Sunday, March 14, 2021

Federal Government threatens to build a natural gas generator if electricity sector doesn't replace retiring coal-fired power stations

With the coal-fired Liddell Power Station in the Hunter Valley due to shut down in 2023, the Federal Government is worried there will not be enough dispatchable power, given the sector's focus on building wind and solar farms.

The Federal Government will demand electricity generators come up with a plan for 1,000 megawatts of new dispatchable energy in time for the end of 2023.

If it is not satisfied with the private sector's commitments by the end of April next year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is vowing to intervene directly in the market.

"We won't risk the affordability and reliability of the NSW energy system and will step in unless the industry steps up," Mr Morrison said.

The Federal Government has tasked Snowy Hydro Limited with drawing up plans for a gas generator in the Hunter Valley at Kurri Kurri.

Mr Morrison will press the Government's case for more non-renewable power generation in a speech to business and industry in Newcastle on Tuesday.

Energy Minister Angus Taylor said the market needed to focus on new, dispatchable power, arguing current plans fall "far short of what is required".

"Over the last decade, the private sector has not built a single new reliable power plant in NSW," Mr Taylor said.

"The Government has always been clear — we need to see life extension or like-for-like replacement of Liddell. "If industry steps up, we'll step back."


China’s threat to the US makes Australia a power player

In a historic geopolitical shift, ­Australia is emerging as a key ­alliance hub and partner for the US in Asia as the Biden administration moves to reshape and strengthen its military to meet China’s growing challenge.

A global posture review ordered by new US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin is likely to result in a significant reconfiguration of US forces and an increase in resources directed towards the ­Pacific, elevating Australia’s importance as a logistics, maintenance and training provider.

The review could open the door to closer Australia-US defence ties. This would be certain to anger Beijing and feed into the trade and political tensions that have brought the Australia-China relationship to its nadir.

Biden has signalled that he will continue Donald Trump’s tougher line against China, albeit in a more measured way. Allies and partners will be asked to contribute more, in return for mutually beneficial investment and collaboration. This is likely to mean greater access to high-end technology and the US defence sector, increased joint ­development of new military capabilities, and direct US investment in our infrastructure, including the processing of minerals critical to defence.

The immediate impact of the review on the presence, distribution and operations of US forces in the Pacific will be incremental rather than transformational. US defence spending is expected to flatline, or even dip, in the next few years under the twin pressures of the pandemic-inspired recession and pressure from the left of the Democratic Party to prioritise its progressive social and environmental agenda. Also, resistance from Atlanticists to the idea of ­allocating more resources to the Pacific is certain. So is bureaucratic inertia. Turning around the US ship of state won’t happen quickly.

But, over time, the review is likely to reinforce the growing ­momentum for change to the way the far-flung and increasingly vulnerable network of US troops, weapons and bases is structured and operates. For most of this century, Washington has been bogged down in long-running ground conflicts and counterinsurgency operations in the Middle East. ­Deterring Chinese aggression will require the US to return to a traditional maritime offshore ­balancing role.

Biden’s problem is that although reliable allies are crucial, they are in short supply. There aren’t many countries like Australia that are strategically located and able to field compatible, high-end defence systems and support the smaller, nimbler dispersed force envisaged. The difficulty of maintaining costly and politically contentious overseas bases has placed a higher premium on places where the US can rotate forces for essential training and supply, while allowing them to surge from a secure sanctuary when a crisis requires a military response.

Seen though this lens, Australia is an increasingly attractive destination — which is why the Biden administration is shaping to ramp up ship and aircraft visits and consider more defence infrastructure spending, especially in the north.

The US has already committed to building a multimillion-dollar commercially operated strategic military fuel reserve in Darwin for joint use by American and Australian forces.

It is also funding a rare earths processing facility in Texas to be built and operated by the Australian company Lynas. The Texas ­facility will produce specialised rare earths for military use.

