Monday, May 16, 2016

ACER sees big problems with Australian schools

Comparing Australians with East Asian students is absurd.  East Asians have a known IQ advantage, which is particularly strong in mathematics.  Comparisons with other Caucasian populations alone make sense.  And on the 2013 PISA figures for reading ability (the most recent I could find), Australia in fact scored above most European countries. 

And the idea of raising standards for teachers is also absurd. In Australia's discipline-deprived schools few people with any  alternative would take up teaching.  Teaching is now for dummies.  Raising standards would just lead to a teacher shortage. 

Australian schools are in deep trouble and students will continue to slip behind in reading, maths and science unless there is urgent action from all governments, a new report has warned.

It's a grim picture of the country's education system, where high school students lag behind global standards, there is growing inequity and teaching has become an increasingly unattractive career.

Australia was "drifting backwards", said the author of the report Geoff Masters, chief executive of the Australian Council for Educational Research.

"We ignore these warning signs at our peril ... Unless we can arrest and reverse those trends we will continue to see a decline in the quality and equity of schooling in this country," he said.

The decline in the maths skills of students was particularly alarming, Professor Masters said.

Australia's results in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) – an international survey that pits the world's education systems against each other – has steadily declined over the past decade.

The top 10 per cent of Australian 15-year-olds now perform at about the same level in maths as the top 40 to 50 per cent of students in Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.

It coincides with a declining proportion of year 12 students taking up advanced maths and science subjects.

"It means we won't have the supply of people who are highly trained in mathematics and science that we are likely to need in the future," Professor Masters said. 

The report comes at a critical time, with education shaping up as a key election issue. The federal government has promised an extra $1.2 billion for schools and Labor has pledged $4.5 billion.

But the report, which was released on Thursday,  found that increased spending on education had not led to better outcomes. It said funding needed to target "evidence-based strategies".

"A decline in outcomes has often occurred in parallel with increased spending," Professor Masters said.

"Money alone is not the answer, but to turn around current trends we may need more money."

It also raised concerns about the drop in ATARs required for teaching courses.

In 2015, just 42 per cent of Australian students embarking on a teaching course had an ATAR above 70.

It recommended that teaching courses become highly selective, and make the bulk of their offers to students with ATARs above 70.

"The world's highest-performing nations in international achievement studies consistently attract more able people into teaching, resulting in better student outcomes," the report said.

"In some of the world's highest-performing countries, entry to teaching is now as competitive as entry to courses such as engineering, science, law and medicine."

In Victoria, the government is considering a similar model to New South Wales where future teachers are sourced from the top 30 per cent of school leavers.

Professor Masters said federal and state governments needed to agree to a national action plan to halt these "worrying trends".

He also took aim at "passive, reproductive learning" in schools which did not promote creativity.

Federal education minister Simon Birmingham said the report supported the Coalition's approach.

"The Turnbull government's back to basics Student Achievement Plan focuses on what ACER has called for, the better use of resources to target evidence-based initiatives," he said.

"Our once-in-a-generation plan to lift school student achievement provides more money than ever before for Australian schools but most importantly it focuses on measures that improve student results through clear and targeted action."

Victorian government spokesman David McNamara said many government initiatives were addressing concerns raised in this report - including the new Victorian Curriculum which teaches coding.

"The government knows that great teaching is the single most important factor for schools in improving student outcomes. It is always considering ways to ensure we attract and recruit the best teachers, including from among high achieving VCE students."


Seafarers 'devastated' by influx of foreign workers in maritime industry

No mention below of a major reason for the influx.  Australian seamen are very bolshy and often defiant of their employers.  Nobody who could avoid it would hire them.  They have destroyed their own jobs by their union militancy.  Their union, the MUA, is in the process of amalgamating with the CFMEU, Australia's most lawless union

Hundreds of overseas contractors are currently working on the Australian coast despite close to 1,000 local maritime workers looking for jobs — about one sixth of the entire workforce.

"Families are devastated," said Thomas Mayor, secretary of the NT branch of the Maritime Union.

