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31 December, 2009
Beverly Hills schools to boot outsiders
The very uneven quality of tax-funded schools again
Threats on Facebook, name-calling, security guard escorts -- tempers are running high around schools these days in this normally sedate enclave of ostentatious wealth. The reason: The Beverly Hills school board is preparing to boot out 10 percent of its students as it ends a decades-old practice of allowing out-of-district pupils to attend city schools on "opportunity permits."
The move has upset many so-called "permit parents" -- mostly middle-class families living in the tonier areas of Los Angeles who are loath to send their children to the beleaguered Los Angeles Unified School District, where more than a quarter of high-schoolers drop out. "Every family on permit is outraged," said Simy Levy, a Los Angeles resident whose two daughters attend school in Beverly Hills. "It's incredibly unfair."
The plan, which is expected to get final board approval next month, comes as the Beverly Hills Unified School District switches to a budget plan financed directly by the city's well-to-do tax base instead of with state money based on enrollment. The change results from steep cuts in state education funds that has left several affluent communities across the nation paying more school taxes to the state than they receive.
Beverly Hills is the latest to consider the self-financing model, in which the district would keep its school taxes and forgo the $6,239 the state sends for each nonresident student. Without the financial incentive of enrolling outsiders, district officials are concerned their taxpayers would be subsidizing nonresidents' education.
"What is wrong with me saying, 'We have to save our resources for residents?' " said Lisa Korbatov, Beverly Hills school board vice president. "Our police do not respond to neighboring cities if someone is mugged or assaulted."
As education dollars dry up, districts across the nation are taking a closer look at nonresident students. In Tonganoxie, Kan., school officials are considering charging outsiders tuition if state law allows them to do so. Many other districts are aggressively weeding out illegally enrolled outsiders.
The students booted from Beverly Hills would leave schools that have won state and federal recognition for academic excellence. The district offers a rich menu of extracurricular activities, ranging from madrigal singers to water polo. Facilities include an indoor basketball court that retracts to reveal a swimming pool underneath.
Facebook pages have sprung up on both sides, with police investigating one posting that called for "machine gun machetes" to be used against those who favor ending permits. Board meetings have turned unruly with accusations that members were acting like Hitler. Miss Korbatov had a security guard escort her to her car after a recent session.
Politicizing Preschool Universal health care may top the wish-lists of many liberals this Christmas -- but universal preschool isn’t far behind. President Obama is doing his best to play the role of Santa, bringing subsidized pre-kindergarten to a growing number of American families. The president has called for $10 billion in new funding for preschool programs, and Congress is working to deliver. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included $5 billion for preschool and childcare programs. In September, the House passed a higher education bill that included an $8 billion “Early Learning Challenge Fund” to provide grants to states to expand subsidized preschool. The Senate is expected to follow suit. These proposals are based on the belief that “investments” in early childhood education yield significant long-term benefits for children served. As President Obama himself promised, “For every dollar we invest in these programs, we get nearly $10 back in reduced welfare rolls, fewer health care costs, and less crime.” If the president is right, we should look forward to a safer, healthier, and welfare-free world sometime soon, thanks to our federal “investments” in preschool. In 2009, taxpayers will spend $25 billion on the federal government’s 69 federal preschool and childcare programs. Unfortunately, little is known about whether these programs work. One might think that Congress and the administration would be focusing on evaluating these programs’ effectiveness before spending another $8 billion on preschool. Actually, there is reason to believe that they are instead ignoring empirical evidence that undermines the case for a new federal preschool program. Consider the saga of the Head Start program and its national evaluation. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson created Head Start, the first national preschool and childcare program serving low-income children. Nearly 45 years later, the federal government has spent more than $100 billion on it. With annual funding of approximately $7 billion, Head Start currently spends at least $7,300 annually on each of the 900,000 low-income children served. For more than a decade, Congress has been trying to figure out whether Head Start has provided lasting benefits for participating children. In 1997, the GAO reviewed the available literature on Head Start’s impact and concluded that body of research was inadequate for drawing conclusions about the program’s effectiveness. This finding led Congress in 1998 to mandate a national evaluation of Head Start’s impact on participants. Seven years later, the Department of Health and Human Services released the preliminary findings of the national impact evaluation -- comparing the development of children served by Head Start with their peers who didn’t participate in the program. In the critical area of cognitive development, the evaluation found that Head Start’s participants experienced modestly positive benefits compared to their peers who weren’t served by the program. Head Start children outperformed their peers in four out of the six cognitive constructs: pre-reading, pre-writing, vocabulary, and parent reports of students’ literacy skills. But the 2005 evaluation looked only at children’s developmental progress after one year in Head Start. It didn’t address the $100 billion question: Does Head Start provide lasting benefits? This question would be addressed by future evaluations of the performance of former Head Start students and their peers through the end of first grade and third grade. Data collection for the initial study of first graders’ progress was completed in the spring of 2006. Three years have now passed. According to the HHS Web site, this project was supposed to be completed by March 2009. But the findings of the congressionally-mandated evaluation have never been made public. One can’t help but wonder: What’s causing the delay? Former HHS officials have told me that they were briefed on the results of the first-grade evaluation in 2008. They report that the evaluation found that, overall, Head Start participants experienced zero lasting benefits compared to their non-Head Start peers by the end of first grade. These officials expressed little surprise that the report’s release had been delayed. Is the Department of HHS burying a damaging study? Perhaps there’s a good explanation for the delay. But without raising the question, we won’t know the answer. Before taxpayers “invest” another $8 billion in another preschool program, we deserve to know whether programs like Head Start are, indeed, making a lasting difference. President Obama has said that his administration’s only test for deciding what education programs to fund with our “precious tax dollars” will be whether it “works.” It’s time to find out whether he will keep his word -- even if it means bad news for one of liberals’ favorite initiatives. Source
Jewish literature a no-go area on U.S. campuses The Modern Language Association is famous for the provocative titles of sessions at its annual meeting. But the provocative title of one session Sunday night -- so surprising to several MLA members that they expressed disbelief when told about it -- contained no sexual wordplay or trendy literary buzzwords. The title: Does the English Department Have a Jewish Problem? One reason the question is such a surprise is that there is no apparent shortage of Jews among those who study or teach literature. But the problem defined and debated here wasn't about Jews as students or professors, but about experts in teaching Jewish literature (a group by no means limited to Jews). The underlying premise of the panel was that English departments that would never allow themselves to be without experts in the literatures of many racial and ethnic groups in the United States don't think twice about failing to have a knowledge base in American Jewish literature. Further, the view of many here is that discussions about multicultural literature that ought to include Jewish writers simply don't. Joshua Lambert, an assistant professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University, kicked off the discussion with an analysis of the top 20 English departments (as judged by U.S. News & World Report, a source that he acknowledged was flawed, but that he used to get a group of programs at highly regarded universities). He found that at these departments, every one has at least two and typically more specialists in African-American literature. All but two have at least one scholar focused on Asian-American literature. All but five have a Latino literature expert. All but 9 have an expert in Native American literature on the faculty. Only two of the institutions have a tenure-track faculty member whose area of expertise is American Jewish literature, he said. (The University of Michigan, where Lambert earned his doctorate, is so ahead of the pack, with seven, that someone later referred to it with admiration as a shtetl.) Five other universities had at least someone with interest (as stated on departmental listings of faculty expertise) in Jewish studies, but Lambert said none of them have published on American Jewish literature or can read Yiddish. Six of the departments have experts in Holocaust literature and here, Lambert did not dispute the expertise. But he did question why that one literature should be so much more present -- in literature departments in the United States -- than American Jewish fiction and culture. It is "fascinating and unfortunate ... that the genocide of Jews can seem more worthy of attention than the culture of Jews themselves," he said. Looking at courses at these top 20 universities, he found 12 of them have offered courses on American Jewish literature, but only 4 have been taught by tenure-track professors (and one of those was last taught in 2001). As another illustration of why Jewish literature is not necessarily valued (at least as Jewish), Lambert read this text from the Web site of one of the universities: The American literature faculty, the department boasted, "represent the full scope of ethnic American literatures: African American, Asian American, Caribbean, Chicana/o, Latina/o, Native American." Lambert said it was striking to see a department define "the full scope" in that way. Lambert was quick to note that he was not alleging anti-Semitism or a mass "marginalization" of Jewish scholars. But he said it was clear that while Jewish literature is taught, it is "not a hiring priority" and "not considered a research specialty" that matters to many departments.... Several of the speakers said that both faculty and student attitudes are influenced -- unreasonably, they argued -- by the Middle East. Rachel Rubinstein, assistant professor of American literature and Jewish studies at Hampshire College and the author of Members of the Tribe: Native America in the Jewish Imagination (forthcoming from Wayne State University Press), said that students view Jewish issues as being solely about Israel and its treatment of Palestinians, a subject that has become "fetishized." Meanwhile, she said, “Jewishness has been associated with Israel, white privilege, colonialism and racism." More here
30 December, 2009
Courageous NY Student seeks balance in teaching of controversial topics
A Rhinebeck High School sophomore is urging the school district to require alternative views be presented by teachers on controversial topics like climate change.
Michelle Dewkett said the global warming documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” was being shown in science and English classes without equal weight being given to other positions on the topic. “As of now, the teaching of controversial topics is out of control,” Dewkett told members of the Board of Education on Tuesday. She also said the district is not following its own policy of providing students with a wide range of materials.
Dewkett cited a class on global warming as an example, saying the effects of human activity on the environment are not being balanced with information about the natural course of changes on Earth. “It says (global warming) will kill us all without offering any alternative views throughout high school,” she said. “This goes against board policy which states ‘Teachers shall approach controversial topics in an impartial and unprejudiced manner.’”
Dewkett also questioned the showing of “An Inconvenient Truth” as part of an English course, saying district policy states that “material will not be introduced for their own sake and must be part of normal instruction.”
School district officials did not immediately respond to Dewkett’s comments but previously have encouraged students and parents to offer their views during annual planning sessions of the Board of Education’s Curriculum Committee.
Dewkett said afterward that there is support for presenting other viewpoints in courses but that calling for change has been difficult. “My friend and I want to start a club for young conservatives in Rhinebeck,” she said. “Right now, though, when someone wants to talk about these things, there are a lot of students that really don’t want to hear them.”
British boys aged three 'must work more': Government demands action to close the nursery school gender gap
This is absurd. Boys are later developers than girls. Ignoring that is evil
Boys aged three and four must be made to write more to stop them falling behind girls before they even reach school, the Government will order nurseries and childminders. New boy-friendly guidance is to be sent to all nurseries and childminders advising them to get the youngest boys to take more interest in writing, scribbling and drawing – basically just putting pencil to paper.
After a year of school, more than one in six boys cannot write his own name or simple words such as "mum", "dad" or "cat" – double the number of girls – official figures show.
Early-years experts condemned the move, arguing that having more targets to get children writing by the age of five would be "developmentally inappropriate" and potentially damaging, particularly for boys. But Dawn Primarolo, the Children's minister, said in an interview with The Independent that after 12 years of Labour government, the gender gap remained a "stubborn" and "worrying" problem.
"It is about readiness to learn. It is part of the development process. There is a gap, and it is a worrying gap," Ms Primarolo said. "What we can see is that boys, particularly on emotional development, lag behind girls. That emotional development is very important in language development through play before they start school and reading and writing. "Although that gap between boys and girls is closing, in writing it is still quite wide."
The guidance, which will be sent to nurseries from January, will include advice to set up role-play activities tailored to boys' interests, such as builders taking phone messages and writing up orders, post office employees writing on forms, and waiters taking orders from customers. Boys will also be encouraged to write using unusual materials such as chocolate powder and coloured sand to make marks on the floor and walls outside.
Ms Primarolo said the new guidance aims to get all nurseries and childminders to learn from those who have successfully narrowed the gender gap.
The Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "Some boys don't enjoy writing or see it as relevant – but teachers and practitioners can make it fun and relevant. The guidance will offer practical examples about how to do this. "Because boys don't seem to be as interested as girls in drawing and mark-making, it is important that practitioners ensure that this doesn't then result in limited access to resources such as paper, crayons, paint etc, and insufficient opportunities or encouragement for boys to write."
Official figures released earlier this year showed that boys were lagging further behind girls by the age of five since the introduction of Labour's "nappy curriculum". Boys are also less likely to know the alphabet, or how to count to 10, sing simple nursery rhymes from memory, dress themselves and work well with classmates at the end of the reception year, before they start Year One.
The figures were the first results from the Early Years Foundation Stage – a compulsory programme introduced in September last year for all schools, nurseries and childminders. Overall, just over half of children reached government targets for all areas of early development, including personal and social skills, literacy, problem-solving and numeracy, physical development, and creativity.
Some 52 per cent of five-year-olds were competent in all areas – a three-percentage-point rise from last year. However, boys were significantly less likely than girls to start the first full year of school properly prepared. The gender gap widened in three key areas: writing, problem-solving and elements of personal development. The Government said that at least 23,000 more children had reached a good level of development this summer compared with 2008.
Child-development specialists have opposed the writing targets for five-year-olds since they were first proposed, arguing that many children, particularly boys, do not develop the fine motor skills needed for writing until they are six or seven.
Sue Palmer, a former headteacher and author of the book 21st Century Boys, described the decision as "state-sponsored child abuse", arguing that boys were developmentally behind at birth and needed time to "run, jump and play, in order to acquire the physical control and capacity to focus that they will need later on". She said: "The Government's belief that they can accelerate human development is just nonsense. This is massive control freakery which will be disastrous for the children. These very young children have become hostages to political fortunes because ministers believe that their political futures depend on getting a certain number of children to reach these targets by the age of five. That is just wrong."
Dr Richard House, a senior lecturer at Roehampton University and a founder of the Open Eye campaign against the early-years curriculum, warned that many of the targets for five-year-olds were inappropriate for the age group. He added: "Many of the much-criticised 'teaching to test', assessment-driven characteristics of the primary school are now invading our nursery settings."
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab radicalized while at a prestigious British university
British universities are breeding grounds of anti-Western attitudes too
According to isocnews.com, an online magazine for Muslim students, War on Terror Week at University College London was one of the events of the year in 2007. There was a slick video advertisement for the event, an eye-catching poster and packed lecture theatres for five days of discussions about Guantánamo Bay, allegations of torture and the subject of “Jihad v Terrorism”.
The website reported the week of talks as “informative, relevant and always entertaining — the audience got involved with a good mixture of Muslim and non-Muslim attendees asking tough questions of the speakers”. In a corner of the poster, the event is declared to have been “approved by Umar Farook, president of UCLU Islamic Society”. The speakers advertised included George Galloway, the Respect MP; Geoffrey Bindman, the human rights lawyer; and former Guantánamo Bay detainees.
The Nigerian student who organised “War on Terror Week” in January 2007 is now better known as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the would-be suicide bomber who tried to blow up a transatlantic airliner last week.
Mr Galloway said last night that he did not attend any of the events in War on Terror Week and had no record in his parliamentary diary of any contact with UCL Islamic Society. Mr Bindman, a visiting professor at UCL, said that he could not recall the event or meeting Mr Abdulmutallab.
UCL has confirmed that Mr Abdulmutallab was a mechanical engineering student on its Central London campus in 2005-08 and in the academic year 2006-07 was president of the student union’s Islamic Society.
His role in organising War on Terror Week is the first indication that during his years in London he was heavily involved in radical political activity. Experts believe that this would have put him at risk of being groomed by al-Qaeda recruiters who routinely prey on such radical religious and political gatherings. “Before someone goes off for explosives training they have to be converted to the cause of al-Qaeda,” said Professor Anthony Glees, of the University of Buckingham.
“I think that happened in London in the case of Abdulmutallab, as has happened to many others. He is one of a considerable number of people who have turned to al-Qaeda after being recruited in the UK. This recruitment often goes on where political events take place. Those who speak at such events are not terrorists, but they are being irresponsible if they do not realise that what they say could contribute to the radicalisation of people who could then be recruited into terror.”
The emerging picture of Mr Abdulmutallab is of a lonely young man who arrived in London as a devout, sometimes angry, figure and became increasingly radicalised while here.
He had previously joined discussions on an internet message board that revealed a confused and alienated personality. Writing in January 2005 under the name Farouk1986, he said: “I feel depressed and lonely. I do not know what to do. And then I think this loneliness leads me to other problems.” He talked of wrestling with liberalism and extremism and striving to live according to the Koran’s teaching.
And he confessed to having “jihad fantasies”, writing: “I imagine how the great jihad will take place, how the Muslims will win (Allah willing) and rule the whole world, and establish the greatest empire once again.” But many more of his posts were about football, suggesting that he was far from being the finished article as a mujahidin.
Within a year of arriving in London Mr Abdulmutallab started to adopt a more formal religious dress code, including a white robe and skullcap.
He is reported to have attended some of the radical meetings held at London colleges and mosques. He is understood to have attended talks given by the extremist US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki at East London Mosque. Awlaki, who was later banned from Britain and is believed to be in hiding with al-Qaeda in Yemen, where Mr Abdulmutallab spent months.
Malcolm Grant, Provost of UCL, told the BBC: “We are very shocked by what has happened and we will be reflecting on it very carefully but — as presently advised — there was nothing about his conduct which gave his tutors any cause for concern.” Professor Grant said students were admitted to UCL on merit and there could not be vetting of their “political, racial or religious background or beliefs”.
29 December, 2009
Teaching that America is a 'hellhole' called 'creative' at the University of Minnesota
'Hate-filled' would be more like it
A lawyer for the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus has confirmed to an educational rights organization that a plan described by a critic as teaching America as a "hellhole" hasn't been adopted, and came about because of brainstorming efforts by the education department.
The issue of the program at University of Minnesota-Twin Cities was raised by officials with The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. The group questioned President Robert Bruinicks about the legality of the program. The proposal included the suggestion of examinations of teacher candidates on "white privilege" as well as "remedial re-education" for those who hold the "wrong" views.
The FIRE today announced that in response to its pressure on the university, officials there are backing away from their plans "to enforce a political litmus test." "The plans from its College of Education and Human Development involved redesigning admissions and the curriculum to enforce an ideology centered on a narrow view of 'cultural competence," the FIRE announced. "Those with the 'wrong' views were to receive remedial re-education, be weeded out, or be denied admission altogether," the group said.
However, a letter to FIRE from General Counsel Mark B. Rotenberg said those plans, while recommendations, were not adopted. "Neither the university nor CEHD has adopted or implemented any 'new policies' discussed in the particular … task force report submitted in July 2009 from which you quoted extensively," his letter to the organization said. "The task force report at issue was one of seven separate task force reports; none of them has been adopted as CEHD policy…
"The various task group reports reflect the creative thinking of many faculty members charged with exploring ideas to improve P-12 education and student achievement," he continued. "CEHD Dean Jean Quam has characterized the various task froup reports as 'faculty brainstorming' on how best to accomplish this curricular redesign." Further, he said, "no university policy or practice ever will mandate any particular beliefs, or screen out people with 'wrong beliefs.'"
"We are relieved that the University of Minnesota has finally committed itself to upholding the freedom of conscience of its students," said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. "Prospective teachers will keep the right to have their own thoughts, values, and beliefs." He promised FIRE would continue to watch the university's actions. Adam Kissel, director of FIRE's Individual Rights Defense Program, said the college's next version of the plan "must reflect" the school's newest commitment.
The plan from the college's Race, Culture, Class and Gender Task Group had suggested requiring every future teacher to accept theories of "white privileges, hegemonic masculinity, heteronormativity and internalized oppression;" "develop a positive sense of racial/cultural identity;" and "recognize that schools are socially constructed systems that are susceptible to racism ... but are also critical sites for social and cultural transformation," according to the documentation...
British private schools hampered by incessant government regulation
Private schools are losing their independence because of endless government regulation and a tick-box culture, according to a leading headmistress. Gillian Low, the new president of the Girls’ Schools Association, warned that a barrage of rules from Whitehall was diverting teachers away from education. Such rules were counterproductive and robbed independent schools of the idiosyncrasies that were the key to their success, Mrs Low said.
She added: “Each school is a bit different and demands a slightly different approach.” The problem was that the Government started from the point of not trusting people, she said.
Head teachers and teachers in the majority of schools were experienced professionals who knew how to deal with issues such as bullying and parental complaints, according to Mrs Low. “The problem is [that] the regulations keep changing. We are on our third variation of regulation guidance this year, and the fourth is coming.” Mrs Low, who is head of Lady Eleanor Holles School in Hampton, southwest London, said: “It is a very difficult way to operate when faced with that frequency of change.”
She said the danger was that overregulation and micromanagement created a “tick-box culture” that rarely led to school improvement. Success was gained by giving people responsibility and ownership, she said.
The Department for Schools said: “The Government is keen to support the delivery of high-quality education by schools in the independent sector. “But it is right that parents and the wider public are assured that all schools — whether in the maintained or independent sector — provide their pupils with a suitable education in a safe and secure environment.” [Blah, Blah, Blah]
Policies for Britain in 2010: Free schools
Assuming the Conservatives win the upcoming General Election, it looks like Britain will finally get a fully fledged school choice scheme in 2010 – something the Adam Smith Institute has been pushing for ever since it was founded. Under Michael Gove’s planned reforms, parents would be free to choose which school their children attended, with government funding following that choice. Crucially, Gove also aims to liberate the supply-side of education, by allowing charities, companies, groups of parents and so on to set up new schools, which would compete with existing state sector ones.
The policy is not perfect: with the Conservatives saying they would not allow schools to make a profit, how many private companies would get involved in providing education? In Sweden, where a similar school choice scheme was set up in 1994, for-profit companies have been the dominant providers of new school places, and have often been the most innovative and successful market entrants. But regardless, school choice is a great idea that could have a transformative effect on British education. As well as empowering parents (itself a valuable objective), the competition it unleashes will drive up standards as good schools prosper and bad ones go out of business, and will also encourage schools to innovate, specialise, and tailor their services to their pupils.
But it is vital that the Conservatives understand that an effective school system needs more than just parental choice and voucher-style funding arrangements. Schools must also be freed from a whole raft of red-tape if the benefits of competition are really to be felt. Firstly, starting a new school needs to be made much easier – planning laws need to be radically altered, and bureaucratic processes dramatically streamlined. Secondly, schools need to be given far more freedom about how and what they teach – that means getting rid of the national curriculum and compulsory standardized tests, and allowing schools to pick whichever exam system they think best (be it GCSE/A-Level, iGCSE/Pre-U, the IB, or whatever). Thirdly, the teaching profession needs a big shake-up. Teachers should be employed by schools, not the government, and should have individually negotiated contracts, not nationally collective-bargained ones. Just as importantly, the route into the teaching profession should be liberalised, with schools themselves taking greater responsibility for teacher training and certification. Finally, these freedoms should not just be for new schools, but should be extended to schools currently in the state sector, all of which should become independent – perhaps as trusts, perhaps as parent-teacher co-operatives, or perhaps under some other management structure.
Ultimately, what needs to be realized is that school choice involves the wholesale rejection of the comprehensive ideology – that one size, determined by Whitehall, fits all – and the adoption a completely new outlook: let a thousand flowers bloom.
28 December, 2009
Thousands of Children’s Wish-Lists Include Chance to Attend a Good School
While many kids have sent their wish lists to Santa Claus, millions of kids around the country are wishing for an even more important gift this year—the chance to attend a good school.
Brooke Dollins Terry of the Texas Public Policy Foundation published an important report documenting the long waiting lists at the Lone Star State’s charter schools. She found that: “Last year, 40,813 students were on waiting lists to attend a public charter school in Texas,” This number is more than double the 16,810 students the previous year.” Texas is not alone with its long waiting list. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, an estimated 365,000 students were on charter school waiting lists this year.
At these over-subscribed charter schools, lotteries are generally held to decide which lucky kids get the chance to attend. This means that whether or not a child has a chance to attend a good school often depends on whether their ping-pong ball or number is chosen randomly out of a box. That’s right: their futures are decided by chance.
Of course, lotteries are also held to determine which children get to participate in over-subscribed private school choice programs. For example, in 1999, the non-profit Children’s Scholarship Fund announced that it would award tuition scholarships to 40,000 low-income students across the country. More than 1 million children applied. Lotteries were held in participating cities. In Baltimore, for example, more than 40 percent of eligible children applied. Oversubscribed voucher programs like the DC Opportunity Scholarships have been forced to hold lotteries to determine which lucky kids get to attend private school.
Something is seriously wrong with American education when whether children have an opportunity to attend good schools is left up to chance.
This holiday season, elected officials across the country—from school boards to state houses to Capitol Hill—should resolve to answer children’s wishes to attend good schools by reforming education policies to give all families the power to choose the best learning environment for their children. For starters, they can do this by enacting private school choice policies like scholarships and tax credits, by allowing more high-performing charter schools to open, and by expanding access to online learning and virtual education programs. No child’s future should be determined by a lottery.
Australia: Newer playgrounds are too dull for kids
FINDING a decent playground these school holidays should be a walk in the park, but parents and health experts say the quality of Melbourne play spots for children is on the slide. New-age playgrounds designed to minimise injury have come under fire for being boring and limiting.
Experts have warned a lack of older-style "adventure" playgrounds could be holding back our children's development. Child nutritionist Kim Bishop, of Yu Food and Lifestyle, said old-fashioned playgrounds let children exercise more effectively. "I certainly tend to go for the older playgrounds rather than the more sterile environments," Ms Bishop said. "At a playground, kids need a space where they are free to move in a variety of different ways. "There has even been controversy around sandpits as play spaces, but I think it's important to let kids put their hands and feet in dirt and sand."
Researchers at the University of Western Australia have launched a study on the declining quality and number of playgrounds and their effect on children. The project's research leader, Lisa Wood, has said councils and schools go overboard in creating safe and sterile environments, and that children should be given greater scope to play.
Docklands mum-of-three Kristy Seymour-Smith agreed, saying playgrounds should be designed for fun. "I think of the playgrounds that were around when I was a kid - they were quite a bit different," Ms Seymour-Smith said. "As long as there's supervision, they can be fun and safe at the same time."
Australia: Centre to tame violent preschoolers
Without physical punishment, it is almost certain to be ineffective but it least it will keep the badly behaved ones away from the others for a while
CHILDREN as young as four who are too violent to teach will be sent to Queensland's first behaviour school for Prep students. The trial centre will open in January and comes as primary teachers complain of being hit, kicked and sworn at. Experts say the epidemic of broken families and substance abuse in the home is fuelling the anger and volatile behaviour in young children.
Educators want the initiative rolled out across Queensland to protect staff and other students and save troubled kids from growing into dangerous adults. The Early Years Education Centre, partly funded by Education Queensland, will be based on the Gold Coast. Problem students aged between four and six will be referred by state schools and undertake a course for up to a semester. Their parents will be encouraged to take part and will be taught life skills in recognition that behaviour problems usually stem from home.
Education Queensland's South Coast Region executive director Glen Hoppner said principals, parents, teachers and other agencies would confer before referring students. Mr Hoppner said behaviours that "impeded a student's capacity to successfully engage in learning and to interact socially" would be addressed with both parents and students. "To our knowledge, this is the first such centre with this unique collaborative community-based approach," he said.
The breakthrough early intervention centre has been welcomed by teachers, with the union calling on the State Government to extend it throughout Queensland. Queensland Teachers Union president Steve Ryan said Prep students were hitting and kicking other students and teachers and throwing furniture. "It's a sad reflection on society that we actually have to go to these steps with kids so young," said Mr Ryan, who added he was concerned the program was not being properly funded by Education Queensland.
EQ will provide a teacher, teacher aide and psychologist for the centre, which will accept 12 students at a time. The community group SAILS (Sailing Adventures in Life Skills), which came up with the idea, will wear the remaining costs for up to six program facilitators and an administration officer. Money will be sought from the community and through fundraising.
SAILS director Russell McClue said there were already more students needing help than could be accommodated. Students and parents would attend three days a week for up to a semester and undergo the American-created "Incredible Years" course which he said had been proven to have the best results. Mr McClue said students would continue their Education Queensland Prep curriculum but in smaller groups with teachers trained specifically in how to deal with them. The children would also be taught how to better interact with teachers, peers and family. At the same time parents will undergo training in life skills and parenting.
Teachers will offer praise and incentives for co-operative behaviour and establish clear rules and routines that promote responsibility. They will also help children stay calm and regulate and understand their emotions.
However, child psychologist Dr Alina Morawska, from the Parenting and Family Support Centre at the University of Queensland, warned that grouping children together with similar problems could make behaviour worse. Dr Morawska said evidence suggested the best way to treat kids was through parenting intervention. [And how do you do that?? The stupid b*tch has obviously had very little to do with the real ferals -- who respect nobody]
27 December, 2009
As Congress Ends D.C. Voucher Program, Qatar Moves Toward Universal School Choice
As regular readers of the Foundry know, Congress has recently moved to end the popular and effective D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, denying low-income families the chance to attend a school of their parents’ choice. Meanwhile, other countries are pushing forward with plans to give all parents school choice.
In September, Heritage’s Stuart Butler looked at the Sweden’s popular universal school voucher that began in 1992. Now, Lance Izumi of the Pacific Research Institute explains that Qatar, the small Persian Gulf nation, is planning to move forward with a universal school voucher program:Qatar’s voucher program, which is just being implemented this year, is part of the country’s comprehensive reform effort called “Education for a New Era.” The voucher amount will be equivalent to the per-pupil funding allotment for government-run schools. It is envisioned that this amount will pay for the majority of private-school fees, with parents paying the rest. Initially, the number of private schools will be limited, but over time that number should increase until the system is universal, with vouchers available to all Qatari parents.Parental options are a key element of internationally competitive education in the 21st century, as more countries are recognizing.
“Parents will have options to select a school of their choice that suits the needs of their children,” says Adel al-Sayed, a top-ranking official at the Supreme Education Council (SEC), Qatar’s national education agency. The voucher program was adopted because it meets the principles that the SEC says inform Qatar’s education policies: schools should be autonomous, schools should be held accountable for student learning, and parents should exercise increasing levels of choice in selecting the best school for their children from a growing number of alternatives.
Why Britain should scrap GSCEs and return to the leaving certificates of the 1950s
The abolition of GCSEs and a return to the leaving certificate of the 1950s would stop the academic rot, writes Ken Boston (Ken Boston was chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority from 2002 to 2009)
Core Business, the recent report from the Conservative think-tank Reform, is absolutely correct in calling for all 16 year-olds to undertake a broad core of academic study as part of their school programme. It errs, however, in attributing the absence of such a core to the replacement of O-levels by GCSEs in 1986, and to the introduction of vocational qualifications. The rot set in much earlier. The error matters, because it leads Core Business into proposing an inadequate solution to a very real problem.
The genesis of the problem goes back to 1951, when O-level and A-level examinations replaced the School and Higher School Certificates. The latter were single qualifications comprising a number of subjects, all of which had to be completed, and some of which – such as English and mathematics – were mandatory. The new, replacement qualifications were single-subject qualifications (for example, O-level history).
The change was highly controversial; some people argued that by dropping their weak subjects, students would be better able to demonstrate their achievements; others claimed that a qualification would only have public currency if it contained passes in five or six subjects, including English, mathematics and a foreign language.
The chickens then came home to roost. The steady transition to mass secondary education in the following half-century was accompanied by the rapid growth of new single-subject qualifications (mainly in academic rather than vocational areas), by greatly increased choice between those qualifications, and by a decline in the percentage of students taking the traditional hard-core disciplines.
In competitor countries with which Core Business compares England so unfavourably, each of the qualifications at age 16 is comprised of groups of subjects, some of which are mandatory. In the main, the qualifications are not awarded unless a pass is achieved in the compulsory subjects and in the required number of additional subjects. Although most students in England take English and mathematics at GCSE level, a pass in the two subjects is not in fact mandatory. Surprisingly, the report does not propose to make these or any other subjects compulsory.
Instead, it turns its angst on vocational qualifications, which it sees as diverting youngsters from the true path of academic study. But the reality is that the use of industry-derived curriculum for growing the minds and imaginations of 16 year-olds as part of their general secondary education has been a critical factor in raising school performance in many of the international competitor countries cited in the report.
In England, we have never understood the role of vocational curriculum in cognitive development, nor reaped its benefits: at best, vocational education is seen by many as catering for the dummies in the hope of doing something about skills shortages.
Core Business shies away from its logical conclusion: that England needs to return to a single age-16 qualification encompassing a range of subjects, some of which are mandatory, and all of which must be passed if the qualification is to be awarded.
The purpose of the qualification must be to guarantee completion of a full, well-rounded secondary education, including achieving the required level of performance in specified compulsory academic subjects. The International Baccalaureate provides a model; so does the recently announced Harrow Diploma; so too do the qualifications offered in countries far ahead of us in the international league tables.
Five years ago, in its response to the Tomlinson Report, the Government had the opportunity to introduce a single overarching qualification embracing the current GCSE and GCE qualifications, and requiring a mandatory standard of achievement in English, mathematics and other core subjects. It prevaricated, equivocated and eventually copped out. Let's hope the next Government has a clearer vision and more resolve.