Admiral Philip Davidson, the influential head of the US Indo-Pacific Command that has operational responsibility for a vast area of the Pacific and Indian oceans, has submitted a new report to congress that provides a pointer to the global posture review’s outcome. It reveals that more money is likely to be spent on equipment and ­facilities that Australia is well placed to provide and support.

The report calls for $US27bn ($35bn) — an amount nearly the size of our annual defence budget — to be spent over the next five years on new mobile missiles, radar systems, staging areas, intelligence-sharing centres, supply depots, testing ranges and exercises “with allies and partners”.

In a none too subtle reference to China’s designs on Taiwan, the report says that this money is necessary to “persuade potential adversaries that any pre-emptive military action will be too costly and likely to fail”.

An earlier request from Davidson led to last year’s establishment of a bipartisan congressional Pacific Defence Initiative. The PDI could be a game changer if money is made available to realise Davidson’s ambitious proposal for the development of “expeditionary airfields and ports”. This is defence speak for facilities that would allow the US to project power into the Western Pacific from places that are less vulnerable to China’s missiles and rapidly growing fleet.

Darwin is an obvious candidate because of its proximity to Asia, although its defence infrastructure would need a significant upgrade.

Could Biden deliver on Barack Obama’s overhyped pivot to Asia? This promised much but delivered little, allowing Chinese President Xi Jinping precious time to consolidate his control of the South China Sea and turn his country into a military superpower.

Many experienced defence ­analysts believe that the balance of forces in the Western Pacific has shifted in favour of the People’s Liberation Army. Since 2015, the PLA has doubled the number of transport ships and planes in its inventory, extending its strategic reach to the furthest parts of Southeast Asia. China continues to outproduce the US on modern weaponry, is slated to increase its defence spending by a world leading 6.8 per cent, and grew last year’s defence budget by more than the rest of Asia combined (excluding Russia).

Rather than having the capacity to fight and win two wars at the same time, as US defence documents once proudly proclaimed, the US will have its hands full dealing with China alone. This reality, along with the more straitened financial circumstances confronting Biden, has enhanced both the economic and strategic value of the alliance with Australia — recently described by Biden as “an anchor of peace and stability in the region”.

Historically, we have been a loyal but junior ally reflecting the obvious power imbalance with the US. Alliance detractors see this as a subordination of our defence and foreign policy to Washington. As evidence, they cite Harold Holt’s refrain that Australia was “all the way with LBJ” and John Howard’s willingness to frame Australia as America’s regional “Deputy Sheriff”. Both tags regularly feature in domestic defence debates and are echoed in China’s increasingly vitriolic ­rhetorical attacks against us.

Such criticisms ignore a seminal shift in Australia’s strategic relationship with the US towards greater equality based on mutual need, and the Morrison government’s determination to act more forcefully in asserting the national interest. This has been driven by the chauvinism of Trump’s America First unilateralism, the increase in our economic and military clout, and concerns about the deteriorating regional security environment.

The key change is that Biden’s America needs us as much as we need America, the obverse of our traditional dependence on “great and powerful friends”. This is testimony to the relative decline of the US and Australia’s rise as a significant middle power. It’s also a corollary of Biden’s refocus on Asia and desire for trusted, capable allies in his country’s epochal rivalry with China, the most formidable competitor the US has faced.

Mutual need makes for a more equitable partnership, giving us more leverage over US policy on issues that are central to our interests and security. We should use it to shape the global posture review, the PDI, US China policy and Biden’s quest to unite the democracies, a worthy though challenging task. No interest is more important than protecting the integrity of our borders and preserving our freedoms in a decidedly more authoritarian world, where genuine democracies are now in a minority and co-operation between them an imperative.

Meeting the authoritarian challenge from a position of strength implies an ability to deter or impose serious costs on any country that wishes to do us harm. This will require a degree of hard power which is beyond our ­capacity as a nation of 25 million people without doubling or tripling a defence budget that already costs $42bn annually. Partnering with the US to train together, build defence infrastructure in Australia, share the costs of expensive equipment, invest in joint capabilities and co-operate on intelligence makes more sense today than at any time in the history of our alliance.

