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31 October, 2009

Government schools flunk the test on black males

Do at-risk black males need to be emancipated en masse from America’s public school complex? A new study released about high school dropout and incarceration rates among blacks raises the question. Nearly 23 percent of all American black men ages 16 to 24 who have dropped out of high school are in jail, prison, or a juvenile justice institution, according to a new report from the Center for Labor Markets at Northeastern University, “Consequences of Dropping Out of High School.”

High school dropouts cost the nation severely. Not only are American taxpayers getting no return on the $8,701 we spend on average per student, each dropout costs us $292,000 over their lifetime in lost earnings, lower taxes paid, and higher spending for social programs like incarceration, health care, and welfare.

Given the many social pathologies plaguing black males in low-income and fatherless households, the best place for at-risk black males is not the dominant failed public school paradigm. Since public schools are forbidden to teach virtue and often reduce children to receptacles of information, expanding private and faith-based options to black parents is the only compelling solution.

The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), England’s chief education inspection agency, recently released a report lauding the attributes of faith schools. The report, “Independent Faith Schools,” examined the quality of formation provided by Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu religious schools. The inspectors found “pupils demonstrating an excellent understanding of spiritual and moral attributes.” In all the schools visited, “pupils gained a strong sense of identity and of belonging to their faith, their school and to Britain.” In other words, faith-based schools, by simply teaching about religion, are forming their students to be virtuous citizens.

Has America given up on making virtuous citizens out of black males? In England’s faith schools, “good citizenship was considered by all the schools visited to be the duty of a good believer because this honoured the faith,” the report says. In contrast, American public schools have become prisoner factories for at-risk black males. Because producing educated, virtuous citizens is unrelated to funding, the problem cannot be addressed by the simplistic expedient of increasing government allocations to education. The deeper problem is that the American education system seems no longer to value what faith schools in England are recognized for: producing students with good “spiritual, moral, social and cultural understanding.”

Even in the public sector, blacks are realizing that the current model fails black males. Kentucky State University President Mary Sias says the university is trying to find funding to open a boarding school for black male youth to get them into college. The Eagle Academy for Young Men, a charter school in the Bronx, is the first all-male public school in New York City in 30 years. Eagle Academy has a high school graduation rate of 82 percent, compared with approximately 51.4 percent of black and 48.7 percent of Hispanic students graduating from high schools citywide. This may explain why Eagle Academy had 1,200 applications for this year’s ninth-grade class of 80 students.

Why do the education elites want to keep at-risk black males in schools that dump them in the streets or jail? Why is America content with the lie that funding is the problem? The District of Columbia spends $12,979 per student and has a black male graduation rate of 55 percent compared to 84 percent for whites. Illinois spends over $8,000 per students with a black male graduation rate of 41 percent compared to 82 percent for whites. When are black parents going to be emancipated from the government telling them what to do with their children?

Americans cannot afford, financially or morally, to trap black males in criminal cultivators masquerading as schools. Even though charter schools, vouchers, and tax-credit programs reflect some progress, black parents need radical new options that empower them with absolute freedom to choose the best schools. While every at-risk black male does not have access to good faith-based opportunities, the only hope for liberating young black males to actualize their potential to be productive participants in a global economy and virtuous citizens of a healthy nation is to free black parents from the tyranny of government bureaucrats. Black America needs a “Freedom of Choice” movement.


British Teachers who were afraid to discipline thuggish minority of Muslim pupils for fear of being branded racist

He gave his name as Henry Webster when he stepped into the witness box at the High Court in London last week. But he wasn't the Henry Webster his family and friends remember. The real Henry Webster was a strapping 6ft 2in rugby player, not someone who struggled to string sentences together and had to be given painkillers to complete his evidence.

Instead of preparing for college or university, he has been left with learning difficulties, short-term memory loss, and epilepsy. Henry will settle for that because the alternative would have meant not being here at all.

This is the only upside of being attacked with a claw hammer that left an inch-deep impression on his skull. One claw hammer and 12 teenage thugs versus one young man. Those were the odds when a gang of Asian youths ambushed him. After their work was done, his attackers punched the air in triumph - 'that's what you call Paki bashing,' they yelled.

The thugs have all been jailed. Not all the culprits, however, have been brought to book - not in the eyes of Henry's family, anyway. They believe teachers at his school, near Swindon - where the assault took place in 2007 when Henry was just 15 - are as guilty as the actual perpetrators themselves. Why? Because, they say, the school allowed ethnic minority pupils to get away with flagrant misbehaviour, and then handed them less severe punishments than their white classmates because staff feared they might otherwise be accused of racism. In other words, a culture of ' educational apartheid' prevailed in all but name at Ridgeway School.

Had this not been the case, Henry's parents insist, their son would probably not have sustained brain damage outside the school tennis courts one day in January nearly three years ago. They have now brought a civil action against Ridgeway and are seeking compensation of up to £1 million. The allegations amount to a devastating indictment not just of Ridgeway, but of policies that were supposed to lead to integration, not segregation, in our schools.

Our own investigation into the events which culminated in Henry Webster being left for dead within walking distance of his classroom does little to counter that view. Remember, this is not some inner city hell hole. Swindon (population 200,000) is often used for market research purposes precisely because it is considered to be a typical British town; neither the best nor the worst place to live, just average.

Ridgeway School, too, is average. Only about 70 - 5 per cent - of the 1,400 or so pupils are from ethnic minorities. Exam results are good, and the school continues to receive glowing government reports. Only last year, Ridgeway's headmaster Steven Colledge, who took over in September 2006, was praised by Ofsted inspectors as 'Outstanding' for his 'leadership and management' skills.

But anyone who saw his performance on Channel 4 News the day after Henry Webster was attacked might beg to differ. 'I think there is always a danger where there is a mixture of races and peoples which reflect the community we live in that any tension that might exist, any little scuffle or fight, can be twisted to be much more of a major thing than it really is,' he told the cameras. No, this is not a misquotation. He really did use the words 'little scuffle' to describe the attack in which Henry Webster was left brain damaged. Furthermore, in the immediate aftermath, neither the 'outstanding' Mr Colledge nor any of his colleagues visited the Webster family or even sent a get well card. Mr Colledge later told a governors' inquiry that gestures such as sending cards or flowers 'were not in his nature'.

Parents and former staff say that multiculturalism at Ridgeway, under his leadership, meant pupils on both sides of the religious and cultural divide breathing the same air but sharing very little else. Asian youngsters, we have been told, had their own officially designated meeting room which, to all intents and purposes, became the unofficial base for a 30-strong crew known as the 'Asian Invasion' and the 'Broad Street Massive'. Many, if not all 12, of those convicted of assaulting Henry belonged to the gang and lived mainly in the vicinity of Broad Street in Swindon. Four of them were still pupils at Ridgeway. They would often call older relatives and friends from outside school to settle disputes.

One such was Wasif Khan, then 18, who was the person who wielded the claw hammer. He was a 'wannabe militant', according to the police, and carried on his mobile phone a screensaver of the collapse of the World Trade Centre. A number of accomplices used social networking sites to communicate their message. One said: 'Play with a gun, play with a knife, play with a Bangli [Bangladeshi] and you'll lose your life.' A second posting featured a soundtrack with anti-Western lyrics.

There's no suggestion that these poisonous views were shared by the majority of the Asian pupils at Ridgeway - in fact, bar the members of the gang who attacked Henry, there were generally very good relations between the Asian and white pupils. Most have no interest whatsoever in violence. Equally, there are inevitably white children at the school who have been guilty of reprehensible behaviour. But the disturbing, and disproportionate, influence the Broad Street Massive is said to have exercised over the life of Ridgeway School is revealed in statements summarised in court papers obtained by the Mail, from parents, pupils and former staff.

All are expected to give evidence for the Websters in the High Court over the next few weeks. Racial intimidation and violence, they say, was commonplace and escalated into a mass fight on the school tennis courts after Asian gang members threatened 'warfare' against white pupils. Yet the school's extreme sensitivity on ethnic issues allegedly allowed the thuggish minority to believe they were 'untouchable'....

Ms Barker, a trainee teacher at the school for three months in 2005, said that when she first heard a pupil had been attacked in Swindon she 'knew instinctively' that it had to be at Ridgeway.' I think staff found it relatively easy to cope with the unruly white pupils, but the Asian pupils were in a league of their own. I think one of the reasons there were such problems with discipline was because the school did not promote a positive culture of cohesion and integration.

'I felt the school was letting down its pupils; all that was needed was some education for the pupils in terms of respect and good discipline. The Asian pupils at the school were allowed to think of themselves as superior. This was partly the fault of the school because the Asian pupils would never be disciplined or, if they were, they would receive a lesser punishment than the white pupils.' ...

More here

Thousands of British nursery school children branded racist by teachers... before they know what the word means

As many as 40,000 youngsters a year are being wrongly branded racists as new rules force schools to investigate every playground spat, according to a new report. Children in nurseries and primary schools are being disciplined over racist insults even before they know what the terms mean, it claimed.

A growing army of diversity 'missionaries' may be fuelling tensions instead of easing them, warned the report from the Manifesto Club civil liberties group. These race advisers and bureaucrats are said to be increasing the divide between white and black youngsters by forcing them to see the world through the filter of race.

The report said a child had been severely disciplined for calling two other children a 'chocolate bar'. Another child had been punished for calling a boy 'white trash'. Report author Adrian Hart said: 'The obligation on schools to report these incidents wastes teachers' time, interferes in children's space in the playground, and undermines teachers' ability to deal with problems in their classrooms. 'Worse, such anti-racist policies can create divisions where none had existed, by turning everyday playground spats into "race issues". 'There are a small number of cases of sustained targeted bullying, and schools certainly need to deal with those. 'But most of these 'racist incidents' are just kids falling out. They don't need re-educating out of their prejudice - they and their teachers need to be left alone.'

Under rules introduced in 2002, schools must monitor and report all racist incidents to their local authority. Teachers are required to fill in special referral forms detailing the incident and punishment. According to the report The Myth of Racist Kids, around 280,000 incidents have been reported in England since full records began. Many involve pupils still at primary school, it said. Out of 5,000 incidents in Yorkshire in 2006/07, for example, the majority were in primary schools. Meanwhile Essex County Council figures show that most of the children involved in reported racist incidents were between nine and 11.

One teacher told researchers that anti-racist interventions had led to 'an absolutely awful atmosphere around the school'. 'Children who used to play beautifully together are starting to separate along racial lines,' the teacher said.

The Manifesto Group is calling for 'adult politics' not to be projected on to children and compulsory reporting of racist incidents to be abolished.

Martin Ward, deputy general secretary of the Association of of School and College Leaders, said: 'Certainly any racist incident in schools should be dealt with swiftly but the definition of racism can be taken too far, especially with young children who clearly don't understand the connotation behind the words.'

But Schools Minister Diana Johnson said: 'If racist bullying is not dealt with in schools, then this will send a powerful message to children that racism is acceptable - not only in schools but in society as a whole.'


30 October, 2009

Silencing voices for school choice

To Obama, keeping teachers' unions happy matters more than helping poor black kids

President Obama isn't taking kindly to a television ad that criticizes his opposition to a popular scholarship program for poor children, and his administration wants the ad pulled. Former D.C. Councilmember Kevin Chavous of D.C. Children First said October 16 that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had recently approached him and told him to kill the ad. The 30-second ad, which has been airing on FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, and News Channel 8 to viewers in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, urges the president to reauthorize the federally-funded D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program that provides vouchers of up to $7,500 for D.C. students to attend private schools.

The ad features Chavous and a young boy--one of 216 students whose scholarships were rescinded by the Department of Education earlier this year when the agency announced no new students would be allowed into the program. The ad also includes an excerpt taken from one of Obama's campaign statements. "We're losing several generations of kids," Obama says, "and something has to be done."

"President Obama is ending a program that helps low-income kids go to better schools, refusing to let any new children in," Chavous says in the ad. "I'm a lifelong Democrat, and I support our president. But it's wrong that he won't support an education program that helps our kids learn." The young 5th-grade student then pleads for the president's help. "President Obama, I need a good education right now," he says. "You can help. Do it for me."

The nation's first black president has come under intense criticism for failing to support the program that is helping poor African-American students escape some of the nation's most dangerous and worst-performing public schools. After embracing the teachers unions' anti-voucher stance, the president now finds himself in the uncomfortable and awkward position of denying students access to a program that has strong bipartisan, local support, and that multiple studies say is helping poor African-American children succeed.

Little wonder then that the president and powerful allies like Holder--many of whom have benefited from school choice and are currently sending their children to expensive private schools--want the ad to go away.

Chavous discussed Holder's comments during an Oct. 16 interview with WAMU radio host Kojo Nnamdi and NBC 4 reporter Tom Sherwood during Nnamdi's The Politics Hour. A related article on Holder's objection to the ad on has also been circulating. During the broadcast Chavous elaborated on his interaction with Holder, and said he will continue running the ad until the president agrees to support the program. "I saw [Holder] at an event," said Chavous. "He did ask me in front of others to pull the ad. My response was, 'No, and I tell you what, if the president does the right thing, not only will we pull it but we will celebrate him.'

"We have high hopes based on his capacity to understand the plight of low-income families," continued Chavous. "You know what, if this were 20 years ago and community organizer Obama was in this city and picking sides, he'd be right here in this studio fighting for these parents and these kids, and we want him to remember from whence he came, and [support] these families. He had the benefit of scholarships--many of us have--and I think that these families who have already been awarded scholarships that were taken away from them by the administration, they should have that benefit as well." ....

Secretary Arne Duncan said in an email through a Department of Education spokesman that while "this Administration is devoting more resources and supports more ambitious reform of our public school systems than any Administration in history," he believes that "vouchers are not the solution to America's educational challenges. Taking a tiny percentage of the kids out of the public school system and putting them in private schools is not the answer. We need to be more ambitious. We need to fix all of our schools."

The program's defenders have signaled that the ad campaign is just getting started, and that more hard-hitting ads are on the way.

The National Education Association (NEA), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and People for the American Way have been waging a massive campaign to try to kill the voucher program, which they say takes money and focus away from public schools and is discriminatory....

The price the teacher's unions and their members were willing to pay to ensure their presidential candidate's success was steep. In August of 2008 the NEA announced a $50 million election campaign plan to elect Obama by targeting swing states. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Obama received $22.9 million from individuals affiliated with the "Education Industry" during the 2008 election cycle alone. That's a whopping $21.1 million more than Sen. John McCain received from the same industry.

These donations came predominately from individuals--many of whom are teachers' union members--employed by educational institutions, colleges and schools. Teacher's unions spent millions more dollars on independent expenditures on Obama's behalf that is not even included in these figures. Prior to his election, then-Illinois state Sen. Obama acknowledged that political realities meant that candidates cannot always answer or act from the heart.

Asked by Chicago Tribune writer David Mendell whether it might have been wiser to spend hundreds of millions of dollars improving Chicago's troubled public schools rather than on Millennium Park, Obama replied: "How do you really expect me to answer that? If I told you how I really felt, I'd be committing political suicide right here in front of you."

More here

Too much praise can ruin your child

Good to see this message finally getting out but the emphasis below on effort only is also too narrow. Real achievement is the most important thing to encourage

PRAISING children too much can backfire, an expert has warned. Author, TV producer and educator Dr Patricia Edgar said US research had found too much praise could lead to performance anxiety and sap motivation. "Smart kids have been told so often how great they are, they may see all peers as rivals, often lie about their test scores, and actually perform less well the more praise they get for being smart," she said. "In contrast, when they are praised for the process - how they tackle a maths problem rather than whether or not they get it right - and for trying, for the effort put into a task, their performance improves."

There is concern among psychologists that children are generally praised too much. Every child wins a prize at parties, some sporting teams give every child a medal at the end of the season and many schools give "student of the week" awards to all children.

"Kids have a pretty good in-built crap detector," Dr Edgar wrote in Shine, a monthly publication of Victoria's Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. "They know when praise is false and when praise given is not warranted and it's pretty scary having to be the best all the time."

There also is too much emphasis on winning, so if children don't win they give up. "Parents should praise children for doing their best. The research is clear that those children who are rewarded for doing their best will continue to strive to improve."

Dr Edgar said research also found that practice, not talent, made people excel in life. Parents had to tread the tightrope of encouraging their children to practise, while not pushing or praising too much. "I think parents have been taught to believe by self-help books, the education system, that giving praise is the way to get best performance. "So they praise anything and everything. "Sometimes children put in no effort but still expect praise."

Dr Edgar said the key was to emphasise effort, which children could control. It was important to cultivate minds capable of thinking and acting in disciplined, creative ways through sustained effort.


Some British parents want no school discipline at all

A school which puts unruly pupils in a store room is facing a backlash from furious parents who are planning a protest. Disruptive children are sent to the 8ft by 4ft room, which has no handles on the inside and only a window in the door, until they calm down. But mothers and fathers have compared the punishment to 'something from the dark ages' and are threatening to keep their children out of classes and picket the main gate until the school changes its policy.

Coppins Green Primary School in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, has refused to back down, however, saying it is necessary to control 'extreme, disturbed children in a safe way'. Mother of three Michelle Evans, 37, has had her daughter Rebecca, nine, locked in the room three times last week after being disruptive in class. She said: 'There is no window to the outside world, there is just a window in the door. 'There is no handle on the inside, the door opens inwards. What if a child is asthmatic or epileptic and has a fit and falls against the door? 'It is like something from the dark ages. I don't want to send my child to a concentration camp.' She added: 'My daughter's claustrophobic and hates confined spaces. It's awful.'

Another parent, Sarah Powell, 33, who has two daughters at the school, said: 'There's supposed to be a teacher on the outside of the room and they hold the child in until they calm down. 'But it can be terrifying for a child and it is going to make a child more upset.'

About 50 parents are expected to protest at the school gates on Monday and organisers claim up to 120 children will be kept away from classes. Many are also angry about a rewards system based on attendance, punctuality, behaviour and dress code which blocks some children from going on school trips.

Schools across the UK have been adopting forms of isolation as a punishment for unruly behaviour among pupils. Parents of children at Ridgewood School in Doncaster last year complained about a black booth lit by a spotlight, dubbing it 'Guantanamo Bay'. The school defended the system, saying time spent in the punishment room gave pupils time to reflect on their bad behaviour. Morley High School in Leeds brought in booths where pupils do work under the supervisions of teachers as part of a 'positive discipline' scheme.

A 2006 study of school isolation techniques for Investing In Children, an organisation which promotes the rights of young people, argued they did not work. The report concluded: 'Isolation has a bad effect on young people's physical and mental health. It makes people feel inadequate; it can take away their confidence and self-esteem.'

The room at Coppins Green School - a mixed establishment with around 650 pupils aged three to 11 - is watched over by a specially trained member of staff. There is no lock, but the door is held closed by the member of staff on the outside and there is no handle on the inside. However, the room has been designed so that the door will swing open if the adult is called away, allowing the child to leave. An Ofsted inspection earlier this year classed the school as 'satisfactory', the third lowest of four categories, but said behaviour was 'of a high standard'.

Head teacher Stuart Livingstone admitted the isolation techniques were controversial but insisted they benefited students. 'It is not a punishment at all. It is a safe room where adults can control an extreme, disturbed child in a safe way,' he said. 'It is not something we use automatically. It really isn't used often, except in extreme cases. It is a small room, not a cupboard, but it is all we can find.'

Mr Livingstone added: 'Coppins Green Primary School has an extremely sophisticated pastoral care system in place which is implemented by a highly qualified team of staff. 'There is a reward system in place at the school which is based on how children themselves choose to behave, which many of the children thrive on. 'Very occasionally we have to deal with extremely violent and disruptive behaviour in order to safeguard and protect other pupils and staff at the school.

'There are a number of safe places at the school to calm children down including a family room with sofas and in very extreme cases a smaller safe room for the most disruptive and violent children. 'Any child that is placed in the room is fully supervised by one of more qualified members of staff and parents are informed. 'We take the welfare of all children very seriously and strive to provide and safe, caring and nurturing environment.'


29 October, 2009

America's government schools

I went to Catholic primary and secondary schools and then six years of Catholic college. My son also attended parochial schools. The same with my working-class parents, both of whom attended parochial grade schools and high schools that would be considered college prep schools today on par with Brophy Prep. Their poor immigrant parents (my grandparents) could afford Catholic tuition at the time on a waiter's pay and a barkeep's pay because taxes were a third of today's confiscatory levels, due in part to public school taxes being much lower.

Higher taxes are one of the reasons that so few working-class and poor parents can now afford both private tuition and public school taxes. It's also part of the reason why Catholic schools have had to close in inner cities, thus leaving blacks and Hispanics in those cities trapped in lousy public schools, where the dropout rate is nearly 50% and where crime and drugs are rampant.

The original goal of compulsory public education was universal education. With those dropout rates, and with a national graduation rate of only 70%, compulsory public ed has been a failure, as measured by the original goal. I believe that the reason for this is that a quality public education has become an entitlement for mostly middle- and upper-class whites in suburbia.

The latest book I've read on education supports that belief: The Street Stops Here. I encourage you to read it. It's about a Catholic high school in the Bronx. The school is the last hope for the students' parents, who know that if their kids fail to make the grade at the school, the'll end up at a public school and have bleak futures.

I'm very versed in the history and facts of public education, and at one time was active in public education reform, until I realized that public education is a political system first, and an education system, second. As such, it will always operate as a political system; that is, inefficiently, irrationally, and beholden to special interests, especially teacher unions.

A case in point: Nationally, productivity has fallen by over 70% in public schools over the last 40 years, as measured by stagnant test scores and skyrocketing per-pupil spending in inflation-adjusted dollars.

A related note: Years ago for one of my Arizona Republic columns, I researched how the overhead compared at the Scottsdale Unified School District to the Phoenix Diocese school system. This is from memory, so the numbers might not be totally accurate, but SUSD had something like one administrator at HQ for every 400 students. The Diocese, on the other hand, had one for every 4,000 students. Other researchers have found similar disparities between public and parochial systems in other cities.

As you can tell by my preceding comments, I disagree that more public ed spending will help lower-income children.

What would help is to end the government education monopoly and make public schools compete with private ones, as in Europe, where most of the leading countries in education don't discriminate against private schools in funding. Yeah, I know the constitutional problems with that here and the history of the anti-Catholic Blaine amendments, but there are no legitimate constitutional prohibitions against giving at least education tax refunds or credits to parents who send their kids to private schools.

Besides, the current system of funding public education violates parents' freedom of religion. It does this indirectly, by making parents who want their kids taught in religious schools to pay twice for education, once in public school taxes and once in private tuition. As I've said, most can't afford to pay twice, so the system is a de facto infringement of freedom of religion. To draw an analogy, it would be akin to the government forcing parents to contribute huge sums of money to a Church of the United States and then saying that they are free to also support the church of their choice.

Can you imagine a class of 35 1st graders and 1 teacher? How can this one teacher possibly devote any individual attention to each child making sure they learn how to read and write. I can't only imagine it, but I've experienced it firsthand. That was the class size of my parents' classes, my classes, and my son's classes. There are even larger classes in countries that far surpass the U.S. in education. Granted, discipline and family problems have permeated American schools, due, I belive, to misguided and wrongheaded government policies for the last 45 years. It's a case of hope trumping experience to expect the same government that caused classroom problems and learning difficulties to fix the problems.

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Leftist bigots in one-fifth of British primary schools 'refusing to lay on help for brightest children'

One in five primary schools are rejecting Government demands to identify their brightest pupils because teachers have "philosophical issues" with giving extra support to the most able children, a senior civil servant said. Teachers have been warned that they are breaking the law by refusing to nominate pupils for the so-called Gifted and Talented scheme.

The programme obliges schools to put on extra activities to stretch the top five to 10 per cent of their students. It was introduced in 1999 to encourage the parents of the most intelligent children to remain in the state sector. But a fifth of schools are still refusing to register suitable pupils because of ideological objections, according to Tim Dracup, who the runs the scheme at the Department for Children, Schools and Families. "It seems many have philosophical issues with the label 'gifted and talented', but the census is statutory and if they are not filling it in, then they are acting illegally."

"The guidance doesn't give anyone the opportunity to say, 'There's nobody we can identify here,' because it's relative to their group of children. We want all schools to put down a marker and give extra challenge and support."

In January a Government report found deep-rooted objections to the Gifted and Talented scheme at a significant number of schools, despite previous warnings from ministers that teachers are legally obliged to co-operate.

Nominated pupils should be given access to after-school classes and weekend tuition, to ensure they are challenged. Nick Seaton, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said it was "absolutely scandalous" that some primary school teachers were damaging the prospects of intelligent children by refusing to lay on additional help. "It is vital to the young people themselves and to the future of the country that the brightest children are given the best possible support," he said. "Too many teachers think high achievement is elitist and they have ideological objections to any kind of education that isn't egalitarian."

He warned that the reluctance of teachers in the state sector to go out of their way to help able pupils would increase support for grammar schools and lead to the most talented pupils being moved into private education.

The Gifted and Talented scheme has a higher uptake at secondary level, with around 95 per cent of schools nominating pupils.


British teacher's relief after child cruelty case thrown out

A teacher has described the “horrible” ordeal after she was accused of banging a six-year-old pupil's hand on a desk in a temper and taken to court.

Halina Glebocki, 26, said she had been through a traumatic four months and had “not had a night’s sleep in four months”. She said: "It's been the worst experience of my life. I've barely slept since it all started. When I found out I was being prosecuted, I was just in a total state of shock and disbelief. "When everyone around you knows your character and your level of professionalism, for it to have been taken so far is beyond comprehension."

Miss Glebocki was arrested in June after a “spurious allegation” was made that she had banged a child’s hand against a desk, causing bruising, while supervising an extra reading lesson for a small group of children at St Thomas of Canterbury RC Primary School in Walsall, West Mids.

She denied an allegation of child cruelty and at her first appearance before magistrates in the town requested the case ben sent to Crown Court. However, when the case called again at Walsall magistrates for committal on Wednesday, the bench ruled that lawyers from the Crown Prosecution Service had taken too long to gather their evidence. Refusing a request from them for more time, they discharged the case.

Miss Glebocki, from Hednesford, West Mids, has since left the school while the charge was hanging over her. A teacher for three years, she said she had an unblemished record, but said that the ongoing court case had cost her a job abroad. She said: "I was due to take a teaching job in Thailand, but this whole thing has stopped me pursuing my career and living my life. "I just can't understand how one person's spurious allegation can lead to something like this. It's just been horrible. "I've always had it at the back of my mind. “I had to attend the police station every week and every week they just told me to go away and come back again the following week. “I have never been so tired in my life due to the lack of sleep.”

However, she added that her experience had not put her off the profession. "I just want to get back to teaching," she said. "It's a real relief and I just want to put it all behind me."


28 October, 2009

Elite American Private Colleges Discriminate Against Asian Students

Students of different races have varying odds of admission to elite private colleges, a study finds

A recent study of the applicants to seven elite colleges in 1997 found that Asian students were much more likely to be rejected than seemingly similar students of other races. Also, athletes and students from top high schools had admissions edges, as did low-income African-Americans and Hispanics.

Translating the advantages into SAT scores, study author Thomas Espenshade, a Princeton sociologist, calculated that African-Americans who achieved 1150 scores on the two original SAT tests had the same chances of getting accepted to top private colleges in 1997 as whites who scored 1460s and Asians who scored perfect 1600s.

He also found some indications that while rich students make up an increasingly large share of the entering freshman classes, the top private schools appeared to be giving admissions edges to low-income minorities, but not necessarily low-income white students. The very richest students also generally had lower acceptance rates than similarly qualified, but less wealthy, students.

Espenshade warned against concluding that his study proved that colleges improperly discriminated. For one thing, Asians, who make up less than 5 percent of the U.S. population, often make up nearly a third of the applicant pools to elite colleges. And they generally account for at least 10 percent of the student body. Meanwhile, low-income students and minorities make up disproportionately smaller shares of the applicant pools and, often, student populations. Harvard reported last year, for example, that 15 percent of its undergraduates were Asian, but only 7 percent were black, and just 6 percent were Hispanic.

In addition, Espenshade's study didn't account for "soft" qualifications such as essays, recommendations, extracurricular activities, musical or artistic talents, or community service, all of which play important roles in admissions decisions.

Nevertheless, some experts said Espenshade's findings seem likely to add more fuel to long-running criticisms of admissions offices. Even though the study reflects 12-year-old practices, "I have no doubt that circumstances have not changed in the interval between then and now," said Ward Connerly, who has spearheaded anti-affirmative action drives in several states. Connerly and other observers noted that college admissions policies have been controversial for decades.

During the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, African-Americans, American Indians, Jews, and other minorities were barred or severely restricted from many colleges. Civil rights laws and court rulings banned discrimination and encouraged colleges to reach out to long-disadvantaged students.

Some of those efforts created resentment among white and Asian students who felt they were denied opportunities to make room for those whom they believed to be less qualified minorities. Sparked by a lawsuit filed by a white applicant who had been rejected from a medical school, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1978 ruled that racial quotas were illegal. Voters in California, Michigan, and Washington have since voted to ban many affirmative action practices. In recent years, Asian-Americans have fought admissions policies they believe artificially limited their numbers on campuses. In 2006, an Asian student who scored a perfect 2400 on the three SAT tests filed a federal complaint against Princeton alleging the university rejected him because of anti-Asian bias. The U.S. Department of Education is now examining Princeton's admissions policies.

Although the schools Espenshade studied have not been identified, Princeton says it wasn't part of the set. And it says it doesn't discriminate on the basis of race or national origin. "The class of 2010 had a record 17,564 applicants for a class of 1,231. We admitted only about half of all the applicants with maximum 2400 SAT scores," says university spokeswoman Cass Cliatt. "Princeton considers factors such as interest in and demonstrated commitment to a particular field of study or extracurricular activity, exceptional skills and talents, experiences and background, status as an alumni child or Princeton faculty or staff child, athletic achievement, musical or artistic talent, geographic or socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, any unique circumstances, and a range of other factors," she added. Currently, Asians make up 15 percent of Princeton's undergraduate student body.

Mitchell Chang, a professor of higher education at UCLA, said Asians have long complained about the "penalty" they face when applying to colleges. But Espenshade's documentation of a threefold difference for similarly qualified students at elite private universities "is stunning. Really worrisome." Chang said Asian students might be disproportionately less likely to participate in certain kinds of extracurricular activities and that many Asian parents push their children to apply to famous "brand name" elite schools. But he insisted that the Asian applicant pool is nevertheless diverse. He fears that college admissions officers might be stereotyping Asians and saying to themselves: "'We don't want another academic nerd.' "

Deborah Santiago, vice president for policy and research at Excelencia in Education, noted, however, that other recent studies have shown that many well-qualified students who come from low-income, African-American, or Hispanic families don't apply to elite schools. So the few who do apply are likely to have better odds.

Espenshade's research indicates that eliminating affirmative action policies would most likely reduce the number of Hispanic and African-American students and racial diversity on campuses. Some schools that have eliminated affirmative action policies have seen significant changes in their student demographics. At UC-Berkeley, for example, 42 percent of undergraduates are Asian. Fewer than one third are white. While African-Americans make up 14 percent of the general population in Michigan, they account for only 6 percent of the undergraduates at the University of Michigan.

Espenshade found that when comparing applicants with similar grades, scores, athletic qualifications, and family history for seven elite private colleges and universities:

* Whites were three times as likely to get fat envelopes as Asians.

* Hispanics were twice as likely to win admission as whites.

* African-Americans were at least five times as likely to be accepted as whites.

* Athletes were more than twice as likely to get in as non-athletes with similar qualifications.

* Students from private high schools were twice as likely to receive acceptance letters as similar students from regular public high schools.

* Students from highly regarded public and private high schools were three times as likely to win admission as others.

* Students in the top 10 percent of their high school classes were about twice as likely to get in as students in the next 10 percent.


The British teachers who can do no right

A report claims that a third of teachers have been falsely accused of wrongdoing. Our writer argues that it's time parents recognised their responsibilities

Who would be a teacher in Britain today? The public may be surprised by a new poll that reveals 28 per cent of school staff have been falsely accused of wrongdoing by pupils, but most professionals who work in schools will not be. Living with parents’ criticism, complaints and false allegations from pupils has become part of a teachers’ lives. They work in a world where pupils feel they can make accusations because their parents will automatically back them, often with far-reaching results.

The poll by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers found that school staff who have been the subject of an unfounded allegation of misconduct by pupils, often have their careers blighted and their private lives damaged.

So how have we got to this situation where the adults involved in education, from parents to teachers, are in a not- so-civil civil war. And how does this affect the children they are trying to serve?

In my view, the first problem is that we now live in a culture where many of us no longer think twice before making a disparaging comment about any grown-ups in front of children. And as parents’ frustration with their children’s schools performance grows, it is the often hard-working teachers on whom they take it out.

Geraldine, for example, is an angry par- ent. This 39-year-old office administrator intends to sue her daughter’s Portsmouth primary school for failing to get Trish through the 11-plus. When I ask her: “Was it really the teachers’ fault?” she dismisses my question with a look of incomprehen- sion. She is, she says, “totally geared up” to “take on” her daughter’s “useless teachers”. But what example does this set Trish?

Tiff, a 41-year-old stay-at-home mum in Kent, is also a confident and seasoned advocate of her three children’s interest. Her latest triumph was to face down her 14-year-old daughter’s headmaster and force him to revoke the detention that she was given for texting in the middle of her science lessons. Tiff is so contemptuous towards her daughter’s headmaster that she calls him a “waste of space”. Her daughter, meanwhile, feels vindicated for her behaviour.

These mothers are just two of many examples of parental misbehaviour. Researching my new book Wasted: Why Education isn’t Educating, during which I spoke to scores of parents, it struck me how quickly they turned into vociferous critics of their children’s school. Often, they responded to a teacher’s criticism of their offspring as if it were a slight on themselves.

And the way grown-ups behave in everyday life does not go unnoticed by children. I have met kids as young as 8 or 9 who feel that they have permission to make fun of and attack their teachers. One group of 14-year-old boys whom I met in Canterbury routinely described their teachers to me as “losers”, “random” and “morons”.

On the other side, many teachers say that they now dread meeting their pupils’ parents. Parents’ evenings have become a battleground where the father or mother is the enemy. Greg, an experienced science teacher who works in a Manchester comprehensive, told me of his well-rehearsed routine for managing the “pushy parent”. “If you take their whining seriously they can turn your world upside-down,” he says. His solution is to “smile, switch off, look agreeable and move on as fast as possible”.

But not all teachers possess Greg’s confidence. Sue has been teaching drama in a Surrey school for two years. During that time she has had several rows with parents. She recalls that the low point of her career so far occurred when she had a shouting match with an angry parent in front of her class. A furious mother stormed into the school hall in the middle of a play rehearsal demanding to know why her son was not offered a more important part.

Another public face-off with an aggressive parent may prompt Sue to sign up for one of the many assertiveness-training courses for teachers that are now a growing strand of in-service instruction. They offer conflict management, mediation and communication skills for teachers requiring support to deal with difficult parents. It is a sign of the times that teachers’ organisations even now have leaflets on topics such as “fear of parents’ evenings”. One leaflet titled, Meet the Parents, published by the Teachers Support Network, cautions that it “can be a daunting experience”. It warns that sometimes parents will “support their child against the school — no matter what”, that they can turn “hostile, defensive and confrontational” and in rare cases even become “aggressive or violent”.

Predictably, sections of the teaching profession have responded to displays of parental disrespect by returning the favour. Educators blame parents for the low achievement and poor behaviour of their children. Without thinking of the damaging consequences for parental authority, many educators too have no inhibitions about ticking off irresponsible parents in front of their kids.

It is difficult to unravel the origins of the divisive feuds among grown-ups that afflict institutions of education. But it is evident to me that these squabbles have been exacerbated by recent government policies. A few months ago, a report published by the MP Alan Milburn argued for harnessing the energy of “pushy parents” to improve standards of education. He echoed the suggestion of the former Education Minister, Lord Adonis, that more pushy parents were needed to force schools to improve. In March, the Government announced a scheme that would allow parents and pupils to use “satisfaction ratings” to grade their school. Such measures risk reinforcing the tendency for parents to vent their frustration on their children’s schools, while failing to provide any constructive measures to improve the quality of education.

Mobilising parents’ instinctive love for their children to shore up the institution of education does not solve deep-seated problems. It simply encourages parents to become their children’s advocates, leading to the widespread adoption of the “my child, right or wrong” attitude. Once such attitudes gain momentum, parents can easily lose sight of what is in the best interest of their child and his or her classmates. One father told me that having challenged the mark that his daughter got for her geography project and questioned the teacher’s judgment, he knew that he had gone too far. “It got to be bigger than a dispute about the grade and it felt wrong,” he says.

It’s not hard to see how parents have got here. With increasing pressure on state schools and growing anxiety about standards, schooling has become a focus of intense competition for parents. Many devote considerable resources to get their children into a “good” school, some paying as much as £2,000 to get legal help with their appeal if children don’t win a place. Rob, 43, a businessman from Birmingham, was appalled when told that his 11-year-old son was refused a place in his school of choice. He appealed and showed up to a panel hearing with a solicitor, who specialised in education law. He says: “I made sure they knew that I meant business.”

Paying for legal advice, moving house to live in the catchment area of a desirable school, or even joining the congregation of a church with an attached school, is now not unusual. Studies indicate that a fifth of secondary pupils in England and Wales receive private tuition. In some middle-class secondary schools more than half of students had used a private tutor. Once the children are in the “right” school, their parents play an active role in helping them with their homework and projects. According to a report by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, two thirds of parents help their children with GCSE coursework — and many do far more than “help”: it is often parents, not the students, who are busy looking for information on the internet or at the library.

Despite all these efforts, petty and divisive bickering between parents and teachers will undermine all the good that parents try to do. If adults behave authoritatively towards youngsters at home and in their communities, teachers will feel comfortable in exercising authority in the classroom. However, if grown-ups point the finger at one another for a school’s alleged failing they undermine not only the authority of the teacher, but of all adults.