The lack of jobs has been blamed on falling commodity prices and a decline in manufacturing, but unions have said that is only half the story.

"[Jobs] aren't drying up because there's no work, but drying up because the Government is allowing $2 an hour exploited labour to replace them on the coast," Mr Mayor said.

"The industry at the moment is going through a very, very tough time, there's no question about that," said the chief executive of Maritime Industry Australia, Teresa Lloyd.

Maritime unions have been running a campaign against the laws that allow so-called $2-per-hour workers.

Under the national shipping regime, foreign vessels can obtain temporary licences to operate in Australian waters without needing to pay their workers Australian wages.

The temporary licences are meant to apply for two trips only, but industry insiders say companies are easily able to obtain 'rolling' licences.

"Seafaring jobs are just the same as carrying cargo on a truck from Darwin to Adelaide — on a truck you expect Australian wages, Australian safety conditions, Australian work conditions," Mr Mayor said.

The job hunters include Darwin's Myra Leong, who is part-way through her training to become an integrated rating, but cannot find anyone to take her on.

The 23-year-old worked as a deckhand before undertaking further training at the Australian Maritime College last year in Launceston, where she was the only woman in her class.

Her timing could hardly have been worse, with shipping going through one of its worst downturns in half a century.

'The only way to stay competitive'

Some in the industry have said the use of cheap foreign labour is often the only way the Australian industry can remain competitive.

"At the end of the day, it's cost," said the chairman of Shipping Australia, Ken Fitzpatrick.

"In some cases that's been absolutely the only way they can survive without having to resort to importing from overseas."

Shipping Australia represents both local and overseas companies and has been pushing for further deregulation in the industry.

That position is opposed by another lobby group, Maritime Industry Australia (MIA), which speaks exclusively on behalf of local businesses.

MIA chief executive Teresa Lloyd said the maritime sector is treated differently to other industries when it comes to protecting local workers.

"It's one area of the Australian economy where for whatever reason, the idea that that particular activity needs to be done by Australians isn't supported the same way it is in almost every other aspect of the domestic economy," she said.

But Ms Lloyd said it may be too late for change and it had been a long time since job protection existed in the maritime industry.

Last year, the Federal Government failed to pass its Shipping Legislation Amendment Act which would have made it easier for foreign ships to operate in Australian waters, but Transport Minister Darren Chester said if re-elected the changes will be back on the agenda.

Labor and the Greens opposed the legislation, dubbing it "WorkChoices on water".

Calls to overhaul 457 visa program

The Government is also facing calls to overhaul its 457 visa program, which enables skilled workers to be employed in Australia for up to four years.

High-level maritime jobs like ships masters and ships engineers are currently listed on the Government's skilled shortage list, meaning foreign workers can be hired under the 457 system.

According to the most recent figures from the Department of Immigration, there are 303 foreign workers employed in the maritime industry under the 457 program — that is despite hundreds of similarly qualified Australians looking for work.

The 457 program is designed to give employers more flexibility in accessing skilled labour when demand is particularly high.

MIA has said the inclusion of seafaring jobs on the skilled shortage list made sense during the commodities boom, but not today when a large number of people in the sector were unemployed.

The 457 system requires employers to try the local job market before hiring overseas workers, but law lecturer at the University of Adelaide Dr Joanna Howe said it is poorly policed.

"There is currently no proper mechanism, no robust mechanism for identifying a skill shortage and for ensuring that where a foreign worker is coming in, they're not taking a job away from a local worker," Dr Joanna Howe said.

The Federal Opposition has called for a review of the skilled shortage list, while the Government has said it is awaiting further advice from the Department of Education and Training.


Is Australia among the lowest-taxing countries in the OECD?

Voters will hear plenty of seemingly contradictory claims on tax in the lead up to the federal election. Is Australia a high taxing country or was ACOSS chief Cassandra Goldie right to say that Australia is one of the lowest-taxing countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development?

The most recent OECD data for Australia, for the year 2013, lists Australia as having a tax to GDP ratio of 27.5%. This is the sixth lowest in the OECD after Mexico, Chile, Korea, United States and Switzerland.