Tighter collaboration with the US is not without its risks. The closer our alignment, the more Australia is likely to become a lightning rod for China’s proliferating grievances and trade punishment. This could escalate to another level should we commit to freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea and sail through the territorial borders that China has illegally declared around the disputed islands it has occupied and militarised. The biggest risk of all would be to join the US in military support of Taiwan should Xi decide to take the island democracy by force. Beijing could well retaliate by threatening to target ports, airfields and defence facilities in northern Australia.

During the Cold War, the argument was made that the Australia-US defence facility at Pine Gap in the Northern Territory should be closed down because it made Australia a target in the event of a nuclear war between the US and the Soviet Union. This overlooked the valuable intelligence the facility provides and the critical role it plays in arms control and early warning of a ballistic missile attack. Hard strategic choices are rarely risk-free. The fact that we may be a target is hardly a reason for not defending ourselves.

On the contrary, it’s a compelling reason for making ourselves stronger, not weaker — a strategic logic that informs most countries’ defence policies. It certainly motivates Xi’s China, which respects strength not weakness.

Preparing for the worst, while hoping for the best, has been a mantra of Australian defence planning since Federation and the policy of all main­stream political parties. Countries that don’t stand up for their interests and cave in to threats are left with two choices: defeat or impotence.

But putting most of our strategic eggs in the US basket makes no more sense than excessive reliance on China as an export market. It encourages complacency, over-reliance on a single provider of security goods and, at worst, dependence. As in trade, diversification is the key to defence resilience. To become a true alliance hub we need to do more with Japan and South Korea and make Australia an attractive location and defence provider for other strategic partners, among them India, France, Germany, Britain, Indonesia and Singapore.

Each of these countries has different geopolitical perspectives, defence capabilities and needs. But most would welcome the opportunity to train and exercise more frequently on the unique training ranges that Australia has to offer — especially if they are digitally upgraded to world class standard, an achievable goal with modest investment.

Japan’s Self Defence Force has severely restricted access to training ranges because of Japan’s high population density and limited space for defence training. Half of Japan’s 13 fighter squadrons use the same F-35 aircraft as Australia, but they lack ranges to practise ­advanced combat training. Most other countries have similar constraints, unlike Australia.

The emerging Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, and the elevation of the Australia-India relationship to a comprehensive stra­tegic partnership, means that the time is right to explore closer defence ties with India. France is building our submarines, has a significant regional military presence and has previously sent an aircraft carrier to the Pacific. Germany wants to deploy a frigate to the region for training and as a show-the-flag exercise.

Britain has substantially increased its defence budget and is now the fourth-largest defence spender. India is ranked third in the world, France sixth, Germany seventh and Japan eighth. Collectively they represent a powerful coalition of like-minded allies.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants “to extend British influence” globally, including to Asia. He intends to despatch the brand new aircraft carrier, the Queen Elizabeth, to the Pacific later this year to join Australia in multinational exercises aimed at demonstrating the resolve of democracies to jointly push back against China’s creeping annexation of the South and East China Seas. The Queen Elizabeth will carry the maritime version of Australia’s F-35s, as well as a suite of maritime patrol ­aircraft and helicopters.

All these ships and aircraft require refuelling, resupply and maintenance. Should Biden endorse Trump’s decision to restore the US First Fleet to help secure Indo-Pacific waters, Australia is ideally placed to become a valuable destination country in Asia for six of the eight largest navies in the world. That could only strengthen our alliance credentials, defence industry and overall national security.


Rational debate killed in the sewer of social media


In a selfless and courageous act, researching this column on Thursday night, I typed my name into the search bar of Twitter and hit enter. In the first 20 mentions, the terms directed at me included: “predictable idiocy”; “c#nt”; “joke”; “professional f#ckwit”; “give a flying f#ck”; “propagandist”; “hard right”; “dog-shagging best”; and the only imaginative phrase, “ambidextrous nose-picker” (I did not realise they had been watching).

