Wednesday, September 24, 2014

D.C. Gets an ‘F’ in Academic Achievement for Low-Income & Minority Students

The District of Columbia in 2014 received an “F” grade in academic achievement for low-income and minority students attending its public schools, according to a report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber, which released a report entitled Leaders and Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card on K-12 Educational Effectiveness, ranked states on nine indicators to see which states were the national leaders in educational performance and which states were lagging behind.

The Chamber looked at metrics, in public schools and charter schools, like the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to measure academic achievement, AP exams to measure post-secondary and workforce measurement, and various teacher workforces of schools, to name a few measures.

Out of nine indicators of educational achievement that the District of Columbia was applicable for, D.C. received five F’s, one D+, one C+, and two A’s.

The District got  F’s  in the Academic Achievement, Academic Achievement for Low-Income and Minority Students, International Competitiveness, Post-secondary and Workforce Readiness, and Return on Investment metrics.

According to the report, “The District of Columbia earns a failing grade in academic achievement for low-income and minority students. The District has the highest percentage nationwide of both African-American (76%) and low-income (78%) students. Fourth and 8th graders in both groups perform below the national average at or above the proficient level on the NAEP reading exam.”

Other failing metrics for D.C. were workforce readiness and international competitiveness. “The District earns a failing grade preparing its students for college and careers. Students’ chances for college attendance by age 19 are the lowest in the nation,” said the Chamber of Commerce. “The District earns a very low grade preparing its students to compete in a global economy. Only 10% of students are proficient in reading and math – the lowest percentage in the nation – compared with an international standard.”

D.C. also fared poorly, a grade of D+, in the 21st Century Teaching Force metric. “The nation’s capital does a weak job of creating a strong teacher workforce. It does not successfully identify effective teachers or remove ineffective ones,” said the report.

The district fared better in metrics like parental options and data quality. “The District does an excellent job providing parents with strong school choice options. It has one of the strongest charter school laws in the country and more than half of all students attend a school of choice – the highest in the nation,” said the Chamber.

“The District earns an excellent grade collecting and reporting high-quality education data," states the report.  "It provides funding to expand its longitudinal data system and links student performance data with teacher data.”


Don't Know Much About...

Last Wednesday, September 17, was Constitution Day, marking the 227th anniversary of that wondrous document’s ratification. Unfortunately, a new survey released the same day by the Annenberg Public Policy Center reveals an embarrassing but ultimately predictable level of public ignorance regarding its contents.

The numbers are stark. While just 36% of the 1,416 adult respondents could name all three branches of the federal government, another 35% couldn’t name a single one. Only 27% of Americans know it takes a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to override a presidential veto, and over one-in-five (21%) believes a 5-4 Supreme Court decision will be sent back to Congress for reconsideration.

Even worse, the survey reveals the term “low information voter” is not only distressingly accurate, but maybe far more endemic than even an ardent pessimist might have imagined. When asked which party has the most members in the House of Representatives, 38% correctly answered Republicans, while 17% said Democrats, and a whopping 44% admitted they didn’t know. That last number represents a 17 point increase from the 27% who had no idea in 2011.

The numbers were no better with regard to who controls the Senate. While 38% correctly answered Democrats, 27% thought it was Republicans, and another whopping 42% didn’t know, the same 17 point increase from the 27% who didn’t know in 2011.

“Although surveys reflect disapproval of the way Congress, the President and the Supreme Court are conducting their affairs, the Annenberg survey demonstrates that many know surprisingly little about these branches of government,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC). “This survey offers dramatic evidence of the need for more and better civics education.”

What’s the likelihood of that occurring? A column I read just under two years ago haunts me to this day. In “Education’s Great Divide: My Time in the Trenches,” writer Glenn Fairman speaks of his discovery during a stint as a substitute teacher in a social studies class some 20 years earlier. It relates directly to the subject at hand. “In a dusty corner shelf of the room was a set of thirty-year-old textbooks from the mid-1960s, and although my memory cannot now recall their title, their contents burned themselves into my brain,” he writes. “As I flipped through the pages, I was astonished to find what I would now consider an upper-level college textbook under color of what in the high schools used to be termed ‘civics.’ … I spent the rest of the day in slack-jawed amazement, perusing what a student in a working-class town was expected to know before the mavens of education began tinkering with the curricula of our schools.”