New bureaucratic controls drive thousands of British childminders to quit
More than 4,000 childminders have left the profession since the Government introduced the so-called "nappy curriculum", figures show. An analysis of Ofsted figures carried out for the Conservatives found that there were 59,323 registered childminders in England at the end of September, compared to 63,600 at the end of August last year. This drop of 4,277 is equivalent to around 12 childminders leaving the job each day of the year, the Tories said.
They blamed the loss on the new Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), nicknamed the "nappy curriculum", which was introduced in September last year. Under the EYFS reforms, every nursery, childminder and reception class in England has to monitor children's progress towards 69 Government-set "early learning goals". But the curriculum has led to bureaucracy, excessive form filling and unnecessary red tape for schools and early years workers, the Tories said.
Maria Miller, the shadow families minister, said: "At a time when thousands of families are struggling to find affordable childcare, it is deeply worrying to learn that thousands of experienced childminders are being forced out of the profession. "The Government's new early years curriculum was supposed to improve the provision of quality childcare, but the evidence shows it is having the opposite effect. "Childminders would rather quit than deal with the reams of bureaucracy and red tape which ministers have introduced."
Dawn Primarolo, the Children's Minister, said: "Childminders have a vital role to play and we know they are valued by many parents for the unique type of childcare they provide. "We are aware that the overall number of registered childminders has declined recently. There are many possible causes, including changes in demand as a result of the recession and rising demand for other types of childcare."
A spokeswoman for Ofsted said: "Our inspection evidence shows that most childminders are implementing the EYFS successfully, with 65% judged good or outstanding in helping children to learn and develop in line with the new requirements in 2008/09. "Ofsted has seen no evidence which links the reduction in the number of providers with the introduction of the EYFS."
Catherine Farrell, Joint Chief Executive of the National Childminding Association (NCMA), added: "NCMA is disappointed that the number of registered childminders is continuing to decline, albeit at a slower rate. "We know that there are a number of reasons for this, most notably changes to policy and regulatory frameworks and the challenging economic environment. "The decline is, however, partly offset by an increase in the number of 'childcare on domestic premises' settings, where childminders are choosing to work collectively."
26 December, 2009
A Bathroom of Her Own
The coed college bathroom, like the coed college dormitory, is so common (at least in some parts of the country) that it inspires crude comedy sketches, advice columns and complaints.
At least one student who doesn't think bathrooms should be shared between male and female students is fighting back. A new lawsuit by a student at Green Mountain College charges that Vermont officials (and those in other states) have an obligation to make sure that all public buildings need to have separate bathrooms for men and women.
Jennifer Weiler, the freshman who sued, says that Green Mountain housed her in a facility where only shared bathrooms were available. When she complained, the suit says, the college designated a bathroom in her dormitory as a women's bathroom, but did nothing when male students went right on using it.
Ron Weiler, Jennifer's father, said in an interview that his daughter had no idea when enrolling that the bathrooms were shared by men and women. He said that the bathrooms feature showers with curtains, and toilets in stalls. But he said that while the female students generally disrobe and towel themselves behind the shower curtains, many male students do not, nor do the male students necessarily shut the stall doors.
"The men just disrobe in the middle of the room," Weiler said, and women shouldn't have to see that.
Weiler said that state building codes generally require public buildings -- a category that would include dormitories -- to have both men's and women's facilities. And Weiler said he complained to the college, to state officials, and to others before suing the state to compel enforcement of building codes. "What we have is that it's seen as politically incorrect to interfere with what goes on on college campuses," Weiler said.
He added that he has no problem with a college opting to have some coed bathrooms, as long as there are single-sex facilities readily available throughout any residential facilities.
Vermont and college officials couldn't be reached for comment, and the suit indicates that the state has asserted that it is not responsible for determining the bathroom breakdown at colleges. But Weiler noted that the issue has come up elsewhere and he predicted that more people might raise protests about coed bathrooms.
Bathroom Politics in Higher Ed
The suit in Vermont represents the latest twist in the politics of bathrooms in higher education. Of late, the big push has been by transgender students, who have urged the creation of coed bathrooms or of individual bathrooms, where one does not need to designate oneself in a traditional male/female dichotomy to use the facilities. But many colleges -- outside of institutions where religious or local political traditions would frown on such a move -- have had coed bathrooms for years. In part this has been a matter of convenience, as colleges that used to have strict gender separation in residence halls, with one large bathroom to a floor, have modified bathroom policies as they became open to coeducational floors.
The issue has been debated periodically at Williams College, courtesy of Wendy Shalit, an alumna who launched her career as a pundit and an advocate for sexual "modesty" with an essay in Commentary, later reprinted for a much larger audience in Reader's Digest, in which she criticized the college's coed bathrooms and linked them to the decline of traditional dating.
Shalit, in comments similar to those of Weiler's suit, says that it wasn't her own body that led her to complain but the forced closeness to others. "When I objected, I was told by my fellow students that I 'must not be comfortable with [my] body.' Frankly, I didn’t get that, because I was fine with my body; it was their bodies in such close proximity to mine that I wasn’t thrilled about," she wrote. In an interview with the Independent Women's Forum, Shalit said that while she was mocked for expressing these views, she was thanked privately by many students who told her that they agreed, but didn't want to be labeled as prudes.
A spokesman for Williams said that changes at Williams over the years have had "the result, though not the purpose," of placing more first-year students in buildings with separate men's and women's bathrooms than was the case previously (when Shalit raised the issue).
But one of the practices Shalit criticized -- letting students on a given floor decide whether to make the bathrooms coed -- remains. "It's still the case that students organize dorm life and in some situations, over the course of the year, students determine that the cost of walking to the bathroom designated for their sex, though close by adult standards, exceeds the benefit," he said.
James Baumann, director of communications for the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International, said that there are no national data on the percentage of colleges that have coed bathrooms. But he said that "it grows in its commonality each year."
Joey McNamara, national chair of the National Association of College and University Residence Halls, which represents students who live in the halls, said that bathroom issues have come up for the group primarily when planning conferences. Some members don't want to meet at campuses that have strictly male and female bathrooms, he said.
McNamara, a student at Lynn University, said he has only experienced single-sex bathrooms and that he has sympathy for Weiler. "I think privacy needs to be allowed," he said.
Of course, at many campuses with coed bathrooms, the concerns tend to come from parents and prospective students -- while the realities of coed bathrooms are sufficiently mundane that everyone seems to get used to the situation. Michael Snively, one of the students who blogs for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology admissions office, wrote on his blog that he is constantly asked to write about the issue or to answer questions about this topic during campus tours.
The post mocks the excessive interest in bathrooms, noting there are four things about which to be certain: "1) The bathrooms are coed. 2) The bathrooms do not have locks on them. 3) Yes, two people may very well be showering in the same bathroom at the same time. 4) Nobody cares. That's right guys, if you get into MIT there's a high likelihood that you'll get to stand 6 inches away from a naked senior on just your first or second day here! That goes for you too ladies, naked guys standing just 6 inches away! Oo la la!"
Snively's discussion of the topic -- including authentic, G-rated photographs -- discusses how the bathrooms are set up and offers key rules. (Knocking is important). And comments posted suggest that many MIT students get questions from their family members about the topic, and chuckle at the interest.
The article concludes: "From my experience, there are so many things at MIT that are important, difficult, and take adjusting to, worrying about bathrooms just isn't that critical. We're grown ups now, just be civil and polite and everybody gets along alright. You may not be used to having to share a bathroom with a girl or a guy, but you'll find that very little changes (except the length of the hair you find in the shower), so don't sweat the small stuff and worry more about, well, anything, more than bathrooms at MIT."
British Conservatives challege a government demand that is driving up the cost of private education
Tories 'would persuade Charity Commission to drop private school bursary demand'
A Tory government would ask the Charity Commission to soften the "public benefit" test for private schools, Michael Gove, the shadow education secretary, has said. Mr Gove said that he would call an immediate meeting with the Commission over the issue.
In his strongest commitment yet to reforming the guidelines that have infuriated the independent sector, Mr Gove said that schools should be awarded charitable status for opening up their facilities to local state children. In recent rulings the commission has turned down applications from private schools on the sole ground that they do not provide enough bursaries.
The Tories want charitable status to be granted to schools like St Paul's School for Boys in west London, which runs maths "master classes" for talented pupils from the state sector. "The Charity Commission say the way private schools can demonstrate public benefit is by having more scholarships. I have no objection to that – but I think it is wrong to say that's the only way they can provide public benefit," Mr Gove told The Independent. "Rather than benefiting a small group of children, why not use their resources to the benefit of a greater number like St Paul's has done?"
Responding to criticism of Dame Suzi Leather, head of the commission, he added: "I don't want to get into personalities but we do want to talk to people at the Charity Commission about this."
Private schools that have long enjoyed charitable status have warned that they may go under if it is revoked under the commission's current interpretation of the "public benefit" test. Parents have also been told that they may face higher fees to cover the cost of bursaries for children from lower-income families if the rules are not changed.
25 December, 2009
The Rot At Duke U -- And Beyond
Much of academia appears to have a disregard of due process and a bias against white males
You might think that a university whose students were victims of the most notorious fraudulent rape claim in recent history, and whose professors -- 88 of them -- signed an ad implicitly presuming guilt, and whose president came close to doing the same would have learned some lessons. The facts are otherwise. They also suggest that Duke University's ugly abuse in 2006 and 2007 of its now-exonerated lacrosse players -- white males accused by a black stripper and hounded by a mob hewing to political correctness -- reflects a disregard of due process and a bias against white males that infect much of academia.
In September, far from taking pains to protect its students from false rape charges, Duke adopted a revised "sexual misconduct" policy that makes a mockery of due process and may well foster more false rape charges by rigging the disciplinary rules against the accused.
Meanwhile, none of the 88 guilt-presuming professors has publicly apologized. (Duke's president, Richard Brodhead, did -- but too little and too late.) Many of the faculty signers -- a majority of whom are white -- have expressed pride in their rush to judgment. None was dismissed, demoted, or publicly rebuked. Two were glorified this month in Duke's in-house organ as pioneers of "diversity," with no reference to their roles in signing the ad. Three others have won prestigious positions at Cornell, Vanderbilt, and the University of Chicago.
The two stated reasons for the revised sexual-misconduct rules, as reported in the student newspaper, The Chronicle, almost advertise that they were driven by politically correct ideology more than by any surge in sexual assaults. "The first was... fear of litigation, as expressed by Duke General Counsel Pamela Bernard," as Johnson wrote in his blog, Durham-in-Wonderland. "Yet the policy Duke has developed seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen. The second factor was a development that those in the reality-based community might consider to be a good thing: Over a three-year period, reported cases of sexual misconduct on college campuses as a whole and at Duke specifically (slightly) declined."
But for many in academia, Johnson explains, "these figures must mean something else -- that a plethora of rapes are going unreported." Indeed, Sheila Broderick, a Duke Women's Center staff member, told The Chronicle without evidence that Duke had a "rape culture." And Ada Gregory, director of the Duke Women's Center, said that "higher IQ" males, such as those at Duke, could be "highly manipulative and coercive."
The revised policy requires involving the Women's Center in the disciplinary process for all known allegations of sexual misconduct and empowers the Office of Student Conduct to investigate even if the accuser does not want to proceed.
Duke's rules define sexual misconduct so broadly and vaguely as to include any sexual activity without explicit "verbal or nonverbal" consent, which must be so "clear" as to dispel "real or perceived power differentials between individuals [that] may create an unintentional atmosphere of coercion" (emphasis added).
The disciplinary rules deny the accused any right to have an attorney at the hearing panel or to confront his accuser. The rules also give her -- but not him -- the right to be treated with "sensitivity"; to make opening and closing statements; and to receive copies of investigative documents.
The revised policy, among other things, shows that Duke is still in the grip of the same biases, indifference to evidence, and de facto presumption of guilt that led so many professors and administrators to smear innocent lacrosse players as rapists (and as racists) for many months in 2006 and 2007. The centerpiece was the full-page ad taken out by the "Group of 88" professors, as critics call them, in The Chronicle on April 6, 2006, about three weeks after the woman claimed rape.
This ad stopped just short of explicitly branding the lacrosse players as rapists. But it treated almost as a given the truth of the stripper's claims of a brutal gang rape by three team members amid a hail of racist slurs. It praised protesters who had put lacrosse players' photos on "wanted" posters. It associated "what happened to this young woman" with "racism and sexism." It suggested that the lacrosse players were getting privileged treatment because they are white -- which was the opposite of the truth.
And in January 2007, after the fraudulence of the stripper's rape claim and of rogue Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong's indictments of three players had become increasingly evident, most of the 88 also signed a letter rejecting calls for apologies while denying that their April 2006 ad had meant what it seemed to say.
Among the most prominent signers of both the ad and the letter were Karla Holloway, an English professor, and Paula McClain, a political science professor. They also slimed the lacrosse players in opaquely worded, academic-jargon-filled individual statements full of innuendo.
This disgraceful behavior apparently did not trouble Duke's Academic Council, which in February 2007 made McClain its next chairwoman -- the highest elected position for a faculty member.
And just this month, the university's in-house organ, Duke Today, heaped special attention and praise on Holloway and McClain and featured their photos in a gushing five-part series titled "Diversity & Excellence," focusing on Duke's efforts to hire more black faculty members.
None of the five articles mentioned the roles of Holloway, McClain, and most of the African and African-American studies faculty (the vast majority of whom signed both the ad and the subsequent letter) in smearing innocent Duke students -- not only the lacrosse players but also the many others whom the letter fatuously accused of fostering an "atmosphere that allows sexism, racism, and sexual violence to be so prevalent on campus." ...
The fact that these five people of questionable judgment have subsequently won glorification by Duke or advancement to other prestigious positions may reflect the interaction of academia's demand for more "diversity" with the small supply of aspiring black professors who are well credentialed in traditional disciplines. These factors, amplified by politically correct ideology, have advanced many academics who -- unlike most African-Americans -- are obsessed with grievances rooted more in our history of slavery and racial oppression than in contemporary reality.
Try imagining a white male professor who had smeared innocent black students enjoying a similar path of advancement in academia today.
Too many students - too few apprentices in Britain
Both parties' misplaced egalitarianism is to blame for the funding crisis, argues George Walden (George Walden is a former minister for higher education)
Lord Mandelson's announcement of reduced university funding and his warning against over-recruitment are signals that the unworkable system imposed by successive governments is now getting what a student of our language once called its "up and comings". As the nation's cash runs out, there were always going to be cuts, but the way universities have been structured makes them poorly placed to handle them.
The prospect of quicker degrees is especially disquieting. If progress in our schools were as marked as Labour claims, there might be logic in shortening certain courses, since students would be better prepared for them. In reality, billions more have been spent with little to show for it. Achievement at primary level has faltered, and the results of the city academies rarely reflect the cost of their premises. Academics at university complain about the amount of remedial teaching they have to do, in maths especially, before students are ready to tackle their courses.
More focus, Lord Mandelson says, is needed on skills demanded by employers. The old polytechnics used to provide this, though in a civilised society it should never be at the expense of the humanities. That's what the old, more selective university system was good at. Not everyone with a couple of indifferent A-levels in questionable subjects was allowed in, and not everyone emerged with a First or Upper Second.
Many of those going to university are unprepared or unsuited for higher education. They should have been doing training or apprenticeship courses in colleges of further education, the underrated Cinderellas of the system. Aerospace, plumbing, health studies, business studies or beauty and catering would be of greater use to everyone. They would be cheaper and better than a poorly taught course in English literature, featuring warm-hearted reflections on the role of nature in the poetry of Ted Hughes, or the life and work of Sylvia Plath, with a helping hand from the internet.
Students and academics have an equal right to feel aggrieved: just as Labour supported the Tories' daft conversion of polytechnics into universities, the Tories are backing the over-hyped city academies, from which better-qualified students are supposed to come. Meanwhile, both Cameron and the Labour Left shun any suggestion of selection (except, in the case of the Tories, in private schools). But more selectivity in schools would make it easier to decide who was best suited to higher education, and to keep up university standards.
Though the Tories claim to oppose it, it is misplaced egalitarianism that is behind Labour's vast expansion of student numbers, which Lord Mandelson admits is "putting unmanageable pressures on our student support budget". It puts pressures on academics and facilities, too, with the risk of Britain regressing from its relatively successful higher education ethos into a mass, mediocre system, as in France.
On top of that, Lord Mandelson says he wants greater priority in admissions to students from modest backgrounds. Sensitively handled, this can be justified: studies by the Sutton Trust have shown that, when properly taught on campus, bright but poor pupils can outperform private school students. But the risk is of a dogmatic, politicised application of the principle as a stick to beat independent schools, and to massage admission figures in the correct sociological direction, by keeping some of our best-educated pupils out of our best universities.
No one should be penalised by their background. A principle, Lord Mandelson appears to have forgotten, that works both ways.
Britain adopting 2 year degrees
Universities face a move towards two-year degree courses as the Government dramatically reduces higher education spending. The announcement of the cuts, which will see £518m lopped off university funding next year, provoked an outcry from vice-chancellors, students, lecturers and opposition MPs last night. Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, which represents lecturers, said: "We will see teachers on the dole, students in larger classes and a higher education sector unable to contribute as much to the economy and society."
Key elements of the plan, outlined by the Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson, include a shift away from the traditional three-year degree to two-year courses. In addition, universities that recruited more students in the autumn than ministers had budgeted for will face fines of £3,700 per extra head.
One estimate indicated that 22,000 additional students were taken on as demand for places reached an all-time high because of the recession. Universities were allowed to recruit 10,000 extra undergraduates because of the increased demand. Even so, about 130,000 students eligible for a clearing place failed to find one in the summer. Lord Mandelson made it plain there would be no repeat next year and reduced the funding for higher education from the £7.8bn grant for 2009-10 to just under £7.3bn for 2010-11.
This, coupled with the fines, lowers the Government's chances of meeting its oft-stated aim of recruiting 50 per cent of young people into higher education courses, though ministers will hope that introducing more two-year courses might be enough to achieve it.
Vice-chancellors will now put more pressure on the government review into top-up fees to increase the current cap of £3,240. They have already indicated that they would like to see it doubled to more than £6,500. The review is due to report next year, after the election. Research funding – which helps the more selective universities like Oxford and Cambridge retain world-class research contracts – is to be maintained.
In a letter to the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which is responsible for allocating university cash, Lord Mandelson said he wanted more programmes "such as foundation and fast-track degrees that can be completed full-time in two years". He added: "Over the next spending review period [to 2014], we will want some shift away from full-time, three-year places towards a wider variety of provision."
Professor Les Ebdon, chairman of the university think-tank million+ and vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire University, said the shift towards two-year degrees was "tinkering with the edges". "Two-year degrees work for some students, who do not have to fund themselves with part-time jobs," he said. "They will only be offered by a limited number of universities for a small number of courses." Examples of two-year degree courses already running include one for higher level teaching assistants at Stroud College in Gloucestershire and a fast-track nursing degree at King's College London for those with a degree already.
In his letter, Lord Mandelson went on to warn that any further over-recruitment next autumn could again provoke fines. The £3,700 is equivalent to the average cost of providing one student with teaching and access to facilities for one year.
The Conservatives immediately attacked the Government for fining universities that were trying to meet its own target of getting 50 per cent of young people into higher education. Even with the increase in student numbers allowed by the Government this autumn, the overall participation rate remains at around 43 per cent when, ironically, because of the demand created by the lack of employment prospects, ministers had a realistic chance of nearing the 50 per cent target for the first time this year.
"We now have the bizarre situation that universities are being fined for meeting targets set by this Government," said David Willetts, the Conservatives' universities spokesman.
24 December, 2009
by Walter E. Williams
Detroit's (predominantly black) public schools are the worst in the nation and it takes some doing to be worse than Washington, D.C. Only 3 percent of Detroit's fourth-graders scored proficient on the most recent National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) test, sometimes called "The Nation's Report Card." Twenty-eight percent scored basic and 69 percent below basic. "Below basic" is the NAEP category when students are unable to demonstrate even partial mastery of knowledge and skills fundamental for proficient work at their grade level. It's the same story for Detroit's eighth-graders. Four percent scored proficient, 18 percent basic and 77 percent below basic.
Michael Casserly, executive director of the D.C.-based Council on Great City Schools, in an article appearing in Crain's Detroit Business, (12/8/09) titled, "Detroit's Public Schools Post Worst Scores on Record in National Assessment," said, "There is no jurisdiction of any kind, at any level, at any time in the 30-year history of NAEP that has ever registered such low numbers." The academic performance of black students in other large cities such as Philadelphia, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles is not much better than Detroit and Washington.
What's to be done about this tragic state of black education? The education establishment and politicians tell us that we need to spend more for higher teacher pay and smaller class size. The fact of business is higher teacher salaries and smaller class sizes mean little or nothing in terms of academic achievement. Washington, D.C., for example spends over $15,000 per student, has class sizes smaller than the nation's average, and with an average annual salary of $61,195, its teachers are the most highly paid in the nation.
What about role models? Standard psychobabble asserts a positive relationship between the race of teachers and administrators and student performance. That's nonsense. Black academic performance is the worst in the very cities where large percentages of teachers and administrators are black, and often the school superintendent is black, the mayor is black, most of the city council is black and very often the chief of police is black.
Black people have accepted hare-brained ideas that have made large percentages of black youngsters virtually useless in an increasingly technological economy. This destruction will continue until the day comes when black people are willing to turn their backs on liberals and the education establishment's agenda and confront issues that are both embarrassing and uncomfortable. To a lesser extent, this also applies to whites because the educational performance of many white kids is nothing to write home about; it's just not the disaster that black education is.
Many black students are alien and hostile to the education process. They have parents with little interest in their education. These students not only sabotage the education process, but make schools unsafe as well. These students should not be permitted to destroy the education chances of others. They should be removed or those students who want to learn should be provided with a mechanism to go to another school.
Another issue deemed too delicate to discuss is the overall quality of people teaching our children. Students who have chosen education as their major have the lowest SAT scores of any other major. Students who have an education degree earn lower scores than any other major on graduate school admission tests such as the GRE, MCAT or LSAT. Schools of education, either graduate or undergraduate, represent the academic slums of most any university. They are home to the least able students and professors. Schools of education should be shut down.
Yet another issue is the academic fraud committed by teachers and administrators. After all, what is it when a student is granted a diploma certifying a 12th grade level of achievement when in fact he can't perform at the sixth- or seventh-grade level?
Prospects for improvement in black education are not likely given the cozy relationship between black politicians, civil rights organizations and teacher unions.
Failing Public Schools Cost Us All
Everyone knows our public schools aren't what they should be. The nation spends more than $500 billion per year on K-12 education. That's much more than other countries – yet we still rank in the middle on international tests measuring the educational performance.
Many parents take comfort, assuming that their local schools are better than the average. They know there are places where the public schools are little more than expensive, dangerous, holding pens in which little education occurs. They think of Detroit, where only about a quarter of high schoolers will receive a diploma. They think of Baltimore City, where little more than a third of students are expected to graduate high school. And they think of Washington D.C., which spends more than $14,000 per year per student but produces only 15% of students who are proficient in reading and math. Parents figure those places weigh down the U.S.'s performance on those worldwide tests; other Americans need to worry about education reform, but not them.
Certainly, communities with the worst schools have the most to gain from education reform. Yet we are all affected by the outcomes of our nation's education system. Most people understand intuitively that we are better off with a more educated populace since educated people are less likely to commit crimes and can better contribute to their communities.
It makes sense that our country would be better off if all of our citizens were better prepared to contribute and compete in today's global, knowledge-based economy. But this is too often lost in our discussions about education policy, which tends to be an emotional subject. Education is supposed to be a stepping stone to a successful life. By perpetuating an inadequate system, we let down a generation of children. Kids who may have grown up to be scientists, professors, doctors, or authors will be forced to settle for more modest aspirations as they fail to acquire needed skills while passing through our lousy schools.
But education isn't just a moral imperative: it’s an urgent national priority that is critical to long term growth and prosperity. Few seem to comprehend that we are actually paying a price in dollars and cents because of the failures of these school systems. The management consulting firm McKinsey and Company looked at the effects of our failure to provide a quality education in order to estimate its impact on the economy. They compared it to a “permanent national recession” that made our country hundreds of billions of dollars poorer each year. Imagining how much better off we would be if our education system achieved the superior results of other countries, analysts concluded that “if the United States had in recent years closed the gap between its educational achievement levels and those of better-performing nations such as Finland and Korea, GDP in 2008 could have been $1.3 trillion to $2.3 trillion higher.” That's between $4,300 and $7,600 per person.
Sadly, the media tends to miss the benefits that will accrue to communities and individuals with better education. For example, the press all but ignored the recent debate about the Washington D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. This program, launched in 2004, helped over 1700 students from low-income families in Washington D.C. to attend schools of their parents' choice. Last year, a U.S. Department of Education study proved that this program was working: test scores showed that students using vouchers were performing two years ahead of their public school peers on standardized reading tests. These are incredibly powerful results for a modest investment. In fact, the program actually saved taxpayers money, as tuition at the average private school attended by a scholarship recipient was just $6,600 – a fraction of what is currently being spent per pupil in D.C. dysfunctional public schools.
Yet Congress moved to defund this program, condemning future low-income D.C. students to the public school system that we know fails so many. The President and the Secretary of Education had promised to pursue “whatever works” when it comes to education reform. However, it is increasingly clear that was just empty rhetoric. The all-powerful teachers unions loathe any program that helps kids exit the public schools, and Democratic leaders seem to have calculated that teachers unions’ interests are more important than the future of those students.
Politically, Congress’ decision probably made sense. After all, the teachers unions give loads of money to politicians in order to maintain the status quo. Clearly, the poor families receiving opportunity scholarships in Washington D.C. don't. And, for the most part, those around the country—even those who are sympathetic to the cause of education reform and school choice—don't see a debate about a program out in the nation's capitol as their fight.
But it should be all of our fights.
A dynamic, effective education system is in everyone's self-interest. Our public schools are a drag on the economy, bringing everyone down. We are poorer and have lower standard of living because we have allowed this problem to persist. Americans need to fight for meaningful reforms and against those who cling to the dysfunctional status quo. For a stronger nation, education reform should be everyone's cause.
British universities in big financial trouble
Universities will have to make severe cuts after Lord Mandelson abruptly slashed teaching budgets by millions of pounds yesterday. Departments are expected to close, degree courses will be scrapped and students will have to pay higher fees.
Academics were furious at the plan to claw back £135 million and condemned the timing of the announcement. Universities had already been ordered to find £180 million in savings in the next 18 months.
When savage spending cuts were announced in the Pre-Budget Report, schools were given immunity but universities were not. The cuts mean that funding per student has fallen in real terms for the first time in ten years.
A review of tuition fees that began last month and will conclude after the general election is expected to recommend that they be raised considerably from the current £3,225 a year.
The Business Secretary said that universities should move from the three-year, full-time undergraduate degree model towards a “wider variety of provision”, such as foundation and fast-track degrees. They will be encouraged to focus more on the skills and knowledge demanded by employers rather than on academia for its own sake. Those that disobeyed the Government by taking on too many students this autumn will be penalised in next year’s grants at a rate of £3,700 per extra full-time student.
Lord Mandelson made his position clear in the Secretary of State’s annual letter to the Higher Education Funding Council for England. He said: “My predecessor repeatedly made clear the risks of student over-recruitment putting unmanageable pressures on our student support budgets.” The council will inform universities of their individual grants in March.
Lord Mandelson said that teaching grants would be cut by £51 million but urged universities to minimise the impact on teaching and students. The remaining £84 million will come from capital budgets. After adjustments, the overall higher education grant will fall from £7.8 billion to £7.3 billion. The Times reported earlier this month that universities were already slashing thousands of jobs, scrapping courses and putting campuses out of use to meet budget constraints. The 10,000 extra unfunded places the Government allowed this year for science, technology, engineering and maths degrees will disappear next year, even though the recession means that unprecedented numbers are expected to apply for places.
Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors, said that the cost of subsidising tuition fees would jeopardise the quality of the student experience. “The sector will not be able to deliver more with less without compromising our longer-term sustainability and international competitiveness.”
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “You cannot make these kinds of cuts and expect no consequences. We will see teachers on the dole, students in larger classes and a higher education sector unable to contribute as much to the economy or society.”
Wes Streeting, of the National Union of Students, said: “The Government was quick to take credit for avoiding a student places crisis earlier this year, but is now shamefully cutting teaching funding to the very universities that helped it achieve it.”
The university research grant is protected, meaning that newer universities that focus mainly on teaching will feel extra pressure. Professor Les Ebdon, chairman of Million+, which represents some of these institutions, said: “December 22 will go down as a good day for the Government to bury bad news for universities and students.
David Willetts, the Shadow Universities Secretary, said: “Universities are being fined for meeting targets set by this Government. Higher education should be available to all those who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue it, and who wish to do so.”
23 December, 2009
The Bilingual Ban That Worked
In 1998, Californians voted to pass Proposition 227, the “English for the Children Act,” and dismantle the state’s bilingual-education industry. The results, according to California’s education establishment, were not supposed to look like this: button-cute Hispanic pupils at a Santa Ana elementary school boasting about their English skills to a visitor. Those same pupils cheerfully calling out to their principal on their way to lunch: “Hi, Miss Champion!” A statewide increase in English proficiency among all Hispanic students.
Instead, warned legions of educrats, eliminating bilingual education in California would demoralize Hispanic students and widen the achievement gap. Unless Hispanic children were taught in Spanish, the bilingual advocates moaned, they would be unable to learn English or to succeed in other academic subjects.
California’s electorate has been proved right: Hispanic test scores on a range of subjects have risen since Prop. 227 became law. But while the curtailment of California’s bilingual-education industry has removed a significant barrier to Hispanic assimilation, the persistence of a Hispanic academic underclass suggests the need for further reform.
The counterintuitive linguistic claims behind bilingual education were always a fig leaf covering a political agenda. The 1960s Chicano rights movement (“Chicano” refers to Mexican-Americans) asserted that the American tradition of assimilation was destroying not just Mexican-American identity but also Mexican-American students’ capacity to learn. Teaching these students in English rather than in Spanish hurt their self-esteem and pride in their culture, Chicano activists alleged: hence the high drop-out rates, poor academic performance, and gang involvement that characterized so many Mexican-American students in the Southwest. Manuel Ramirez III, currently a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, argued that bilingual education was necessary to ensure “the academic survival of Chicano children and the political and economic strength of the Chicano community.” The role of American schools, according to this nascent ideology, became the preservation of the Spanish language and Mexican culture for Mexican-origin U.S. residents.
Novel linguistic theories arose to buttress this political platform. Children could not learn a second language well unless they were already fully literate in their native tongue, the newly minted bilingual-ed proponents argued. To teach English to a five-year-old who spoke Spanish at home, you had to instruct him in Spanish for several more years, until he had mastered Spanish grammar and spelling. “Young children are not language sponges,” asserts McGill University psychology professor Fred Genesee, defying centuries of parental observation. Even more surprisingly, the advocates suddenly discovered that the ability to learn a second language improved with age—news to every adult who has struggled through do-it-yourself language recordings.
Such ad hoc justifications rested on shaky scientific ground. Psycholinguistics research supports what generations of immigrants experienced firsthand: the younger you are when you tackle a second language, the greater your chances of achieving full proficiency. Children who learn a second language early in life may even process it in the same parts of the brain that process their first language, an advantage lost as they age.
Only one justification for bilingual education made possible sense. The bilingual theorists maintained that children should be taught academic content—physics, say, or history—in their home language, lest they fall behind their peers in their knowledge of subject matter. But this argument applied most forcefully where bilingual education has always been the rarest: in high school, where, one would hope, teachers use relatively sophisticated concepts. In the earliest grades, however, where bilingual education has always been concentrated, academic content is predominantly learning a language—how to read and write B-A-T, for example. Moreover, most Hispanic children who show up in American elementary school have subpar Spanish skills to begin with, so teaching them in Spanish does not provide a large advantage over English in conveying knowledge about language—or anything else.
The bilingual-education crusade also contained patent inequities that never seemed to trouble its advocates. If teaching a nonnative speaker in his home tongue was such a boon—if it was, as many argued, a civil right—bilingual education should have been provided to every minority-language group, not just to Hispanics, who have been almost the exclusive beneficiaries of the practice. If instructing non-English-speaking students in English was destructive, it would damage a school’s sole Pashto speaker just as much as its Hispanic majority. But minority rights, usually the proud battle cry of self-styled progressives, invariably crumpled before brute political power when it came to bilingual ed. “If it could benefit 82 percent of the kids, you don’t have to offer it to everyone,” says Robert Linquanti, a project director for the government-supported research organization WestEd.