Still, there was not one entry that was supportive, and to be frank it was a pretty tame sample because I am often labelled a lying, racist, misogynist on that platform. We are talking about a social media world where ­knowledge, insights and manners are pre-Neanderthal — and defamation laws, in the main, are ­impotent.

Twitter digitises and broadcasts the public debate equivalent of a teenage graffiti and vandalism rampage. And yet it shapes debate; our mainstream media and politicians look to the digital world for instant opinion polling and guidance about where to take their narratives and policies (the ABC has audiences tweet responses to be broadcast immediately live to air).

In intellectual terms, this is the opposite of natural selection. It is amplifying and weaponising the crudest and most inane elements of society and inviting them to dumb down our public square.

There is no political issue in most countries where Twitter is not habitually wrong — so that whatever is popular on that medium will be rejected by most of the population.

The situation is different in the US because that is the one liberal democracy where, for now, it verges on acceptable for young people to identify as being right of centre; so social media is still ugly and brutal but at least it hosts a contest of ideas.

Imagine Tutankhamun’s wonder if we could bring him back to life (as the ancient Egyptians intended) and he could see the vast and instant online knowledge we can share through our digital hieroglyphics. Then ponder his confusion and dismay at seeing the junk we share on it.

Our battered and impoverished public debate will not improve unless we learn to talk to each other. For a civil society to exist and political debate to be useful, people need to be able to hear ­alternative arguments, avail themselves of all relevant facts, and learn to deal politely with people who do not agree with them.

In this century, we are blessed with instant access to infinite amounts of information, often from primary sources, as well as endless analysis and commentary from every corner of the globe. Far too many people waste their time shouting digital abuse at each other, or regurgitating views they agree with from accounts chosen by the faceless match­makers of the Facebook algorithms, instead of reading, discussing or learning.

The digital revolution was going to democratise the media, personalise democracy and mobilise the truth, but instead it has polarised and emaciated the media, dragged politics into the mire of anonymous bullying, and fostered deceptive memes, fake news and pile-ons. And we wonder why young adults know more about Meghan Markle’s gratuitous gripes than they do about the separation of powers.

This is not a throwaway whinge. The digital degeneration of our public square and political processes is not just an easy target for columnists and conversationalists — it has serious consequences. Aggressive outsider Donald Trump took the Republican nomination and won the presidency in 2016 largely based on his use of social media to subvert the curation and homogenisation of the mainstream media.

Social media played an influential role in the ascension and demise of Kevin Rudd. It was at the vanguard of the asymmetric war against Tony Abbott. And it is the standard-bearer in the unconscionable media/political assault against Christian Porter.

For good or ill, social media played a role in the Arab Spring and the Brexit campaign. If you doubt its effectiveness, ask yourself why Beijing geo-blocks a wide variety of content, censors digital media and publicly punishes citizens for dissenting views published online.

To comprehend how insidious this policing of cyberspace infractions has become, just think of Zoe Lee Buhler, a 28-year-old pregnant woman who was arrested and handcuffed in her Ballarat home last September for posting about anti-lockdown protests on Facebook. This was not in some future dystopian state imagined by Aldous Huxley or George Orwell, it was in the town of Australia’s Eureka Stockade.

So, what is it that makes social media such a sewer? And how does this coarsen our discourse?

At its core is a lack of accountability. The enticement of being able to post widely and often about anything — without submitting to editors, curators, lawyers or peers — encourages bravado and aggression, and it fosters an impetuousness that ­values gut feelings over facts, and devalues the time and effort required to get across the facts.

The lure of virtue signalling, along with ever-present peer group pressure, are further forces for conformity. Emotionalism triumphs over rational thought.

In short, all the usual flaws of human conversation and debate are at play, but they are exacerbated by the instantaneous nature, wide audience, and lack of responsibility inherent in the platforms. Judgments are made and allegations thrown around, without regard for facts, by people ­ignorant of or untroubled by the laws of defamation and contempt.