This past summer I took the opportunity to fill a hole in my own civics education and picked up a copy of the Federalist Papers. What struck me above all else was the profound understanding exhibited by authors James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay – not of government, but of the various aspects of human nature that must be recognized and reconciled to produce a viable government. I was fascinated by the brilliance of these men and their spirited arguments in favor of the new Constitution – yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that their eloquence would be incomprehensible to the average American at the present time.

The above survey confirms my worst fears.

Unlike many of my fellow Americans, I don’t believe those who are conspicuously lacking in a fundamental understanding of our government are stupid. I believe they are ignorant, and while I used to believe that ignorance was a direct byproduct of educational establishment’s incompetence, I have changed my mind. I now believe the dumbing down of Americans is being intentionally cultivated. “From elementary school and into the colleges, disciplines of objective knowledge have been either discounted or leveled, and critical thinking has been pushed aside for the subtle indoctrination of a specific worldview,” echoes Fairman.

Unfortunately, it is the progressive worldview, a vapid stew of feel-good “isms” that has elevated “caring” above the acquisition of critical knowledge far too many Americans lack. A 2006 Zogby poll illuminates the same lack of knowledge about the three branches of the federal government – only 42% could identify them eight years ago. But that poll added a dose of cynicism to the mix, revealing nearly three-in-four of those same Americans could name each of the Three Stooges. I’d bet my life Moe, Larry and Curly could name all three branches of government. They were educated in a time before the current wave of mavens and their union collaborators took the best system in the world and tossed it over a cliff.

In a couple of recent columns, I spoke about “Jihad Chic” and what attracts young men and women to a group like ISIL, and its glorification of bloodthirsty depravity. As crazy as it might sound, the Annenberg poll gives one a hint. The foundation of our entire culture is the Constitution, and the glaring ignorance demonstrated by the poll respondents suggests a profound cultural rot – one that might be accelerating faster than we know. When our own commander in chief tells us that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant “is not Islamic,” we are in a place where truth itself is apparently optional, which in turn suggests our entire cultural ethos is being stripped of all substance and meaning. ISIL may be a savage organization, but their cultural ethos radiates clarity.

The dire implications? You can’t beat something with nothing. And we have allowed the cultural flagellators, who reduce America to little more than a nation that must atone for its “sins,” to dominate the conversation for far too long. The spectacular theories that formed the basis of our Constitution, our government and our nation have been bastardized beyond recognition, and unless we restore them to their former greatness, a giant darkness will descend. Not just upon us, but everyone who sees this nation for what it truly is: an exceptional beacon of freedom throughout the world.

The good news? During the restoration process, we have nothing to lose but our ignorance.


Teach children a lesson in good character

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the pugnacious Chief Inspector of Schools, has yet again put his finger on the pulse of the nation, daring to say things that most know are true but few are brave enough to say.

This week he will publish an Ofsted report claiming that low-level disruption in British schools is damaging the quality of learning and the atmosphere of school life. Teachers are too often intimidated and are unable to teach properly. Students who want to learn are thwarted from doing so, and an atmosphere of disorder permeates the classrooms and corridors in schools across the country. Wilshaw will criticise head teachers for not applying strict enough punishments to inculcate proper discipline.

I have taught for more than 30 years, and run schools for over 20. Two things are entirely obvious to me: one is that without real discipline – where students know who is in charge – learning is severely hampered and the dominant culture is determined by aggressive and loud-mouthed students rather than by the teachers. The second truth is that too many schools are not nearly disciplined enough, and teachers often feel ill-supported by their senior teams.

Nothing worthwhile in life can be achieved without discipline, obedience to authority and hard work. Few institutions are more disciplined than the Royal Ballet or the Royal Shakespeare Company. Companies with lax regulations do not flourish.

Discipline has to be learnt at home and carried out at school. And if there is none in the classroom, then learning won’t take place. Unless students are utterly clear where the boundaries lie, the more timid members of the class will not contribute for fear of ridicule or harassment. The inescapable irony is that liberal and liberating learning only occurs when there is structure and order.