Nor did bilingual-education proponents pause long before counterevidence. In 1965, just as the movement was getting under way in the United States, the Canadian province of Quebec decided that not enough Quebecois children were learning French. It instituted the most efficient method for overcoming that deficit: immersion. Young English-speaking students started spending their school days in all-French classes, emerging into English teaching only after having absorbed French. By all accounts, the immersion schools have been successful. And no wonder: the simple insight of immersion is that the more one practices a new language, the better one learns it. Students at America’s most prestigious language academy, the Middlebury Language Schools, pledge not to speak a word of English once the program begins, even if they are beginners in their target languages. “If you go back to speaking English, the English patterns will reassert themselves and interfere with acquisition of the new grammatical patterns,” explains Middlebury vice president Michael Geisler.
McGill professor Genesee—who opposed Prop. 227 in 1998, when he was directing the education school at the University of California at Davis—hates it when proponents of English immersion in America point to the success of French immersion in Quebec. The English-speaking Quebecois don’t risk losing English, Genesee says, since it remains the predominant Canadian tongue and is a “high-prestige language.”
Whereas if you start American Hispanics off in English, Genesee maintains, “they won’t want to speak Spanish” because it is a “stigmatized, low-prestige language.” Genesee’s argument exposes the enduring influence of Chicano political activism on academic bilingual theory. Hispanic students do risk losing their home tongue when taught in the majority language. Such linguistic oblivion has beset second- and third-generation immigrants throughout American history—not because of the relative status of their home languages but simply because of the power of language immersion and the magnetic force of the public culture. But bilingual-ed proponents know that most Americans don’t view preserving immigrants’ home tongues as a school responsibility. So they publicly promote bilingual education as a pedagogically superior way to teach Hispanics English and other academic subjects, even as they privately embrace the practice as a means for ensuring that Hispanic students preserve their Spanish.
The early Chicano activists sought the “replacement of assimilationist ideals . . . with cultural pluralism,” writes University of Houston history professor Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr. in his book Contested Policy. Bilingual education was the activists’ primary weapon in fighting assimilation because, as they rightly understood, English-language teaching is a powerful tool for encouraging assimilation. In a country as diverse as the United States, fluency in the common tongue is an essential bond among citizens, and the experience of learning it alongside classmates of different ethnic origins reinforces the message that Americans share a common culture. Bilingual-ed proponents often accuse immersion advocates of opposing multilingualism or wanting to stamp out Spanish. This is nonsense. But it is true that maintaining students’ home language for the sake of strengthened ethnic identity is no part of a school’s mandate. Its primary language duty, rather, is to ensure that citizens can understand one another and participate in democracy.
Despite its conceptual contradictions, bilingual education spread inexorably through the federal and state education bureaucracies. The National Education Association, undoubtedly whiffing a jobs bonanza for its unionized members, produced a report in 1966 arguing that teaching Hispanic children in English hurt their self-esteem and led to underachievement. In 1968, Congress passed the Bilingual Education Act, which provided federal funds for bilingual teaching. When not enough school districts applied for the funds, advocacy groups sued, claiming that the districts were violating Hispanic children’s civil rights. The federal Department of Education agreed, issuing rules in 1975 that penalized schools for not establishing bilingual programs for their non-English-speaking students. Though the Reagan administration cut back on several bilingual-education mandates from the Ford and Carter years, the federal bilingual bureaucracy remained firmly entrenched for decades.
In California, which contains the vast majority of the country’s so-called English learners—students from homes where a language other than English is regularly spoken—the rise of the bilingual machine was swift and decisive. The 1976 Chacon-Moscone Bilingual-Bicultural Education Act declared that bilingual education was the right of every English learner. Elementary schools had to provide native-language instruction if they enrolled a certain number of English learners; bilingual education in the lower grades became the default mode for anyone with a Hispanic surname. (Hispanics have always dominated the “English learner” category. In California, they make up 85 percent of all English learners; the next-largest language group—Vietnamese—constitutes just 2.4 percent.)
Even after Governor George Deukmejian refused to reauthorize the Chacon-Moscone bill in 1987, the bilingual establishment in Sacramento continued to enforce the law’s mandates. The state’s department of education sponsored numerous conferences and reports alleging that bilingual education was necessary for Hispanic success and showered an additional $5,000 a year on bilingual teachers. Administrators and teachers in heavily Hispanic areas often saw themselves as part of the Chicano empowerment movement. “You weren’t worthwhile if you didn’t speak Spanish,” recalls a Santa Ana teacher. “The attitude was: ‘No one should teach our kids but native language speakers.’”...
Much more here
Factory schools don’t give real education
A ten-hour day could close the attainment gap between state and private, but only if it’s used well
You can imagine the look on the faces of the poor children. At the final assembly of the Christmas term last Friday they are told by their headteacher that in the new year the school day will last ten hours, from 7.30am to 5.30pm, not the traditional seven hours. There couldn’t have been more dismay if the head had announced that Christmas has been cancelled.
Yet this ten-hour day is exactly what the Sutton Trust announced yesterday in an effort to further its mission to improve educational opportunities for children from deprived backgrounds. The decision echoes the Knowledge is Power Programme (KIPP) in the US, which has caught the eye of Michael Gove, the Shadow Education Secretary. These schools have ten-hour days and are open every other Saturday, and for three weeks in the summer holidays. Thus KIPP students are in school 60 per cent longer than in other publicly run schools in the US. These free, open-enrolment schools, are heavily oversubscribed. More than 90 per cent of students are from African-American or Hispanic-Latino backgrounds, and more than 80 per cent are eligible for free or subsidised school meals. Parents are desperate to get their children into these schools in the hope of their getting into college and experiencing better lives than they did themselves.
Is the extended day the answer to chronic underachievement in British schools? Would it help to narrow the gap in performance between state and independent schools? Despite huge increases in public spending, the attainment gap between private and state has widened.
We should beware the idea that more teaching time necessarily means better education. In the independent sector, children are rarely taught in class for more than five hours a day averaged over the week, including Saturday mornings. The evidence suggests that even the most academically able cannot concentrate in class for much longer, and that further hours become counter-productive.
What counts is not extending the hours taught, but improving the quality of what happens in the time children are in lessons. Independent schools outperform state schools academically for three principal reasons. The teachers may not be better or harder working, but the ratio of subject specialists, for example in maths and physics, is far higher. Class sizes are far smaller, with, on average, twice as many teachers per pupil. Finally, behaviour and work expectations are higher, as are parental expectations. If one wants to improve the quality of academic results, it is to these three areas that attention should be given.
A deeper concern is about the narrowing of education that has happened in Britain in the past 15 years as a direct consequence of the culture of targets, league tables and low trust of schools. “Education” is derived from the Latin educare, “to draw out”. Schools should be drawing out all children’s faculties or intelligences: yet in our exam-drunk country, breadth of education and the nurturing of individuality have all too often been sacrificed to achieve quantifiable test and exam data.
Children, of course, need to be taught academic subjects rigorously, and to be tested regularly to assess their development: But, there is a world of difference between a child with a string of A grades and an educated child. Genuine learning has all too often been replaced in our factory schools by rote-learning.
What are the different intelligences that each child, regardless of background, should have “drawn out”? My own school, Wellington College, structures its curriculum and extracurricular life around eight different aptitudes, inspired by the work of Howard Gardner of Harvard University: the logical and linguistic; the creative and kinaesthetic; the moral and spiritual and the personal and the social. Where these are not developed by schools, they may lay dormant for the rest of a person’s life. Schools have a responsibility not only to develop logical and linguistic intelligences, but also the other six.
Why should children who go to independent schools enjoy this far richer education? The injustice is all the more stark because children in state schools often lack the same opportunities and support at home to develop their broader intelligences, and school thus becomes all the more important if they are to become fully rounded human beings, knowing more about who they are and what their talents are.
KIPP schools focus on extracurricular activities, including music, dance and sport. They also make a feature of the “joy factor”, using a variety of techniques, including movement and chanting to make lessons engaging and positive.
Schools should be immensely happy places, but in the “factory school” mentality we have allowed to grow up in Britain, they are anything but. Achieving breadth and depth is not an add-on: it is the right of every child. So three cheers for the Sutton Trust if its ten-hour day allows time for the wider development of the whole child.
Graduation for kindergarten gets A+ for weirdness
Graduation season is upon us. But not the university type. The class of 2009, the leaders of the future, are a bunch of five-year-olds who can barely spell their name, let alone write a thesis.
Graduation for children is a bizarre phenomenon that has gained momentum in the past few years. A child who enters preschool and completes a university degree may potentially "graduate" half a dozen times over the space of 13 years, giving us the most overqualified generation yet to step on a dais.
Kindy graduation comes first, for those "school leavers" off to start school, followed by year 6 graduation for those moving from primary school to high school, then year 12 graduation . . . And some schools even have a ceremony for students moving from middle school to senior school.
Some may never go on to tertiary education - you know, from which you actually graduate, with a degree or diploma in hand - but still would have ''graduated'' many times over.
A degree is a concrete and measurable marker of having earned something, not just having turned up. It is for students. For those who have studied, researched, written dissertations, been examined and assessed. They will pick up many vital lessons of life along the way, gaining financial and emotional independence from their parents that may include moving out of home, developing adult relationships and experimenting with vices.
To finance their educational enterprise, many will work long hours for the minimum wage, while studying and racking up a big debt to complement that hard-won certification.
Their degree is conferred upon them by a senior member of the institution or a guest, usually selected from the field of study they have undertaken. This is graduation, not kindergarten.
Don't get me wrong. Little kids with their cardboard mortar boards and hastily sewn capes pinned over freshly ironed clothes are as cute as a button. It is hard not to get caught up in the excitement of the moment as they parade in front of proud families, belt out the national anthem and demonstrate the things they have learnt during the year.
But kindergarten, preschool, day care - whatever form of childcare - is a mixture of childminding, play, socialisation and preparation for school. The lessons learnt in the playground of a child-care centre are valuable but they have not even entered formal learning.
Some might see it as harmless fun, but it devalues the worth of a degree or diploma that has been hard-earned, whether with a pass or with honours. It suggests you deserve to graduate just by turning up.
It is not just about getting letters to put after your name to make you look more impressive - most tertiary-educated people don't bother with that. But a degree or diploma will be there through life: it qualifies graduates for fields of employment, it is a sign of higher learning, it is a building block for further study to become a specialist in a particular field.
So what, then, to make of this kindy grad trend? Surely it is more about us as adults, parents, than about our young children. Why are we in such a rush for them to grow up? What delusions of grandeur are we inflicting upon them? Where will it end? Will there be new tiers of graduation, with different-coloured hoods on their gowns and honours for those who know their alphabet and can count to more than 10?
I have no beef with the excellent childcare workers who do so much for the children in their care and try hard to ensure these ceremonies are a success. But it has become one of those hard-to-resist phenomena in which once a few start doing it others follow, and soon kindy graduation becomes the norm in an ever-increasing trend of tailoring adult behaviour to children.
It is more evidence of our rush to fast-track kids, creating mini-adults out of them rather than letting them enjoy their childhood and grow up at their own pace.
My guess is that most five-year-olds would happily settle for cupcakes, cordial and a singalong to celebrate the end of their attendance at preschool, rather than endure a semi-solemn ceremony requiring rehearsals and motherhood statements.
22 December, 2009
College prof: Christian crosses like swastikas
A student says a Dallas public community-college teacher compared crosses to swastikas while explaining a school ban on religious items made in ceramics classes.
Liberty Legal Institute sent a Dec. 15 demand letter on behalf of Joe Mitchell, a retired General Motors employee, Dallas resident and student, to Eastfield College in the Dallas County Community College District. The complaint accuses the school of an "unconstitutional attack on religious expression in the classroom."
Mitchell, 69, said the college has banned crosses, menorahs and other religious items from the ceramics classes. According to his complaint, James Watral, chair of the ceramic department at Eastfield College, filled in for the regular ceramics instructor on the first day of a spring 2009 class. "As Mr. Watral was giving students a tour of the pottery department, he took them to a shelving area where ceramics pieces are stored prior to being fired in the kiln," the complaint states. "Mr. Watral then pointed to a cross and stated in front of the entire class with contempt: 'I don't like that.'" "I felt humiliated and that my spirituality was being demeaned," Mitchell said in a statement. "The whole point of art is to express who you are."
He began enrolling in non-credit ceramics classes at the community college three years ago. Mitchell enjoys making crosses and distributing them as gifts to graduates, churches and charities. He said he was able to make a few crosses that semester, but he was forced to hide them behind larger pottery pieces so they would not be visible.
Mitchell said instructors and administrative staff told him on several occasions this year that he is prohibited from making his crosses. Then the college adopted a "no symbols" policy, and Watral distributed a memo to all ceramics students and instructors to inform them of the rules. The memo prohibited creation of any "religious items" and "seasonal pieces – Christmas, Easter, Valentines, Halloween, ornaments, etc." "[T]he making of such pieces at Eastfield College demeans the goals of the ceramic program at EFC," it stated.
Mitchell stopped making his crosses and filed a complaint with the art department, arguing that the policy discriminates against people of faith. Mitchell had a meeting with Watral, and Watral apologized for "making the offensive remark about the cross," the complaint states. But Watral then sent out a revised memo that prohibited "religious items that are replicas" rather than prohibiting all religious items. The new rules still prohibited "seasonal" items and purportedly required students to submit a written proposal each time they wished to create a cross or other religious item.
"Mr. Mitchell brought a ceramic cross to the meeting as an example of the things he wished to make," the complaint states. "When Mr. Watral saw it, he physically recoiled in disgust, throwing his arms up into the air."
During the fall 2009 semester, Mitchell said he was constantly asked by his instructor whether he would be creating religious projects. He created a ceramic Israeli Coat of Arms, including a Menorah, to give to a Jewish friend. After the piece had been fired, he said his instructor, Chris Blackburst, asked if she could take a look at it. "She told Mr. Mitchell that it 'should never have made it through [the firing process]' due to the religious content," according to the complaint.
She then purportedly told Mitchell that he would need to buy his own kiln if he wanted to continue making religious art. She handed him two crosses that he had made and said the ceramics department would not fire them. Mitchell said she then asked him if he considered a swastika offensive. He responded, "Of course."
"She then proceeded to compare the cross to a swastika," his complaint states. "She stated that many individuals view the cross as an offensive symbol in the same was that many people are offended by swastikas, and that his crosses would therefore not be fired by the department."
Another student identified only as E.D., claims the department told her to "expand her horizons" when she constructed a cross in ceramics class. She said the adjunct professor teaching the course specifically said she could make any item except a cross. E.D. said Watral phoned her and told her to "pick up her damn crosses" from the school. But she said when she went to retrieve them, they were destroyed.
"It appears the Eastfield College art department has no room in the inn for artistic religious expression such as that of Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci," said Hiram Sasser, director of litigation at Liberty Legal Institute. "Hopefully they will change their mind."
The college claims the rules are to require students to make unique projects and avoid duplicate assignments, not to inhibit artistic freedom, Dallas' WFAA-TV reported. The college said its legal counsel will review the policy.
Liberty Legal Institute's legal demand letter requires that the college advise the group in writing on whether students will be allowed to create religious art in the class by Jan. 23. "Unfortunately, not everyone has the Christmas spirit or even a basic understanding of religious freedom," said Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel of Liberty Legal Institute. "The government cannot ban crosses and religious symbols."
Pen and paper exams 'could be axed' in Britain
This is reasonable enough as long as the ability to write an essay is retained and tested
Traditional “pen and paper” exams could be scrapped in favour of computer-based tests, according to the qualifications watchdog. Ofqual – set up by Gordon Brown to regulate test standards – said examiners had to make “the best use of technology” as part of a modern assessment system. In its annual report, the regulator also said computerised exams should be encouraged as part of a plan to crackdown on cheating. Tests can easily be created with different questions and multiple choice exams can appear in a random order to stop candidates copying from pupils sat nearby, it said.
Any rise in computer-based tests would inevitably lead to a reduction in the use of pens, pencils and paper in the classroom, as pupils are taught using the same system employed in the exam hall.
Last night, head teachers welcomed the development which they said would boost children’s vocabulary. But parents’ groups said it risked created a generation of pupils that “relied on spell-checkers” instead of developing their own linguistic skills and could lead to a decline in handwriting.
In the report, Kathleen Tattersall, Ofqual chief regulator, said the organisation had a duty to “encourage those who provide assessments to look forward so that the qualifications system remains relevant to society”. “Other performance standards, therefore, might relate to how assessments are carried out to effect a transformation from examinations that are largely paper-based to those in which candidates respond using computers,” she said. “We need to ensure that the means of assessment are fit for their purpose and make the best use of technology.”
The report said the main criticism of “e-assessment” was that it was easy for pupils to cheat. But she said there were “techniques to combat cheating that are much easier to operate in e-assessment” than paper-based tests, including altering the questions in each exam.
Many exam boards already mark tests on-line and the latest intervention could lead to a charge towards a completely computer-based assessment system.
A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: “We’re glad Ofqual is looking at different ways pupils can take exams and tests. It’s right that assessment keeps up with the 21st Century, but exams and tests must be fair and can be accessed by all students.”
John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “In a few years’ time people will look back on pen and paper tests as old-fashioned. I actually think the art of writing is improved by using a computer because you can easily edit your work.”
But Margaret Morrissey, from the campaign group Parents OutLoud, said computers “inhibited children’s ability to think”. “We cannot develop a generation that relies solely on spell-checkers,” she said. “If children rely too much on machines to do everything for them it will destroy their handwriting, spelling and grammar.”
Ofqual’s second annual report also appeared to warn of the danger of exams skewing the curriculum. It follows warnings from schools that they are forced to “teach to the test” to boost their league table position. “Our principle is that qualifications, tests and assessments must facilitate good learning, not dominate or distort it,” said the document. Ofqual also appeared to issue a warning to the Government not to tinker with the qualifications system. Constant change "destabilises the system", said the report.
Israeli grade-schools faltering
Israel should cherish the feeling of producing Nobel Prize winners, because in the future they will be even harder to come by. The education system is failing today's children and tomorrow's society, according to research conducted by Prof. Dan Ben-David of the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel.
In its forthcoming annual report on the state of Israel's society and economy, the Jerusalem-based Taub Center will present a first-of-its-kind comparison between Israel and 25 advanced economies in every exam given over the past decade. On Sunday, the center released a preview of the section of the report dealing with education, which showed Israel consistently ranking at the end of the list of Western countries and presenting a growing trend of severe gaps between top and bottom performers.
"Over the past decade or so, each couple of years, we get hit by different exam results, each time its with a different number of countries and each time the rankings change, so it's hard to get any idea of where we are," Ben-David said. "We decided to put some order in all of this. What we did was take the same 25 OECD countries that serve as a benchmark for us and compare Israel to them in a consistent way. When we did that, we found some pretty interesting things."
Ben-David and his team crunched the numbers from the results of two international scholastic evaluation mechanisms that are taken by students around the world every four years - the Programme for International Student Assessment tests, which were taken in 2002 and 2006, and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study tests, which were taken in 1999, 2003 and 2007. The results showed that the average levelin Israel was consistently lower than every one of the 25 countries they compared it with.
The study also showed increasing inequalities among Israeli students. "Our educational inequality within Israel is simply the highest in the Western world, bar none," said Ben-David. "There are smallergaps between Beverly Hills and Harlem students in the United States than there are between our best and worst achievers here in Israel." "By creating the largest education gaps in the Western world," he said, Israel is "sowing the seeds today of high income gaps tomorrow."
The "frosting on the cake," as Ben-David referred to it, was the performance of Israel's top achievers. According to the study, even they consistently fall behind the rest of the Western world. From the 25 countries examined, only Italy's top performers performed more poorly than Israel's.
Ben-David said that the truth was actually even worse than the tests indicated, because the sample of the Israeli students taking the tests were skewed upwards. "None of the results include Haredim. In light of the fact that they do not study core curriculum in any meaningful manner, you can expect that all of these problems would be much worse," said Ben-David. "We exclude more kids out of these samples than any other country."
"For a country whose entire population is barely greater than that of metropolitan Philadelphia, which is sitting in the heart of one of the world's most inhospitable neighborhoods [the Middle East], these findings indicate existential problems in the next generation - unless a comprehensive reform of the educational system is adopted, and soon," he said. "This is really all about national priorities. What do we really care about? What is most important for this country? I think that most people would agree that education should be at the top of the list," he said.
The problems, according to Ben-David, are threefold and perhaps surprisingly, budgeting isn't one of them. The same results that exist today after the education budget was cut, existed when the budget was relatively higher than in many of the other countries. Ben-David blames the situation on other things.
First, he said, Israeli kids study the wrong things. Israelis pay for more instructional hours than many of the other countries, but those hours aren't spent on core curriculum subjects that will serve the students in their competition with OECD students, Ben-David said. He gave examples of Tel Aviv high schools luring students in by offering courses in law, medicine and biotechnology, when they should focus on mathematics and reading and writing skills. He also pointed to the religious schools that, because of their focus on the religious studies, can't offer what's necessary in terms of core subjects.
The second element Ben-David pointed to was the overall quality of the teachers. "We have some excellent teachers. We have teachers who would do well in any occupation that they chose. However, we also have roughly two dozen teaching colleges in Israel and they produce the mass of our teachers. Their entrance requirements are below the entrance requirements of nearly every university departmentin Israel.
"So how could we possibly expect the caliber of teachers that go to these places to be on a level that could bring our kids to the universities that they themselves couldn't be accepted to?" Ben-David asked.
Finally, he said, the education system does not give principals enough power to shape their faculty. "Principals do not have the authority to reward their best teachers or fire the poor performers. As a result, teachers who should probably not carry on teaching, continue to do so despite the good of the children."
The study shows a trend that should concern anybody who cares about Israel's future, Ben-David said. "The past and the future are diverging," he said. "During the same decade in which Israel garnered more Nobel Prizes per capita in the sciences than any other country, the achievements of its top high school students were near the bottom of the Western barrel," he said.
"Within another decade or so, these same children in these same countries will be competing for real in other arenas that will determine their livelihood. The level of the basic toolbox that Israel is providing its children will put them at a severe disadvantage that many will be unable to extricate themselves from," Ben-David said.
21 December, 2009
China’s higher education revolution
I recently visited the top four universities in mainland China: Tsinghua University, Peking University, Fudan University, and Shanghai Jiao Tong University. The former two are located in Beijing, and the latter two are located in Shanghai.
As an American educational researcher, the purpose of my visit was to witness and assess China's higher education revolution firsthand.
When Mao Zedong came to power in 1949, there were only 205 universities in China. They closed down during the turbulent era of the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1977. Under Deng Xiaoping, they began to reopen in 1978.
In the 30 years since, China has experienced a higher education revolution. It now has the largest higher education system in the world.Five of its universities are in the world's top 100. University enrollment has more than tripled since 2000. More university degrees are awarded in China than in the U.S. and India combined. Over the last decade, annual awards of doctoral degrees in China have risen sevenfold. China recently surpassed the UK to become the world's second-largest producer of academic research papers, and is on course to surpass the U.S. by 2020.
The four universities I visited are part of a nine-university alliance, dubbed C9, which is hailed as China's Ivy League. The nine universities share resources and recognize each other's course credits.
China's C9 League differs from America's Ivy League in several ways.First, C9 universities are public; the Ivy League universities are private. Second, C9 universities answer to the Ministry of Education; the Ivy League universities answer to their own board. Third, C9 formed around academics; the Ivy League formed around athletics. Fourth, C9 includes nine universities; the Ivy League includes eight.
The C9 League was created on October 10, 2009; however, the concept for its formation began a decade ago when Jiang Zemin initiated Project 985.Under the project, the nine universities received millions of dollars in funding.
China's heavy investment in its leading universities is evident. As I explored the four campuses, I was impressed with the massive number of research facilities.
As China continues to strengthen its universities, the U.S. appears to be losing its international dominance in higher education. If the U.S. falls behind, it will be a very long march back.
British universities shun excellence under political pressure
Leading universities are shunning the new A-level A* grade for fear that it will derail their attempts to increase the numbers of students they admit from state schools and poor families. The new grade, which will be awarded for the first time next summer, was intended to help universities distinguish between the soaring numbers of A-level pupils scoring A grades.
Institutions that are ignoring the A* in the current round of applications, partly because it may lead to more private school pupils winning places, include Leeds, St Andrews and Cardiff. Others, including University College London (UCL) and Warwick are placing tight restrictions on the use of A*s in offers. Their concerns will be intensified by findings from researchers at the Independent Schools Council, who say that, based on this year’s A-level results, 16.5% of all papers taken by its members’ pupils would have scored an A*, more than double the national average.
The introduction of the new grade was intended to make it simpler for universities to select candidates, but schools have instead been left confused about whether their pupils will gain an advantage from achieving the grade. Cambridge is the only university using the A* as a standard part of its offers for entry in 2010. This has resulted in a slight fall in applicant numbers as weaker candidates are put off, bucking the national trend of rising university applications.
Imperial College London and Sussex, in addition to UCL and Warwick, will use the grade for a limited number of courses. Others, including Oxford, Bristol, Durham and Surrey, take into account whether a candidate is predicted by their school to score an A*, but will not make offers that include the new grade. They will wait to see how it operates in practice, but do not cite fears over the balance of independent and state school grades.
John Morgan, president of the Association of School and College Leaders, and head teacher of Conyers school, a comprehensive in Stockton-on-Tees, described such an approach as “wriggling a bit”.
Tim Hands, master of Magdalen College school, Oxford, and chairman of the main independent schools university committee, said: “Selection for top universities became a lottery because of lack of an A*. Now we have a double lottery where some use the A* and some don’t. The lack of transparency has been disgraceful.” One of Hands’s former pupils, Ed Bernard, 18, was celebrating winning a place at Durham last week after applying post-A-level. His scores were so good Hands believes he would have been predicted three A*s, had the grade been available. Because only As were possible, Bernard was rejected by all his preferred universities last year, leaving a surprise gap year.
To win an A*, candidates must score at least 80% overall in their two years of A-level study and 90% in exams taken in the second year. The new grade was introduced in response to complaints by universities that the soaring number of As at A-level was making it increasingly hard to identify the best candidates. One in eight pupils now achieves three A grades. Exam regulators soon warned that independent schools would dominate the new grade, creating a clash with another Labour priority in higher education — loosening the grip of privately educated students at leading universities.
This concern is reflected in the approach some institutions are taking to pupils now applying — the first year group eligible for the A*. Helen Clapham, head of student recruitment at Leeds, said: “We have reservations about the A* because of the likelihood that more will go to the independent sector. “The independent sector tends to do better in A-levels generally.”
Darren Wallis, Warwick’s admissions director, said his university would use A*s for a few maths offers this year, but would only cautiously widen its use depending in part on the “degree of dominance” by private schools.
The confusion about how the A* is used has been heightened by the decision of some universities to take into account schools’ predictions, despite refusing to make offers that include the grade. Some leading schools, including Cheltenham ladies’ college, are not making A* predictions as they believe there are no reliable data on which to base judgments.
Geoff Parks, Cambridge’s admissions director, said his university was making its own predictions, mostly ignoring those by schools. “Some of the A* predictions made by schools have been fanciful in the extreme,” said Parks.
British Christian teacher lost her job after being told praying for sick girl 'was bullying'
But the light of publicity seems to be causing a lot of backpedalling
A devout Christian teacher has lost her job after discussing her faith with a mother and her sick child and offering to pray for them. Olive Jones, a 54-year-old mother of two, who taught maths to children too ill to attend school, was dismissed following a complaint from the girl’s mother. She was visiting the home of the child when she spoke about her belief in miracles and asked whether she could say a prayer, but when the mother indicated they were not believers she did not go ahead.
Mrs Jones was then called in by her managers who, she says, told her that sharing her faith with a child could be deemed to be bullying and informed her that her services were no longer required.
Her dismissal has outraged Christian groups, who say new equality regulations are driving Christianity to the margins of society. They said the case echoed that of community nurse Caroline Petrie, who was suspended last December after offering to pray for a patient but who was later reinstated after a national outcry. Coincidentally, Mrs Petrie lives nearby and has been a friend of Mrs Jones for some years. Mrs Jones, whose youngest son is a Royal Marine who has served in Afghanistan, said she was merely trying to offer comfort and encouragement and only later realised her words had caused distress, for which she is apologetic.
The softly spoken teacher, who has more than 20 years’ experience, said she was ‘devastated’ by the decision to end her employment, which she said was ‘completely disproportionate’. She said she had been made to feel like a ‘criminal’, and claimed that Christians were being persecuted because of ‘political correctness’. Speaking at her home in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, she said: ‘Teaching was my dream from the age of 16. It is as if 20 years of my work, which I was passionate about, has gone. It is like a grief. ‘I have been sleeping badly and been in a daze. I haven’t even got around to putting up a Christmas tree or decorations. So much for Christmas cheer.’
Mrs Jones shares her comfortable four-bedroom house with her husband Peter, who is also a teacher and heads the maths department at a local state secondary school. The house provides few clues about her strong beliefs. There is a small wooden cross on one wall, a few plaques carrying religious texts, and some Bibles in the sitting room which she used in her studies for a diploma at the Pentecostal Carmel Bible College in Bristol.
She is a regular churchgoer, attending her local Church of England church most Sundays, but she also occasionally opts for more lively evangelical worship at the college.
After training to be a teacher at Aberystwyth University, where she met her husband, and a period bringing up her children – student Rob, 24, and soldier James, 23 – she returned to teaching in state secondary schools and sixth-form colleges. Wanting to concentrate more on family life, she began a part-time job more than four years ago at the Oak Hill Short Stay School and Tuition Service North, which caters for children with illness or behavioural difficulties. She had no formal contract but was scheduled to work to a timetable for about 12 hours a week at the school in a converted bungalow and one-storey prefabricated block in nearby Nailsea.
She prepared lessons, taught and marked work for about six children between 11 and 16 who had problems ranging from leukaemia to Attention Deficit Disorder. In reality, however, pupils were frequently unavailable for lessons, and she says she often found herself working as little as 20 hours a month.
As she was technically a supply teacher, she was paid £25 an hour plus mileage and had to submit a timesheet. While she was working, she was paid about £700 a month before tax and pension contributions by North Somerset Council, and received payslips. Occasionally she would teach one or two sick children at their homes, and from September she made half-a-dozen visits to one child in a middle-class area who she was tutoring in GCSE maths. On the fourth visit the girl stayed in her bedroom because she did not feel well enough for lessons, so Mrs Jones chatted to her mother and raised the subject of her faith, saying she believed God had saved her life.
The teacher said when she was a teenager she had been driving a tractor on the family farm near Carmarthen in Wales when it slid down a slope but came to a halt just before tipping over. ‘I shut my eyes and thought I was going to die,’ said Mrs Jones. ‘Then there was a sound of a rushing wind, like that described in the Bible, and then total stillness. ‘I was convinced it was a miracle. I shared my testimony to encourage the mother to believe that there is a God who answers prayer. I believe I have a personal relationship with God, who is a constant source of strength.’
Unbeknown to Mrs Jones, the mother complained about her comments to health authorities in the mistaken belief that they were her employers. It appears, however, that these criticisms were not passed on to Mrs Jones. Unaware that there were any problems, Mrs Jones’s fifth lesson with the child passed without incident, but when she returned for her sixth session towards the end of last month, things went awry. She said that although the girl came downstairs in her dressing gown, she could not face a lesson, so the three of them chatted over cups of tea about books they were reading. Mrs Jones once again referred to the incident involving the tractor and spoke about her belief in Heaven.
‘I told them there were people praying for them, and I asked the child if I could pray for her,’ said Mrs Jones. ‘She looked at her mother, who said, “We come from a family who do not believe”, so I did not pray. ‘I asked the mother if she wanted me to cancel the next lesson as her daughter had not been feeling up to maths, but she said no.’
She left on what she thought were good terms and returned to the unit to do some more work, but within a few hours she was told that the head of the unit, Kaye Palmer-Greene, wanted to see her in her office. ‘I suspected it must be serious as Kaye did not normally see people without an appointment,’ said Mrs Jones. ‘When I got to her office I was told to wait outside. ‘Then the unit co-ordinator Karen Robinson came out and said I would have to come back later. I could tell by her face I was in big trouble. ‘I asked her if I was being sacked but she refused to comment. I drove to a Tesco car park and sat in the car and called a few friends to ask them to pray.’
About an hour-and-a-half later she was told she could go back to the office, and she went in holding a Bible. ‘You could feel the tension in air,’ she said. ‘I was so frightened I could hardly breathe. ‘I was a total wreck. I was shaking and in shock. I had never experienced anything like this before. I had a faultless record. It was horrible, one of the worst experiences of my life. ‘They were very strict and firm. Kaye was mostly silent while Karen read comments from the parent from a sheet of A4 paper. One thing the parent said was that I had demanded a cup of tea, which I hadn’t. ‘Then she said that my testimony and mention of prayer had distressed her and her daughter, and she didn’t want me to tutor in their home again. Obviously, if I had known she was upset when I had first mentioned my testimony I would never have brought it up again. But I had no idea. ‘I don’t push my beliefs down other people’s throats, and I apologise for any unintentional distress I may have caused.’