This freedom could liberate debate; but instead of letting a thousand flowers bloom, it shares the scrawls of a thousand dunny doors. People are unthinking enough about what they post without the added shield of anonymity — requiring people to post under their real names, with proof of identity, would not eradicate the problems but it would improve the situation.

We live in an age where social media criticism and abuse will rage against an article and its author in this newspaper when most, if not all, of those joining the fray have not read the article. The headline or the topic is enough for these people to slur or condemn; often egged on by hysterical opinion leaders such as Kevin Rudd or Quentin Dempster, who at least might have sprung for a subscription in order to generate grist for their ideological mills.

Bill Leak was a target of this mentality. Thousands of ignorant onlookers, oblivious to deeper arguments running in these pages about how the sharp end of the juvenile justice system deals with the consequences of community and family dysfunction, piled on to him about a telling cartoon they saw completely out of context in their deliberately ignorant world. This past week, people have wondered on Twitter about how there could be any argument against an additional, extrajudicial inquiry into allegations against Christian Porter. Well, you will not find these rational ­arguments on Twitter or the ABC — so people stuck in those silos might never understand the rule of law.

Not only audiences, but facts, disappear into silos. ABC viewers are told Bill Shorten was “cleared” by police and Porter was not. And in social media, such misinformation, or fake news, is not in­terrogated or corrected; it is embedded and entrenched.

Two years ago, former ABC and Fairfax journalist Mike Carlton tweeted about Liberal MP ­Nicolle Flint when she appeared on Q&A. Carlton wondered why fellow panellist Jimmy Barnes did not “leap from his seat and strangle the Liberal shill”.

Fancy harbouring such a thought, let alone sharing it. Yet when this was recounted on another ABC program last month, Carlton showed his courage runs as deep as his chivalry, extracting an apology from the ABC which clarified that he did not say Flint “should” be strangled, only that he questioned how Barnes could ­restrain himself from doing so.

How pathetic. I guess he has the courage of his feeble convictions. Carlton still tweets profanities regularly, while Flint will leave politics at the next election, with Carlton’s old, white, hateful, male barbs just one minor memory in a long string of vandalism attacks and threats.

This is what happens more often, thanks to social media; more conservatives are forced underground. Like most of these factors, it existed before — the shy Tory factor was observed long ­before social media — but social media has weaponised the assault against anyone right of centre.

Taxpayer-funded media and other leftist journalists are led by the affirmation from this digital diatribe to deepen their own anti-conservative jaundice. The woke love the following and adulation of social media — it is performance art for them — until they cross a line, make the mistake of speaking sense or asking a salient question, then they experience the rule of the leftist lynch mob.

Public debate becomes coarser, more out of touch from the mainstream, and less tolerant of differing points of view. Soon the stage is vacated by all but the screaming green left, and those who will appease them.

The only outlet remaining for real, analogue people is the secret ballot. And there the media and the Twitter mob have met their match — so far.


The evidence is clear: direct instruction works

Rather than letting teachers teach, states and territories are delivering social constructivist pedagogies that leave students behind.

By NOEL PEARSON (An Aboriginal leader)

It is now more than 15 years since the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy examined worldwide evidence of the most effective methods for teaching reading. It was headed by the late Professor Ken Rowe, who tragically died in the Marysville bushfire in 2009. Rowe’s panel reported to the then federal education minister Brendan Nelson. It is worth setting out its central recommendation in its entirety:

“The committee recommends that teachers provide systematic, direct and explicit phonics instruction so that children master the essential alphabetic code-breaking skills required for foundational reading proficiency. Equally, that teachers provide an integrated approach to reading that supports the development of oral language, vocabulary, grammar, reading fluency, comprehension and the literacies of new technologies.”

Since Rowe’s report, the performance of Australian students has continued to decline compared to other school systems around the world. Ours used to be a great system, but we have subsided to merely good, and we are routinely outperformed by many countries that used to be inferior in literacy, numeracy and science.

This decline coincided with ­unprecedented increased investment in school education. While the investment may not have been equitable, nevertheless we cannot say our declining performance is principally a function of funding.

