Tuesday, September 29, 2009

SBS Insight: Should schools test results be made public?

I'll flag this for anyone who wants to watch and read in preparation for more detailed future analysis and discussion.

SBS Insight, 18th August 2009: Best and Worst Schools - Should schools test results be made public?
Watch Online
Live Chat

This features Julia Gillard (Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education), Barry McGaw (Chair of the Australian Curriculum and Assessment Authority), Brian Caldwell, Joel Klein (Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education) and others in a discussion about the Australian Labour Party Government policy to publish school performance on line at the end of this year

Some of the to and fro in this discussion is very interesting and provides a good starting point for a deeper analysis

Although part of the Gillard critique of schools is legitimate her analysis consists mainly of motherhood statements ("we will be there with resources ...", etc.) and the solution of publishing test results, which will lead to media outlets constructing league tables of schools, will not improve things.

Some issues raised need to be discussed in more depth:
  • the problematic notion of comparing Like Schools (first it is not possible for many schools; second the whole notion of Like Schools is accepting inequality to start with - some schools are so Unlike that comparisons are pointless)
  • the claim that smaller class sizes do not make a difference
  • the Finland comparison articulated by Brian Caldwell
  • Teach for Australia
  • a fascinating exchange between Mary-Ellen Betts and Joel Klein about the New York experience
  • how the media has already and will sensationalize complex issues - the editor of the Hobart Mercury was exposed here as a namer and shamer and was seen as ridiculous in his denial of this
At the end, the moderator, Jenny Brockie, did challenge critics of the Gillard policies to voice their alternatives. I think the alternative arises out of a correct analysis and I can provide a thumbnail here.

The problem is social class, that disadvantage does not arise alone from school and so cannot be fixed alone by school or teachers. In reformist terms, to make a real impact would require a co-ordinated effort involving:
  • massive early intervention in cases where parents are not willing or capable of helping with their children's education
  • raising the status and qualifications of teachers - Caldwell makes valid points wrt Finland requiring teachers to have a Masters Degree
  • 1:1 assistance in the early years when children fall behind
  • government intervention in welfare policy in cases where parents provide destructive learning environment for children, following the lead from Noel Pearson wrt indigenous policy
Rather than providing real answers the Gillard solution is attempting to leverage all or most of the responsibility of the problem onto teachers. Her talk of "being there" and providing extra resources is mainly rhetoric. It is true that schools have problems with under performing teachers ("deadwood") but that is mainly a representation of a far broader problem - the status and respect of education in Australian society. That broader problem is a government responsibility not just a responsibility to be passed onto teachers and schools.

There are votes in this - attempting to do it on the cheap and blaming teachers for the failure of government. Politicians have to be seen as doing something and for Julia and Labour that something is the "education revolution", an empty phrase which she uses far too much.

In this regard the most opportunist and disgusting rhetoric was that provided by Barry McGaw right at the start of Part 3 of the online video where he criticises the counsel of despair of those who claim that socio-economic disadvantage cannot be overcome and promotes himself as someone who is doing something effective about it.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

the internet of things

Cerf: The Internet of things is on its way. The clear evidence of that, of course, is mobile to begin with, appliances that are now Internet-enabled, picture frames, refrigerators and things like that, office appliances, appliances at home. The smart grid is going to accelerate that process because more and more appliances will be part of the smart grid and its ensemble. They will be reporting their use. They will be accepting control saying, "Hey, don't run the air conditioner for the next 15 minutes, I'm in the middle of a peak load." We'll see many, many more devices on the Net than there are people [and] more sensor networks on the system, as well
- 'Father of Internet' Reviews His Work

Saturday, September 19, 2009

shape 31

I asked some of my more able students to create the above shape in Turtle Art (from the Barry Newell shape sheet) using variables, so that by varying the input value they could create the same shape in different sizes, as shown below:

Well, this did set the cat amongst the pigeons even amongst my better students who had been happily in the groove making complex shapes from the BN sheet. One problem was that in their procedure they were using subtraction to alter side length and of course this will not work for variable size shapes.

Another issue is that despite doing algebra out of a textbook they didn't really grasp the box model of a variable, that you need for programming. Imagine a box which has a name, which doesn't vary, but you can put numbers (or other things) in the box which do vary.

So, I realised this was a nice challenge in real maths and understanding of the application of variables, measurement, ratio, proportion and fractions. I see this as an excellent example of constructionist maths in contrast to textbook maths.

Clue: When I measure the lengths of the "curly rectangle" (not sure what the correct name is) on a larger diagram in BN's book they are 46mm, 32mm and 39mm

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Pearsons Writers Festival transcript (partial)

Here’s an extract I’ve transcribed from Noel Pearson’s speech to the Brisbane Writers Festival. He challenges us to recognize our self interest as real and outlines how the left has deteriorated from a radical movement in the 19th Century to a pseudo progressive movement that covertly opposes the interests of oppressed people. While Pearson spoke the Green Left organized a demonstration against him outside.

