Ideas@TheCentre – The Centre for Independent Studies


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.

10 years of slow progress

Jennifer Buckingham

11 December 2015 | Ideas@TheCentre

4f85575b-a944-4db9-a084-e439d549c1a5CIS held a roundtable this week to mark the tenth anniversary of the National Inquiry into Teaching Literacy. The inquiry was prompted by an open letter to then federal education minister Brendan Nelson from 26 academics who were deeply concerned about persistent low literacy of Australian students. Published in The Australian, the letter stated that in many schools, teachers were not using the most effective, evidence-based instruction methods and literacy programs. It warned literacy rates would not improve until this changed.

The report from the inquiry supported the letter’s claims. However, 10 years later, progress has been slow and literacy rates reflect this. At the CIS roundtable, Emeritus Professor Max Coltheart — one of the signatories to the 2004 letter — described the timeline of action and inaction over the past 10 years: a somewhat depressing illustration of the challenge of getting research evidence into classroom practice. Dr Jenny Donovan talked about the work of the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (CESE); an important initiative of the NSW Department of Education and Training that is attempting to bridge the research-to-practice gap.

For substantial change to occur, multiple players will need to be involved. High-level policy documents now more often reflect the evidence on teaching reading, but principals and teachers carry the responsibility for classroom implementation — and this has been patchy. Western Australian media this week reported on a study of nine schools that had achieved exceptional performance in NAPLAN. It found that all nine had in common the explicit and systematic teaching of phonics (also known as ‘synthetic phonics’) in the early years of primary school.

The study author, Emeritus Professor Bill Louden — who was deputy chair of the NITL committee in 2005 — said “All of the schools were using synthetic phonics and 10 years ago that wouldn’t have been the case…from my point of view, there is no excuse not to begin with synthetic phonics with small children, otherwise you’re just waiting for them to fail.”

Perhaps there is a glimmer of hope after all. Early next year, the CIS will launch its project to ensure effective reading instruction is provided for all children. Stay tuned.

Good news on charities - mostly

Helen Andrews

11 December 2015 | Ideas@TheCentre

6dcc1350-2e05-4c08-8932-4462ba62679dWhen the Gillard government created the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), it was a mixed blessing. On one hand, it imposed brand new red tape on small charities that never had to report to bureaucrats before. On the other hand, it was poised to gather brand new data on a sector that had never been surveyed in a systematic way.

That data has now been gathered in a report that, for the first time ever, gives an overall picture of Australia’s not-for-profit sector. Some of the more interesting findings:

  • The combined income of all charities was $103 billion in 2014.
  • Nearly half of all charities (44%) have no paid staff.
  • A third of charities (38%) are more than twenty years old.
  • More than 85% of charities operate within one state only.
  • Half of charities had income less than $146,000.

The charities commission has been trumpeting that top-line figure, $103 billion, in order to underline their claim that the not-for-profit sector has become too big to be left unsupervised by Canberra. But if the NFP sector has grown big in some ways, it has remained small in others.

Nearly half of all charities are entirely volunteer-run, and six out of seven operate in just one state. Regulation that would be a mere nuisance to WorldVision can be crippling to small charities, so the fact that they make up such a large share of the charity sector should make bureaucrats and politicians think twice before they add further red tape.

The only distressing finding in the report is that two out of five large charities receive more than half of their funds from government. This is not entirely unexpected in a sector that includes schools, medical facilities, and social services-but it is something to keep an eye on.

Thankfully, those of us who believe that independence from the state is the heart of civil society can take comfort in the fact that six out of ten registered charities receive no money from the government whatsoever-and that includes the CIS!

Sultan and Tsar walk into a bar...

Anastasia Glushko

11 December 2015 | Ideas@TheCentre

a517b9dd-a2e3-4d7d-b947-011c35a8516e…and the world comes pretty close to WWIII.

Two weeks ago, fighter aircraft from NATO’s second-largest military, Turkey, shot down a Russian military plane along the Turkish-Syrian border, killing one of the pilots.

Russian President Putin immediately threatened “serious consequences” for this “stab in the back” – the two countries had hitherto been close strategic allies, and its leaders good friends.

The Turkish President Erdogan responded by calling an emergency NATO meeting. This alarmed practically everybody, since Article 5 of the NATO Treaty calls for mutual self-defence, which means that if Russia retaliates militarily, it will be at war with NATO.

The international hyperventilation was caused not only by Erdogan and Putin’s shared proclivity towards the use of force: it is thought to be the first time a NATO country has shot down a Russian plane in half a century.

Thankfully, Putin does not seem to have an appetite for such a conflict, not least because of Turkey’s reliance on Russia for half its natural gas supplies, which was worth $10 billion last year.

However, he has promised that the fallout will be long-lasting and serious.  Russia has imposed economic sanctions, shut down all diplomatic and military channels of communication with Turkey, and accused its government of complicity with terrorists.

The incident complicates the already difficult task of forging a diplomatic breakthrough against the Islamic State in Syria.

With NATO-Russian relations already at a historic low for the past two years, Turkey’s decision to fire on a Russian warplane has angered and embarrassed Putin, whose domestic popularity relies in great part on his determination to rebuild Russia’s international standing.

In doing so, Turkey has severely undercut international efforts to persuade Russia to drop its support for Bashar al-Assad, and has all but dashed François Hollande’s hopes for a grand international coalition against ISIS.

The dangers of world powers running overlapping and uncoordinated military operations across Syria are already obvious. As the diplomatic impasse between Russia and Turkey continues, the potential for escalation and miscalculation is greater than it ever has been before.