Education works best when it is underpinned by a genuine intergenerational conversation. Ideally, through such a conversation, the experience and wisdom of the adult world is transmitted to children. But when grown-ups find it difficult to speak with one voice and education becomes a battlefield on which pointless conflicts between grown-ups are fought, those intergenerational transactions are lost. Teachers and parents need to be on the same side — for the sake of education. Our children and our futures depend on it.



Three current articles below:

Teachers failing the maths grade

STUDENTS in almost 60 per cent of high schools are being taught by unqualified teachers, with mathematics one of the worst-hit subjects. The disturbing number of teachers working in areas outside their expertise has been uncovered in a special survey of 1473 principals across Australia.

One in five schools in NSW said they had at least one maths teacher who was not fully qualified. Other subjects shown to be suffering from a lack of specialists include technology, computer science, languages, science, music and special education.

The shock figures emerged as more than 30,000 Year 12 candidates sat the HSC General Mathematics paper yesterday and a leading maths educator warned Australia was slipping behind other countries.

The Australian Education Union said its survey showed schools faced major problems including serious shortages of teachers qualified in key subjects and difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff. "(It) found that because of the shortages 59 per cent of secondary schools had teachers working outside their area of expertise," AEU president Angelo Gavrielatos said. "We need a long-term plan to address the chronic problems with the supply of teachers. "It is not good enough to have unconnected initiatives that do not go to the fundamental issue of how we value and reward teachers."

Principals were also asked what they believed the Rudd Government's main education priority should be. Twenty-eight per cent said increased teacher numbers. None suggested computers for Year 9-12 students, a policy plank of the Government.

One of the state's top maths students in the 2008 HSC, Ahmad Sultani (Parramatta High School) said maths needed a much better image in the early years of high school. Mr Sultani, now completing his first year at UNSW, said the subject should be promoted more vigorously to students.


School heads to get more control

STATE education departments should hand control of school finances and the power to hire teachers to principals and school boards, reversing a century of bureaucratic stranglehold over the running of schools. A federal government report, released to The Australian, argues that the starting point in school governance should devolve decision-making to the school level, allowing principals to respond to the individual needs of the students and their communities. The only place for centralised control over schools should be in setting frameworks for curriculum and standards and, in exceptional cases, where a school believes it is more efficient for decisions to be made by the department, such as for very small schools and those in remote areas.

Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard yesterday backed the broad directions outlined in the report, saying the Rudd government was already pursuing the measures in its education reforms. "School principals should have the autonomy to make more staffing and salary decisions to help tackle local problems like poor literacy and numeracy," she said. "It is important principals have the support and flexibility they need to respond to the needs of their students. The creation of the first national education authority responsible for curriculum, assessment and reporting provides a solid framework for greater principal autonomy."

The report highlights the need for principals to be trained as managers to run the business of schools, and Ms Gillard said the new Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership formed by the commonwealth, states and territories would fulfil that role in developing the tools and support required.

The release of the report, commissioned by the previous federal government, comes in time for a national forum hosted by Ms Gillard next month, giving individual school principals a rare opportunity to speak directly to the government about its education revolution. Announcing the forum at the weekend, Ms Gillard said she wanted to have a "national conversation with school principals about the challenges they are facing on the ground".

The report identifies widespread support among principals for greater autonomy, with a large proportion wanting greater involvement in the selection and management of staff and their performance and greater flexibility in the allocation of school budgets. "There is a general acceptance of the view that a degree of autonomy is necessary if schools are to respond to the expectations of their communities and the mix of student needs in the local setting," it says. "Principals accept the need for accountability and seek to exercise a higher level of educational leadership. "(But) administrative support for government schools is inadequate given expectations for schools and in comparison to the support for principals in most independent schools."

In Australia, state and territory governments give varying degrees of autonomy to schools within a framework of standards and accountability, with Victoria giving principals the greatest control and NSW the most rigid centralised system.

The report notes that, as a result, there are less innovative approaches to school autonomy in Australia of the kind gaining momentum in other places around the world, such as the charter movement in the US of publicly funded and privately operated schools, usually run by local communities, and the academies in England, of privately run and funded schools operating as public schools. "New governance arrangements should be established to allow federations of schools to be established and greater creativity should be encouraged in the development of new kinds of schools that will have higher levels of autonomy ..." the report says.

"(It) shall provide schools or several schools planning together with a range of options to traditional patterns of governance, including federations of schools to share resources and other innovative governance arrangements. After more than a century of operations in which the 'default position' has been 'centralisation', a new default position of decentralisation should be adopted, with exceptions to be based on local and regional circumstances. "The default position should remain at centralisation in establishing frameworks of curriculum, standards and accountabilities."

It says the most effective model for school autonomy has "direct school involvement in the selection and performance management of staff, the deployment of funds in a budget that covers real costs in all aspects of recurrent expenditure, adaptation of curriculum and approaches to learning and teaching to the needs of the school's community, and choice in determining the source of support required by the school".

But it says autonomy should not permit schools to change the selection of students, such as enrolling only smart students and excluding students in their local catchment area.

The report says any system must allow individual schools flexibility in the level of autonomy they think is appropriate, saying that a one-size-fits-all approach will not be successful. "The extent of autonomy in each instance may be varied according to exceptional circumstances," it says.

The report, commissioned in 2007, calls for decision-making to be simplified and a reduction in the compliance and paperwork demanded of principals. It says school budgets should reflect the actual salaries paid to teachers rather than the average.


Teachers accused of sexual misconduct missed by government screening system

TWO private school teachers under investigation for sexual misconduct against students were able to walk into state school jobs without background checks. One teacher was accused of further misconduct in the state system before Education Queensland learnt of the original allegations, 18 months after the teacher was hired.

The cases, which allegedly occurred at Brisbane and Gold Coast schools, have highlighted flaws in Education Queensland's teacher screening system. The teachers were not required to reveal whether they were under investigation when they applied for jobs in the state school system.

Documents obtained under Right to Information laws show Education Queensland only became aware of the alleged misconduct when the teachers were referred to the Crime and Misconduct Commission by the Queensland College of Teachers in September last year. One teacher has been sacked and is facing court action. The other has resigned. The QCT is investigating six other alleged inappropriate relationships.

The State Opposition has labelled the screening process for teachers a "disgrace", accusing the Government of putting the rights of teachers before student welfare. "It's not acceptable they can slip through (the net) and turn up teaching somewhere else while they're under investigation," Opposition Education spokesman Bruce Flegg said.

The RTI documents show one of the teachers was under investigation following allegations he "inappropriately touched a student, breached the student protection policy, carried on an inappropriate relationship with one of the students, (and) allowed students to engage in behaviour that could have exposed them to physical harm" while working at a Brisbane Catholic school. The Courier-Mail understands the teacher subsequently resigned, before taking up a position at a state high school. This teacher has since been sacked and the matter is before the courts.

In the second case, the teacher resigned following allegations of sexual misconduct at a Gold Coast Catholic school, only to be given full-time work at two state high schools during which time the teacher was accused of further misconduct. That teacher has since resigned.

An internal investigation by the State Government's Ethical Standards Unit recommended in October last year that the Department of Education and Training "urgently undertake a risk assessment process to determine the appropriateness of retaining these officers in their current teaching roles". It found hiring processes "do not require an applicant to declare outstanding or incomplete investigations". "The department does not have any jurisdiction to investigate the conduct of employees prior to their engagement . . . and cannot be held accountable under the department's Code of Conduct for his alleged behaviour whilst employed in the private school sector."

Education Minister Geoff Wilson refused to be interviewed but said in a statement that he "understands" additional checks were now being undertaken. They include a disciplinary investigation by a past or present employer and police check.


27 October, 2009

Race to the Top: The Obama admin and the Gates Foundation are working hand in hand

The government has set aside $4.5 billion, as part of the $787-billion economic stimulus, to spur public schools toward better achievement. As states compete for grants under the "Race to the Top" program, they are being held to a standard that took root during the Bush administration, with its requirements that schools demonstrate yearly progress, and has blossomed in the Obama administration, which also is setting measurements for progress.

And for both the No Child Left Behind initiative that Bush won during his first year in office and the Race to the Top initiative that Obama's Department of Education is sponsoring in his first year, that means more student testing. It's a clear indicator of the common goals at work that Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and school reformer, and former president's brother, has heartily endorsed the work that Obama's education department is doing.

It has also, as the Associated Press reports in an analysis of a blossoming partnership underway in Washington, spawned a new joke: "The real secretary of education is Bill Gates."

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has become the biggest player in the school reform movement, spending around $200 million a year on grants to elementary and secondary education, the AP's Lbby Quaid and Donna Blankenship report. But now the foundation is taking "unprecedented steps to influence education policy, spending millions to influence how the federal government distributes nearly $5 billion in grants to overhaul public schools. The federal dollars are unprecedented, too."

Since Obama secured the money as part of the economic stimulus to spur schools that are failing their students, the Gates Foundation has offered grants of $250,000 apiece to help states apply for the money - "so long as they agree with the foundation's approach." The administration and foundation share common goals: Paying schoolteachers based on the performance of their students, and that means testing, encouraging charter schools that operate independently of local school boards; and establishing a common academic standards adopted by every state.

The big teachers' unions are at odds with some of these goals. They complain that standardized testing has run amok. The Obama administration has directly confronted a constituency that has been a longtime ally of the Democrats, those teachers' unions.

"Despite growing evidence to the contrary, it appears the administration has decided that charter schools are the only answer to what ails America's public schools," the National Education Association, the largest teachers' union, said in comments about the grant competition submitted to the Education Department. "We should not continue the unhealthy focus on standardized tests as the primary evidence of student success, the NEA said. The American Federation of Teachers submitted similar comments. Together, the unions count about 4.6 million members.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the former superintendent of schools from Chicago, welcomes the foundation's involvement. "The more all of us are in the game of reform, the more all of us are pushing for dramatic improvement, the better," Duncan said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Duncan's inner circle includes two former Gates employees, the AP report notes. His chief of staff is Margot Rogers, who was special assistant to Gates' education director. Assistant Deputy Secretary James Shelton was a program director for Gates' education division. The administration has waived ethics rules to allow Rogers and Shelton to deal more freely with the foundation, but Rogers said she talks infrequently with her former colleagues.

"It's no secret the U.S. education system is failing," Bill Gates says in this report. "We're doing all kinds of experiments that are different. The Race To The Top is going to do many different ones. There's no group-think."

When the foundation offered to help states apply for the federal funding, it initially offered the $250,000 to only 15 states. Officials in other states complained when they learned of the plan. And the foundation agreed to expand its offer, now agreeing to help any state that meets eight criteria, including a commitment to the common standards effort and the ability to link student data to teachers. The foundation also is helping some districts that are eligible for a share of the money if they are working in partnership with nonprofits such as the Gates Foundation.

The Department of Education has announced public meetings across the country "to listen and learn from assessment experts and practitioners," the agency says. "The goals are two-fold: first to gather technical input to inform the development of a Race to the Top Assessment Competition; and second to enable states, who will be the competition applicants, and the public to participate in and learn from these events.

"The next generation of assessments will provide information that helps accelerate student learning and improve teachers' practice," Duncan says. "At these meetings, experts will give us their best ideas so we can support states' efforts to build the new assessments our country needs to ensure that our students are prepared for success in college and careers."

In the Race to the Top, the agency says:

Duncan has pledged to reserve up to $350 million to support consortia of states that are working to create new assessments tied to a common set of standards. The grants will be distributed next year through a competitive process. The assessment grants will come from the $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund and will be awarded under a separate program from the larger one designed to support states' comprehensive efforts to reform education.

Department officials will use the input gathered to design the application for the assessment competition; consortia of states, who are the applicants for the competition, will use the information to inform their proposed assessment designs. The department plans to publish the application early next year and will award grants by next fall.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act appropriated $4.35 billion for the Race to the Top Fund. The law requires the money to be distributed through four areas of reform:

Adopting college- and career-ready standards and assessments;

Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals;

Building data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve their practices; and

Turning around our lowest-performing schools.

"To succeed in comprehensive efforts to reform, states need to have plans to address each of these areas," Duncan says. "But high-quality standards and assessments are the foundation on which reforms are built. High-quality assessments are one of the most important ingredients of reform. We look forward to supporting states as they lead the way in this critical effort."


Half of the British think creationism should be taught alongside evolution

More than half of all Britons believe that creationism and other theories about the origins of life should be taught alongside evolution in school science lessons, according to a survey published today. The study, published to coincide with a British Council symposium on science education, suggests that three-quarters of adults support the teaching of evolution. But only one in five thinks this should be to the exclusion of theories such as creationism and intelligent design.

There has been growing controversy over the place of alternative theories in schools. Professor Michael Reiss was sacked last year as the Royal Society’s director of education after arguing that creationism and intelligent design should be addressed as a “world view” if they were raised by pupils.

There was further controversy this summer when the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance asked GCSE candidates to compare creationism with Darwin’s theory of evolution. Creationism is the literal interpretation of scripture, while intelligent design holds that living organisms are too complex to be explained by evolution alone.

National Curriculum guidelines stipulate that evolution alone should be taught in science lessons, while creationism may be discussed as part of religious education. But it has been estimated that as many as ten per cent of pupils now come from families that believe in the accounts of divine creation in the Bible or the Koran.

The MORI research, commissioned by the British Council, polled 1,000 adults in Britain among 12,000 in ten countries, including America, Russia and India. British support for teaching other theories alongside evolution was higher, at 54 per cent, than in any of the other countries apart from Argentina and Mexico. But Britain had the lowest proportion (6 per cent) believing that other theories should be taught in preference to evolution.

However, when responses were restricted to those who had heard of Charles Darwin and knew something of his theory of evolution, the proportion supporting lessons on evolution alone rose from 21 per cent to 24 per cent. Among the more informed group, 60 per cent favoured the mixed approach.

Dr Fern Elsdon-Baker, the head of the British Council’s Darwin Now programme, which is running today's symposium at the National Science Learning Centre on evolution and education, said: “One of the most interesting findings of our survey is that there is evidence the more people understand about evolutionary theory the more enthusiastic they are about it being taught as part of the science curriculum.”

But Dr Baker added that the overall level of support for the teaching of theories other than evolution might reflect a need for a "more sophisticated approach to teaching and communicating how science works as a process, and how it is debated alongside other perspectives". The council is launching a range of international education resources on the subject for schools, museums and science centres.

Professor Reiss, who is now Professor of Science Education at the Institute of Education, in London, is speaking at the symposium. He said he was not surprised that so many people felt that creationism and intelligent design should be taught in schools, even though they were not scientific theories. "In my experience in the UK, the overwhelming majority of science teachers do not want creationism or intelligent design taught as valid scientific alternatives to evolution, but are often comfortable with pupils bringing up such ideas," Professor Reiss said. "When I was taught science, we were allowed to bring anything up in lessons.


Power in those old school ties

AUSTRALIA enjoys clout and access in the Asia-Pacific thanks to politicians and officials in the region who have not forgotten their student days here. This is the claim of a report released last week to talk up the non-financial benefits of the $16 billion industry in international education. "What we've found a bit distressing is that so much attention is given to the economic impact of international education," said Peter Coaldrake from the peak body Universities Australia, which commissioned the independent report. "It's important that we remind ourselves and everyone else of some of the other benefits."

Those benefits include more positive attitudes to Australia, open doors for our diplomats and a better hearing, according to the Hong-Kong based consultancy, Strategy Policy and Research in Education Ltd, which is behind the report.

The report says the son of Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is a graduate of Curtin University of Technology, and the country's top three economic policy-makers have close ties to Australian education. In 2001-02, when the issue of East Timor's independence strained relations between Jakarta and Canberra, the Indonesian cabinet at that point had five Australian-educated members. This helped ease tensions, according to Ric Smith, a former ambassador quoted in the report.

The report makes much of the good work done in Indonesia and China by the Australian National University. Mr Smith said ANU economist Ross Garnaut played a remarkable role in the education of Chinese economists. "For a time those (ANU-trained) economists exerted disproportionate influence in China," he said. Former ANU vice-chancellor Deane Terrell pointed out that ANU's expertise in the region rested heavily on languages, a field under pressure in the education system.

The report attributes the rise of Australia's soft power in the region especially to the elite former students of the Colombo Plan. The report asks why they "appear to shine brightly against those who followed them in the fee-paying era for international students which began in the late 1980s".

It suggests the fruits of the Colombo Plan are well known because its former students have by now reached or passed the peak of their careers. "However, the far larger wave of fee-paying students is still to hit their career pinnacle ... expect to see more eminent Australian alumni emerge soon into senior roles in Asian countries," the report says.

Monash University's Bob Birrell said the report failed to come to grips with criticism of the overseas student industry, its poor standard of English and the "dumbing down" of courses popular with these students, many of them seeking permanent residency. "On outcomes (the report's) rosy assessment relies mainly on research which shows that some 90 per cent of overseas students in our universities successfully complete their courses. This is hardly surprising since the students have heavily invested in the course fees and thus have a very strong motive to finish," Dr Birrell said.


26 October, 2009

Protestant schools under attack in Ireland

Protestant schools in Ireland have been funded by the Irish government on parity with government schools for 40 years but the present government now want a big cut to such funding. Protestant schools tend to be more prestigious so there is both class hatred and religious bigotry at work

EDUCATION Minister Batt O'Keeffe claimed yesterday that he withdrew €2.8m in grants from Protestant schools because the payment was deemed unconstitutional. The Attorney General believed that to continue the grants would be unconstitutional as they were being given to the Protestant denomination and being refused to the Catholic denomination, he said in a heated Dail exchange with Fine Gael education spokesperson Brian Hayes. Mr O'Keeffe accepted that the funding position for Protestant schools in many areas could be more difficult than in Dublin.

And he repeated that he would consider any proposals that would effectively channel funding in rural areas. The claim about the constitutional position was made hours before a stinging attack on Mr O'Keeffe by the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, Dr John Neill.

Dr Neill said he would like to see the legal advice offered by the Attorney General and noted that it was strange that it was being sought now, 40 years after the arrangements for Protestant schools were first made. He warned that some Protestant schools would be put out of business. "Those that survive will only do so by charging excessive fees, thereby excluding the very community they were founded to serve," he said.

The archbishop suggested that the 're-classification' of the Protestant schools was not driven by financial considerations. "It was driven by what amounts to a very determined and doctrinaire effort within the Department of Education and Science to strike at a sector which some officials totally failed to understand," he claimed. Previous Governments treated these schools in a fair manner, he said. "The same cannot be said of the present Fianna Fail / Green Party coalition," he added.

The future of the Protestant schools was also threatened by the changes in the pupil teacher ratio from 18:1 to 20:1. "These two changes will not only cost jobs, but actually make some schools no longer viable in quite a short span of time," he added.

Mr Hayes said Mr O'Keeffe was undermining Protestant confidence in the Government's position, in terms of denominational education and the rights of its 21 secondary schools. Legal opinion that had never been sought in the past 40 years "has resulted in a terrible loss of faith in his position as Minister for Education and Science among the minority community," he said. He said Protestant schools had done a deal with former Education Minister Donogh O'Malley, when he introduced free education in the 1960s, to ensure they kept grants and the minister was breaking that agreement.

Today, Mr O'Keeffe meets the management committee for Protestant schools which will ask him to restore grants and teachers to the sector.


The farce of teacher-training colleges

I got good results for my High School students and I have never had one second of teacher-training. For High School teaching, a relevant degree should be sufficient. Teachers are born, not made

On Thursday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan went to Columbia University's Teachers College, the oldest teacher-training school in the nation, and delivered a speech blasting the education schools that have trained the majority of the 3.2 million teachers working in U.S. public schools today. "By almost any standard, many if not most of the nation's 1,450 schools, colleges and departments of education are doing a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the realities of the 21st century classroom," he said to an audience of teaching students who listened with more curiosity than ire — this was Columbia University after all, and they knew Duncan wasn't talking to them. It was a damning, but not unprecedented, assessment of teacher colleges, which have long been the stepchildren of the American university system and a frequent target of education reformers' scorn over the past quarter-century.

But Duncan's speech raises another question: If most teacher colleges are "mediocre," does that mean the teachers they produce are equally lackluster?

One of the major problems with answering that question, says David Steiner, New York's education commissioner, is that we simply don't know, can't know. It is nearly impossible in many states to tell which teachers produce the best student outcomes, let alone which teacher colleges. "And if we can't identify the skills that make a difference in terms of student learning, then what we're saying is that teaching is an undefinable art, as opposed to something that can be taught," says Steiner. Until recently, Steiner served as dean of Hunter College's School of Education, where he was a vocal critic of the typical ed-school approach, in which teachers-in-training study theories and philosophies of education at the expense of practical, in-the-classroom experience. Steiner maintains that institutions need to turn their eyes toward the practical and away from the hypothetical.

Which brings people like Steiner to a central concern: What good are teachers' credentials if we can't tell how much their students are learning?

To that end, Duncan said, "I am urging every teacher-education program today to make better outcomes for students the overarching mission that propels all their efforts." He suggested that more states mimic a model currently being used in Louisiana in which student test scores in grades 4-9 are traced back to their teachers, who are in turn traced back to their place of training, whether it be an ed school or an alternative certification program like Teach for America.

"If you want to get more-effective teachers, one of the obvious places to begin is to look at the supply side," says George Noell, a researcher at Louisiana State University who has worked for several years on the state's Teacher Quality initiative. "You need to know who's coming into teaching, how they were prepared and where they were prepared. Then you can make a link between who taught a kid, who trained the teacher and the overall efficacy of that teacher." Although such measures may seem a prelude to punitive measures on ed schools, "we aren't seeking to close people down," says Noell. "That's not the point." Rather, the ideal situation would be to have schools use the feedback to improve the quality of their instruction. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette, for example, increased admissions standards and added other programs after data from the initiative alerted the school to its weaknesses.

Concern over the ability of teacher colleges to produce effective teachers has long existed and only increased as the focus of education policy has turned to accountability and data. As Duncan points out, one of his predecessors, Richard Riley, put ed colleges on notice a full decade ago. The difference, as Duncan never misses an opportunity to say, is that the Federal Government now has financial incentives through which to effect change — a $4.35 billion pot of competitive innovation grants and $43 million to support "residency" programs that put budding teachers in classrooms for longer periods of time under the watchful eye of a veteran teacher, in much the same way that medical residents are supervised by seasoned staff for their first few years out of med school.

Smart as they may be, trace-back programs are still likely to meet resistance. "Who wakes up one morning and says, 'I want to be publicly accountable?' " says Noell of teacher colleges. "That's kind of scary for anybody. Nobody wants to be embarrassed."


Australia: A childhood policy straight out of fantasyland

Get up and Grow, the guidelines for healthy eating and exercise in early childhood, part of the Federal Government's anti-obesity drive, are nearing release. They recommend children should be banned from watching television until they turn two and from two to age five viewing should be limited to one hour a day. Such policy recommendations emanate from a fantasyland where officials never seem to learn from the past or understand the real world where most of us live.

Television is omnipresent and a powerful means of educating young children. It has always been true that one-third of children do two-thirds of the viewing and many of these heavy viewers are children who live in disadvantaged families. This fact of life provides educators with an opportunity.

There have been only two comprehensive educational experiments that have attempted to fundamentally change the focus of early childhood education through television. The first was Sesame Street developed 50 years ago to address disadvantage among American preschoolers; the second was Lift Off, developed in the '90s by the Australian Children's Television Foundation. In both cases the television program was the centre-piece for a nationwide community outreach program with support materials designed for families, carers and teachers.

Lift Off exemplified the way in which the media and the education system could work together with parents to create a valuable resource for the education of children. The process of collaboration worked, but the ABC, for its own political purposes, took the program off air and the project collapsed. As a concept, Lift Off was ahead of its time but that time has come again with the Government acknowledging the vital importance of early childhood education.

Education does not begin when children go to preschool or school for the first time. Eighty five per cent of brain development takes place in the first few years of life. Research has taught us that infants and toddlers' brains are voraciously active from birth and that disadvantage in society is born when young children's education is neglected.

The major influence on children's learning comes from the home, from parents, without a formal teacher, with no clear curriculum and with few conscious goals. Community, culture and place are important influences. So the starting point of all formal early childhood education has to be each child's unequal and diverse family and community background and an attempt to expand each child's horizons beyond what has already happened to them. That means working with parents as much as with children and ensuring the broader social environment – the neighbourhood playgrounds, shopping centres and mass media - supports and enriches the experiences of every child as they grow.

Former British education minister Alan Milburn, in his recent report Unleashing Aspiration, emphasised the central importance of "pushy parents". So did US President Barack Obama in his "no excuses" call to the underprivileged to improve their lot. But parents need government to help them make a difference. Some children are born into a world rich in resources and experiences while others are deprived from the start. And this is where the Government should focus its attention.

The kindergarten movement began as a philanthropic attempt to redress working-class disadvantage; the maternal and child health system was set up to ensure every parent had access to professional health care and sound advice on child development; child care was to ensure a safe environment for the children of employed parents; primary schools were made free and compulsory to help remove the disadvantages of the working poor. None of these reforms were meant simply to develop services for the already privileged.

So what of the new policy initiative from the Council of Australian Governments (COAG)? The first Early Years Learning Framework for Australia is intended to make sure all children from birth to five years and through the transition to school get off to a good start in life. It has recently been released for trial and comment. In the introduction, the document states that the Framework "has been designed for use by early childhood educators working in partnership with families, children's first and most influential educators". Following that acknowledgement the document has nothing further to say to parents but goes on to address, in professional jargon, only those educators working in formal child care and preschool settings.

The Learning Framework for birth-five skirts round the inequalities and disadvantages that exist for many children by addressing the general themes of "Belonging, Being and Becoming" — goals that remind teachers that every child needs to be included, to feel they belong, that they should not be pushed too quickly towards formally defined educational outcomes. The framework's five outcomes for children are listed as having a strong sense of identity; feeling connected with and able to contribute to their world; having a strong sense of wellbeing; being confident and involved learners; and being effective communicators.

These are worthy objectives but missing is the content and the means by which each of those objectives can be achieved for the diverse child population entering preschool. There is no notion of how child care or kindergarten teachers can overcome gaps in wellbeing or confidence or communication skills that derive from the home. The framework is not informed by a theory of intelligence or developing competence.

Apart from a list of desired outcomes there is no discourse on what sort of experiences the child-care centre or playgroup or kindergarten might provide to expand the horizons of children from disadvantaged homes, or on the effectiveness of praise for effort and process rather than results. The dominant philosophy is "play-based learning" with a nod in the direction of teacher-directed play and with few mentions of the need for teachers to use the ever-more potent media technologies at the disposal of most children.

This blinkered approach, which makes only passing mention of learning outside formal child care and kindergartens, will do nothing for the development of most toddlers in their vital formative years and leaves parents out in the cold without help and guidance at the same time as too many children are falling through the kindergarten gap.

Soon parents are to be informed they should ban their children from watching television as part of the Government's anti-obesity drive. The onus is to be thrown back on parents to cope, with government abdicating a role in ensuring the television programs available to children during these years provide educational and entertainment value appropriate for their rapidly expanding brain power.

The important early years at home are being ignored within our first national framework and the education revolution, which began with such a bang, is wandering along through assorted bureaucratic tunnels with no one looking at children's environment as a whole. A critically important opportunity for integrated child policy is being missed again.

The new Early Years Learning Framework for Australia is still in development. It presents an opportunity to reach parents, to use constructively the ubiquitous media and influence those who shape the wider social environment of Australian children, as well as teachers, with a comprehensive statement on early childhood education.


Australia: In Victorian government schools, some "temporary" classrooms are over 40 years old!

Some would undoubtedly be closed down if they were part of a private school

THOUSANDS of Victorian state school students are being taught in old and shabby portable classrooms, including some believed to contain dangerous asbestos. Almost three-quarters of the 8070 portables spread throughout our schools are more than 20 years old, according to an Education Department audit seen by the Herald Sun.

Berwick Lodge primary school principal Henry Grossek said he was concerned about asbestos-lined ceilings among his 18 portable classrooms. "If you leave it there it's largely safe, but it can be dangerous if there's damage to the walls and ceilings," he said. "It costs a fortune to remove asbestos and if you need to do an upgrade it could blow a hole in the school budget." "Portables are not a good option for most schools."

Melton West primary and Wangaratta's Carraragarmungee primary have 48-year-old portables - the state's oldest, according to the audit released under Freedom of Information. They are among nearly 500 temporary classrooms that are more than 40 years old. A further 3000 portables are between 20 and 30 years old, and 2357 are aged between 30 and 40 years.

Liberal education spokesman Martin Dixon said that there was something very wrong when more than 70 per cent of portable classrooms were more than 20 years old. "It is conceivable that in some schools, three generations of one family could have been educated in the same portable, temporary classroom," he said.

Education Minister Bronwyn Pike said the Government had acted on a 2002 auditor-general's report that identified 1000 portables needing immediate replacement. Since 2005, the Government had spent $95 million rolling out 1000 modern portables, she said. "These newly-designed relocatable buildings contain two classrooms, providing schools with flexibility in a modern setting and replace older style relocatable classrooms," she said.

Parents Victoria spokeswoman Elaine Crowle said there were some pretty ordinary portables around, but a lot of good things were happening in education. "The Government deserves some credit for its building program and it is pretty much on track to phase out many of its old portables," she said.


25 October, 2009

Duncan Scolds Hawaii on School Furloughs

State uses stimulus money to REDUCE education spending. Paying bureaucrats comes first

Hawaii schools drew a stern rebuke from Washington on Friday, the first of 17 furlough days planned for the school year, amid concerns that billions of dollars in federal aid won't be enough to prevent further classroom cuts across the U.S.

As the state awoke to "furlough Friday," Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote in an opinion piece in the Honolulu Advertiser newspaper that Hawaii had taken "a step in the wrong direction." "All states are under financial pressure, but none are cutting this much learning time from their school year," Mr. Duncan wrote. "It's inconceivable to me that this is the best solution for Hawaii."

Mr. Duncan pointed out that Hawaii had already received $105 million in aid from a $40 billion fund in the economic-stimulus plan designed to prop up states' education budgets, and that it was due to get another $52 million later this year. Hawaii is using its $157 million in federal aid to reduce state funding for education by the same amount. The U.S. Department of Education allows states to use stimulus money to do that as long as they don't cut education spending below 2006 levels.

Falling tax revenue has contributed to a $3 billion shortfall in Hawaii's overall state budget through June 2011. The state has laid off employees and cut spending on prisons and such programs as adult dental services, said Linda Smith, a senior policy adviser to Hawaii's Republican governor, Linda Lingle. Ms. Smith said the state increased spending on education by 15% between 2006 and 2009, and that its funding plans complied with federal rules.

School administrators say that cash-strapped states across the country have taken advantage of federal money to keep education spending at the minimum level allowed. Stimulus funds meant for schools were "basically hijacked by many states. It's a shell game," said Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, a nonpartisan professional association.

Hawaii is the only state in the country that has a single school district, which is run by the state. School districts in almost every state have laid off teachers. Some 20,000 teachers in California had lost their jobs through August, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. School districts in Florida and Georgia are furloughing teachers, but not on days when students would be in the classroom.

Mr. Domenech said school districts were being forced to "pick your poison." He noted that furloughs save jobs, often at the expense of educational time for students, but that teacher layoffs increase class sizes. School districts are already bracing for even tougher choices as local and state revenue continues to drop. The stimulus funds will only last for another two years.

"We're not out of the woods yet," said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, a teachers union, in a statement earlier this week. He called for more stimulus money if the states' economies don't improve "significantly."


AZ: Private-school tax credits save $8.3 million

Arizona taxpayers likely saved no more than $8.3 million in 2007 from private-school tax-credit programs, a higher figure than originally estimated in an Arizona Republic article last week. The original estimate of $3 million resulted from incorrect figures provided by the Arizona Department of Education.

Revised figures indicate that in 2007, the tuition tax-credit programs likely cost the state's General Fund about $19.3 million and saved local property taxpayers nearly $27.7 million, according to The Republic's analysis.

A Republic article last Wednesday examined the effects on taxpayers of programs that allow people to donate up to $1,000 for private-school tuition scholarships and reduce their income-tax bill dollar for dollar. For years, supporters of the tax credits have argued the programs have provided substantial savings to the state.

The Republic's estimates were based on an assumption that all the growth in private-school enrollment since the first tax-credit program began in 1998 was due to the tax-credit incentive. The state saves money when a public-school student shifts to a private school, but it loses money when a student who would have attended private school anyway receives a tax-credit scholarship.

To calculate the savings and costs, The Republic requested from the Education Department the amounts of per-pupil expenditures made by the state and by local taxpayers.

Yousef Awwad, the department's finance director, said an error in a computer formula led to a miscount of per-pupil expenditures. The correct per-pupil amounts were $4,868 paid by the state and $3,674 paid by local taxpayers. The amounts include capital building expenses and are weighted to reflect charter-school expenses; they exclude federal funding.

Several economists and other experts reviewed The Republic's analysis and methodology. Justin Olson, a senior research analyst at the Arizona Tax Research Association, called it "logical," although adding that the most meaningful figure is the net effect on state and local taxes combined.

He pointed out that because of the state's byzantine school-funding rules, few school districts would likely see property-tax savings even if they lost students to private schools. That's because in most districts the state has to cover an education-funding shortfall from local property taxes. Any savings would effectively mean the state has less of a shortfall to cover, Olson said.


One British school takes a stand against medieval ignorance

Muslim student, 18, banned from college because she refuses to remove her burkha

A Muslim student has been banned from enrolling at a college because she refused to remove her burkha. Shawana Bilqes, 18, wanted to wear the garment - which covers her body and face, leaving only her eyes visible - during lessons. But staff at Burnley College refused to enrol her, claiming the burkha was a barrier to 'safety and communication'. In a strongly worded statement, the college said 'unimpeded' face to face contact between teachers and students was vital.

Miss Bilqes, who wanted to study an access course for a diploma, has now been forced to abandon her plans and is looking elsewhere to complete her studies. Yesterday she said: 'It is my choice to wear the veil. 'I live around the corner from the college in an area where there are so many practising Muslims. 'I tried to compromise but they wouldn't. The college sent me a letter to say I could continue with my course if I stopped wearing the veil. 'We are in the 21st century and we get people from all walks of life. I'm in the police cadets as well and yet it's not a problem wearing the veil there.'

John Smith, principal of the college, in Burnley, defended the actions of his staff. He said that a student's face must be fully visible to maintain high standards of teaching between staff and pupils, adding that it was crucial to wear photo ID around the campus for security reasons. 'We do require all students of Burnley College to have their faces visible when at the college,' he said.

'We are determined to maintain the highest standards of teaching and learning. To do this effectively requires unimpeded communication from the teacher to all students, from the students to the teacher and between student and student. 'It is not possible to maintain this essential full communication if the face of any student is not fully visible.

'We are also determined to provide a safe environment for all our students. Central to this is that all members of the college community should be identifiable at all times. 'To this end we require students and staff to wear a security card which displays their photograph. 'Where individuals decline to comply, then I am afraid we cannot accommodate them.'

Controversy over the burkha was highlighted by Justice Secretary Jack Straw in 2006, when he suggested that Muslim women should abandon wearing it because it was a 'visible statement of separation and difference'. Mr Straw, then the Leader of the House of Commons, faced criticism from Muslim groups after disclosing that he asked women to remove their veils at meetings in his constituency office in Blackburn.

In March 2005, Shabina Begum, 16, controversially won the right to wear head-to-toe Islamic dress in the classroom. She argued that Denbigh High School in Luton breached her human rights by sending her home when she arrived wearing a burkha. After a case costing taxpayers £70,000, three Appeal Court judges ruled the teenager's school had acted unlawfully.

Earlier this year French President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke out, claiming the burkha reduced women to servitude and undermined their dignity. 'It will not be welcome on the territory of the French republic,' he said. Islamic headscarves have been banned in French state schools since 2004.


24 October, 2009

Anti-Islamic Dutch Lawmaker Event at University Cut Short as Crowd Turns Nasty

Amid tight security and a large turnout of protesters, Dutch right-wing lawmaker Geert Wilders told an assembly of Temple University students that Europe and America must fight an ongoing "stealth jihad" that threatens democracy and free speech. "Where Islam sets roots, freedom dies," Geert Wilders told the students during his 30-minute address organized by a new student group called Temple University Purpose and funded by the California-based David Horowitz Freedom Center, a foundation that promotes conservative scholarship.

His remarks were met by a mixture of applause and boos, and occasionally gasps - particularly when he stated that "our Western culture is far better than the Islamic culture and we should defend it."

He decried as a "disgrace" a resolution co-sponsored by the U.S. and Egypt, and backed by the U.N. Human Rights Council earlier this month, deploring attacks on religions while insisting that freedom of expression remains a basic right. Wilders also criticized President Barack Obama for his efforts to extend a hand to the Islamic world, saying that such appeasement marks "the beginning of the end." If the spread of Islam continues unabated in the Western world, "you might at the end of the day lose your Constitution," he told the assembly. "Wake up, defend your freedom." He also touched on common themes in his speeches, including calling for an end to Muslim immigration and referring to the Muslim holy book, the Quran, as "an evil book" that promotes violence and intolerance.

A question-and-answer session was cut short after the tone of the event began to turn nasty, when some in the crowd of several hundred students began shouting jeers. Wilders' security detail quickly ushered him from the room.

"In order to improve our understanding of others, we need to learn," said Alvaro Watson of Purpose, the student group. "We can't fight for something if we only know one side."

Before his remarks at Temple, a public university serving about 34,000 students, Wilders showed his 15-minute anti-Islam film, "Fitna," which juxtaposes passages from the suras, or chapters, of the Quran with images of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, beheadings, shootings and speeches from clerics advocating violence against non-Muslims.