It’s best to listen to the audio (and the whole thing) since his delivery is very powerful. Source: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/foraradio/stories/2009/2686843.htm

14:00 minutes
I’m very taken with the discussion about self interest and its relationship with altruism …. you know Adam Smith’s discussion about self regard and other regard and the relationship between the two … and our capacity as human beings to have regard for other things than ourselves and our own interests

I want to make two observations about this

The problem with a lot of contemporary thinking about the whole question of self interest and altruism is that too many left liberals think that we can somehow abandon our self interest, that we can be completely altruistic

We forget David Hume’s point that self interest is present at all times. We never for a minute abandon our own self interest. It figures in all of our calculations, it is the starting point when we get up in the morning. and yet we carry on with a conceit that somehow we are singular in our capacity to transcend our self interest in favour of the interests of other members of society, in favour of the environment, in favour of a whole lot of important causes

As the old leftist would say, we engage in false consciousness, we’re kidding ourselves when we think we are singular in our ability to cut a link with our self interest. Yes we are human and we have that extraordinary human capacity to transcend our interests. But we are never cut off from it

And my great truculence in relation to the whole environmental debate and peoples’ concerns about the state of the planet, the destruction of bio diversity, climate change and so on, is that too much of this discussion takes place as if we are uniquely capable of putting aside our self interest. We are not. We engage in conceit when we think we can. The minute our interests start getting effected is the minute that we will buck up. And in my view the great function of the western environmental movement (it will not have the function of effectively confronting and solving the problems of environmentally catastrophe facing the world. I don’t believe it) … All that the western environmental movement will do will be to try to shift the cost to those who can least bear it. (repeated again) The minute that the changes that are sought will affect your interests, those in this room, is the minute you will turn against those changes

And this kind of schizophrenia about us not wanting our material well being to suffer whilst at the same time wanting a whole lot of fundamental changes made to the way we deal with the environment is an absolute reflection of the fact that when it comes down to it, whatever we might profess is at odds with what our actual interests are

The other point I wanted to discuss is that in consideration of the predicament of indigenous Australians our analysis has not just got to take into account the horizontal division between indigenous and non indigenous Australians – the race division. We can’t understand what is going on here unless we also understand the vertical stratification within the indigenous community and so on. This is not just a question of race. It is also a question of class. And this is one of the issues I address in my Quarterly essay. I am not just an aboriginal Australian. I am in truth a middle class aboriginal. And there are many indigenous people who share that class position with me. And a real challenge for us is the challenge in relation to whether many of the things we believe in represent our interests in our class status. Or are we unique in our ability to abandon our interests in being members of a class? It seems to me that that is another conceit that we engage in. There is a middle class black Australia. In my Quarterly essay I seek to discuss what comes down to a real challenge to the black middle class and the white middle class left.

In my view the middle class left is by definition an oxymoron. There is no true middle class left. It is in the definition of the tradition an impossible category. In my Quarterly essay I seek to articulate my argument in relation to this.

My own view about political economy is that the Left / Right divide has swung over time. Its polarized around this way. They are not true Left and Right positions. Because the original critique of liberal political economy that was advanced in the 19th Century was a radical critique. This is not the critique that the Left advances today. So the winds of political economy have swung over the past century and a half such that, yes, there is a cultural and political animus between left and right today. But it is not an animus on the original plane. The left’s critique is not a radical critique as it was when it was first invented. The threatening radical critique that was developed in the 19th Century in response to liberal capitalism is not the lefts position today.

And so we get to the really curious situation where we find ourselves in relation to the predicament in relation to aboriginal Australians. I’ve been an absolutely unrelenting advocate for the land rights of my people of Cape York. We have been relentless in insisting on the land rights and land entitlement of our people. And we’ve recovered a lot of lands under state legislation and under the Mabo decision and the Wik decision. Over the course of the last 20 years we’ve made great gains in restoring the land rights of our people. Mabo was extremely important in that as was the Wik decision.

Now the agenda for our development is an agenda that promotes both land rights and reform. – development reform and welfare reform. Our people taking responsibility for our lives, rebuilding families, rebuilding the strength in our people. And never succumbing to victimhood .

And we’ve been at odds with so much of the progressive thinking around what was right for aboriginal people. In my Quarterly essay I discuss a rule of thumb I’ve always had. The rule of thumb that I’ve had over the past 10 years is one that says whatever the progressive nostrum is to a particular issue we have got to look at approximately the opposite of that for the solution. And it’s always born out. In searching for the right way forward our rule of thumb is nearly always born out. If we do almost the opposite of what is prescribed it turns out to be the right thing to do.

And that’s a strange state of affairs. It is strange that on too many issues the progressive position is regressive. The progressive position would see us further unravel and make no progress.