Everything begins with the head and the school leader. If the head does not ensure that good behaviour prevails, that one’s students are punctual, uniform is properly worn and no one speaks out of turn, then the school will not function properly. The best heads are constantly out walking the corridors and know exactly what is going on in their classrooms; the worst heads spend all their time in their offices or out of school attending conferences. They know neither their students nor their parents.

So, bravo Michael Wilshaw! Let’s hope that your words are listened to and acted upon, and that change does come to all our classrooms.

However, in one respect, the chief inspector does fall short. In laying so much stress on discipline and compliance, he is ignoring the more important ingredient of a well-ordered school, which is self-control and intrinsic good behaviour. The problem with a school in which there is good behaviour merely for fear of punishment is that the students learn little about life and the difference between right and wrong. They do not learn about the human qualities that make up a good society, and they leave school with little awareness of personal responsibility.

Good schools need to couple firm discipline with a very strong emphasis on values and the development of good character. All students need to be taught the difference between good and bad, the importance of punctuality, respect for peers and adults, and the importance of kindness and consideration.

Michael Gove was an outstanding education secretary who had a profound passion for ensuring that all students, regardless of disadvantage, should have an academic curriculum. But it was only just before he left the Education Department in July, that he realised the central importance of character. He came to recognise that the best state schools lay a heavy emphasis on the development of citizenship, and that the teaching of character and values is not the enemy but the ally of a good academic education.

The best state schools across the country – such as the King Solomon Academy in Paddington, or Kings Langley School in Hertfordshire – all know this, and avidly emphasise it. Their classrooms are turning out academically successful students as well as ones who know how to behave and contribute to society beyond school.

Children learn much less from what adults say than from what they see them doing. It is essential, thus, that teachers and support staff provide an excellent example for students (and another reason why going on strike is so appalling). Older students, too, should be much more fully used across schools, given good responsibility for looking after younger students. Teachers and institutions tend to infantilise their older students, not realising that they are capable of doing far more to contribute to the good running of the school than is often realised.

Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, is showing every sign of understanding the importance of the development of good character, and is holding conversations with professionals with a track-record in this field. Here is a golden opportunity vastly to improve behaviour in our schools. So two cheers for Michael Wilshaw for your clarion call, and a third cheer if you start talking more about character and not just punishment.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Compulsory relationship lessons should be included in curriculum to prevent violence against women, says Shadow Home Secretary

Probably not a bad idea in theory but what will be taught?  A lot of feminist and socialist nonsense, probably.  And that is more likely to do harm than good.  Telling boys that girls are just the same as them will only invite derision.  Teaching old-fashioned gentlemanliness would be more beneficial

Children should receive compulsory relationship lessons to prevent violence against women, Yvette Cooper has said.

Speaking in the wake of the Rotherham sex abuse scandal, the Shadow Home Secretary said the lessons should be included in the curriculum to help change attitudes.

She insisted a 'massive culture change' was needed to stop sexual abuse victims from receiving blame.

She also accused the Government of refusing to carry out work in schools to change the attitudes of boys.  [Changing people  -- the old socialist nostrum]

Speaking ahead of this weekend's Labour Party conference, Ms Cooper raised questions about the Home Office's commitment to an historic child sex abuse inquiry to be led by Fiona Woolf.

Last month, Professor Alexis Jay's report revealed at least 1,400 children were sexually exploited in Rotherham - sparking criticism of the police, councillors and local authority officials.

Professor Jay outlined details of exploitation over a 16-year period with examples of girls who were raped, trafficked, threatened with extreme violence and ignored by the statutory authorities.

In a wide-ranging interview, Ms Cooper told The House magazine: 'If you look at the Jay report and the descriptions of the attitudes of police officers and social services, there was this idea that if somehow girls were involved in sexual activity that they must have consented, that it must be their fault. 'We need a massive culture change on this.

'The reason we want mandatory reporting is also to have the law changed to kick start that culture change.

'But it's much wider, that's why it has to be about attitudes and sex and relationship education going right the way up through school.'


Student Suspended for Selling Illicit substance Out of His Locker

Alberta high school student Keenan Shaw was suspended for two days after he got caught selling an illicit substance from his locker at Winston Churchill his school. Weed? Nope. Booze? Nope. Acid? Nope.

