Ideas@TheCentre

Ideas@TheCentre brings you ammunition for conversations around the table.  3 short articles from CIS researchers emailed every Friday on the issues of the week.

More dollars don’t make sense

Glenn Fahey

14 February 2020 | ideas@theCentre

Australia’s four million school students may now be back in class, but it seems policymakers remain unschooled on education policy directions. 

The new school year comes on the back of December’s disappointing results from the OECD-run Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) — which showed Australian students’ performance has dropped not only in relative terms to other countries, but also in absolute terms. 

At the same time, new Productivity Commission figures released last week show taxpayer funding is higher than it’s ever been — and it’s even increasing faster than ever. 

Still, the silence on education policy from federal parliament’s first sitting weeks of the year is deafening. 

It appears policymakers see business as usual as the apparent fix to the ailing school system. However, spending more over again, and expecting a different outcome, must surely be the definition of policy insanity.

To achieve an improvement in student outcomes demands a change in performance culture throughout the system, root and branch. That’s because everywhere in education policy, performance has lamentably become a dirty word. 

In the way of improvements are vested interests that’ve been crippling policymaking for years, particularly in terms of assessment, competition and performance management — much to the disservice of students, parents, taxpayers, and even teachers.

For students, performance can be revived with a high-expectations environment that welcomes, rather than fears, testing — much like exists in the cleverest countries in the world. Straightforward as it sounds, research shows that simply setting high expectations actually leads to higher achievement.

When it comes to schools, genuine competitive pressure about performance makes them accountable and provides assurance to parents and taxpayers. The jury is in that parents do value the transparency that comes with tools like the MySchool website. And OECD research is clear that school systems with more accountability do better.

Teachers suffer, too, from the anti-performance crusade. That’s because their performance is never consistently, independently or objectively assessed once they’re at the chalkface. This denies them the benefits of further development from the basic performance management practices enjoyed in just about any other Australian workplace. Principals have their hands are tied, meaning they can’t reward top performing teachers, and also can’t do much about those who don’t meet the bar. 

If teachers aren’t working in an environment requiring, encouraging and helping them to meet high standards, is it any wonder that students don’t perform?

Before another $60 billion of public investment in schooling is made this year, policymakers would do well to shake up the approach to funding. 

Yes, money matters when it comes to student outcomes — but only when it’s used to incentivise performance for teachers and schools. That requires a wholesale shift in funding from inputs to outcomes.

When it comes to spending the education dollar, it makes policy sense to reward rather than shirk performance. 

Religious liberty under pressure

Doug Bandow

14 February 2020 | ideas@theCentre

There is no more fundamental liberty than the right to respond to one’s creator. Belief in the transcendent obviously varies, which is good reason for the state to stand clear as people respond to something infinitely mysterious and powerful. When government seeks to impose someone else’s understanding of the world beyond, it is interfering with the essence of the human person. Attempting to suppress people’s deepest spiritual beliefs also guarantees social conflict, since no serious believer in God can obey self-serving politicians instead.

Alas, the Pew Research Center finds a significant increase in infringements of religious liberty over the decade from 2007 to 2017. Government restrictions on religion — laws, policies and actions by state officials that restrict religious beliefs and practices — increased markedly around the world. And social hostilities involving religion — including violence and harassment by private individuals, organization or groups — also have risen since 2007.

Pew’s work is notable since it addresses two aspects of the ongoing attack on religious faith. One is legal restriction, from modest civil limits to brutal criminal penalties, including death. The other is social hostility, ranging from religious discrimination to mob violence. The two phenomena sometimes merge, especially in Islamic nations. In other cases, governments act despite general social indifference, like in China. In contrast, state repression trailed social antagonism in the Central African Republic.

Unfortunately, both threats contribute to persecution and are on the rise. Put the two together, and religious liberty is likely to suffer greatly. Pew reported that over the decade covered, “52 governments — including some in very populous countries like China, Indonesia and Russia — impose either ‘high’ or ‘very high’ levels of restrictions on religions, up from 40 in 2007.” The comparable increase for states exhibiting significant degrees of social hostility was 39 to 56.

The news was not entirely bad. Both religious restrictions and hostility actually peaked in 2012. But they have since rebounded after dropping. While the future is unpredictable, there is no reason to expect attacks on religious faith to fall measurably in the near term, at least.

There is no more fundamental freedom than the right to seek spiritual fulfillment. There was a time when Christian majorities used the state to oppress those who believed differently. Today the oppression mostly comes from those of other faiths, especially Muslims and Hindus, but also atheists, who rely on government to impose their worldviews. The result is massive injustice worldwide.

It isn’t enough to press governments to stop targeting religious believers. States also must protect their citizens from private extortion and violence. And defending spiritual liberty should not be viewed as only the government’s domain. People of goodwill of all faiths should act and organize to expose and shame oppressors around the globe. Freedom of conscience benefits all of us.

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. He currently is Scholar-in-Residence with Centre for Independent Studies. He is a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan and author of several books, including Beyond Good Intentions: A Biblical View of Politics and Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire. This is an edited extract of an opinion piece published in the US Spectator as Religious Persecution Continues to Increase, Threatening All Believers.

Change laws that enable violence

Jacinta Nampijinpa Price

14 February 2020 | ideas@theCentre

Claims that those of us who decry the violence against Aboriginal women and children are seeking the abandonment of indigen­ous culture are a straw man argument meant to deflect attention from the real issues.

Culture is an important part of indigenous life. But culture — every culture — changes. We no longer go about daily life in the traditional garb. We no longer eat only bush foods caught in the traditional way. And we should no longer allow the tradition of domination, violence, rape and assault to continue harming and killing indigenous women and kids.

Senior women in my family have told me, in whispers, of the spearing of women by their husbands and of the execution of a teenage girl for refusing to go to a middle-aged promised husband who had alread­y killed a wife.

All my life I have been taught to fear the law and that I could be killed if I broke it. All my life I have seen our women beaten, seen their wounds, visited them in hospital, been to their funerals.

The cultural ‘law’ that terrifies women and allows for their rape, bashing and murder — in conjunction with the other terrible problems of substance abuse, under-education and lack of employment — enables the epidemic of violence that is ­killing our women and girls.

I am deeply concerned about the fact that 23 per cent of Australian partner homicides are indigenous (despite us being only 3 per cent of the population) and that in the Northern Territory 85 per cent of partner homicides are indigenous.

We Aboriginal people must take responsibility for our own law and be willing to keep what is precious and beautiful but abandon what no longer works and denies us our human rights as Australian citizens.

This is an edited extract of an opinion piece published in The Australian as Indigenous law: Fix it if it’s wrong.