Mrs Jones said that during the meeting Ms Robinson told her that talking about faith issues in the house of a pupil could be regarded as bullying. Ms Robinson also asked Mrs Jones why she had ignored her advice not to pray or speak about her faith at work, a reference to an occasion three years ago when the teacher had prayed for a girl with period pains. The girl appears to have complained and Ms Robinson had told Mrs Jones to be more professional, but Mrs Jones said there had been no written warning.
‘Karen then said I had been an exemplary maths teacher, but my services were no longer required. As I had no contract, they could tell me to go just like that. ‘They also told me that had I been on a contract, I could be facing disciplinary proceedings. But they never told me the grounds for that.’
Mrs Jones was advised by a friend to contact the Christian Legal Centre, an independent group of lawyers funded by public donations that defends Christians in legal difficulties.
‘I am not angry with my bosses, as they are trying to interpret new equality and diversity policies,’ she said. ‘But I am angry with the politically-correct system and about the fact that you can’t mention anything to do with faith to people who might find it of use. ‘My main concern is the interpretation of the policies concerned, which seem very ambiguous. ‘An atheist may think that you shouldn’t speak about anything to do with faith to students if it is not your specialist area, but it is not really clear. ‘It is as if my freedom of speech is being restricted. I feel I am being persecuted for speaking about my faith in a country that is supposed to be Christian. ‘I feel if I had spoken about almost any other topic I would have been fine but Christianity is seen as a no-go area. It felt as if I was being treated as a criminal. It is like a bad dream that had come true.’
She said that although she was clear that she had been sacked, she had recently been approached by a senior education official who had said the complaint was still being investigated and had suggested a meeting. She said she believed the approach had been triggered by the involvement of the Christian Legal Centre, and she was now taking legal advice about how to proceed.
Andrea Williams, a lawyer and director of the Christian Legal Centre, said: ‘The story of Olive Jones is sadly becoming all too familiar in this country. It is the result of a heavy-handed so-called equalities agenda that discriminates against Christians and seeks to eliminate Christian expression from the public square...
Nick Yates, a spokesman for North Somerset Council, said: ‘Olive Jones has worked as a supply teacher, working with the North Somerset Tuition service. A complaint has been made by a parent regarding Olive. This complaint is being investigated. ‘To complete the investigation we need to speak to Olive and we have offered her a number of dates so this can happen. At the moment we are waiting for her to let us know which date is convenient for her.’
20 December, 2009
Brain gym for pupils is pointless, admits British education boss
A programme used in thousands of classrooms in the hope of boosting children's brainpower has no scientific basis, Ed Balls's department has ruled. Schools around the country have spent taxpayers' cash on Brain Gym, a system of 26 postures and movements invented in California. But in a statement issued to MPs, the Department for Children, Schools and Families warned that studies put its success-down to nothing more than the 'placebo effect' and the general benefits of breaks and exercise. Officials said Brain Gym had been 'criticised as being unscientific in a wide-ranging and authoritative review of research into neuroscience and education'.
Despite the department's concern, Brain Gym is still promoted in a range of Government-backed literature. The Young Gifted and Talented programme, supported by the DCSF to stretch the brightest children, claims on its website that Brain Gym 'can have a sustained impact on learning'.
Hundreds and possibly thousands of schools - mainly primaries - have used Brain Gym techniques since the system was introduced to the UK in 1984. Some councils have spent thousands training teachers to lead the movements. The exercises are said to work on the principle that coordinating mental and physical activity boosts energy, stimulates the brain and enhances performance in the classroom. They include pupils touching so-called 'brain buttons' beneath their collarbones to stimulate blood flow to the brain and massaging their jaws to improve language skills.
But growing numbers of scientists are claiming that the programme is nothing more than 'hocus pocus'. They say that while the exercises may be harmless, the programme gives pupils false information about how the human body works and wastes school time and resources.
Now the DCSF has raised its own concerns about the programme to the Commons Science and Technology Committee. Asked by the committee about the scientific evidence for its use, the DCSF said: 'We are unaware of any sufficiently robust or peer-reviewed evaluation of the approaches it promotes which would allow any clear link between the use of Brain Gym and pupils' learning to be established. We are also aware of a significant body of criticism of the theoretical underpinnings of the programme.' It said that Paul Dennison, the Californian teacher behind it, had admitted that many of Brain Gym's claims were based on 'hunches'.
However the DCSF stopped short of ordering schools not to use the programme, instead declaring that it 'does not have a specific policy'. Schools still using Brain Gym include Westcliff Primary in Dawlish, Devon. Headmistress Barbara Capper said: 'It does help children's coordination and does help children's concentration.'
Brain Gym said it was a notforprofit company and revenue was ploughed back into developing the programme. Kay McCarroll, who brought Brain Gym to the UK, said: 'This has been around for 30 years. Where are the peer-reviewed studies the Government refers to? I'm not aware of them.'
Intimidating anti-Israel consensus among elite American university students
A recent study conducted using students from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has led to a debate by pro-Israel organizations on how the Jewish State should be defended on American college campuses. The Israel Project, a Washington-based Israel advocacy group, conducted the recent study which showed that even the most educated and decidedly pro-Israel students are hesitant to speak out in the face of anti-Zionist accusations. The study put 15 unsuspecting Jewish students from Harvard and MIT into a small room with 20 non-Jewish peers and prompted them to candidly discuss the State of Israel. The tone of the discussions quickly became strongly critical of the Jewish state and its policies but many of the Jewish participants were hesitant to rush to Israel’s defense.
Frank Luntz, the pollster who served as the group’s facilitator and who in an earlier TIP policy paper not only acknowledged that expelling Jewish residents from their homes in Judea and Samaria would constitute an “ethnic cleansing” but also recommended that pro-Israel advocates put forward this point, said he found the results of the study to be “horrifying.”
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder of The Israel Project, which works primarily in the realm of media and public opinion, found the results so disturbing that she declined to post them on her organization’s internet site. “If it had been students from any other campuses I would not have been horrified. But this was the best and the brightest. I know it involved only 30 people and that’s not the same as an 800-person poll but its still problematic. A leader is a leader, and those who are selected to attend Harvard and MIT are more intelligent and successful than the vast majority of people.”
The problem, Mizrahi said, was “not that they [the Jewish students] were too open-minded, it is that they were too quiet.”
In a detailed memo describing the experiment, Luntz pointed out that the students did not know the religious or ethnic backgrounds of the other students in the room. They knew that they were being paid $100 for their opinions regarding United States foreign policy but they did not know the focus would be on the Middle East or Israel. For three hours the students, who with a few exceptions did not know one another, engaged in a candid discussion facilitated by Luntz.
“Needless to say, the results of the group were truly eye-opening,” he wrote. “They’re perhaps best summarized by the following exchange, which took place early on in the session. When we first started discussing Israel, it was only a matter of minutes before the phrase ‘the Israel lobby’ was uttered, along with direct references to Jewish money. The problem, frankly, wasn’t that these terms and topics were broached. The problem was the type of negativity directed toward them. This is Harvard and MIT, and yet none of the Jewish students interjected during this exchange to offer an opposing viewpoint. The question you should be asking is not why smart Jewish students are having so much trouble on American college campuses, but instead, why these students are not standing up for Israel. You can’t blame the institutions when the students who attend them are the ones at fault.”
Matthew Cohen, president of the Harvard Students for Israel and the only student in the focus group who was not promised anonymity due to his high-profile position on campus, said he felt he handled himself better than Luntz’s analysis suggests. He argued that he was one of the few who spoke out in opposition to the anti-Israel comments but added that in retrospect he could have done more.
Mizrahi attempted to add a positive spin to the results of the study by comparing them to a similar test conducted in 2002 that found many Jewish students from the same two schools to have much less knowledge of and emotional connection to Israel. “The Jewish students were much more informed and comfortable with Israel. But the problem is that the best and brightest still don’t have it in their kishkas to stand up for Israel under the social pressure of their peers… It didn’t happen and it’s disappointing because they are knowledgeable. Most knew the answers and are very aware of the issues.”
Many of the Jewish students had attended advocacy training sessions offered by the David Project, a pro-Israel advocacy organization active in the United States. But Mizrahi reported that even those students were quiet.
No representatives of the David Project were available for comment but another pro-Israel organization active on American college campuses told Israel National News that the problem is not with any particular students or campuses but rather with the general direction of pro-Israel advocacy. Benny Katz of the Zionist Freedom Alliance said that most advocacy organizations offer pro-Israel students dry information without nurturing a passionate commitment to the Zionist struggle. “There is a difference between being pro-Israel and being a Zionist. The Israel Project and the David Project are pro-Israel groups in that they defend the government of Israel’s actions, even when morally wrong, but they do not deal with the crucial underlying issues. ZFA teaches students that it is OK to criticize the Israeli government’s policies so long as that criticism is attached to a greater message of Jewish national rights to self-determination in all lands between the Mediterranean and the Jordan.”
Katz, who identifies himself as coming from the far-Left of the American political spectrum, argues that most Israel advocacy groups have “no clue how to engage progressive students who are active in struggles for social justice and human rights.”“Rather than speak about the justice of the Zionist revolution or of the Jewish people’s legal and historic rights to the Land of Israel, these groups are teaching students to present Israel as a Western outpost in the Middle East that’s wiling to shrink its own borders and expel Jews from their homes in order to avoid having to fight for its rights. This is a pathetic image of Israel that has clearly alienated students looking to champion justice in the world.”Katz agreed with Luntz’s assessment that expelling Jewish residents from Judea and Samaria would constitute an ethnic cleansing and that using such language would actually empower pro-Israel students to put issues into perspective for their peers. “It [the ethnic cleansing argument] paints a completely different picture of the Middle East conflict and moves the paradigm away from the contemporary anti-Israel narrative which portrays Jews as Western colonialists. It creates a sense of urgency for Jewish students to act and makes clear that our work is not merely to defend Israeli government positions but actually to resist an injustice from being perpetrated against us. This is a language that progressive students can identify with even if they don’t agree with our positions.”
At the end of the session, Luntz asked everyone to write down the number of Jewish students they believed were in the room of 35 students. The average response of the non-Jewish students was nine, when there were actually 15.
“The room was almost half full of Jews, but to the non-Jews listening to the conversation, there were too few people with too few voices speaking up and being heard,” Luntz said. “And remember, this is from the same people who talked about the all-powerful ‘Israel Lobby.’”
The non-Jews were then asked to leave the room. When they had gone, Mizrahi said, the Jewish students became “amazingly articulate on the issues. They had the knowledge and they had in most cases the belief.”
Luntz pointed out that when he asked the Jewish students how they believed they did in defending Israel, he said that all had a positive initial reaction. “But as I asked them to reflect on what was said and what wasn’t the evaluations became more candid… and a lot more regretful.”
Australian students save on fees by studying in New Zealand
Some New Zealand universities (e.g. Victoria, Otago) have a very good name indeed so this is good thinking. I would go there myself if I were still a poor student
AUSTRALIAN students are gaining university degrees at half the price by heading across the Tasman to study in New Zealand. It's a chance to turn the tide on the Kiwi influx, because a little-known government deal means New Zealand taxpayers are subsidising more than 2000 Australians to study at NZ universities.
Unlike other international students, Australians qualify for domestic status meaning they pay the same fees as the locals, and they also qualify for the low-cost student loan HELP (formerly HECS) equivalent, Study Link, and also the Austudy equivalent for living allowances.
Year 12 school leavers around the country will soon find out if they managed to get into their desired universities. If they miss out, Renee Walker, head of marketing for Christchurch-based Canterbury University, suggests giving the land of the long white cloud a go. "Course costs are subsidised and generally cheaper than Australian universities, especially with the exchange rate. And on-campus accommodation is also very reasonable," she said. On-campus accommodation ranges from $NZ198 ($158) a week self-catered, to $NZ375 ($299) a week for all meals, electricity and phone.
Recent figures released by the Federal Government revealed 20 per cent of first-year university students in Australia drop out with financial hardship cited as a leading factor. Other students who complete their degrees leave with a HELP debt ranging from $15,000 to $40,000. Last year there were 1.3 million Australians with accumulated HELP debts of about $14.6 billion, according to the Australian Tax Office.
Sue Sundstrom of the NSW Careers Advisory Association said New Zealand was a viable alternative, especially for regional students who faced travel to a major metro university anyway. David Berridge, a career counsellor with a Sydney eastern suburbs school, said two of the school's year 12 students were thinking of studying business at Otago. "The UAI (Universities Admissions Index) is lower, 74-76, so if kids miss out here, it's certainly worth looking at," he said.
At Sydney University, an arts degree costs $5300 a year. At Monash in Victoria, it's about $6300 and $5400 at University of Queensland. At Canterbury University in New Zealand, the same degree will cost $NZ4500 ($3598) a year. Over the course of a three-year degree, that's $6000 to $9000 saved.
More expensive courses such as economics and engineering cost $7567 a year at Sydney University, $7300 at Monash and $8625 at UQ. Over the Tasman, the most expensive courses offered at Canterbury are $NZ5500 ($4398), again a saving of between $3000 and $4000 a year.
19 December, 2009
The Democrats And Competition (Or Not)
Democrats claim to love the [healthcare] public option because the competition it would provide would keep the otherwise dishonest insurance companies honest. As President Obama said in Green Bay last June, “if the private insurance companies have to compete with a public option, it will keep them honest and help keep prices down.” And as Moveon.org, an organization known far and wide for its love of unfettered competition, asserted in a video supporting the public option, “competition is as American as apple pie.”
It’s no wonder, then, that Democrats are such avid supporter of modest school voucher programs, since the competition they provide helps to keep the massive public school near-monopoly more honest.
Oh, wait. I was dreaming and just woke up. What I should have said is that it would be no wonder if Democrats, because of their professed love of competition with powerful entrenched interests, supported modest school voucher programs. They don’t, of course.
Neal Boortz nails them. He points out that critics of voucher usually rationalize their position by arguing that they take money away from the public schools, but that is not the case in the District of Columbia.They can't use this argument here because the DC voucher system is funded by the federal government. The actual result is that the DC schools have even more money per student after the voucher students bail.And guess who just killed it.
Well ... it didn't seem to matter that the teacher's unions had no real argument against the DC voucher program. We all know what the true argument was. The teacher's union is scared to death that the private schools are going to make them look bad. Competition is poison to teacher's unions. So the voucher system had to be killed.None other than Illinois Senator Dick Durbin. Remember that $1.1 trillion dollar spending program passed over the weekend? Durban had a very quiet little amendment hiding in that bill. The amendment killed all funding for the DC voucher program. Durbin's Christmas gift for teacher's unions.But why should anyone be surprised that Democrats, who claim to be principled supporters of competition here, oppose it there? They also claim, after all, to be principled supporters of racial equality even though they vociferously defend the state treating people differently because of their race. Acting differently would require, among other things, principle and consistency.
Obama's Safe Schools Czar Tied to Lewd Readings for 7th Graders
President Obama's "Safe Schools Czar," already a target of social conservatives for his past drug abuse and what they say is his promotion of homosexuality in schools, is under fresh attack after it was revealed that the pro-gay group he formerly headed recommends books his critics say are pornographic.
The group under fire is the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which Kevin Jennings, now the assistant deputy secretary for safe and drug-free schools in the Department of Education, founded and ran from 1990 to 2008. GLSEN says it works to create a welcoming atmosphere for homosexual students in schools, and that effort includes recommending books for students of all ages.
But critics say many of the books, particularly some that are targeted for children between Grades 7 to 12, are inappropriately explicit. A full list is available at the blog Gateway Pundit, which has published dozens of controversial passages from the books.
One recommended book is titled "Queer 13: Lesbian and Gay Writers Recall Seventh Grade." On pages 43 through 45, writer Justin Chin tells of how as a 13-year-old, he went along with "near-rapes" by older men, but "really did enjoy those sexual encounters." Chin also recounts each sexual action he performed with an "ugly f*** of a man" he met on a bus.
In another book, "Passages of Pride," the author writes about a 15-year-old boy's relationship with a much older man: "Near the end of summer, just before starting his sophomore year in high school, Dan picked up a weekly Twin Cities newspaper. Scanning the classifieds, he came upon an ad for a "Man-2-Man" massage. Home alone one day, he called the telephone number listed in the ad and set up an appointment to meet a man named Tom.... Even though Tom was older, almost twice Dan's age, Dan felt unthreatened by him. Dan admits Tom was a 'troll' in every sense of the word -- an older closeted gay man seeking sex with a man much younger. But Dan says he was not intimidated by the discrepancy in their ages. 'He kind of had me in a corner in that he knew I didn't have access to anything I wanted.' says Dan. 'But everything was consensual.'"
On Page 13 of a third book, "Reflections of a Rock Lobster," the author recounts his sexual encounters in first grade: "By first grade I was sexually active with many friends. In fact, a small group of us regularly met in the grammar school lavatory to perform fellatio on one another. A typical week's schedule would be Aaron and Michael on Monday during lunch; Michael and Johnny on Tuesday after school; Fred and Timmy at noon Wednesday; Aaron and Timmy after school on Thursday. None of us ever got caught, but we never worried about it anyway."
"Reflections of a Rock Lobster" was recommended in 1995, the year Jennings became GLSEN's first executive director; "Passages of Pride" made the list in 1997 and "Queer 13" in 1999. Those are just three out of over 100 books that GLSEN has recommended for students in grades 7-12 since 1990, and all three remain on GLSEN's recommended reading list.
Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, says the content of the books is shocking, and it raises concerns about Jennings' judgment. "The graphic sexual content of these books is so extreme that I think any average parent or citizen, regardless of how they feel about homosexuality, would be shocked at these books being recommended to young people," Sprigg said.
GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard defended her group's recommendations, telling FoxNews.com in a written statement: "Some of the books that might be used with young adult audiences contain mature content, as is true of many memoirs and works of literature. Because of the presence of mature content in some of the works, GLSEN provides very clear guidelines throughout, recommending that adults review each book to make sure the book is suitable."
Those guidelines, listed on each book recommendation page, read: "All BookLink items are reviewed by GLSEN staff for quality and appropriateness of content. However, some titles for adolescent readers contain mature themes. We recommend that adults selecting books for youth review content for suitability."
But critics say the guidelines themselves are damning, because they confirm that GLSEN staff have checked the books for appropriateness. And Jennings, they point out, was in charge at the time. "It's like Jennings just doesn't realize he's working with kids here.... You need a totally different set of rules when you're working with kids," said Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality.
LaBarbera said the books should be seen in light of other recent controversies surrounding Jennings. In September it came out that, when he was a teacher in Massachusetts, Jennings did not report an incident in which a 16-year-old boy told him that he was having sexual relations with an older man he met in a bus station bathroom. After that, 53 Republican members of the House publicly called for Jennings to be dismissed....
Department of Education spokesman Justin Hamilton declined to comment about Jennings' role in recommending the books. But critics say Jennings, as GLSEN's first full-time employee and first executive director, must be held responsible. "He was at GLSEN from the beginning and was in charge during the time when these books were approved," said Warren Throckmorton, a professor at Grove City College.
McEwen said that the attacks on Jennings and GLSEN were motivated largely by homophobia. "There are a lot of heterosexual books that are just as explicit. In the first page of 'The Color Purple' [a 1982 novel that has caused controversy when assigned in schools], the character talks about being raped in graphic terms... what's in [GLSEN's] books is no different from what's in The Color Purple."
But Sprigg disagrees that books like "The Color Purple" are comparable to those recommended by GLSEN. "We are not talking about 'The Great Gatsby' or 'The Grapes of Wrath' here," he said. "A lot of people who have only read the news and opinion pieces on this story, without reading the actual excerpts, may think that we are talking about the kind of sexual content that might, in a film, earn a PG-13 or R rating. We are not.
"This is material that, if portrayed visually, would be a triple-X hard-core porn film, and quite possibly meet the legal definition of obscenity. In fact, I think the homosexual content is the only thing preventing the outcry from being even greater, because some people fear being labeled as 'anti-gay.' If the content were heterosexual in nature, there would be no one defending it at all."
Teachers should stop labelling children as dyslexic, say British politicians
The term does seem to be overused but that is surely an argument for using it more precisely. Throw the baby out with the bathwater?
Schools should stop labelling children 'dyslexic' because the condition cannot be distinguished from other reading difficulties, an all-party group of MPs will declare today. The Government's definition of dyslexia is too broad to be meaningful, according to the Commons Science and Technology Committee. Schools should target extra help at all children struggling with reading and not just those diagnosed with dyslexia, it added.
The MPs recommended that dyslexia teachers should be renamed 'literacy difficulty' teachers. In their hard-hitting report, they said ministers had bowed to a powerful dyslexia lobby and framed many of their policies around the condition rather than considering the full range of reading difficulties. 'There are a range of reasons why people may struggle to learn to read and the Government's focus on dyslexia risks obscuring the broader problem,' the report said. It is 'not useful from an educational point of view' to try to differentiate between youngsters with dyslexia and other reading difficulties, it added.
Committee member Graham Stringer, MP for Manchester Blackley, said: 'We came to the conclusion the definition of dyslexia was so wide as to be meaningless.' Around one in ten children - more than a million - are now diagnosed with dyslexia, compared with barely any two decades ago. The condition is often used to win up to 25 per cent extra time in GCSEs and A-levels. Critics are now arguing that extra time in exams should be conditional on a clear description of the candidate's problems rather than a diagnostic label.
In its report, the Labour-dominated committee said there was 'no convincing evidence' that treating dyslexia differently to other reading problems made any difference to children's progress. The report said: 'That is because the techniques to teach a child diagnosed with dyslexia to read are exactly the same as the techniques used to teach any other struggling reader. 'There is a further danger that an overemphasis on dyslexia may disadvantage other children with profound reading difficulties.'
It said the Government's favoured definition of dyslexia was 'exceedingly broad' and 'a continuum with no clear cut-off points'. 'The definition is so broad and blurred at the edges that it is difficult to see how it could be useful in any diagnostic sense,' the report said.
The committee heard evidence from Professor Julian Elliott, of Durham University, who argued that attempts to distinguish between dyslexia and other categories of poor reader were 'scientifically unsupportable and arbitrary'.
In further findings, the committee warned that a flagship Government reading scheme, Reading Recovery, was relying too heavily on discredited teaching methods which encourage struggling readers to guess at words. It had not fully embraced the back-to-basics 'synthetic phonics' method of teaching children to read, which encourages them to learn the sounds of the alphabet and blend them together.
Ministers had extended the programme nationally despite only low quality evidence it worked, they said. No 'randomised controlled trials' had been carried out even though they are the 'gold standard' of research. The report said: 'Wikipedia is more thorough and informative than the Government's guidelines on randomised controlled trials.'
18 December, 2009
New York is broke
And teachers won't accept it
The New York State United Teachers union, the state School Boards Association, the Council of School Superintendents and the School Administrators Association claim that the governor is acting illegally and unconstitutionally in holding back funds the Legislature allocated.
"This is a terrible day in New York's history. For ... this coalition to stand back and watch the governor take the money that was allocated by the state Legislature for schools, for programs, for children and pull it back is really a terrible thing for us to have witnessed," said Alan Lubin, NYSUT's executive vice president.
Paterson announced Sunday that he is holding back a total of $750 million in state aid to schools, local governments and other agencies because the state doesn't have enough money to pay all its bills.
The school-aid reduction totals $146 million, a cut of about 10 percent. The state is withholding $436 million in reimbursements to districts for money they didn't receive because of the state's school tax-relief program (STAR) that gives homeowners exemptions. The $436 million is a 19 percent cut.
The lawsuit contends that the governor is violating the "separation of powers" doctrine in the state Constitution and the constitutional guarantee of a "sound, basic education" for students. The Legislature approved the school funding, and lawmakers refused early this month to make mid-year education cuts to reduce the state's budget deficit, something Paterson had proposed.
Paterson described the lawsuit as a "desperate attempt by special interests to put their needs above the needs of all the people in the state of New York." Other funding that has been delayed includes Aid to Municipalities and payments to human-service programs and insurance carriers.
"Today's group of plaintiffs have added their names to the list of those who have stuck their heads in the sand and don't want to realize that the state is in as poor financial condition as it is," he told reporters Wednesday afternoon.
Hawaii is broke
And teachers won't accept it
Negotiations meant to restore school on furlough Fridays ended abruptly today. This puts into limbo whether any furlough days will be turned back into school days, this as the semester is about to end and parents wonder what's next. What seemed like progress one day quickly turned around the next -- with negotiations broken off after just about an hour Wednesday morning. "The state side went into a caucus, and we were excused,” said Wil Okabe from HSTA.
The governor's senior policy adviser, Linda Smith, said in a statement, “"HSTA has failed to seize this opportunity to solve the furlough Friday issue, “ and continued saying, "at this point, the ability to resolve the furlough situation rests squarely on the shoulders of the HSTA leadership.
“Fifty million dollars cannot restore 27 furlough days. There must be an agreement to compromise, and so from this state administration there is no compromise whatsoever,” said Dwight Takeno of HSTA.
"It's sort of like everybody's blaming everybody, but I don't know whose fault it is, and I know the parents are upset because the children are losing out,” said Geri Sakai, a retired teacher and grandmother.
One major issue is whether teachers would have to give up planning time to create more school days. The administration said the union said they'd have to find planning time elsewhere by restricting teachers from after school volunteering on events like prom or clubs, and even proposing teachers not supervise at playground time. "They have other units in the security, we have vice principals and principals would be able to supervise those activities,” said Okabe.
Meanwhile, the Board of Education says it will keep talks going with the union with dates planned for next week. Parents and kids head to the last day of the semester on Thursday, not knowing what will happen when they come back next year. The union says the $50 million the governor had put on the table would cover furlough days from January through May. They say it would cost about $125 million to cover the full 27 days between January and all of the following school year.
British faith school admissions in doubt after ruling
The power of faith schools to select pupils along religious lines has been thrown into doubt following a controversial Supreme Court ruling. All Jewish schools in England are already being forced to rewrite admissions rules after the court upheld an earlier judgment that a school in north London racially discriminated against a boy. He was rejected from JFS – formerly the Jews’ Free School, in Brent – because his mother was not born Jewish.
It is thought the ruling will force most of the 38 state and 60 private Jewish schools to tear up their entry policies as admissions were not based solely on the child’s faith. The court said this amounted to racial discrimination.
But lawyers acting for Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, warned that the judgment “potentially impacts on other schools that give preference to members of particular faiths” because religion was “closely related” to ethnic origin. In some areas, Christian schools may be “largely or exclusively white”, the Government said in a submission to an earlier court hearing. “If membership of a religion in that area is regarded as ‘closely related’ to one ethnic group rather than another, it may be that admissions arrangements will fall within the ambit of the… decision,” the document said.
Mr Balls insisted that action could be taken to allow England’s 7,000 Christian, Sikh, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish schools to continue selecting along religious lines. He said: "We are going to need to look carefully at the implications of this, and all faith organisations will as well. We must make sure that the role of faith schools is properly protected in our state education system. Any further steps which have to be taken should only be taken once we have studied the judgment."
The school went to the Supreme Court after three judges at the Court of Appeal ruled in June that the admissions rules were unfair. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court failed to overturn the decision. Lord Rodger – one of nine Justices who heard the case – said the decision meant “that there can in future be no Jewish faith schools which give preference to children because they are Jewish according to Jewish religious law and belief.”
“Jewish schools will be forced to apply a concocted test for deciding who is to be admitted [that] has no basis whatsoever in 3,500 years of Jewish law and teaching,” he said. “The… decision leads to such extraordinary results, and produces such manifest discrimination against Jewish schools in comparison with other faith schools, that one can’t help feeling that something has gone wrong.”
After the hearing, the Board of Deputies of British Jews said it was “extremely disappointed by this decision”. It said it would lobby for a law change to allow Jewish schools to apply admissions rules based on the faith of children’s parents, which was a “fundamental right for our community”.
But the move was welcomed by groups opposed to faith schools. Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, chairman of Accord, which lobbies for a major overhaul of faith schools entry requirements, said: "We hope this ruling will serve as a wake-up call to faith schools by showing that religious admissions rules must conform to the law of the land, though we will continue urging for all faith schools to stop discriminatory policies entirely. Taxpayer funded faith schools should serve not just themselves but also the community around them.”
A boy - named only as M – was rejected because his mother was not born a Jew. She converted to the faith but this was not recognised by the Office of the Chief Rabbi. It is a basic principle that a child is not recognised by the OCR and other bodies as Jewish unless his or her mother is Jewish. JFS argued that its admissions policy giving preference to Jewish children when the school was oversubscribed was lawful because it was based on religious and not racial criteria.
17 December, 2009
More British parents 'educating children at home'
Growing numbers of parents are shunning state schools to educate their children at home
Up to 150,000 children are taught outside mainstream schools and numbers are "believed to be growing steadily", said the Commons schools select committee. In a report published on Wednesday, it was suggested the trend was driven by parents’ failure to get sons and daughters into their preferred school, coupled with the impact of testing and a perceived rise in bullying.
MPs said there was also growing evidence that some children were being effectively forced out of school by head teachers and local councils. Parents were "coerced to deregister" children from school because of problems with their examination results, attendance or behaviour, said the report.
The findings will raise fresh fears that schools are prioritising their reputation and league table position over the needs of individual children. It came as the select committee criticised new rules designed to crackdown on parents who educate their children at home.
Earlier this year, Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, announced plans to force all families with children taught at home to register sons and daughters with local councils for the first time. They must also submit lesson plans every 12 months. Under proposals, authorities can “inspect” parents’ homes and order children back into school if education standards are not high enough. The move followed claims in a study by Graham Badman, former head of education at Kent Council, that home education could be a front for abuse.
In the least report, the select committee said these claims were built on a “less than robust evidence base”. MPs welcomed some of the measures to improve home education but insisted many of the recommendations went too far. It suggested the registration scheme should be voluntary and education officials lacked the training and expertise to support families. MPs also demanded the introduction of a more precise definition of what constituted a “suitable” education.
The study said that – despite the action – more parents were choosing to educate children in their own home. “The lower estimate is 45,000 – higher estimates are 80,000 and 150,000,” the study said. This represents up to two per cent of the 7,300,000 schoolchildren in England, it was disclosed.
MPs said that a “common motivation” for pulling children out mainstream education was the “nature of schooling, including the impact of testing on children and children’s learning”. Children with special needs were often educated at home because local authorities had failed to cater for them in normal schools, it was claimed.
The report added: “There were also references to instances where children had been so badly bullied and traumatised by their time at school that they did not feel able to return to a school environment. “The comments of some of the local authority officers with whom we met as part of our inquiry suggested that the failure to obtain a place for the child at the family’s preferred school was another reason for a family to choose to home educate.”
In some cases, local councils and schools "coerced" parents into pulling children out of mainstream education, MPs said. "Local authorities and schools encourage parents to deregister their child from school it is typically as a result of a child’s poor school attendance, poor behaviour and/or poor attainment," the report said. "That schools are held accountable on all three is no doubt part of the explanation for this practice."
Australian universities bribed to accept unqualified students
Fixing the High Schools is the real solution to helping the poor but spending the taxpayers' money is so much easier
UNIVERSITIES are likely to have a significant financial incentive to enrol poor students as the federal government's loading for low-socioeconomic status students increases to about $1500 a student by 2012. While the initial loading set for next year of about $540 a student doesn't cover the costs of successfully teaching non-traditional students, who are generally less prepared for university study, it is five times the present rate of low-SES loading.
The loading, which is sourced from a fixed four-year bucket of money, is dependent on the number of students in any year. It is forecast to be about $1033 in 2011 and $1434 in 2013. The HES has seen internal cost estimates from one university suggesting the extra cost of low-SES students is in the region of $1100 to $1200 a student. About $42 million will be available for the loading next year, rising to $84m in 2011 and about $126m in both 2012 and 2013.
"The low-SES student loading is generous and, combined with proposed additional funding for the progress and retention of these students, will ensure that educational equity becomes more than a discretionary policy," said Deakin University's manager of student access and equity Jennifer Oriel. "It is an incentive to give these students the red carpet treatment," Richard James, director of the Centre for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne, told the HES.
Professor James said the loading would allow universities to invest in extra student support and new curriculum in the first year to better cater for these students and encourage their retention. He said the initial loading was modest but at the higher rates it would be "a serious financial incentive for universities".
The government signalled that in identifying low-SES students next year it may use Centrelink data on student income support to supplement its reliance on ranking post codes. Such a combined measure would apply in the interim while more accurate measures were developed. These could take into account parental education and may utilise a smaller geographic indicator than post codes such as census collection districts, which comprise about 250 households.
The government has released a discussion paper on measures. Submissions are due by February 5.
The government has allocated $433m during the four years to June 30, 2013, towards raising the participation at university of students from the poorest 25 per cent of society, from about 15 per cent of the student body now to at least 20 per cent by 2020. That is about a further 55,000 low-SES students.