Shaw says all those treats (and more) are on offer in the school's corridors:

"I'm not going to name any names, but I know a couple of people selling marijuana, there's kids selling smokes, there was a kid last year selling meth, as well as a kid selling acid," said Shaw.

But his drug of choice is full-sugar Pepsi. Commerce in the sweet, sweet drink is banned at his school, which allows only diet sodas to be sold on premises.

This case of capitalism gone awry started small in Grade 9:

The Grade 12 student, who realized only diet pop was being sold in the cafeteria, made the short trek to a local grocery store to pick up a case of Pepsi.

“I decided if I wanted a pop, maybe others do, too,” he said.

Shaw brought it back to Churchill, and within 20 minutes, sold every can of pop.

“From an entrepreneurial perspective, he said, ‘Wait a second, I just paid $5 for a case of pop and got $12 back,’” said his mother, Alyssa Shaw-Letourneau, whose son sold the pop for $1 a can. “From a business perspective, it’s smart.”

Shaw says he'll abandon his soda sales rather than risk expulsion.


The Buckley Program Stands Up for Free Speech

The William F. Buckley Program at Yale University lately showed bravery unusual for an academic institution. It has refused to be bullied by the Muslim Students Association and its demand that the Buckley Program rescind an invitation to Ayaan Hirsi Ali to speak on campus September 15. Hirsi Ali is the vocal Somalian critic of Islamic doctrine whose life has been endangered for condemning the theologically sanctioned oppression of women in Islamic culture. Unlike Brandeis University, which recently rescinded an honorary degree to be given to Hirsi Ali after complaints from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Buckley Program rejected both the MSA’s initial demand, and a follow up one that Hirsi Ali share the stage with one of her critics.

The Buckley Program is a rare instance of an academic organization staying true to the ideals of free speech, academic freedom, and the “free play of the mind on all subjects,” as Matthew Arnold defined liberal education. Most of our best universities have sacrificed these ideals on the altar of political correctness and identity politics. Anything that displeases or discomforts campus special interest groups––mainly those predicated on being the alleged victims of American oppression–– must be proscribed as “slurs” or “hateful,” even if what’s said is factually true. No matter that these groups are ideologically driven and use their power to silence critics and limit speech to their own self-serving and duplicitous views, the modus operandi of every illiberal totalitarian regime in history. The spineless university caves in to their demands, incoherently camouflaging their craven betrayal of the First Amendment and academic freedom as “tolerance” and “respect for diversity.”

In the case of Islam, however, this betrayal is particularly dangerous. For we are confronting across the world a jihadist movement that grounds its violence in traditional Islamic theology, jurisprudence, and history. Ignoring those motives and their sanction by Islamic doctrine compromises our strategy and tactics in defeating the jihadists, for we cripple ourselves in the war of ideas. Worse yet, Islamic triumphalism and chauvinism–– embodied in the Koranic verse that calls Muslims “the best of nations raised up for the benefit of men” because they “enjoin the right and forbid the wrong and believe in Allah”–– is confirmed and strengthened by the way our elite institutions like universities and the federal government quickly capitulate to special interest groups who demand that we endorse only their sanitized and often false picture of Islam. Such surrender confirms the jihadist estimation of the West as the “weak horse,” as bin Laden said, a civilization with “foundations of straw” whose wealth and military power are undermined by a collective failure of nerve and loss of morale.

This process of exploiting the moral degeneration of the West has been going on now for 25 years. It begins, as does the rise of modern jihadism, with the Ayatollah Khomeini and the Iranian Islamic revolution. The key event took place in February 1989, when Khomeini issued a fatwa, based on Koran 9.61, against Indian novelist Salman Rushdie for his novel The Satanic Verses, which was deemed “against Islam, the Prophet, and the Koran,” as Khomeini said. Across the world enraged Muslims rioted and bombed bookstores, leaving over 20 people dead. More significant in the long run was the despicable reaction of many in the West to this outrage against freedom of speech and the rule of law, perpetrated by the most important and revered political and religious leader of a major Islamic nation.