"I think it's completely wrong that someone who promotes racism and intolerance should be given a platform at this university," said Temple student Josh Rosenthal. "It's hate speech disguised as free speech." Another student, Joseph Rodrigues, said that being able to voice unpopular opinions is a freedom not to be taken lightly. "I might not like what he said, but I think it's important that he be allowed to say it," he said.

Temple officials issued a statement saying the university "is a community of scholars in which freedom of inquiry and freedom of expression are valued." "We respect the right of our student organizations to invite people who express a wide variety of views and ideas," the school said in a statement.

British officials once banned Wilders from visiting for fear it would spark violence. He successfully sued the government and visited Friday.

Wilders is scheduled to speak at Columbia University in New York on Wednesday.


How crazy Leftist Britain encourages good student behaviour in its schools

Nine-month nightmare for school helper hauled to court after marching yob from class

A classroom assistant accused of assaulting a pupil broke down in tears yesterday as he was cleared at the end of a nine-month nightmare. Mark Ellwood was fingerprinted, held in a cell, and banned from living with his children during the ordeal, which began when he escorted a foulmouthed schoolboy out of a lesson.

The 46-year-old claims he was 'hung out to dry' by the authorities and warned that a climate of fear in schools means pupils are often beyond control and that teachers are too frightened to discipline them. Speaking outside court, Mr Ellwood, a married father of two teenage girls, said: 'Any confidence a teacher may have will have been sapped out of them after what has happened to me. 'On a daily basis, staff are threatened with being stabbed. 'Swearing is endemic; the respect is simply not there and if you pick a pupil up on their language they tell you where to get off. The teachers are scared of the pupils anyway and they know it. 'I lost my job, was removed from my family and faced a criminal conviction, only to be found not guilty. If the power is in favour of the pupil you have not got a hope in hell.'

Mr Ellwood's ordeal began last January, three months after he began work at David Lister School in Hull, which had recently been placed in 'special measures'. As a 'classroom mentor', Mr Ellwood helped deal with children who had been removed from general classes and placed in a special unit because of bad behaviour. The incident occurred when he noticed a 15-year-old boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, playing with a mobile phone during an art lesson and still wearing his jacket. When he asked the boy to take his coat off and put away his phone, the 15-year-old responded by threatening to stab him, adding: 'I will have you killed.' The boy, who was taken out of the class, along a corridor and into the car park, then tried to kick Mr Ellwood in the shins.

Hull magistrates heard how the classroom assistant - a former kickboxing champion - responded by skilfully and 'gently' sweeping the boy's legs from under him to prevent any further attack. Although the teenager suffered no injury, a complaint from his mother led to Mr Ellwood being charged weeks later with common assault.

Police revealed the boy had claimed he had been thrown on to the classroom floor. 'This did not happen at all,' Mr Ellwood said. 'The teacher was in the classroom at the time and he denied seeing anything untoward. 'He landed with his back on the floor. It was done gently and he suffered no injury.'

After being charged with assault, social services visited Mr Ellwood's home before ordering him to move out pending an inquiry. He was forced to sleep on a gym floor for two weeks before being allowed to move back into his home. After the verdict was announced, magistrates chairman Christopher Buren told Mr Ellwood to 'forget about this and restart your life'.

The classroom assistant said he is considering his career options. Stuart Todd, David Lister School's new headmaster, said that Mr Ellwood would be 'welcome back' at the school.


British pupils skipped 8 million school days last year

Children skipped more than eight million days of school last year as the truancy rate soared, official figures show.

Pupils in primary and secondary schools in England missed 1.03 per cent of half days in the autumn term last year and the spring term this year due to unauthorised absence. This is up from 0.97 per cent for the same two terms in 2007-08.

It means that almost 64,800 pupils skipped school without permission on a typical day through truancy, family holidays, illness and other reasons. In total, 8.2 million days were lost due to unauthorised absence.

The Schools minister Vernon Coaker said that missing schools without a good reason was "totally unacceptable". The most common reason for absence was illness, accounting for 59.2 per cent of cases.

Absence for family holidays was the second biggest reason, accounting for 9.7 per cent of absent half days; of these almost a fifth (18.6 per cent) were not authorised.


23 October, 2009

A private path out of poverty

A former believer in government schools learns why some of the world's poorest people sacrifice to get their kids into for-profit schools

Are you gonna believe the experts, or will you believe your lyin' eyes? That might be the subtheme of James Tooley's beautifully written and masterfully argued new book, "The Beautiful Tree: A personal journey into how the world's poorest people are educating themselves." Tooley, a Briton, took his mathematics degree to Zimbabwe to teach in the early 1980s, and, despite requesting a post in a poor rural village, was assigned to a school for the children of the government elite. Two years later he wangled a position in a rural school.

At the time he defended Zimbabwe's attempt to provide free government schools for all its people and believed that "once richer urban people properly paid all their taxes, and the international community coughed up a decent amount of aid, it would be able to make education free for all." "Only when rich Western governments spend much more on aid can every child be saved from ignorance and illiteracy. That's the message we hear every day, from the international aid agencies and our governments, and from pop stars and other celebrities."

Tooley then taught at a university in South Africa, went back to England to get a doctorate in education and, in due time, got a commission in 2000 from the World Bank's International Finance Commission to study private schools in developing countries. But he was troubled that, despite his concern for the poor, his job would wind up being to study how the privileged were being served, because everybody knows that in developing countries private schools only serve the wealthy and privileged.

"Then one day, everything changed," he writes. On a national holiday he took an autorickshaw into the Old City – the slums – of Hyderabad, India. As he shocked his driver with his determination to explore the slums, he discovered that "the stunning thing about the drive was that private schools had not thinned out as we went from the poshest parts of town to the poorest. Everywhere among the little stores and workshops, were private schools!"

So began his journey of discovery.

Tooley that first day encountered Fazalur Rahman Khurrum, head of a ramshackle establishment grandly named the Royal Grammar School and also head of an association catering to private schools serving the poor, with 500 members in Hyderabad alone. Over the next 10 days Tooley visited 50 schools and was impressed by the enthusiasm of students and teachers alike.

It turned out that even though government schools were set up throughout the city, many poor parents had a low opinion of them and scraped together the 60-100 rupees a month ($1.33-$2.22 at exchange rates then) to send their children to private schools. And while many of these schools were begun by people with a special feeling for poor people and a desire to help them, almost none were charities (though all accepted for free or at reduced rates orphans and others who couldn't afford the regular fees) but had to make a profit to survive.

Bias against profit

The experts at the World Bank, when told of this discovery, dismissed the phenomenon as "businessmen ripping off the poor," but that didn't jibe with what Mr. Tooley had seen with his own lyin' eyes. Still, he wondered about the quality of education these children were receiving and just how widespread the phenomenon of private schools for the poor was.

Instead of seeing such schools as a possible answer to illiteracy and poverty, however, the certified development experts – most of whom had never personally ventured into a slum – instructed him that this only meant the government must redouble its efforts to bring government schools to everybody, with plenty of aid and instruction from the international community, of course. The private schools were simply a passing phenomenon, run by unscrupulous people who cared only about profit.

Studying the development literature, Tooley found that some reputed experts, including India's Nobel-winning economist Amartya Sen, were aware of private schools, even noting that in rural areas as many as 30 percent of poor parents sent their children to private schools. But these facts played no part in the experts' recommendations. Only when government-run schools reached every poor child would the Nirvana of education for all be reached.

Some of the experts were even aware of shortcomings in public schools. One report on four provinces in India noted that unannounced visits found "teaching activity" was occurring in only half of the government schools, and in a third of them the principal wasn't even around. Reports abounded of teachers sleeping during class time, showing up drunk or not showing up at all. This report even noted some valid reasons parents might prefer private schools:

"In a private school, the teachers are accountable to the manager (who can fire them), and, through him or her, to the parents (who can withdraw their children). In a government school, the chain of accountability is much weaker, as teachers have a permanent job with salaries and promotions unrelated to performance. This contrast is perceived with crystal clarity by the vast majority of parents."

Yet such observations never made it into the executive summaries of such reports. Instead of recommending encouragement of private schools – the government instead sent inspectors to note the absence of playgrounds and clean facilities, but didn't recommend closing them if they received suitable bribes, which were built into the private schools' budgets – they advocated the long path of improving government schools and treating private schools as an unfortunate embarrassment.

Undeterred, Tooley took time from his official job – investigating schools for the privileged in every country he visited – to get into the slums to see what the poor were doing for themselves. In Ghana, Somaliland and Goa, he found similar developments: poor parents were sacrificing to send their children to private schools.

Finally, at a conference where he presented his findings, Tooley met Chuck Harper, senior vice president of the John Templeton Foundation, which was interested in "free-market solutions to poverty." He got a grant from the Templeton Foundation and began a research project to explore private schools for the poor and how they stacked up to government schools in quality of education.

Thus he assembled teams of researchers in India, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and elsewhere. In Nigeria he had to negotiate open sewers, mud and narrow alleyways, but he found a thriving community of private schools in the slums of Makoko in Lagos. He found private schools in tiny fishing villages in Ghana, and even in the far reaches of rural China, after officials confidently informed him that there were no private schools for the poor anywhere in that communist bastion.

On one occasion in Ghana, Tooley became impatient with a school proprietor who kept him waiting 20 minutes while she talked to "a very thin, unkempt older man." When he got up to tell her that he was upset by her rudeness and was ready to leave, she simply said, "I'm sorry, but this is a parent." She knew who was important in her world. International experts could wait.

Commitment gap

So what did Tooley's research project uncover? In India, teaching commitment (measured by teachers actually teaching during unannounced visits) was highest in recognized (officially tolerated) private schools, followed by unrecognized private schools, with government schools trailing badly. Most private schools in India teach in English, while government schools, thanks to political pressure, start teaching in the local dialect.

Looking at 14 inputs that could be seen as proxies for quality – drinking water, toilets, proper buildings, desks, blackboards, libraries and the like – government schools outperformed private schools operating on shoestring budgets in only one category: playgrounds.

Tooley's teams tested students in government and private schools and found that when it came to educational attainments the students in private schools outperformed counterparts in government schools dramatically. "The results from Delhi were typical. In mathematics, mean scores of children in government schools were 24.5 percent, whereas they were 42.1 percent in private unrecognized schools and 43.9 percent in private recognized. … In English, the performance difference was much greater (children in unrecognized schools enjoyed a 35 percentage-point advantage over their public school counterparts, whereas children in recognized schools scored 41 percentage points more)." Private-school students even outperformed public school students in Hindi, though English was usually the medium of instruction.

Tooley's teams found similar results in Nigeria and Ghana (statistical details at And the government schools had far greater resources to work with – in some areas public school teachers were paid seven times what private school teachers were, and international aid agencies, both governmental and private, give money only to government schools.

'Beautiful tree'

Finally, Tooley was intrigued by a 1931 statement from Mahatma Gandhi that illiteracy was more prevalent in India than before the British came because the British administrators "when they came to India, instead of taking hold of things as they were, began to root them out. They scratched the soil and began to look at the root, and left the root like that, and the beautiful tree perished." So Tooley began to research education in pre-colonial India. Rooting through musty colonial archives, he found reports that confirmed that before the British came more Indians had been educated at least to the level of minimum literacy, almost all in village-based private schools that charged fees.

There's a happy ending. In 2006 Tooley won a competition on private-sector development sponsored by the Financial Times. After presenting a paper in Singapore and having it reprinted in the Financial Times, he listened to a message on his answering machine from Richard Chandler, a New Zealander who founded Orient Global, a private investment company. "Professor Tooley," he said, "I've read your article in the Financial Times … well, I'm your investor."

Chandler was as good as his word. James Tooley is now head of Orient Global's Education Fund, capitalized at $100 million, which gives grants, advice on curriculum and educational standards, and low-cost loans to private schools around the world, and is building a chain of private schools for the poor in Hyderabad, India, where it all began. The "international development community" still has no clue about private schools for the poor, but in undeveloped countries around the world the poor, with a little help from their real friends, entrepreneurs and investors, are finding their own way out of poverty.


British faith schools are accused of using ‘inflammatory language’

In good politically correct style, observations of Muslim hatred have to be balanced by accusations about Jews. I would like to see examples of the two. I'm betting that there is no comparison

Independent faith schools are using “inflammatory language” and biased material on classroom displays Ofsted warns today. The school inspectors visited 51 private faith schools in England to judge whether they developed children spiritually, culturally and morally. But in eight of the schools they found posters and work on the walls that “had a bias in favour of one group.”

“For example, wording used to describe the situation in Palestine, seen in a Muslim school, used inflammatory language,” the report said. “Similarly, in a Jewish school, pupils' writing used strong language in describing situations in that part of the world.”

Inspectors found some published teaching materials with incorrect information about the beliefs of other religions being used in schools they visited. The report recommends that all resources used to teach about other faiths are accurate and unbiased.

“All the schools emphasised the need for their pupils to respect other people and recognise their freedom of worship, but it was strongly felt that this should remain distinct from any requirement to teach about other faiths in detail,” the inspectors found.

Posters seen by inspectors in one Muslim school referred to the situation in Palestine as an Israeli “occupation” and failed to show the other side of the argument or a balanced viewpoint.

In one Jewish school the language used in children’s work was influenced by events that had happened to their relatives in the Middle East and was highly emotive.

Teaching materials used generalised statements about the beliefs held by other religions and failed to express nuances of belief, inspectors found.


When should children start school?

Children are being attacked from all sides these days. Firstly there is a recommendation that children should not start "formal" education until they are six. As someone who started school at four, I can't imagine waiting so late, but obviously others take a different line.

Dame Gillian Pugh, review author, said, "four and five-year-olds tended to be at a stage where they were just "tuning in" to learning and that they could be "turned off" if they were made to follow too formal a curriculum, too early on." Perhaps, but not for all children. The mandated age for children to enter school is questionable as the parents should decide, an issue Douglas Carswell eloquently puts forward here.

On top of this, or indeed in direct competition to it, the European People's Party believes that children should be given lessons in the benefits of the European Union from the earliest of ages. Of course, some would question how long a lesson it would be.

They claim that, "knowing and understanding, from a young age, the principles, the procedures and the successful history of the European Union, the generations of tomorrow will be immune to any distortion of the perception of the role of the EU and will much better embrace the advantages of this unique project of voluntary sharing of sovereignty." They want to 'instruct' young children in the "benefits" of the EU before they have a chance to formulate their own opinions on the institution.

Clearly both of these examples highlight why government needs to stand aside in the provision of education. The temptation to meddle and mould children's minds to be in sync with the government thinking of the time is too great. Free enterprise in schooling is best for parents, the taxpayer and the children themselves.


22 October, 2009

The Hate Campaign at Temple U

Everywhere you look these days Americans’ most basic freedom is under attack by the jihadists of the international left. The infamous UN Human Rights Commission which includes the worst human rights violators on the planet (now joined by the Obama Administration) has recently passed a resolution against religious defamation — defined as linking Islamists to terrorism. At home Democrats have attached a “hate crimes” amendment which would make thinking a crime to the new defense appropriations bill. Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh has been banned from owning a National Football League team on the grounds that he is a conservative and conservatives are hateful. And at Temple students who have invited one of the most important international figures in the fight against Islamic terrorism are being attacked by the Muslim Students Association on the grounds that his speech is going to be “hateful.” I myself was scheuled to speak at St. Louis University a Catholic college next Friday but was banned by administrators when supporters of the jihad claimed that my speech would insult Muslims.

The pattern is clear. First smear those who disagree with you as “hate-mongers” and then silence them as untouchables. And soon — if the hate crimes legislation movement continues to roll — put them in jail. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the attempts to shut down the Temple speech of Geert Wilders which is being sponsored by a student organization called Temple University Purpose is the role played by three Temple University administrators who run the student activities program and who at a meeting last week pressured the TUP students to close down their event.

Temple University Purpose is an organization created “to advocate for justice and equality for oppressed and under-represented populations” — which would presumably include Muslim women oppressed by Shariah law and peaceful Muslims oppressed by the Taliban and Hamas and other radical Muslim groups. In the service of this mission, Temple University Purpose proposes “to provide an open forum in which conventional and unconventional views are exchanged and challenged.” It is this aspect of the TUP mission that is under attack, first from the Muslim Students Association, which supports the Islamic jihad against the West and does not want the views of Geert Wilders heard, but most disturbingly from Temple administrators in charge of student activities at the school. These administrators told TUP leader Brittany Walsh that Wilders did not have free speech rights at Temple or in America because he was a foreigner. In a courageous response to these administrators Walsh wrote:
“[You} stated in our meeting that Mr. Wilders is not an American citizen and therefore the First Amendment does not apply to him. The American Bill of Rights is not written to confer rights on Americans as to what they can do, but rather these American rights are conceived as limitations on government. The Bill of Rights says Congress shall make no law abridging free speech and not once claims this only applies to American born citizens, but rather to all of man kind. Freedom of Speech has proved an essential tool in providing a medium for progressive social change in the United States; ie: Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Equal Rights Movement, Vietnam War protests, and even the Equal Human Rights Movement occurring right now in the U.S. advocating on behalf of the LGBT community. Throughout world history, we have witnessed the devastation caused when individuals are deprived of this Right to advocate on behalf of themselves. Many men and women have sacrificed their life or suffered severely to allow you and I to be free; thousands are still doing so today.

Furthermore, I would never dream of telling the Muslim Students Association that they may not practice their religion or espouse their beliefs, but I expect that same respect and consideration to be extended to all individuals and/or groups. As was stated previously in our meeting, regardless of how I may, or may not, feel about what Mr. Wilders believes, I do believe it is his right to say it. Temple University Purpose will defend Mr. Wilders, and anyone else for that matter, against institutions and communities who attempt to silence them. The Right to Freedom of Speech is a fundamental right upon which this country was founded. Our founding fathers found that tyrants will always seek to silence those in opposition in an effort to squash non compliant beliefs and felt it to be of vital importance that men and women alike are protected from future governments, mob rule, and tyrants who seek to steal their voice. All of this being said, it would be a disservice to the Temple community, hypocritical of TUP’s mission, and a disrespect to all of those who have sacrificed for our right to invite Mr. Wilders to Temple, to rescind his invitation. The Temple community is being provided with a rare opportunity to have an open forum with a highly intelligent, though controversial, politician. Moreover, it is my hope that the community will come together, let their voices be heard, and participate in this educational experience being provided for them. Temple University Purpose plans to go ahead with the event on the 20th of October and hope we may do so with your support.”
I hope that the Temple administrators will be persuaded by this eloquent statement and will attend the event and give courageous students like Brittany Walsh and her colleague Alvaro Watson their support. And that every American reading this will understand the gravity of the battle that has been joined.


British Diplomas in science 'cannot work'

Labour’s new diploma in science should be scrapped because it lacks academic rigour, according to leading scientists

In an embarrassing blow to the Government, highly-respected bodies including the Royal Society and the Institute of Physics said the flagship qualification “cannot work for the sciences”. They said the diploma – which combines classroom study with practical, work-based learning – was confused and failed to “satisfy this diverse range of requirements”.

Ministers have suggested that diplomas could eventually replace GCSEs and A-levels altogether, bridging the divide between academic and vocational qualifications. But in a letter to Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, scientists said it was disingenuous to suggest that courses could appeal to practically-minded pupils while preparing others for traditional degrees such as physics, chemistry, mathematics and medicine. It should be replaced by a more overtly vocational diploma in “applied sciences”, they said.

The comments strike at the heart of concerns over Labour’s diplomas which are being introduced in three academic subjects – science, languages and humanities. The Conservatives have already pledged to scrap the academic diplomas. Last year, the Confederation of British Industry said the new-style qualifications risked "undermining the integrity" of key subjects and could lead to fewer schoolchildren studying science and mathematics to a high standard.

In their letter to Mr Balls, it was claimed many scientists had “serious reservations” about the new diploma. “The science diploma under development apparently still aims to meet the needs of those students aspiring to the full range of science and mathematics courses at all universities while, at the same time, also addressing the needs of students preparing to enter the world of work at age 19,” it said. “We do not accept the view that a… science qualification with the structure of the current diplomas can satisfy this diverse range of requirements.”

Earlier this year the Government announced the science diploma would be delayed by 12 months because it needed “further work”. Pupils will now study it in 2012.

The letter – signed by leading figures at the Royal Society, the Society of Biology, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Institute of Physics, the Nuffield Foundation and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation – welcomed the move but insisted it was still dogged by the “confused thinking and bureaucracy that plagued the early development” of the qualification.

Diplomas are currently offered in 10 practical subjects, such as hospitality, hair and beauty, manufacturing and media studies. Four more vocational subjects will be introduced to the programme before academic diplomas are introduced in 2011 and 2012.

In the letter, sent last month, scientists said: “This is not to say that we reject diplomas outright, just that the current model cannot work for the sciences.” They added: “Our vision is for a science diploma which is explicitly an applied sciences qualification. To convey this appropriately to key stakeholders we believe the qualification should be renamed ‘diploma in applied sciences’. “Crucially, our vision is not one which includes an attempt to meet the needs of the majority of young people who aspire to study the sciences at university. It therefore differs significantly from what is currently being developed.”

Iain Wright, the Schools Minister, said: “The Royal Society letter represents the views of just some but not all of the science community. "Indeed there is strong support from both academics and industry who do see the potential value of this new and exciting offer for young people. These include universities, employers and practitioners, as well as influential members of the science community such as science academics from Oxford University, Imperial College, AstraZeneca and the NHS. It was and is being produced hand in glove with industry and higher education. “The diplomas have yet to be finalised and we continue to listen to all views. The Science Diploma Development Partnership is currently holding a series of focus groups with universities, employers and practitioners to hear directly from them what they want from the diploma. No final decisions will be taken until we have had an opportunity to hear all views including those expressed in the letter from members of the Royal Society.”


Parents seek £1m for hammer attack on white son at racist British school

Muslim racism is just fine, apparently, no matter who gets hurt

A white pupil was battered with a hammer at a school where politically correct teachers were afraid to deal with racial tensions, the High Court heard yesterday. Henry Webster, 15, suffered a fractured skull and brain damage after being set upon by a gang of Asian [Muslim] youths. Twelve people were jailed over the 2007 attack, but Mr Webster's parents have now brought a civil action against Ridgeway Foundation School near Swindon. They claim there was a negligent failure to maintain proper discipline and deal with racial tension and are seeking compensation of up to £1million.

The family's lawyers told the court a 'culture of racist bullying and harassment' built up around a 30-strong gang called the 'Asian Invasion'. Teachers were too anxious about being seen as bigoted to intervene, but white pupils were branded 'racist' by the acting headmaster and given harsher punishments.

Robert Glancey, QC, representing the family, said tensions escalated after the July 7 London bombings in 2005 and when more Asian pupils joined the school, some of whom were 'radicalised and hostile'. Racial intimidation and violence became a 'feature of the life of the school' with eruptions of 'extreme acts of violence', it was alleged. Asians were 'encouraged' to separate from white pupils and formed a gang that would laugh at and abuse them. Serious incidents included a riot on the playing field in May 2006, which led to armed police attending the school.

At the same time, white pupils received unfair treatment, the court was told. One boy was disciplined for wearing an England shirt. Mr Glancey said: 'There were a large number of incidents, events, complaints and warnings which would or should have made any school which was being reasonably competent realise there was a serious problem with racism, violence security, discipline and misbehaviour.'

Mr Webster was attacked after being told an Asian youth wanted a one-to-one fight. But reinforcements from outside the school were called in by mobile phone.

Ridgeway School disputes the allegations against it and says blaming it for the attack, carried out by a non-pupil outside school hours, is 'unprecedented and far-fetched'.

The case is being brought by Mr Webster, now 18, his mother Elizabeth Walker, 46, who has her own nanny recruitment business, his younger brother Joseph, 14, and his step-father Roger Durnford, 44, who runs a building company. They are also seeking damages, saying they were traumatised by witnessing his injuries and his suffering.


21 October, 2009

New methods in the Old Line State

How Japan's Kumon Is Filling U.S. Public School Gaps

Something magical is happening at the Largo Kumon Center located in Largo, Maryland: students are studying beyond school grade level and actually enjoying it. Not surprisingly, their parents have great things to say about Kumon. One mom, Sandy Frazier, said: "Kumon gave my son the challenge that he needed. He wasn't challenged in school. I started him in Kumon in the fourth grade and he reached algebra before middle school."

Another mom, Kim McCarley, said: "We initially got our children into Kumon to help with giving them a foundation for math and reading. The thing we really like about Kumon is that our children don't just learn math and reading, but it's set up in a way that allows them to master math and reading. They don't progress until they master something. Whereas in school, it's once you have knowledge of, an awareness of, you move on. At Kumon, it's once you master it. And I think that's a big difference in that foundation for them."

Adoline Shodiya, owner of the Largo Kumon Center, credits Kumon for the success of her two daughters. Tayo recently graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in biomedical engineering, and Titi is in her final year at Penn State University studying material science engineering with a minor in math.

What is Kumon? It's an after-school math and reading program that employs a unique learning method designed to help each child develop the skills needed to perform to his or her full potential. The curriculum ranges from preschool to high school. Founded by Toru Kumon in 1958 in Japan, Kumon has 26,100 centers in 46 countries and regions serving over 4.1 million students worldwide, making it the largest and most established program of its kind in the world. Kumon broke into the U.S. market in 1983. Now boasting 1,300 centers and 194,000 students in the U.S., Kumon has surpassed competitors Huntington Learning Center and Sylvan Learning. The shortcomings of U.S. public schools have fueled Kumon's robust growth. In less than a decade, the number of Kumon students in the U.S. has doubled.

As U.S. public schools have progressively embraced reform math over traditional math and whole language over phonics, the U.S. has fallen farther behind other nations in scholastic performance. Many U.S. public schools are not doing a good job of teaching students basic skills in math and reading, which is why many parents are sending their children to Kumon.

Kumon has found what works and has not tinkered with that successful formula for over fifty years. During those same fifty years, the U.S. public education system has gone through several waves of reform, none of which have led to a successful formula.

In "Learning for Life: The Kumon Way", author Reiko Kinoshita writes that the foundation of the unique learning method used by Kumon—called the "Kumon Method"—can be traced back to the Edo period (1603-1868) in Japan. During that period, private educational institutions known as "terakoya" taught basic skills in the three R's while emphasizing individualized learning and self-acquisition of knowledge. The terakoya were abolished in 1872 when the Japanese government established a compulsory public education system. However, the tenets and practices of the terakoya would resurface 86 years later through the work of Toru Kumon.

During my recent visits to Japan and Taiwan to research why students in those nations outperform U.S. students in areas like math and science, I first learned about Kumon. To better understand the Kumon Method, I visited Kumon's Tokyo head office to interview public relations executives Mayu Katata and Shinichiro Iwasaki. When I returned to the U.S., I visited the Largo Kumon Center. I learned that the Kumon Method consists of seven principles:

1. Students experience success from the start. After taking a placement test, students begin learning at a level below their current proficiency level. This reduces frustration and builds confidence.

2. Students advance in small, manageable steps. Each new assignment is only slightly more challenging than the last. Advancing is gradual and easy.

3. Students learn primarily by teaching themselves. Kumon instructors assign worksheets that provide examples of concepts to be learned.Students solve the worksheets on their own. If they have problems, instructors are there to help. Self-learning fosters independence and a sense of accomplishment.

4. Students master concepts before advancing. Mastery means earning a perfect score on a worksheet within a prescribed period of time. There are 200 worksheets for each level of learning. Some students may develop mastery after one worksheet while others may require several. Mastering basic concepts establishes a strong foundation for more advanced concepts.

5. Students practice daily. As the saying goes, "Repetition is the mother of all learning."

6. Students learn at the "just right" level. Each student studies according to his or her own pace and level regardless of age or grade level. In a Kumon classroom, each student is studying different concepts.Learning at the "just right" level prevents students from becoming bored with a pace that's too slow or frustrated with a pace that's too fast.

7. Students realize their potential. Unlimited by age, grade level, prescribed teaching agendas, or the needs of a group, each student can advance according to his or her ability and initiative.

The Kumon Method works. It works for the students I met at the Largo Kumon Center. And it works for 194,000 students throughout the U.S. As long as U.S. public schools fail to provide students with a strong foundation in basic math and reading skills, Kumon will be there to fill in the gaps.


Hugging banned at Primary School in South Australia

YEAR six and seven students have been banned from mixed-sex consensual hugging at a primary school in South Australia for fear it would set a "bad example" to younger students, AdelaideNow reports. Following complaints from parents at Largs Bay Primary School, the school has banned hugging and other displays of affection for "boyfriends or girlfriends" in the two senior grades.

"Hugging is not banned (between friends) at Largs Bay Primary School but we do discourage displays of affection in the schoolyard among students in years 6 and 7 who have a boyfriend or girlfriend at the school," principal Julie Gail said in a statement. ". . . we want our older students to set a strong example for younger students at the school."

The SA Education Department yesterday refused to endorse the policy and could not say whether it applied at any other school in the state.

Parents from two families not happy with the policy contacted The Advertiser and said the school should act only if the display of affection was inappropriate, rather than a blanket ban for all 11 and 12-year-olds. Neither would be named because of fears their children would suffer at school, saying students had been punished for hugging. They said the school's deputy principal and counsellor had told the students of the ban at a meeting of Year 6 and 7s this week, after an outbreak of hugging when friends were reunited following the recent school holidays.

The school's governing council has not discussed the ban at its meetings but one family which has a girl at the school, and another with two students, are not happy with the policy. They said it was far more strictly applied than the school suggests. "I don't want my child to go to a school in which displays of affection lead to punishment," one mother told The Advertiser. "My daughter has boys who are friends and she is being told she will be punished if she hugs them, I think that is setting a very bad example for younger and older children."

UniSA child protection expert Elspeth McInnes said the benefits or disadvantages of the policy would depend on how it was applied and policed. "Commonsense needs to prevail and if someone has just heard of terrible news and is being hugged you would not expect the school to overreact as opposed to what may be going on at the back of the class," she said.


Gap in educational success between rich and poor areas of Britain widening, says report

Despite 12 years of government by a party loudly committed to narrowing the gap. More evidence that Leftist parties don't know what they are doing. If your theories are wrong, you won't get the results you expect

The gap in educational success between rich and poor areas of Britain is widening, despite investment of millions of pounds each year, according to research published today. A day before Lord Mandelson, the Universities Secretary, outlines the Government’s strategy for increasing social mobility through wider access to further and higher education, a report by the University and College Union (UCU) shows that the gulf between rich and poor areas in the numbers completing a degree has widened over four years.

In some parliamentary constituencies, almost two thirds of the working-age population are graduates while in others fewer than one person in ten has a degree or equivalent qualification. Across Britain 29 per cent now have a degree but more than 12 per cent have no qualifications, according to the report.

Tomorrow Lord Mandelson will give the Confederation of British Industry a preview of his plans to boost social mobility through a new framework for higher education.

A Government taskforce chaired by Alan Milburn, the former Health Secretary, identified the continuing low participation in higher education by those from poor families as one of the main obstacles to social mobility. There have been marginal increases in the number of students from the lowest socio-economic groups over the past two years but the UCU report shows that many areas have not shared in the trend. In Sheffield, for example, 60 per cent of people living in the Hallam constituency represented by Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, are graduates - four times the figure for the nearby Brightside constituency represented by David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary.

In the 20 constituencies with the largest numbers going to university, the proportion of the working-age population with a degree-level qualification increased from 48.8 per cent in 2005 to 57.2 per cent in 2008. But the 20 constituencies with the lowest level of participation in higher education saw a decline from 12.6 per cent to 12.1 per cent. The Richmond Park constituency, in southwest London, has the largest proportion of graduates, at more than 63 per cent of the working-age population. In Doncaster North and Birmingham Hodge Hill fewer than 10 per cent have degrees.

The report also shows considerable regional variations. Eight of the 20 constituencies with the lowest proportion of qualifications are in the West Midlands. London attracts the highest number of graduates, with 17 of the 25 constituencies that boast the most graduates found in the capital.

Sally Hunt, the UCU general secretary, said: "The current Government has rightly prioritised investment in education but this report shows that the problem is even more deep-seated than previously thought and is a challenge for all the parties. Education holds the key to improving social mobility, tackling poverty and extending opportunity for all." Ms Hunt said the report showed the current divide between the “haves and have nots” was growing. Where a person lived largely determined their chances of educational success. [Rubbish! Place of residence is incidental. Richer people are smarter overall and have smarter kids]


20 October, 2009

Making the Grade Isn't About Race. It's About Parents (?)

There is a nugget of truth in the observations below. Parental pressure can raise educational achievement. But it is no substitute for IQ. My son had zero pressure on him during his schooling and I was an "absent father" throughout. His mother and I split up in the same year that he began school. But he was always a couple of years ahead of his class in reading age and now has a first class honours degree in Mathematics from a distinguished university and is well set for an academic career. How come? I am a high-achieving academic and he has academic genes. He didn't need pushing. He mainly just coasted but the work was easy for him so he still did well.

I myself grew up in a working class family, which, like most such families, had no expectations of high achievements among its children and I was in fact discouraged from continuing my education beyond junior school. But my parents were both great readers of books and both had siblings who did exceptionally well at school. So I obviously got good genes from them which enabled me also to cruise and still do well academically.

The explanation for low black achievement given below does have one virtue: Absent black fathers are not going to change any time soon so if it is absent fathers that are the problem, we have to conclude that the "gap" problem is insoluble. And it is insoluble, though not for that reason

"Why don't you guys study like the kids from Africa?" In a moment of exasperation last spring, I asked that question to a virtually all-black class of 12th-graders who had done horribly on a test I had just given. A kid who seldom came to class -- and was constantly distracting other students when he did -- shot back: "It's because they have fathers who kick their butts and make them study."

Another student angrily challenged me: "You ask the class, just ask how many of us have our fathers living with us." When I did, not one hand went up.

I was stunned. These were good kids; I had grown attached to them over the school year. It hit me that these students, at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, understood what I knew too well: The lack of a father in their lives had undermined their education. The young man who spoke up knew that with a father in his house he probably wouldn't be ending 12 years of school in the bottom 10 percent of his class with a D average. His classmate, normally a sweet young woman with a great sense of humor, must have long harbored resentment at her father's absence to speak out as she did. Both had hit upon an essential difference between the kids who make it in school and those who don't: parents.

My students knew intuitively that the reason they were lagging academically had nothing to do with race, which is the too-handy explanation for the achievement gap in Alexandria. And it wasn't because the school system had failed them. They knew that excuses about a lack of resources and access just didn't wash at the new, state-of-the-art, $100 million T.C. Williams, where every student is given a laptop and where there is open enrollment in Advanced Placement and honors courses. Rather, it was because their parents just weren't there for them -- at least not in the same way that parents of kids who were doing well tended to be.

In an example of how bad the fixation on race here has become, last year Morton Sherman, the new superintendent, ordered principals throughout the city to post huge charts in their hallways so everyone -- including 10-year-old kids -- could see differences in test scores between white, black and Hispanic students. One mother told me that a black fifth-grader at Cora Kelly Magnet School said that "whoever sees that sign will think I am stupid." A fourth-grade African American girl there looked at the sign and said to a friend: "That's not me." When black and white parents protested that impressionable young children don't need such information, administrators accused them of not facing up to the problem. Only when the local NAACP complained did Sherman have the charts removed.

Achievement gaps don't break down neatly along racial lines. Take Yasir Hussein, a student of mine last year whose parents emigrated from Sudan in the early 1990s, and who entered the engineering program at Virginia Tech this fall. "My parents were big on our family living the American dream," he said. "One quarter when I got a 3.5 grade-point average, the guys I hung around with were congratulating me, but my parents had the opposite reaction. They took my PlayStation and TV out of my bedroom and told me I could do better."

Yasir said it wasn't just fear that made him study: "Knowing how hard my parents worked simply to give me the opportunity to get an education in America, it was hard for me not to care about getting good grades."

But Yasir's experience isn't what community activists and school administrators at T.C. Williams or around the country focus on. They cast the difference between kids who are succeeding in school and those who are not in terms of race and seem obsessed with what they call "the gap" between the test scores of white and black students.

This year, community groups in St. Louis and Portland, Ore., issued reports decrying the gap. After a recent state report on test scores in California schools, Jack O'Connell, the state's superintendent of instruction, said the gap is "the biggest civil rights issue of this generation" -- a very popular phrase in education circles.

But focusing on a "racial achievement gap" is too simple; it's a gap in familial support and involvement, too. Administrators focused solely on race are stigmatizing black students. At the same time, they are encouraging the easy excuse that the kids who are not excelling are victims, as well as the idea that once schools stop being racist and raise expectations, these low achievers will suddenly blossom.

Last year, two of the finest and most dedicated teachers at my school -- one in science and one in math -- tried to move students who were failing their classes into more appropriate prerequisite courses, because the kids had none of the background knowledge essential to mastering more advanced material. Both teachers were told by a T.C. Williams administrator that the problem was not with the students but with their own low expectations.

"The real problem," says Glenn Hopkins, president of Alexandria's Hopkins House, which provides preschool and other services to low-income families, "is that school superintendents don't realize -- or won't admit -- that the education gap is symptomatic of a social gap."

Hopkins notes that student achievement is deeply affected by issues of family, income and class, things superintendents have little control over. "Even with best teachers in the world, they don't have the power to solve the problem," he says. "They naively assume that if they throw in a little tutoring and mentoring and come up with some program they can claim as their own, the gap will close."

Perhaps nothing shows how out of touch administrators are with the depth of poor students' problems more than the way they chose to start this school year. The Alexandria School Board had added two more paid work days to the calendar, a move that cost more than $1 million in teachers' salaries. So the administration decided to put on a three-day conference they dubbed "Equity and Excellence." We were promised "world-class speakers." If only that had been true. As part of the festivities, Sherman formed a choir of teachers and administrators that gave us renditions of "Imagine" and "This Land Is Your Land." Sherman closed the conference by telling us that if we didn't believe that "each and every" child in Alexandria could learn, he would give us a ticket to Fairfax County.