About $325m will be allocated as a loading for low-SES enrolments and $108m will fund partnerships between universities, schools and vocational providers to boost aspirations and pathways to university for low-SES students. About $14m of partnership money will be available to the sector next year and will be divided equally among the 38 universities. From 2011 the money will be allocated as grants to individual proposals and projects as approved by the government.
Successful applications will be judged on a series of principles. Among them are that the proposals include mechanisms to measure results and, where appropriate, that they address early intervention, defined as beginning before year 9.
Australian principals seek to hire and fire
SCHOOL principals are calling for the power to hire and fire teachers and manage their schools if they are to be held accountable for student results with the publication of national performance reports next month. With the launch on January 28 of the myschool website, on which student results for every school in the nation will be publicly available for the first time, principals are worried they will be held responsible for their school's performance while many are denied the power to effect changes necessary for improvement.
The presidents of the primary and secondary school principal associations, Leonie Trimper and Andrew Blair, argue that international research shows a direct correlation between a principal's ability to select staff and school results.
Education Minister Julia Gillard agrees that principals should be given more control over the running of their school, and says comparison of school results in January will provide evidence on the effectiveness of different management practices. The issue was raised at a principals forum last month hosted by Ms Gillard, where Adelaide high school principal Wendy Johnson questioned the validity of school comparisons on the website. Myschool attempts to compare schools considered alike in their students' social makeup.
Ms Johnson said a group of similar schools could include very different management practices, and compare a school where a principal was able to hire teachers with another where a principal had to accept the teacher sent to them from the education department.
Ms Johnson, principal of Glenunga International High School, yesterday said that international research showed the key to making a difference in student learning was the quality of a teacher, which could account for up to 30-40 per cent of student results. "If you have teachers who want to be working with these students and want to be working in that particular school with its particular emphasis, its particular directions and its particular culture, you have enormous advantage over a situation where a teacher might be not bothered or the match between the school culture and their beliefs doesn't sit well," she said. "If you have no control over it, it's really difficult to hold you accountable. Every principal is committed to making an improvement in student outcomes -- that's why we went into teaching in the first place -- but if you don't have the material to make a difference it makes it really difficult to deliver."
State education departments give their schools varying degrees of autonomy, with Victorian principals having the most control and NSW considered to have the most centralised system. Western Australia is relaxing its control in some schools next year, with the introduction of 30 "independent public schools", allowing principals and parents greater control over their school including hiring teachers.
Mr Blair, president of the Australian Secondary Principals Association, said principal autonomy was a necessary precondition for school improvement. He queried the validity of comparing schools with different principal powers, asking how accountable a principal was for the results of teachers that were sent to the school.
Ms Trimper, president of the Primary Principals Association, said matching the needs of the school and its students with the expertise and skills of the teacher would improve the system. "Name any company that sits back for Centrelink to ring and say, `Here's your 10 staff'," she said. "It just doesn't happen."
Ms Gillard said there were differing views among school principals about the nature of school management and leadership, but the federal government was encouraging greater empowerment of principals through its national partnerships on disadvantaged schools and teacher quality. The Education Minister believed devolving power to local schools and principals could make a difference to students' results. "But the more weight we put on the shoulders of school leaders, the greater the obligation we have to support and nurture school leadership," Ms Gillard said.
16 December, 2009
California’s education gets an insufficient funds notification
What will it take for Californians to stand-up and realize our state, the 8th largest economy in the world, is run by complete incompetents? When will our citizens recognize that the state bureaucrats we entrust to run our school system are flunking?
Our once proud public education system used to be first in the nation. Over the last 40 years it has dropped to 47th. I am not going to debate the reasons for the onerous plunge here. As someone who has seen the bowels of education, I have my theories and devoted one of the largest chapters of my book to the topic.
As the trustees of the San Diego Unified School District and other state school districts mull enormous cuts to close Sacramento’s insufficient education funds, one must ask if cutting employee pay is the answer. Perhaps. Is cutting the education bureaucracy in Sacramento which bleeds the state education budget for 55 percent of the total education revenues the answer? Perhaps. Is cutting all extraneous programs unrelated to a good education an answer? Perhaps.
I submit our California’s public schools need to suspend all extracurricular programs, including athletics and, music and arts. Transportation needs to be completely axed from every school district budget, and parents needs to find alternatives to getting their children to school. I rode public transportation to high school in Los Angeles until I turned 16 and obtained my driver’s license.
California is in financial ruin, and without a federal bailout, massive changes to employee pension plans, or enormous cuts to the bureaucracy, the state most assuredly faces bankruptcy – or some form thereof.
At present, many education unions are still fighting to squeeze more pay for teachers and classified employees, precisely the charter of unions. They represent their union membership and it is their responsibility to get every penny they can for their members.
Who represents the union of 40 million citizens of our state? Our elected officials certainly have shown their proclivities to every nonsensical and extraneous program that has siphoned the coiffeurs dry. They negotiated overly generous pensions for state employees that are causing a substantial portion of the pain. State government employees now make more than their private sector counterparts, a dramatic reversal from 20 years ago.
In response, let’s reward substandard performance by cutting everything outside of the classroom and concentrating on what our children are supposed to be doing in school in the first place – getting an education.
We also need to abandon P.E. and just let students play on the playgrounds – just give them a few balls to play with. Eliminate all after school programs. Draconian cuts on a scale never seen before are needed in education.
I am being extreme for a reason. The public, en masse, does not realize the situation in Sacramento is dire. The generations of incompetents who have been running our state, governors and legislators alike from both parties, knew this was coming and buried their heads in the sands of Death Valley.
I love sports at all levels, including high school. My two children start high school next year and both hope to make athletic teams. The last thing I want is the elimination of our youth sports programs. But if these proposed cuts become the impetus that compel Californians to act, I would support such action.
Our once beautiful state is in decay, with seemingly no end in site. A state where over one in eight is now unemployed (12.5 percent) – the equivalent of the total population of the County of San Diego – out of work. We have water rationing in Southern California and for the farmers in the San Joaquin Dust Bowl – due to environmental restrictions caused by an endangered fish. We had electrical shortages just a few years ago, whereas 30 years ago we exported energy from our excess capacity. Our roads are congested beyond belief, and our infrastructure is crumbling. These are all issues our legislators have known about for many years.
Do my solutions sound absurd? They do to me as I type this commentary. However, the absurd should be in the realm of possibilities since we have allowed the state government to operate in absurd mode for three decades.
Our state taxes in every category are in the top one to three in the nation. The state has issued IOUs. Now, the state is attempting to take an additional 10 percent in withholding from our paychecks as a “loan”. I am sorry, but I do not want to loan the state money. They are pulling every financial rabbit out of the hat instead of dealing with the harsh realities of making massive cuts to the bureaucracy.
We have some extremely difficult decisions to make right now, and our elected officials are afraid of making the tough choices as they do not want to jeopardize their chances for reelection and their power-grip over each of us.
We the sheeple can continue to entrust our leaders, or throw each incumbent out of office. We need to act to stop the ridiculous policies, force the government to pursue standards of fiscal responsibility, and restore our state to the envy of the nation that it once was. Or, we can continue to get that insufficient funds notification when we try to make a withdrawal from the state’s ATM.
Israel's educational system has been in trouble for a long time
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday that Israel's educational system has been in trouble for a long time. He told a conference organized by the newspaper Globes in Tel Aviv that it would be possible to improve education with additional budgets, but that can only occur when there is economic growth.
"It is important to provide every student the ability to achieve [his potential]," Netanyahu said, speaking of the need to provide all students, regardless of their background, the necessary tools for educational development. He spoke of the need to include various populations - such as Haredim, Arabs and Druze - within the educational system.
"The managerial problem [for schools] is no less critical. It is possible to invest a lot of money and still not succeed," the prime minister said. "The proper mix of budget, management and technology is the key to educational progress."
"There is a clear relationship between investment in education and Israel's success," Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar told the conference. "The country's future is in its human capital. This is clear from the recent achievements we have seen in science, which are the result of past investments in education."
However, Sa'ar said the OECD's recent report, Education at a Glance, "reflects a sorry picture at every stage of Israeli education. The investment in every one of these stages is significantly less than the average in OECD nations. For example, it turns out that Israeli teachers earn about 40 percent of the international average salary." "We must continue to expand the process of raising teachers' pay," he added. "Rebuilding the ethos of teaching needs to be the top priority."
The principal of the Gymnasia Herzliya high school in Tel Aviv, Dr. Zeev Degani, said yesterday in response: "There are many examples of schools whose students have reached high levels of achievement, despite heavy criticism against their principals. The difficult and more fundamental problem is that nothing in the educational system is tested in depth over the long term. Education ministers change every few years - and with them the reforms, plans and agendas also change."
A Leftist government cuts the bureaucracy to spend more on teachers!
Sadly, it is only in faraway Tasmania (population 500,000) but it shows what is possible
Tasmania's special schools have received a funding boost. The Tasmanian Government is investing an extra $930,000 a year to provide 10 new teachers. Tasmania has three main special schools catering for about 150 students with disabilities.
The Premier and Education Minister, David Bartlett, says the extra money has been cut from bureaucracy and re-invested in front-line services. "[Thereby] ensuring that parents who choose special schools over inclusion in regular schools have a fantastic level of service...able to provide more in the way of art, in music, in PE, for special needs students," he said.
Mr Bartlett today toured the new southern campus for children with disabilities. The revamped Hazelwood school on Hobart's eastern shore will open next year but the cost has blown out from $3 million $4.6 million. Mr Bartlett is not concerned, saying he made a promise to parents. "We wouldn't be penny-pinching or cutting corners. It has cost a bit extra," he said.
Leanne Wright, from the Education Union, says it has taken almost two years to address a funding shortfall. "I presume part of that would be because of the Global Financial Crisis," she said.
15 December, 2009
Detroit parents want DPS teachers, officials jailed over low test scores
This is a logical consequence of the refusal to acknowledge inborn racial differences. As Detroit completes the transition to a wholly black city, with black teachers and black students, the achievements of its children must fall
Impassioned parents demanded jail time for educators and district officials Saturday following the release of test scores that showed fourth- and eighth-graders had the worst math scores in the nation. City students took the National Assessment of Educational Progress test this year, and 69 percent of fourth-graders scored below the basic level in math and 77 percent of eighth-graders scored below basic. The Detroit scores on the progress test were the lowest in its 40-year history. The sample of students included 900 of Detroit's 6,000 fourth-graders and 1,000 of the district's 6,000 eighth-graders.
Sharlonda Buckman, CEO of the Detroit Parent Network, called for jailing and civil lawsuits against anyone in the city's educational system that is not doing his or her share to help properly educate children. "Somebody needs to go to jail," she said in a tearful address to 500 parents gathered Saturday for the organization's annual breakfast forum. "Somebody needs to pay for this. Somebody needs to go to jail, and it shouldn't be the kids."
Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb told the crowd the test scores weren't the result of children who were incompetent or parents who didn't care. He blamed the scores on the district not doing its job. "This is an abysmal failure," Bobb said. "It is not the fault of our kids individually, and it is not the fault of our kids collectively. It is not the kids' fault. It is the adults' fault. It is a failure of leadership."
The scores were so low that DPS parent Tonya Allen said she thinks students could have stayed home and done just as badly on the tests. "No other city in the history of this test has done this bad," said Allen, a founding member of the 7-year-old network. "They could have took this test in French and done just as bad."
Celia Huerta, also a DPS parent, said the scores show how much work is needed in the schools. "I am hoping and praying there will be investments in the schools, but I am not seeing it," she said. "Our kids are smart, the problem is the way they are being taught."
Bobb said he is going to announce a new reading initiative Monday in which he will be calling for 100,000 volunteer hours to help children with reading. Reading was one of the reasons cited for the low math scores. Attendees gave Bobb a rousing reception and loudly applauded him during his remarks. They had harsh words, though, for Mayor Dave Bing, who was not in attendance. "Where is the mayor?" Buckman asked. "Don't release a statement. Do something. Show up."
But according to the mayor's office, Bing did not receive an invitation to the event. Mayoral spokesman Edward Cardenas said Bing not being there shouldn't be construed as the mayor not having an interest or not wanting to be involved.
Buckman also had harsh words for a group of teachers who are in favor of striking instead of approving a new contract that forces them to give up $500 per month or $250 per paycheck as an investment. The money will be given to the district to help plug a $219 million deficit, and it will be returned when they retire. "If they strike, I hope we start a homeschool movement," she said in a fiery rebuke. "If you want to walk out on us now, when we have all of our kids failing...you can't do it."
A group of teachers was to prepare Saturday evening to get out the word to vote against the proposed contract and seek to remove Detroit Federation of Teachers president Keith Johnson. The Vote No and Prepare to Strike Committee, made up of a limited number of teacher activists, is prepared to take action against the district, according to a release.
But Bobb said teachers should understand that Johnson negotiated a better financial deal for members than Johnson is being credited for. "I proposed a 10 percent pay cut," Bobb said. "Mr. Johnson and his team are actually saving the teachers financially from what I was proposing. The negotiations are over. Our final and best offer is on the table." Teachers begin voting on a three-year contract next week.
Politics dominate Calif education reform effort
To education reformers, a $4.3 billion school funding competition from the Obama administration seemed like just the push California needed to start making long overdue changes to restore academic luster to the state's public schools.
But the drive to dramatically turn around a faltering system that serves more than 6 million children has run into political reality in a Legislature dominated by special interests. The result could leave the state with the nation's largest public school system ill-positioned to compete for the so-called Race to the Top funds. Officials estimate California stands to gain up to $700 million.
Lawmakers meeting in a special session on education called by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are considering competing Democratic bills. Both are intended to clear the way for California's federal application and to deal with some of the same issues, such as increasing the number of charter schools, revamping state tests and restructuring the worst-of-the-worst schools.
But how they propose to reach those goals is vastly different, and it's unclear whether the versions can be reconciled in time for the state to meet a Jan. 19 federal application deadline.
A Schwarzenegger-backed bill by state Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, and the state superintendent of public instruction gives parents more say in what happens to failing schools and makes it easier to evaluate teachers and principals based on student achievement. It also would let parents move their children out of failing districts. After narrowly passing the state Senate in November, with several Democrats opposing it or opting to sit out the vote, that measure is now stalled in an Assembly committee. One of the most powerful and well-funded political interests in the state, the California Teachers Association, is lobbying against it. The teachers union instead backs different legislation offered by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica.
Reform advocates say that legislative package, which passed the Assembly on Thursday, does not go nearly far enough to fix California schools. Because of that, they say it wouldn't stand a chance in a competition against other large states such as Florida and Texas, which already have made bold school reforms.
Schwarzenegger has supported many of the changes included in the federal guidelines since taking office but has not had the political muscle to get the changes through a Legislature controlled by Democrats, who receive campaign funding from the teachers union. He said he will veto the Assembly legislation if it reaches his desk, although that is unlikely because the Senate already has passed much tougher reform measures. "This is a Race to the Top, not a race to mediocrity or the status quo," Schwarzenegger said.
The Republican governor has been blunt about the Assembly's effort, saying its Democratic majority simply wants to water down the tougher Senate legislation. The Assembly bill, he said, won't provide a real shot at the federal money in a state that has sustained billions of dollars in education cuts during the last three fiscal years. "The kids and education need every single dollar," Schwarzenegger said.
California's education system was once considered a national model that bred a generation of scientists and entrepreneurs, but the state has fallen to near the bottom among states in school funding and academics, earning a D in academic achievement this year from Education Week magazine's annual national schools survey. Students perform below the national average on nearly all measures, with black, Hispanic and poor children faring worst. Nearly 2,800 of its schools are considered to be failing by federal standards.
The dispute over whether to enter the federal competition and, if so, how strong the reforms should be is dividing Democratic allies and discouraging reformers who had hoped for historic change.
Margaret Fortune, a California State University trustee who once served as an education adviser to Schwarzenegger, said she has become disillusioned. Many lawmakers put partisan interests ahead of reasonable changes in school policy, she said. "If they were responsible leaders, they would stand up and say, 'You know what? We're leading a broken system, so we need to turn around and fix it, because this is shameful,'" said Fortune, who now runs an independent teacher-training program and has launched several charter schools.
Representatives of the California Teachers Association and other influential education groups, including the California School Boards Association, argue that the state should approach Race to the Top cautiously. They say lawmakers should not rush headlong into major reforms for what amounts to a relatively small pot of one-time federal money. California, which will spend $50 billion on K-12 education this fiscal year, stands to receive between $300 million and $700 million if its application is successful.
The teachers association opposes provisions in the Senate bill that would allow parents to transfer students in persistently failing schools to other districts, expand the number of charter schools without imposing new restrictions on them and allow parents to lobby for closure or conversion to a charter when schools don't improve. The union says the Senate legislation lacks legislative oversight in making the changes.
Patricia Rucker, a legislative advocate for the CTA, urged lawmakers during a hearing on both bills to "resist the temptation to simply race for dollars for the prestige of winning an award and a competition and instead (ask) what is the overall goal of education reform in California?"
Many reform advocates say slow progress isn't acceptable in a state where one in five high school students drops out. "I just don't have the patience for incremental change any more," said Assemblyman Juan Arambula, an independent from Fresno who left the Democratic caucus earlier this year. He sided with Republicans in opposing the Assembly bill and backing the more stringent Senate version.
Some Democratic lawmakers, particularly Hispanics and blacks, are feeling pressure from both sides: the teachers union, which opposes dramatic changes, and community groups that are frustrated by a persistent racial achievement gap.
Alice Huffman, president of the state NAACP and a former political director of the CTA, testified before the Assembly Education Committee that reforming the state's faltering schools is an urgent civil rights issue. She said she has nieces and nephews who have graduated from California schools yet cannot read and write. "I'm just going to say that if we don't get this done, we have really blown it one more time," she said.
The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office is urging lawmakers to take the Obama administration's education reforms seriously, warning that they are likely to provide the framework for new federal education guidelines, putting at stake billions of dollars in federal money.
Britain's "Academies" (Charter schools) 'shunning tough subjects'
Labour’s flagship academy schools have been accused of inflating their exam results by shunning tough subjects. In a damning report, researchers said evidence strongly suggested that schools gained good grades by entering pupils in “easier” vocational courses such as computing, catering and travel and tourism. It was claimed that pupils were being “short-changed” by academies that were putting league table rankings above a rigorous education.
The conclusions, in a study by the think-tank Civitas, come just weeks after Ofsted's annual report found almost half of academies inspected in the last 12 months were no better than adequate.
The latest comments come despite the fact that the majority of academies have refused to publish their exam results. As independent state schools, they are exempt from Freedom of Information legislation. One head teacher told the think-tank that academies should be able to keep test scores secret because publication would “identify the subjects that the academy has chosen not to prioritise” such as separate sciences and geography.
Anastasia de Waal, Civitas head of education, who wrote the report, said: “To attack academies for using weak vocational qualifications to improve their results might seem unfair when we know it's also happening in mainstream schools. “However, the difference is that academies are supposed to be ‘models of excellence’ improving life chances – and at least in mainstream schools we're able to see their use of vocational entries.”
Both Labour and the Conservatives have placed academies at the heart of school reforms - claiming they are the answer to underperformance in deprived areas. The Government has repeatedly hailed academies’ exam results as evidence that the controversial programme is working.
The schools, which are sponsored and run by private companies, entrepreneurs, faith groups and charities, have seen GCSE results improve at twice the rate of ordinary state schools, although in many cases they were starting from a lower base after taking over failing schools. Last year, some 36 per cent of pupils in academies gained five decent grades, including English and maths, compared with 48 per cent nationally.
In the latest report, researchers surveyed 118 of the 200 academies opened to date in an attempt to gauge the extent to which schools are able to “inflate” their results by entering pupils for vocational qualifications instead of normal GCSEs. Fewer than half of academies agreed to submit their results.
The report said the “high performance of vocational entries was very noticeable” for those schools supplying exam information. At one academy in the south west, half of students were entered for a practical course in “digital applications” which is worth two good GCSEs. All students passed. Another academy put 232 teenagers through BTEC courses in science, arts and sport, with every pupil gaining the equivalent of a C grade or better.
“Without vocational subjects, the headline performance at GCSE of a number of academies is considerably lower than it is when they are included,” the study said. An academy in the east midlands saw its equivalent GCSE results plunge by 21 percentage points when researchers discounted scores in a BTEC travel and tourism course.
At the same time, entries for traditional GCSEs such as geography and history were low in some academies. An academy in Yorkshire failed to enter any pupils for geography and only nine for history – out of a year group of 150. Another academy entered only 15 pupils for history and geography – half the number who took a “catering” GCSE. A third school entered 12 pupils for the humanities, compared with around 30 who took an “office technology” course.
The study - The Secrets of Academies' Success – also criticised the number of schools choosing to withhold their results. Only 43 per cent of head teachers were willing to publish details. “These conflicting responses beg the question: if so many academies consider themselves to be successful, why are so few willing to reveal the subjects and qualifications they're doing?” the study said.
14 December, 2009
Hollywood and Howard Zinn's Marxist Education Project
by Michelle Malkin
The two most important questions for society, according to the Greek philosopher Plato, are these: What will we teach our children? And who will teach them? Left-wing celebrities have teamed up with one of America's most radical historians to take control of the classroom in the name of "social justice." Parents, beware: This Hollywood-backed Marxist education project may be coming to a school near you.
On Sunday, Dec. 13, the History Channel will air "The People Speak" -- a documentary based on Marxist academic Howard Zinn's capitalism-bashing, America-dissing, grievance-mongering history textbook, "A People's History of the United States." The film was co-produced and bankrolled by Zinn's Boston neighbor and mentee Matt Damon. An all-star cast of Bush-bashing liberals, including Danny Glover, Josh Brolin, Bruce Springsteen, Marisa Tomei and Eddie Vedder, will appear. Zinn's work is a self-proclaimed "biased account" of American history that rails against white oppressors, the free market and the military.
Zinn's objective is not to impart knowledge, but to instigate "change" and nurture a political "counterforce" (an echo of fellow radical academic and Hugo Chavez admirer Bill Ayers' proclamation of education as the "motor-force of revolution"). Teachers are not supposed to teach facts in the school of Zinn. "There is no such thing as pure fact," Zinn asserts. Educators are not supposed to emphasize individual academic achievement. They are supposed to "empower" student collectivism by emphasizing "the role of working people, women, people of color and organized social movements." School officials are not facilitators of intellectual inquiry, but leaders of "social struggle."
Zinn and company have launched a nationwide education project in conjunction with the documentary. "A people's history requires a people's pedagogy to match," Zinn preaches. The project is a collaboration between two "social justice" activist groups, Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change.
Rethinking Schools recently boasted of killing a social studies textbook series in the Milwaukee school system because it "failed to teach social responsibility." A Rethinking Schools guide on the September 11 jihadi attacks instructs teachers to "nurture student empathy" for our enemies and dissuade students from identifying as Americans. "It's our job to reach beyond this chauvinism." And a Rethinking Schools guide to early childhood education written by Ann Pelo disparages "a too-heavy focus on academic skills" in favor of "social justice and ecological teaching" for preschoolers.
Teaching for Change's objective, in Obama-esque fashion, is to train students not to achieve actual proficiency in core academic subjects, but to inspire them to "become active global citizens." Today's non-achieving aspirants are tomorrow's Nobel Peace Prize winners, after all.
No part of the school curriculum is immune from the social justice makeover crew. Zinn's partners at Rethinking Schools have even issued teaching guides to "Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers" -- which rejects the traditional white male patriarchal methods of teaching computation and statistics in favor of p.c.-ified number-crunching:"'Rethinking Mathematics' is divided into four parts. The first part is devoted to a broad view of mathematics that includes historical and cultural implications. Part Two includes nine classroom narratives in which teachers describe lessons they have used that infuse social justice issues into their mathematics curriculum. Included here … an AP calculus lesson on income distribution. The third part contains three detailed classroom experiences/lessons. These include a physical depiction of the inequitable distribution of the world's wealth, the results of a student investigation into how many U.S. presidents owned slaves, and a wonderful classroom game called 'Transnational Capital Auction' in which students take on the role of leaders of Third World countries bidding competitively for new factories from a multinational corporation. …Our students will continue to come in dead last in international testing. But no worries. With Howard Zinn and Hollywood leftists in charge, empty-headed young global citizens will have heavier guilt, wider social consciences and more hatred for America than any other students in the world.
"Short lessons, provocative cartoons and snippets of statistics are scattered throughout 'Rethinking Mathematics.' A partial list of topics includes racial profiling, unemployment rate calculation, the war in Iraq, environmental racism, globalization, wealth distribution and poverty, wheelchair ramps, urban density, HIV/AIDS, deconstructing Barbie, junk food advertising to children and lotteries." (from a review by James V. Rauff of Millikin University)
House Leaders Vote to End D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program
It’s turning out to be a lousy Christmas for D.C. children. Late last night, the House dealt a hefty blow to the future of school choice in the District of Columbia. House leadership passed an omnibus appropriations bill which includes language to phase-out the successful D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships of up to $7,500 to low-income children to attend a private school of their choice. The omnibus prohibits any new students from receiving scholarships, phasing it out in the coming years. The omnibus now moves on to the Senate for consideration, and if passed, will effectively end the D.C. OSP – and the hopes of thousands of District children of receiving a better education.
Despite President Obama’s pledge to support “what works” in education, he and Secretary Arne Duncan have stood idly by as the future of the Opportunity Scholarship Program grows dimmer and dimmer. Lawmakers know the OSP works, D.C. residents know the OSP works, and families know the OSP works. Yet weeks continue to tick by as low-income D.C. children wait to hear the support of their President for their continued educational success.
Some members of Congress understand what’s at stake for District families. In a letter to Senator Richard Durbin and Representative José Serrano written on Monday, Minority Leader Boehner and Senator Joseph Lieberman others wrote: "This program has the overwhelming support of D.C. residents, parents, Mayor Adrian Fenty, Chancellor Michelle Rhee, former Mayor Anthony Williams, and the D.C. City Council….Five years after the first scholarship students walked into their new schools, we know that the program is helping them both academically and socially…Local D.C. officials and residents have been very clear – they want this program to continue…In fact, during his sworn testimony before the House Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Postal Service, and the District of Columbia, Mayor Fenty stated that he supports adding new students to maintain the current cap."
As members contemplate the future of school choice this weekend, they should inform their decision by watching Let Me Rise: The Struggle to Save School Choice in the Nation’s Capital. Perhaps seeing the faces of the children and families so greatly impacted by the opportunity to receive a quality education will move them to support school choice in the District.
British children have never worked so hard and learnt so little
For all the time and money put in, the education system is fundamentally flawed, says Charles Moore
Exams in the summer are well known for high stress, but mid-December is the time of the school year when everyone is at their most tired. What John Donne called “the year’s midnight” coincides with the end of the longest term. Look at the strained, anxious faces of mothers on the school run. Look at the pale, exhausted children who totter out of school into the mid-afternoon darkness. Look at the teachers, writing reports, filling in forms, snuffling with incipient colds and trying to smile through the Nativity play (where “diversity” policy still permits it).
What is it all for? Never in history have politicians talked more about the importance of education. Never has it been more generally agreed that the modern world is a “knowledge economy”. The famous Clause Four of the Labour Party’s constitution referred to securing for “workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry”. Everyone realises that nowadays brain usually secures fuller fruits than hand.
And yet, does the average pupil end up knowing more or knowing things more deeply than, say, 50 years ago? Could the average pupil of today do long division, or speak French, or write an English paragraph, or explain the Great Reform Bill, or find Valparaiso on a map, or operate the laws of thermo-dynamics better than his or her equivalent half a century ago?
Perhaps not, the defenders of current education would say, but modern pupils know much more about saving the planet, safe sex, Eid, and challenging racism, not to mention things not even thought of in the 1950s, such as the internet. They learn more that is “relevant”. They also, modern educationalists argue, acquire more “skills”. Instead of being crammed with sterile facts, they know how to engage with a subject. They learn less mere “what”, but more “why” and “how to”.
This is not all rubbish. Looking back on my own (mostly good) education, both state and private, in the 1960s, I can see some of its deficiencies. We were not taught where history came from. It was just a series of facts and stories: no one taught me the idea of sources and evidence until I was about 15.
We learnt grammar – both Latin and English – well, but we never quite knew what grammar was. Grammar was considered so important that it gave its name to the best state schools in the country, but why was it considered so important? We were not really told. The aim of modern education to teach children to ask more questions, and not simply to stuff them with information, is surely right.
But that promise has been broken. We seem to have devised a system of curriculum and examination which pulls off the incredible double of being very hard work but very low quality. There are endless projects and modules, and endless ways of re-marking to upgrade one’s results, but no definite test of what is known and understood.
In this process, a strange thing has happened. For all the patter about diversity, education has become more hostile to things that are outside the immediate experience of the pupil. Much less pre-20th-century history or literature is taught. Fewer pupils learn foreign languages, let alone dead ones. Individual sciences have been conflated into the easier “dual science” paper. We heard this week that a quarter of primary schools never teach pupils the Lord’s Prayer, partly (presumably) because the words of a Jew who has been dead for 2,000 years are considered out of date.
Because of my current war against Andrew Marr’s TV history of The Making of Modern Britain, I went on the Today programme yesterday to argue with the historian Tristram Hunt. He said that 14-year-old London pupils who had watched Marr had pronounced it boring because, despite all Marr’s costume capers and silly accents, it was not relevant enough to them. Hunt wanted Marrxism squared – yet more japes to get the wandering teenage attention.
In the end, though, how can anything be taught if the test is whether pupils who know very little find it boring? One of the worst things about being badly educated is that you are easily bored. If somebody asks, “How could Jane Austen/Plato/Mozart/William the Conqueror/Einstein or whoever be relevant to inner-city kids?”, the answer is surely that it is the kids, not Jane Austen etc, who have the problem. It is the job of teachers to help them out of it.
There is a nice bit in Boswell’s Life of Johnson when Dr Johnson stops a poor boy and says, “What would you give, my lad, to know about the Argonauts?” “Sir, I would give everything I had,” the boy replies. But we have given up teaching poor boys about the Argonauts. We have despaired of the transformation which education can bring about.
Schooling is now effectively compulsory from the age of four to 18. But too often, the people who emerge from those long years have not learnt the “what” or the “how to” or the “why”. You can see this in the practical things of daily life. Huge numbers of drugs, it turns out, are wrongly administered in hospital because nurses have not followed the instructions precisely. No one taught them the habit of accuracy.
How many people can draft, unaided, a letter or email that coherently makes an argument? How many people can calculate their own tax, or work out whether they are choosing the right pension? How many people can begin to understand the legal system or argue successfully with a bureaucrat or comprehend with any accuracy what their doctor is telling them?
More important still, how can people enjoy the richness of our civilisation if no one has introduced them to its glories? It is possible to go to school now without ever learning why those large buildings in every town have plus signs on them, or to look at a pound coin and not to know why it says “D.G.REG.F.D” on it, or to catch a train at Waterloo station without knowing why it is so called.
None of this can improve so long as politicians are so heavily engaged in education. Ed Balls can no more work out what our children should be taught than he can bring them up for us. Education is essentially a contract between parents, who want their children to acquire knowledge, and teachers, who must have their own independent idea of what that knowledge should be. The role of the state is only to support it, not to order it.
And that, in embryo, seems to be the policy that the Tories are developing. I sometimes wonder if they really know how radical they are being, and therefore how fiercely the bureaucracy will resist them.
13 December, 2009
Charter schools gain traction in 2009
By Jennifer Buckingham, writing from Australia
This has been the year of the charter school (public schools run by private operators) in education policy in the United States. Federal education secretary Arne Duncan made charter schools one of the centre-pieces of the US$4.35 billion ‘Race to the Top’ economic stimulus package, requiring all states to authorise charter schools to be eligible for funding. And two of the most high profile education chiefs in the country – Joel Klein in New York and Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C. – have built successful reforms around increasing the number of charter schools in their cities.
The policy focus on charters schools has not emerged in a research and knowledge vacuum. A number of important studies on charter school performance have been published this year. One of the most recent, released by the National Bureau of Economic Research this week, found that student achievement gains were significantly higher in Boston’s charter schools than in traditional public schools and the self-managing ‘pilot’ public schools, for both maths and English in middle school and high school. This closely follows a study of New York schools that found children who attended charter schools from kindergarten strongly outperformed their peers in public schools by the third grade, and that the gap widened as children progressed through the grades. Both these studies controlled for selection bias and student characteristics.
While these studies had large positive results, this is not uniformly true of all charter schools. This year’s meta-studies such as the CREDO and RAND studies demonstrated the variability in results from individual charter schools across the country. Some charter schools do exceptionally well, while others are barely better than their neighbouring public schools, and some worse. Part of this variability is due to the newness of many charter schools, a factor overlooked in much of the commentary about the CREDO study in particular, but some of it is to do with quality.
Fortunately, researchers are also gradually building a picture of which charter schools are effective and why. The characteristics of the best charter schools, which all but eliminate the achievement gap between white and black students, include: high flexibility in staffing and budgeting, allowing schools to lengthen the school day, and intensifying the learning program; explicit teaching; strong discipline; and robust accountability measures for performance. Forward thinkers like Noel Pearson have been looking to these gap-closing schools for inspiration to improve education for Indigenous children in Cape York [Australia]. Education bureaucrats would be well-advised to do the same.