Abandoning their principles, bookstores refused to stock the novel, and publishers delayed or canceled editions. Muslims in Western countries publicly burned copies of Rushdie’s novel and encouraged his murder with impunity. Eminent British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper suggested Rushdie deserved such treatment. Thirteen British Muslim barristers filed a formal complaint against the author. In their initial reactions, Western government officials were hesitant and timorous. The U.S. embassy in Pakistan eagerly assured Muslims that “the U.S. government in no way supports or associates itself with any activity that is in any sense offensive or insulting to Islam.”

Khomeini’s fatwa and the subsequent violent reaction created what Daniel Pipes calls the “Rushdie rules,” a speech code that privileges Islam over revered Western traditions of free speech that still are operative in the case of all other religions. Muslims now will determine what counts as an “insult” or a “slur,” and their displeasure, threats, and violence will police those definitions and punish offenders. Even reporting simple facts of history or Islamic doctrine can be deemed an offense and bring down retribution on violators. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, for example, earned the wrath of Muslims in part for her contribution to Theo van Gogh’s film Submission, which projected Koranic verses regarding women on the bodies of abused women. Van Gogh, of course, was brutally murdered in the streets of Amsterdam. And this is the most important dimension of the “Rushdie rules”: violence will follow any violation of whatever some Muslims deem to be “insulting” to Islam, even facts. In effect, Western law has been trumped by the shari’a ban on blaspheming Islam, a crime punishable by death.

The result is the sorry spectacle of groveling and apology we see almost daily from our government, the entertainment industry, and worse yet, universities. Trivial slights and offenses that civilized nations leave to the market place of ideas to sort out are elevated into “slurs” and “hate speech” if some Muslim organization deems them so. A reflexive self-censorship has arisen in American society, one based on fear of violent retribution or bad publicity harmful to profits and careers.

Thus the government officially proscribes words like “jihad” or “Muslim terrorist” from its documents and training materials in order to avoid offending Muslims. Similarly the Muslim terrorist, a fixture in recent history since the PLO started highjacking airliners in the 60s, has nearly disappeared from television and movies, replaced by Russians, white supremacists, and brainwashed Americans. And when a Muslim terrorist does appear, his motivations and violence are rationalized as the understandable response to the grievous offenses against his faith and people committed by the U.S. and Israel. Islam is airbrushed from the plot, as in the recent series Tyrant, a dramatization of a fictional Arab Muslim state that somehow manages to ignore Islam as a political force. More seriously, universities disinvite speakers at the faintest hint of protest from Muslim organizations, even as they accept Gulf-state petrodollars to create “Middle East Studies” programs that frequently function as apologists and enablers of terrorist violence.

“Free men have free tongues,” as the Athenian tragedian Sophocles said. One of the pillars of political freedom is free speech. When the ability to speak freely in the public square is extended beyond an elite to a large variety of people with clashing views and ideals, speech necessarily becomes rough and uncivil. Feelings get hurt, passions are aroused, and language becomes coarse and abusive. That’s the price we pay for letting a lot of people speak their minds, and for creating a process in which truth and good ideas can emerge from all this rambunctious, divisive conversation.

But when we carve out a special niche for one group, provide it with its own rules, and protect it even from statements of uncomfortable facts, then we compromise that foundational right to have our say without any retribution other than a counterargument. So three cheers for the Buckley Program. It has stood up against intimidation and defended one of our most important and precious freedoms.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Heartland Institute Responds to Activist Groups’ Attempt to Purge Texas Text Books of Inconvenient Climate Science Facts

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and the Texas Freedom Network, two left-wing activist groups, released a report this week claiming non-alarmist facts about the climate “distort” science and must be removed from drafts of new social studies textbooks for Texas public schools.

The five-page report, titled “Analysis of Climate Change in Proposed Social Studies Textbooks for Texas Public Schools,” singled out The Heartland Institute for criticism, saying it has no standing to provide balance to the alarmist views of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The Heartland Institute has published five reports of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), which amount to more than 3,000 pages of research with several thousand citations from peer-reviewed scientific literature. The two latest reports are Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science (2013) and Climate Change Reconsidered II: Biological Impacts (2014).

Among the claims of the NCSE and the Texas Freedom Network:

- 97 percent of all climate scientists believe human activity is causing a climate crisis; and

- No prominent climate scientists believe Earth is in a cooling trend.