So what happened after the findings of the Rowe inquiry? ­Almost nothing.

Why? Because we have not been able to solve the federal problem in school reform. The commonwealth has the cheque book and the states run the public schools. Attempts to drive reforms the commonwealth government may propose flounder because the states (and now territories) just do their own thing.

Nelson and former prime minister John Howard used commonwealth funding to mandate Australian flag poles on school grounds. But they had no hope of mandating phonics teaching in state schools, let alone the other dimensions of the Rowe inquiry’s recommendations.

So Rowe’s report just gathered dust.

Around the same time as the inquiry, I asked Professor Kevin Wheldall from Macquarie University to come to a small school in Cape York to trial the explicit teaching of reading, using his ­program called Making Up Lost Time in Literacy. This is when I came to understand the reading wars. I was exposed to the visceral ideological war between progressive educators favouring so-called “child centred” education and those favouring “teacher directed” education, of which the teaching of phonics is just one simple but ­famously contentious element.

Like Rowe, I came to see the evidence favoured teachers actually teaching. Fancy that! That teachers should first teach!

Rowe pulled no punches. He once wrote: “Much of what is commonly claimed as ‘effective teaching practice’ … is not grounded in findings from evidence-based research. The prevailing educational philosophy of constructivism (a theory of self-directed learning rather than a theory of teaching) continues to have marked influences on shaping teachers’ interpretations of how they should teach. However, in contrast to teacher-directed methods of teaching, there is strong evidence that exclusive emphasis on constructivist approaches to teaching is not in the best interests of any group of students, and especially those experiencing learning difficulties.”

But my being persuaded by the explicit teaching side of the reading wars was not an ideological matter. Indeed, I had been swept along with their opponents who talked about “the new basics” as opposed to “the old basics”. No, it was the performance of the children that convinced me. I could see children learning once their teachers started teaching.

We started using direct instruction in three schools in the Cape in 2010. At the same time, the Queensland education department started supporting another teacher-directed approach championed by John Fleming, a principal of Haileybury College in Melbourne. Explicit Instruction was becoming reputable in various school districts around the state, including in far north Queensland.

Two years ago, the Grattan Institute’s Peter Goss identified that Queensland achieved superior growth rates to other states from about 2010, the reasons for which Grattan was unable to identify.

My view is the answer lies in the state’s adoption of explicit instruction and certain other measures taken after then premier Anna Bligh acted on the advice of Geoff Masters from the Australian Council for Educational Research in 2009. Essentially, Masters followed Rowe’s prescriptions from five years before.

However, this one instance of a school system adopting sensible recommendations and achieving significant gains soon reversed. Explicit instruction has been steadily dismantled and the Queensland system is sliding back to the old normal.

These systems can’t recognise success and have no clue about preserving and enhancing it in their schools. Principals who worked their backsides off leading improvement look with despair as the department replaces them with principals who promptly change course and dismantle their gains. Great schools go backwards to good, and good schools slide backwards to fair.

In 2015, the Abbott government’s education minister Christopher Pyne took up Rowe’s recommendation, 10 years after it was made, and funded the trial of explicit literacy instruction in remote schools in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. The West Australian schools included a group of Catholic schools and state schools.

Three evaluation reports were undertaken for the literacy for remote schools program. A final report was produced in 2019 and was released by now Education Minister Alan Tudge this week.

Evaluators from the University of Melbourne confirm the program was successful in achieving its objectives: to lift literacy of students through explicit instruction in schools, and to develop the teaching skills of teachers.

The organisation I chair, Good to Great Schools Australia, published an article with The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education setting out the growth rates achieved between NAPLAN tests taken by students in Year 3 in 2015 and Year 5 in 2017. And students in Year 3 in 2016 and those same students in 2018.

When you compare the achievement of these student cohorts with other schools around the country at a single point in time, such as the annual NAPLAN results, they are far behind. Because this is where you find kids from remote schools — way behind their mainstream peers.