The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated December 11. Enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.
Teachers forced to 'hide in closets' to pray
Florida school teachers say they are being forced to hide in closets to pray after a controversial court ruling. Under an order crafted by the ACLU, school employees in Santa Rosa School District must act in an "official capacity" whenever they are at a "school event" – including breaks, after-school events on or off campus and private events held on campus.
Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit law firm, alongside Christian Educators Association International, is seeking to overturn the court order, which has resulted in three school officials being charged with contempt. According to the group, school officials are strictly prohibited from showing agreement with anyone "communicating with a deity," such as "bowing the head" or "folding hands." "School officials" must also prohibit "third-parties" from praying, Liberty Counsel said.
During testimony that ended last week, Christian employees said the order has literally driven them to hide in closets to pray to avoid contempt charges.
As WND reported, Michelle Winkler, a clerical assistant, earlier faced contempt charges after her husband read a prayer at a private banquet held at a Naval base to honor non-instructional school district employees. The judge eventually found that Winkler's husband's prayer at a voluntary gathering outside of school did not violate any court order.
During her recent testimony, Winkler broke down on the witness stand as she told a story about how her coworker sought comfort from her after losing her 2-year-old child. The two hid behind a closet door to pray, for fear they would be seen and held in contempt of the court order.
Denise Gibson, an elementary teacher for 20 years, testified that the order requires her to inform parents that she cannot respond if they mention church or their faith. She said she is prohibited from replying to e-mails from parents if they contain Bible verses or even "God bless you." Instead, she said, the district has instructed her to open a separate e-mail to answer the parents rather than hit "reply." The district calls for the action to eliminate any trace of religious language in school communication.
As WND reported, Liberty Counsel successfully defended Pace High School Principal Frank Lay and Athletic Director Robert Freeman against criminal contempt charges after the ACLU complained when Freeman gave a 15-second blessing for a lunch meal for 20 adults with no students present. The men had faced penalties of up to six months in jail and $5,000 in fines each.
The situation began in August 2008 when two anonymous students sued with the help of the ACLU over long-standing practices at the school allowing prayer at some events. The school's separate counsel had agreed to a consent decree that "essentially bans all Santa Rose County School District employees from engaging in prayer or religious activities," Liberty Counsel reported.
WND also reported earlier when members of the 2009 graduating class at Florida's Pace High School expressed their objections to the ACLU restrictions on statements of religious faith at their school by rising up en masse at their ceremony and reciting the Lord's Prayer. Nearly 400 graduating seniors at Pace, a Santa Rosa County school, stood up at their graduation, according to Staver. Parents, family and friends joined in the recitation, and applauded the students when they were finished, Staver told WND. "Many of the students also painted crosses on their graduation caps to make a statement of faith," the organization reported.
"The court order crafted by the ACLU takes my breath away," said Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel. "I am embarrassed for our country, knowing that school employees in Santa Rosa County are hiding in closets to pray out of fear they may be hauled into court by the ACLU. We intend to restore religious freedom to Santa Rosa County. We will not allow the ACLU to criminalize Christianity."
Australia: Poor students top performers at elite universities
Which suggests that only the very bright can overcome a poor background
STUDENTS from poor backgrounds are less likely to attend the nation's prestige universities, but those who do are likelier to finish their degrees, according to a report by the Group of Eight.
The report, released earlier this week, will inform a Go8 equity strategy that is being hammered out in response to the federal government's call for a boost in the proportion of undergraduates from low socioeconomic backgrounds to 20 per cent by 2020.
The report found 72.4 per cent of applicants to Go8 universities achieved an equivalent national tertiary entrance rank score of more than 80.05 last year, and of these only 10.4 per cent were from low socioeconomic backgrounds. But the imbalance was corrected to some extent by better retention and academic success rates for students from these backgrounds.
"Retention rates were higher in Go8 universities than any other universities across all equity groups in the five-year period from 2002 to 2006," the report says. "The difference was greatest for remote students (77 per cent in Go8 universities, 66.9 per cent in other universities) and indigenous students (70.2 per cent in Go8 universities compared with 60.6 per cent in other universities)." The report says the dropout rate for low-socio economic status students, likewise, is lower within the Go8 than outside it.
The Go8 report comes after the federal government released its own attrition figures for 2001-07 which revealed a national dropout rate of 18.9 per cent for undergraduates. The worst rate, of 40 per cent, was found at the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education in the Northern Territory, while the lowest dropout rate, of 8 per cent, was recorded by the University of Melbourne.
Earlier this year the Go8 was stung by a higher education equity report written for the University of South Australia's new National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education.
While the report, by Griffith University researcher Leesa Wheelahan, found that universities such as Macquarie and Canberra had worse equity credentials than the sandstone universities, it revealed that the Go8 admitted an average of 10.9 per cent of their students from poor backgrounds. This compared with an average across the higher education system of 17.4 per cent. At the time the Go8 strenuously asserted its members' capacity to retain disadvantaged students through to graduation.
The new report, which pledges to improve ways to identify students with academic potential and develop "multiple pathways through partnerships with other post-secondary education and training institutions", gives substance to this claim.
In a related development, the University of Melbourne has unveiled a "guaranteed access" program which it says will "give certainty" to students from rural or isolated areas and in disadvantaged socioeconomic circumstances who apply to enter the university next year and meet the published criteria. These students will be guaranteed a commonwealth-supported place in the university's new-look degrees (except music, for which students have to audition) if their ENTER is 78 or above for arts, environments or science, or 88 or above for biomedicine and commerce. Disadvantaged students whose ENTER scores are below this level will still be eligible for a place.
Melbourne University's deputy vice-chancellor Sue Elliott said of students from disadvantaged groups who meet the criteria: "They will know they have a place at Melbourne when they get their [Victorian Certificate of Education] results. These are high-quality students whose results don't necessarily reflect their true academic ability."
Professor Elliott said disadvantaged students had been shown to perform at much the same level at university as other students. "The undergraduate experience at a good university is a level playing field where students from all backgrounds have the opportunity to flourish," she said.
12 December, 2009
CA schools phase out homosexual curriculum
Under the duress of a lawsuit and threats of recall, the Alameda Board of Education has voted to phase out an elementary school curriculum it adopted in May to prevent anti-gay bullying. The so-called Lesson 9, which had become an opposition centerpiece in a national anti-gay marriage campaign, will be replaced by a more generic anti-bullying message.
But the board's action Tuesday night did little to ease the tension between gay parents, who want their children protected, and parents who who think elementary school is too early to talk to students about gay people.
The new anti-bullying lessons approved by the board, at the recommendation of School Superintendent Kirsten Vital, will be supplemented by children's books that explicitly address six specific forms of bias, including against gays. "This has torn apart our community," said school trustee Trish Herrera Spencer, the board member most opposed to the gay curriculum and who opposed adding the supplemental books. She said the board's latest action did not take into consideration "the strong beliefs" of all in the community.
The 45-minute Lesson 9, which was to be taught once a year in each grade starting with kindergarten, sparked a lawsuit, accusations that religious families were being discriminated against and threats of a recall election against the three board members who approved it.
Vital said her recommendation was meant to counter complaints from parents opposed to the original lesson because it highlighted only one type of bullying. "There is not an off-the-shelf, perfect curriculum that is going to work for our community," Vital said, explaining that she wants to solicit book recommendations, bring them back to the school board for approval in a few months and then work with teachers to develop accompanying lesson plans in time for the 2010-11 academic year.
Several parents said they did not trust a teachers' committee to pick books that would both satisfy gay and lesbian parents and parents with religious views that do not condone homosexuality. "Freedom of religion is protected from harassment and discrimination from anyone. It may be of no consequence to some, but it is a very integral part of many traditional families and should be honored," said Kellie Wood, who has three children in Alameda schools and is part of a group circulating recall election petitions. "If we're all honest, the friction between two protected classes, in particular, will not go away."
Kathy Passmore, a lesbian mother of two, said she hears students using anti-gay language in her job as a sixth grade teacher in Alameda. She urged the school board to retain the spirit of Lesson 9. "The children of gay families exist and are attending ASUD schools every single day," she said. "They are here."
Alameda, an island city that foots Oakland and is home to a Coast Guard installation and a former Naval base that is being eyed for housing, is the latest community to be divided by its school district's desire to curb anti-gay bullying and the concerns of parents who do not want their children to hear about gay and lesbian issues in school.
During last year's campaign to pass a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages in California, the measure's sponsors ran commercials featuring a Massachusetts couple who unsuccessfully sued their local district for the right to pull their child out of anti-bullying lessons that included references to gay households. A year later, the same public relations firm that developed that ad developed a new one for the campaign to outlaw gay marriage in Maine focusing on a second-grade picture book that was part of Alameda's Lesson 9. The book, "Who's In A Family," contains pictures of families headed by grandparents, single parents and gay parents, among others.
A dozen Alameda families sued the school district earlier this year over its contention that parents did not have to be notified in advance when teachers planned to give the lessons so they could keep their children from receiving them. Last week, an Alameda Superior Court judge sided with the school district, ruling that a state law allowing parents to have their "opt-out" of discussions about human sexuality did not apply to Lesson 9.
Kevin Snider, a lawyer with the conservative Pacific Justice Institute who represented the Alameda families, said before the school board's vote that his clients would not appeal the judge's ruling if the school board eliminated Lesson 9. He did not immediately return a call Wednesday for clarification on whether the board's action satisfied that condition.
Thomas the Sexist Tank Engine
The children's programme portrays a world blighted by a 'conservative political ideology' and is sexist, according to a female academic
If you thought the television tales about Thomas the Tank Engine were merely light-hearted fun, think again. In fact, they portray a world blighted by a 'conservative political ideology' and a rigid class system which stifles self-expression. And they are sexist. That, at least, is the view of a female academic who took the trouble to analyse 23 episodes of the programme inspired by the books of the Rev W V Awdry.
According to Professor Shauna Wilton, women are under-represented in the stories and what few female characters there are tend to have 'secondary' roles or be bossy. What's more, she has warned that such negative messages about society subconsciously gleaned from the show might even drive its young fans off the rails in later life.
The learned professor was inspired to carry out her study after watching Thomas videos with her three-year-old daughter. While the child was enthralled, her mother was dismayed. She was left feeling 'uncomfortable' by the way the colourful steam engines are punished if they show initiative or try to change their rank or role.
Her research also highlights the class divide, with Thomas and his fellow engines including Percy and James at the bottom of the social ladder and the Fat Controller, Sir Topham Hatt, at the top. Any attempt by the downtrodden workers to show initiative or dissent is met with punishment, she found. In one episode, for example, Thomas whistles impatiently at a police officer and is replaced with a different engine as a punishment for showing dissent.
Professor Wilton, from the department of political sciences at Alberta University, Canada, wants tighter controls on what is broadcast-to children. She said: 'We tend to think of children's TV shows as neutral and safe, but they still carry messages. 'Eventually these children will attain full political citizenship, and the opinions and world outlook they develop now, partially influenced by shows like Thomas, are part of that process.'
Laura Midgley, of the Campaign Against Political Correctness, described the research as 'unbelievable nonsense'. She said: 'I cannot believe anyone has the time and energy to do such a study. I'm surprised she hasn't singled out the Fat Controller as an example of fattism too. 'Children should just be left to enjoy the innocent fun of Thomas without the politically- correct brigade stoking the fires and ruining their enjoyment.'
Australia. Kid killed in busy school playground: Nobody charged
Police should have been able to take someone into custody same day
THE father of a teenager killed in a schoolyard brawl almost six months ago says it is "atrocious" no one has been charged. Steve Drummond, father of 15-year-old Jai Morcom, who died at Mullumbimby High School in northern NSW on August 29, slammed police yesterday after they issued a media release appealing for more witnesses. "It's pretty atrocious that this hasn't been sorted out by now," Mr Drummond told the Courier-Mail newspaper. "There were that many witnesses to it and there's no doubt there were a few (specific) kids involved."
Jai died after a playground fight over a lunch table. Students later staged a mass walkout and protest amid claims of a bullying problem at the school.
Mr Drummond has raised suggestions of "standover tactics" at Mullumbimby High, and NSW education officials have ordered a major review into student welfare at the school.
Tweed/Byron police crime manager Inspector Greg Carey appealed for patience, saying "every effort" was being made to solve the case. "We have conducted interviews with literally dozens of students, teachers and community members," he said. "We have been in constant contact with Jai's parents and the school community. "Investigators have also set up an email address which has been circulated throughout the school community, in the hope that additional information could be provided by that method."
Jai died from his injuries in the Gold Coast Hospital. Insp Carey said NSW police were still waiting the full autopsy report from Queensland authorities. "As Jai died in Queensland, the (NSW police) report will be submitted initially to the Queensland Coroner," Insp Carey said.
11 December, 2009
Bloated college costs hurt the poor
Most young adults who started college but didn’t finish left because they needed to work more to make ends meet, according to a recent survey of more than 600 individuals aged 22 to 30 by Public Agenda. Managing work, school, and family was their biggest challenge.
That’s just one of many surprising new realities facing America’s college students, according to “With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them,” a report based on a new Public Agenda survey of more than 600 young adults. The study compared the views of students who started, but did not finish, their college education with those who received a degree or certificate. The national survey, which also included focus groups in five cities, was underwritten by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
When it came time for these students to consider going back to college, it was again their work and family responsibilities that kept them from reenrolling. For 56 percent of the survey participants, their need to work full-time was a “major” factor preventing them from going back to school. Family commitments were also cited as “major” factors for more than half of those surveyed. More than one third of former students who said they wanted to return also said they wouldn’t be able to even if their tuition and books were fully covered.
“The conventional wisdom is that students leave school because they aren’t willing to work hard and aren’t really interested in more education,” said Jean Johnson, director of Education Insights at Public Agenda. “What we found was almost precisely the opposite. Most are working and go to school at the same time, and most are not getting financial help from their families or the system itself. It is the stress of this juggling act that forces many of them to abandon their pursuit of a college degree.”
For 40 years, the United States has worked to ensure all young people have access to college, and over that time enrollment has increased by 13 million students. But nationwide, less than half of all college students graduate within six years, according to the U.S. Department of Education. At public community colleges, the numbers are even more grim: only 20 percent graduate within three years.
Last February, President Obama set a goal to again make America first in the world in the percentage of adults with a postsecondary credential. “With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them” provides insight into the lives of those students, and helps identify solutions that could help solve the nation’s college completion problem.
For example, those who failed to complete a degree said financial aid for part-time enrollees, more classes at night and on weekends, steep tuition reductions, and child care assistance, and would be most beneficial to helping them reenroll and graduate.
“Getting more and more students into college means nothing if we don’t also provide them with the support they need to graduate,” said Hilary Pennington, the director of Education, Postsecondary Success and Special Initiatives at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “This report is another piece of evidence that our college-going students today are nothing like those that the system was built to serve.”
The survey results showed that while the college selection process is frenetic and unnerving for many college goers, those who failed to graduate faced more limited options and took a much more haphazard and uninformed route. Generally, they chose their college based on “convenience” factors, such as location, cost and how well classes meshed with their work schedules.
Moreover, those who failed to graduate were not getting financial support from their family and the system. Of those who did not graduate, 58 percent did not receive support from parents or other relatives, and 69 percent did not receive support from a scholarship or financial aid.
Despite that, 89 percent of those who failed to complete a degree said they have thought about returning to college, and nearly all (97 percent) said it is important that their own children attend college.
U.S. school meals not as safe as Macca's
In the past three years, the government has provided the nation's schools with millions of pounds of beef and chicken that wouldn't meet the quality or safety standards of many fast-food restaurants, from Jack in the Box and other burger places to chicken chains such as KFC, a USA TODAY investigation found.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the meat it buys for the National School Lunch Program "meets or exceeds standards in commercial products." That isn't always the case. McDonald's, Burger King and Costco, for instance, are far more rigorous in checking for bacteria and dangerous pathogens. They test the ground beef they buy five to 10 times more often than the USDA tests beef made for schools during a typical production day. And the limits Jack in the Box and other big retailers set for certain bacteria in their burgers are up to 10 times more stringent than what the USDA sets for school beef.
For chicken, the USDA has supplied schools with thousands of tons of meat from old birds that might otherwise go to compost or pet food. Called "spent hens" because they're past their egg-laying prime, the chickens don't pass muster with Colonel Sanders— KFC won't buy them — and they don't pass the soup test, either. The Campbell Soup Company says it stopped using them a decade ago based on "quality considerations."
"We simply are not giving our kids in schools the same level of quality and safety as you get when you go to many fast-food restaurants," says J. Glenn Morris, professor of medicine and director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida. "We are not using those same standards."
It wasn't supposed to be this way. In 2000, then-Agriculture secretary Dan Glickman directed the USDA to adopt "the highest standards" for school meat. He cited concerns that fast-food chains had tougher safety and quality requirements than those set by the USDA for schools, and he vowed that "the disparity would exist no more."
Today, USDA rules for meat sent to schools remain more stringent than the department's minimum safety requirements for meat sold at supermarkets. But those government rules have fallen behind the increasingly tough standards that have evolved among fast-food chains and more selective retailers.
Morris, who used to run the USDA office that investigates food-borne illnesses, says the department's purchases of meat that doesn't satisfy higher-end commercial standards are especially worrisome because the meat goes to schools. It's not just that children are more vulnerable to food-borne illnesses because of their fledgling immune systems; it's also because there's less assurance that school cafeteria workers will cook the meat well enough to kill any pathogens that might slip through the USDA's less stringent safety checks.
USDA-purchased meat is donated to almost every school district in the country and served to 31 million students a day, 62% of whom qualify for free or reduced-price meals. President Obama noted earlier this year that, for many children, school lunches are "their most nutritious meal — sometimes their only meal — of the day." Next year, Congress will revisit the Child Nutrition Act, which governs the lunch program.
"If there are higher quality and safety standards, the government should set them," says Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor. "Ensuring the safety of food in schools is something we'll look at closely."
Officials with the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), the USDA agency that buys meat for the school lunch program, insist that schools get top-notch products. AMS standards for meat sent to schools have been "extremely successful in protecting against food-borne pathogens," AMS Administrator Rayne Pegg says in a written statement. She notes that AMS oversight, inspections and tests of that meat exceed those required for meat sold to the general public.
The AMS also has a "zero-tolerance" policy that requires rejection of meat that tests positive for salmonella or E. coli O157:H7, pathogens that can cause serious illness or death.
Still, after USA TODAY presented USDA officials with its findings, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack promised an independent review of testing requirements for ground beef that the AMS sends to schools. The review, set for next year, is meant "to ensure the food served to our school children is as safe as possible," Vilsack says in a statement...
Much more here
British schools use "dirty" tricks to attract best pupils, research finds
State secondary schools are "gazumping" each other to attract the best pupils, research published today on school admissions has revealed. Headteachers are employing underhand tactics, such as courting the parents of very bright children and manipulating waiting lists, academics from the London School of Economics said.
The findings came as the chief schools adjudicator warned that the government's new code on school admissions provided a "bonanza" for lawyers being hired by parents, schools and local authorities.
Ministers hoped the stricter code, which came into force in February, would make admissions fairer, but the LSE study of five local authorities found that the code was not enough to stop schools tricking one another, and that it was "not difficult to find schools that fell foul of the code".
Researchers were told that the headteacher of a school with surplus places had contacted parents to persuade them to reject offers from a more popular school. Another school was said to rank children on its waiting list according to its own criteria rather than the official rules which put children with special needs before others. Another was said to have picked pupils according to how near their homes were to a building half a mile from the school, in an attempt to upgrade its intake. A secondary school had tried to impress parents by naming one primary as a "feeder" school, without telling the primary school.
These dubious practices can leave some families in "dead zones" – neighbourhoods where children stand little chance of an offer from any popular school in their area, the academics told a conference on fair school admissions in London today.
"Major concerns remain about school admissions, raising questions about fairness," Philip Noden, an education research fellow at the LSE and one of the study's authors, said. The study said: "While most admissions authorities were thought to operate their admission arrangements in accordance with the relevant rules, there was some evidence of a small number of schools breaking admissions rules or adopting practices that would be unlikely to be supported by regulatory authorities." "There is a world of suspicion out there," Noden said. People were "very doubtful about the motives" of some schools. "While the code states that it is 'necessary to improve the chances of more disadvantaged children getting into good schools', it is clear that those interpreting the code are not taking advantage of all opportunities to improve those chances," he said.
The study found that many of those who decide a school's admissions policy struggle to understand the new code. Even those "working day-to-day on admissions stated that they found the code a difficult document". Rather than tighten the rules, ministers should give local authorities more control over the administration of school admissions, the researchers suggest. This would include faith schools and academies, which have their own admissions arrangements.
Last year, the education secretary, Ed Balls, revealed that some state secondary schools in England had been caught charging parents for the privilege of being given a place. Now competition at top state schools is fiercer than ever as middle-class families seek to save on private school fees in the recession.
Meanwhile, the chief schools adjudicator for England, Ian Craig, told the conference that lawyers were cashing in on the complexity of the code as more parents, local authorities and schools hired them. He said: "Unfortunately, the more complex the code, the more lawyers are earning their money trying to find ways to around it. There will be more challenges in the high court on admissions issues. I'm convinced of that."
10 December, 2009
Court to Decide If Christian College Group Must Allow homosexuals
The Supreme Court said Monday it will decide whether a California law school must force a Christian group to admit gays, lesbians and nonbelievers to gain stature as an official campus organization.
The high court agreed to hear an appeal from a chapter of the Christian Legal Society at the University of California's Hastings College of the Law. A federal judge had turned aside the group's attempt to force the school to give it campus funding and other benefits without opening its membership to gays, lesbians and nonbelievers -- a requirement of the San Francisco school.
The 30-member Hastings group was told in 2004 that it was being denied recognition, including university funding and benefits, because of its policy of exclusion. Federal courts have rejected the group's assertions that the law school's policy violated its freedoms of speech, religion and association.
"The court below got it wrong and we're trusting that the Supreme Court will correct this," said Kim Colby, senior counsel with the Christian Legal Society's Center for Law and Religious Freedom.
According to a society news release, it invites all students to its meetings. "However, CLS voting members and officers must affirm its Statement of Faith," the statement said. "CLS interprets the Statement of Faith to include the belief that Christians should not engage in sexual conduct outside of a marriage between a man and a woman."
Colby said that simply means that the group simply "requires that their leaders share their religious beliefs." The Christian Legal Society has chapters at universities nationwide. The group has sued other universities on the same grounds. It won at Southern Illinois University, whether the university settled with the group in 2007 and recognized its membership and leadership policies.
Charter Colleges Could Provide Real Alternatives to a Corrupt System
Confirmation of biblical wisdom came earlier this fall from an unlikely source: an Ivy Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985 and saw the Soviet Union falling apart. He first announced a vague reform plan that proposed increased productivity, technological modernization, and some reform of the Soviet bureaucracy. That achieved little, so in 1986 he moved on to perestroika, designed to encourage initiative and reduce inefficiency. That didn't do much so in 1988 he introduced glasnost, which brought in some freedom of speech and a new law that encouraged private ownership of businesses. That good idea came too late to keep the Soviet evil empire from disintegrating in 1989 and collapsing in 1991.
The editors of The Chronicle of Higher Education—academe's trade journal—recently gave the well-read back cover of an issue to Hamid Shirvani, president of California State University-Stanislaus. Under a provocative headline—"Will a Culture of Entitlement Bankrupt Higher Education?"—Shirvani compared colleges and universities to the auto industry and noted that "resistance to change in academe has helped create inflexible, unsustainable organizations" like General Motors. He then, like Gorby in 1985, recommended a vague reform plan—"review redundancies, rethink staffing models, and streamline business practices"—along with several specific suggestions, such as larger classes and larger course loads for faculty.
One problem with such economically necessary reforms is that they will reduce traditional education's ability to compete with online offerings: If students don't get personal attention from classroom professors, they're often better off taking online courses (see "Class without rooms", Oct. 10). A second shortcoming is that Shirvani's reforms do not deal with the problem of left-wing-only campuses. American universities are not yet as disliked as Soviet institutions in 1989—football teams still spark loyalty—but as more donors and legislators rebel against campus intellectual repression, higher education's support base will shrink even as costs rise beyond the ability of financially beleaguered parents to keep up.
My own choice in this situation has been to leave the socialist sector of higher education and attempt to make a competitive private college work. That's hard going in today's economy, and for those who still hope to work within government-funded institutions a new alternative has emerged. Rob Koons, the University of Texas professor removed last fall as head of a UT Western Civilization program (see "Losing a beachhead", Sept. 12), is proposing that Texas legislators back the creation of charter colleges, as they now support the creation of charter schools.
Charter colleges could offer specific majors or they could be "core curriculum charters" that would offer "at least eighteen semester hours in ethics and the classics of Western civilization and of American thought." Core curriculum charter colleges could offer great books seminars including courses on the Bible, ancient Greece and Rome, Renaissance and Reformation, and the American tradition: Students in that last course could study works including the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, Tocqueville's Democracy in America, Thoreau's Walden, and Booker T. Washington's Up from Slavery.
Charter colleges would receive per-student funding as charter K-12 schools now do. They could rent space in university buildings. Their liberty would be limited: They would have to be nonpartisan and nonsectarian in terms of control by religious institutions. They would have to offer a viable business plan, a governance structure satisfying the principles of professional responsibility and academic freedom, and a set of procedures and standards for hiring and retaining instructors. Whenever the government cat stalks the premises, intellectual mice cannot play as freely as they otherwise might.
Nevertheless, the development of a charter college system would end the hegemony of the bureaucratic, central-planning model of higher education that has grown up during the last 60 years. Competition would improve the quality of education at state universities by ending unchecked and innovation-stifling educational control by faculty majorities. Competition would push academic specialists to consider the interests and goals of students instead of offering fragmented and hyper-specialized courses that merely fulfill their own research objectives. We need campus glasnost: more intellectual diversity and free speech. We won't achieve it without a thorough perestroika that allows room for moderates and conservatives as well as liberals and radicals.
British primary schools bad for boys
Being taught by women indoctrinated into feminism must be very alienating
Boys are slipping further behind girls after just two years of schooling, official figures have revealed. They are behind girls in English, maths and science by the age of seven and the gender gap is widening, it emerged. The figures, from the Department for Children, Schools and Families, sparked renewed concerns about the prospects for a generation of boys.
Millions have been spent on initiatives aimed at reducing the educational gulf between the sexes but ministers insisted yesterday there were no quick solutions. Research has shown that youngsters who perform poorly at primary school are less likely to do well in their GCSEs and progress on to university. A report last month warned that the failure to teach the three Rs properly in primary schools drove 'angry and resentful boys out of school and into trouble'.
The report, published by the Centre for Policy Studies, claimed left-wing 'ideological fads' had wreaked most damage on working-class boys.
Yesterday's statistics reveal how the gender gap at seven is widest in writing, with 86.7 per cent of girls reaching 'level two' - the standard expected for their age - compared to 75.3 per cent of boys. This gives a gap of 11.4 per cent - an increase on 11 per cent in 2006. Girls also pulled further ahead in maths and science, while the gap in reading remained similar.
A lack of male teachers and growing exposure to computer games and TV have also been blamed for the under-performance of boys, who are also considered late starters.
Dr Richard House, senior lecturer in psychotherapy at Roehampton University, said: 'There is a grave danger that boys will simply become disaffected and 'turn off' from learning if they experience comparative failure at too young an age.'
Schools Minister Diana Johnson said there were no quick fixes. 'It takes time and energy from both parents and teachers to make changes,' she said. 'You need focused, long-term support to get sustained improvement over time.'
9 December, 2009
The Skeleton in Arne Duncan's Closet
Halloween season is an appropriate time to talk about rattling skeletons in the closet. US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan appears to have a noisy one dating from his years running the Chicago Public Schools. Her name is Carol J. Spizzirri.
A little background. Spizzirri is a convicted shoplifter. According to a sworn affidavit by her ex-husband, a court ordered psychological evaluation diagnosed her as a paranoid schizophrenic and pathological liar. Spizzirri claimed to be a registered nurse and a renal specialist. Her alma mater, now defunct, denied giving her an RN and reportedly she has never been a registered nurse in either Wisconsin or Illinois, as she had claimed. One of her daughters filed a protective order against her because of alleged abuse.
This same daughter died in a car crash in 1992 after which Spizzirri started the nonprofit Save-a-Life Foundation (SALF) whose charter was to teach first aid skills like CPR and the Heimlich maneuver to school children using EMTs and firemen as in-class trainers. According to Spizzirri, her daughter was the victim of a hit-and-run driver and bled to death because the ambulance took a half hour to reach the scene and no one at the scene knew how to stanch the flow of blood. Spizzirri claimed her mother's grief motivated her to start the foundation which attracted political and financial support, including about $9 million in IL state and federal dollars. Famed doctors Peter Safar (who developed CPR) and Henry J. Heimlich (known for the maneuver) served on SALF's medical advisory board.
But official records indicate that the daughter's alcohol level was twice the legal limit, that she flipped the car, and died a half hour after reaching a hospital. Confronted with these facts by Chicago TV investigative reporter Chuck Goudie in 2006, Spizzirri terminated the interview and stomped off the set. Over the next year, Goudie did another three reports raising more questions about SALF.
Those stories appear to have been the first time a Chicago reporter did any fact checking about the foundation. For instance, in an uncritical 2002 Sun-Times article, Spizzirri claimed that her foundation trained 400,000 Illinois school children in 2001 alone. Do the math. In a 180-day school year, that's 2,222 children per day.
During his years as CPS big dog, Arne Duncan was apparently close to Spizzirri. He was a featured speaker at a 2003 SALF conference and a 2006 press statement has him receiving a SALF "Sponsorship Award" from Spizzirri, his second such prize. Duncan is quoted saying, "Carol is one of my heroes. I really appreciate the partnership." Duncan even appeared as an animated pitchman on SALF's website, cheerily hyping kids on the program: "Hi, friend, I'm Arne Duncan ... Ask your school teacher today if the 'SALF-Town' heroes can visit you!"
Before she huffed out of the interview with Chuck Goudie, Spizzirri said SALF trained 67,000 Chicago Public School (CPS) children in first aid the year before and that the training was free to the children. In fact, records show that CPS paid the foundation a considerable amount.
After Goudie's reports, Spizzirri filed a defamation suit against three people who criticized SALF (including Dr. Heimlich's son), claiming the criticisms cost it 11 contracts, including CPS. But the lawsuit resulted in only more scrutiny. For example, in response to a subpoena from the defendants' lawyer for all their SALF records, CPS produced a grand total of 19 invoices from 2000-2007 totaling $12,855.
Three more invoices from 2004/2005 -- which CPS failed to provide to the defendants' attorney -- have since turned up via a public records request. The first 19 invoices produced by the subpoena appear to have gone through regular CPS payroll. But the three later invoices, totaling $49,000, were processed and signed off by CEO Arne Duncan's office. One includes this handwritten notation: "per AD per Ann Whalen 9-14-05." Whalen was Duncan's personal assistant. She now works for him in Washington.
The $49,000 was for "training elementary school students in life supporting first aid skills which will take place in approximately 15 schools with approximately 2,400 students." But the subpoena to CPS didn't produce any records showing the training ever happened.
What about all those CPS students allegedly trained by SALF? If you train 67,000 children in a single year and there are, let's say, 25 children per session, that's 2,680 sessions, 15 per day if evenly distributed across a 180-day school year. As any overworked administrator can testify, that's likely to produce a mountain of paper work -- work orders, reports, employment records, evaluations, etc. Twenty-two invoices over a seven year period do not a mountain make.
On July 9, a federal judge in Chicago granted SALF's request for voluntary dismissal and the lawsuit was dropped. A few months later, SALF filed dissolution papers with the Illinois Secretary of State's Office. But questions remain about the organization's 16-year history, their funding, and their relationships with powerful public officials -- including Arne Duncan.
Why did CPS pay SALF over $60,000 for a "free" program? What happened to the more than $1,000,000 SALF received from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for one year (there were other CDC contracts)? What about the millions SALF received from Illinois taxpayers? In the case of the Illinois State Board of Education, it's a guessing game. ISBE's complete records consist of a form showing a disbursement of $600,000 to SALF -- no application, no review, no evaluation, no nothin'.
According to an Oct. 11 Chicago Tribune article, "(Spizzirri) estimates 2 million children took the classes, many of them from the Chicago Public Schools ... City school officials did not respond to inquiries about how many students received emergency training"
Looks like this tale is so spooky that CPS won't even talk about it to a Trib reporter. But the public may feel entitled to know whether their money went for tricks or treats. For example, the $60,000+ CPS gave SALF was apparently spent on first aid training for hundreds of thousands of ghosts. I'd say it's time to knock on the door of someone who can get to the bottom of this money mystery. He lives in that big house down at the end of the street, the one marked, "Secretary of Education."