Now, six weeks into the academic year, some 30 fights -- two gang-related -- have taken place at T.C. Williams. I wish those three days had been spent bringing students to school to lay out clear rules and consequences, and for sessions on conflict resolution and anger management.

Last week, Sherman announced that a second installment of "Equity and Excellence" featuring a "courageous conversation" with Ronald Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard, will take place at T.C. Williams tomorrow. I am eager to find ways to help my students succeed, but I am afraid that Ferguson -- whose book includes a chapter titled "Teachers' Perceptions and Expectations and the Black-White Test Score Gap" -- may underestimate what it will take to meet the challenges that we face.

There is one moment of those frivolous first days of the year that I do keep returning to: One of the speakers, Yvette Jackson, the chief executive of the National Urban Alliance, made it clear that the lip service and labels Alexandria is putting forward are not going to help children who are what she calls "school-dependent learners." These are students from low-income backgrounds who need school to give them the basic knowledge that other kids get from their families -- knowledge that schools expect students to have when they start classes. To her, the gap everyone is talking about is not a question of black and white but of the "difference between children's potential and their performance."

"No matter how poor they are, when little kids start school, they are excited; they believe they are going to learn," Jackson said. "But unless schools give them the background knowledge . . . so they can connect with what they study and feel confident, they begin to feel that school is a foreign place, and they give up."

For Junior Bailey, a senior in my Advanced Placement English class, school has never been a foreign place, a fact he attributes to his dad. "He has always been on me; it's been hard to get away with much," Junior said. He also told me that hardly any of his friends have their fathers living with them. "Their mothers are soft on them, and they don't get any push from home."

On parents' night a few weeks ago, I was thrilled to see Junior's dad, Willie Bailey, a star on T.C. Williams's 1983 basketball team, walk into my classroom. Willie told me that after seeing how the guys he grew up with were affected by not having their dads around, he promised himself that he would be a real presence in his son's life.

With more parents like Willie Bailey, someday schools might realistically talk about closing the gap between students' potential and their performance.


Convicts teaching British children: How indecent assault and drug use are no bar to working in schools

Dozens of teachers with criminal convictions are being allowed to remain in the classroom, a shocking investigation has discovered. Members of staff who have been convicted of crimes including harassment, battery, assault, indecent exposure, indecent assault and possessing Class A drugs have not been banned from teaching. They have either escaped punishment entirely or just received a 'slap on the wrist' from the profession's watchdog, the General Teaching Council. This is despite a public furore three years ago about a loophole that allowed sex offenders to work in schools.

Figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats under the Freedom of Information Act show that in the last five years 133 teachers were convicted of offences. Ninety-two had sanctions enforced against them by the GTC. Three were unlimited prohibition orders - two for driving dangerously and harassment and one for forgery. This means they can no longer work in state schools. There was also a prohibition order for 12 years for six counts of indecent assault. The 88 others either had shorter prohibition, suspension or conditional registration orders enforced.

However 14 teachers had no sanctions enforced against them at all. Five had convictions for assaults; three for driving under the influence of alcohol; two for possession of drugs; two for obtaining property by deception; one for harassment and one for conspiracy to defraud.

Twenty-seven were given reprimands that stay on their records for just two years. Five had convictions for possessing class A drugs; five for driving under the influence of alcohol; four for indecent exposure; four for assault; three for battery; two for theft; one for making a false statement; one for causing death by dangerous driving; one for not declaring offences to an employer and one for outraging public decency.

David Laws, Liberal Democrat schools spokesman, said: 'It's astonishing that teachers found guilty of serious crimes are getting nothing but a slap on the wrists from the Teaching Council. 'We need to be confident that appropriate action is being taken when a teacher commits a serious offence.' Margaret Morrissey, of the pressure group Parents Outloud, insisted: 'If they didn't want to lose their jobs, they shouldn't have broken the law.'

An inquiry concluded earlier this year that at least 50 sex offenders who pose an 'ongoing risk' to children were cleared to work in schools. Some were approved by ministers or senior officials to continue working with children despite evidence they had committed sex offences. An investigation - instigated in January 2006 by former Education Secretary Ruth Kelly - ordered the barring of 50 offenders permitted to work with children.

The law was tightened and now all adults convicted or cautioned for sex offences against children are automatically placed on List 99, the list of people banned from working with children.

A spokesman for the General Teaching Council said yesterday: 'Each hearing committee needs to determine whether the criminal conviction or caution is relevant to the teacher's role as a teacher. It also looks at how serious the offence was.'


Fears for 'exhausted' young children as British government steps up the push to start schooling at FOUR

It seems that this scheme allows for parent choice so it may be worthwhile. Brighter kids could well benefit from an early start but less bright kids could well be stressed by demands that are beyond them and they should probably be excused until age 6. Sadly, however, the less-bright parents of less-bright pupils may well seize the opportunity to "unload" their kids early

Parents will be encouraged to send their children to school at the age of four under a major shake-up of primary education. Schools Secretary Ed Balls wants youngsters to start classes in the September after their fourth birthday, instead of waiting until the compulsory schooling age of five. The move comes despite a major inquiry into primary education in England last week concluded that youngsters should not start formal learning until they were six.

The current school-starting age - a term after a child's fifth birthday - is already among the lowest in Europe. This compulsory schooling age will remain, but Mr Balls wants to change the mandatory School Admissions Code, which will effectively lower the starting age to four as parents are pressured to enrol their children earlier. The changes, published for consultation today, will come into force in February and apply to admission arrangements from September 2011.

In a concession to critics who believe youngsters are being schooled too early, parents will be able to choose whether their children start reception classes full or part-time in the September, January or April after their fourth birthday. But critics claim that thousands of exhausted young children will be turned off formal learning as a result of the overhaul.

Parents will be able to opt for a free full-time place in a nursery if they believe their son or daughter is not ready for school. They may also choose to wait until the compulsory schooling age of five.

The change comes after Mr Balls accepted Sir Jim Rose's primary curriculum review, published in April. It stressed that children should be able to start school from the earliest possible point after their fourth birthday.

Mr Balls said yesterday: 'It is important that children hit the ground running (at) school. There is clear evidence the sooner summer-born children start pre-schooling, the sooner they close the gap on their peers.'

However, the Cambridge Primary Review last week claimed there was no evidence. It did, however, say there were suggestions an early schooling start could do harm, and called for a delay in formal lessons until the age of six.


British schools told: Shut for three more holy festivals

Schools are being ordered to close on Muslim, Hindu and Sikh holy days despite objections from teachers. The directive by two London councils means the schools must shut for the annual celebrations of Eid-Ul-Fitr, Diwali and Guru Nanak's birthday in addition to the traditional Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter. The policy even affects schools with only a small number of Muslim, Hindu or Sikh pupils.

Headteachers have complained about the enforced holidays, arguing they should decide if the religious dates are marked with days off. The controversy surrounds Waltham Forest and Newham councils, which have publicised their school calendars for Autumn 2009-2010.

They both told schools to take off September 21 for Eid-Ul-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. Diwali, which is celebrated by Hindus, was also included in the calendar as a holiday, but this year it fell on Saturday October 17. Guru Nanak's birthday is scheduled for a holiday on November 2. It is celebrated by Sikhs and Nanak's teachings form a central part of their scripture.

The policy in Waltham Forest affects all community primary and secondary schools in the borough, but not Church of England or Catholic schools. A review of the policy has begun after complaints from schools. Rachel MacFarlane, head of Walthamstow School for Girls, said the school is 'frustrated' by the holiday requirements.

Councillor Liaquat Ali, Cabinet member for children and young people in Waltham Forest, said it was important to teach children about different cultures and backgrounds 'as much as possible'. Nobody was available to comment from Newham Council yesterday.


19 October, 2009

"Special schools" revived at Berkeley?

So much for mainstreaming

The Berkeley school board is considering creating an alternative high school or charter school proposed by one of its high school principals for 500 kids who are falling behind. Victor Diaz, principal of Berkeley Technology Academy, said the school would serve kids from grades six through 12 who traditionally fall behind: students of color scoring well below their white counterparts.

Berkeley schools have the largest gap between well performing white students and students of color in the entire State of California, according to schools spokesman Mark Coplan.

Diaz said he has developed a curriculum for the new school based partly on project-based learning and immersive technology with professors from UC Berkeley, Harvard and the University of Maryland.

If the school board decides to create a charter run within the school district, called a dependent charter, the new school would get money from state and federal sources and would pay the Berkeley school district for facilities and administrative services, he said.

That plan could face resistance from the school board because the district could lose money for each student who enrolls in the charter. And since charter schools are open to anyone, there are worries that it could fill up with students from outside Berkeley. It also could face resistance from the teachers union. The Berkeley Federation of Teachers considered an official position on the charter proposal at its Sept. 24 meeting, but union President Cathy Campbell did not return phone calls.

Berkeley Schools Superintendent Bill Huyett said he is open to new ideas but a charter "is putting the cart before the horse." "At this point we're talking to the school board about changing our paradigm," Huyett said. "Some people would like to see it as a charter, but the district is not there."

Diaz said low-performing students in Berkeley need an alternative place to call home for several years, something that is codified like a charter that the school district can't change on a whim. He said at his school under achievement is now deep rooted and multigenerational. Students with either academic or behavior problems are sent there to get help for about six months before going back to Berkeley High School. "There's a group of kids who traditionally fail year after year, and we are now seeing the second generation of kids whose parents went to this same school," Diaz, said. "I don't know how much more appalling you can get than that. It's not uncommon where a parent shows up and says 'I attended this same school.'"

Diaz, who grew up in San Jose with a single teenage mother, attended six different high schools before he was kicked out when he was 16. From that experience, he said he knows what kids like him need. "If we can get them for six years rather than six months, think what we can do with them," Diaz said. "But when you get them in the second semester of their sophomore year or their senior year, there's not much left you can do."

Diaz, who is working on his doctorate in education from UC Berkeley, said he hopes to get the school board to approve the plan for what is called a dependent charter school by December. The school would open next fall if the board agrees. A dependent charter would have its own mission apart from other schools in the district, and once it is created it can't be changed by administrators or the school board, he said.

He also has the option of taking his proposal, which he says is backed by parents, teachers and the Berkeley Organization of Congregations for Action, directly to the State of California and starting a charter school independently of the school district.

School board member Beatriz Leyva-Cutler said she likes the idea of the charter school, but she's worried about the district losing money. "It is a great idea, and I certainly believe in bringing different kinds of curriculum, but our biggest concern is financial," Leyva-Cutler said. "For me the questions are: Who will it serve? Will it serve Berkeley students? Will it be staffed by Berkeley teachers? We have a lot to think about. We continue to see our African-American and Latino students failing, but do we need to do something as drastic as this?" Leyva-Cutler agreed that Diaz could take his proposal directly to the state and seek an independent charter to run outside the Berkeley school district. "That's always an option," she said. "In that case, I don't know what would happen."


Picking Up Crumbs

By Drew A. Bennett

Last week, The Harvard Crimson and then The New York Times reported that, in a cost-cutting move, Harvard University would no longer provide cookies for faculty meetings, saving approximately $500 per meeting. A Harvard faculty member was quoted as saying, “We are sharing the pain with the undergraduates.” Meanwhile, due to the economic downturn, Harvard’s endowment has dropped to a mere $27 billion.


It is high time to educate the supporters of education and publications that cover higher education that Harvard’s cookie crisis, however traumatic it may be in Cambridge, is not remotely illustrative of the depth of the economic crisis being faced by the colleges that serve those who need education the most. I’m the chancellor of an open-admission, two-year college within the 14th poorest congressional district in the country; we have half as many freshmen as Harvard, yet only a minuscule amount of the resources. We have had a 35 percent increase in enrollment since 2006, yet kept tuition the same. Our state appropriations – already the 47th lowest in the nation in terms of support for higher education – have never recovered from budget cuts back in 2002. Our budget was flat last year, at best will be flat this year, and will very likely decline in fiscal year 2012.

Approximately 86 percent of our degree-seeking students receive some type of financial assistance, and many work full time while going to school. Most are first-generation college students, and a disproportionate number are single parents. Yet, we are breaking the cycle of poverty and providing future opportunities for students who, because of admission standards and financial needs, don't choose which college to attend, but whether to go at all.

Few people outside of the Ozarks know about Missouri State University-West Plains, where we don’t spend $500 every meeting on cookies! Maybe it’s time to stop drawing attention to the alleged sacrifice of doing without cookies and ask what’s wrong with a system where some institutions have that much money in the first place. Another example is Princeton University spending $5,000 each on chairs for its new library. Every time I read about something like this I want to shout that a million-dollar gift to an institution like Harvard or Princeton is a drop in the bucket, while the same gift to a two-year, rural college is a tsunami.

Who wants to endow a chair at our school? Currently we have none.

Who wants to modernize facilities for our nursing program? We have a waiting list of students wanting to be accepted into the program, but because of program limitations, we cannot admit them. This is an extremely successful program in which virtually 100 percent of our graduates find employment upon graduation.

Who wants to fund our Honors Program for an overseas trip? Many of our students have never traveled farther than 100 miles, let alone visited another country.

Let me tell you what we have cut back.

* For 13 years we have been trying to add classrooms and facilities for the 75 percent of our students who require developmental classes before they are ready for freshman-level math and English. Last year we finally got $8 million appropriated for two buildings. This appropriation passed the legislature and was signed into law by the governor, but because of the lack of state revenues has now been withheld indefinitely.

* Our Honors Program, which includes some of our best and brightest students, no longer visits China, a country that will have a greater and greater impact on the world in which they will live, work and compete.

* We have closed our Center for Business and Industry Training, and we are closing one of our satellite classroom facilities.We have eliminated, consolidated, or reduced to part time numerous staff positions.

* Our faculty and staff, who always go above and beyond the requirements of their jobs, have been underpaid for years, did not receive a raise last year, will not receive one this year, and will be fortunate to have a job next year. Compare the average salary of our professors and assistant professors, $53,333 and $40,307, to the average salary for Harvard’s professors and assistant professors, $192,600 and $101,400. While I am well aware that Missouri State-West Plains is not a four-year college with elite graduate programs, I am also well aware that faculty at two-year colleges educate almost half of the undergraduates in the United States.

While this information is specific to my campus, you will find similar examples of administrators stretching the dollar at two-year campuses across the country.

Let me recognize that Harvard is a world-class institution, and Ivy League universities provide unique educational opportunities. That is not the issue. While I concede that the “cookie cutback” and subsequent faculty comment are not indicative of all of Harvard’s programs, they do serve to highlight a very real problem – the lopsided support of different institutions within higher education.

One can make a sound argument that a Harvard education is worth more than an education at Missouri State-West Plains. But, when you remember that our campus has half as many freshmen as Harvard, that our institution is the only option for many of our students, and that our endowment of $1.7 million is just pennies compared to Harvard’s $27 billion, is a Harvard education worth over 15,000 times more? Let me put it another way – are our students 15,000 times less worthy of the benefits of higher education? We must find a way for supporters of education to contribute in a more meaningful and balanced approach. Otherwise, a growing philanthropic egoism widens the chasm between those who have and those who can’t even have the opportunity to have.

Are we just going to keep saying, “That’s the way the cookie crumbles?”


Whatever age British children start school, teaching will be dire

Education, education, education. Last week the chief executive of Tesco, the country’s largest private employer, said publicly that school standards were “woefully low”: teenagers leave school unfit for work and employers “are often left to pick up the pieces”. Sir Terry Leahy, the Tesco boss, is not alone in taking this bleak view: the head of the Confederation of British Industry said many of its members shared Leahy’s opinions. The chief executive of Asda commented that “no one can deny that Britain has spawned generations of young people who struggle to read, write or do simple maths”.

We do not need these top employers to tell us this. We know. The evidence for it is so familiar. Occasionally I wonder what, after all his promises, Tony Blair feels about his government’s betrayal of schoolchildren. Last week he was spotted in Westminster Cathedral visiting the bones of St Thérèse of Lisieux. Perhaps he was hoping for divine intervention on this and other matters.

Earthly intervention was on offer last week, however. Professor Robin Alexander of Cambridge University published his long-awaited independent review of primary education on Thursday and made some radical suggestions. His team’s view of what has happened in primary schools under Labour is exceptionally bleak: the report finds that successive ministers have imposed on teachers an unprecedented degree of control in a system with “Stalinist overtones”; it accuses the government of introducing an educational diet “even narrower than that of the Victorian elementary schools”.

What the report recommends is delaying formal education until children are six, concentrating before that on play-based learning; abolishing Sats and league tables and replacing them with assessments by teachers; extending teacher training; and introducing more specialist teachers for subjects such as languages and music.

One can only say, along with poor illiterate Vicky Pollard of Little Britain — an icon of failed education — “Yeah but no but yeah but no.”

Yes, of course “formal education” isn’t necessary or desirable for five-year-olds, if “formal” means what it usually does. Yes, of course the best education for young children should be fun and playful and interesting to them, if that is what a “play-based curriculum” means. Of course many children can easily be put off learning for ever by excessively formal education. Of course it is true that better, more enjoyable teaching is the way to improve attention and discipline among little children, rather than stricter rules. Of course the current curriculum for five-year-olds is absolutely daft in its manic, stupid, unrealistic scope — try reading it. Of course Sats are worse than useless and should be dropped. Of course league tables have been counterproductive. And of course it is true that this government has tried to micromanage teachers’ every working minute, driving many of them out of the profession; the word “Stalinist” is right.

Yes but no but: none of this is simple. I oppose any rigid, narrow education that blasts the joy of childhood and destroys children’s natural longing to learn — the teaching style of a Victorian elementary school. But I don’t believe that the teaching children get in year 1 these days is at all formal, in that sense — rather the reverse. I don’t imagine you see that kind of formal primary education anywhere now, except in private schools.

What can the report be getting at? I suspect that at the root of its objection to “formal” education is a dislike of the government requirement — much ignored — to teach all children phonics from year 1; that is, from the age of five or so. Primaries have been too focused on the three Rs, the report says, to which one can only reply that if this is true, there is something horribly wrong with their focus — a clear case of aiming low and missing. One does not have to be Thomas Gradgrind to believe that a primary education that doesn’t teach all children to read, quickly and well, within a year is a failed education. A child who can’t decode words confidently at seven is a child handicapped for life.

That doesn’t mean all children must start at four or five or six — many are not ready in any way, although others may already be fluent readers at three and four. But phonics itself — at the right age — can, with a well-trained, charismatic, fun-loving teacher, be good fun, as well as fast and efficient. It is forbiddingly formal only in the hands of poor teachers. Everything depends on the quality of the teacher. A bad teacher can put any child off anything. A bad teacher will be bad at play and play-based teaching, too, yet many have already retreated into it, imagining, wrongly, that it is easier. It is harder. Doing it badly — leaving deprived children who can hardly talk to grunt at each other in little groups — is worse than useless.

Bad teaching is at the heart of all this. It’s true the Labour ministers have tried to micromanage teachers in every way, but there was a reason. They recognised, like their predecessors, that there were too many inadequate teachers getting poor results. But rather than sack them or revolutionise teacher training, they chose to try to make education teacher-proof by micromanagement. Daft, but understandable. Micromanagement is what you do when you don’t trust the employee.

What’s wrong with the Alexander report, for all its right-minded ideals, is that its proposals depend on trusting teachers. And the truth is that teachers here and now cannot as a group be trusted. That’s why the curriculum and league tables and Sats were originally introduced, counterproductive though they proved. I apologise to the many good teachers out there. But the system has been brought low by poorly qualified, trained and motivated teachers, supported by their unions. Between them they managed to subvert the literacy hour, for example.

Ask any turnaround head teacher what the most important change has to be and it is invariably to sack the bad teachers first, which is always extremely difficult. Poor teachers have been tolerated too long: the Alexander report says there is no evidence for Ofsted’s claim that schools now have the best cohort of new teachers in history. No single thing is more urgent, or more neglected, in education policy today than to put a bomb under teacher training and the outdated, lazy orthodoxy that has almost wrecked English teaching traditions. That’s what is most needed. Teacher training, teacher training, teacher training.


18 October, 2009

An educational a**hole

The upstate New York school superintendent who suspended an Eagle Scout for 20 days for keeping a 2-inch utility knife locked in his car is unwilling to speak to the teen's family or bend in his ruling. Lansingburgh Central School District Superintendent George J. Goodwin, 55, said in a written statement that his district "has an established policy of zero tolerance with respect to the possession of weapons of any kind on school property or in school buildings." But nowhere in the school district's rule book, which is published online, is there any mention of a "zero tolerance" policy, leading some to question whether Goodwin, in fact, was compelled to suspend the youth.

Seventeen-year-old Matthew Whalen, a senior at Lansingburgh High School in Troy, N.Y., says he got in trouble over a survival kit he keeps in his car that includes a sleeping bag, water, a ready-to-eat meal and the small pocketknife, which was given to him by his grandfather, a police chief in a nearby town. When Whalen acknowledged he had the knife locked in his car, he was barred from school for a calendar month. Now that he is getting just 90 minutes a day with a tutor instead of 7 hours of instruction in class, he says he is worried that the suspension will mar his academic record and affect his application to attend the U.S. Military Academy.

Whalen was initially suspended for five days by his assistant principal — but then had another 15 tacked on by Goodwin following a hearing to decide his fate. Though Goodwin was not present at the hearing, he told Fox News he listened to a tape of the proceedings, and decided to extend the suspension. Since then, Whalen's family says, Goodwin has refused to speak to Matthew even during daily interactions at the district's head office, where he meets with his tutor...


America's violent schools again

Trevor Varinecz, above, was shot dead in a struggle with police. He was autistic and should have been in a facility better adapted to his needs -- but the Leftist mania for "mainstreaming" of problem kids prevents that. It's a failure that police even needed to be at the school. Carolina Forest High School has nine walk through metal detectors but has numerous buildings and entrances so that is mostly tokenism. The officer was stabbed several times before he fired

A POLICE officer assigned to a South Carolina school shot dead a 16-year-old student after the 11th grader stabbed him, the local school district said. "That is... exactly what is understood to have happened,'' said Teal Britton, a spokeswoman for the Horry County School District, after reports first emerged about the incident at Carolina Forest High School today.

"At 8:20am, 8:25am (local time), an incident occurred that involved an 11th grade student and the school resource officer that was not witnessed by any other student,'' she said. School administrators were on campus at the time and "heard the struggle'' between the officer and the male student, Ms Britton added. "As a result of the incident, both the student and the school resource officer were injured and were transported to Conway Medical Centre, and it was reported... shortly after 11am by the coroner that the student was deceased.''

The officer, whose name was not released, was part of a South Carolina program providing liaison police officers to all state secondary and middle schools "to assist with school safety'', she added.

The high school, which has 1975 students according to its website, was locked down in the wake of the incident, but students were not evacuated and Britton said classes were still being taught. Parents were given the option of picking up their children.

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division is investigating the incident because it involved a police officer. "We have agents still assessing the situation. We hope to release information as confirmed details are gathered,'' said division spokesman Jennifer Timmons.


Schwarzenegger OKs school bill required by US law

California is removing a legal ban on using the results of student achievement tests to evaluate teachers, under a bill signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The bill lifts a barrier that prevented California from applying for $4.5 billion under the federal Race to the Top program. Schwarzenegger says more legislation is needed beyond the bill he signed Sunday. He has called lawmakers back into special session this fall.

California still has to qualify for the federal money in competition with other states. To do so, education officials say the state must approve other reforms, including removing a cap on the number of charter schools, improving poorly performing local schools, and giving the state more authority to intervene in failing schools.


Duncan wrong again on school choice

As grassroots momentum builds to save the Washington, DC school-choice voucher program from the congressional chopping block, U.S. education secretary Arne Duncan continues to dig in his heels in opposition. His comments betray a fundamental misunderstanding of how the education market works and what parents want for their children.

The five-year-old pilot program gives voucher scholarships of up to $7,500 to low-income Washington students to attend the private schools and escape the notoriously bad DC public schools. Approximately 3,000 students have received vouchers since the inception of the program, which has garnered the strong and impassioned support of parents.

“These politicians can’t put themselves in my shoes,” LaTasha Bennet told ABC News. “They can’t understand our struggle to get our children good educations.”

Ms. Bennet was one of more than 1,000 parents who recently rallied outside the U.S. Department of Education to protest the Obama administration’s opposition to the DC scholarship program. Listening to Arne Duncan, one can understand her frustration.

When asked by ABC News for suggestions for parents and children whose vouchers would be cut off, Duncan blithely replied, “I encourage them to come in and look at what's going on with the public schools here in DC.” Earth to Arne: those parents have seen what’s going on in their children’s public schools and they don’t like it, which is why they want vouchers. In a speech earlier this year, Duncan explained why he opposes choice for parents and their children.
“Vouchers usually serve 1 to 2 percent of the children in the community,” claimed Duncan, “I don’t want to save 1 or 2 percent of children and let 98 to 99 percent drown.” “This is why I would argue . . . rather than taking three kids out of there and putting them in a better school and feeling good and sleeping well at night, I want to turn that school around now and do that for those 400, 500, 800, 1,200 kids in that school, and give every child in that school, in that community, something better and do it with a real sense of urgency.”
Duncan’s statement is wrong on so many levels that it is hard to know where to begin. First, it’s disingenuous to fault voucher programs for serving limited populations of students.

Voucher programs in this country have been limited because of the opposition of liberal politicians, teacher unions and other entrenched public education special interests – many of them friends and allies of the Obama administration. If Duncan doesn’t “want to save 1 or 2 percent of children and let 98 to 99 percent drown,” then he should favor a full universal voucher system that gives all parents, not just a few poor parents, the same right to choose the best education option – public or private – for their child.

When asked what he thought about the limited voucher programs in the U.S., Per Unckel, former Swedish minister of education and one of the architects of his country’s much lauded universal voucher program, replied, “That is the problem.”

“The secret of the Swedish voucher program’s success is that it is universal,” he observed, “This is the right of the parents to choose the school that their kids would like to have or the school that is most supportive of the needs of their kids.” “Choice,” he emphasized, “is for everyone, whatever income you have.”

Rather than give all children an immediate escape ticket in the form of a voucher, Duncan wants to turn around poor-performing public schools. Yet it would be delusional in the extreme to believe that President Obama’s massive spending plans will rapidly improve the vast number of poorly performing government-run schools.

In a recent analysis, Andy Smarick of the American Enterprise Institute concluded that most of President Obama’s $100 billion education stimulus package has “not been used to advance reforms as the administration has vigorously urged.” “Instead,” according to Smarick, “they are being used to preserve jobs and programs, in effect protecting the status quo.” And as Ronald Reagan famously observed, status quo is Latin for “the mess we’re in.”

Competition in the education marketplace through a universal voucher system or similar widespread school-choice system will foster more positive change than any dictate from Washington. Parents would have an immediate chance to send their children to competing private schools. New private schools would start up to meet the needs and demands of parents. Public schools would feel immediate pressure to improve or lose their customer base.

All these things have already happened in Sweden. In America, Arne Duncan and Barack Obama are taking away choice, crushing a successful voucher program, and sending children to drown in bad public schools. LaTasha Bennet is right. These politicians can’t put themselves in her shoes.


17 October, 2009

Crowning of first non-black Miss HU. Black racists object

Hampton University crowned its first non-black Miss HU Friday, leading to a division on campus that prompted her to write President Barack Obama. Nikole Churchill, 22, competed against nine black students in the 15th annual Miss HU scholarship pageant. The senior nursing major attends the Virginia Beach campus and is the competition's first non-black winner, according to executive pageant director Shelia J. Maye.

Churchill, who is from Hawaii, wrote Obama on Sunday to tell him that her crowning was met with negative comments because of her skin color. She invited him to visit HU and speak about racial tolerance. "I am hoping that perhaps you would be able to make an appearance to my campus, Hampton University, so that my fellow Hamptonians can stop focusing so much on the color of my skin and doubting my abilities to represent," she wrote, "but rather be proud of the changes our nation is making toward accepting diversity."

In a local television report, she said her father is from Guam and her mother is Italian. Her letter was posted Sunday on Churchill did not have HU's permission to comment Monday, said pageant co-director Mavis Baah. [Bah! to that!]

This year's pageant included evening gown, swimsuit and talent competitions. Churchill won a $1,500 scholarship, will serve as homecoming queen Oct. 24 and continues on to the 2010 Miss Virginia pageant.

Maye said the Miss HU pageant grew out of the former homecoming queen competition, in which students voted for the winner. Now, the pageant winner is selected by judges and automatically serves as the university's homecoming queen. This year's pageant was judged by five people, including two certified by the Miss Virginia competition, which leads to the Miss America pageant. The other judges were Joan Gentry, an HU counselor for freshman studies; Lorraine Bell, an HU music professor; and Henry Mills, a senior vice president at Old Point National Bank.

Journalism sophomore Juan Diasgranados said the Hampton campus is split on Churchill's crowning, with everyone from students to faculty and professors weighing in. Some are saying her win is great and embodies HU's spirit of diversity, he said, while others complain that she's not black and doesn't attend the main campus. "They're saying that people don't know who she is, people don't even see her, so how can she represent us if she's not even from the main campus?" The main campus has about 5,700 students while the university's Virginia Beach campus has about 90 students.

Diasgranados said a noticeable number of students walked out of the pageant Friday night when Churchill was crowned, but that he was among the majority who stood and applauded. About 900 people attended the pageant in Ogden Hall on campus, Maye said. Churchill was one of about 35 students who applied to compete in the pageant during the spring semester, and one of 10 selected to compete after turning in applications.

Maye said Churchill's platform was about the need to mentor girls ages 11-14 on topics including self-esteem, body image, teenage pregnancies and nutrition. Like the other contestants, Maye said Churchill answered a set of questions about her cause and was judged for her ability to be articulate and think on her feet.

Maye said the crowning of a non-black student is a great milestone for HU and that she's shocked by the amount of attention it's garnered. "We have all kinds of people on our campus, we are not in a cocoon," she said. "As far as I'm concerned we need to get her ready to serve HU and to move on and represent us at Miss Virginia."

News of Churchill's win and her letter to Obama jammed the Internet, attracting notice of HU alumni after the story aired on WVEC-TV 13 and circulated on social networking sites.

Churchill told the news station at Saturday's Hampton versus Howard University football game that her mother is 100 percent Italian and her father is from Guam. In her letter to the president, she called herself Hawaiian.

Arthur A. Turner Jr., a 1982 graduate who lives in Prince George's County, Md., received an e-mail about her win and said he disagrees with those complaining that Churchill isn't black and doesn't attend the main campus. "She represents the entirety of the university, the alumni, the faculty, the staff, the students," Turner said. "All of that is on her shoulders, including the Virginia Beach and main campus. I am confident she will do an extremely good job of representing us."

Turner added that the alumni of his era that he's spoken with fully support Churchill and the change she brought to HU's tradition. "We now have to move forward in our thinking because the world is different, America is different, and we have all been fighting for change," he said. "And as we continue that fight, we must be accepting of the things that we fight for."

Churchill is not the first non-black student to be crowned at a historically black college. In April, Kentucky State University student Elisabeth Martin won the 80th homecoming queen election, making her the first white student to win. She, too, experienced some negativity on campus and gossip online, she said in an interview with The ( Frankfort, Ky.) State-Journal. Some people told her that she can't relate to the experience of black women, but Martin said that as a woman, she knows what women go through. "I may not have the background for all of that, but I'm more than willing to learn," Martin told The State-Journal. "I don't have all the answers, but I'm more than willing to listen, to hear the stories. I want to be someone who cares."


Now it is Leftist-leaning academics who find Britain's schools "Stalinist"

The central government dictatorship of what schools will teach is certainly reminiscent of Stalinism but the complete destruction of discipline is anything but.

The findings in the report below were almost entirely predictable from the known biases of the big-brained Prof. Alexander. He wants teaching to be "dialogic", which sound fair enough. After all what teaching is NOT mostly dialogue? When I was teaching High School, I would spend 5 minutes at the beginning of the period telling kids something and the remainder of the period in dialogue -- with them asking me questions and me using questions to probe their understanding of the matter.

But Prof. Alexander wants teaching to be far more unstructured than usual, conducted on lines similar to a Socratic dialogue. And, like all "innovative" methods that I know of, that might have some benefit in the hands of highly skilled and dedicated teachers. But in routine use it seems likely on most occasions to lead simply to teachers who don't teach

The state's 'Stalinist' control over teaching is condemning young children to an inadequate education, a damning report claims today. An obsession with testing and basic skills has 'politicised' schools and dragged down standards, the six-year independent inquiry warns. It says primary pupils now receive a less rounded education than those in Victorian times. It calls for a radical overhaul of primary schooling, including the raising of the starting age from five to six and the scrapping of SATs tests and league tables. Youngsters would instead be assessed in all subjects at the end of primary school, and by their teachers instead of outside examiners.

The traditional system of a single class teacher covering every subject would also be phased out. Pupils would retain a class teacher but more lessons would be taken by specialists in specific subjects. Six-week summer holidays should be shortened because children are left unsupervised for too long, the review suggests. It also says all parents should have access to advice on how to encourage their children to learn.

The review, led by Cambridge don Professor Robin Alexander, is the biggest to cover primary education for 40 years. The Government's claim that standards have risen is 'unsafe' and the impact of increased taxpayers' investment is less than might have been expected, the report says. In fact, a rigid focus on literacy and numeracy at the expense of science, history, geography and the arts may have 'depressed standards'.

One teacher who gave evidence to the Cambridge Primary Review said it amounted to a 'state theory of learning', policed by Ofsted and the SATs testing regime. The report says: 'The Stalinist overtones of a "state theory of learning" enforced by the "machinery of surveillance and accountability" are as unattractive as they are serious.' It adds: 'Many experienced and able teachers resented this degree of control of their work, its inflexible and monolithic character, and the overt politicisation of the act of teaching. 'Pupils will not learn to think for themselves if their teachers are merely expected to do as they are told.'

Professor Alexander attacks the official notion that the function of primary schools is to teach children 'to read, write and add up'. 'Such a diet, after all, is even narrower than that of the Victorian elementary schools whose practices most people claimed the country had outgrown,' the report says.

The review went on to condemn other aspects of the system, including the school starting age of five - which ministers have proposed should be reduced to four. Dame Gillian Pugh, chairman of the review's advisory committee, said there 'was quite a lot of evidence' that this could do harm. The report suggests children should follow a play-based curriculum at school or nursery until six, with formal primary schooling lasting from six to 11.

It calls for SATs to be scrapped, but that assessment in some form should remain at the end of primary schooling and should cover all subjects, including geography, history and the arts.

It says the curriculum should be overhauled so pupils study eight subject 'domains', broadly reflecting traditional disciplines. The proposals drew a mixed reaction from the Conservatives. Tory schools spokesman Nick Gibb agreed that the 'wave of bureaucracy over the past decade has been deeply damaging'. But he said the Conservatives do not accept its proposals for changing the curriculum or raising the school starting age.

Schools Minister Vernon Coaker said: 'The report is at best woolly and unclear on how schools should be accountable to the public - we're clear that it would be a retrograde step to return to days when the real achievements of schools were hidden.'


Children start school too young — wait till they’re 6, British "experts" say

This is rubbish, as is any fixed age for starting school. It all depends on the particular kid. Some can be ready at 4, others at 6. Admission to a school should be based solely on a judgment of how capable each kid is. But considering the individual is way beyond the capacity of Leftists, of course

Formal schooling should be delayed until children reach 6, according to the biggest review of primary education for more than 40 years. The Cambridge Primary Review, published today, says that five-year-olds should continue with the play-based curriculum used in nursery schools. Trying to teach literacy and numeracy at such an early age is “counterproductive” and can put children off school, according to the committee that produced the report.

Professor Robin Alexander, the report’s editor, called for a debate about whether to raise the age of compulsory schooling, which has been set at 5 since 1870. But the review was more concerned about the style of learning offered in state schools.

Successive governments’ insistence on the earliest possible start to formal schooling went against the grain of international evidence, he said. Children who started school at the age of 6 or 7 often overtook English pupils in tests of reading before the start of secondary education.

Most continental countries start school later than in Britain, preparing children for formal classes through extended nursery education. The review proposes a similar model for England, continuing the current Foundation Stage for an extra year and following it with a single stage of primary education taking children to the age of 11. The suggestion was not supported by the Government or the Opposition.

Dame Gillian Pugh, who chaired the review’s advisory committee, said: “If you introduce a child to too formal a curriculum before they are ready, you are not taking into account where children are in terms of their learning and their capacity to develop.”

A separate review, by Sir Jim Rose, that was commissioned and accepted by the Government, called for four-year-olds to go straight into primary reception classes. But Sir Jim recommended that parents be able to defer their child’s entry to school by up to a year if they felt they were not ready.

Chris Woodhead, the former Chief Inspector of Schools, who undertook a more limited review of primary teaching for the previous Conservative Government with both Professor Alexander and Sir Jim, said he feared a later start would lead to lower standards: “It is reasonable when children arrive at school for the emphasis to be on socialisation, but I see no reason to postpone the start of formal learning.”

John Bangs, of the National Union of Teachers, described the proposal as an “innovative idea” that deserved support: “We have seen problems with early admission to reception classes. It is an absolutely crucial stage of a child’s development and I think there is merit in extending the Foundation Stage.” The 600-page report, entitled Children, their World, their Education, says that many practitioners believe that the principles shaping pre-school education should govern children’s experience of primary school at least until the age of 6, if not 7. The Welsh Assembly has already extended the Foundation Stage to the age of 7.

Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, said that it would be a backward step not to make sure children were learning as well as playing through the Foundation Stage and beyond. “It is vital to get children playing and learning from an early age.”

Funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and based at the University of Cambridge, the review took six years and drew on 4,000 pieces of evidence. It depicts primary schools struggling with interference from the Government and its agencies, but remaining “fundamentally in good heart” .

