Monthly Archives: January 2010

A crude analysis of Adelaide schools

I’ve put together a spreadsheet of NAPLAN results for Adelaide schools. NB: Not all Adelaide schools! ‘Though I like data and analyis, and I enjoy books filled with things that I already know, set out fair and square with no contradictions, spending that many hours on the My School website would just be very, very sad. I’ve concentrated on the schools in to the immediate north, east and south of the city centre. Please, let me know if there are schools that I’ve missed that you would like to see added to the analysis, and I will update my lists and the graphics below. And contact me if you would like me to send my spreadsheet to you, at my hotmail address, where I use dfr141 as my handle. Yes, the school my daughters go to is in the list, as is the secondary school we think they will attend.

The analysis is crude: I am no statistician. However I do know enough to exclude very small schools, such as the Sturt St Community School, because the very small year group sizes there mean that the data from the school is much more subject to variability.

The upshot of the analysis: the schools with the highest averages are private schools, but some public schools are level pegging with them, more or less, and many public schools are doing better than many private schools. If you have the money, and your child is a girl, then the Wilderness School looks very good indeed. Pembroke is also very good, but given the expense, it’s not clear why you would choose these schools over some of the very good state schools, such as Glenunga International, and Marryatville High School, which are performing at more-or-less the same level. The principal of one not-so-well performing private school has said that of course, they offer a rounded education, and they educate the whole person [link]. In what, I ask? Most of the state schools claim to do that too, and some of the money that parents don’t spend on high fees is often spent on “whole person” stuff, such as music lessons and drama lessons and sports clubs and the like. That’s our approach, over and above our commitment to public education (our attitudes to state education are perhaps skewed by coming from New Zealand, where only 5% of children go to private schools).

If you take a look at the website of one high profile private school, you will see that they boast of having educated 3 Nobel laureates, 41 Rhodes scholars, and 8 Premiers. So, to me, it looks as though what they are selling is privilege, the sort of privilege that helps you to know the right people (a very important thing in Adelaide, I’ve found), to establish the right connections, to be the right sort of chap. Lovely.

Given that the private schools don’t really do any better than public schools, with a couple of exceptions (that would be Wilderness and Pembroke), I have to conclude that what the private schools are selling is not education, but snobbery, the ability to say, “Oh yes, darling, my children are being educated at [fill in the private school of your choice here].” I feel deeply uncomfortable about these sorts of attitudes, and I’ve been uncomfortable about them ever since we moved here. So much for egalitarianism.

Okay…. rant over. My very very crude averaging of schools’ scores on the NAPLAN test follows. All the usual caveats apply! I’ve used Year 7 results to rank primary schools, and year 9 results to rank secondary schools (primary school goes from Reception to year 7, and secondary school from year 8 to year 12, in South Australia). I’ve simply averaged the results in each curriculum area – Reading, Writing, Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation, Numeracy – to get a score for the school. This means that I’ve given far more weight to literacy skills than to numeracy skills. I suppose I could have done something a little more complicated, like averaging the four literacy skills and then averaging that score with the numeracy score to get an overall result for each school… but that looks just as value-laden as a simple average. I’ve included each school’s ICSEA number; that’s a measure of socio-economic advantage. But again, caveats! Please, do contact me if you want the full spreadsheets: I’m very happy to share.

Primary schools

Secondary schools

Friday Feminist – Naomi Scheman

We need to resist the temptation to present noncanonical voices as representative, as introducing diversity by giving the Black or women’s or whatever perspective. Such voices need to be diverse and to disagree among themselves. One of the sillier arguments against taking diversity as a reason for affirmative action has it that doing so presupposes that there is a distinctive perspective a member of the group in question will bring. The reality, of course, is exactly the reverse: it is when members of marginalized groups are scarce that those who are present are put in the role of representatives of their race, gender, disability, sexual identity, or whatever. One of the goals of affirmative action is to have enough members of such groups around that the diversity among them is always apparent (meaning both that there are enough people for the diversity to be represented and that they are sufficiently at home not to need to hide their diversity behind a united front).

Naomi Scheman, Engendering the Subject, 1993

Other things Tony said

The Australian Women’s Weekly is not my usual magazine purchase. In fact, I don’t normally buy it at all, but in a spirit of self-sacrifice, I have paid my $6.80 (inc GST), so that I can read more of what Father Abbott said, following on from his revelations about virginity as a gift (given by a woman to a man, of course, not the other way around), and pre-marital sex and so on, discussed at length on Larvatus Prodeo, and here on In a Strange Land, and at SkepticLawyer, and at An Onymous Lefty, and no doubt elsewhere in the blogosphere too (feel free to add links to other pieces in comments).

Part of the article is on-line, but there’s more in the print edition, including that budgiesmugglers shot, which I could have done without at morning tea time. There are some interesting tidbits there, including this one:

On the problem of businesses paying women on average 16 per cent less than they pay men in the same jobs, Tony is unaware there is still a problem.

Well, that’s good, isn’t it. A man who wants to be prime minister is simply unaware of one of the major obstacles that women face.

And then there’s this, which is not in the on-line edition:

The issue is not whether some women don’t like him because every politician has a core group of people who hate them. The real question is how many women don’t like him. “I suspect that it is probably more than 10 per cent, but less than 70%,” says Tony.

“Look, we are all just guesstimating here because we don’t have this kind of sophisticated polling, but I suspect that [what] we are talking about here is a woman of a certain age, in a certain line of work.

“I think we are talking about younger professional women, essentially, who, for perfectly good reasons, don’t want to be told by anyone else how they should live their lives.”

Nice work on the apostrophising there, Tony. “Women of a certain age” and “in a certain line of work.” Do you get the feeling that he might just be a little scared of some women?

Another little beauty, this time with respect to morals:

Yet before he tackles the big issues… he stops the flow of questions. “Let’s start, if we may, [on] the traditional moral teaching in this area, which until a generation ago, was not regarded as the Catholic Church’s teaching. It was regarded as the accepted wisdom of Western civilisation. It was based on the understanding that, if families were a good thing, intact families were a good thing, happy marriages were a good thing.”

So you see, it’s not that the Catholic church is out of touch with modern society. It’s that modern society is out of touch with the Catholic church. And let’s get those “women of a certain age, in a certain line of work” all married off, and straight back into the family home. Then they won’t be nearly so much trouble.

Tony Abbott, working on restoring the patriarchy, as quick as he can.

As for the Australian Women’s Weekly, February 2010 edition: there’s some excellent recipes in it. I especially like the section on what to put in school lunch boxes.

Cross posted


Previous posts in my occasional series about Father Abbott:
More stripes
Revealing his stripes

The Great Australian Internet Blackout

Joining The Great Australian Internet Blackout (sticky post)

More stripes

Tony Abbott, leader of the opposition in Australia, doesn’t like contraception. Because if people can use contraception, then oh noes, they have sex. And even worse, because women and men can use contraception, some women have been taken advantage of. Really, women should stay virgin until they get married, because virginity is a gift to their husbands.

Yes. It’s really true. He did say all this. Take a look for yourself.

I confess that I laughed out loud when I read the article. Racing straight back to the nineteenth century, he is.

Jeremy, An Onymous Lefty, does a nice job taking apart the “save yourself for marriage” idea. You should head on over there and read it. But more than no-sex-before-marriage-for-women, Father Abbott has a rather nasty idea about women’s autonomy in this. It seems he thinks that they don’t really have any, that they can just be pressured into sex.

Well, yes, of course that can happen. But really, don’t you think that lots and lots and lots of pre-marital and extra-marital sex happens because – quick, cover your ears, Tony – people like sex. And even people who are women like sex. And they might choose to have sex because they want to have sex, not just because they ‘give in’ to some man. And that the fantastic part about contraception is that at last, women could choose to have sex, without fear of becoming pregnant. A good liberal ought to be delighted that people’s autonomous choices were made easier, not chewing his fingers and angsting over whether people ought to have sex at all. Or maybe he just doesn’t like the idea that women might choose to have sex, might be sexual beings, might have preferences and desires and make choices, all of their own.

It’s all pretty antediluvian stuff. Whaddya think Abbott will come out with next? And when do you think that the Liberal party will realise that Abbott’s conservative Catholicism might not actually be a vote winner?

Update: Forgiveness is overrated by SkepticLawyer is worth reading.

Rather, I’m suggesting that shaming is the appropriate response to public figures who get off on wallowing in their sin in public, and who then purport to advise the rest of us on the basis of that wallowing. Talking the talk requires walking the walk, in other words.


This is the second in what I predict will be a not so very occasional series about Tony Abbott.

Previous post in this series: Revealing his stripes

Plus if you haven’t already, read Pavlov’s Cat’s piece: The Abbott and the Women: some thoughts.

Twenty years

We reached twenty years of wedded bliss last week. NB: it’s not so much the wedding per se, but the on-going commitment to each other. It has been tough at times, as is the case in any relationship, but we are still together, and glad to be together, and looking forward to the next twenty years, and hopefully another twenty after that, all going well health-wise.

If you have read Mary Doria Russell’s book, The Sparrow, you may recall that at one point, Anne Edwards, an older woman, reflects on the nature of her marriage of several decades to George. She says that she has been married to several men, but as it turns out, it has always been to the same man. What she means is that over the years both she and her husband have changed, and every ten years or so, they have changed so much that there comes a time when each of them needs to think, do I still want to be married to this person. In her case, as it turns out, each time she has been able to recommit to George. But she sees this as a matter of good fortune, as much as anything else.

Mr Strange Land drives me to frustration, at times. As I am sure I do to him. But having been through some rough times (notably, infertility, and two PhDs, all known marriage breakers), I know that we have been very lucky to have changed and grown in such a way that we can still be together, we can keep on making the commitment to each other, and my life is much the richer for it.

Mr Strange Land and I do not give each other wedding anniversary presents. Our custom is to have a good meal together, either at home, or out, depending, and to buy something together, for us. Even so, the strangelings made a card for us with this Lolcat:

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Trust women

This is my contribution to Blog for Choice Day.

Either women are autonomous, moral adults, or they are children. By ‘autonomous moral adult’, I mean someone who is capable of making her own decisions, of weighing up the issues, considering what matters to her, thinking about possible outcomes, thinking about what particular actions say about her character, and then, deciding what to do, and living with the consequences. She may seek advice from other people, she may look for factual information, she may discuss the matter very, very carefully with her partner, she may keep her reflections entirely to herself. But ultimately, she makes the decision. And if we do not allow women to make moral decisions for themselves, if we do not trust women, then we relegate them / ourselves to being subjects. And that is intolerable.

John Stuart Mill talked about why people should be allowed to make decisions for themselves, in his great text, On Liberty. In Chapter IV, “Of the Limits to the Authority of Society over the Individual”, he gives three reasons for not interfering with the choices that individuals make: it gives governments too much power; the individual her or himself is the person best placed to make judgements about their own lives; to interfere is to refuse to allow the person to take responsibility for themselves, as adults must.

If society lets any considerable number of its members grow up mere children, incapable of being acted on by rational consideration of distant motives, society has itself to blame for the consequences. Armed not only with all the powers of education, but with the ascendancy which the authority of a received opinion always exercises over the minds who are least fitted to judge for themselves; and aided by the natural penalties which cannot be prevented from falling on those who incur the distaste or the contempt of those who know them; let not society pretend that it needs, besides all this, the power to issue commands and enforce obedience in the personal concerns of individuals, in which, on all principles of justice and policy, the decision ought to rest with those who are to abide the consequences.

As I have argued before, no matter which way people twist and turn, the abortion decision is a moral decision. It can turn on all sorts of issues: some people argue that women have rights to their own bodies; others, including me, argue that a fetus is not a person and so is not a subject of moral concern (other than with respect to questions of pain and suffering); others argue that if abortion is not legal, then all sorts of horrors will result. Whatever the particular reasons that individuals rely on most, it’s clear that no matter what, this is a moral decision. As such, it is one that we must trust women to take.

And there is plenty of evidence that women take the abortion decision very seriously indeed. It’s not a matter of mere choice, a simple taste, like a preference for strawberry icecream rather than chocolate. When Carol Gilligan first explored the way that women approach issues of justice and morality, she used the abortion decision as a test case. Whether or not you think that the ethic of care that she identifies is descriptively valid, it is nevertheless clear that a decision about abortion is a serious one for women. Even though women, as adults, don’t need to justify that trust (we don’t require adults to justify the trust we place in them to make decisions for themselves at all), it is clear that women do treat abortion with the weight it deserves. To be sure, there may be some people who treat abortion casually, but I suspect they are very much in the minority. And even so, just because some women might treat abortion casually, that doesn’t mean that all women should be disbarred from making decisions for themselves.

When it comes to abortion, simply, we must trust women to make that decision themselves. That means we must be pro-choice. That may well mean that we still would not choose abortion for ourselves. But it does mean that we must not stand in the way of women when they make that decision for themselves.


You may also be interested in an earlier post I wrote that covers some of the same ground: Why feminists must be pro-choice.


More Blog for Choice Day posts that have come up in my feed reader:

Today is Blog for Choice Day by PhDork at The Pursuit of Harpyness
Blog for Choice Day News: Shooting Man in Head is Not News by ProfBigK at Feminist Philosophers
Blogging for Choice: On Trusting (and Not Trusting) Women by Jill, and Blog for Choice 2010 by Frau Sally Benz, both at Feministe
Reality Check by Mór Rígan at Morrigan Reborn
Blog for Choice 2010: Trust Women by Anji at Shut Up, Sit Down
Why I am Pro Choice: Blog for Choice Day by Undomestic Goddess at The Undomestic Goddess
Do you trust women? by bitchphd at Bitch Ph.D.
Trust Women by Spilt Milk at Spilt Milk
Blogging for Choice: Trusting Women by tigtog at Hoyden about Town
Do you REALLY trust women? by amandaw at FWD / Forward