The New York Times On Hiring Discrimination ... Again
Leftist craziness again. They use affirmative action to devalue qualifications held by blacks then wonder why people respect black qualifications less!
Five days ago the New York Times published a front page article on the job hunt travails of black college graduates, an article I criticized here. Now, here they go again: today’s ‘Whitening’ the Résumé adds little or nothing to what was published last week.
Well, there was this: Michael Luo, the New York Times reporter, finds it “startling” that black job seekers, fearing discrimination, often attempt to disguise their race.That seemed startling somehow, maybe because of the popular perception that affirmative action still confers significant advantages to black job candidates, a perception that is not borne out in studies. Moreover, statistics show even college-educated blacks suffering disproportionately in this jobless environment compared with whites, as that [earlier] article reported.What studies? And is there evidence that the black applicants who are “suffering disproportionately” are in fact proportionately qualified?
On what may be a related point, last week the National Science Foundation published an initial report from its Survey of Earned Doctorates, and the demographic data there may well have some bearing on job prospects, and not just of those with doctorates. A breakdown of that demographic data can be found here.
30,791 doctorates in all fields were awarded to U.S. citizens or permanent residents in 2008, and 2030 of them went to blacks. But of those black doctorates, 758, or over 37%, were in education. 241, or a little under 12%, were in physical sciences or engineering. By contrast, 24% of all the doctorates earned by whites and Asians were in physical sciences or engineering.
If we assume that the demographic distribution of undergraduate majors is not significantly different from the distribution of doctorates, it is certainly possible that black college graduates have a “disproportionately” harder time finding jobs because they “disproportionately” earned degrees that carry less weight in the job market.
SOURCE See the original for links
Admit your limitations
The guy described below sounds like a typical Leftist to me. They don't argue. All they do is assert. That is what I almost universally find in messages and emails that I get from Leftists
Kevin Wilmeth's observation in yesterday's comments that a good teacher admits when he doesn't have an answer really struck a chord in me. It reminds me of when I lost respect for a state-employed teacher over a silly act of "saving face".
Our class was preparing for a zoology test on taxonomy, where we would look at examples of different animals and assign them to their proper order, class, and family.
Things were fine until I got to a tiny pickled flatfish in a jar. The teacher said it was a "ray". Now, that is a major discrepancy, since a flatfish is a bony fish (Osteichthyes) and a ray is a cartilaginous fish (Chondrichthyes); almost as different as two fish can be while still being fish. When I pointed it out to the teacher, he said I was wrong. I knew I wasn't. I got reference books and showed him the pictures clearly illustrating the differences. He got very angry and said "You're beating a dead horse. I don't care if you are right; for our purposes it is a ray." My respect for him plummeted as a result. He was not only unwilling to face the truth for himself, but he was also actively teaching false information to people who had been trained to accept whatever "authorities" told them.
How many of the students he deceived went on with life, never questioning whether what they were told was the truth? How many became good little cogs in the machinery of the state due to lies even more egregious than this? On the other hand, how much did this event help cement my own suspicion that "authorities" were at least as likely to be wrong as anyone, and less likely to admit it when they were?
8 December, 2009
Voucher schools undergo natural selection
Which is exactly what is supposed to happen
Michelle Lukacs grew up in Mequon and worked as a teacher in Milwaukee. Then she was a teacher and guidance counselor in Jefferson. She got a school principal's license through a program at Edgewood College in Madison.
She moved back to Milwaukee and decided to open a school as part of the publicly funded private school voucher program. She called it Atlas Preparatory Academy because she liked the image of Atlas holding the whole world up and because it was the name of a refrigeration company her husband owns.
On the first day of classes in September 2001, Atlas had 23 students in leased space in an old school building at 2911 S. 32nd St.
This September, Atlas had 814 students, a growth of 3,439% over eight years. It now uses three buildings on the south side and has grown, grade by grade, to be a full kindergarten through 12th-grade program.
Atlas' growth is explosive, even within the continually growing, nationally significant voucher program. Voucher enrollment over the same period has roughly doubled from 10,882 in September 2001 to 21,062 this fall.
The Atlas story underscores an interesting trend: The number of voucher schools in recent years has leveled off, and this year, fell significantly. But the total number of students using vouchers to attend private schools in the city has gone up, and a few schools have become particular powerhouses, at least when it comes to enrollment.
This year, there are four voucher schools with more than 750 students, which puts them among the largest schools in Milwaukee. St. Anthony School, in three buildings on the near south side, added a ninth grade this year and reported 1,277 voucher students. Messmer High School and Messmer Preparatory on the north side had 979 voucher students. And Greater Holy Temple Christian Academy on the northwest side had 751 (it had 78 six years ago).
There are 111 schools receiving up to $6,442 per student from the state this year as part of the voucher program. That is down from 127 a year ago (and the payments are down from $6,607). Only two new schools, with 21 voucher students between them, joined the program this year, as a result of creation of a new board that played a stern role as gatekeeper to allowing start-up schools to get voucher money.
And 18 schools that were on the voucher roster a year ago were not there. It's hard to get sentimental looking at the list. Most were small or weak. Some could not meet the tightened requirements of state law, including rules being applied full force now that voucher schools get accredited by independent organizations.
What's going on in the voucher movement may well be a case of addition by subtraction - a lot of the schools from several years ago that were weak, poorly run or just plain bad have disappeared. Tightened laws, tightened regulations and more public scrutiny have clearly had positive effects.
Frankly, there are still a few schools on the list that can leave you wondering. But overall, based on visits to many schools over the years and close attention to trends, I can see more positives now, and some of the schools are or are moving toward becoming significant educational assets to the city.
Safe schools chief touts child porn for classrooms
A new report is raising alarms that the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, a homosexual advocacy organization founded by Kevin Jennings, now head of the U.S. Office of Safe Schools for the Obama administration, is recommending XXX-rated sex writings for children as young as preschoolers.
"We were unprepared for what we encountered. Book after book after book contained stories and anecdotes that weren't merely X-rated and pornographic, but which featured explicit descriptions of sex acts between preschoolers; stories that seemed to promote and recommend child-adult sexual relationships; stories of public masturbation, anal sex in restrooms, affairs between students and teachers, five-year-olds playing sex games, semen flying through the air," said the report.
"One memoir even praised becoming a prostitute as a way to increase one's self-esteem. Above all, the books seemed to have less to do with promoting tolerance than with an unabashed attempt to indoctrinate students into a hyper-sexualized worldview," it advised.
The report was posted online by Jim Hoft at the Gatetway Pundit blog after it was obtained from Breitbart.tv co-founder Scott Baker, who said the recommended children's reading assignments need attention.
The team whose members assembled the report said a handful of books from the more than 100 titles on GLSEN's recommended reading list for school children were picked randomly. Writings were reviewed with titles such as "Queer 13," "Being Different," "The Full Spectrum," "Revolutionary Voices," "Reflections of a Rock Lobster," "Passages of Pride," "Growing Up Gay/Growing Up Lesbian," "The Order of the Poison Oak," "In Your Face," "Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son" and "Love & Sex: Ten Stories of Truth."
"What we discovered shocked us. We were flabbergasted. Rendered speechless," the report said. "Read the passages … and judge for yourself … The language is explicit, the intent is clear," the report said.
WND has reported previously on Jennings' background and agenda, including when it was revealed a publisher of "gay erotica" sought him out to write a book aimed at encouraging homosexuality in high schools and colleges. The result was "Becoming Visible," which opens with, "Why teach gay and lesbian history? … Indeed, as lesbian and gay studies has emerged as a discipline over the last two decades, its dramatic discoveries have shown it to be one of the most exciting fields in contemporary historical scholarship." Researchers at Mass Resistance reported Sasha Alyson of Alyson Publications sought out Jennings to do the book.
In Jennings' acknowledgments for the book, he writes, "Writing this part of the book has caused me more anxiety than any other. It simply is not possible to express my gratitude to the many people who have helped make this book possible. ... With apologies to anyone omitted, here we go! The obvious place to begin is with Alyson Publications. First, Sasha Alyson had the vision to conceive of this project, and I had the good luck to be the person he sought out to complete it. I am deeply appreciative of being afforded this opportunity."
WND also has reported concerns by Mission America over subject material in books recommended by GLSEN for school children. The group's Linda Harvey warned, "GLSEN believes the early sexualization of children can be beneficial. This means that virtually any sexual activity as well as exposure to graphic sexual images and material, is not just permissible but good for children, as part of the process of discovering their sexuality." Her report cited one passage from a book recommended for students in grades 7-12: "I released his arms. They glided around my neck, pulling my head down to his. I stretched full length on top of him, our heads touching. Our heavy breathing from the struggle gradually subsided. I felt …"
What follows in "Growing Up Gay/Growing Up Lesbian" by Malcolm Boyd is a "graphic description" of a homosexual encounter.
British teachers trying to shoot the messenger
Head teachers are threatening to block the publication of primary school league tables next year after branding them “demoralising”. The National Association of Head Teachers said it was “determined” that 2009's rankings would the last of their kind. The union, which represents the majority of primary school leaders, warned that members would boycott Sats tests in 2010 unless they were scrapped – making them effectively impossible to proceed. The proposed action is being backed by the National Union of Teachers. It comes despite the announcement of an overhaul of league tables by Labour.
Mick Brookes, general secretary, said: “NAHT is determined that this is the last time that this system will be used to unfairly compare schools in vastly different contexts. "League tables of pupil performance are misleading to parents. They are also demoralising for schools and school leaders, particularly those working tirelessly in tough communities, and they add nothing to the impetus for school improvement."
Unions claim Sats narrow the curriculum and promote a culture of "teaching to the test" as school attempt to climb league tables. Some schools cut subjects such as history, art and PE in the final year of primary school to drill pupils to pass, it is claimed. Under the proposed industrial action, teachers would refuse to administer, invigilate and mark Sats in English and maths next year. It would affect most exams taken by almost 600,000 pupils in England in May.
Last week, Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, signalled a softening of his opposition to the scrapping of Sats. He said teacher assessments - when staff analyse pupils' work over the course of the final year without a formal test - would would be included alongside raw Sats results in league tables from 2010. He suggested the alternative system could eventually replace tests altogether. But unions have refused to call off the proposed boycott.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "Every year teachers ask themselves why their schools have to go through this charade. There is only one answer to the annual, traditional hunt for ‘the worst school in the country’. Governments now and in the future have to drop their deeply engrained habit of naming and shaming schools as their principle method of school improvement."
Diana Johnson, the Schools Minister, said: "Figures demonstrate exactly why it’s important that we have a strong school accountability system, based on externally validated results. "Tests in English and maths play a key role in giving parents the information they need on their child's level of attainment and progress after seven years of publically funded education.”
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, which opposes the industrial action, said: "I have no doubt that the results will once again show the steady and sustained year-on-year improvement schools consistently produce. "However, the tables will no doubt once again provoke the mind-numbing debate on Sats which will serve only to undermine the hard work and achievement of pupils and teachers."
Sats tests in science were scrapped earlier this year following a recommendation from the Government's expert group on testing.
7 December, 2009
Peaceful Islam Strikes Again: Muslim Grad Student Stabs Jewish Professor to Death
Of course, the mainstream news won't touch this one, either, but if it were a Jew killing a Muslim professor, they would. Or if it were a white guy killing a black professor, the world would learn all about it. Should we be upset with this Muslim? After all, he only did what his Holy Qu'ran instructs all Muslims to do!Suspect identified in fatal stabbing of Binghamton University professor:
Abdulsalam Al-Zahrani has been charged with second-degree murder in the stabbing death of Binghamton University Professor Richard T. Antoun.
Al-Zahrani was taken to the Broome County Jail at 1:30 a.m. Saturday, said Broome County Sheriff’s Sgt. Paul Carlson. He arraigned in Vestal Town Court Saturday morning. No bail was set. Al-Zahrani, of Main Street, Binghamton, was charged by Binghamton University Police.
Al-Zahrani was a cultural anthropology student working on his dissertation, according to the university Web site.
Judge: Parents bigots for opposing 'gay' lessons
Families grilled about religious beliefs, church sermons against homosexuality
A judge has attacked parents, suggesting they are bigots for seeking to opt-out their elementary-age children from a mandatory controversial pro-homosexual curriculum, according to a non-profit law firm. The parents were represented in California's Alameda Superior Court by Pacific Justice Institute. On Dec. 1, Judge Frank Roesch denied a motion to allow them to have their children excused from the lessons.
According to the group, Roesch blasted the parents for seeking enforcement of a provision of the California Education Code that gives parents a right to opt their kids out of health education. Education Code Section 51240 allows a parent to have a student excused from instruction, "If any part of a school's instruction in health conflicts with the religious training and beliefs of a parent or guardian of a pupil."
However, Pacific Justice Institute said Roesch repeatedly insinuated that the parents are bigots and insisted there can be no homosexual indoctrination because, he purportedly argued, people are born that way. In his opinion Roesch said the opt-out provision in section 51240 "is not reasonably construed to include instruction in family life education, but was intended to be more limited in scope."
Pacific Justice Institute reported, "The judge equated a view contrary to his own with creationism and called both false."
WND earlier reported when the district was accused of violating federal law for approving the mandatory homosexual curriculum for children as young as 5 – without allowing parents to opt out of the lessons.
The legal fight over Alameda's anti-bullying curriculum has intensified after the Alameda Board of Education voted to supplement its anti-bullying policy with "LGBT Lesson #9." The board approved the mandatory program May 26 by a vote of 3-2. Students from kindergarten through fifth grade are required to learn about "tolerance" for the homosexual lifestyle this year.
The curriculum is in addition to the school's current anti-bullying program and is estimated to cost $8,000 for curriculum and training. The school decided parents should not be given an opportunity to opt out of lessons that go against their religious beliefs, even though opponents of the program submitted a petition with 468 signatures of opponents of the homosexual lessons.
In kindergarten, children are introduced to "The New Girl … And Me" by Jacqui Robins. The book is about a young girl who is new at a school and strikes up a friendship with another girl after a popular boy refuses to play with her. In first grade, students read "Who is in a Family?" By Robert Skutch. It explores different types of families. One page states, " … Robin's family is made up of her dad, Clifford, her dad's partner, Henry, and Robin's cat, Sassy."
In a May 3, 2005, National Public Radio interview, Skutch said he wrote the book because his niece and her lesbian partner "decided to have a family." He explained, "The whole purpose of the book was to get the subject [of same-sex parents] out into the minds and the awareness of children before they are old enough to have been convinced that there's another way of looking at life. … It would be really nice if children were not subjected to the – I don't want to use the word 'bigotry,' but that's what I want to say anyway – of their parents and older people."
Second grade students read about two homosexual penguins that raise a young chick in the book "And Tango Makes Three" by J. Richardson and P. Parnell. 3rd grade students will watch 'That's a Family' film. The two male penguins, Roy and Silo, are described as being "a little bit different." "They didn't spend much time with the girl penguins, and the girl penguins didn't spend much time with them," the text states. When the male penguins nurture an egg, it soon hatches. "We'll call her Tango," it states, "because it takes two to make a Tango." The book declares, "Tango was the very first penguin in the zoo to have two daddies."
In the third grade, students watch a film called "That's a Family," featuring some homosexual couples in addition to traditional families. According to the lesson plan, it aims to "assist students in developing sensitivity to gay and lesbian family structures" and teach "respect and tolerance for every type of family."
Fourth graders are required to read an essay titled, "My School is Accepting – but Things Could be Better" by Robert, an 11-year-old who has two lesbian mothers. They are introduced to terms such as "ally," "gay," "lesbian" and "LGBT." Teachers are instructed to ask, "How do you think Robert feels when he hears people say things like, 'this is gay' or 'You're so gay'?"
By fifth grade, students learn to "identify stereotypes about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people." They are told that "LGBT people have made important contributions within the United States and beyond."
Teachers are asked to write the acronym LGBT and ask students the meaning of each letter. Students discuss why stereotypes are "incorrect and hurtful" to LGBT people and people with LGBT family members. The curriculum also provides a list of LGBT vocabulary words for students, including the following: bisexual, transgender, gay, LGBT and lesbian.
According to Pacific Justice Institute, attorneys for the school district have grilled parents in depositions about their religious beliefs, asking numerous questions about church attendance, sermons they had heard against homosexuality and whether they were aware that the Bible had been used to defend racism and oppression. "We believe that this ruling against parents is inconsistent with the Education Code, and we are looking forward to continuing this battle until opt-out rights are restored on appeal, or the curriculum is changed," Pacific Justice Institute Chief Counsel Kevin Snider said in a statement.
While the parents say they do not oppose the anti-bullying efforts, they object to the current elementary curriculum that focuses almost exclusively on homosexuality.
Pacific Justice Institute argues that school records released by Alameda Unified School District show bullying based on race and gender is far more prevalent the district than sexual orientation harassment. "Most parents do not want their first through fifth graders bombarded with pro-homosexual messages at school," Pacific Justice Institute President Brad Dacus said. "If LGBT advocates really want to stop name-calling and bullying, they should start with themselves."
"There's no such thing as right and wrong" bears fruit in Australian schools
Huge rise in assault, drugs at schools as students are taught that everything is relative
NEW South Wales principals have reported more than 500 cases of serious assaults, threats and drug use in public schools this year. More than 109 students were caught bringing firearms, knives and other weapons to school in the first two terms of this year - up 300 per cent compared to the same period five years ago. The 526 cases of serious offences were logged by the Education Department's school safety and response unit hotline, a 24-hour line offering support and advice for principals. The number of students reported with illegal drugs has risen sharply - from nine in 2005 to 60 this year. South Western Sydney and the NSW north coast were the worst offending regions and accounted for 38 per cent of all drug busts.
NSW Parents and Citizens' Federation spokeswoman Helen Walton said there were anecdotal reports of students bringing heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and the drug ice to school. "I think people are silly if they're blind to the fact that it does exist," she said. "It really does happen. It's not just a one-off as some people seem to think. Anybody who turns a blind eye and says it won't happen in our school is just leaving themselves open to be very disappointed."
Ms Walton said the department needed to conduct an on-going review of their programs to address the issue of drug use in schools. "The department needs to make sure the programs are aimed at preventing this violence. Let's make it on-going and let's make it based on the needs over a period of time."
The figures, released quietly on the department's website last month, reveal assaults on students and teachers continue to be a major issue. Schools in south-western and western Sydney recorded the highest number of assaults and threats. In an incident earlier this year, an argument between two teenage boys over a female that began on the Internet spilled over at school when one held a knife to the other's throat. In another case, a mother allegedly paid a student to harm a Year Three boy who had been bullying her son. She also made threats towards the principal of the school.
The statistics don't include the death in August of 15-year-old Jai Morcom at Mullumbimby High School during a brawl over the right to sit at a playground lunch table.
Despite more than four in five schools not recording any serious incidents, 52 filed at least three cases of criminal behaviour. NSW Public School Principals Forum chair Cheryl McBride denied there has been a significant spike in school violence. She said only an "incredibly small percentage" of students were at fault, considering more than 735,000 students attended public schools. "Does this 109 number signal a great concern for us as school principals? No, because it's such an infinitesimal part of the population," Ms McBride said.
6 December, 2009
Texas education head warns of 'federal takeover'
Embrace of 'common standards' by Obama administration is first step to losing local control, Scott says
Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott said Wednesday that the Obama administration is marching toward a federal takeover of the nation's public schools — and Texas should fight it. The first step, he said, is an effort to develop common math and English curriculum standards that is being led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
Participation in the ongoing common standards effort is part of the criteria for a $4 billion federal grant program called Race to the Top. Texas and Alaska are the only states not participating in the common standards effort. Scott said Texas is already ahead of the other states in developing tough standards.
The U.S. Education Department appears to be "placing its desire for a federal takeover of public education above the interests of the 4.7 million schoolchildren in the state of Texas by setting two different starting lines — one for nearly every other state in the country and one for Texas," Scott wrote last week in a letter to the state's congressional delegation. "Because Texas has chosen to preserve its sovereign authority to determine what is appropriate for Texas children to learn in its public schools," said Scott, "the state is now placed at a serious disadvantage in competing for its share of (the grant money)." That is coercion, Scott said in an interview Wednesday, adding that he could see future federal education dollars being tied to participation in the common standards.
Coercion, no; bribery, yes, said Michael Petrilli, vice president for national programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank in Washington. "They are bribing states to participate. That is very different than mandating," said Petrilli, a former education official under President George W. Bush. He said there has been no discussion of requiring states to participate to get future federal dollars. "I can't foresee that happening. I don't think anybody would support making this mandatory," Petrilli said.
But the Race to the Top is a discretionary, competitive grant program, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan has made the common standards a key — though not defining — part of it. "This is not money that is earmarked for Texas," Petrilli said.
Texas still has a chance to win as much as $700 million because the state has a pretty good school reform story to tell and is otherwise well aligned with the federal government's goals in this grant program, Petrilli said.
Scott's letter to the delegation was sent a day after Gov. Rick Perry issued a news release decrying the inclusion of the common standards criteria in the grant competition. Perry is embroiled in a Republican primary battle with U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and has cast her as a Washington insider.
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, said Texas' refusal to work with the other states on the common standards initiative does a disservice to the state's students. "Other states want to race to the top, but Gov. Perry remains determined to pursue an ideologically driven race to the bottom," Doggett said.
One in five Scots unable to read and write
This would once have been unimaginable in education-mad Scotland
Almost one million Scots are unable to read and write properly, according to an influential group of educationalists who have called for an overhaul of the country’s approach to literacy.
According to the Literacy Commission — which also includes business leaders and the novelist Ian Rankin — about a fifth of adults do not have the literacy skills they need for their daily lives. The group has also warned that about 13,000 pupils leave primary school every year without reaching even basic levels.
The commission has set out a plan to improve standards and achieve the aim of making Scotland the first fully literate country. It believes deprivation is the biggest barrier to this and wants help to begin before children start school.
Under its proposals, primary school pupils will learn to read by the synthetic phonics method, which involves learning the sounds that make up words, rather than recognising individual words. Teachers will be trained to identify slow learners, who can then be put through diagnostic testing and given one-to-one support.
The business of education reform in Britain
Reform’s latest report, Core Business, does an excellent job of pinpointing some of the main problems with education in the UK, but, to my mind, does not go quite far enough on the solutions.
As the report makes clear, low expectations, a lack of intellectual rigor and grade inflation are serious problems in our schools, while the fact that the most disadvantaged children are pushed to follow non-academic qualifications to boost school league table results is nothing less than a disgrace. A powerful and convincing case is also made that government policies of emphasizing differences in educational potential of children is in fact a symptom of the failure of state education.
On the policy side, there are two recommendations. Firstly, it is suggested that, “all students should be required to study a minimum of five academic GCSEs”, while vocational qualifications would be done in addition to, not instead of GCSEs. Yet on its own, this change would offer little for the thousands of children let down by state education. The problem isn’t vocational qualifications per se – just consider the Indian examples of NIIT and GNIIT – but rather the fact that the state holds a debilitating monopoly on education funding and delivery. It might well make the skewed league tables more accurate to ignore vocational qualifications, but as competition between schools is nonexistent, this will not return power to parents in any genuine sense. What we need is for parents to become consumers of education – something which Reform, to their credit, have pointed out in numerous other reports.
Secondly, the report recommends ending Ofqual’s and the QCDA’s control of the curriculum. This makes sense, but replacing them with another Quango run by academics is a Band-Aid solution to a much wider problem. It may prevent grade inflation, but will do little for improving the quality of teaching. Once again, I feel the focus should be on more competition, not just ‘better regulation’.
If the Conservative Party does come to power, they will have a mandate for radical reform of the education system. The failure of state education as things stand is beyond doubt. With a voucher system that allows schools to profit, competing curriculums to better meet the demands of parents and a bonfire of the multifarious regulations, Michael Gove MP could succeed where so many before him have failed. A proper market place with competing brands of schools, teaching methods, exam boards and curriculums is the only way to extract ourselves from the hole we have been digging since 1870.
5 December, 2009
NY College Lowered Standards to rip off blacks
In an effort to boost tuition revenues, a State University of New York campus lowered admissions and retention standards to admit unqualified – predominately black – applicants who had little chance of graduating, according to a lawsuit filed by a former dean. Thomas J. Hickey, who filed the suit, says his removal as dean in July was retaliation for questioning financially-motivated academic policies that doomed students to failure at the SUNY College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill. The suit alleges these policies were instituted by Anne Myers, the provost, and later supported by Donald Zingale, who was named president in 2008.
The campus has historically required students to undergo an academic review if their grade point averages fall below 2.0 during their freshmen year, but Hickey says Myers lowered that standard in an overt effort to keep bringing in money from students she knew could not succeed with the minimal remediation offerings provided on campus. According to the suit, Myers sent a Dec. 2, 2008 e-mail stating that “in light of the budget, we will use a 1.0 [Grade Point Average] cut off for first semester freshmen for Academic Review.”
Myers declined to comment, and SUNY officials would not answer specific questions about the allegations. David Henahan, a SUNY spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement that “the assertions are baseless and we are confident the court will agree."
In addition to lowering standards for continuing students, the campus has employed a system since at least 1999 that is designed to admit students with insufficient credentials to perform college-level work, according to the suit. The suit cites a Myers-authored memorandum from that year that outlines the policy, although Hickey’s attorney would not provide the document to Inside Higher Ed, saying it would be inappropriate to publicly release evidence not yet provided to the court.
Hickey became dean in 2006, but it wasn’t until 2008 that he began to learn of the problems, according to Phillip G. Steck, his lawyer. “I think the faculty were very disturbed that students who are not successful in the college are being kept there, and that’s what brought the issue to Dr. Hickey’s attention,” Steck said Tuesday.
As of 2008, the three-year graduation rate for associate degree-seeking students at Cobleskill was 26 percent, and an additional 8 percent remained enrolled after three years, according to the New York State Education Department. The three-year graduation rate has declined every year since 2002, falling 11.5 percentage points over that period.
The admissions practices at the college were common knowledge among faculty, and Hickey was not the only one who expressed concern, according to Steck. In another e-mail quoted in the suit, Thomas Cronin, a physics professor, responded to Myers’s December 2008 e-mail by labeling the practices “corrupt” and even possibly “criminal."
“The list of academically and morally corrupt practices that ensue from our inability to adhere to our own standards is rather long,” he wrote. “One of our worst offenses is that we admit, and re-admit students absolutely unqualified and absolutely incapable of achieving a college degree. Many go into debt or cause their families to go into debt into [sic] order to attempt a college degree. This is an absolutely corrupt practice and it may be criminal. If we have done this to even one student, then we are guilty of a low form of corruption."
Cronin could not be reached for comment.
When Hickey confronted Myers about admissions policies that he believed had a disproportionately negative impact on black students, the provost told him “I do not care about these people,” according to the suit. Hickey and Myers are both white. The suit says Hickey repeated his concerns in an October 2008 memo, but Steck declined to provide it since it has not been submitted in court filings. Inside Higher Ed has submitted a public records request for a number of the documents referenced in the suit.
One of the most striking claims of the complaint is that “students’ academic records were falsified in order to facilitate the admission of certain African-American students to the college.” The suit provides no specific evidence to support the claim, citing “information and belief.” “Everything that is in the complaint we have some factual reason to believe is true, but obviously the admissions records are not in my office,” Steck said.
Hickey’s dismissal as dean followed an April 2009 review of his performance, but the suit suggests the review itself was an act of retaliation predestined to end in his removal. Hickey has returned to the faculty, but the complaint alleges that Myers – with the full knowledge of the president – has sought to limit his future career options. “In March, 2009, defendant Myers made false statements about Dr. Hickey that resulted in his not receiving the position of provost at SUNY Delhi even though he was the only person recommended for the position by the university’s duly constituted 16-member selection committee,” the suit states.
Actually, Hickey was not the committee’s lone recommendation, according to the chair of the search. “The president’s request was that we give her unranked three finalists after all the whole extensive search process,” said Dominic Morales, the search chair and dean of applied sciences and recreation. “Tom Hickey was one of those finalists, and that’s all I could say.”
Candace S. Vancko, the college’s president, stated that she would “call various people” to discuss the finalists, but Morales said he was unsure whether Myers was among them, much less whether she said anything negative about Hickey. “I wouldn’t touch that with a ten foot pole,” Morales said. “I have no idea.”
Public confidence in British degrees is at risk, vice-chancellors claim
Public confidence in the quality of degrees is under threat because of concerns about varying standards at universities, vice-chancellors have admitted. MPs had accused universities of “defensive complacency” and questioned whether a first-class degree from a leading institution compared with one from a former polytechnic. The number of firsts awarded has doubled in the past decade. Lord Mandelson’s office told universities recently that they must publish more information about courses, so that school-leavers can make better judgments before starting their degree.
Universities could lose public funding if they refused or gave incorrect data, higher education bodies said. A consultation has been started by the two associations that represent vice-chancellors and the Higher Education Funding Council (Hefce) into how university standards should be better regulated. It said: “Recent concerns have been raised over whether quality and standards are being maintained in the face of a mass higher education system. The issues discussed by various groups that have looked at the evidence for these concerns include contact time and study hours, plagiarism, admissions, assessment practices and external examining. “There are undoubtedly some areas that need to change, and there is a risk that public confidence in the quality of higher education could be damaged if no action is taken.”
The consultation document was written for the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), which will decide how universities will be regulated after next year. The report said that the current system had many strengths, but needed to be revised so that any concerns could be dealt with quickly and robustly. In particular it should address concerns that “standards between institutions are not comparable, or consistently applied”, it said. “There have been a number of concerns about comparability of academic standards; that is, how we ensure that degrees or diplomas at one university are not too easy, compared with awards at another university or college.”
The system of external examiners, where academics from other universities are invited to look at students’ work to check that it meets the correct standard, could also be improved, it said. The report said that other perceived problems included the use of overly technical language and jargon, and the notion that higher education was too insular in its approach to quality assurance.
The document, written by Hefce, Universities UK and Guild HE, said that there should be external scrutiny by audits of universities. The QAA will use these to judge whether universities are giving accurate and complete information on the quality of teaching and courses. Students will take a central role, acting as auditors and giving feedback. The report recommended that all audit teams contained students as equal members.
There could also be more protection for whistleblowers among university staff, who speak out about questionable practices or unfair grading. MPs on the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Select Committee criticised Manchester Metropolitan University this year for the way that it treated a lecturer, who suggested that exams were being dumbed down and that academics had been told to inflate grades. Walter Cairns, a law lecturer, claimed that he was removed from the academic board because of his complaints.
Bureaucratic waste in Britain
Britain's smallest primary school has just five pupils (and NINE teachers)
Many parents face a postcode lottery to secure their child a place in a primary school near their home. But the residents of the Derbyshire village of Hollinsclough have the opposite problem - only five children attend the local school and they are outnumbered by teachers. Nine members of staff work at Hollinsclough Primary School, thought to be the smallest in Britain.
Only two years ago 50 pupils filled the corridors, but that number has dwindled to just four boys and one girl following a substantial drop in families settling in the village. Headteacher Janette Mountford-Lees believes the children benefit from the one-to-one tuition. She said: 'We've got five pupils using the space of 50. 'When people walk in they think the school is filled with children because there is so much work on the walls, but it is all done by these five. 'The children do all the normal things, just not in the normal way.
'Some parents don't want their children coming here because they worry about their social skills, but our kids are very confident. They can't hide themselves behind a big class.'
With the head, two general teachers and specialist music, art and IT teachers, the staff provide near-private tuition. There are also three teaching assistants.
There is no football team and the pupils have to share PE with nearby Flash Primary. But they have weekly assemblies and are in the school from 9am to 3pm each weekday. The children - aged from five to ten - are taught together in a group but also have one-to-one sessions. Ms Mountford-Lees said: 'If they are enjoying something we spend a lot of time on it, but if they aren't bothered we just go on to something else. 'We get to go on lots of school trips because we can just jump in the car. 'When we went to Chelford market we bought our own food and worked out the prices together. People were amazed when they found out it was the whole school.'
The eldest pupil is 10-year-old Jorge Barna followed by Steven Bellfield, nine. Sam Scott, five, is the only pupil in the reception class. The other two pupils are a brother and sister - Sammy Wilston, nine, the only girl, and her brother Joe, six. Their mother Wendy Wilston, 38, is also a governor. She said: 'My kids love it here, I couldn't ask for anything better.'
4 December, 2009
Feminists want even fewer males on campus
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights announced in November that it will investigate whether colleges illegally discriminate against women by admitting less qualified men. This is only the latest in a decades-long campaign by the feminist lobby to sell the false propaganda that girls are cheated all through the education system, K through 12.
Colleges used to have a male-female ratio of about 60-40, and suddenly, we've discovered that it's close to 40-60. Colleges don't like this change; men don't like it; women don't like it; but the feminists are bragging about it and plan to use their clout in the government bureaucracy and in the Democratic Party to maintain it.