Professor Alexander said: “There is room for improvement but, after 20 years of pretty continuous change and reform, how could it be otherwise?” The introduction of more specialist teachers would help schools cope with the modern curriculum, he said. Professor Alexander described the “crisis of childhood” as a media obsession and said it was evident mainly among those from poor backgrounds, who were farther behind their peers than those in comparable countries.

The review accuses the Government of abandoning the convention that it did not dictate how children were taught, and imposing a “state theory of learning” through its literacy and numeracy strategies. Such policies’ “Stalinist overtones” had produced an air of pessimism and powerlessness in the teaching profession. Existing tests at the end of primary school should be scrapped, the review says, and replaced by assessment of the whole curriculum, rather than just English, mathematics and science.

It describes politicians’ exclusive focus on ensuring that children can read, write and add up as narrower than that in Victorian elementary schools.Among the changes recommended by the review are longer training for graduates intending to teach in primary schools which, it says, should take two years not one, and a review of special educational needs. Long summer holidays might also be reduced.

Professor Alexander said that the review was intended to inform long-term planning, not “pre-election pointscoring”. The main parties nevertheless seized on the findings.

Nick Gibb, the Shadow Schools Minister, said: “We agree that the wave of bureaucracy over the past decade has been deeply damaging and we must trust teachers more. We also agree that we need more specialist training for primary teachers.” However, the Conservatives would not support a delay in the start of formal schooling.

Vernon Coaker, the Schools Minister, said: “It’s disappointing that a review which purports to be so comprehensive is not up to speed on changes in primaries. The world has moved on since this review was started.”

Mr Coaker added: “We’re putting in place fundamental reforms following Sir Jim Rose’s primary review, to make the curriculum less prescriptive. A school starting age of 6 would be completely counterproductive — we want to make sure children are playing and learning from an early age and to give parents the choice for their child to start in the September following their fourth birthday.”


16 October, 2009

Conservative fightback on U.S. campuses

This semester Tyler came back to live in Wilmington after a summer of training at LI. He had been helping LI develop and promote their new Campus Reform project. I asked Tyler via email what they intended to accomplish with the new program. Here’s the written statement he sent back to me:

“Campus Reform is allowing conservative and libertarian students to break the stranglehold that the left has had on academia for decades. It provides all of the necessary tools and resources that the right needs to stand up against the leftist indoctrination on college campuses. Simply put, is an online community organizer for the right, allowing students to network and find other like-minded students that want to affect the political discourse on their campus.”

I logged on to the website just a few days ago and was stunned to see what some young activists are now doing. On one public university campus in Kentucky, students were required to receive university approval for any political flier posted anywhere on campus. In other words, they were not allowed to speak without prior government approval from agents seeking to ban potentially “offensive” speech. Next thing you know, they’ll require prior approval for all political thoughts.

But the students fought to defeat that policy and then turned their attention towards an unconstitutional speech zone policy. The policy in question actually banned free speech on 99% of the public university campus. The kids from Kentucky announced their plans to protest the patently illegal policy – outside the parameters of the speech zone! (Who says being a conservative is boring?). I used Campus Reform to contact the kids and let them know I could secure free legal representation for them, if necessary. The protest went off without incident.

As I write the closing lines of this first installment in my “Profiles in Courage” series my mind goes back to 2002. That was the year I stepped out and began trying to educate people about what I called a “constitutional crisis” in higher education. I was often alone back then. When I told stories about speech zones and speech codes many people thought I was making them up. Even my own mother thought the stories were too bizarre to be true.

Now, seven years later, everything has changed. Everyone knows what I’ve been saying is true. Some lie in order to discredit those of us who are trying to do something about it. In fact, tenured faculty and staff members sit at their desks every day looking for my columns. When they see one on the internet they spend the entire day posting remarks attacking me and trying to undermine my assault on leftist indoctrination on college campuses. It’s as if they have nothing better to do. And, in their twisted narrow minds, they really don’t.

But now there is a whole army of young activists like Tyler Millage. The army is growing every day. I taught many of them. But now many of them are teaching me. And I’m learning there has never been a better time to be a liberty-loving American at the dawn of a new conservative era. Before long, it will be morning in America again.


Constitutional Ignorance in an Arkansas school

Will Phillips, a 10-year-old fifth grader at West Fork Middle School, has taken a courageous stand for his beliefs, and it landed him in the principal's office after an argument with a substitute teacher over his refusal to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. Young Master Will balked at saying “with liberty and justice for all,” because he didn't think there was equality for everyone. Imagine the insolence of refusing to say what you are told by the authority of the state and a substitute teacher!

The idea of compelling school children to salute the flag and repeat the Pledge of Allegiance was declared unconstitutional in 1943. You would think that, even in West Fork, a substitute teacher would have known about that and caught on after three score and six years. Instead, she told Will that his mother and grandmother would want him to stand and pledge. He replied, "With all due respect, you can go jump off a bridge." That does seem like all respect due to such a teacher, but it earned him a trip to the principal's office, an order to apologize to the teacher, and an additional research assignment on the pledge of allegiance.

If anyone is owed an apology, it is Will Phillips. He was exercising a well-established First Amendment right and was jerked around for doing so. The West Fork School Board, the middle school principal, and all of the teachers should be given an additional research assignment to read the United States Supreme Court decision in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.

It is no excuse, as principal Becky Ramsey said, "Any school where I’ve ever been in Arkansas, they say the Pledge of Allegiance first period,” but at least she admitted, "We cannot mandate that every child says the pledge." The Supreme Court said more eloquently:
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. …We think the action of the local authorities in compelling the flag salute and pledge transcends constitutional limitations on their power and invades the sphere of intellect and spirit which it is the purpose of the First Amendment to our Constitution to reserve from all official control.

Home education vs. the British bully-boy state

The presumption of guilt is eating it`s way into our lives: Home Education is the latest victim.

As a parent you are a suspect in the crusade against child abuse. That is the message to Home Education from this government.Through a staged Review and now onto a Select Committee, the drive has been to find ways to justify an assault on Home Ed., taking away parental rights, enforcing child interviews alone and invading the family in a way that singles out Home Ed. as a "prime suspect".

Yet the very idea that Home Education could be harbouring child abuse is one manipulated from Local Authorities because the Government wanted to hear something that would enable it to invade Home Ed. Certainly, cases like Baby P. have made the system determined to seek out and stamp-out child abuse whatever the cost, but such cases have not been anything to do with Home Ed., so why single out one group for inspection?

The drive to stamp out child abuse should not cause abuse of children, or their parents, yet this is what compulsory interviewing of childen will achieve. Home Ed. is a sanctuary of love and good education, it nurtures children and allows them to learn and develop at their own speed. Many children are bullied in school and parents deregister their kids to protect them from further harm. We can only imagine what harm will be done to these kids when they are forced into interview alone, not to mention the damage if the National Curriculum is imposed along with government educational standards.

Currently, Local Authorities are widely acting ultra vires in regard to Home Ed. They are lying to parents, purporting to have powers under the law that they do not have, trying to bully children into returning to school. This really is a bully-boy State.


15 October, 2009

A Minority View: Academic Dishonesty

by Walter E. Williams

College education is a costly proposition with tuition, room and board at some colleges topping $50,000 a year. Is it worth it? Increasing evidence suggests that it's not. Since the 1960s, academic achievement scores have plummeted, but student college grade point averages (GPA) have skyrocketed. In October 2001, the Boston Globe published an article entitled "Harvard's Quiet Secret: Rampant Grade Inflation." The article reported that a record 91 percent of Harvard University students were awarded honors during the spring graduation. The newspaper called Harvard's grading practices "the laughing stock of the Ivy League." Harvard is by no means unique. For example, 80 percent of the grades given at the University of Illinois are A's and B's. Fifty percent of students at Columbia University are on the Dean's list. At Stanford University, where F grades used to be banned, only 6 percent of student grades were as low as a C. In the 1930s, the average GPA at American colleges and universities was 2.35, about a C plus; today the national average GPA is 3.2, more than a B.

Today's college students are generally dumber than their predecessors. An article in the Wall Street Journal (1/30/97) reported that a "bachelor of Arts degree in 1997 may not be the equal of a graduation certificate from an academic high school in 1947." The American Council on Education found that only 15 percent of universities require tests for general knowledge; only 17 percent for critical thinking; and only 19 percent for minimum competency. According to a recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy, the percentage of college graduates proficient in prose literacy has declined from 40 percent to 31 percent within the past decade. Employers report that many college graduates lack the basic skills of critical thinking, writing and problem-solving and some employers find they must hire English and math teachers to teach them how to write memos and perform simple computations.

What is being labeled grade inflation is simply a euphemism for academic dishonesty. After all, it's dishonesty when a professor assigns a grade the student did not earn. When a university or college confers a degree upon a student who has not mastered critical thinking skills, writing and problem-solving, it's academic dishonesty. Of course, I might be in error calling it dishonesty. Perhaps academic standards have been set so low that idiots could earn A's and B's.

Academic dishonesty and deception go beyond fraudulent grades. "Minding the Campus" is a newsletter published by the Manhattan Institute. Edward Fiske tells a chilling tale of deception titled "Gaming the College Rankings" (9/17/09). The U.S. News and World Report college rankings are worshiped by some college administrators, and they go to great lengths to strengthen their rankings. Some years ago, University of Miami omitted scores of athletes and special admission students so as to boost SAT scores of incoming freshmen. At least one college mailed dollar bills to alumni with a request that they send them back to the annual fund thereby inflating the number of alumni donors.

"Gaming the College Rankings" contains an insert by John Leo, who is the editor of "Minding the Campus," reporting that in the mid-1990s, Boston University raised its SAT scores by excluding the verbal scores of foreign students whilst including their math scores. Monmouth University simply added 200 SAT points to its group scores. University of California reported that 34 of its professors were members of a prestigious engineering association when in fact only 17 of their current faculty were. Baylor University offered students, who were already admitted to the university, $300 in bookstore credits to take the SAT again in the hopes of boosting Baylor's SAT averages.

Academic dishonesty, coupled with incompetency, particularly at the undergraduate level, doesn't bode well for the future of our nation. And who's to blame? Most of the blame lies at the feet of the boards of trustees, who bear ultimate responsibility for the management of our colleges and universities.


Forum at Columbia University Whitewashes UN and Arab States

Rather to be expected from Columbia, paradoxically. The NYC Jewish influence is still strong there and most NYC Jews are rusted-on Leftists

With all the irony of President Richard Nixon's famous quip that, "there can be no whitewash at the White House," the ivory tower played host to a September 25 "debate" at Columbia University's Casa Italiano that exonerated the United Nations Relief Works Agency in Palestine (UNRWA) and human rights violators throughout the Arab-Islamic world.

The conference was held in a small auditorium, decorated in classic Greco-Roman style with ornate columns and crimson curtains. The audience of about 100 filtered in slowly, filling the room with students, UNRWA employees, and professors.

In a debate entitled, "UNRWA historical performance in a changing context" and a roundtable labeled "The contribution of Palestine refugees to the economic and social development in the region," Rex Brynen of McGill University and Susan Akram of Boston University's School of Law distinguished themselves by castigating Israeli "occupation" while engaging in apologetics for Arab leaders who have violated Palestinian refugee rights.

Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University also made an appearance as the debate's moderator—an indication of the spectrum of opinions present—deviating from his role as an objective overseer only to reiterate his colleagues' anti-Israel and anti-Western diatribes.

To provide some context, UNRWA was established to accommodate the needs of several hundred thousand Palestinian refugees of Israel's 1948 War of Independence. The organization was originally intended to serve for a transitory period, during which Palestinian refugees would resettle in Jordan (including the Jordanian-administered West Bank), Egyptian-administered Gaza, Lebanon and Syria.

Sixty-years later, UNRWA oversees a massive welfare organization that perpetuates the economic dependency of 4.5 million Palestinians and nurtures their impractical belief that they will one day return to the homes their families abandoned in modern-day Israel. The Arab states, as one former UNRWA commissioner general noted, want to "keep [the refugees' situation] as an open sore, as an affront to the UN and as a weapon against Israel. Arab leaders don't give a damn whether the refugees live or die."

That history seems to have escaped the panel's academics, who, along with two former commissioner generals of UNRWA and the current commissioner general, urged the audience to "draw lessons from [UNRWA's] 60 years of service."

Brynen stole the forum's first half with a witty but deceptive portrayal of the refugees' status. He related the tragedies of Palestinian history, ending with the first and second intifada. "It sounds like a Christmas carol," he said of his list of Palestinian and (unmentioned) Israeli suffering.

He went on to implicitly chide the West for confronting UNRWA over the complete lack of Holocaust education at its schools. UNRWA initially said it would rectify the situation, yet waffled under pressure from militant Palestinian groups. Over a week after the conference ended, UNRWA announced it would incorporate Holocaust studies in its schools' curricula. "I'm surprised you haven't sprouted horns," Brynen joked with the current UNRWA commissioner general, Karen Abu Zayed.

Akram and Khalidi chose a different path: exculpating the Arab states for their abuse of Palestinians at Israel's expense. "I've written articles critical of Arab treatment of (Palestinian) refugees," Khalidi stated. "But the areas where the least rehabilitation (of refugees) has taken place are those under Israeli occupation (the West Bank and Gaza Strip)."

History begs to differ: Before the First Intifada, the Palestinians under Israeli administration had the fourth fastest growing economy in the world. At the same time, Arab Shi'ite and Maronite militias were hunting down Palestinians in Lebanon, while Palestinians in Jordan were reeling from the Black September massacres.

Susan Akram was even blunter than Khalidi in dismissing criticism of the Arab states' failure to take responsibility for the Palestinian refugees within their borders. "Arab states are under no legal obligation to provide for Palestinian refugees," she said. Syria, Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon have hosted the Palestinians "at great social and economic cost" (a particularly ironic statement for a forum entitled, "The contribution of Palestine refugees to the economic and social development in the region").

She noted the "surprising respect of Arab states for Palestinians," and singled out the Casablanca Protocol, a document published by Morocco in 1965 that ostensibly gives "Palestinians the same rights as Arab citizens of the host states." There are only two minor caveats: Morocco is not a primary host of Palestinian refugees, and the Arab World has expressed little interest in its "Protocol."

Unmentioned is that of the three major Arab host states of Palestinian refugees only Jordan has unilaterally granted the Palestinians citizenship, and that step was taken before the 1967 Six-Day War as part of the Jordanians' annexation of the West Bank. It is also noteworthy that in the Israeli-administered West Bank only one-sixth of Palestinian refugees live in UNRWA camps, while in Lebanon, two-thirds of the country's approximately 400,000 Palestinians live in UNRWA housing.

Israel and the West have tried to convince UNRWA and the Arab States to repatriate the Palestinians to the nations in which they now reside. Conferences like this one only feed the impractical notion that UNRWA's program of maintaining the Palestinians' refugee status indefinitely will prevail. Akram, Khalidi, and Brynen know that there is no chance that democratic Israel will commit demographic suicide by allowing millions of Palestinian refugees to settle within its borders. Their defense of UN excesses and Arab human rights abusers does a disservice to the very people they claim to want to help.


Supermarket boss criticises UK education system

The chief executive of Tesco, the nation’s largest private employer, has criticised educational standards for failing to prepare teenagers for the workplace. Sir Terry Leahy said that standards in schools were often “woefully low” and that the education system left it to private companies to “pick up the pieces”. He said that teachers were hindered from doing their jobs by red tape and criticised the system’s “back office” bureaucracy.

Tesco is unhappy that it spends time training recruits in basic numeracy and “communications” skills, which includes writing, because workers are ill-equipped when they leave school. Sir Terry’s forthright comments to a food industry conference were echoed by Asda, Britain’s second biggest supermarket chain.

An Asda executive told the event that low educational standards had led to a state of affairs where parents in deprived areas were choosing to spend money on alcohol rather than on nappies for their children.

Sir Terry told the audience of food manufacturers and retailers: “We depend on high standards in our schools, as today’s schoolchildren are tomorrow’s team; they will be the ones we need to help build our business. “Sadly, despite all the money that has been spent, standards are still woefully low in too many schools. Employers like us, and I suspect many of you, are often left to pick up the pieces.”

He added: “From my perspective there are too many agencies and bodies, often issuing reams of instructions to teachers, who then get distracted from the task at hand: teaching children. “I am not saying that retail is like education, merely that my experience tells me that when it comes to the number of people you have in the back office, less is more.”

Sir Terry’s criticism is potentially embarrassing for Gordon Brown, as the Tesco chief is a member of the Prime Minister’s Business Council for Britain. A spokesman for Tesco said that the comments were not political.

Tesco employs 280,000 staff, more than 40,000 of whom are aged under 19. It has 900 apprentices.

The Confederation of British Industry said that Sir Terry’s views were shared by many of its members. Andy Clarke, Asda’s chief operating officer, told the IGD conference that the growing number of 18 to 24-year-olds who were not in education or employment was leading to a vicious circle of low educational attainment and high unemployment in deprived areas. He said: “No one can deny that Britain has spawned a generation of young people who struggle to read, write or do simple maths. That’s why we’re finding packs of nappies discarded in the booze aisle, as the last few pounds are spent on alcohol rather than childcare.”

Tesco’s intervention comes as two other leading business figures claim that British qualifications leave school-leavers less “marketable” than their European counterparts. Sir Mike Rake, chairman of BT Group, and Sir Christopher Gent, chairman of GlaxoSmithKline, said that A levels had been devalued by grade inflation. Sir Christopher said: “Increasingly, people in the biggest companies are internationally mobile, and having an academic framework that is consistent around the world is quite appealing. Grade inflation has devalued the A-level and it is now an OK exam that used to be an excellent one.”

A spokesman for the Department for Children, School and Families said: “Standards have never been higher in our secondary schools. We are working to lift the burden of administration tasks from teachers.” Michael Gove, the Shadow Schools Secretary, denied last night that Sir Terry’s comments were part of a wider Tory-inspired plan.


14 October, 2009

More American school idiocy in the name of "zero tolerance"

The bureaucratic creeps behind this must be hardly human. They clearly hate kids

Finding character witnesses when you are 6 years old is not easy. But there was Zachary Christie last week at a school disciplinary committee hearing with his karate instructor and his mother’s fiancé by his side to vouch for him.

Zachary’s offense? Taking a camping utensil that can serve as a knife, fork and spoon to school. He was so excited about recently joining the Cub Scouts that he wanted to use it at lunch. School officials concluded that he had violated their zero-tolerance policy on weapons, and Zachary was suspended and now faces 45 days in the district’s reform school. “It just seems unfair,” Zachary said, pausing as he practiced writing lower-case letters with his mother, who is home-schooling him while the family tries to overturn his punishment.

Spurred in part by the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings, many school districts around the country adopted zero-tolerance policies on the possession of weapons on school grounds. More recently, there has been growing debate over whether the policies have gone too far. But, based on the code of conduct for the Christina School District, where Zachary is a first grader, school officials had no choice. They had to suspend him because, “regardless of possessor’s intent,” knives are banned.

But the question on the minds of residents here is: Why do school officials not have more discretion in such cases? “Zachary wears a suit and tie some days to school by his own choice because he takes school so seriously,” said Debbie Christie, Zachary’s mother, who started a Web site,, in hopes of recruiting supporters to pressure the local school board at its next open meeting on Tuesday. “He is not some sort of threat to his classmates.”

Still, some school administrators argue that it is difficult to distinguish innocent pranks and mistakes from more serious threats, and that the policies must be strict to protect students. “There is no parent who wants to get a phone call where they hear that their child no longer has two good seeing eyes because there was a scuffle and someone pulled out a knife,” said George Evans, the president of the Christina district’s school board. He defended the decision, but added that the board might adjust the rules when it comes to younger children like Zachary.

Critics contend that zero-tolerance policies like those in the Christina district have led to sharp increases in suspensions and expulsions, often putting children on the streets or in other places where their behavior only worsens, and that the policies undermine the ability of school officials to use common sense in handling minor infractions.

For Delaware, Zachary’s case is especially frustrating because last year state lawmakers tried to make disciplinary rules more flexible by giving local boards authority to, “on a case-by-case basis, modify the terms of the expulsion.” The law was introduced after a third-grade girl was expelled for a year because her grandmother had sent a birthday cake to school, along with a knife to cut it. The teacher called the principal — but not before using the knife to cut and serve the cake.

In Zachary’s case, the state’s new law did not help because it mentions only expulsion and does not explicitly address suspensions. A revised law is being drafted to include suspensions. “We didn’t want our son becoming the poster child for this,” Ms. Christie said, “but this is out of control.”

In a letter to the district’s disciplinary committee, State Representative Teresa L. Schooley, Democrat of Newark, wrote, “I am asking each of you to consider the situation, get all the facts, find out about Zach and his family and then act with common sense for the well-being of this child.”

Education experts say that zero-tolerance policies initially allowed authorities more leeway in punishing students, but were applied in a discriminatory fashion. Many studies indicate that African-Americans were several times more likely to be suspended or expelled than other students for the same offenses. “The result of those studies is that more school districts have removed discretion in applying the disciplinary policies to avoid criticism of being biased,” said Ronnie Casella, an associate professor of education at Central Connecticut State University who has written about school violence. He added that there is no evidence that zero-tolerance policies make schools safer...

“Something has to change,” said Dodi Herbert, whose 13-year old son, Kyle, was suspended in May and ordered to attend the Christina district’s reform school for 45 days after another student dropped a pocket knife in his lap. School officials declined to comment on the case for reasons of privacy. Ms. Herbert, who said her son was a straight-A student, has since been home-schooling him instead of sending him to the reform school.

The Christina school district attracted similar controversy in 2007 when it expelled a seventh-grade girl who had used a utility knife to cut windows out of a paper house for a class project.

Charles P. Ewing, a professor of law and psychology at the University at Buffalo Law School who has written about school safety issues, said he favored a strict zero-tolerance approach. “There are still serious threats every day in schools,” Dr. Ewing said, adding that giving school officials discretion holds the potential for discrimination and requires the kind of threat assessments that only law enforcement is equipped to make.

For Zachary, it is not school violence that has left him reluctant to return to classes. “I just think the other kids may tease me for being in trouble,” he said, pausing before adding, “but I think the rules are what is wrong, not me.”


Britain 'embarrassed' by academic excellence, says head

A leading private school is re-introducing scholarships for the brightest students amid claims Britain is “embarrassed” by academic excellence. The move – by Bristol Grammar School – comes despite the fact that free and subsidised places for top students can be claimed by children from middle-class backgrounds.

Many schools have scrapped scholarships in recent years under pressure from the Charity Commission in favour of means-tested bursaries targeted at students from the poorest homes. It follows the introduction of new rules forcing fee-paying schools to prove they provide “public benefit” to hang on to £100m a year in tax breaks.

But Bristol Grammar, which charges more than £10,000, said the trend risked leading to a decline in standards. Rod MacKinnon, the school’s headmaster, said: “We live in a society in which we are almost embarrassed to celebrate excellence, which is a big mistake. We seem to constantly emphasise egalitarianism over the traditional values of scholarship. “Excellence is something that we should strive for and ensure children aspire to achieve. Although we will have bursaries as well, we are signalling, with these awards, the value we base on rewarding and celebrating academic excellence.”

Traditionally, money from fees, investments and endowments has been invested in academic, sporting or musical scholarships - giving cut-price places to the most able pupils, regardless of parental income. But they have gone out of fashion in recent years in favour of bursaries, which are reserved for pupils from families unable to pay fees. The Charity Commission has already made an appeal to schools to increase the size of bursary funds to pass a new public benefit “test”, which was introduced under Labour’s Charities Act 2006. Two out of five schools investigated earlier this year as part of a trial programme failed the test because they did not offer enough free places to the most deprived children.

A report last year from accountancy firm Howarth Clark Whitehill found more cash is now spent on means-tested bursaries than scholarships. A survey of schools suggested that around £800m was spent on fee assistance, with just over half on bursaries.

Mr MacKinnon said: “I suspect that this is unique, it is certainly against the trend we have seen in recent years. It is common for schools to be phasing out scholarships because of the pressure from the Charity Commission and also because of the laudable attempt to broaden access to this country’s great schools. “I support that – we are not reducing our bursaries – but I think you have got to do both. We need to acknowledge and reward the most able because they can have a significant impact on the school community.”

At Bristol, scholarships worth £2,500-a-year each will be awarded to 15 students a year from September 2010. Thirteen will reward academic excellence and two more will recognise pupils with outstanding ability in sport and the performing arts. The awards will be funded by the Pople Charitable Trust, established by Don Pople who was a pupil at the school in the 1930s and 40s


Another Australian blackboard jungle

A TEACHER was attacked at school by a nine-year-old pupil who kicked her, threw rocks in her face and dragged her by the hair to the staffroom floor. Recalling the incidents yesterday in evidence to the District Court, Margaretta Slingsby said the boy threatened her: ''I'm going to get you, Slingsby slut.''

Ms Slingsby, 58, is suing the Department of Education and Training for negligence over the attack on May 30, 2005, which she says left her with post-traumatic stress and unable to return to her job. She had been teaching Italian at Lismore Heights Public School. Her barrister, Andrew Lidden, SC, said the school had more than its share of unruly children. While the pupil involved - known for legal reasons as B - had a history of ''at times quite violent misbehaviour'', the school had no plans in place to manage his extreme behavioural problems, Mr Lidden said.

The principal at the time, Trevor Pryor, had informed staff that B was coming to the school ''for a new start'' but said he had no records from the boy's previous school, Ms Slingsby told the court. She had taken time off work in March 2005 after B verbally abused her in the playground, an incident she reported to the principal. Two months later, she saw B chasing a girl into the library, screaming, ''You f---ing slut, I'm going to get you.''

When she and the librarian restrained him, the boy kicked them both and punched the librarian. He was taken away by the principal but returned and again attacked Ms Slingsby. ''He came up behind me and tried to push me down the stairs,'' she said. ''He grabbed me by the hair and was dragging me. I could feel my hair being ripped out of my scalp.'' The boy punched a female staff member who tried to intervene and threw rocks and dirt in Ms Slingsby's face.

Later, she said, she was sitting in the staffroom when B ''came tearing in'' with the principal in pursuit. The boy ''grabbed me by the hair and he threw me down on the ground''.

In a statement of claim filed to the court, Ms Slingsby alleges the department was negligent in failing to determine that the boy had a history of verbal and physical violence, and enrolled him when it was not safe for teachers or other students. It breached its duty of care by failing to remove B from the school or notify police after she was first assaulted, she claims.


13 October, 2009

Sharia trumps free speech at Yale

Last week's column was about something that doesn't exist -- a multi-level strategy to combat the advance of sharia (Islamic law) across the West.

The strategy doesn't exist because there's little understanding that the entrenchment of sharia in the Western zone poses a threat to liberty in the Western zone.

This understanding doesn't exist because the critique of sharia (a legal system best described as sacralized totalitarianism) required to devise a defensive anti-sharia strategy, is not considered possible.

Why not? The main obstacle is, well, the advance of sharia across the West. In other words, we cannot criticize the spread of sharia simply because sharia, or its influence, has spread. Thus, from Norway to New Haven, from BBC to Fox News, the reflex reaction to critical commentary -- even a newspaper page of political cartoons -- is to follow Islamic law and stop it (or try), or just shut up.

That's certainly what Yale University has done, as events beginning in August demonstrate. That's when news broke that Yale and Yale University Press were omitting the Danish Mohammed cartoons (and other Mohammed imagery) from a forthcoming book expressly about the Danish Mohammed cartoons.

This sudden act of censorship, Yale said, was due to fear of Muslim outrage over the Mohammed cartoons again turning into Muslim violence. (Roger Kimball, Stanley Kramer and I have laid out evidence that Yale's censorship was also due to fear of alienating Muslim donors.) This violence, along with general Muslim outrage, has its roots in Islamic legal prohibitions of life imagery, criticism of Mohammed and sarcasm about Islamic law -- all outlawed by the standard Al Ahzar University-approved sharia manual, Reliance of the Traveller, and all tools for the political cartoonist moved to comment on the connection between Mohammed and jihad violence. And why not? Indeed, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, arguably the most influential Islamic cleric in the world, calls Mohammed "an epitome for religious warriors."

The publication of the Danish cartoons forced the question: What is more important to the West -- freedom of speech, or Islamic law masquerading as something Orwellianly known as community harmony?

With its censorship of the Mohammed imagery, Yale chose sharia. But that wasn't all. Wearing my hat as vice president of the International Free Press Society (IFPS), I asked Yale's Steven Smith, master of Branford College, one of Yale's 12 residential colleges, if he would be interested in hosting Kurt Westergaard, the most famous of the Danish cartoonists, at a "master's tea" for students. The IFPS was then finalizing Westergaard's U.S. tour long-planned to coincide with the fourth anniversary of the publication of the cartoons on Sept. 30.

Smith agreed and held the event on Oct. 1. And Yale, it seems, will never be the same.

Of course, Yale was already "never the same," something the Westergaard visit further confirmed. If the Western reaction to the Danish Mohammed cartoons exposed the humiliating bargain the West had already made with Islam, trading away freedom of the press in exchange for "community harmony," the Yale reaction to Westergaard's visit following its censorship of the Mohammed cartoons exposed the rotten fruit at the core of American academia: namely, the politically correct drive to censor material "offensive" to multiculturalism mated to the sharia-correct drive to censor material "offensive" to Islam.

Even now, institutional consternation at Yale over Westergaard continues. In the pages of the Yale Daily News, ire is directed at Westergaard's Yale host, Steven Smith, simply for having issued the invitation, as attested by letters from University Chaplain Sharon Kugler and "coordinator of Muslim Life for the University" Omer Bajwa, and even Smith's fellow Yale masters, Davenport College's Richard Schottenfeld and Tanina Rostain. At a panel this week sponsored by the Chaplain's Office and the Yale Muslim Student Association, several Yale professors discussed "what made the cartoons offensive ... and how the West's response heightened tension." (Given the West's near-universal capitulation, I'd like to have heard that last bit.)

The lesson here? Free speech about Islam at Yale is a liability: something to censor, oppose, even remove physically, as symbolized by the administration's decision to bus students to the edge of campus to attend Westergaard's talk. Campus security -- bomb-sniffing dogs, two SWAT teams -- was so extreme it stood as a reproach to critics of Islam, and perhaps as justification for Yale's decision to censor the cartoons in the first place.

Having shrouded free speech in the Islamic veil, Yale stands exposed.


Are nursery rhymes dying out?

What's Britain's favourite nursery rhyme? Apparently, it's Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, at least according to new research for National Bookstart Day, which offers a list of the most popular (you can see it below). They wouldn't be my top choices, although that may be because I favour them more for their tunes (a beautifully sung Little Boy Blue is a joy!) than their words...

I've always enjoyed telling nursery rhymes to my children, and they've enjoyed joining in, getting into the rhythm and starting off their journey into the world of books.

But apparently many parents now feel that nursery rhymes are too old-fashioned for their youngsters. Just over a third of those surveyed said they used rhymes with their kids, and almost a quarter admitted they had neversung a nursery rhyme with their child (which I find rather sad). And there is an age-gap problem too - younger people are far less likely to know the words to the rhymes.

In addition - and rather oddly - more than a fifth of those asked said they didn't use them because they were not considered "educational". Well, they may not teach you lots of facts or figures, but they do teach you about language, and stimulate your brain by remembering the words (and songs). And if you don't believe me, read what Professor Roger Beard, Head of Primary Education, Institute of Education, has to say:

"Sharing rhymes with young children is as important today as it ever was. It helps them to enjoy playing with language and to learn about its patterns and rhythms. Some favourite rhymes date back 200 years or more. For instance, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star has an enduring simplicity, while also allowing children and grown-ups to share in their wonderment about the night-time sky. The appeal of other rhymes, like Incey Wincey Spider, is probably linked to the simple actions that accompany them and which are easily shared with small children.’

The top ten rhymes across the UK:

1) Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

2) Incey Wincey Spider

3) Round and Round the garden

4) Baa Baa Black Sheep

5) The Grand Old Duke of York

6) If you're happy and you know it

7) Humpty Dumpty

8) This Little Piggy

9) Ring a Ring a Roses

10) I'm a Little Teapot

(What no Mary had a Little Lamb or Hey Diddle Diddle?!)


At long last, a class act who might just save Britain's schools... if his party lets him

The disaster that is Britain's education system is arguably the single most important problem that faces this country. If people are ignorant of the world around them or unable to think for themselves, they will be incapable of tackling the failing economy, family breakdown or any other issue. Education is fundamental to a society's capacity to prosper. If the education system founders, a society loses the ability to function properly and its future is bleak indeed.

This unfortunately is the alarming position in which Britain finds itself. In one of the world's most advanced societies, the level of illiteracy among schoolchildren is astonishing. This year, nearly a quarter of a million children left primary school unable to read, write and add up properly. Two-thirds of working-class boys at the age of 14 have a reading age of seven or below. More than half the children leaving comprehensives failed to get the basic requirement of five decent GCSE passes. Public examinations have themselves dumbed down. Universities are having to provide remedial courses to make up for the deficiencies in students' knowledge. Employers despair of school-leavers and even university graduates who lack the basics and can't think for themselves.

For more than two decades, politicians have tried and failed to remedy this grievous state of affairs. The problem was that they failed to analyse it correctly - and in the case of the Labour Government have themselves been a large part of the problem.

Which is why we should applaud the Tories' schools spokesman Michael Gove, whose passionate performance at last week's Tory party conference suggested that at long last here was a politician who does understand not simply that education standards and expectations are shockingly low, but why.

Setting out his now familiar proposal of freeing up school provision, thus opening the way for schools to choose their own examination systems and syllabus, he showed that he also understood and was prepared to tackle many of the warped cultural assumptions that were causing so many schools to fail. This entails, as he suggested, nothing less than taking on the entire education establishment.

For Gove has understood that the root of the problem lies in a bunch of destructive and positively antieducation ideas which - astoundingly - have become the entrenched orthodoxy in the education world. Unless the power of this establishment is broken and its ideology defeated, there is no possibility of any meaningful reform.

This is, to put it mildly, a tall order. The point about this education establishment - referred to in the past as 'the secret garden' because it is as enclosed and unaccountable as its ideas are impenetrable - is that it has crushed all opposition precisely because it is so all-encompassing. Previous attempts to reform the system all failed because even the best-intentioned political initiatives were subverted by the 'experts' who were asked to implement them. From civil servants to professors of education, these formed an unbreakable cartel which subscribed to precisely the ideologies they were being asked to replace.

The outcome was that every such initiative, including the National Curriculum and the National Literacy Scheme, and every quango such as the National Council for School Leadership, which trains head teachers, was subverted or hijacked by preposterous anti-education ideas.

Gove's proposals have to be set in that all-important context. Freeing up school provision is intended to break the stranglehold of that education establishment, from civil servants in Whitehall to the quango running the National Curriculum to the local authorities controlling school placements.

The idea is that by giving enhanced school choice to parents, teachers will be forced to abandon the ideological junk and teach the basics because that's what parents want. And the competition that produces will force the rest to raise their game, too. Not only that, Gove intends also to break the power of university-based teacher training courses, which fill prospective teachers' heads with ideological mumbojumbo, by expanding the Teach First scheme, which recruits the highest performing graduates into teaching.

In a further inspired move, he proposes developing a Troops to Teachers programme, to get Army professionals into the classroom, where they can provide discipline and leadership. And he also intends to restore to teachers the power to expel unruly pupils by abolishing school discipline panels, so that the number of vexatious 'human rights' challenges which have paralysed attempts to maintain order in the schools will be greatly diminished.

So far, so admirable. The great question, though, is whether he can really pull it off. For Gove's radicalism is tempered by certain contradictions in his proposals. Take, for example, the National Curriculum. While he says 'free' schools will be able to opt out of it, it will remain binding upon those schools which are still run by local authorities. So how does that fit with his 'decentralising' agenda?

He says he intends to use the National Curriculum to enforce the proper chronological teaching of history and literacy schemes that actually work. But bitter experience has taught us that, in the hands of central government, the curriculum invariably becomes instead a destructive ideological tool.

Gove thinks he can avoid this by abolishing the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, which runs the curriculum, relying instead only on those experts whom he trusts to get it right. Good luck to him - but I'll believe it when I see it.

More disappointingly, his school choice proposal has a very serious flaw. The new 'freed-up' schools will not be allowed to select for ability. This is a bad mistake - and not just because it obviously undermines the claim that they will be independent of state control.

While a return to the 11-plus would not be desirable - selection at age 11 was too early and too rigid - some kind of academically selective school provision stands at the heart of making Britain both fairer and more competitive. This is because selecting by ability is crucial for the promotion of a meritocracy. And achievement by merit is the essence of a fair society.

European countries with successful education systems - Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands - all offer academically selective schools along with a range of others. This is because they don't suffer from the paralysing British hang-up about social class and differences in achievement.

But Gove instead chose to emulate the Swedish system, since although this allows school choice it does not permit academic selection. Yet Sweden, one of the most socialist and state-regulated societies on the planet, can hardly be a Tory role model.

Ruling out academic selection shows that the Tories are driven principally by the fear that their political enemies will say they are returning to their discredited past of caring only about the 'haves', not the 'have-nots'. Such concern for political positioning is dispiriting. Real free choice would mean a voucher system which could be cashed in at a school whether state-run or independent, comprehensive or selective. Now, that really would break the grip of the ideologues and lever up standards.

It is, after all, egalitarianism that has driven our education system off the rails. Tackling this most fundamental challenge properly requires both intellectual clarity and moral courage of a high order. Michael Gove has shown he has the former in spades. But his party will have to display rather more of the latter if he is to be allowed to become that oxymoron - an education minister who makes the grade.


12 October, 2009

A letter from a child

Recent videos of American children in school singing songs of praise for Barack Obama were a little much, especially for those of us old enough to remember pictures of children singing the praises of dictators like Hitler, Stalin and Mao. But you don't need a dictator to make you feel queasy about the manipulation of children. The mindset that sees children in school as an opportunity for teachers to impose their own notions, instead of developing the child's ability to think for himself or herself, is a dangerous distortion of education.