This ratio is based on tax as a proportion of GDP.
Australia is above average for some taxes; below average for others

The data above shows us Australia’s total tax revenue as a proportion of GDP. However, within Australia’s tax mix are a range of taxes, including corporate tax, personal income tax, GST and many more.

A closer look at the breakdown reveals that Australia is above the OECD average for some tax categories, such as corporate tax.

Australia also has relatively high collections from income tax, and lower levels of consumption taxes than the average in the OECD.


Global sea-level expert John Church made to walk the plank by CSIRO

Warmist John Church is most unchurchly.  His claims have little to do with reality. See  here and here.  He deserves the boot

For John Church, a leading authority on sea-level rise caused by global warming, there was much that was fitting – and yet callous – about being sacked at sea.

The veteran scientist was well into one of dozens of research voyages he had taken since joining CSIRO as a post doctoral student in 1979.

His vessel, the RV Investigator, was midway between Antarctica and New Zealand and steaming north on the 170 degree longitude when he received Thursday's call to tell him he was "potentially redundant".

Sitting with a supporter in the ship's conference room, Dr Church was told his services were no longer needed. "I was OK during the call but it is certainly not a nice feeling to have what you have worked for - for so many years - thrown on the scrapheap," the 64 year-old told Fairfax Media after finishing a 12-hour stint on watch.

Dr Church's achievements include developing sophisticated models linking sparse tidal gauge information around the world with satellite data to reveal how much sea levels are rising.

The current mission is retracing previous journeys along the 170 W longitude line to measure precisely how key parameters such as temperature, salinity and acidity are changing.

As Dr Church notes, including in a Nature paper published last month, sea-level increases are accelerating as a warming planet melts glaciers and swells oceans.

From increases of a few tenths of a millimetre annually in the 1000 years before about 1850, the rate jumped 1.7 mm on average in the 20th century. Since 1993, the rise has quickened to about 3 mm a year, he says.

Despite this trend, CSIRO will slash about half the climate staff – about 70 scientists - in its Oceans & Atmosphere division. New hires will be made in climate adaptation and mitigation, the agency promises but numbers cited so far are much smaller.

As with other CSIRO staff, Dr Church will get a chance to save his job. The sole scientist on board to be told of a pending redundancy, he was granted until June 16 – or three weeks after the voyage ends in Wellington, New Zealand – to argue his case.


More police arrogance: Woman free after videotaped Sydney arrest

A woman whose videotaped arrest went viral on social media has had charges of assaulting and resisting a NSW police officer dismissed.

The footage appears to show Claire Helen being hit with a baton and kicked in the head by officers during the incident at Kings Cross, in December 2014.

Police had alleged the woman struck a female officer during an attempt at restraint.

But Magistrate Graeme Curran found the woman's original arrest was unlawful and dismissed her charges on the basis the alleged offences occurred as a result of that custody.

"It's been a long time coming, so it's a really nice relief," she said outside court. "I didn't strike anybody."

The magistrate found it "must" have been Ms Helen who struck the officer but said the prosecution had not been able to prove the police were in proper execution of their duties when the act occurred.

He read evidence from witnesses who described a "rigorous" struggle between Ms Helen and police.

The court heard officers had become involved after a taxi driver accused one of Ms Helen's friends of assaulting a police officer and she was asked for ID on the basis she may be a suspect.

But her trial heard the taxi driver had made it clear his alleged attacker was a man.

"I don't have to give you anything," Ms Helen allegedly said to an officer.  "You're a f****** dog."

Magistrate Curran also dismissed charges against Ms Helen's friend Kevin Rolle who was accused of hindering police and escaping lawful custody.

He also dismissed one charge against the man accused of assaulting the taxi driver.

"It's taken 18 months ... she's been vindicated by the magistrate," Ms Helen's lawyer Bryan Wrench said outside court.  "The police were not entitled to do what they did."

Ms Helen had also been facing a charge for failing to describe her identity, which was also dropped.


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