide who is eligible to register as a teacher. Universities can admit whomever they want, but if the prospective teacher does not measure up to the registration standards - if they literally do not pass the test - their degree will be almost worthless in NSW.

The NSW government is to be congratulated for taking an important step in the challenge of restoring the status of teachers as highly-educated professionals. The next challenge is to improve the overall quality of teaching degrees. Hopefully this federal government will succeed where so many have previously failed.


Another example  of Aboriginal failure

Many attempts have been made to get Aboriginal communities to behave like groups of whites but none have succeeded.  There was a vogue for giving them cattle stations at one stage but they just ate the cattle and then wandered off

It has been 40 years since a group of idealistic, young Aboriginal men and women got fed up with living in "slums and pig sties" and formed a housing association in the heart of Sydney.

The early 1970s were heady times for the Indigenous rights movement in Australia and Redfern was its home ground - arguably the birthplace of land rights, dedicated legal services, and Aboriginal healthcare.

But after just four decades, the dreams of a disparate nation carried by those pioneering activists are on the brink of collapse.

On Saturday morning, the ranks of a newly-established tent embassy, pitched in the heart of The Block, will be bolstered with a rally by the community against their own - the modern-day Aboriginal Housing Company headed by Mick Mundine.

The organisation, which started in 1973 with a grant from the Whitlam government to cover the cost of 41 terrace houses for Sydney's growing and dispossessed urban Indigenous population, has mutated into a private company with plans to soon turn the sod on a massive residential and commercial complex.

The company has a membership capped at 100 and says it cannot afford to provide housing for Aboriginal people on The Block.

It has reinforced its distance from the community it was established to serve by erecting "private property" signs around the infamous square bordered by Vine, Eveleigh, Caroline and Louis streets.

"It's not Micky Mundine's private, sovereign land," tent embassy organiser Jenny Munro said. "[The Housing Company] was not set up or intended for the purpose Micky is doing."

Mr Mundine, the long- standing chief executive, throws up his hands and says it is the government's responsibility to provide affordable housing for the Aboriginal community. "It's very hard to get money for affordable housing," he said. "No bank in Australia will give money for affordable housing."

The plan, he said, was to make money from the development to fund Aboriginal housing down the track.

Tent embassy organisers say they have reported the Housing Company, a registered charity, to the federal charity regulator. The Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission does not confirm whether it is investigating an organisation.

Just a few streets over from The Block in the rapidly-gentrifying Redfern, the community is battling another organisation set up in the spirit of self-determination in the early '70s - the Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS).

The first of its kind in the country, it attracted a raft of talented non-Aboriginal doctors to work alongside its Indigenous staff, including the late Professor Fred Hollows, one of its founders who served as the practice's first medical director.

The Redfern AMS has been been a guiding light for decades in Aboriginal healthcare, but now, like the Housing Company, it has begun to find itself on the wrong side of the community it was intended to serve.

Currently, the AMS has no medical director and no diabetes clinic, Fairfax has been told by staff. At least three doctors have left the service in the past 12 months, along with four nurses and the practice director. People working in security, HR and administration have also resigned or been sacked over the last year.

While the AMS argues it in the midst of an internal review to improve the service, some staff and patients have raised concerns about the role of some members of the Bellear family in the service.

Sol Bellear is the AMS chairman, his sister, LaVerne Bellear, is the acting chief executive officer, while his former partner, Naomi Mayers, is the CEO on long-term leave and unlikely to return.

Mr Bellear would not speak to Fairfax for this article.

 Federal Health Minister Peter Dutton is looking into hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments from the AMS to South Sydney Rabbitohs star Greg Inglis, some of it from Medicare income, and the Health Department is investigating other aspects of the service.

The long-term provider of GP registrars to the government-funded AMS, GP Synergy, has warned that the practice is now in danger of "imploding" in spite of its "stellar" history.

Government authorities are wary of getting involved publicly in what is considered internal Aboriginal politics and most remain tight-lipped on the issues confronting Redfern's Indigenous population.

But for the many community members Fairfax has spoken to, the problem is simple: power in Aboriginal Redfern has been consolidated in the hands of a few people.

A Fairfax reporter visited a Redfern community centre in 1973 and recorded the words on a sign there that promised so much, but seem cruel in 2014: "[The Block] project belongs to the black community. Please don't destroy it. This means you."


NBN: Do you realise you have no choice?

I am one of the many "older people" in this community who did not realise one did not have a choice with the connection of the NBN if you want a landline.

I listened to an interview with Derrick Tuffield on ABC radio last Thursday as he explained that many older citizens did not know that they had to do something when that letter comes.

