The education revolution that wasn’t. Education is back in the headlines, but in a most peculiar way. Education Minister Christopher Pyne has announced that he wants to make 25% of Australia’s public schools “independent”, to lift student outcomes. There are a couple of problems with this announcement. First, we have had a perfect controlled experiment in Australia on the effectiveness of more school autonomy that has been running for the last two decades. Victoria has had one of the most devolved or autonomous public school systems in the world (yep, in the world) for 20 years. Its neighbour, New South Wales, has had a centralised system during the same period. Is there any difference in student outcomes between NSW and Victoria? Have Victoria’s independent public schools left NSW’s in the dust? Nope, the two systems are “neck and neck“. Making public schools more autonomous may not do much harm, but it doesn’t appear to do much good either.
But there is a much more peculiar side to Pyne’s announcement than merely spending 70 million badly needed dollars on busy work. According to education researcher Bronwyn Hinz, 25% of Australia’s public schools are already “independent”. So that’s 70 million badly needed dollars for … um …. what we already have.
I wonder what Pyne’s next announcement might be — that he wants all Australian public school buildings to have roofs? (If he promised to stop any of them leaking, that would be an improvement — and might cost round about $70 million, at that.)
Wages in perspective. In other news this week, we’ve seen approval for the dumping of 106 million cubic feet of dredged sand on the Great Barrier Reef and the denial of a financial rescue package to SPC Ardmona, despite the possible loss of jobs in an already struggling rural area. Given that SPC is a division of Coca-Cola Amatil, I do find it hard to raise much sympathy for the management, but Prime Minister Tony Abbott blamed workers and their unsustainable wages for the company’s difficulties, a claim that was pithily refuted by union stalwart Paul Howes on Twitter.
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Celebrity tragedies. The week also brought renewed discussion of Woody Allen and the claims he abused his adopted daughter when she was seven. I’m always loath to leap to conclusions about situations I know little or nothing about, but I did very much like a carefully nuanced and compassionate piece by Suzanne Moore in The Guardian about attacking Allen on social media.
Celebrities were very much in the headlines this week, none of them in a good way. Ian Thorpe went into hospital for depression, and another — though very different — great, Philip Seymour Hoffman, succumbed to his own demons. Perhaps it’s no surprise that celebrity is the burden it appears to be when tragedy gives rise to newspaper coverage like this:
And it wasn’t only Martin who was horrified at the extraordinary callousness of this headline; there was groundswell of revulsion in social media, leading to the story being taken down.
Abbott takedown. Speaking of things being taken down, Abbott’s YouTube video extolling the promises he has kept since being elected was removed from the site for breaking the rules around deceptive content. And, while there were some very funny tweets this week (see below), none could compete with the hilarity of that non-video.
Tweets of the week. Nevertheless, here are my favourites:
And this (it appeals to the cynic in me):
But the hands-down winner this week was from another Abbott (who knew that family were such natural comedians?), a Margie Abbott parody account, commenting on a young questioner in the audience of the first episode of Q&A for 2014:
I also loved this article by Guy Rundle in New Matilda On. The. Clunky. Culture. Wars. And I devoured a psychologically acute dissection by Mike Lofgren on the Truth-Out blog of what is driving supporters of the Tea Party and other far-Right movements, via @Leroy_Lynch. It is chilling, but well worth a read. This, via @Bairdjulia, made me laugh out loud:
But to end where I began, there was also a stern warning about sex education from one of the esteemed reviewers (and doughty cultural warriors) of our national curriculum, Kevin Donnelly, reported in Fairfax media by Gareth Hutchens. His book has a forward by Malcolm Turnbull, just quietly, which rather surprised me. I wondered how Turnbull’s gay constituents would feel about that? I suspect I know how they’d feel about an article on Advocate.com that LGBT youth suicide rates go down in LGBT-positive schools.
And, finally, here’s a story in the Herald-Sun of generosity, redemption, hope and welcome about the Tampa disaster 12 years on — sadly for us, as demonstrated by New Zealand.
A Guardian piece on the politics of class warfare sums it all up. The last line resonates in particular — “If inequality is going to get better in this country, first it’s going to get worse.” I really am starting to feel like everything is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.