We actually need more law and order in order to have freedom. But the progressive position is 180 degrees away from that. In my writing over the years I’ve sought to articulate this position about how it is that the sails of progressive thinking are set almost entirely in a way that I would be able to argue is contrary to our interests

I could give many examples of this. One of which is our position with regard to welfare. My position is that we’re not entitled to welfare. We’re entitled to a fair place in the economy like you people. How is it that you’ve convinced me that I’ve a right to 12,500 dollars per annum. How is it that I have been convinced that I’ve a right to 12,500 dollars per annum. I’ve a greater right than that. I have a right to a share in the country like the rest of you. I have a greater right than welfare. But if you condition a people to think, "Geez, we have a right to welfare, we’re going to defend it to the death", then you’re defending your right to remain at the bottom of the pyramid. With complete obedience you accept your position down there. But we in Cape York say no. we’ve got a better right than welfare. We’ve got a right to take a real place in the economy. Just like everybody else.

So on numerous policy settings we set the sails in a completely different position from the progressive prescription ... how is that our culture can produce currents to get an oppressed people to accept their oppression, to get an oppressed people to accept their right to welfare.
28:00 minutes

Noel Pearson's speech to Writers Festival


links to a fabulous recent talk by Noel Pearson (41 minutes) to the Brisbane Writers festival replete with biting sarcastic humour whilst the green left demonstrate against him outside

conservatism, socialism, liberalism - we came to the view that these three great traditions are each necessary in defining a good society

13 minutes elaboration, including … there is no miraculous social justice forklift - only individuals climb the stairs

then discusses the relationship b/w self interest and altruism - lets drop the conceit that self interest is not involved in our motivations

the middle class left is an oxymoron

then he lets rip into wilderness society protesters who have a far greater carbon footprint than the average indigenous family from Cape York

He refers to a recent essay he has written (Quarterly essay) which discusses the real relationship b/w left and right - at the end the title is identified: “Radical Hope”, soon to be published by Black Ink

fabulous speech, take the time to listen - it deserves a better review than these hasty notes

Saturday, September 12, 2009

skeptical about economic recovery

I'm skeptical about the green shoots talk of economic recovery

I'm very far from being expert about economics. I do hope to get back to studying it more soon.

How do you judge these things when you are not expert?

Well, if those experts who did predict this "great recession" thought that there was a real recovery happening then I would be more inclined to think it true

Who are those experts who have some real credibility?

Steve Keen (of Western Sydney Uni) is one. I'm subscribing to his blog: Steve Keen's Debtwatch: Analysing the Global Debt Bubble

One of Keen's blogs links to this pdf ("No one saw it coming") which includes a list of 12 experts who predicted the recession:
Dean Baker, US co-director, Center for Economic and Policy Research
“ …plunging housing investment will likely push the economy into recession.” (2006)

Wynne Godley, US Distinguished Scholar, Levy Economics Institute of Bard College
“The small slowdown in the rate at which US household debt levels are rising resulting form the house price decline, will immediately lead to a …sustained growth recession … before 2010”. (2006). “Unemployment [will] start to rise significantly and does not come down again.” (2007)

Fred Harrison, UK Economic commentator
“The next property market tipping point is due at end of 2007 or early 2008 …The only way prices can be brought back to affordable levels is a slump or recession” (2005).

Michael Hudson, US professor, University of Missouri
“Debt deflation will shrink the “real” economy, drive down real wages, and push our debt-ridden economy into Japan-style stagnation or worse.” (2006)

Eric Janszen, US investor and iTulip commentator
“The US will enter a recession within years” (2006). “US stock markets are likely to begin in 2008 to experience a “Debt Deflation Bear Market” (2007)

Stephen Keen, Australia associate professor, University of Western Sydney
“Long before we manage to reverse the current rise in debt, the economy will be in a recession. On current data, we may already be in one.” (2006)

Jakob Brøchner Madsen & Jens Kjaer Sørensen, Denmark
professor & graduate student, Copenhagen University
“We are seeing large bubbles and if they bust, there is no backup. The outlook is very bad” (2005)” The bursting of this housing bubble will have a severe impact on the world economy and may even result in a recession” (2006).

Kurt Richebächer, US private consultant and investment newsletter writer
“The new housing bubble – together with the bond and stock bubbles – will invariably implode in the foreseeable future, plunging the U.S. economy into a protracted, deep recession” (2001). “A recession and bear market in asset prices are inevitable for the U.S. economy… All remaining questions pertain solely to speed, depth and duration of the economy’s downturn.” (2006)

Nouriel Roubini, US professor, New York University
“Real home prices are likely to fall at least 30% over the next 3 years“(2005). “By itself this house price slump is enough to trigger a US recession.” (2006)

Peter Schiff , US stock broker, investment adviser and commentator
“[t]he United States economy is like the Titanic …I see a real financial crisis coming for the United States.” (2006). “There will be an economic collapse” (2007).

Robert Shiller , US professor, Yale University
“There is significant risk of a very bad period, with rising default and foreclosures, serious trouble in financial markets, and a possible recession sooner than most of us expected.” (2006)

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Sutton reviews Pearson

Here I Stand
An excellent review by Peter Sutton of Noel Pearson's book "Up from the Mission". Actually it is more a review of Pearson, the person, his gifts and incredible contribution to Australia.