I rang my provider and it was explained that I do have to say yes to that connect if I want a landline.

I am quite sure that there are many people in this community who, like me, thought we had a choice…We could stay as we are because we do not need faster Internet access at all.

If one has a medical alert then it is essential to make contact with your provider because all of those things will change when it comes time to change to the new NBN as your area comes online.

A new home situation is better off than older ones because they simply cut the phone wire and reconnect the new one.

But what most would not know is that they have to have a power point on the inside near where it is connected.

That would mean an expense one is not counting on.

In an older area like I live in it seems that they will try and do it through the old lines but that it may not happen and that would mean cutting up the yard.

I have been told by my provider that we should be connected about September.

I have made it my business to talk to people of all ages and very few know anything about this matter at all.

Most think that they will have a choice to do it when they want and have no idea that their landline gets cut off at a certain date when the NBN is connected to their area and then they will have to survive on a mobile phone service.

Another matter we did not know was that when there is a power outage one will not have a landline as we do now because it depends on a power source.

This has been a terrible thing pushed onto an unsuspecting society.


Unhinged and dishonest attacks on Abbott in the media

Some letters in his defence

TONY Abbott returns from a very successful overseas tour during which he held court with numerous overseas heads of state, most notably the President of Indonesia, the Prime Minister of Canada and the President of the US. I have no doubt that Abbott would win the approval of those with whom he met, just as he did on his recent trip to Japan and China.

Abbott may not be the world’s greatest showman, but what you see is what you get: sincerity with a straight forward presentation.

What is concerning, however, is that his Labor and Greens opponents, along with the ABC and Fairfax media, seem obsessed with discrediting Abbott domestically. These people want Abbott, the individual, to fail simply because he is Abbott, not because of what he stands for.

John George, Terrigal, NSW

THERE is no doubt that Tony Abbott’s overseas visit was a success of huge proportions — the leftists in the media attempting to discredit Abbott and his visit is proof perfect.

Unlike his predecessors in Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, Abbott’s visits to foreign countries was not all about the US and President Barack Obama. Who can forget the fuss made of Obama by Rudd and a blushing, hugging and kissing Gillard.

As for Abbott’s Canadia moment, surely this is not as cumbersome as Gillard falling over or Rudd embarrassing himself in a girlie bar. It would also appear that our US ambassador Kim Beazley and his wife Susie have more in common with Abbott than they have with Bill Shorten.

Peter D. Surkitt, Hampton, Vic

HELEN Derrick is correct about Tony Abbott’s trip being successful (Letters, 14/6). Abbott is often the unfair butt of ridicule in certain parts of the media for quite petty reasons.

Such pettiness demeans the office of PM and the individual who holds it. It’s not a good look, domestically or internationally. Perhaps, it is time to introduce legislation which will protect the dignity of the office.

Michael J. Gamble, Belmont, Vic

HAVING watched Insiders on the ABC on Sunday, I have to ask why the taxpayer has to supply more than $1 billion a year to fund an organisation that appears to have an agenda to denigrate the Prime Minister. About 80 per cent of the program was devoted to making derogatory statements about Tony Abbott. If this is the way it proposes to continue its program, it is high time the ABC’s funding was seriously reduced.

Peter Keogh, Bokarina, Qld

THE ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday ran the gamut from start to finish of knocking our Prime Minister — a diatribe from the Greens leader to provide the icing.

I have a lifetime of listening and watching the ABC, but surely we are entitled to get some balance from its commentators. One could be forgiven for wondering whether any of them ever spare a thought for the important issues we are facing rather than highlighting the trivial.

R. T. Hawksley, Benowa Qld

IT seems there’s been another outbreak of derangement syndrome in Australia which is manifesting itself with all the usual feral symptoms. A peculiar genetic disorder with no known cure, it affects only the Left of our polity and large sections of the media — particularly the frothing Fairfax and apoplectic ABC commentariat. Like many, I thought derangement syndrome had been eradicated and we’d all been inoculated with the political passing of John Howard, but apparently not.

It’s back with a vengeance in the variant form, Abbott derangement syndrome, and the contagion is driving it victims insane.

Jim Ball, Narrabeen, NSW

FOR several days, ABC news and current affairs programs have featured interviews and commentary agreeing that Tony Abbott would be received as a pariah, especially by Barack Obama. In fact, not even the ABC could disguise the fact that he was very well received.

Somehow the prediction that climate change would be the main item, failed to materialise. So our ever-resourceful Radio National then went to plan B on Sunday morning trying to console loyal Abbott haters that such visits were irrelevant in the modern world and were a waste of money. In fact, it is not Abbott’s travel, but the policies of ABC senior management that is a waste of taxpayers’ money.


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