The Heartland Institute has long pointed out that the “97 percent consensus” figure often cited by activists and the media is a myth based on a purposeful misreading of flawed surveys. It is also a fact that, based on NASA satellite temperature data collected by Remote Sensing Systems, atmospheric temperatures have not risen for more than 17 years. In addition, Dr. Judith Curry, professor and former chair at the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech University, noted in a presentation this week that the IPCC has acknowledged a “hiatus” in global warming, adding that evidence of a global cooling phase continues to accumulate.

Read the summaries and reports of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) at the Climate Change Reconsidered website. Watch hundreds of presentations by leading scientists who reject climate alarmism at the archive site for The Heartland Institute’s nine International Conferences on Climate Change.

The following statements from environmental policy experts at The Heartland Institute – a free-market think tank – may be used for attribution.

“The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has long used attacks on Heartland as a fundraising tactic, and this latest flimsy report is part of that effort. Even the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was forced to admit earlier this year what the data shows their alarmist predictions of runaway global warming have not come to pass.

“Students in Texas and across the country need to know the truth, which is obtained through strict adherence to the scientific method, not alarmism and appeals to authority. The IPCC’s Nobel Peace Prize – accepted in person by a politician and a bureaucrat – doesn’t make its politicized claims about the climate infallible. In fact, it only makes them more suspect.”

Jim Lakely, Director of Communications, The Heartland Institute

“The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) asserts the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the world’s leading scientific authority on climate science. Such an assertion is nonsense. IPCC is a political rather than a scientific organization. Its participants are chosen by governments, not scientific organizations. Many of its participants are not even scientists. Its lead authors are often agenda-driven environmental activists from groups such as the World Wildlife Fund, Environmental Defense, and Greenpeace. “In contrast to IPCC, the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) is a scientific report, written by scientists, with hundreds of pages of text and thousands of citations to peer-reviewed literature indicating global warming is not a human-created crisis. Even if environmental activists at NCSE refuse to acknowledge this, practicing scientists do.

“NCSE grossly misrepresented the results of two surveys in an attempt to attack science and shut down scientific discussion and debate. NCSE falsely claimed the two surveys (which themselves contain serious methodological flaws) rule out significant natural contribution to recent global warming. Instead, the two surveys merely claim human activity is a significant factor.

“Obviously, one significant factor does not exclude other significant factors, including factors of even greater significance. NCSE misrepresents these two surveys because NCSE has no valid justification for shutting down scientific discussion and debate on such a contested issue. NCSE has lost all scientific credibility by so grossly misrepresenting its two asserted sources of supporting evidence.”

James M. Taylor, Senior fellow for Environmental Policy, The Heartland Institute

“Textbooks should always strive for accuracy and avoid political spin. Nowhere is this more true than on questions of science. Concerning the ongoing scientific debate surrounding the causes and consequences of climate change, the proposed Texas textbooks have struck the right note. Any claim that a consensus of 97 percent of scientists agree that humans are causing catastrophic global warming is false, and those making the claim know it.

“One can only hope that the members of the Texas Board of Education reviewing these books will stand up for students and not buckle under the pressure being applied by these activist groups to alter these books in order to deny the open questions in the climate change debate.”

H. Sterling Burnett, Research Fellow, Environment & Energy Policy
Managing Editor, Environment & Climate News, The Heartland Institute


Ofsted: British primary schools 'place too much focus on three-Rs'

Ofsted inspections in primary schools could be overhauled to place a lesser focus on English and maths amid fears pupils are missing out on a “broad and balanced” curriculum.

The education watchdog said it was considering reforming the inspections process because an overemphasis on the three-Rs often came at the expense of children’s understanding of other subjects.

The move – to be outlined in a consultation document – will represent a significant shift for primary schools in England which have been repeatedly warned of the importance of the two core subjects for pupils aged under 11.

Mike Cladingbowl, Ofsted’s director of school standards, said the watchdog needed to be sure that it had struck the right balance between English and maths and other subjects such as art, music, history and geography.

The move follows the watchdog’s inquiry into the alleged Trojan Horse plot to impose hardline Islamic teaching in Birmingham schools.

It led to the introduction of a new inspection framework – imposed this month – that places a greater weight on ensuring of all schools run a “broad and balanced” curriculum to prepare children for life in modern Britain.

