League Tables. Benchmarking.

Two of the virulent strains of modern free market Darwinism are comparison and competition. Being the same thing really, you don't get proper competition unless people can compare what's on offer. Like the Rudd government's heroic grocerychoice website - here. Does anybody use this? It's pretty much useless anyway, with prices aggregated and averaged across enormous regions, so that it gives you no guidance at all in terms of which of your local shops have the cheapest gear. Unless chains have uniform pricing across all areas, which would normally be the antithesis of competition and red-blooded capitalism. And of course they don't, anybody who lives west of the divide knows that the free market is a lot less free if you don't have a metropolitan postcode. One of the lovely demonstrations of the fantasy of the free market is living in the country, where most of the food is grown, and having to pay twice as much for it, at half the quality, with the best stuff trucked off to the cities on the coast to service their bigger 'markets'.

You always know that various corporate interests and ideologies are calling the tune when something like grocerychoice is seen as an effective weapon against the gouging of the punter. The premise is as prominent as the 'donkey's balls' varicose veins my grandfather used to complain about in his legs. We'll keep charging whatever we like, and you can then pick which unscrupulous bastard you buy from. Knowing full well that nobody is going to drive across three suburbs or from country to city in search of a bargain. And if they did they'd need to add comparisons of fuel prices in the various store locations to the mix, another notable, gouging free market. Companies know that the free market model of consumer choice driving price is complete bunkum, it's only the rabid ideoloogues of the Right who seem to believe their own press.

As an ex-schoolie I've seen various rabid attempts to bring the same wisdom to education. They're at it again - see here. Public schooling is in a crisis not because it's been comprehensively gutted, both financially and in the PR stakes, with various politicians and interest groups releasing a slow, monotonous and incessant drip of bad news stories about them. No, let's pretend that real-world practical stuff doesn't happen. They're in trouble because nobody there apparently cares enough about standards. And to fix that we need to be able to flip open some easy league table that will tell you which of them are fair dinkum 3R folk.

[Maybe the ideologues are right. If people who work in public schools did care enough about standards, they wouldn't work in an environment of un-flued gas heaters, filthy and dilapidated buildings, and a constant stream of abuse from the young customers and their opinionated nong parents, championed by the likes of the Daily Terror.]

Yep, it's business as usual in the battle for young minds. No more money, except some welcome infrastructure boost in the first stimulus package, which should be enough to bring every public school up to a standard rivalling the machine shed at Kings.

The corporate equivalent of league-tabling is benchmarking. It's been the buzz for a few years now, and is the same waste of time. These things always pan out the same way, you do a benchmarking exercise, and all of the winners crow about being 'best practice', and all of the losers contextualise the loss away. Because figures always have a context, and never really tell a simple story. So what was the point? That thing about comparing apples and oranges never really bedded down in the benchmarking mind.

It's the fact/value distinction again. No matter how much the idiot modern age of rival religious and secular fundamentalisms likes to think philosophy is a dead weight, without it the same dumb intellectual reflexes are exercised over and over. You don't have values and standards separate to facts. Schools aren't lacking in standards, they're lacking in facts (i..e money, proper resources etc.) and standards at the same time. The Right likes to excise the facts from the debate because it's usually them who gut the system in the first place, and then wonder why the whole thing takes on the stench of decay. If they valued public education the facts would flow from those values. They clearly don't value public schools, and as always the reality isn't in what people say, it's in what people do. Which in their case is to undermine public schools. Alas the Left (if these labels mean anything much now) is a signed-up member of this philosopy, having replaced social justice with individualistic religious fervour.

Recently our industry benchmarked websites according to a range of criteria, and the site which easily dominates the sector in terms of hits and popularity came almost dead last. QED.


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