Parents send their children to school to acquire the knowledge that has come down to us as a legacy of our culture-- whether it is mathematics, science, or whatever-- so that those children can grow up and go out into the world equipped to face life's challenges.

Too many "educators" see teaching not as a responsibility to the students but as an opportunity for themselves-- whether to indoctrinate a captive audience with the teacher's ideology, manipulate them in social experiments or just do fun things that make teaching easier, whether or not it really educates the child.

You can, of course, call anything that happens in a classroom "education"-- but that does not make it education, except in the eyes of those who cannot think beyond words. Unfortunately, the dumbed-down education of previous generations means that many parents today see nothing wrong with their children being manipulated in school, instead of being educated.

Such parents may see nothing wrong with spending precious time in classrooms chit-chatting about how everyone "feels" about things on television or in their personal life. But while our children are frittering away time on trivia, other children in other countries are acquiring the skills in math, science or other fields that will allow them to take the jobs our children will meed when they grow up. Foreigners can take those jobs either by coming to America and outperforming Americans or by having those jobs outsourced to them overseas.

In short, schools are supposed to prepare children for the future, not give teachers opportunities for self-indulgences in the present. One of these self-indulgences was exemplified by a letter I received recently from a fifth-grader in the Sayre Elementary School in Lyon, Michigan. He said, "I have been assigned to ask a famous person a question about how he or she would solve a difficult problem." The problem was what to do about the economy.

Instead, I replied to his parents: With American students consistently scoring near or at the bottom in international tests, I am repeatedly appalled by teachers who waste their students' time by assigning them to write to strangers, chosen only because those strangers' names have appeared in the media.

What earthly good would it do your son to know what economic policies I think should be followed, especially since what I think should be done will not have the slightest effect on what the government will in fact do? And why should a fifth-grader be expected to deal with such questions that people with Ph.D.'s in economics have trouble wrestling with?

The damage does not end with wasting students' time and misdirecting their energies, serious though these things are. Getting students used to looking to so-called "famous" people for answers is the antithesis of education as a preparation for making up one's own mind as citizens of a democracy, rather than as followers of "leaders."

Nearly two hundred years ago, the great economist David Ricardo said: "I wish that I may never think the smiles of the great and powerful a sufficient inducement to turn aside from the straight path of honesty and the convictions of my own mind."

The fad of assigning students to write to strangers is an irresponsible self-indulgence of teachers who should be teaching. But that practice will not end until enough parents complain to enough principals and enough elected officials to make it end.


Dumbed-down Britain

Popular British TV personality Jeremy Clarkson says that the Pythons assume a higher level of education than most Brits have today

I knew all the Python sketches off by heart. And the books. And the films. I still do. And I still fly off the handle when someone misquotes. It was Norwegian Jarlsberger, you imbecile. I know it’s really called Jarlsberg but that’s not what Cleese said. How can you not know that??!!?

Only last week, I was asked by a keen young reporter to recite my favourite Python sketch into her camera for a feature she was making. I did Novel Writing.

Novel Writing is another reason Python turned out to be important. It’s the reason I’m married. My wife is a huge fan of Thomas Hardy and was deeply impressed that I knew the opening page of The Return of the Native. She never realised that I was simply reciting a Python sketch. In the same way that she never knew when I hummed Nessun Dorma that I was singing what I thought was the music from a commercial for Pirelli.

Novel Writing is at the very heart of what makes Monty Python so brilliant. The notion of Thomas Hardy writing his books, in front of a good-natured bank holiday crowd in Dorset, while cricket-style commentators and pundits assess every word he commits to paper is a juxtaposition you don’t find in comedy very much any more.

To get the point you need to know that while Hardy may be seen as a literary colossus, there’s no escaping the fact his novels are dirge. We see these attacks on intellectualism throughout Python. To understand the joke, you need to know that René Descartes did not say, I “drink” therefore I am. You need to know that if you cure a man of leprosy, you are taking away his trade. And that really Archimedes did not invent football.

Today my encyclopedic knowledge of everything Python is seen as a bit sad. Former fans point out that Cleese has lost it, that Jones is married to an eight-year-old and that Spamalot was a travesty. Worse. Liking Python apparently marks me out as a “public-school toff”.

There’s a very good reason for this. Nowadays people wear their stupidity like a badge of honour. Knowing how to play chess will get your head kicked off. Reading a book with no pictures in it will cause there to be no friend requests on your Facebook page. Little Britain is funny because people vomit a lot. Monty Python is not because they delight in all manifestations of the terpsichorean muse.

When you go on a chat show, it is important you tell the audience straight away that you were brought up in a cardboard box and that your dad would thrash you to sleep every night. If you want to get on and to be popular you have to demonstrate that you know nothing. It’s why Stephen Fry makes so many bottom jokes.

And then you have my colleague James May, who says that, occasionally on Top Gear, he would like to present a germane and thought-provoking piece on engineering. But I won’t let him unless his trousers fall down at some point. I’m ashamed to say that’s true.

It’s also true that today no one ever gets rich by overestimating the intelligence of their audience. Today you make a show assuming the viewers know how to breathe and that’s about it. It’s therefore an inescapable fact that in 2009 Monty Python would not be commissioned.

The only example of intelligent sketch-show comedy in Britain today is Harry & Paul. And what’s happened to that? Well, it’s been shunted from BBC1 to BBC2. And you get the impression it’ll be gone completely unless they stop using Jonathan Miller as a butt for their wit. Today you are not allowed to know about Jonathan Miller because if you do, you are a snob.

That’s why my Monty Python appreciation society is so small and secret. Members speak every morning, each giving one another a word or phrase that has to be placed in context by six that evening. Last month I was given one word: “because”. And I got it. It’s from the Four Yorkshiremen. “We were happy ... Because we were poor.”

The Pythons were laughing at that idea then. We’re not laughing any more.


Australian universities rate highly by world standards

DESPITE a hammering in the Asian media over student safety, and fears for the higher education sector's international reputation, Australia's elite universities have consolidated their place in the global rankings. Times Higher Education today published world rankings showing Australia's Group of Eight research universities are all placed in the global top 100.

The ranking, a collaboration between THE and higher education consultants Quacquarelli Symonds, is used around the world by consumers - parents and students - as well as academics looking for work and employers seeking recruits. Universities are ranked in six categories, the most important being peer review. Scores are also given by international students.

Coming as it does in the same week as US-based Australian researcher Elizabeth Blackburn's Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine, this year's THES ranking is a fillip to a sector struggling to maintain its international standing against intense global competition. The Australian National University remains the standard bearer for the Group of Eight with an international ranking of 17 - down from the 16th place it enjoyed for the past three years. The ANU is the first university listed on the league ladder outside Britain and the US, which maintain their joint stranglehold on the top positions. Harvard once again claims the No1 world ranking, while Cambridge leapfrogs Yale to take second place.

The other big movers in the top 10 were University College London, whose rise from 7th to 4th relegates Oxford to 5th, a rank it shared with Imperial College London, and California Institute of Technology, which drops five places to 10th. Of the Australians, the University of Sydney gains one spot to tie for 36th place with the University of Melbourne, its perennial interstate rival. Melbourne improved two places on last year's ranking.

The University of Queensland also rose in the rankings, from 43 to 41, as did Monash, from 47 to 45, while the University of Adelaide vaulted from a disappointing 106th place last year to regain a position within the top 100 at 81. The University of NSW dropped two places, from 45 to 47. And while the University of Western Australia slid one place to 84th, it will consider this a minor victory given its fall of 19 places between 2007 and last year.

Senior figures within the higher education sector will feel some relief at the consolidation of Australia's position against the backdrop of negative international publicity generated by the overseas student debacle in the private training sector.

The other international bellwether of university performance, the Shanghai Jiao Tong University world university ranking, will be released next month. The SHJT ranking focuses more on research in the sciences and is regarded by most experts as a more rigorous measure than the THES league table, if more mono-dimensional.


11 October, 2009

The undergraduate degree: A bourgeois cult symbol

If there's one thing job-hunting in this economy has taught me, it's that an undergraduate education is vastly overrated as far as success goes. Notwithstanding the specious right to go to college for free of which today’s youth and leftist politicians often speak, college does not guarantee success in finding or keeping a job in this economy. It certainly did not help me and millions of other workers avoid layoffs last year. It means little to those who scan a ream of applications --all with degrees listed-- and it certainly means nothing unique to harried recruiters at a crowded job fair.

Mind you, it isn't useless per se, but a cursory examination of just some of the great geniuses of history--Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Leonardo da Vinci, the Aztec engineers who built the great city of Tenochtitlán in the middle of soggy lake Texcoco, the Wright brothers, the men who built the Pyramids --all these people did not go to college as we know it. Certainly they studied hard and learnt their respective trades over years of time, but no overpriced, ivy covered campuses did they grace.

And of course we hear all the time about successful entrepreneurs who dropped out of college: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Russell Simmons (Def Jam Records), Jawed Karim (YouTube), Ralph Lauren, even the late Michael Jackson.

Yet we still hear the refrain: Everyone has the right to go to college and get a good education. It's the key to success in the job market.

I concede that most of us aren’t brilliant entrepreneurs, nor do most of us have a rich daddy who owns a local factory, and the system has seemingly been set up so that most of us must enter into the cut-throat, white-collar world in order to have a hope at being awarded a job with a living wage. That means earning the hallowed sheepskin. But does one really learn all the skills and knowledge needed to fully enter into an everyday professional setting?

The particular management, organizational and computer skills I use in my line of work were not bestowed upon me by a professor in a classroom. I certainly learned some interesting and enlightening things in the lecture halls, there’s no denying that. But with the possible exception of my foreign language skills (though alimented by my own efforts anyway), most of the job skills I possess I either learned on-the-job or in my extracurricular activities. In order to do that, I had to go outside the classroom, outside the syllabi and recitations and seek out spaces where I could use and learn more.

Reading , reading some more, listening to a lecture, reading yet some more, writing a paper, and taking any number of guessing game multiple choice exams in order to regurgitate reams of information that you cram into your head exhibit your broad knowledge. Just study what is covered on the exam, and nothing more, and of course one often hears my favorite question: Are the final grades going to be curved? Then it’s more reading. Little practical application or real-life settings can be found here. Surely there are exceptions, but this is the general pattern of what passes for education at American universities these days.

For what it’s worth, one might be better off visiting a library and reading all the books in it or going to a museum or getting a private tutor if one really wants to pursue knowledge. Or at least pursue a vocational degree, where one will learn, really learn, a useful trade and skill. Instead, we have a generation of people with bachelors and masters degrees who work one or two jobs at McDonalds or Starbucks or toil at the behest of any number of faceless temp agencies just to pay the interest on their student loan debt--debt with more zeros than any annual salary they can ever hope to see.

So we've seen that college doesn't necessarily prepare one for the real world, and we see that plenty of people who have smarts, drive and ambition have become successful without the hallowed sheepskin, so let’s ask: What is it really good for, this thing to which we supposedly have a right?

What an undergraduate degree symbolizes nowadays is neither smarts nor expertise nor discipline nor rigorous intellect nor even adequate job, social, or financial planning skills, since these are not the aims of a modern-day university education. Rather, it is a way to weed out the cultured workers from the low-brow; the affluent from the less-affluent; the pacified from the rough-around-the-edges; the best and brightest from the dumb sheep; the ones who “get their hands dirty” with practical skills from those fully indoctrinated in squeaky-clean trivia (which is what most white-collar work is, anyway); the upper and middle classes from the lower classes. In short, its function is to help lock out the undesirable proles from the Inner Circle (be it higher education, government employ, or involvement with the cut-throat, white-collar world).

As far as job hunting goes, the hallowed liberal arts university degree is quite useful indeed for approaching the doors to prestige, if not power--no, not opening them, just increasing the chances of being approved by the genteel gatekeepers and gaining an audience with the Emperor without having the guard dogs set upon you.

And before you say that it used to mean something a long time ago, save for watered-down curricula, keep in mind that in the past only the richest of the rich could go to university, and its role as a gateway to genteel nobility was even more bare-obvious than it is now. I think this will become more obvious as the world economy continues to deflate and people have to seek ever higher degrees and more debt just to get a secretarial job or (heaven forbid) mop floors in a Dunkin Donuts.

In our 21st century society populated by neutered-bourgeois, an undergraduate degree is good for one thing only--a status symbol for the affluent, upwardly mobile middle-class worker; an alluring icon of a bourgeois cult. Indeed, every family in this country has been duped into thinking that this is the only way one can become successful. We are bombarded with statistics showing that college graduates make more than non-graduates. After all, high school or college dropouts often end up flipping burgers and making lattes, right? Otherwise Uncle Sam lures them into the military to kill poor foreigners for the benefit of the ruling class, although with the wars in the Middle East going so badly, that might be a less appealing career path these days.

I do expect teachers or grad students or other educated professionals will sneer at my skepticism of the education system, and of the Holy Degree and its trappings; they will scold me, saying that I am foolish for denying the path to salvation via undergraduate education. Of course, they all have advanced degrees, have clawed their way to the top, have become the new gatekeepers, and (most critically) aren’t on the unemployment lines, so they can afford to say such things.

"Everyone has the right to go to college and get a good education. It's the key to success in the job market".

I would strongly recommend to anyone reading this who is of college-age to consider a vocational school or apprenticeship, where one can learn a useful trade that will guarantee a better salary. The way things are headed, the existing artificial white-collar service economy will begin to wither away, and less employment will be available to those with that hallowed liberal arts degree as we are forced to return to actual industry, production, trade, and thrift. Oh sure, there are still plenty of opportunities for that fancy-pants work we middle class denizens are taught to strive for. But do not expect a renaissance of financial prosperity in the future (i.e., get used to the term jobless recovery), nor should you expect a promise of a fully remunerative career (this graph from the Economic Policy Institute shows employers are forced to work people harder in the name of increasing productivity whilst wages stagnate due to inflation).

In other words, take the modern-day, bourgeois college degree-worshipping evangelist cult with a few grains of organic sea salt.


Private schools are the main ones teaching the hard stuff in Britain these days

University courses important to the economy rely on independent schools for many of their students, says research. These "strategically important and vulnerable" degree subjects include modern languages and engineering. The study for an independent schools' group found a quarter of places in such subjects in leading UK universities went to independent school pupils. Without such pupils the subjects would be at risk, argues the report by an Exeter University academic.

The analysis of university admissions, commissioned by the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC), shows that independent school pupils are disproportionately represented in these economically important subjects. Based on figures from 2006-07, the research says that 42% of undergraduate students entering economics in leading universities were drawn from independent schools. Among modern languages, 28% of French degree students were from independent schools, with the figures 38% for Italian and 41% for Spanish. In mechanical engineering the independent school entry was 26%, in civil engineering it was 25% and in general engineering 36%.

Comparing this with university entrance in 2003-04, report author William Richardson of Exeter University found the proportion of independent pupils in leading universities had either been maintained or had slightly increased. Showing the wider context of these admission figures, about 9% of 17-year-old pupils are in independent schools - and 14% of university entrants are from independent schools.

Without independent pupils, "the study of subjects recognised to be vital to the future of the nation would be in serious jeopardy in many of our leading universities", says Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference chairman Andrew Grant.

Independent schools argue that the research shows the scale of their contribution to maintaining important degree subjects, identified by the government as valuable to the wider economy. It also reflects the extent to which independent schools in England have continued to teach subjects such as modern languages at GCSE and A-level, when they are no longer compulsory in the state sector beyond the age of 14. University modern languages departments have reported problems in finding sufficient applicants, as their potential pool of A-level students has diminished.

In economics, a report last year warned that the subject was at risk of "dying out" in schools - with A-level student numbers down by a quarter in a decade.

The research also follows a report earlier this year into social mobility by MP Alan Milburn, which interpreted the over-representation of independent school pupils in prestigious university courses as evidence of the weaknesses in the ambitions of the state sector and in university admissions. Mr Milburn's report argued that even though participation in university had widened, children from wealthier backgrounds continued to dominate the most sought-after subjects at the most prestigious universities. The report from the HMC shows that 38% of students entering medicine in leading universities are from independent schools.

A survey from the UCU lecturers' union, also released on Tuesday, claims that a majority of people want to see the ending of charitable status for independent schools. It found that 56% of people wanted to abolish charitable status, including 41% of Conservative voters.

At the HMC's annual conference, Mr Grant dismissed claims that charitable status meant that independent schools were a cost to the taxpayer - arguing that private school fees saved the state sector £3bn, in terms of the private pupils who would otherwise have to be taught in state schools.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: "The government believes that it should be character, endeavour and talent that matter, not life chances at birth, which is why our policies have seen an increase in the proportion of people from less privileged backgrounds going into university. "But we recognise that there is still more to do which is why we continue to invest in initiatives, such as Aimhigher, that encourage students from state schools to aspire to the most competitive courses and universities, and our recent white paper also set out our plans to enhance social mobility in the years to come."


Bright British pupils 'will miss out' on university in row over qualifications

Horror that bright students might be more likely to gain university admission!

Sixth-formers are facing fresh chaos over university admissions following a clash over whether to accept new A* grades. School heads are being urged to prepare bright youngsters for rejection because universities will struggle to whittle down well-qualified pupils applying for places next September.

Prestigious universities are at loggerheads over whether to take the new supergrade into account when choosing between candidates and setting entry requirements. Some, including Oxford, have been accused of 'political correctness' for failing to embrace the A*, being awarded for the first time next summer. The universities are said to be afraid that using the A* would result in an increase in the number of privately-educated pupils winning places. Studies suggest that private school applicants are more likely to gain A*s and will therefore tighten their grip on the top universities.

School heads are also split over whether to include A*s in their performance predictions to universities, leading to claims that thousands of bright children will be disadvantaged. Ministers were accused of failing bright pupils after it emerged they have been pressurising universities into ignoring the A*.

The row erupted as university chiefs warned of intense competition for places next year as the recession continues to deter youngsters from seeking work in a harsh job market. Oxford said the annual university admissions scramble was a 'numbers game' and bright students faced rejection from some of their choices despite having impeccable applications. But the university came in for criticism yesterday for refusing to take into accept A* grades from candidates applying this month. Like most other universities, and in line with Government advice, it will ignore the grade for at least the first few years of its operation.

But Cambridge, Imperial College London and University College London are among universities opting to use it in setting entry requirements for some candidates. Warwick is considering including it in offers for maths and science subjects. Cambridge expects to set conditional offers of one A* and two As for many students. Geoff Parks, director of admissions, said: 'We hope that will seem to be a fairer system because students who get into Cambridge will by and large have higher grades than those who don't.' He revealed former Schools Minister Jim Knight had been 'bending ears' at the university because it was going forward with the A*.

Private school leaders, gathering in Liverpool for the annual meeting of the Headmasters' and Headmasters' Conference, expressed frustration at the reluctance of more institutions to accept the A*. Tim Hands, head of Magdalen College School, said: 'First of all we had pusillanimity because the Government didn't want to introduce it and now we have got stealth. 'The mood is one of resentment at interference, resentment at stealth, shock at a lack of progression in standards and a firm feeling that where people support real educational quality and endeavour they deserve commendation not restraint, arbitrary impositions and politicially-inspired interferences.'

Some state schools are said to be refusing 'in principle' to use A*s when predicting their students' grades on university application forms because they fear it will come to be seen as a passport to a good university.

Oxford said its decision to monitor the grade's implementation for the next two years was a 'pragmatic decision'. 'A lot of teachers have said very clearly, this is a new qualification, we haven't had a chance to teach it yet, and the idea we can accurately predict who will get these A*s, we won't,' said Mike Nicholson, director of admissions.

Professor Michael Whitby, pro-vice-chancellor of Warwick, warned that 2010 would be a 'tough' year for applicants. He said: 'We are under some pressure to rein in our offers next year, with the result that whereas in a normal year people who just missed an offer might get into the Liverpools, Warwicks, Durhams, Oxbridges of this world, in the current climate they might not.'


10 October, 2009

Do Kids Need More Time in School?

President Obama recommends shorter summer vacations for U.S. schoolchildren so they can attend school for more days than they do already, because he believes that they’re at a disadvantage compared to students in other countries. His Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, says more school hours will “even the playing field” when it comes to comparing our schoolchildren to those in the rest of the world.

Meanwhile, homeschoolers excel with far fewer hours of instruction than most public schoolchildren receive. So is it really more hours of instruction that schoolchildren need? First off, President Obama’s assertion appears to be inaccurate:
Obama and Duncan say kids in the United States need more school because kids in other nations have more school. “Young people in other countries are going to school 25, 30 percent longer than our students here,” Duncan told the AP. “I want to just level the playing field.”

While it is true that kids in many other countries have more school days, it’s not true they all spend more time in school. Kids in the U.S. spend more hours in school (1,146 instructional hours per year) than do kids in the Asian countries that persistently outscore the U.S. on math and science tests - Singapore (903), Taiwan (1,050), Japan (1,005) and Hong Kong (1,013). That is despite the fact that Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong have longer school years (190 to 201 days) than does the U.S. (180 days).
Apparently children in the countries that outscore ours in math and science attend school for more days per year but fewer hours per year. So the suggestion by Obama and Duncan that a longer school day results in “gains” (test scores, which do not necessarily equal learning) is not backed up by the foreign countries whose kids outscore ours. They actually have shorter school days.

But if you read the entire article, you find that merely educating kids isn’t really the point anyway. Here are your clues:
The president, who has a sixth-grader and a third-grader, wants schools to add time to classes, to stay open late and to let kids in on weekends so they have a safe place to go. Summer is a crucial time for kids, especially poorer kids, because poverty is linked to problems that interfere with learning, such as hunger and less involvement by their parents. That makes poor children almost totally dependent on their learning experience at school, said Karl Alexander, a sociology professor at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University, home of the National Center for Summer Learning.

Aside from improving academic performance, Education Secretary Duncan has a vision of schools as the heart of the community. “Those hours from 3 o’clock to 7 o’clock are times of high anxiety for parents,” Duncan said. “They want their children safe. Families are working one and two and three jobs now to make ends meet and to keep food on the table.”
Do you see it? What we’re talking about here goes way beyond merely educating a child. This is about raising children because their parents have been deemed unable or unwilling. This is about schools becoming publicly subsidized daycare centers for school-age children, even on the weekends.

What it’s not about is how many hours of instruction it takes to educate a child so he can beat the math and science scores of kids in other countries. Homeschoolers have already demonstrated that.


British students stumped by photo of Australian leader

Who is the mysterious man above? Don't ask a British university student. Since there is an endless and heavy traffic of visits to Australia by Brits and visits to Britain by Australians, this degree of ignorance is a good commentary on British education. Australia is one country, Brits SHOULD know about. But it appears that even very bright students know very little

KEVIN Rudd may be on record highs of popularity in Australia, however it appears he has not made much of an impact in the British university scene. In a recent episode of the venerable BBC quiz show University Challenge, the UK's brainiest youths were shown pictures of various leaders of the G20 nations and asked to match them to their home country.

But when a picture of Mr Rudd and his wife Therese Rein was shown first up to the team from St George's College in London, it was met with a wall of silence, until after 13 seconds of nothingness a team member says: "Pass". Then one of his teamamtes meekly offered: "Ukraine?"

With great disdain University Challenge host Jeremy Paxton informed the baffled students that not only was Mr Rudd not Prime Minister of the Ukraine but that the Ukraine was not actually in the G20. Paxton then revealed Mr Rudd's identity to the, perhaps chastened, whiz kids.

The segment came just days after Australia was made a permanent member of the world body - which the Government announced with much fanfare.


University – who needs it?

A former student at a British Polytechnic has won the Nobel Prize. Jasper Gerard sings the praises of a derided institution

The announcement that a polytechnic graduate has been awarded the Nobel Prize for physics has prompted some very British tittering – the sub-text being “weren’t polys meant to train people to become gas fitters, not give them ideas and Nobel Prizes?”

But the triumph of Professor Charles Kao, who graduated from Woolwich Polytechnic with an electrical engineering degree in 1957, should be seen as a tribute to a venerable institution that has enhanced British life. By developing fibre optics and thus ushering in the internet, Kao is the most celebrated alumnus to wear the Woolwich gown; but do not overlook all those, many from poor backgrounds, whose heads left the poly considerably fuller than they entered. It is at least arguable that polytechnic graduates have contributed more to society than those, like me, who attended supposedly grander universities to read waffly arts subjects.

Not that you would have bet on Kao’s future greatness. In an interview with a student magazine, he recalled: “I spent more time on the tennis courts than studying. My social life was busy too, and I met my future wife at one of the student dances I organised. Of course, the failure to study and my over-confidence caught up with me. I failed to achieve first-class honours.”

Woolwich, which opened in 1890, was country’s second polytechnic. “At this time England only had a handful of universities,” says Baroness Blackstone, former education minister, now vice chancellor of the erstwhile poly, re-branded the University of Greenwich.

Woolwich was founded with advice from Quentin Hogg, a sugar merchant, and money from TA Denny, a local merchant. Within a year, 504 students from surrounding south London slums had enrolled on 38 courses, mainly taught at night so they could continue to work in nearby factories. Evangelicals such as Hogg hoped that education would save the working class from its supposedly dissolute ways, especially drunkenness.

Woolwich took over various technical colleges, morphing into Thames Polytechnic and from 1992 rejoicing in university status. This followed John Major’s attempt to heal higher education’s class divide by allowing polytechnics to become universities, thus ending the distinction whereby polys focused on vocational courses.

Whether Woolwich has improved since its elevation is a moot point. The Government was monitoring Greenwich in 2004, and expressing concerns over funding and the influx of foreign students. Kinglsey Amis famously said of university expansion that “more will mean worse”, while Geoffrey Alderman of Buckingham University has claimed that plagiarism goes unpunished in many newer universities which are engaged in a “grotesque bidding game” to award good grades to climb league tables. While Kao’s research gave us the internet, recent Greenwich research has included a study of the perfect mince pie.

Far from hiding Greenwich’s roots, Blackstone claims to nurture them by encouraging research, vocational degrees, part-time learning and mature students. “Polytechnics enabled people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, providing local places to study,” she says. “And when you consider the historical barriers to university, there was as much talent in polytechnics as universities.” She says that Woolwich turned out many who have “achieved considerable status”, particularly in the City.

Greenwich must surely have seemed like the Oxbridge of the poly world. The main campus is the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College, a World Heritage Site and it boasts a Victorian library in Eltham. One of its sites in Medway is described as “ivy clad”. It sounds less Citizen Smith, more Evelyn Waugh.

And perhaps more Nobel. Hopefully Kao’s award will to a reevaluation of these great old institutions.


9 October, 2009

The Campus War Against Israel and the Jews

The radical Islamic state of Iran is leading a global movement calling for a second Holocaust — the elimination of Israel from the face of the earth. The Islamic terrorist organizations Hizbollah and Hamas are calling on Muslims to destroy the Jewish state and kill the Jews in those exact words. And on campuses across the United States, radical professors and student groups are lining up to support the genocide.

The day Israeli troops left Gaza – a territory that has been used as a launching pad for three aggressive wars against the Jewish state – Hamas terrorists began a three-year campaign of rocket attacks on Israel that was only halted by an Israeli counter attack, which began in December 2008. As Israel was defending itself from these Hamas attacks, University of California Sociology professor William Robinson assembled pictures university administrators described as “lurid” of Nazis persecuting Jews and emailed them to all the students in his course on globalization along with a diatribe about how the Israeli soldiers fighting Hamas terrorists were no different from fascist troops in World War II destroying the city of Warsaw.

Robinson’s propaganda message had no educational context, was unrelated to the subject of the course, and allowed for no alternative viewpoints. It had nothing to do with education. It was purely an act of aggression, part of an intensifying war against the Jews that has broken out on many fronts across American higher education:

* A University of Rochester sit- in during Israel’s defensive war in Gaza intimidates school administrators into backing a demand for the university to divest from companies doing business with “the Israeli war machine.”

* During Israel’s war to defend itself from 7,000 unprovoked rocket attacks launched at civilian targets from the Hamas-run Gaza strip, “teach-ins” were held on campuses across the country whose theme was that Israel is a Nazi apartheid state and the Hamas terrorists are freedom fighters.

* An event at UCLA’s Center for Near Eastern Studies encourages the audience in a “Zionism is Nazism” chant and portrays the genocidal terrorists of Hamas as peace-seeking, unjustly provoked victims.

* At University of California Irvine graduation ceremonies, members of the Muslim Students Union wear green stoles mimicking those of suicide bombers with Arabic word shahada (“martyr”) printed on them.

The campus war against Israel and the Jews, with its ominous overtones of the 1930s, is both a reflection of the Middle East conflict and something much more: an effort by radical groups to stigmatize America and the west by stigmatizing Israel. This campus conflict has been building for several years, as radical professors and student groups have targeted Israel and the Jewish students who defend it. But in the aftermath of 9/11, as Israel became a front line state in the war on terror, this campus war has intensified. Students, particularly Jews, who refuse to join the attack on Israel are not only criticized; they are subjected to hatred and intimidation.

At one level it is a war of symbols: campuses are adorned with banners in which the Star of David is joined to the swastika by an equal sign; as Israel is the only Jewish state and was created against the backdrop of the Nazi Holocaust, this is a hate crime in itself; student governments and academic senates push measures for disinvestment based on the blood libel that Israel – the only democratic state in the Middle East — is morally equivalent to the racist apartheid regime of South Africa; in a cynical reversal of the Biblical story, the genocide inciting Islamic world, enabled becomes David and tiny and outnumbered Israel becomes Goliath.

The conflict increasingly features the threat of real, as opposed to merely rhetorical violence. Pro-jihad groups such as the Muslim Students Association, an organization that supports Hamas and is part of the Muslim Brotherhood network which now has hundred of campus chapters and regularly sponsors fundamentalist Islamic prophets of hate, have dropped the pretense that it is only Israel and not Jews that are in their gun sights. In demonstrations at UCLA, its members showed that there is no such distinction as they chanted “Death to Israel!” in almost the same breath as “Death to the Jews!” At a pro Palestinian demonstration at UC Irvine, MSA members threaten Jewish students with violence and chase them off campus.

Stopping the Campus War Against Israel and the Jews

Until now, the unholy campus alliance of Muslim supporters of the Islamic jihad and secular radicals at war with America, have been winning these battles. In large part this is because of the support they receive from faculty members who use their classrooms to reinforce the virulent anti-Israel and anti-American messages of the jihad. They are abetted by administrators, who otherwise rigorously punish even the suspicion of “hate speech” but are so cowed by the campus left that they refuse to apply similar standards to the Jew-haters on their faculties and among their campus organizations. But the real problem is that this campus war has been going on for so long now and has been so one-sided that it has created a culture of stigma for Israel and the Jewish students who support it or who criticize the genocidal ambitions of Hamas and other Islamo Fascist groups involved in the Palestinian cause.

During the week of October 12-16, 2009 the David Horowitz Freedom Center is organizing a nationwide protest whose theme will be “Stop the Campus War Against Israel the Jews.” We intends to attack the culture of stigma that has placed a target on the back of every Jew attending a college and to support students who are standing up to the hate and fighting back. We will do this in several ways:

* In a series of pamphlets and flash videos, we will document the fact that the all out, totalitarian attack on Israel is in fact a blatant form of anti Semitism. These publications will show the full range of the left’s anti Semitic assault —in classrooms, in administrative decisions, and especially in the abusive arena of campus politics.

* We will report on the bigotry Jewish students on campuses experience as part of their every day academic and social lives in a series of first person accounts that will dramatize the crushing way in which the virulence of the hatred against Israel affects individuals, especially when they speak up in or out of class with an opposing view.

* We will establish alliances with Jewish student groups under attack and with Christian groups defending Israel. We will also reach out to Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, an embattled faculty organization that attempts to promote an even handed discussion of Israel and Palestine on campus, and increase their visibility and influence. We will do the same with individuals such as Alan Dershowitz, who has waged an often lonely struggle against the “divestment” movement that has become one of the left’s most potent weapons in its offensive against Israel.

The centerpiece of the Freedom Center’s campaign to “Stop the Campus War Against Israel and the Jews” will be a week-long series of demonstrations . Based on the Center’s successful “Islamo Fascism Awareness Weeks,” these teach ins will feature films, lectures, and panel discussions with figures such as Nonie Darwish, Yossi Ohlmert, Robert Spencer, Daniel Pipes, and myself. By revealing the irrational hatred of the left’s attack on Israel, and documenting its anti Semitic overtones and its support for terrorist groups, this week of demonstrations will win space for an honest discussion of Israel and the Middle East conflict and of the objectives of the campus left in our universities.


British Private schools to keep tax breaks after charity chief backs down

The Leather lady is not such a stern mistress after all (She was educated at private schools herself)

Private schools will be allowed to keep tax breaks worth £100 million a year after a major and unexpected victory in a campaign to protect their status as charities. The Charity Commission has effectively scrapped plans to remove their charitable status by giving them five years to meet tough new criteria imposed by the Government. Dame Suzi Leather, the commission’s chairman, said that the changes would be difficult to enforce “in the current economic climate”.

The announcement was welcomed by head teachers whose independent schools were ordered to offer more bursaries and strengthen links with state schools or risk losing the tax breaks. The Conservatives have indicated that a Tory government would not enforce the law in its current form.

However, the move will infuriate Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, who expected the Charity Commission to carry out the law with immediate effect. Ministers demanded that independent schools had to justify their status as charities by doing much more for the community.

Last night, critics of private schools accused the commission of bowing to an aggressive lobbying campaign. Fiona Miller, chairman of Comprehensive Future, a campaign group for fair admissions policies in schools, said: “There’s a lot more that independent schools could do to benefit the wider community and they should be made to do it more quickly.”

Earlier this week, Andrew Grant, the chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), accused Dame Suzi of presiding over a witch-hunt against private schools.

However, Dame Suzi told the HMC in Liverpool yesterday: “We recognise developing partnership activities or building up a bursaries fund will take time.We also recognise that in the current economic climate it is more difficult. We know you can’t pull a rabbit out of the hat. “The commission does not inhabit a parallel universe or stand aloof from the realities of running an organisation. “We understand not all charitable independent schools have large endowments, that many parents find it difficult to pay the fees, that it is not always easy to bridge the divide between the educational sectors and build relationships with neighbouring schools. “We recognise what many of you are up against.”

Sources close to the campaign questioned the timing of the announcement, coming only weeks after the Charity Commission’s annual open meeting where no time-frame was given. The extra time to put their houses in order will please head teachers — the Tories have said they would revise the laws if they come to power at the next election.

But Dame Suzi softened her stance and promised heads and other charities that the commission would enforce the law only in extreme cases. “Only in the event of a charity being absolutely unwilling to formulate and implement workable plans for demonstrating that its purposes are for the public benefit would we take more robust action,” she said. “Where we judge that a charity needs an extended period of time to make the necessary changes, we will be prepared to give that charity time. “We would not normally expect that period to be longer than five years.”

Two of the five schools assessed by the commission in its initial investigations failed because of lack of bursary provision. Mr Grant, who is also head of St Albans School, Hertfordshire, said: “She went much farther than we have heard before. It was good to hear public recognition of what many of our schools have been doing for years to share our benefits.”

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he hoped the Charity Commission would look beyond bursaries to partnerships between state and independent schools. He said: “I think it will give schools more time to develop sustainable schemes and I hope that the partnerships developed by independent schools and state schools gain recognition.”


Claim: Australian schools 'too focused' on literacy, numeracy

Some incredibly confused nonsense below. They identify people skills and technology skills as of first importance but how are you going to do any of that if you can't read and can't handle numbers? They seem to want kids to run before they can crawl. Sounds like more ivory-tower academic Leftism to me. They appear to be totally unaware of how bad literacy and numeracy skills among young people have become. More confusion: "system is too focussed on .. computing" yet "technology skills is a terrific first focus". These people are perilously close to brain death. Moonshine from Ms Moon, it would seem

New research says Australian schools are failing to properly prepare students for employment. The report by the Centre for Skills Development says the education system is too focussed on basics like literacy, numeracy and computing, neglecting more complex things such as teamwork and emotional intelligence.

Sheryle Moon, the co-author of the report, says young people need more complex skills for the modern workforce. "We live in a globalised world where people need a different set of skills than they needed in the 1970s or the 1980s," Ms Moon said. "It's less about task focus, or hand skills, it's more about brain skills and how you interact with other people.

"Ensuring that people have the technology skills is a terrific first focus. The thing that's missing in the revolution is how you incorporate modern technology applications into the curriculum."


8 October, 2009

Unreliable Sexual Assault statistics

Feminists say all men are rapists. Was that attitude behind the exaggeration below?

The University of California at Davis revealed Thursday that for at least three years it reported an inflated number of sexual assaults to the federal government.

An internal investigation and an external review both found that the university totals released for 2005, 2006 and 2007 were substantially greater than the totals that had actually been reported on and around campus. Under the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, colleges and universities must file annual statistics with the Department of Education and release them publicly to students and employees.

Davis reported 48 forcible sexual offenses in 2005, 68 in 2006 and 69 in 2007. The actual totals, according to the two reviews, were 21, 23 and 33.

The university places the blame on Jennifer Beeman, former director of its Campus Violence Prevention Program, who retired in June 2009. Beeman was on medical leave during the spring semester and a staffer tallying the 2008 statistics in her place found there had been just 17 forcible sexual offenses reported that year, which either indicated a drastic drop in crime from the year before or an indication of past misreporting. The latter, according to the internal and external reviews, was true.

Robert Loessberg-Zahl, assistant executive vice chancellor, said that because Beeman was “widely recognized as an authority on Clery matters, we didn’t have a second set of eyes look at the numbers reported.” In retrospect, he added, “that was a mistake.… We trusted her too much.”

Beeman, reached at her home in Sacramento, declined comment. Since she is no longer a university employee, Loessberg-Zahl said, the institution can’t take disciplinary action against her. He declined to speculate on her motivations for inflating the statistics.