The question for evaluation is: how far did these students grow over the period of the literacy ­intervention? This is where the numbers become impressive. When provided with an effective intervention, these students who are often many years behind their grade level start to show growth rates that are above other student cohorts, including mainstream ­cohorts, especially when schools commit to rigorous implementation and school systems give them strong support. Optimum results occur when time on instruction is protected, teacher turnover is minimised to the best that circumstances allow, school leadership is retained and succession does not involve a new principal coming in and dismantling the program.

In reading, schools involved in the program from 2015 to 2017 ­averaged 124 per cent growth, while the average growth for comparable ages was 19 per cent and 34 per cent for Australian and very remote Indigenous schools respectively. In grammar and punctuation, schools involved in the program in the same period grew 180 per cent, while growth for Australian schools was 15 per cent, and for very remote Indigenous schools it was 28 per cent.

Kids in these severely disadvantaged schools are way behind the race when they start, and they are not given the means to move forward. In fact, the gap gets larger over the course of their “schooling” years. I say “schooling” because what these kids get does not resemble any kind of decent definition of proper schooling.

But explicit, teacher-led instruction in reading, as well as maths and science, can get them moving forward. But you need school systems to agree on one thing: to follow the findings of the Rowe inquiry on what works with the teaching of literacy.

There is no such agreement in our federation. The states and territories are still predominantly delivering social constructivist peda­gogies, to the disadvantage of the nation’s most vulnerable students.

When the Abbott government’s program started in 2015, the Country Liberal Party government embraced it in the Northern Territory and announced in the second year that positive results were showing up in remote schools using direct instruction. Then the government changed, and the new Labor government began to withdraw schools and refused to provide achievement data from their schools as previously agreed by their CLP predecessors. The final evaluation was not provided with the Northern Territory reading data, except for one school. Why?

I have learned that relatively advantaged students, such as those from Catholic schools in Western Australia, end up benefiting from effective literacy approaches whereas students from the most disadvantaged Indigenous schools do not, because the level of ideological resistance to effective teaching in public education is debilitating. The poor therefore suffer and have no way of breaking out of their social and economic disadvantage without effective schooling.

Evaluations are a mixed bag, and this one is no exception. The positive impact on student learning is confirmed, as is the impact on teacher capabilities. However, the academics can’t help themselves, and they betray their ­academic predisposition towards constructivism rather than teacher-directed learning.

The evaluators devote more time on an obscure academic from Durham University, a Professor Davis whose four-page article they reference is just a diatribe against the very notion of ­evidence-based teaching. More heed is paid to Davis than to John Hattie’s landmark meta-analyses in his 2009 book Visible Learning, which sets out the large evidence base for direct instruction. Why would evaluators cavil with the well-established international ­evidence in the context of the evaluation of a small sample like these schools?

More bizarre is their referencing of Yong Zhou, an American academic whose entire thesis is this: direct instruction may improve test scores but there are negative side-effects such as the impact on student creativity and critique. No evidence of these side-effects is given, and anyone familiar with this horse excrement will know that the creativity and critique argument was alleged against direct instruction more than 50 years ago.

The evaluators are effectively saying, yes our job is to evaluate planet earth, but we will also pay heed to the flat earthers. Most troubling, however, is the assumption that what works for children from many diverse cultural, socio-economic and learning disability backgrounds, somehow doesn’t apply to Indigenous learners. This is an insidious fallacy that has no foundation in any evidence that I’ve ever heard about. The starting point to any approach to educational policy must be that Indigenous children have the same cognitive learning mechanisms and capabilities as other human learners. What is effective instruction for Hispanic migrant children in Texas or middle-class students in a Jewish school in Sydney is ­effective for Indigenous kids. Contexts must be taken into account, but this implication that Indigenous learners are different is a ­disgracefully wrong assumption perpetuated by these evaluators.

The new federal minister is well aware of this policy history. He and I talked about Rowe and the challenges facing Australian school education ever since he first came from Harvard to work in Cape York 20 years ago. He is now in the driving seat.

Can he make the school education federation work for all of Australia’s children?




No comments: