February 2012

An erudite contribution to the debate from Ross Gittins, as normal. I heard him last week refer to himself as a frustrated teacher, and he certainly has a deep and ongoing sympathy with the profession.

I wonder how many of us would be prepared to commit to an ongoing program of appraisal, feedback and development. Only the newest members – not necessarily the youngest – have had much experience of the formal type of process through the Institute of Teachers. Those who have speak highly of it.

I think the article is another challenge to our perceptions of the nature of the profession and raises possibilities for the future of how we do things at Chev.

‘ Systems of teacher appraisal and feedback that are directly linked to improved student performance can increase teacher effectiveness by as much as 20 to 30 per cent,’’ he says. Such an improvement would lift the performance of Australia’s students to the best in the world.

This clipping is from the February 29 issue of The Sydney Morning Herald Digital Edition. To subscribe for $4.50 a week, visit http://smh.com.au/digitaledition.

Better teaching could make our students the world’s best

A survey finds 63 per cent of teachers say appraisals of their work are done purely to meet administrative requirements.

Thank goodness for that. David Gonski and his committee have produced a comprehensive review of school funding without setting off a bitter debate between the proponents of government and nongovernment schools.

They’ve done it by focusing not on how the lolly is divided between the rival systems but on the needs of students, with greater funding to be shifted over time to those suffering disadvantage.

Their report has been warmly welcomed by most groups, though not so their request for governments to spend an extra $5 billion a year. And just how willing the states will be to rejig their spending according to the committee’s recommendations remains to be seen.

Some have suggested the report, worthy though it is, will be quietly pigeonholed, but I’m not so pessimistic . Just as Ken Henry produced his report on tax reform not for immediate implementation but to provide a road map for change over the coming decades, so the Gonski report will provide a guide to policymakers on the right – and wrong – direction in which to head.

And now we have that guide to how the funds should be directed, perhaps we can move on to the question of what we most need to do to improve the performance of our schools.

Have you noticed how often our furious debates about education and health are debates about how they should be funded rather than what we should be doing with the money? We seem to be extraordinarily preoccupied with who gets what rather than what they do with it.

Why this obsession with money? Partly because allocating funds is the main thing the federal government does. While the states run the schools and the hospitals, it’s the feds who raise most of the tax revenue and decide how it’s divided.

But also because all the interest groups involved – the doctors, teachers, health funds and private schools, not to mention the premiers – have an obvious motive to push for a bigger slice. These contesting groups use the media to enlist the support of the electorate, and you and I end up arguing endlessly about funding rather than the substance of education and health.

One attraction of the study that Dr Ben Jensen has been doing on education for the Grattan Institute is its focus on what we could be doing better.

As measured by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s regular testing of the performance of 15-year-olds at reading, maths and science under its program for international student assessment (PISA), Australia is doing well. We don’t do as well as Finland and Japan, but we’re consistently better than the Americans, British, Germans and French and about the same as the Canadians.

As more Asian countries are added to the comparisons, however, we’re slipping down the rankings. We also have a worryingly wide gap between the performance of our best and poorest students.

So we shouldn’t be resting on our laurels. What can we do to improve our schools’ performance? Well, it’s not simply a matter of spending more money.

Jensen says most studies show more effective teachers are the key to producing higher performing students . ‘‘ Conservative estimates suggest that students with a highly effective teacher learn twice as much as students with a less effective teacher,’’ he says.

‘‘ Teachers are the most important resource in Australian schools. Differences in teacher effectiveness account for a large proportion of differences in student outcomes – far larger than differences between schools. In fact, outside of family background, teacher effectiveness is the largest factor influencing student outcomes.’’

Jensen says there are five main mechanisms to improve teacher effectiveness: improving the quality of applicants to the teaching profession ; improving the quality of teachers ’ initial education and training; appraising and providing feedback to improve teachers once they’re working in the profession; recognising and rewarding effective teachers; and moving on ineffective teachers who’ve been unable to increase their effectiveness through improvement programs.

His greatest interest is in appraisal and feedback. ‘‘ Systems of teacher appraisal and feedback that are directly linked to improved student performance can increase teacher effectiveness by as much as 20 to 30 per cent,’’ he says. Such an improvement would lift the performance of Australia’s students to the best in the world.

Jensen says our present systems of teacher appraisal and feedback are broken. This is not to attack teachers, which would be both unfair and counterproductive. On the contrary, it acknowledges the central importance of the work of individual teachers and argues we should be investing in their greater effectiveness.

Indeed, no one understands the inadequacy of the present arrangements better than teachers themselves . A survey finds 63 per cent of them say appraisals of their work are done purely to meet administrative requirements. More than 90 per cent say the best teachers don’t receive the most recognition and reward, and 71 per cent say poorperforming teachers in their school won’t be dismissed.

‘‘ Instead, assessment and feedback are largely tick-a-box exercises not linked to better classroom teaching, teacher development or improved student results,’’ Jensen says.

He proposes a new system of teacher appraisal and feedback that avoids a centralised approach. ‘‘ Instead, schools should have the responsibility and autonomy to appraise and provide feedback to their own teachers.’’

Appraisal should be based on a ‘‘ balanced scorecard’ ’ that recognises all aspects of a teacher’s role. It thus shouldn’t rely solely on students ’ performance in national competency tests but should include such things as teachers observing and learning from other teachers, direct observation in the classroom by more experienced teachers, and surveys of students and parents.

Such an approach would require a culture change in many schools, but it offers huge benefits for relatively little cost.

Ross Gittins is the economics editor.

Need to read this again! Long analysis coming out in favour.

The great NBN fail

(Sent from Flipboard)

The first Vimeo upload! OK, an old one, but experimenting again.

I guess all school leaders have become cynical over the past ten years. The shenanigans of the various Teachers Federations during the period have been more than unedifying, and the unwillingness of the elite schools to acknowledge inequities in schools is just plain greedy.

Most disappointing has been the focus on school funding to the exclusion of questions of quality. Spending $5 billion will achieve nothing if development and accountability is not built into the funding arrangements for every school and every system. Getting rid of layers of bureaucracy – death to the DET – would also be helpful. Why not federalise all funding? Fund and staff every school independently, and let schools accept tenders from service and admin providers.

This clipping is from the February 21 issue of The Sydney Morning Herald Digital Edition. To subscribe for $4.50 a week, visit http://smh.com.au/digitaledition.

Copyright © 2012 The Sydney Morning Herald
Gonski was hamstrung from the start.

LABOR does not talk about its program much any more. Since Gough Whitlam the word is out of favour. But Labor does have a program and, bit by bit it is getting through it, though from the noise and smoke surrounding the leadership an observer might wonder.

The review of school funding chaired by David Gonski can be seen as central to the program of both the Rudd and Gillard governments. School funding lies at the intersection of two policy currents fundamental to modern Labor: the economy and the efficient management of public finance, and universal education as a vehicle to deliver social progress. Though one may legitimately debate how well the Rudd and Gillard governments have managed public finances in other areas, the school funding problems Gonski tackles are largely not of their making. His review was asked to find a way to fix school funding, state and federal, which has grown piecemeal over decades into a Heath Robinson-like contraption – a fundamentally unfair one, a product of temporary fixes and vote-buying . It is therefore deeply unfortunate that, because it has been delivered at a time of Labor’s parliamentary and organisational weakness, this thorough, praiseworthy attempt to bring fairness to a complex and sensitive field is likely to fall by the wayside.

Gonski was hamstrung from the start by the requirement that any change produce no losers. Inevitably, it had to recommend that the government spend a lot more on schools to bring the disadvantaged up to the level the privileged attained long ago. Given the tight federal budget and the promise of an early return to surplus, the government cannot contemplate Gonski’s recommended $5 billion-a-year funding boost – never mind that Australia’s school performance is slipping, according to international comparisons. It is not surprising the government has responded to the report by saying it will now consult widely before doing anything. Labor lacks the budgetary means and the political strength to address this issue. So like a child asking for the impossible, Gonski has been told: “We’ll see.”

Given the circumstances, probably the best way forward from here is to build a national consensus that school funding remains a problem to be solved – and an urgent one. If Canberra’s consultations with the states and others can elicit consensus about measures of funding and disadvantage and ways to reduce the latter, then something positive – not a lot, but something – can be salvaged from this well-intended , thoughtfully produced, much-anticipated lost opportunity.

Copyright © 2012 The Sydney Morning Herald

I like the digs at Dawkins.


Mary Ann Sieghart: You dont have to believe in God to cherish the Church.


Mary Ann Sieghart: You don’t have to believe in God to cherish the Church

It is precisely because the Church is established that it feels a duty to serve the whole nation

The Church of England couldn’t hope for a better enemy than Richard Dawkins. Puffed-up, self-regarding, vain, prickly and militant, he displays exactly the character traits that could do with some Christian mellowing. In fact, he’s almost an advertisement against atheism. You can’t help thinking that a few Sundays in the pews and the odd day volunteering in a Church-run soup kitchen might do him the power of good.

And that’s not a lazy cliché; for the power of good is what the Church in this country exemplifies. It’s by no means true of all religions at all times – far from it – but here and now we are extraordinarily lucky to have the established Church we have. The Church of England is broadly charitable, open, welcoming, tolerant, compassionate and undogmatic. It does a huge amount of good for a huge number of people well beyond its pews, work that goes almost entirely unreported.

It spreads the power of good to its followers too, even the inactive ones. The poll that Dawkins published last week, commissioned by the wonderfully solipsistic Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, purported to show that self-declaring Christians were anything but. Because they couldn’t name the first book of the New Testament or didn’t go to church every week, claimed Dawkins, they were somehow fraudulent. Yet only six per cent said they didn’t believe in God. And the most heartwarming finding was that 58 per cent said, when asked what being a Christian meant to them personally, “I try to be a good person”.

We could do with more good people in the world, and given that so much of modern capitalist society encourages the opposite – greed, consumerism, dog-eat-dog, self-interest – we should welcome any countervailing force. That’s not to say that only religious, or Christian, people can be good. Of course not. But if the Church helps people to try to do the right thing, why should we be anything but grateful?

Aggressive secularists and atheists love pointing to the horrors that have been done in the name of religion, from the Inquisition to the Troubles in Northern Ireland. But they are strangely silent on the horrors perpetrated by atheist regimes, such as those of Stalin and Mao. It is militancy, not religion, that is bad. And you can be as militantly atheist as militantly Christian or Muslim.

The great thing about the Church of England is that it couldn’t be less militant. If anything, people criticise it for being too meek and mild. Personally I prefer a Church that is forgiving and undogmatic, that is prepared to move – albeit a generation behind the rest of society – with the times. I like a Church that accepts women as priests (and soon, I hope, bishops), and that doesn’t tell us that contraception is a sin. I look forward to one that comes to terms with homosexuality.

Most attractively, though, the Church of England sees its job as ministering not just to its own flock. All over the country, if you bother to look, you will find Church-run groups that help children excluded from school, the homeless, refugees, the elderly, the sick, disaffected teenagers, the poor. There is no expectation that the beneficiaries be Christian. On top of that, the Church Urban Fund has helped to finance more than 3,000 local bodies that try to tackle poverty and the problems it brings. A former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, once said, “The Church is the only organisation that exists for its non-members”. It is precisely because the Church is established that it feels a duty to serve the whole nation.

The Church is the largest voluntary organisation in the country, the epitome of the Big Society. And in many rural villages and deprived parts of the inner cities, it is the only institution left. The pubs, the post offices, the shops, the schools, the banks have closed. But most of the churches and their priests remain. Social workers, teachers and doctors may commute into impoverished areas, but the vicar is often the only professional still living in the parish he or she serves. You don’t get more in touch than that.

Church of England schools take Catholics, Muslims, Hindus and sometimes those of no faith too. They achieve some of the best results in the country, and their ethos is so good that when David Blunkett was Education Secretary, he said he wished he could bottle it.

It might seem anachronistic that 26 bishops sit in the House of Lords. But that adds a welcome element of altruism to the upper house. You might not always agree with the bishops – I didn’t over the benefit cap – but it is still good to have people there who believe it is their job to stand up for the weakest, most vulnerable in our society.

Rightly, leaders of other religions have also been ennobled, such as the Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks. But this is still predominantly a Christian country, so Christianity is not disproportionately represented. In Dawkins’ poll, 54 per cent called themselves Christian, more than 10 times as many as the next most popular religion, Islam, at just 4 per cent.


If our Church were so medieval and entrenched in the state that, to take an example, it insisted that abortion be illegal or, to take another, that pop music be banned, women prevented from driving and girls excluded from education, then I would be the first to campaign for disestablishment. But the Church of England isn’t at all like that, and we should instead celebrate its benign influence. As the Queen said last week, “the Church has helped to build a better society – more and more in active co-operation for the common good with those of other faiths”.

It has certainly been “occasionally misunderstood” and “commonly under-appreciated”. More radically, though, she claimed that the duty of the established Church was to protect the free practice of all faiths and none. That is a noble calling, and one that can be met only by a Church that doesn’t disparage unbelievers or those of other denominations or religions. The Church of England is rare among religious institutions in exhibiting this tolerance and free thinking.

“Gently and assuredly”, said the Queen, the Church has created such an environment in this country. I like those adverbs. Yes, the C of E can be bumbling and take an inordinate time to resolve its internal disputes. But it is kind and generous even to those who don’t agree with its teachings. And that’s more than can be said of Richard Dawkins.

m.sieghart@independent.co.uk / www.twitter.com/MASieghart

No time to comment on this one, but worth going back to for more thoughts.

> This clipping is from the February 18 issue of The Sydney Morning Herald Digital Edition. To subscribe for $4.50 a week, visit http://smh.com.au/digitaledition. >
> The big obsession: which school?
> SMH – Saturday, 18 Feb 2012 – Page 39
> Next time you’re walking past a playground or picking up breakfast at a cafe or at the council pool at the weekend, listen in on the conversation of any group of parents with young children . You will probably find them discussing ‘‘ which school to choose’’ . In fact, ‘‘ kids’ schools’ ’ is up there with ‘‘ housing prices’ ’ as the topic my peer group cannot stop talking about. >
> Education – including the relative merits of public versus private schools – has been well canvassed over several decades. The clear difference today, however, is that the ‘‘ right school’ ’ discussion is being had by parents earlier, even when their children are still in nappies. And there is an anxious edge to the conversation. Concern about finding the right school has crept beyond the elite and spread throughout society. With the Gonski school funding review due to release its findings on Monday and the new My School website launched soon after, parents will have even more to think and fret about in coming months. >
> Last year I conducted a group discussion involving five men in their late 30s; all of them mates. The topics were open-ended . Tell us about your life, the things that keep you up at night, the things you talk about over beers and barbecues. In groups like this, the conversation often veers towards the economy, work, sport and politics. But these men spent most of their time talking about schools. And only two of them had children and they weren’t even ready for kindergarten. >
> They started with a review of public and private schools in the area. These men were prepared to pay substantially more for a house if it was located near decent schools. They had visited the My School website, knew which zone they fell into and the NAPLAN scores of the schools in the area. One man questioned the quality of the public options. “I wasn’t aware there were any good public schools around here,” he said. He recalled the public school children in his neighbourhood as “complete tools” and “total knuckleheads” . There was no way he was sending his offspring to a school with “ordinary units” like that. Another friend agreed. “As a parent you want to give them every chance.’’ >
> One of the five men was English, married and had been living in Australia for some time. He was puzzled by the extent to which his friends were focused on where they were sending their children to. “I have had so many conversations about private education since coming to Australia,”,he said. “Everyone is very private-focused .” When the time came, he and his wife were planning to send their children to any local school closest to them. A few of his mates looked at him blankly. “Sure, you could do that,” one of them said eventually . But his tone was cautionary, implying his friend was taking a risk with his child’s future. The English bloke began to look worried. >
> These men accept that a private education does not guarantee great marks in the HSC, achievement at university or career success. “There is an argument that just because you go to a private school you don’t necessarily get on in life,” one of them remarked. Would it be better to send your child to a public school and spend the money you save on travel, tutoring and other meaningful activities? Despite all this conjecture, the conclusion was that good private education trumps public education every time. >
> What is driving parent perceptions about schools and the growing preference towards private over public? And why are we talking about it so often and so soon? >
> Research conducted by Dr Adrian Beavis for the Herald in 2004 sought to identify the factors that influenced parental choice about schools. It showed that one factor stood out when it came to the parental selection of a school. This was “the extent to which the school embraced traditional values to do with discipline, religious or moral values, the traditions of the school itself, and the requirement that a uniform be worn” . >
> To me, this means we have to look beneath some of the upfront reasons parents give about why they choose private schools over public (namely, a better education) and search for other reasons. >
> Undoubtedly, peer pressure is at work here. If you can afford private education and all your friends are opting for the same, what does choosing the public path say about you as a parent? >
> Perhaps there is also a fear element. We are looking for peace of mind and are prepared to pay for it, even if we do not have any hard evidence it is going to work. We constantly hear from parents that they believe private education provides a ‘‘ nicer’ ’ learning environment – less bullying, violence, sex and drugs and anti-social behaviour. >
> To be fair, I have met parents whose aversion to public education is based on experience. I interviewed a young mother of primary school-age twins with learning difficulties, who was prepared to take a second job to send them to a private school. She told me: “I hate the local school. My girls are getting behind and their confidence is getting lower and lower every year. There is bullying. The school is too big. You go and see the teachers about getting some support for your kids and they don’t want to hear.” This woman felt she would have more leverage as a fee payer at a private school than she would as a taxpayer in a public school. >
> But there are also many who believe parents have more influence on their children than schools do, and that paying tens of thousands of dollars for a child’s school education puts too much strain on families and is not worth it. >
> In any case, these early and intense discussions about private versus public education increase parental anxiety, often beyond rational limits. >
> Rebecca Huntley is a social researcher and director of the Ipsos Mackay report. >
> Adele Horin is on leave.
> Copyright © 2012 The Sydney Morning Herald

Sometimes you can’t choose – just like the kids!

> This clipping is from the February 18 issue of The Sydney Morning Herald Digital Edition. To subscribe for $4.50 a week, visit http://smh.com.au/digitaledition. >
> Is there ever a good divorce?
> SMH – Saturday, 18 Feb 2012 – Page 33
> FOR decades, people have been told in the popular media that a ‘‘ good divorce’ ’ is better for children than an unhappy marriage. Yet the evidence has been mounting for years that for many children, this is simply not so. If children escape from a marital war zone involving serious ongoing conflict, and especially recurrent violence, then they are likely to be better off after the divorce. However, many parents separate because one or both are deeply dissatisfied with the relationship, even though conflict is limited and the family home provides a happy environment for the children. Paul Amato’s new research is confronting. He and his team finds that often, children are negatively affected in the long-term even by ‘‘ amicable’ ’ divorces, and not much better off than children in much less amicable divorces. It is almost inevitable that children will experience some loss, emotionally and financially , from a parental separation . Children often report missing the non-resident parent (usually fathers). In making the decision to separate , we cannot assume that the children will be all right as long as it is a ‘‘ good divorce’’ . Yes, sometimes it is better to stay together for the sake of the children. There are different ways that grown-ups can take responsibility for their own dissatisfaction and unhappiness, and do something about it, while keeping the family home intact. Children are most affected when their parents are hostile to one another; but as any family lawyer will testify, separation doesn’t necessarily end conflict. It often just changes what the former partners are in conflict about. Sometimes it increases conflict. >
> After separation, parents’ interests may diverge sharply. Mum wants to stay in the family home with the kids; dad needs capital to rehouse himself . Mum wants 70 per cent of the assets. Dad wants half. Child support often causes ongoing arguments. There may also be arguments about the parenting arrangements. They may resolve this amicably until mum wants to move 1000 kilometres away to live with a new partner, or dad decides he wants equal time and mum thinks the children are better off just seeing him every other weekend. Conflict may also increase because one of them is aggrieved by the other’s decision to leave. >
> There is little doubt that a ‘‘ good’ ’ divorce is still better than a ‘‘ bad’ ’ divorce. The trouble is that at the time parents separate, neither may know how their divorce will turn out. >
> Patrick Parkinson is a professor of law at the University of Sydney and president of the International Society of Family Law. >
> Copyright © 2012 The Sydney Morning Herald
> For one of the parents to suddenly become absent is disastrous. >
> THE finding that a positive post-divorce family environment is no guarantee children will be unharmed is both surprising and, I suspect , an oversimplification. Put aside that this ‘‘ one size fits all’ ’ view of divorcing families denies the complexity of the personalities involved. My clinical experience is that there are specific obstacles that the former parental dyad must overcome and if they do, then the outcome is usually positive for the children. >
> First, for one of the parents to suddenly become absent is disastrous. As long as both parents remain involved in their lives, write letters, make phone calls, and ask lots of questions, the young people I have worked with seem generally well adjusted. On the other hand, when a parent does a Houdini, it leaves many of my patients under the impression they were unimportant and weren’t really ever loved. >
> Second those parents who adhere to the old Texas saying ‘‘ never wrestle with a pig in the mud, because you both get dirty, and the pig loves it’ ’ inevitably seem to find peace. That is, they consciously elect to simply stop fighting and work hard to get along with each other, especially when it came to matters that concern their offspring. >
> Also, even though it can be hard, not fighting about the children – especially in front of the children – reduces the likelihood of my clients thinking that they are to blame for what has transpired . All they really want is to love both parents and enjoy the time that they spend with each of them. >
> Also, committing from the outset to only communicate directly with the other parent (via text or email) obviates turning the children into messenger pigeons that fly back and forth. This is a trap into which many parents fall. >
> When the children are with one parent, if that parent refrains from making pejorative remarks about the other, saying nothing or making only positive comments, this results in young people not feeling pressure to take sides. >
> Professor Amato and his colleagues from Pennsylvania State University can argue all they like that children of ‘‘ good’ ’ divorces are no better off than those of divorced parents who do not get on, but it flies in the face of common sense and of my 20 years of working with separating families. >
> Dr Michael Carr-Gregg works as a child and adolescent psychologist. >
> Copyright © 2012 The Sydney Morning Herald
> AT FIRST glance, in the absence of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, parents staying together is always the preferred option. On that footing, it would not be surprising that children of a ‘‘ good divorce’ ’ fare worse than those of parents who work at resolving issues and stay together. >
> There is arguably no such thing as a good divorce. Divorce invariably involves conflict, even if minimal. Conflict between parents impacts adversely on children . The greater the conflict, the greater the impact. Some even consider conflict between separating parties and the consequence on children a public health issue. Children can have long-term issues arising out of exposure to conflict such as difficulty in forming relationships. >
> Conflict in divorce arises out of the failure to agree on parenting arrangements (who lives with whom etc) and property and maintenance matters (split up of assets and income). It is magnified in circumstances where a couple require a judicial adjudicated outcome. >
> However, even in a ‘‘ good divorce’ ’ where there is financial agreement, the impact arising out of the adverse economic consequence of one family becoming two families with the same income but double the expenses takes its toll on the children. Again, in the ‘‘ good divorce’’ , the children having to deal with dislocation and the consequent reduction in time spent with each parent and changes in the significant relationship of their parents, and the introduction of siblings into the household, often creates tensions unknown in the neverdivorced household. These are complex matters even for the most sophisticated. >
> The courts and legal practitioners dealing with divorce, and the effect on children, are aware of all this. The Family Court has introduced a less adversarial approach to the determination of parenting cases. The courts and lawyers encourage couples to undertake mediation/conciliation and only seek an adjudicated outcome as a last resort. The Family Relationship Centres are an example of the efforts made to resolve differences by compromise. >
> Perhaps, however, it’s hard to accept that the findings reported in the Herald last week have anywhere near universal meaning or accuracy. How does one really define a good divorce, as opposed to a bad marriage, and its impact on children? Emotions and intellectual traits of couples and their relationships are probably more difficult to assay than a rather random survey may suggest. >
> All the court can do is to try to minimise the long-term emotional conflict and consequent harm on the parties and their children, given that we are free to divorce. >
> Dixie Coulton is a barrister specialising in family law.
> Copyright © 2012 The Sydney Morning Herald
> The focus should be on the problems.
> MY PARENTS divorced and, many years later, so did I. My parents’ divorce was somewhat venomous and I hated it, so I tried to keep mine reasonably civil. There were many factors in both relationships that damaged both adult parties and probably affected me as a child and my daughter. >
> In neither case was it the separation of the parents that caused or exacerbated the problems. >
> Whereas my mother had considerable financial difficulties as a sole parent, my finances actually improved once I had control over the funds. >
> I am not going into details of what did not work, but I mention this point to show how simplistic Professor Paul Amato’s type of analysis is. >
> I need to state here that I am also a researcher and that I can read statistics. >
> Yes, there are significantly more children of divorced parents who show problems, but his figures show they are still a minority – most children , whether in divorced or intact families, are doing as well as one another. >
> Amato does not acknowledge that bad relationships between parents may be the reason for both the separation and the cause of the damage. Pressure to stay together may result in more dysfunctional children in intact families. Why assume the separation is the cause of later problems? There are other causes. Amato himself says that economic stressors also cause breakdown ; we may do better to focus on fixing financial inequality. >
> His research found some broad correlations between family types and some problems that emerge later, and then assumes family breakdown is the cause. >
> This result attracts media attention, since maintaining the nuclear family is a classic symbol of the conservative order. >
> Certain research topics reappear every few years and find funding easily. The damage to children caused by divorce is one such recurrent subject, and Amato is a serial publisher on the topic. >
> He has been writing about the issue since the late ’80s.
> By making a plea to parents not to separate, he adds guilt to other stressors, and this is my concern. >
> Many families need help: parenting is often tough, and so are adult relationships. >
> The focus should be on the problems, not on whether the parents cohabit, because children deserve parents who can meet their needs, whether under one roof or two. >
> Eva Cox is the convener of the Women’s Equity Think Tank. >
> Copyright © 2012 The Sydney Morning Herald

New research from sociology professor Paul Amato says children always suffer.

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