After its initial announcement Thursday, the university also disclosed Beeman was placed on paid administrative leave in December 2008 while under investigation for improperly charging travel expenses to a federal grant. The university later changed her status to medical leave and she reimbursed Davis $1,372 for the charges. The findings of that probe led the university to initiate a second investigation, which is still ongoing.

S. Daniel Carter, director of Security on Campus, a nonprofit group run by the Clery family, said his group has “never seen anything like this.” Though there have been several incidents over the years of “what amounted to sloppy record keeping, there have been no other cases where you’re talking about 100 percent -- almost 200 percent -- more crimes of a certain kind being reported to the federal government than is actually true.”

Under the Clery Act, the Department of Education can fine institutions for misrepresenting crime statistics, whether underreporting, overreporting or otherwise conveying inaccurate information. West Virginia University is under investigation by the department and facing fines of as much as $27,500 for misrepresentations made in 2001 and 2002, Carter said. He estimated that Davis could face fines totaling $2.96 million.

Loessberg-Zahl said Davis was “absolutely cooperating with the Department of Education” as it investigates what happened there. “We understand there’s the possibility of sanctions, but at this point we haven’t heard from the department on any actions they’ll be taking.”

Going forward, though, the university has learned its lesson, he said. “All crime statistics compiled by staff will be checked by a panel of three experts,” a uniformed campus police officer, a Clery Act specialist from its Office of Student Judicial Affairs and a university counsel. With the new system in place, “we’ll have done what’s necessary to make sure the information we’re sending to the federal government is verified.”

Recent signs of trouble came in February, when the local Fox affiliate reported that there were more sexual assaults at Davis in 2007 than there were at all other University of California campuses combined. At the time, a Davis spokeswoman attributed the numbers to the fact that the institution had a “nationally recognized … model program for its outreach efforts and services for survivors.”

Beeman's misconduct may go back further. A 2001 Sacramento Bee investigation found that though the university had reported no sexual assaults under the Clery Act in 1998, Beeman said, when applying for a $543,000 federal grant, that there had been 700 rapes or attempted rapes there that year. She told the newspaper that she had extrapolated the number from national statistics on sexual assaults of college students but had not meant to include that total in her application.

Loessberg-Zahl said the university will work to re-verify its statistics for all 16 years that Beeman led the Campus Violence Prevention Program if the Department of Education "gives us some indication that we ought to go back and review those years


British teacher convicted of assault for removing unruly student

Another assault on British educational standards

A teacher with an exemplary record is facing the end of his career after being convicted of assault for removing a pupil from class for telling a racist joke. Michael Becker, 62, snapped after repeatedly telling the 15-year-old to stop telling the joke and disturbing other pupils. When the boy refused to leave the room he took hold of his sweatshirt collar with one hand and the waistband of his trousers with the other and hauled him out. He then put him in a storeroom, which had a window in its door, before the pupil let himself out moments later.

Mr Becker was charged after the teenager complained of some redness around his neck and a sore stomach. He was suspended by the county council and pleaded not guilty but was convicted by South East Suffolk magistrates in Ipswich. During the hearing the pupil denied that he repeatedly told the joke and claimed that Mr Becker had dangled him by an ankle. 'He came over, picked me up and opened the classroom door and hung me upside down and then threw me in the cupboard,' he said.

But Mr Becker, of Stutton, near Ipswich, insisted that the pupil had told the joke four times and ignored his order to leave the classroom on November 10 last year. Any suggestion he had dangled him upside down was 'preposterous', he added. 'I acted swiftly to remove the student,' he said. 'I didn't really want to do it but I had to do it so the other students could carry on learning. 'My intention was to lead him towards the door. I just took him by his belt and then my hand went back and took him by the back of his jumper. 'I felt that under the circumstances I had to try to get him out because he was refusing. It was my intention to take him outside for ten minutes.'

He told the court the police investigation had left him ' devastated', adding: 'My whole life is based on my family and my teaching. My world was shattered.'

The school's former headmaster, Roland Gooding, told the court that Mr Becker's conduct had always been exemplary. He added: 'Since I have known him I have always found him to be extremely compassionate, caring, dedicated, honest and of the utmost integrity.'

Magistrates accepted that Mr Becker had not held the pupil by an ankle, but said: 'We are satisfied there was a reason [for removing the boy from the classroom] but not that you used reasonable force. 'Use of any force should be used as a last resort - in this case it wasn't.'

Mr Becker, who is married with two children, will be sentenced on October 23. The maximum jail term for common assault is six months.

The case is likely to be referred to the Independent Safeguarding Authority or the General Teaching Council for England, both of which have the power to ban Mr Becker from teaching.

Nick Seaton, of the Campaign for Real Education, said Mr Becker had overreacted but should not have been found guilty of assault. 'As every teacher knows, pupils regularly go beyond the bounds of normal behaviour and receive little or no punishment,' he said. 'Yet the first time a teacher does something he stands to lose his job.'

Suffolk County Council said: 'As soon as he is sentenced we will initiate our own formal disciplinary measures against him.'


British classrooms have become war zones

A comment on the story immediately above

No evening meal around our kitchen table is complete without one of the children whining about some teacher who has been 'really, really mean to me'. What they're actually saying is a teacher told them off for something they did wrong - and they didn't like it.

Himself shuts up the little darlings sharpish by regaling them with bloodcurdling tales of his maths teacher, Mr X, who, 35 years ago, used to express his frustration by hurling a board rubber in the direction of dozy little Johnny. One day, the rubber was thrown so hard it lodged in the door and stuck there. Like an Apache tomahawk, it gave out a warning of the fate that awaited any boy who failed to behave.

Mr X was frightening. He could also be incredibly kind, and was a brilliant teacher. But he wouldn't be allowed to teach today. Not even at a time when the male maths teacher is becoming extinct faster than the Bengal tiger. A powerful authority figure like him couldn't survive in a school where it's the teacher who gets told off for a discipline problem.

The latest casualty of this Alice In Wonderland farrago is Michael Becker, a 62-year-old teacher whose story is depressingly familiar. After asking a 15-year-old pupil four times to stop telling a racist joke, Mr Becker hauled the lad out of the class and parked him in a storeroom.

The subsequent police investigation almost destroyed the veteran master, who was described as 'compassionate, dedicated and of the utmost integrity'. Clearly, the young joker lied through his teeth. He claimed that Mr Becker dangled him by an ankle. Magistrates rejected that account.

But will the teenager get punished for giving false testimony? Hell, no. It is poor Michael Becker who has been convicted of assault. A long career is in pieces after one moment of refusing to take any more nonsense.

Thank you, East Suffolk magistrates! Now every nightmare child in the country has a green light to abuse or ignore their teachers. If Mr Becker had appeared before a jury of parents, do you think they would have convicted him? I bet they'd have shaken his hand.

Michael Becker is old enough to remember a time before pupils ruled the classroom. I don't think that's a coincidence. Young teachers are too scared to be frightening. So what will happen when the older generation is gone?

It's a deeply alarming prospect and it's coming very soon. In Wales, the numbers of teachers taking early retirement is up 65 per cent in the past five years. Some are so desperate that they leave even before they are entitled to their pension.

Ninety-two per cent of teachers claim to have been verbally abused and 49 per cent have been physically attacked. Of those, 53 per cent have been assaulted with a thrown object.

It's not old Mr X who's hurling that board rubber any more. It's little Johnny.

Last week, I took part in a discussion on Woman's Hour with Christine Blower of the National Union of Teachers and with the deputy head of a former sink school. Ms Blower seemed anxious to play down the problems her members face, but she did accept that teaching is the second most stressful job in the country. In an extraordinary admission of defeat, Ms Blower said she didn't think teaching should be seen any longer as a career for life. In other words, like a tour of duty in Afghanistan, teachers can take their life in their hands for a few years in the war zone that is modern state education.

The deputy head, meanwhile, talked about turning round an inner London school. And how had this miracle been achieved? Oh, by insisting pupils wore uniform and sending them home if they didn't. By the formidable headmaster standing at the local station and eyeballing any pupils who dared to be uncivil. By laying down rules and - now here's a radical idea - punishing those who broke them.

This new approach is called 'modern strict'. It sounds suspiciously like 'old strict'. That was a pedagogic approach that worked pretty well in our schools for, ooh, about 430 years, until the educational establishment opted for the view that children, not teachers, know best.

A reader writes to say he has just got the entry form for the BBC's My Story competition. At the top, in big red letters, the form says: 'Remember, judging is based on how great the story is, not on grammar and spelling.'

With that kind of attitude in one of our great institutions, is it any wonder that British students have poorer written English than undergraduates from abroad? A study of work by final-year students showed that foreigners made 18.8 spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors per exam paper compared to a staggering 52.2 from young people who were brought up speaking English.

What a travesty. English is one of this country's glories, as well as one of its few remaining competitive advantages. A language that most of the planet has to learn is the one we get free with our mother's milk.

By failing to insist on decent standards of written English in its competition, the BBC isn't being generous; it's encouraging children to lose the blessing with which they were born.


7 October, 2009

A Crackdown on Bake Sales in NYC Schools

No individual liberty for kids, apparently

There shall be no cupcakes. No chocolate cake and no carrot cake. According to New York City’s latest regulations, not even zucchini bread makes the cut. In an effort to limit how much sugar and fat students put in their bellies at school, the Education Department has effectively banned most bake sales, the lucrative if not quite healthy fund-raising tool for generations of teams and clubs.

The change is part of a new wellness policy that also limits what can be sold in vending machines and student-run stores, which use profits to help finance activities like pep rallies and proms. The elaborate rules were outlined in a three-page memo issued at the end of June, but in the new school year, principals and parents are just beginning to, well, digest them.

Parent groups and Parent-Teacher Associations are conspicuously given an exception: once a month they are allowed to sell as many dark fudge brownies and lemon bars as they please, so long as lunch has ended. And after 6 p.m. on weekdays, anything goes. But at that hour, most students are long gone, and as far as the Education Department is concerned, stuffing oneself with coconut macaroons and peanut butter cookies at that hour is one’s prerogative.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has made both public health and public education centerpieces of his tenure, and the changes in the schools’ food are an outgrowth of his efforts to curb trans fats, salt and other unwanted additives.

Roughly 40 percent of the city’s elementary and middle school students are overweight or obese, according to the Education Department. The department also found a correlation between student health and performance on standardized tests, according to a survey it released in July.

The previous regulations limited sales to once a month and allowed them at any time during that day, but they were loosely enforced. Officials say they will do more to monitor the new regulations. “We have an undeniable problem in the city, state and the country with obesity,” said Eric Goldstein, the chief of the office of school support services. “During the school day, we have to focus on what is healthy for the mind and the body.”

Unsurprisingly, the rationale is getting a cool reception among students. At Fiorello H. La Guardia High School on the Upper West Side, students are used to having bake sales several times a month. Now, Yardain Amron, a sophomore basketball player, laments that his team will not be able to raise money for a new scoreboard. Another La Guardia student, Eli Salamon-Abrams, 14, said that when the soccer team held a bake sale in May, his blueberry muffins sold out in 15 minutes. He said of the ban: “I think it’s kind of pointless. I mean, why can’t we have bake sales?”

The new policy also requires that vending machines, which generate millions of dollars for school sports, be supplied with snacks such as reduced-fat Baked Doritos and low-sugar granola bars. A new vending machine contract is expected to be approved on Wednesday by the Panel for Educational Policy, the school oversight board. Student stores will be able to sell only approved snacks bought from the new vendor, rather than obtain the food themselves, as they once did. Principals are expected to enforce the new rules. “Noncompliance may result in adverse impact on the principal’s compliance performance rating,” the policy states.

With the changes, school administrators and teachers who oversee student clubs are laboring to come up with other easy ways to raise money, particularly at a time when school budgets are being cut. John Sommers, the assistant principal of organization at La Guardia, said that all fund-raisers using food were on hold for now. He said teachers had encouraged students for years to be careful with what they sold. “There was never any cotton candy or something like that, and there weren’t sales all the time,” he said. “But they are definitely a way kids count on to get money.” A typical weekday sale, he said, could bring in about $500 in profit. “If they wanted to buy some uniforms or go on a trip, that was enough,” he added. Mr. Sommers said he was trying to figure out other ways for students to raise money, perhaps by selling T-shirts or key chains. (All of which are decidedly more expensive to produce than a box of brownies.)

Department officials are suggesting that teams use walk-a-thons and similar activities as a way of raising money and doing something active.

For all the changes, there is much the regulations do not address. For instance, there are no stipulations of what kind of treats students may bring to class, so birthday cupcakes appear to be safe. Snack bars of any kind are permitted at after-school sporting events, a prime time for cheese-laden nachos and fatty hot dogs.

Schools around the United States, including throughout California, have banned bake sales or put a limit on the sugar and fat content of the goodies. But New York’s regulations are among the strictest in the country, said Howard Wechsler, the director of the division of adolescent and school health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There are more schools that are making more changes in what is available for kids at school,” said Dr. Wechsler, who has studied nutrition policies at schools nationwide. “Schools are supposed to be a place where we establish a model environment, and the last thing kids need is an extra source of pointless calories.”


Head claims parents of British private school pupils deserve tax breaks

Parents of private school pupils should be allowed to claim tax breaks on their children’s education because they are saving the state money, the head of a powerful coalition of public schools has said. Andrew Grant told the Headmasters' and Headmistresses’ Conference in Liverpool that parents are paying twice to educate their children because they also have to stump up taxes to fund state schools. Parents should be allowed tax relief of up to 40 per cent on fees, saving the highest earners at the most expensive schools £10,000 a year, Mr Grant told The Times.

“Let people keep more of their own money and place upon them the responsibility to spend it wisely,” Mr Grant, who is also head of St Albans School in Hertfordshire, said. “Allow them tax relief if they save the state money. If the school is a charity, why shouldn’t they pay the fees as gift aid? Taxpayers who give money to charity through the gift-aid scheme do not pay tax on their donations. “In a time when the public sector is broke, [it makes sense] to make it less difficult for those who can afford to pay for their children’s education to do so,” Mr Grant said.

Private schools are under scrutiny from the Charity Commission to prove their “public benefit” in order to retain their charitable status. Two of the first five schools to be assessed failed the “public benefit” test. Highfield Priory, in Fulwood, Preston and St Anselm's in Bakewell, Derbyshire must now work with the Commission on changes to meet the requirements but the decisions have been published as final and not open to appeal.

Mr Grant likened the Charity Commission’s investigations to the abolition of the monasteries under King Henry VIII. He went on to accuse Dame Suzi Leather, head of the commission who is addressing the conference on Wednesday, of acting the part of Sir Thomas Cromwell - one of the chief architects of the Reformation. “Dame Suzi might think on the fate of Thomas Cromwell,” Mr Grant said. The chief minister in Henry VIII’s court was executed by order of the king, he told 250 heads of leading independents.

Private schools claim that parents save the Government £3 billion by educating their children in the private sector. In a direct attack on politicians who have threatened to withdraw charitable status and the financial gains it brings to the private sector, Mr Grant said: “Our parents’ taxes have not only funded a state education - their right to which they forgo - but have paid for your mortgages, your moats and your mint imperials,” Mr Grant said.

A voucher scheme, in which parents receive vouchers for the cost of education to spend at their chosen school, would be another way of widening participation at top schools, he added. The poorest would get higher value vouchers to incentivise schools to take these pupils. “The costs of education would travel with the parent.” This would create a market system in which the weakest schools would be killed off, Mr Grant said. “Increasing the pool of good schools allows people to opt out of the bad ones. You have to have more schools than the bare minimum if you are going to allow people to escape the worst ones.”

Mr Grant also accused top universities of dumbing down under government pressure to take students from poorer backgrounds. "Universities, too, have had their own dependency exploited to advance a political agenda. The logic runs thus; life has been unfair to Group X so we must take responsibility for introducing some unfairness into the lives of Group Y."

A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said: “We are surprised by the tone of the HMC Chair’s speech, which seems at odds with the constructive dialogue we have had with schools and other schools bodies. "It is still the case that we expect that most charities, including schools, will be able to meet the requirement."


British Universities accused of 'crude social engineering' by ignoring bright students from good schools

This is another report of the speech already mentioned above. It covers largely different ground

Leading universities were yesterday accused of running admissions policies which disadvantage bright pupils from good schools. Headmasters' leader Andrew Grant said new points-based systems were 'crude social engineering' as they give pupils from poor-performing schools a 'leg up' worth several grades. He accused the Government of exploiting universities' dependence on funding to 'advance a political agenda' of having more working-class students. Ministers were 'putting pressure on universities to socially engineer their intake according to criteria other than proven academic ability', he declared.

Mr Grant, chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference of 250 leading independent schools, made his comments in a keynote address to the body's annual gathering. He also condemned interference in private schools. The heads' leader accused ministers of a 'medieval' attack on their charitable status, drawing parallels with Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s.

On university admissions, he highlighted a 'shocking' system used by Durham, which applies a 'modifier' to pupils from low-performing schools. The lower the school's average GCSE score, the higher the modifier. This can lead to some applicants getting a head start worth five or six A*s at GCSE. Pupils who attended schools including Agnes Stewart CofE High in Leeds, and Anfield Comprehensive in Liverpool, are given the maximum advantage of 5.5 A*s at GCSE. However, pupils from Eton and Mr Grant's school, St Albans, have none.

The score is used with factors such as AS-level grades, actual or predicted grades, personal statements and school references to decide admission. Mr Grant added that using such formulae left universities open to accusations they were 'penalising' pupils who were 'intelligent and well-educated'.

Oxford, Bristol, Warwick and Manchester were among other universities said to be using or considering-such systems for admissions.

In a coruscating attack, Mr Grant said: 'So enamoured are social engineers of unsuccess, they are determined to spread it.' He went on to warn that ministers were trying to push more pupils into university but failing to fund enough places. Many graduates-found themselves with huge debts of £23,000 and jobs unlikely to merit the time and expense spent, said Mr Grant. Thousands of students had suffered in 'the summer of the great betrayal', because they can't find university places or jobs, he added.


6 October, 2009

NY kids must not ride bikes to school?

Seventh-grader Adam Marino is getting a firsthand lesson in civil disobedience. The 12-year-old and his mother, Janette Kaddo Marino, are defying Saratoga Springs school policy by biking to Maple Avenue Middle School on Route 9. The Jackson Street residents pedal more than four miles together each way to the middle school on nice days despite being told not to by school officials and police."I guess you can say that we continue to do what we feel is our right," Kaddo Marino said recently. "We feel strongly we have a right to get to school by a mode of transportation we deem appropriate."

Their methods may be unconventional, but the Marinos are part of a growing number of Americans challenging the sedentary habits of today's youths and what they view as overanxious "helicopter" parenting. As fewer children walk and bike to school nationwide, parents have started groups like the "Walking School Bus," which promotes physical activity and fitness in youth by having them walk to school with adults.

Parents and teachers at Niskayuna's Hillside Elementary School implemented the state's first Walking School Bus program. Separately, this week marks the end of the first "Children and Nature: Saratoga -- Come Out and Play," a week of outdoor events in Saratoga Springs coordinated by the local chapter of a national organization that seeks to "reconnect" children and their families to the outdoors.

Riding his 21-speed Giant mountain bike to school benefits Adam Marino's health and the environment, his mother says, and Adam believes it makes him a better student. "It would be really nice if it got changed," he said of the school policy.

The youngster may get his way. While the school district does not allow elementary school or Maple Avenue students to ride bikes to school, that could change in the coming weeks, Superintendent Janice White said. The Board of Education could vote to amend the policy on Oct. 13, when it is scheduled to discuss a recommendation from a district-formed committee. "Supervised, parent/guardian bike riding may be permitted at specific sites in the future," White said in an interview Friday. The school has no legal responsibility over what occurs on Route 9, she added.

The biking debate started last spring, when school district officials told Kaddo Marino that Adam was violating school rules by biking to class. Walking to the school also is not permitted. Kaddo Marino challenged the policy and asked the school board to change it. The district charged a committee to review the rule, which was instituted in 1994.

At the start of school in September, Kaddo Marino thought that she had a nonverbal agreement with school officials to allow her son to ride his bike until a new policy was resolved. But on the night before classes started, school authorities called parents to say that walking and biking to school would not be tolerated. When the pair stuck with their plan, they were met by school administrators and a state trooper, who emphasized that biking was prohibited, Kaddo Marino said.

In response, members of an advocacy group, Saratoga Healthy Transportation Network, rallied around the mother and son by accompanying them on their rides to school. They go an average of twice a week. Mom rides to the school to join her son coming home.

Route 9 is a state road also called Maple Avenue. The suburban thoroughfare is busy with cars and businesses. It has crosswalks and wide shoulders, but no bike lanes. The accident rate on the road near the school is less than the statewide average for similar streets, and no bike accidents have been reported in the last three years ending Feb. 1, according to Mark Kennedy, regional traffic engineer at the state Department of Transportation.

At Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake schools, officials allow elementary and middle school students to ride their bikes to school if they bring in notes from their parents, spokeswoman Christy Multer said. About six to 10 middle school students ride on nice days, Multer said. They park their bikes in racks, and leave after buses depart.

SOURCE. Comment here

The enormous difficulty of getting your kid into a good British State school

Leftist governments hate them but parents love "Grammar" (selective) schools because they know that only there is a kid with ability likely to get a good education in the State ("free") sector

Sally has contacted me to express the astonishment she felt when she recently took her son for a grammar selection test. The scenes, she said, were unbelievable, and she's willing to share them with you. It all sounds rather frightening...

"Like hundreds of other children, my 10 year-old sits secondary school and grammar selection tests this autumn, and like many parents, we’re new to the process. But nothing prepared us for the extraordinary scenes last week at our first test day for entry to a London grammar for boys.

We arrived early and so did everyone else. A mile from the school gates, and with 45 minutes before the test was due to start, we drove past crowds of families streaming in the same direction. Hundreds of people strode along clutching registration forms, their faces set to stony, and behind each group of adults trotted a bewildered looking boy struggling to keep up.

We joined the swarm at the school gates. So did five police officers, who, it turned out, would spend the morning marshalling the crowds and directing the arriving and departing traffic. Three testing sessions were to take place that day; ours was just the first.

A general sense of panic grew, and we struggled to resist the urge to join in. About 300 people gathered in the road. Anxious boys pushed past other boys, on past a barrier and towards the exam hall. "Why are they going in?", we asked the man carrying a clipboard guarding the gate. There was still 45 minutes to go. “Get him in if he’s ready!” barked the man. ”Boys go in NOW! BOYS HAVE GONE IN ALREADY! Say goodbye, mums and dads!”

The crowd surged as the message was passed back along the pavement. It all proved too much for one boy, who started to sob. “OK Olly - Go GO GO!” his mother shouted, her face full of forced cheerfulness. He slunk off, shoulders shaking.

Another family clumped themselves into a huddle, arms round one another in the style of Madonna and her dancers before a concert. To the astonishment of the rest of us, they sang a quick and demonstrative prayer before releasing one another then clapping and whooping at their boy. He emerged with a euphoric expression on his face, and then scampered off towards the exam hall.

We hugged and kissed our son quickly before he sank into the stream of stunned looking boys. Then we, and the rest of the wild-eyed crowd, shuffled off to the ‘parents waiting area’, a playing field with a tea stall, chairs and a portaloo, to sit in the drizzle and wait. We learned later that there was no need for the urgency: the boys had sat in silence for forty minutes on crash mats until the exam started.

While we were waiting, we noticed how some parents had pointed their chairs in the direction of the exam hall and were simply staring in its direction. They appeared to be attempting to will their sons to perform well. We joined the rest at the tea queue, where the atmosphere was still crazed. One mother solemnly confessed to her friend: “I’ve never shouted at James before, but I did last week. He was playing with Pokemon cards instead of studying.” “But you’re always shouting at him,” said her friend. “Not like this. This time I lost it completely.” Then she started crying and couldn’t stop.

Perhaps these scenes of police crowd control and sobbing parents are unusual. The school is oversubscribed; we are told 2,000 boys sit a test for 150 places. Nevertheless, on that day we wondered what the hell we were doing, and whether we wanted to put our son through this or any more selective tests.

But equally, it was cheering to see parents from different races, religions and classes who all loved and wanted the best for their children, even if that meant behaving irrationally in public. And in spite of the tension, parents were at pains to be very friendly to one another. Once the panic subsided, strangers struck up conversations. Who knows? If our sons pass, we might become lifelong friends. "


British school lab health and safety rules 'could stop future scientists'

Schools have banned experiments seen as dangerous, even though they teach vital skills

It is a scientific fact, tested and proven by generations of pupils, that experiments in school laboratories win young people to the cause of science. White coats, goggles and the chance to set fire to things foster a passion for chemistry that even years of examinations do not extinguish. But government advisers and eminent scientists are warning of a disturbing development that could endanger generations of future scientists: pupils are no longer allowed to experiment.

Health and safety concerns are preventing students — including those taking A levels — from performing vital and exciting investigations into what happens when one sets fire to magnesium ribbon, or drops a small glob of sodium into a dish of water.

The fear of burns, spillages and volatile reactions means that even mundane procedures such as distillation are often viewed online rather than performed in the laboratory. Professor John Holman, the Government’s chief adviser on science in schools, and Professor David Phillips, incoming president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, told The Times that it was vital for pupils to learn how to handle hazardous substances and to experiment.

Professor Holman, who is also director of the National Science Learning Centre, said trainee teachers spent too little time preparing exciting practicals. “There is much less practical work now because of a huge focus on exams,” he said. “Schools are so aware of health and safety — they will say, ‘That’s too dangerous’. “But in most cases you can do it, you just need to take precautions. The schools do formulaic investigations which give pupils a higher grade.”

Professor Phillips, who is also Emeritus Professor at Imperial College London, said: “Many of the experiments we did handling strong acids wouldn’t be allowed today, but learning to handle dangerous materials teaches you how to deal with things sensibly,” he said. Without the stimulation produced by making elements combust and fizz, pupils would not continue science beyond GCSEs, the professors warned. “All the evidence points to practical work being the thing that pupils like to do,” Professor Holman said. “This isn’t about how do you get more Grade Cs in GCSEs, it’s about how you inspire more young people.”

The comments follow an Ofsted report warning that the national curriculum and testing regime led to boring science lessons. Schools spent too much time drilling students for tests, it said.

Jane Lees, head of Hindley High School in Wigan, and a former head of science, agreed that health and safety had put an end to a number of “whiz-bang” experiments. “But we’re moving on to different ways of teaching science — with videos, and on the web with virtual learning environments which are quite as interesting. It’s a different way of learning but it should still be able to turn them on. What you need is inspirational teachers.”


5 October, 2009

Extended School Year Would Have Dire Economic Effects, Critics Say

It's a brainless idea anyway. More exposure to failed methods is not going to achieve anything

President Obama's call to extend the academic calendar may bring with it a host of unintended consequences, including increased costs for schools and major cuts to the nation's hotel and tourism industries, critics say.

If the academic year gets pushed deeper into summer, as President Obama is advocating, the grumbling will not be limited just to students and teachers who will be forced to spend more days in school. Critics say the president's call for a longer academic calendar and a shorter summer vacation will bring on a host of unintended consequences -- including increased costs for school systems, major cuts to the nation's hotel and tourism industries, and a serious blow to summer camp operators.

Obama says kids in the U.S. spend too little time in the classroom, putting them at a disadvantage when competing with students in other countries. The president has suggested that making school days longer and extending the school year will increase learning, raise test scores and close the achievement gap. But while Obama's proposal is meant to improve education, critics say a curtailed summer vacation will have a dire economic impact on school systems, which could be forced to retrofit their schools for air conditioning, pay overtime to teachers and incur higher utility costs.

They also warn that the leisure industry, which relies on family vacation travel, could take a major hit. "Fewer vacation days will dry up the industry's labor source and lead to huge losses of revenue for American hotels and resorts," said Joe McInerney, president and CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association. "From Memorial Day to Labor day, we hire many high school and college students for summer employment to work," McInerney told "If we don't have those people, there will not be enough Americans out there available to fill those positions." "A lot of different people are affected by cutting out travel," he said. "This is not the right thing to do on a national basis."

In one popular East Coast resort area alone -- the New Jersey shore -- the average cost of a rental home is $1,500 to $2,000 a week, according to realtors. In the tourist town of Wildwood, N.J., approximately 7 million visitors flood the boardwalks, beaches, and restaurants from mid-June to September, spending over $185 million on hotels and prepared food and beverages alone, according to John Siciliano, executive director of the Wildwood Tourism Authority. Siciliano said that figure does not include dollars spent in stores, on the resort's boardwalk and on its amusement rides, which he said could triple the $185 million -- totaling a whopping $555 million.

If the prime weeks of summer vacation are cut in half because kids have to stay in school, the effects on the industry could be devastating, critics said. The travel industry has already suffered from a dwindling economy, and a shortened summer vacation may only "add fuel to the fire," said Chris Russo, president of the American Association of Travel Agents. "We're not making as much money if people are going on a shorter stay," Russo said. But he added that a shorter summer vacation might have an upside: "If families are forced to take shorter breaks, they may book more two- to three-day stays, as opposed to just one seven-week vacation," he said.

And then there's the camp industry -- which for nearly 150 years has served as a summertime rite of passage for many American children. There are approximately 12,000 camps in the U.S., and 11.5 million children and adults attend them each year, according to the American Camp Association. The ACA estimates that the average "sleepaway" camp costs anywhere from $400 to $700 a week. Others go much higher. The cost for a 28-day session at a camp that is a member of ACANE, the American Camp Association New England, runs $5,654.

Scott Shaffer, who runs Shaffer's High Sierra Camp, a family-owned day camp in the Tahoe National Forest, says a cut in summer vacation would likely destroy his business. High Sierra Camp, which takes children from 8 to 17 and costs $1,100 per week, runs for eight weeks -- beginning the third week in June and ending the last week in August. Shaffer said the camp can operate only during that stretch because of the snow, which melts in May and covers the mountains again in October. A longer school year "would have a really, really negative impact on our business, especially on the heels of a poor economy," Shaffer said.

Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association, said camps are not necessarily a carefree escape from school. They can be critical to child development, she said, and should be a vital part of the president's year-round education plan. "Physical, emotion, and social development provide fertile ground for academic learning," Smith said. "When people walk into a camp they may think, 'Oh, well these kids are just playing. But play is designed to provide teachable moments -- life lessons. And so what may look frivolous to the adult eye is really how children learn."

Obama has brought new attention to the notion of expanding the school year, but it is not a new concept. States have long experimented with year-round education -- with mixed results. Miami-Dade Public Schools in Florida implemented an extended-year program in 2004, but they abandoned the initiative last year after it produced few results. The extended school year also increased teacher pay and energy costs.

But other education experts say Obama is on the right track. Most states set their minimum number of public school days at 180, though some require 175 to 179 days. And "increasing time is correlated with raising achievement," said researcher Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution. "The more time that kids have on being instructed on academic subjects, the more likely they'll score higher."

The details of Obama's school initiative have been kept close to the vest, and many educators say they'll withhold judgment until a more specific plan is unveiled.

In a statement sent to, the Florida Department of Education said, "For some time, longer school hours and/or an extended school year has been a heavily debated issue nationally due to the financial implications on individual states. While research shows that students in the United States don't spend as much time in the classroom as their global counterparts, we're interested in further elevating this discussion and all discussions that potentially improve our students' ability to successfully compete internationally."

Officials from the American Federation of Teachers, the United Federation of Teachers, and the National Education Association did not reply to requests for comment.


British High School students hit by 'rigged' exam grades

EXAM chiefs have been accused of systematically fixing the new A-levels to deny pupils the grades they deserved. Head teachers who discovered the downgrading believe it could affect the chances of thousands of pupils applying to university this winter. The concerns have surfaced over results in this year’s AS-levels, the exams pupils take in the first year of their A-levels. These students are the first to take reformed qualifications, which are intended to be tougher than the current A-levels. Evidence has emerged to suggest exam boards are under pressure from regulators to ensure that the proportion of pupils scoring top grades is kept down. They deny this.

Subjects over which there is the greatest concern include biology, chemistry, drama, economics, English and modern languages, where heads are complaining that pupils have been awarded far lower grades than those of similar ability last year. In biology, for example, 7.4% fewer pupils taking the Edexcel paper this year scored As than last year.

Andrew Grant, chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which holds its annual meeting this week, said there were likely to be thousands of requests for re-marks. Grant, headmaster of St Albans school, Hertfordshire, first noticed the marking problems among his pupils taking drama AS-levels. He then spoke to his fellow heads, analysed the results of other subjects and found discrepancies that showed signs of a dramatic reversal to the 27-year trend of rising A-level grades. “Other schools shared our initial assumption: a vague sense of underperformance and that the year group deserved a bit of a rocket,” Grant said. “But the fact that so many have had similar experiences is establishing a pattern.”

Grant added that the marking problems had “some of the makings of 2002”. Seven years ago, Sir William Stubbs, chairman of the QCA, then the regulator, had to resign when tens of thousands of papers were re-marked amid claims that the regulators had pushed exam boards to keep the numbers of A grades down. The fiasco contributed to the resignation of Lady Morris, then education secretary.

Further evidence of problems this year has emerged in postings on the internet. A contribution from one anonymous physics examiner to a discussion forum reads: “This year AS was targeted particularly and we have been informed that A2 [exams in the second year of A-levels] will be similarly monitored and scrutinised next year. “As a team of examiners we were not happy, but were told in no uncertain terms that if we tried to raise the pass rate, then our decisions would be overruled.”

Grant said: “It would be difficult to find more compelling circumstantial evidence of the interference of the regulator to depress the award of higher grades in the new AS, presumably to give themselves wriggle room next year, when they have to allocate final results.”

His concerns were shared by Richard Russell, headmaster of Colfe’s school, south London. Last year, all his economics and business studies pupils scored a grade A or B. This year, only 20% of the group scored the highest grades. Russell said he had initially been disappointed in the performance of the “academically very strong cohort”, but, as he spoke to other heads, the scale of the problem became clear. “It has all the hallmarks of high-level manipulation,” Russell said.

Suspicions have been further raised by a letter sent to them by Kathleen Tattersall, chairwoman of Ofqual, the exams regulator, in which she warned that marks would be modified with complex statistical formulae using data such as pupils’ GCSE results. She wrote: “The marking ... may indicate students have performed differently from their peers who took last year’s examinations ... in spite of evidence that the performance of both groups [was] similar.” One head said: “That letter read like gibberish until we saw the results and understood she was warning us.”

The A-level reforms were intended to make it easier for universities to identify the cream of candidates. Grades have been rising for 27 years in a row and 26.7% of all papers now receive an A. If the proportion of As continued to rise next year after the first cohort of pupils have been through the new A-levels, it would be highly embarrassing to the government.

Some schools have already had papers re-marked upwards. At Magdalen College school, Oxford, 10 re-marks were requested on an AS-level French oral exam. Every single one led to an improved mark, sometimes by as much as two grades, although Tim Hands, the head, said he had no reason to blame it on deliberate manipulation.

Exam boards denied claims that grades had been fixed and said the differences could have been caused by schools being under-prepared for the new exams. Mike Cresswell, chief executive of the AQA exam board, described claims of manipulation as “absolute nonsense” and said that if candidates were compared like-with-like, grades this year and last were “extraordinarily comparable”.

Tattersall said: “Ofqual worked closely with the awarding bodies this year and ... there has been no recalibration of the standard this year. “However, the changed structure of the specifications means that ... grade boundaries and outcomes on individual units will sometimes differ from [the previous syllabus].”


Australia: Overcoming socio-economic disadvantage in education

Jennifer Buckingham

Literacy and numeracy are not everything, but they are almost everything. Somewhere between one in five and one in six students are barely literate and numerate, according to recent national literacy and numeracy results. These children are concentrated in particular schools and in particular areas, especially where there are high levels of socio-economic disadvantage.

Although the relationship between socio-economic status and school performance is undeniable, it doesn’t have to be inevitable. As the late, great Australian education expert Professor Ken Rowe showed, family background may establish where children start in life, but it doesn’t have to determine where they end up.

Participants at the CIS’s annual conference Consilium in August this year heard the stories of two extraordinary schools that have defied the odds of socio-economic disadvantage. Bellfield Primary School is a public school in one of the most disadvantaged urban areas in Australia. Yet in the space of 10 years, during which time social disadvantage intensified, Melbourne educator John Fleming transformed the school performance from chronic failure to one of the best in the state.

These extraordinary results were not achieved through increased spending. There was no increase in teacher pay. There were no major capital works or new technologies. Fleming attributes the success of the school to three changes in school policy: implementing a research-based pedagogy; introducing performance-based accountability for students and teachers; and changing the school culture to reflect traditional values and discipline.

The same ‘tough love’ strategy was applied at Djarragun College in Gordonvale in far north Queensland, once a crumbling school with low attendance. Educator Jean Illingworth oversaw its incredible transformation into a well-maintained, high functioning school where children from indigenous communities in Cape York and the Torres Strait are achieving outstanding results.

For many students across Australia, social disadvantage is being translated ineluctably into educational disadvantage year after year. The evidence from Australia and elsewhere is that this need not be the case.

The above is part of a press release dated October 2 from the Centre for Independent Studies. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590. Telephone ph: +61 2 9438 4377 or fax: +61 2 9439 7310

4 October, 2009

Schoolhouse Shariah in the US

California's educrats have put out new rules for teaching Islamic studies to seventh-graders in public schools, and they are as biased as ever. They'll also likely spread eastward. The lesson guidelines adopted by the bellwether state whitewash the violence and oppression of women codified in Islamic law, or Shariah. And they're loaded with revisionist history about the faith.

For example, the suggested framework glorifies Shariah as a liberal reform movement that "rejected" the mistreatment of women that existed in Arabia before Muhammad and his successors conquered the region, according to Accuracy in Academia. The guidelines claim that Islamic law established for the first time that men and women were entitled to equal "respect."