One of the causes for this dramatic shift is that colleges perceive applications by women to be better than those by men. Another cause seems to be that men don't seem to be as eager to get a college education as women. We see the results in the granting of degrees. Women receive 58 percent of bachelor's degrees in four-year colleges and 62 percent in community colleges, and graduate degrees are headed in the same direction.
Those who worry about the continuation of American exceptionalism are concerned because, if they have the courage to face reality, they know that women and men follow different paths both in and after college. Many more men than women drop out before graduation, and women receive only about a fifth of bachelor's degrees in engineering, physics or computer science.
After college, men and women make different choices, too. Women don't take the risks necessary for business start-ups or for business ownership, or choose the social isolation of technical laboratories, in anywhere near the proportion of men.
But why is it that women knock at the college admissions office with higher high-school grade-point averages, better essays and even a bigger variety of extracurricular activities than men? Fewer boys manifest significant interest in academic achievement or aspirations to walk through the doors that a college degree can open. Even the Wall Street Journal calls this the "boy mystery" that "nobody has solved." We should respond with the famous line attributed to Sherlock Holmes: It's "elementary, my dear Watson."
We can even claim a double entendre for the word elementary. The reason is obvious, and the causes originated in elementary school. The ultra-feminist American Association of University Women (AAUW) issued a report in 1992 called "How Schools Shortchange Girls." It claimed "findings" that teachers focused their attention on boys, neglected girls and discouraged girls from taking important math and science courses.
The AAUW report was a lie that started real discrimination against boys and young men plus government spending to address a nonexistent problem. The AAUW report was fully debunked by researcher Christina Hoff Sommers, who proved that feminist claims that girls are shortchanged in school are "riddled with errors" and not "published in peer-reviewed professional journals."
Elementary schools are not only ruled by females -- they are dominated by feminists who make school unpleasant for boys from the get-go. Fewer than 10 percent of elementary school teachers are men, giving boys the distinct impression that school is not for them. Elementary school teachers used to understand that boys will be boys, but teachers now look upon boys as just unruly girls. Feminists manifest hostility to males and to masculine traits such as competitiveness and aggressiveness, and instead reward typical female behaviors such as non-assertiveness and group cooperation.
Schools cannot make gender go away by pretending that boys do not have an innate masculinity, or by trying to suppress it with ridiculous zero-tolerance punishments, banning sports such as dodge ball and tag, and allowing only playground games without winners.
Five- and 6-year-old boys are not as able or willing as little girls to sit quietly at a desk and do neat work with pencil and paper. Even worse is the appalling fact that first-grade kids are not taught how to read phonetically, and the assigned stories are mostly about topics of interest to girls, not boys.
It's no wonder that boys are more likely to have academic or behavior problems, repeat a grade, get suspended, be enrolled in special education programs or become involved in drugs, alcohol or crime. Little boys make the calculation that school (and college) is not an environment where they want to remain.
The solution to the college 40-60 male-female problem is certainly not to let the feminist bureaucrats force colleges to admit an even higher percentage of women. One solution is for colleges to be told (by regulation or statute) that a 50-50 male-female ratio is not, by definition, "sex discrimination."
Extra billions fail to raise British school standards
Billions of pounds channelled into schools under Labour have failed to produce a corresponding improvement in standards, the Government’s statistics agency said yesterday.
Although spending has increased by more than £30 billion a year, value for money from schools has fallen steadily and is no better than in the final years under the Conservatives, it said.
The findings by the Office for National Statistics will embarrass ministers and infuriate teachers. The Conservatives said that higher budgets had not been matched with lasting reforms and had been wasted on Whitehall bureaucracy.
Statisticians said that the cost of hiring large numbers of support staff to ease teachers’ workloads, combined with falling pupil numbers, in effect cancelled out the benefits of improved exam results. As a result, productivity in the education sector had been on a downward trend for eight years and last year fell to zero.
Implicit in the report is that increased spending should have led to a sustained rise in productivity and that standards in schools ought to have increased by a significantly bigger margin than they have. The authors measured productivity by comparing the cost of the education system over 12 years with the quality of its output, based on exam results plus attendance rates.
Spending on education rose, at current prices, from £29 billion in 1996 to £63.9 billion last year — an annual rate of increase of 6.8 per cent. Although the number of teachers rose from 399,200 to 432,800, the biggest change was in support staff: numbers of teaching assistants increased from 60,600 to 181,600, and other administrative staff from 72,900 to 157,300.
The figures also reflected increased spending on goods and services, such as teaching materials, electricity and capital services, based on the rental value of buildings. Overall total “input”, in terms of more staff, goods, services and capital spending, rose by 33.3 per cent over the period, an average of 2.4 per cent a year.
The Office for National Statistics admitted that no single measure could accurately rate schools’ productivity, and its focus on GCSE results did not reflect extra support for children with special needs, broader improvements in children’s wellbeing or early years education.
Nick Gibb, the Conservative schools spokesman, said: “Huge sums of money have been spent on fortnightly initiatives and bureaucracy, which are burying teachers under a mountain of paperwork and which rarely lead to improvements in education.”
British primary schools 'failing' in English and science
The number of pupils leaving primary school with high test scores in English and science has declined for the second successive year.
Primary school league tables out yesterday showed that the proportion of children achieving a Level 5 score in English dipped to 29 per cent last year, down from 30 per cent the previous year and 34 per cent two years ago.
In science, 43 per cent achieved a Level 5, down from 44 per cent a year earlier and 46 per cent in 2007.
Only in mathematics did the results of more able children improve, 35 per cent scoring at Level 5, compared with last year’s figure of 31 per cent. Two years ago the number was 32 per cent.
The lower proportion of pupils doing well in national curriculum tests will raise concerns that schools are failing to stretch more able children at 11.
Almost three in ten children — 28 per cent — left England’s primary schools without the basic levels of English and maths, one percentage point more than last year. The Government’s target is that within two years 78 per cent of pupils will achieve a basic Level 4 pass in both subjects. Results at Level 4 for English were also down, by one percentage point, at 80 per cent, the first drop since 1995.
As in the past, boys lagged behind girls in English. This was especially marked in writing, 75 per cent of girls achieving a Level 4 pass but only 61 per cent of boys. In reading, girls were ahead by 89 to 82 per cent. Girls were also ahead in science and maths.
A total of 1,472 schools failed to meet the Government’s basic target that 55 per cent of pupils should achieve Level 4 passes in both English and maths, up from 1,359 last year.
Diana Johnson, a junior Schools Minister, admitted to “concern” about the fall in results for English but said that extra funds for one-to-one tuition for those behind in their maths and reading would lead to improvements. Nick Gibb, the Shadow Schools Minister, said: “There remains a huge problem with literacy in primary schools, one in ten 11-year-old boys not even getting a grade in this vital subject.”
3 December, 2009
British students "should study more academic subjects”
All students should study at least five academic subjects up to the age of 16, claims a report. The findings, published by influential think tank Reform, warns that England is "unique" among developed nations in the "narrowness" of its expectations of pupils at 16. It says there is a perception that some pupils are unable to cope with academic study, which does not exist in other nations. Teenagers are only expected to sit GCSEs in English and maths, whereas in many other countries, pupils are expected to take between four and six core academic qualifications.
The study warns that there is a perception in England that some students are unable to cope with academic study, which does not exist in other nations. This perception has led to some pupils being pushed towards vocational qualifications. But there is evidence that while successfully gaining GCSEs can add 15% to a pupil's future average earnings, vocational qualifications do not provide a similar result, the report says. Only 0.2 per cent of students who take non-academic qualifications go on to university, it claims.
The report, entitled Core Business, calls for every 16-year-old to study a core of five academic GCSEs, including English, maths, sciences, foreign languages and history or geography. It says: "The continuing move away from academic qualifications could lead to a new cultural divide developing, entrenching privilege and further impacting on the UK's poor social mobility. "A number of grammar and the best comprehensive schools are already encouraging their pupils to follow more rigorous routes such as the three separate science GCSEs, while independent schools are increasingly offering well-regarded qualifications like the International Baccalaureate and International GCSE. "Meanwhile the most disadvantaged children are deprived of opportunities for rigorous academic study, and are instead pushed to follow non-academic qualifications that boost league table results."
The report analysed the standard of English, maths and science GCSEs, compared to similar qualifications in Canada, Germany, France, Japan and the United States. It found that while English GCSE was of a similar standard, the science papers showed a "clear aversion to academic rigour" and a "noticeable intellectual deficiency when compared with the other countries." And in maths, candidates are "frequently led through the solutions in very small steps".
The report says the Government was right to acknowledge that there should be some "core" academic study for all pupils. This led to the introduction of "functional skills" qualifications in English and maths. But it adds that academic levels of these qualifications is "far below" that of GCSEs.
The report recommends universities and school heads of department take control of exam standards, instead of exams watchdog Ofqual, and the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA). And it calls for league tables to be changed so that they only measure attainment of GCSEs, rather than vocational qualifications as well.
Dale Bassett, senior researcher at Reform, said: "For three decades governments have pushed more and more school children into poor quality vocational routes, on the unfounded assumption that they just can't handle academic study. "Other countries understand that only a strong academic core can help social mobility and guarantee our future economic success. It's time for England to catch up."
Schools Minister Vernon Coaker said: "It's plain wrong to say we are 'pushing' pupils towards vocational qualifications - we're clear about the need to offer a broad, flexible and yet at all times challenging education, including GCSEs, diplomas and apprenticeships, so that young people have the opportunity to do the qualifications that are right for them. "Different qualifications do not mean a drop in standards or a lack of challenge, and we have established an independent regulator, Ofqual, to oversee standards. "The system proposed in this report is prescriptive and would mean all young people are forced to take a set of exams that may not be right for them. That would be unfair to pupils and deny teachers the freedom to help pupils decide."
Shadow children's secretary Michael Gove said: "This report highlights once again how we are falling behind international competitors when it comes to educational standards. That is why we would insist the regulator scrutinises the exams our children sit so they stand comparison with the world's best. "And we would allow state schools to sit the rigorous exams that are currently only available to private school pupils, so that children from less well-off backgrounds are not at a disadvantage to their wealthier peers."
Schoolkids arrested for Kick-A-Ginger Day attack
THREE children at a California school may face criminal charges for allegedly bullying redheaded students following an internet-based "Kick a Ginger Day", police said. Three boys - a 13-year-old and two 12-year-olds - from AE Wright Middle School in Calabasas were detained last week and booked for misdemeanours, according to Steve Whitmore of the Los Angeles Sheriff's department.
The older boy was detained and booked on suspicion of "threatening to inflict injury by means of electronic communication - commonly known as cyber bullying", Mr Whitmore said. The younger boys were booked on suspicion of "battery on school property", he added.
Seven children - four boys and three girls - were targeted in the attacks according to police, which were motivated by "Kick a Ginger Day", an online spoof reputedly inspired by a 2005 episode of South Park which satirised racial intolerance.
Las Virgenes School District Superintendent Donald Zimring said the school where the incidents took place had 926 "really terrific children" with a handful who did "a dumb thing". The superintendent stressed initial reports suggesting some of the victims suffered broken bones were inaccurate. "That doesn't make it insignificant, but it didn't rise to having a broke arm or a beating," Mr Zimring said.
"We had some kids who made a very poor decision. "They thought they were playacting, or just having a joke. "These youngsters did not understand the ramifications or the consequences."
Australia: Arrogant head-teacher ignores grievous bullying at government school
It was only the glare of publicity that got some decency out of this lazy bureaucrat
BRAVE Tyler Fishlock had to flee his school after standing up to repeated attacks by a bully he cannot see. Tyler - who captured the hearts of Victorians after having both his eyes removed to save his life from cancer - has been beaten with a ruler and a xylophone stick, kicked and punched, pushed, and had scissors clicked dangerously in front of this face. He was also called "retard", "spastic" and "blind kid".
"I can't dodge it. I can't see him coming and I think 'Oh God, here comes the monster again'," said Tyler, 7. "I am terrified of him."
After the third serious attack last week, the bully was suspended for two days and Caroline Springs College hired a "bodyguard" teacher to protect other children.
Tyler's distraught mother Georgette Fishlock yesterday withdrew him from school after the principal refused to remove the troublemaker from Tyler's class. But after being contacted by the Herald Sun, the school reversed its decision and has promised to move the boy to another class from tomorrow.
Ms Fishlock said Tyler will now return to school, but he missed out on performing in The Lion Sleeps Tonight at his first school concert last night because he was too scared. "Up until this point he never felt any different to any other child," Ms Fishlock said. "He tends to tackle life head-on like he always has, but this has put a real dampener on his school year." Ms Fishlock said the bully picked on other kids too, "but I think he favors Tyler because he gets something out of scaring him".
In the worst attack, teachers told the Fishlocks how Tyler was jabbed with a ruler in the area where he has painful scar tissue on his torso from operations. In a separate incident, the boy's mother made him apologise for threatening Tyler with scissors.
Last Wednesday Tyler was hit with a xylophone stick before being kicked in the kneecaps until he was rescued, cowering in the corner of his music class. After that attack, Ms Fishlock threatened to withdraw Tyler from school for the rest of the year unless the bully was removed from his class.
When contacted by the Herald Sun, college director Patrick Waring said the Fishlocks had no right to demand the boy be removed. He soon called back to say an agreement had been reached and the boy would be moved. "Parents are in no position - it doesn't matter who they are - to tell us ... what they want done with other people's children," Mr Waring said. "These are six-year-olds who are having a bit of trouble getting on with each other. We are not talking about high-end bullying, it is just spasmodic bad behaviour." [He might change his tune if someone blinded him and pushed him around]
2 December, 2009
Do You Know What Textbooks Your Children Are Really Reading?
FOX News Reporting investigated the $10 billion dollar-a-year textbook industry and how the drive to be politically correct might be taking over American schools. Host Tucker Carlson, asked experts, teachers, publishers and parents the same question: "Do you know what is inside your children's textbooks?" From kindergarten through college, we found staggering errors and omissions which may be pushing agendas, hidden and otherwise.
We spoke to the author of “The Language Police,” education historian Diane Ravitch, who said textbook publishers censor images or words they deem to be controversial in children’s textbooks. She told us that publishers pander to special interest groups, and assemble bias and sensitivity review committees. These committees decide what words to ban or redefine, and even what images are deemed offensive.
And we examined some college textbooks both in print and in digital forms. We found a glaring mistake in an expensive history book written by Alan Brinkley, Provost at New York’s Columbia University.
And in Fairfax County Virginia, questions remain about what textbooks are used in the private Islamic Saudi Academy. The ISA teaches about 1000 students each year pre-K — 12. Questions have been raised about its textbooks at least since 2006. This summer, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, ISA’s 1999 valedictorian, was sentenced to life in prison for his role in a 2002 Al Qaeda plot to assassinate President George W. Bush.
The ISA is wholly owned by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and teaches students from textbooks, which according to a report by a Saudi scholar interviewed by FOX News, continues to “propagate an ideology of hate to the unbeliever.” FOX News Reporting obtained some of their current 2008-2009 textbooks which were supposed to be purged of inflammatory language. We found proof otherwise.
We tracked down two American college professors who were paid by the ISA to review these textbooks. They signed a letter obtained by FOX News that the ISA’s 2008-2009 textbooks “do not contain inflammatory material…” One of them sat down for an interview; the other refused.
And in California’s Alameda County, our cameras were there as parents were embroiled in a heated debate over a mandatory curriculum designed to teach students from grades K-5 about different types of families, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender lifestyles. After a vote by the Alameda Unified School District in May of this year, the second grade reading curriculum now requires a book about gay penguins.
British private schools refusing to sign up for new diplomas
The diplomas are just a weak trade qualification
The Government's flagship diploma qualifications have been almost universally shunned by independent schools, according to new figures seen by The Independent.
Only six fee-paying schools in the entire country have joined one of the consortia set up to deliver the new qualification, which is in its second year of being offered to pupils. Opposition MPs say the diplomas effectively reinforce a two-tier education system if they fail to appeal to the independent sector.
The figures also reveal that more than one in 10 state schools have yet to sign up – although the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) said this figure had been almost halved since they were compiled.
The figures, revealed by the Liberal Democrat schools spokesman David Laws, come despite the qualification being launched in a blaze of publicity – which stressed the fact that Cambridge University, in particular, was welcoming applicants who were studying for engineering diplomas.
"The vast majority of independent schools are still shunning the diplomas. These new qualifications are heading towards being a massive flop, with take-up being lower than the Government first predicted," Mr Laws said. "With a general election looming and the inevitable uncertainty and confusion this will generate, there is likely to be even less interest in them." He added that there would have to be a major review of both academic and vocational qualifications after the election.
Andrew Grant, chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, which represents 250 fee-paying schools, said: "I'm surprised the number is that high. The trouble is [that] independent schools are hampered by the requirement to sign up to a consortium to deliver them all. They don't want to do that."
Mr Grant, who is headmaster of St Albans school in Hertfordshire, added: "There is also a question mark hanging over the programme as a result of the possibility of a change in government. The only chance they had was under the original proposal [by former chief schools inspector Sir Mike Tomlinson] to have one diploma embracing all qualifications. That would have had a good chance of success. The pity about the present diplomas is that they are divisive. If I were a betting man, I wouldn't put money on their chances of survival."
The figures, contained in a Commons reply to Mr Laws by the Schools minister Iain Wright, show that there are still 349 state secondary schools which are not members of any of the consortia delivering the diplomas.
At present, the qualifications are being offered in 10 subjects, ranging from the highly rated engineering diploma – the maths content of which has been praised by Cambridge University as superior to A-levels – to leisure and tourism. One of the country's top fee-paying schools, Wellington College, is offering the engineering diplomas.
The DCSF said an update on the figures showed that they were being offered in 94 per cent of all state schools and colleges.
Mr Wright added: "Whilst, of course, our aim is for 100 per cent coverage for what is a very new qualification, the high proportion of schools and colleges involved in diplomas is truly remarkable. We are encouraging independent schools to offer diplomas and want to see them available in all parts of the schools sector. This is a new qualification, but one which is obviously becoming increasingly popular with pupils, teachers, employers and all types of schools and colleges."
Three academic diplomas – in science, languages and humanities – are due to be launched by the Government in two years' time. However, the Conservatives have indicated they will not go ahead with these, on the grounds that they duplicate what is already on offer in A-levels.
At the launch of the diplomas, the Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, said they could eventually take over from A-levels as the natural way for pupils to progress at school.
British co-ed schools experiment with separate classes for boys and girls
Boys and girls are being taught in separate classes as growing numbers of co-educational schools show interest in segregating lessons. They have found that both male and female pupils concentrate better and are less intimidated when taught core subjects without the distraction of the opposite sex.
Academics and state and independent head teachers will meet tomorrow at a conference in Cambridge devoted to the issue. Mike Younger, head of the education faculty at the University of Cambridge, will describe the renewed popularity of single-sex classes in mixed secondary schools. He is expected to say that separating boys and girls is not a panacea for disruptive classrooms, but can help to raise academic standards in schools, under the right conditions. “The number of single-sex schools has decreased since the early 1970s in both state and independent sectors,” Mr Younger told The Times. “In the state sector some ideological resistance to single-sex teaching, a notion that comprehensive schools must be co-educational.”
A resurgence of interest in teaching girls without their male classmates had been prompted by the lower number who study maths and science after the age of 16, despite performing as well as or better than boys, he suggested. He said: “Some schools enter girls for lower-tier, less demanding papers in technical and scientific subjects at GCSE, and thus narrow their subsequent choice, despite evidence of superior prior achievements by girls aged 14 and above.”
Boys can also benefit from single-sex classes because they sometimes allowed them to perform without worrying about their image in front of girls.
Mr Younger, who has written reports for the Government on raising boys’ achievement, said that some attempts to teach girls and boys separately about ten years ago had resulted in confusion and had been conducted on an ad hoc basis. More recent research had found that male pupils concentrated better in single-sex classes. They were more likely to respond to questions without embarrassment and ridicule and to participate without showing off. The standard of their work had improved.
However, Mr Younger said that schools had also experienced some problems in separating classes. “There is a need to avoid an intimidating atmosphere for other boys, which can be generated among all-boys’ classes, and to be alert to the dangers of generating a homophobic environment,” he said. “There is also a need to beware of girls becoming aggressive towards each other.” Head teachers needed to establish an ethos of collaborative working with their staff, exchanging experiences without feeling undermined, he said.
Research had uncovered positive reactions from students to being taught in same-sex groups. One boy said: “There’s more participation in the lesson and no one is shy or afraid to express an opinion — you know the other boys won’t laugh at you and you don’t lose face.” A female student told researchers: “Girls are more hard-working and work better without the boys around. Girls want to do their best and this is an environment where they’re not afraid to show what their best is.”
Girls and boys at Moulsham High School in Essex learn apart, together (Joanna Sugden writes). While girls discuss quietly in groups whether the Civil War broke out because of money, down the corridor boys answer quick-fire questions on the main reasons for the conflict.
The head, Dr Chris Nicholls, says it is counter-productive to keep them apart outside lessons: “Girls and boys have got to learn to get along.” Students learn separately until they are 14 at Moulsham, which is in a relatively affluent area of Chelmsford, has been rated good for attainment by Ofsted and achieves above-average results. “I’m utterly convinced of the differences between boys and girls and the way that they learn,” says Dr Nicholls.
Tom Power, 12, prefers lessons without girls, particularly PE. “In junior school I used to get annoyed because I worried that if I picked all-boys teams the girls would moan and if I picked girls I wouldn’t win,” he says. “That sounds a bit sexist doesn’t it?” His friend Jacob Jeffries interjects: “You’re supposed to be sexist — you’re 12 years old.”
1 December, 2009
Teaching plan: America 'an oppressive hellhole'
University outlines 're-education' for those who hold 'wrong' views. Very reminiscent of North Korean brainwashing and indicative of the same totalitarian mindset
A program proposed at the University of Minnesota would result in required examinations of teacher candidates on "white privilege" as well as "remedial re-education" for those who hold the "wrong" views, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
The organization, which promotes civil liberties on the campuses of America's colleges and universities, has dispatched a letter to University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks asking him to intervene to prevent the adoption of policies proposed in his College of Education and Human Development. "The university's general counsel should be asked to comment as soon as possible," said the letter from Adam Kissel, an officer with The FIRE. "If the Race, Culture, Class, and Gender Task Group achieves its stated goals, the result will be political and ideological screening of applicants, remedial re-education for those with the 'wrong' views and values, [and] withholding of degrees from those upon whom the university's political reeducation efforts proved ineffective." By any "non-totalitarian" standards, he wrote, the the plans being made so far by the school are "severely unjust and impermissibly intrude into matters of individual conscience."
Kissel wrote that it appears that the university "intends to redesign its admissions process so that it screens out people with the 'wrong' beliefs and values – those who either do not have sufficient 'cultural competence' or those who the college judges will not be able to be converted to the 'correct' beliefs and values even after remedial re-education." "These intentions violate the freedom of conscience of the university's students. As a public university bound by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the university is both legally and morally obligated to uphold this fundamental right," he wrote.
Among the issues discussed in the plans are requirements that teachers would be able to instruct students on the "myth of meritocracy" in the United States, "the history of demands for assimilation to white, middle-class, Christian meanings and values," and the "history of white racism." The demands appear to be similar to those promoted earlier at the University of Delaware.
As WND reported, the Delaware university's office of residential life was caught requiring students to participant in a program that taught "all whites are racist." School officials immediately defended the teaching, but in the face of a backlash from alumni and publicity about its work, the school decided to drop the curriculum, although some factions later suggested its revival. FIRE, which challenged the Delaware plan, later produced a video explaining how the institution of the university pushed for the teachings, was caught and later backed off:
Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten said the developing Minnesota plan would require teachers to "embrace – and be prepared to teach our state's kids – the task force's own vision of America as an oppressive hellhole: racist, sexist and homophobic." She said the plan from the university's Teacher Education Redesign Initiative – a multiyear project to change the way future teachers are trained – "is premised, in part, on the conviction that Minnesota teachers' lack of 'cultural competence' contributes to the poor academic performance of the state's minority students." "The first step toward 'cultural competence,' says the task group, is for future teachers to recognize – and confess – their own bigotry. Anyone familiar with the reeducation camps of China's Cultural Revolution will recognize the modus operandi," she said.
"What if some aspiring teachers resist this effort at thought control and object to parroting back an ideological line as a condition of future employment?" she posed. "The task group has Orwellian plans for such rebels: The U, it says, must 'develop clear steps and procedures for working with non-performing students, including a remediation plan.'"
The plan asks: "How can we be sure that teaching supervisors are themselves developed and equipped in cultural competence outcomes in order to supervise beginning teachers around issues of race, class, culture, and gender?" The original correct answer was to have "a training session disguised as a thank you/recognition ceremony/reception at the beginning of the year." The task force later edited itself to call for a required "training/workshop for all supervisors. Perhaps as part of an orientation/thank you/recognition ceremony/reception at the beginning of the year?"
"There was no deception planned or intended as may be implied in the use of the word [disguised]," a footnote said, "We have edited this to reflect our commitment to integrity in our work. This amendment was made 11/09/2009."
Nevertheless, FIRE's concern included the apparent plan for demands that teachers "discuss their own histories and current thinking drawing on notions of white privilege, hegemonic masculinity, heteronormativity, and internalized oppression." Further, the letter noted, "the college in its proposal promises to start screening its applicants to make sure they have the proper 'commitments' and 'dispositions.'"
"Here's the kicker," Fire said in its report. "The college even realizes that its efforts to impose such a severe ideological litmus test may be unconstitutional." T
The letter cited a proposal to consult with the university's own lawyers. "FIRE urges you to consider the Supreme Court's ruling in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), which invalidated mandated allegiances to political ideologies at public schools," Kissel wrote for FIRE.
Writing for the court, Justice Robert H. Jackson declared: "Freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order. If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. "
British Home-schooling parents may face criminal record checks
Parents who teach their own children at home must undergo criminal records checks, say Government education inspectors. The estimated 40,000 parents who choose not to send their children to school should be vetted, says Ofsted. It said that parents whose records throw up suspicions should be barred from teaching their own children.
Vetting to root out any record of violence against children would be by the Criminal Records Bureau. It would reveal to local authorities parents’ criminal convictions, cautions and warnings, and even information that did not lead to a criminal conviction. It would also show any unproven complaints noted by the controversial new Independent Safeguarding Authority, set up to vet adults working with other people’s children.
Parents who fail the checks could also find themselves receiving attention from child protection social workers. If accepted by ministers, the Ofsted rules would be the first state attempt to investigate and vet ordinary parents over the way they bring up their own children.
The proposal brought fierce protests from family campaigners. Norman Wells of the Family Education Trust said: ‘It is sheer madness for Ofsted to suggest that parents should be required to undergo CRB checks to be with their children between the hours of 9am and 3pm from Monday to Friday during term-time. ‘If it is deemed unsafe for children to be with their parents during normal school hours, it is equally unsafe for them to be with their parents in the evenings, at weekends and during the school holidays. ‘If Ofsted are calling for CRB checks for home-educating parents now, how long will it be before they are demanding that all parents are CRB-checked?’
Robert Whelan of the Civitas think-tank said: ‘You can no longer be a parent without a piece of paper from the state. This is a monstrous idea and it shows the danger of taking things to logical extremes.’
A Bill from Children’s Secretary Ed Balls already backs the idea of a home-schooling registration scheme where parents must set out a curriculum and allow town hall officials to inspect their homes. But in a written report to MPs on the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee, Ofsted said: ‘Registration would not of itself prevent those who have a conviction for offences against children, including parents, step-parents or privately employed home tutors, from home educating children. ‘Criminal Records Bureau checks should be a requirement of registration.’
The right of parents to educate their children at home has been enshrined in law since 1944. Parents have until now not had to register with councils or tell them what they are teaching.
Australia: Teachers bullied to keep quiet on problem government schools
The Queensland Opposition said whistleblowing teachers were being bullied by other teachers to keep problems in schools quiet. New figures released by the State Government showed the number of formal complaints of bullying and aggressive behaviour by teachers against other teachers had increased by more than 40 per cent over the past two years. In 2007, 26 teachers made formal complaints to the education department about other teachers. The number rose to 30 in 2008 and there have been 37 complaints so far in 2009.
Education Minister Geoff Wilson said in an answer to a parliamentary question on notice that the number represented less than one per cent of the state's 47,000 teachers.
Opposition education spokesman Bruce Flegg said he had been approached by a number of teachers concerned about being told by other teachers to keep quiet about school problems. He said the Government was also covering up by refusing to release to the Opposition details of apprehended violence orders against teachers and the number of weapons seized in schools. "There's pressure to cover up those sorts of events, but teachers in those schools want the root causes to be addressed," Dr Flegg said.
"I don't think there is any doubt whistleblowers are being bullied. "The agenda is about controlling the public relations rather than fixing the problems." He said it was a systemic problem that required government action.
Primarily covering events in Australia, the U.K. and the USA -- where the follies are sadly similar.
TERMINOLOGY: The British "A Level" exam is roughly equivalent to a U.S. High School diploma. Rather confusingly, you can get As, Bs or Cs in your "A Level" results. Entrance to the better universities normally requires several As in your "A Levels".
MORE TERMINOLOGY: Many of my posts mention the situation in Australia. Unlike the USA and Britain, there is virtually no local input into education in Australia. Education is mostly a State government responsibility, though the Feds have a lot of influence (via funding) at the university level. So it may be useful to know the usual abbreviations for the Australian States: QLD (Queensland), NSW (New South Wales), WA (Western Australia), VIC (Victoria), TAS (Tasmania), SA (South Australia).
There were two brothers from a famous family. One did very well at school while the other was a duffer. Which one went on the be acclaimed as the "Greatest Briton"? It was the duffer: Winston Churchill.
The current Left-inspired practice of going to great lengths to shield students from experience of failure and to tell students only good things about themselves is an appalling preparation for life. In adulthood, the vast majority of people are going to have to reconcile themselves to mundane jobs and no more than mediocrity in achievement. Illusions of themselves as "special" are going to be sorely disappointed
Perhaps it's some comfort that the idea of shielding kids from failure and having only "winners" is futile anyhow. When my son was about 3 years old he came bursting into the living room, threw himself down on the couch and burst into tears. When I asked what was wrong he said: "I can't always win!". The problem was that we had started him out on educational computer games where persistence only is needed to "win". But he had then started to play "real" computer games -- shootem-ups and the like. And you CAN lose in such games -- which he had just realized and become frustrated by. The upset lasted all of about 10 minutes, however and he has been happily playing computer games ever since. He also now has a degree in mathematics and is socially very pleasant. "Losing" certainly did not hurt him.
Even the famous Marxist theoretician Antonio Gramsci (and the world's most famous Sardine) was a deep opponent of "progressive" educational methods. He wrote: "The most paradoxical aspect is that this new type of school is advocated as being democratic, while in fact it is destined not merely to perpetuate social differences, but to crystallise them." He rightly saw that "progressive" methods were no help to the poor
I am an atheist of Protestant background who sent his son to Catholic schools. Why did I do that? Because I do not personally feel threatened by religion and I think Christianity is a generally good influence. I also felt that religion is a major part of life and that my son should therefore have a good introduction to it. He enjoyed his religion lessons but seems to have acquired minimal convictions from them.
Why have Leftist educators so relentlessly and so long opposed the teaching of phonics as the path to literacy when that opposition has been so enormously destructive of the education of so many? It is because of their addiction to simplistic explanations of everything (as in saying that Islamic hostility is caused by "poverty" -- even though Osama bin Laden is a billionaire!). And the relationship between letters and sounds in English is anything but simple compared to the beautifully simple but very unhelpful formula "look and learn".
For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.
The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"
A a small quote from the past that helps explain the Leftist dominance of education: "When an opponent says: 'I will not come over to your side,' I calmly say, 'Your child belongs to us already. You will pass on. Your descendents, however, now stand in the new camp. In a short time, they will know nothing else but this new community.'." Quote from Adolf Hitler. In a speech on 6th November 1933
I am rather pleased to report that I am a lifelong conservative. Out of intellectual curiosity, I did in my youth join organizations from right across the political spectrum so I am certainly not closed-minded and am very familiar with the full spectrum of political thinking. Nonetheless, I did not have to undergo the lurch from Left to Right that so many people undergo. At age 13 I used my pocket-money to subscribe to the "Reader's Digest" -- the main conservative organ available in small town Australia of the 1950s. I have learnt much since but am pleased and amused to note that history has since confirmed most of what I thought at that early age.
I imagine that the the RD is still sending mailouts to my 1950s address!
Discipline: With their love of simple generalizations, this will be Greek to Leftists but I see an important role for discipline in education DESPITE the fact that my father never laid a hand on me once in my entire life nor have I ever laid a hand on my son in his entire life. The plain fact is that people are DIFFERENT, not equal and some kids will not behave themselves in response to persuasion alone. In such cases, realism requires that they be MADE to behave by whatever means that works -- not necessarily for their own benefit but certainly for the benefit of others whose opportunities they disrupt and destroy.
Comments above by John Ray