Have you ever moved house and had to start all over again: finding new shops, car servicing, schools, doctor? How did you choose amongst the array of unknown services in your new neighbourhood? We agonise over some of these choices, especially when it comes to schools.
But did you find a good local doctor? Did you ask around, try a few initial visits and plot the ebb and flow of your symptoms? It really is quite important - your health and even your lifespan can be on the line.
You have a choice of doctors so you really need to know how they rate. Anyway, they usually collect fees as well as a slice of your taxes, so as a citizen you have a right to know. How many people has your favourite GP successfully patched up? How many patients have actually curled up their toes merely weeks after gracing the local surgery?
Surely the government has a responsibility to measure and publicise, preferably on a website, the performance of doctors. What is their diagnosis strike rate? How many times do patients keep coming back with the same complaint?
Doctors could get marks for having healthy patients - and lose marks when patients just don’t get much better. If the mortality trend-line leaps up off the chart the surgery should be listed as a failed practice and everyone struck off. On the other hand, higher scoring doctors could be paid more.
Imagine the fallout if we did all this. The tabloid media would trawl the data and construct and publish surgery league tables. Low scoring doctors would be dragged through the toxic swamp of talk-back radio. Doctors would try to explain the complexity of health issues but no one would listen.
Practices in suburbs with chronic health problems would go to the wall as patients fled to higher ranking medicos. The newest doctors would serve the poor while others would insist that patients pass a health test or pay inflated upfront fees before they get in the door.
When it inevitably goes pear-shaped, health ministers would spin and recycle old favourite slogans such as choice, transparency, quality and competition. If that didn’t work they could just accuse the doctors, especially the bulk billers consigned to the poor, of having something to hide.
It should all sound familiar: this is what is now happening to schools. Julia Gillard and her entourage of increasingly compliant state education ministers have rushed to support the publication of what they believe is school performance data. Victoria has announced plans to release a deluge of school information and the New South Wales government has agreed - in faster time than it takes to say “cash from Canberra” - to scrap its current ban on school league tables.
Of course the ministers have all voiced determination not to create league tables, and will be trying to balance raw data with other information (mostly already available - but that’s another story) about schools. At best this only means that a determined news sleuth might take a couple more hours to conjure up a juicy rank of the “best” and “worst” schools.
Because even if the education ministers do understand the complexities in measuring school achievement, something which cannot be assumed, the tabloid media certainly won’t trifle with such details. Why would they? Throwing in caveats about different school contexts, enrolment profiles, like-school groups and value-added isn’t going to help the ratings of a 240-second splash at 6.30pm on commercial TV.
Already two newspapers, in Hobart and in Brisbane, have published spurious school rankings created out of student results in national tests. The evidence is out there that the pious hopes of Gillard and the state ministers amount to very little. The ministers know this. It doesn’t matter that they are doing it directly or indirectly, the Rudd Government and the dependent states are already party to fraud.
How did a government - allegedly committed to evidence-based policy - come to this? It doesn’t and won’t improve schools. The commonwealth and state ministers know that it will further shift enrolments, for those with choice, away from schools in low socio-economic areas. It will further increase the gap between high and low achievers - a problem which is the subject of copious public hand-wringing among these same ministers.
So off we go, one of the better education systems in the world, on a journey down a discredited path already taken by education systems that are now arguably second-rate. Oddly enough we’ll meet some of them, especially the English, coming back the other way. They’ve tried all this and it did very little for school achievement and nothing for equity.
It’s more than enough to make you sick. But not to worry: I found a good local doctor without the help of tests, transparency, league tables or any other form guides.