Not so, says Islamic scholar and author Nonie Darwish, who grew up Muslim in Egypt. "I am shocked that that is what they teach," she said. "Women had more rights in Arabia before Shariah."

In fact, "wife beating is allowed under Shariah" today, she added. "It allows a woman seen without a headdress to be flogged, punishes rape victims, and calls for beheading for adultery."

California's course on world religions also omits Islam's long history of jihadist violence, while portraying Christianity as an intolerant and bloodthirsty faith. Christianity isn't given equal time, either. It's covered in just two days — as opposed to up to two weeks for Islam — and doesn't involve kids in any role-playing activities like the Islam unit. Students do get a healthy dose of skepticism about the Christian faith, including a biting history of its persecution of other people.

Islam, in contrast, gets a pass from critical review. Even jihad is presented as an "internal personal struggle to do one's best to resist temptation," not waging holy war. "California schools are pushing an unbalanced religious agenda that favors Islam and minimizes Christianity and Judaism," Accuracy in Academia warns in its latest Campus Report. Who helped build the California Education Department's framework for Islamic studies? Islamist "scholars" with the Council on Islamic Education, or CIE, a Saudi-tied activist group.

The consultancy changed its name after former IBD Washington bureau chief Paul Sperry, author of Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington, exposed that its chief researcher and textbook consultant for years taught social studies at a Saudi madrassa just outside Washington. The Islamic Saudi Academy is a breeding ground for terrorists, including the valedictorian-turned-al-Qaida agent recently sentenced to life for plotting to assassinate President Bush.

Recently, Fox News reported that the head of CIE — now known as the Institute on Religion and Civic Values — misled California education authorities about his academic credentials. For one, Shabbir Mansuri never received a USC degree in chemical engineering as he has claimed, Fox says.The group's Web site no longer includes the claim. These are the folks who are teaching your children about Islam in public schools. Parents have protested, even sued, but to no avail.

For example, parents of seventh-graders in the San Francisco area, who after 9/11 were taught pro-Islamic lessons as part of California's world history curriculum, sued under the First Amendment ban on religious establishment.

They argued, reasonably, that the government was promoting Islam by mandating that their kids participate in Muslim role-playing exercises such as designing prayer rugs, taking an Arabic name and essentially "becoming a Muslim" for two full weeks. Children also were told to recite aloud Muslim prayers that begin with "In the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful," and memorize the Muslim profession of faith: "Allah is the only true God, and Muhammad is his messenger."

But a federal judge appointed by President Clinton told parents in so many words to get over it, that the state was merely teaching kids about another "culture." California's 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision, ruling that it was OK to put public-school kids through Muslim role-playing exercises. The decision was a major victory for the multiculturalists and Islamic apologists in California and across the country who've never met a culture or religion they didn't like — with the exception of Western civilization and Christianity.

You can't teach the Ten Commandments in public schools. But teaching the five pillars of Islam is A-OK.


Alternate assessments are better for educrats than students

Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Dale referred to my Sept. 22 column on inflated tests scores as "inaccurate" and "unsubstantiated" in his Sept. 27 letter to the editor ("Column on test scores misleading, inaccurate and unsubstantiated").

But if that's the case, Dale himself is to blame. The data I cited, which was sent by FCPS to the state Department of Education, shows an exponential explosion in the use of the Virginia Grade Level Assessments in Fairfax County schools.

For example, the number of students taking VGLAs instead of Standards of Learning tests at Poe Middle School more than doubled this year from 75 to 165 -- after the alternative assessment program was fully implemented.

Same for Key Middle School, where 51 VGLA students last year increased to 107 this year. Is it a coincidence that both schools' pass rates also increased by double digits?

Because neither DOE nor FCPS report separate SOL and VGLA scores - both combine them to calculate a school's overall pass rate - it is disingenuous for Dale to deny that the VGLA affects test scores. Data submitted by FCPS show that 14 of the 20 elementary schools with the most VGLA portfolios posted 100 percent pass rates this year; four more were at 98 or 99 percent, and only one was below 90.

It's ridiculous to argue that the massive jump in scores since 2006 - the year before the VGLAs were approved for students with learning disabilities and those still learning English - has nothing to do with the 1,200 percent increase in VGLA participation.

If Dale can explain how Lynbrook Elementary got a 100 percent pass rate (up 30 percentage points in just three years) when three-fourths of its students are non-English speaking without factoring in the 103 students (40 percent of third- through sixth-graders) who took the VGLA, he should be running the U.S. Department of Education himself.

Data released by DOE also shows that the grading of VGLA portfolios is unreliable and subjective. In spring 2007, work from 61 Fairfax County students was audited and 24 were rejected for a 39.3 percent overturn rate.

Same thing in spring 2008: 178 portfolios out of 590 audited were tossed, for a 30.2 percent error rate. This spring, 265 of 885 portfolios - 29.9 percent - didn't make the grade.

The fact that almost a third of all audited VGLAs are rejected, with no substantiating evidence to the contrary from Dale, makes it pretty obvious that these tests are not equivalent to the SOLs. But while higher scores make Dale and his administrators look good, they are actually quite harmful to the students who really do need help.

There are 32 Title 1 schools in Fairfax County with high percentages of disadvantaged students, for which FCPS gets federal funds for additional instruction in language arts and mathematics specifically to help these students pass the SOLs. If a Title 1 school fails to meet its annual yearly progress goals for three years, parents are entitled to "pupil place" their children in another school under No Child Left Behind.

When a high percentage of at-risk students are steered into doing VGLA portfolios instead of taking the SOLs (all of the top 10 VGLA schools are also Title 1 schools), the final test numbers are skewed.

But that's not all. If enough students in a particular Title 1 school "pass," all the students in that school forfeit their right to additional tutoring and/or pupil placement under NCLB, especially worrisome during a time of deep budget cuts.

The charade continues until parents figure out that the chief beneficiaries of the "alternative assessment" are really Dale and his staff of educrats, not their kids.


Free to choose

"Go down Moses, tell the Pharaoh let my people go! ... Go down Mr. President, let our children go to the school of their choice!" former Washington Mayor Marion Barry proclaimed to applause at the D.C. School Choice Rally yesterday in front of Capitol Hill.

Moses' cry to "let my people go" rallied the civil-rights movement in the 1950s and '60s. The mostly black crowd agreed with Obama's Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who has said that education is the "civil rights issue of our generation." Yet on the issue of D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program allowing school choice, the president, his Education Department, and Congress would rather play the role of Pharaoh than Moses.

Some 1,500 people were there -- most with yellow T-shirts reading "Put kids first." Many of the attendees were students on lunch break, in addition to several hundred parents and relatives of students who turned out to voice support for the program. "Give parents a choice, kids a chance," said April Cole-Walter, whose daughter was enrolled under the scholarship program.

Kids in D.C. public schools don't have much of a chance. Of the states plus D.C., Washington ranked last, 51st out of 50 states, in the National Assessment of Educational Progress 2007 test in 8th grade math and reading proficiency rates. Students in voucher programs have demonstrated better results, yet these data have not persuaded enough politicians to buck Democratic constituencies that favor the status quo.

The trouble began in March when Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) inserted language in a spending bill that cut the $14 million for the Opportunity Scholarship Program from the Department of Education's budget. The cut meant that the 1,700 scholarships under the program would be revoked. However, since TAS reported on the issue in May, the president has allowed ongoing scholarship recipients to continue through the 12th grade, but has reneged on incoming scholarship recipients for this academic year.

Last year, LaTasha Bennett was informed that her 4-year-old daughter, Nia, would receive a scholarship under the program that they would use to enroll her in Naylor Road School with her older brother. But last spring she received a second letter from the Department of Education that said her daughter's scholarship was being canceled because of the program's termination. Nia was one of 216 low-income children that had her scholarship revoked by the Obama administration.

"I'm not going to send my child to a public school," Ms. Bennett told TAS yesterday. She then explained that her nephew had died in a gunfight at a public school and that she would not allow that to happen to her daughter. Nia is now receiving support from private donations, allowing her to go to the private Naylor Road School, but it is uncertain how long she will be able to continue receiving sufficient donations.

Some children aren't as fortunate. Virginia Walden Ford, executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice, told TAS she believed that the majority of the 216 children who had their scholarships revoked were forced to attend public schools this year.

Also present was Bruce Stewart, former head of Sidwell Friends School, the prestigious private Quaker school attended by the president's children. No new students will attend that school this year under voucher money -- just the students whose parents can afford it, wealthy students like Sasha and Malia Obama.

Several members of the audience were less than happy with the Congress. "Durbin, he's the worst!" a lady said about the Democratic majority whip. Public support for the D.C. voucher program has polled at around 75% approval. Yet, teachers unions overwhelmingly reject vouchers as a solution to failing public schools. In the 2008 election cycle, 95% of teacher union political contributions went to Democrats.

Ex-mayor Barry, House Minority Leader John Boehner, and former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, were among several who voiced support yesterday for school choice in Washington, D.C. It remains uncertain what will happen to the program. On July 30, Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), George Voinovich (R-OH), Robert Byrd (D-WV), and John Ensign (R-NV) introduced legislation expanding the program, but it hasn't been brought to the floor for a vote. The bill would authorize $20 million in Opportunity Scholarships.

The fight for school choice in D.C. has pitted predominantly black, Democratic parents against their own party and produced an unlikely alliance with the GOP. Barack Obama's election was arguably the culmination of the civil rights struggle. But these parents are still looking for someone to let their people go.


3 October, 2009

Providing balance: America’s homeschoolers

Everyone has a story about the pathetic state of the public schools. But from the government's perspective public schools are anything but failures. Lots of patronage and union jobs assuring a set of reliable serfs who will time after time vote back in the same policy makers; a steady supply of tax-funded income along with built-in excuses for increasing funding ("these kids aren't learning because they don't have the resources," [never, "we failed to teach"]); a new crop of non-critical thinking subjects added to the voting base with each class of "graduates" so-called. With this toxic stew of course nothing meaningful will ever change.

And this rigged system works. Look at who holds power in Congress, in the Executive branch, in the country's large population states. Statists all. Who voted these people in? Well, you know who. The same people who can't make change without computerized registers, who cannot compose proper sentences, who sport body tattoos or piercings in the oddest of places and of the strangest of images, who cry out they're helpless in the face of floods, fires, flus. Want more proof of dumbed-down America? Watch several internet videos of Leno's JayWalking, or just go to the mall.

By and large independent thinkers will never be found in the government's schools. These are after all statist schools; accordingly no one should be surprised when opinion only furthering government policies is taught to the exclusion of all others. Viewpoints espousing that an individual, not some collectivist-minded bureaucracy, might know what's best, are taboo. Yet the individual viewpoint would go a long way in solving many of life's ills. For example, racism would largely be a thing of the past if the statists among us would stop insisting that we all play, whether we want it or not, identity politics which is nothing more than raw collectivist thinking. If we would view each other as individuals and make judgments based, expressed famously by a leader of another era, on the content of character not on the color of skin, then certain societal tensions would be lessened considerably.

But on a micro basis there is something you can do to save your own child. Homeschooling. For the sake of that child.

My son and I home schooled, and as a result he does his own thinking. He does not possess a high school diploma; he didn't have the time, patience or need. His goal was knowledge of those matters which interested him. During the time when his age peers were in high school he was taking no-nonsense courses at Springfield Technical Community College (having outstripped the knowledge reservoir of his home school teacher) or pursuing an interest on his own (in his case, the study of film). In preparing for his transfer to a 4-year college (which he entered as an upperclassman with enough credits for that college's math major) he sat for the GED, the SAT & several SAT II exams, scoring well. From his experience he learned one of life's time-honored lessons: with focus, commitment and a willingness to do hard work, there is reward. But there is no short cut. None. The sooner in life this lesson in maturity is taught to and importantly learned by the child the happier and more rewarding his/her life can be.

Homeschooling has its challenges, some obvious, others less so. But with a dedication to purpose success can be yours. Keep one thing in mind however. No matter how well you may think your child is progressing, until you have independent verification of his/her progress, the child's achievements have little currency in the eyes of the wider world. This may seem unfair but at one time you and your child will come face-to-face with the "bureaucracy" which will demand proof that the child has in fact learned. If you have done your job this will not present any issues. To assure yourself of meeting this end it is suggested that you introduce into your curriculum samples of tests types that independent testing agencies might administer; these are readily available at book retailers. Using SSAT, ACT, SAT I & SAT II, and state proficiency assessment exercises, visual analogy tests, and perhaps some standard IQ batteries benefits the child if made part of your day-to-day teaching as they give the child familiarity with these testing materials. What is more, using a variety of teaching materials is itself helpful. As you will discover different authors approach the same subject somewhat differently, and exposure to different writing styles and approaches should be welcomed.

Here are several of the guiding lights upon which I relied to assure myself that Matthias would be an educated and independent minded person, not one who looks to government to solve problems.

Deferred gratification is perhaps the most important life lesson ever learned by a child. This lesson in maturity is easily imparted in the context of a home school. Understanding future time references and the ability to plan and importantly to see the consequences of chosen paths or decisions are beneficial as this is an essential life problem-solving skill. (Mature adults use it all the time. Why then do governments invariably fail to do so?)

Self-esteem. Telling a child he/she is smart is not the same as his/her having worked at developing a knowledge base, thereby becoming smart and confident through success. And an honest, discerning child knows it. Certainly praise and encouragement should be given when effort is demonstrated and knowledge gained. Expect excellence; children routinely rise to expectations. Deeply discount all politically correct notions. Our goal as parental teachers and supporters is helping children achieve through bona fides instruction and encouragement. In such a petri dish a child's self-esteem develops effortlessly.

Rote memorization is an excellent method of placing factual information into long-term memory such that recall is instantaneous. This method in effect grooves pathways into memory that does not allow for deviation later on when knowing something cold is essential. And to boot it gives the early learner both success and confidence.

Socialization. This criticism of homeschooling is like the Everyone-is-a-Winner-and-Therefore-No-One-Is-Keeping-Score-Any-More foolishness heard on baseball diamonds or soccer fields, just so much hot air. Not only did my son have the opportunities to interact with lots of other children he also met a fair number of adults, including coming with me on occasion to client meetings, where he put into practice the very academic skills he was learning at home.

Accuracy is more important than speed. Speed will come quite naturally as the proper methodologies are learned and as understanding deepens. This lesson is especially important in learning mathematics.

Time-Spent Ratio. To me this was one of the most compelling reasons of homeschooling. Your one hour easily equates to 5–6 institutionalized school hours. Depending on the subject, e.g., arithmetic, math, this ratio may even rise to 1:10. Children's time is equally as important as that of adults. Home schoolers do not waste time on needless tasks which abound in the government schools.

Once children have acquired the skill to read thoroughly they're on the road of reading to learn. With a solid reading skill children can then begin teaching themselves all sorts things, provided of course they are properly guided which is your role. Even as early as first, second and third grade levels, children should experience the joy of freedom to study those subjects which interest them, not topics dictated by a top-down hierarchy.


British government allows exemptions from its toddler dictatorship

Two schools have won the right to opt out of the controversial early years “nappy” curriculum after ministers dropped a commitment that no pre-school child would be exempt. After their successful appeals, the two Steiner schools will no longer be required to meet the Government’s targets, including making children aged 3 and 4 write simple sentences using punctuation or start to use phonics.

The two schools, which are the first to be allowed to opt out, argued that the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) clashed with the Steiner philosophy, which does not believe that children benefit from the formal teaching of subjects such as English language until they are 7. They also do not introduce “electronic gadgetry” until children reach that age.

When ministers first published the curriculum, which contains 69 different measures for the progress and development of under-5s, they made clear that childminders and all nurseries and schools, state and private, would have to implement it. The assessment criteria includes being able to dress and undress, sounding out letters, children writing their own name, and using some electronic equipment.

Victory for the two schools, the Wynstones School in Gloucestershire and North London Rudolf Steiner School in Haringey, means that the 40 or so other Steiner schools seeking an opt-out are likely to be given the go-ahead. Their success has also stiffened the resolve of the many preparatory schools who oppose the curriculum. John Tranmer, chairman of the Independent Association of Prep Schools, said that it would back any of its 600 members who wanted to opt out. “We are keen to support any member in asserting their independence, their right to determine what is best for children in their care. If that involves disapplication from EYFS they will have our backing,” he said.

Critics say such a prescriptive set of measurements is not suitable for young children because they develop at such different rates. Most unpopular is the expectation that children should be able to write a sentence with punctuation by the time they reach 5. Professor Richard House, spokesman for the Open EYE campaign against the curriculum, said that he hoped the victory would open the floodgates for others to opt out. “When schools share the views of these Steiner schools about literacy and numeracy for such young children it will be hard for the Government to treat them differently,” he said. “We hope it will also help form a more general legal challenge against the Government’s decision to set compulsory goals for children below the compulsory age of education.”

He admitted that the Government had made the appeal process so difficult that a school would have to be very determined to see it through. Schools must win the backing of more than half their parents, warn them that funding might be cut and state why they are incapable of meeting each of the targets before they can even get leave to apply.


Head of British private school attacks 'divisive' faith schools

I suspect that this is just a coward's way of criticizing Muslim schools. The Church of England and its schools are almost mindlessly tolerant

The head teacher of one of the country’s leading independent school has criticised the country’s faith schools, arguing that they are divisive and fail to teach respect for other faiths. Martin Stephen, the High Master of St Paul’s, in Barnes, West London, itself a school with a Christian foundation, said that faith schools were too often “founded on fear”.

Dr Stephen was immediately condemned as “dangerous” by the Bishop of London, the Right Rev Richard Chartres. Addressing the Christian Fellowship at News International, the parent company of The Times, in Wapping, East London, Bishop Chartres said: “This is an astonishing statement from the High Master of St Paul’s. They are dangerous remarks for someone to make in his circumstances.”

Bishop Chartres defended the Church of England’s faith schools, saying : “These schools are not confessional ghettos. They serve whole communities.”

Dr Stephen, speaking to The Times at his office in Barnes, said: “I do not oppose faith in schools. I worry deeply about exclusivity.” Dr Stephen, who moved from his former post as High Master of Manchester Grammar in 2004, insisted that he was not opposed to faith itself. He said that the danger of an education segregated along faith lines was that it failed to prepare children for life in a multifaith society. “If a school is to train people for the world they are going to meet, they are going to be walking along Hammersmith Broadway alongside Jew and Christian and Sikh.”

He continued: “It is crucial to learn to carry one’s faith on in an environment where you are surrounded by other people who don’t share it. I would see the faith-school movement as adding to divisiveness in UK society. It cannot breed tolerance, respect and mutual understanding.”

A spokesman for the Church of England said: “Church of England schools have syllabuses that include all the major faiths, so students can engage with faith in all its variety.”


2 October, 2009

Dick Durbin and D.C. School Vouchers

Do you believe in political miracles?

Low-income families in the District of Columbia got some encouraging words yesterday from an unlikely source. Illinois Senator Richard Durbin signaled that he may be open to reauthorizing the Opportunity Scholarship Program, a school voucher program that allows 1,700 disadvantaged kids to opt out of lousy D.C. public schools and attend a private school.

"I have to work with my colleagues if this is going to be reauthorized, which it might be," said Mr. Durbin at an appropriations hearing Tuesday morning. He also said that he had visited one of the participating private schools and understood that "many students are getting a good education from the program."

Earlier this year, Mr. Durbin inserted language into a spending bill that phases out the program after 2010 unless Congress renews it and the D.C. Council approves. A Department of Education evaluation has since revealed that the mostly minority students are making measurable academic gains and narrowing the black-white learning gap. D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and a majority of the D.C. Council have expressed support for continuing the program.

Mr. Durbin says he still has concerns about how scholarship students are being evaluated. The Senator wants participating schools to administer the same tests to scholarship students that D.C. public school students take. But since the public school test is curriculum-based, and would have to be given in addition to the exams that private schools already administer, some wonder whether Mr. Durbin is simply trying to discourage private schools from accepting scholarship students.

We think Mr. Durbin deserves the benefit of the doubt. Assuming his arguments are in good faith, there's no reason he and his colleagues can't compromise on testing and reauthorize a popular program that extends hope and opportunity to kids whom the public education establishment has ill-served.


British university standards under official scrutiny

Universities face Ofsted-style inspections amid claims academic standards are being dumbed down. Grading schemes and procedures for tackling plagiarism are two areas that need scrutiny, an investigation has found. It also reported that many universities admit international students even though they have not met minimum standards in English.

Plans for an inspection shake-up are outlined today by a high-level panel asked to look into mounting concern over university admissions, standards and teaching. It recommended that auditors visit weaker universities more frequently than the current six years and launch inspections in response to student concerns.

Detailed performance reports will also be available for prospective students, parents and employers for the first time. Currently reports are 'very detailed and technical' and intended for use solely by universities and funding chiefs.

The investigation found that teaching hours and the effort required by students in their own time 'vary hugely by subject area and among institutions'. The report said this was not necessarily evidence of inconsistent standards, but added that more information was needed in an attempt to reverse perceptions of 'poor value for money'.

The panel, led by Professor Colin Riordan, vice-chancellor of Essex University, said institutions must not be 'complacent' when accused of 'serious failings'. Revealing his findings, he said: 'There was no evidence we could find that in the system there are fault lines, but we did find several areas of concern.' His review group made a series of recommendations for boosting public confidence in the system, including an overhaul of inspections.

The proposed new regime bears similarities to the Ofsted system for checking schools. Auditors would also be encouraged to make more focused judgments on institutions instead of the 'extremely broad' ratings currently used. And they would be able to adopt a more flexible approach to the timing of visits and respond to concerns raised by students or academics.

Professor Riordan's panel, commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, warned the current system of six-yearly reviews means problems can escalate before they are addressed. Sir Alan Langlands, of the funding council, said a more public-facing system of audits by the Quality Assurance Agency was the 'next logical step'.

The group also raised concerns over the system for ensuring standards are comparable across universities. This relies on a network of external examiners who look at undergraduates' work and assessment procedures to check grades are fair. Today's report found the system is 'under strain' and needs to be strengthened. There had been allegations of examiners being 'leaned on' to boost grades or ignored completely, it emerged. There needs to be an independent body for whistle-blower examiners to turn to, the panel concluded.

The proposals may concern academics who are sensitive to any imposition of red tape. But they are likely to accept the proposals as part of a wider lobby campaign for higher tuition fees.

Universities Minister David Lammy said: 'Higher education continues to change and evolve, and our quality measures must change with it; we must never be complacent.'


Australia: Hatred of education donors who don't do what they are told

We see below a simple outpouring of hate against successful people. There is NOT A WORD about the reasons why they opposed what others sought. Could it be that conservative businessmen created an alternative to the Left-dominated Melbourne university and did not want to lose that?

A SMALL but powerful group of Melbourne establishment figures, including ANZ Bank chairman Charles Goode, has scuttled a proposal to create one of the world's top business schools. In a deeply embarrassing setback for the star-studded Melbourne Business School board, the donor members who helped establish an independent MBS in the 1980s spurned the directors' unanimous recommendation yesterday to merge with Melbourne University's faculty of economics and commerce.

With recrimination thick in the air, one observer commented: "This is a gigantic f**k-up; it's like the board of a blue-chip company unanimously agreeing to a takeover, only to have their own shareholders vote it down."

Three key players, all called John and listed in Who's Who as Melbourne Club members, lobbied heavily against the merger, which required a change to the MBS constitution that called for a 75 per cent voting majority, The Australian reports. Former ANZ chairman John Gough, 81, former Woolworths chairman and Corrs corporate lawyer John Dahlsen, 74, and MBS founding dean John Rose, 73, mobilised their longstanding business networks. But the critical individual, according to close observers, was Gough's protege, Goode, also a Melbourne Club member, who succeeded him as ANZ chairman.

The 79 MBS donor members, most of them large corporates, were allocated votes according to the size of their contributions. In a poll, 54 of them have a total of 16,512 votes and 25 individual donors retain one vote each. Goode, 71, was critical because he is chairman of both ANZ and the charitable Ian Potter Foundation, each a large MBS donor. No one ever had any doubt where the foundation's loyalties lay - Rose and Gough are also on its board of governors.

The three Johns, as they will be forever known, were said to have marshalled a blocking stake of more than 25 per cent, relying on ANZ, the Ian Potter Foundation, the Dahlsen holding and a couple of other like-minded organisations. The merger resolutions will now not be put to the planned MBS extraordinary meeting on October 7.

For this generation of the Melbourne establishment, the MBS battle was probably the last power play. Consistent with its signature style, there was no one to comment yesterday. Networks were activated, business was conducted behind closed doors, influence was wielded, an outcome was achieved and that was it. Dahlsen, Rose and Gough could not be reached for comment, and Goode is now overseas for two weeks.


1 October, 2009

Sweden — the next Germany for homeschoolers?

Home School Legal Defense Association has sent a formal letter of inquiry to the head of a local Swedish social services unit as well as several other Swedish and American government officials inquiring about the case of Annie and Christer Johansson of Gottland, Sweden.

Christer and Annie Johansson are the parents of Dominic Johansson, who was forcibly removed from a plane by a fully armed police unit minutes before the family was due to take off to start a new life in India, Annie’s home country.

The couple had sold all of their belongings and were planning to minister to the poor in India. Annie was also looking forward to reconnecting with her family, whom she had not seen since moving to Sweden with Christer after they married in 2000.

HSLDA President J. Michael Smith expressed concern in a letter to the Swedish Authorities on this case. “If the facts as stated are true, it appears that the family has been subjected to a gross injustice and the best interests of Dominic are not being upheld. This case is particularly alarming in light of a recent proposal to the Swedish parliament to impose severe restrictions on home education.”

In the letter, copied to Swedish ministries of Education, Foreign Affairs, Social Affairs and the Justice Minister, as well as the U.S. ambassador to Sweden and the Swedish ambassador in the United States, Smith has requested that the agency return the child to the family. “If any of the information as stated above is inaccurate, we would welcome correction of the record. If, however, the situation is as I have recounted, we respectfully request that you reconsider your decisions and return Dominic to his family immediately. To do otherwise would be to perpetuate a grievous harm upon the Johanssons.”

Mats Tunehaga is President of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance. In a blog post today at the Swedish newspaper Varlen Idag he noted that the situation is beyond tragic. “Christer Johansson called me again this morning. He was crying softly, obviously in pain and despair. His wife Annie was taken into emergency room—again. She is suffering from a severe trauma, hard to comprehend. Their son has been taken away from them and put into foster care. Why? They wanted to home school their child, 7-year-old Dominic.”

Both parents are Christians and were treated like terrorists, notes Tunehaga. “Annie is from a Christian family in India, and they had planned for some time to move there to live, work and to homeschool Dominic. Due to the harassment from Swedish authorities the trip was delayed. But finally in June this year they were on their way, sitting on the plane bound for India. Then the police came rushing into the plane—as if they were to apprehend dangerous terrorists—and snatched Dominic, saying he is to be taken into care. Can anyone imagine?”

HSLDA Staff Attorney Michael Donnelly has also been in contact with the family. “Christer told me that the family originally planned to move to India in the spring of 2008. They decided they would homeschool Dominic in order to minimize the disruption of pulling him out of school when they moved and also because Dominic requested it noting that the local public school he had visited was too noisy and stressful,” said Donnelly.

Donnelly expressed grave concern over the situation. “This kind of gross disregard for family integrity and simple human decency is becoming the hallmark of countries like Germany, and now apparently Sweden, where the state is more interested in coerced uniformity than in protecting fundamental human rights and fostering pluralism. In Germany, courts have said that homeschooling creates dangerous ‘parallel societies’—an absurd notion that grotesquely turns the notion of pluralism on its head.”

Since homeschooling is legal in Sweden the parents contacted the Swedish Ministry of Education as their son approached compulsory school attendance age. They were informed it was the local principal’s responsibility to assist them with home education and that he would provide materials. Contacting the local school principal, Christer told him that the Ministry of Education had informed him to get in touch with the local school. The conversation was short because the principal informed Christer that the school law required that Dominic attend school.

Christer was surprised by the Principal’s more hostile response when he followed up later after not hearing from the school. “He was very short and not at all in favor of homeschooling. I told him that it was my right under Swedish law to homeschool and that I was making contact with him to make the necessary arrangements and to get the materials. We were planning to leave Sweden in just a month or two. Mr. Eneqvist told me that he ‘didn’t care about my right’ that I didn’t have a ‘right to educate my son like that’ and that he was going to take the matter farther,” Christer said.

This unexpected turn of events caused them to delay their move to India. “I was very upset about this as were my wife and son. We were planning to leave Sweden, and I had promised my wife and son that we would be moving to India, but I felt that I had to stay to make sure that this dispute was resolved properly. I didn’t want to leave Sweden on such a sour note,” said Christer.

The family were contacted by social workers and the school about the requirement to send Dominic to school but decided to wait for more senior officials to respond. They continued to provide formal instruction to Dominic. “Both Annie and I believe in education. We are both very studious. Annie is qualified to teach at the university level, and I had been a teacher in the community before. Dominic is a very bright boy, and so we made sure to provide him with lots of materials that were interesting to him. We started teaching him formally when he was six.” Christer said.

In August 2008 the case reached the local school board. Christer sent a letter to a school board member to ask if they could try to restart the discussion about homeschooling. Christer recognized that he and the principal hadn’t gotten off on the right foot and he was determined to try again. However the board member told Christer she was “too busy at the moment” to meet with him. “She told me that she couldn’t meet with me. I sent letters to the school board that I had a right to educate my son at home according to Swedish law. I called them and tried to get them to meet with me, so we could discuss this. Whenever I received any communication from them all they wanted to talk about was getting Dominic to school. They didn’t answer my other questions or respond to my letters.” ....

The family, currently represented by state-appointed attorneys, is pursuing an appeal to the Swedish Supreme Court in Stockholm. They continue to express their willingness to cooperate with the authorities.

“We have always expressed our willingness to cooperate with the authorities and even to send Dominic to school. We believe we have a right to homeschool our son, and we believe that these social workers have harmed our family greatly. My wife and son and I are under extreme pain from this separation. On his eighth birthday just a few weeks ago we were only able to see him for two hours at the office of the social workers. We are not permitted to call him or write to him. And his grandparents were not able to see him either. In the last three months since he was taken we have only been permitted to see him for a total of about eight hours. We cannot believe that such a thing as this could happen in a country like Sweden. We are doing our best to be kind and cooperative. All we want is to have our son home so we can get back to being a family again,” Christer said....

Donnelly noted that there seems to be an increase in these kinds of attacks against homeschoolers in Europe. “The case of the Johanssons may be the first shot in extending this type of repression to another European country—all in the name of uniformity and conformity. This spectre is raising its head not just in Sweden but in other places including Great Britain, France, Belgium, and Switzerland where there are attempts to impose additional restrictions on home education.”...

In remarks to the World Congress of Families, Michael Farris, founder and chairman of HSLDA and president of, an organization dedicated to protecting Americans from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child by passing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, agreed. “Any nation that severely restricts the ability of parents to choose alternative forms of education, including home education, in the name of creating national unity, cannot call itself a free nation. Freedom necessarily requires the individual to have the liberty to think differently and believe differently than programs instituted by the current rulers of any nation. Educational freedom is the cornerstone for all freedom of thought and conscience.”

More here

House shines light on student bankruptcy

Will Congress at long last fix a mess that it created?

Earlier this week the House held a hearing on private student loans and bankruptcy, shedding light for the first time on a rather unknown yet devastating aspect of student debt.

Did you know that because of legislation dating back to 1976 under the Higher Education Act private student loans are unable to be discharged through bankruptcy? In other words, feel free to run up the credit card and splurge, but take out loans to pay for education? That’s just reckless.

The number of students taking out private (or nonfederal) student loans has increased significantly over the past decade. Private student loans now make up nearly a quarter of the overall market, compared to just ten years ago when they made up a small fraction. This spike is not only due to skyrocketing tuition –the average four-year tuition has increased 30 percent from a decade ago –but also because of the complexity of the financial aid process that leaves many students vulnerable to take out the worst of loans. In fact, many students turn to private loans before even exhausting available federal aid and loan options.

Meanwhile, private lenders capitalize on this confusion, even at times in cahoots with universities, preying on young adults, steering them towards more risky loans.

These loans pawned on students by private lenders are often downright predatory, offering little consumer protections. Private loan interest rates are normally variable, with average interest rates running between 9 and 13 percent, nearly double that of federal loans. On top of that, the flexibility of repayment for private loans are much less pliant, in almost all cases a missed monthly payment results in an automatic interest rate hike of 2 percent, with additional fines and fees to punish borrowers.

And you can imagine that with the toughest job market in decades, coupled with staggering student debt averaging $23,000, students are finding they can no longer keep up with repayment. But unlike federal loans, private lenders do not have to offer flexible payment plans or a forbearance option to struggling borrowers. Why should lenders? When they can maintain hefty profits.

While in truly tough times, students needing to discharge their private loans in bankruptcy are forbidden to. In other words, if you face chronic unemployment, a medical emergency or even die –tough luck, student loan debt will continue to be an albatross.

Congress though may finally be addressing this injustice. This week’s hearing was the first time the issue has been addressed since written into law in 1976! Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) announced he will soon file legislation to give private student loan borrowers more equitable treatment during the bankruptcy process. And in another good sign, House Chairman of Education and Labor Committee, Rep. George Miller is on board as well, stating, "There’s no justifiable reason that the lenders who provide them should be treated any differently than credit card companies, auto finance companies, utility providers, and other creditors.”


"Tough love" welfare policies work -- as quarantining parent payments cuts indigenous truancy in Australia

INDIGENOUS leader Noel Pearson's tough welfare reforms in Cape York, which financially punish the parents of children who repeatedly miss school, have dramatically boosted attendance rates.

A report to be tabled today in Queensland parliament shows that school attendance in one of the nation's most troubled Aboriginal communities, Aurukun, has almost doubled since the introduction last year of the Family Responsibilities Commission in four Cape York communities. The report on the FRC, which links welfare payments to social responsibility, allows a comparison of school attendance in the four Cape York communities that are taking part in the welfare reform trial, one year on from its introduction.

The communities of Aurukun, Coen, Hope Vale and Mossman Gorge are all part of the $48million four-year Cape York Welfare Reform Trial, which is being funded by the federal and Queensland governments in partnership with the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership, founded by Mr Pearson. It aims to tackle school attendance, drug and alcohol abuse, health, child safety, economic development and housing.

The FRC is a key plank of the Cape York reform agenda, with a magistrate and respected Aboriginal community members sitting on a commission that has the power to direct that a person's income be managed by Centrelink. The FRC is notified if a person's child is absent from school three times during a term or is not enrolled in school, if a person is the subject of a child safety report or is convicted of an offence in the Magistrates Court, or if someone breaches their tenancy agreement. The project is aimed at restoring social norms through collective responsibility.

Figures contained in today's quarterly report show that school attendance has increased in Aurukun, which had an average attendance rate of 37 per cent 12 months ago and now is achieving an average rate of 63 per cent, while Mossman Gorge rose from 60.9 per cent to 81.6 per cent.

Attendance at schools in Coen and Hope Vale have experienced a slight reduction, with Coen's attendance rate falling from 96.8per cent to 93.6 per cent, and Hope Vale's attendance falling marginally from 87.6 per cent to 86.9 per cent. Those two communities have remarkably high rates of indigenous attendance compared with poor attendance rates in remote schools across the nation.

The Queensland Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, Desley Boyle, said the commission had been working with local schools, parents and case managers during the first six months of this year to devise ways of getting children to come to school. "I want to applaud all those involved, including parents and community leaders," she said. "As a result of this concerted effort, there are important improvements in school attendance."

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said yesterday research indicated that education and employment made the largest contribution to closing the life expectancy gap. "The latest report from the commission shows a promising upward trend in school attendance, and demonstrates what can be achieved when parents take responsibility for their child's future," she said.

Figures contained in the quarterly report reveal that the commission has been following through vigorously on the punitive aspects of the welfare reform project. Between April and June this year, there were 31 conditional income management orders issued. More than 252 school attendance notices were issued, together with 46 child safety notices, 336 magistrates court notices, and two housing tenancy notices.

Those who are issued with such notices are referred to the FRC, which sits periodically in each of the four Cape York communities. When the FRC receives a referral it typically holds a conference in an informal setting with the notice recipient, who is encouraged to come an agreement with the commission about an appropriate response to the issues that have led to the notice being issued. If the person is unwilling to change their behaviour, the FRC can issue warnings, refer the person to community support services, or order income management.

The FRC is a crucial aspect of the Cape York Institute and governments' efforts to reinforce indigenous community values of respect and responsibility, as well as determining what actions will be taken at a community level to address dysfunctional behaviour.

The federal government has also moved to link school attendance to welfare in certain communities in the NT.

But Mr Pearson's tough model measures to instil social norms have not been popular with all Aboriginal leaders. Indigenous education expert Chris Sarra yesterday slammed government attempts to combat truancy through welfare quarantining as ill-conceived and a waste of taxpayers' money. Dr Sarra said the policies -also being trialled in the NT and scheduled for testing in suburban Brisbane - were ill-conceived because they are based on flawed assumptions. "The assumptions are that parents are actively trying to keep their kids away from school, that parents don't want quality education for their kids, and that schools are the kind of places that are really exciting for every child," Dr Sarra said. "That's simply not the case." Dr Sarra is the executive director of the Queensland University of Technology's Stronger Smarter Institute and is the former principal of Cherbourg primary school.

A fortnight ago, Federal Minister for Families Jenny Macklin and Queensland Premier Anna Bligh announced that a year-long trial would begin in Brisbane's urban southern fringe, which could see parents lose welfare payments if their child was routinely and inexplicably absent from school. The trial will also run in the remote indigenous communities of Doomadgee and Mornington Island and follows a trial in several Northern Territory communities.

The Queensland and Northern Territory trials are separate to the Cape York welfare reform trials.


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