But speaking to the Times Educational Supplement, Mr Claddingbowl said further work may need to be done to emphasise the importance of all subjects and prevent primary schools focusing just on the three-Rs.

“We must continue to emphasise the importance of English and maths, but we should not do that at the expense of other subjects,” he said. “There will be certain circumstances where it’s right for children to be given additional help with English and maths at the expense of something else, to get them to a point at which they can access the curriculum properly.

“But, through our consultation, we’ll want people to ask themselves searching questions about to what extend that should happen. At what point should it stop?”

Teachers have repeatedly complained that they have been forced to marginalise other parts of the curriculum to pass Ofsted inspections, with sport and art frequently being downgraded.

Labour famously introduced the literacy and numeracy hours in the late 90s that enshrined the importance of the three-Rs in law. The Coalition has also promoted these subjects, with a new national curriculum setting out more thorough requirements for the teaching of English, maths and science than other disciplines.

Mr Claddingbowl said Ofsted now favoured a “broad and balanced” curriculum that did not “limit children’s experiences or… fail to prepare children for secondary school or life in modern Britain.”

“We want to look and see if we’ve got the balance right between the core subjects and the foundation subjects; between English and mathematics, and art, history, music, geography and so on," he added.

But head teachers’ leaders warned that any rebalancing of the inspections system would fail because SATs tests taken by all 11-year-olds are based around performance in the core subjects – forcing schools to give them a higher priority in the timetable.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “What Ofsted focuses on tends to get done, but floor standards for English and maths are still a powerful driver that is out of Ofsted’s control.”


Australian women desert technology courses, as tertiary IT enrolments fall

Enrolments in Australian tertiary information technology courses have been falling, as local female students recoil from the sector's masculine reputation.

Among domestic students, enrolments have dropped from a peak of 46,945 in 2002 to 27,547 last year, the latest available figures show.

While enrolments have rallied slightly in recent years, the proportion of students studying IT has reached an all-time low. IT courses made up 4 per cent of tertiary enrolments last year, compared with 9 per cent in 2001.

Figures from the Department of Education show just over one in four domestic IT enrolments were female in 2001, but by 2013 girls made up fewer than one in five tertiary IT students.

Three times more Australian female tertiary students were studying IT in 2001 than last year, despite a 50 per cent jump in total tertiary enrolments among girls over the same period.

The courses' dwindling popularity echoes a similar trend in final-year IT enrolments in Victoria, which have reached a 20-year low. But the trend does not apply to international female students who are choosing IT ahead of locals. A total of 4526 Australian female students were studying IT last year, compared with 5381 international students.

RMIT Computer Science senior lecturer Phil Vines said there was a prejudice in the way people continued to see information technology and engineering as not a "feminine discipline".

"Fifteen years ago we were scratching our heads and saying 'what can we do?' so it's not a new phenomenon," Dr Vines said.

University of Wollongong Information Systems and Technology Associate Professor Katina Michael said the lack of female role models for girls contemplating IT was a factor in lower enrolments, as views of the sector were focused on company founders like Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and Bill Gates.

She said women brought unique perspectives to the industry and were generally better communicators and big picture thinkers. "Women are generally good strategists," she said. "They can think laterally, they can multi-task and be personal at the same time."

On a more general level, she said IT courses faced additional competition from other disciplines such as business and marketing, which were incorporating elements of technology training into their courses. "The purest form of IT is being somewhat ignored but should not be," Dr Michael said.

Australian Computer Society spokesman Thomas Shanahan said he expected total IT enrolment numbers to rebound "once people realise how important digital literacy is going to be" and as the demand for graduates with technology skills increases.

"We can't continue relying on mining and manufacturing," he said. "We have to be building the world's most digitally educated future workforce."

He pointed to the British curriculum, where there are classes in coding for primary school students, as a step in the right direction.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

FBI: Cuban Intelligence Aggressively Recruiting Leftist American Academics as Spies, Influence Agents

Cuba’s communist-led intelligence services are aggressively recruiting leftist American academics and university professors as spies and influence agents, according to an internal FBI report published this week.

Cuban intelligence services “have perfected the work of placing agents, that includes aggressively targeting U.S. universities under the assumption that a percentage of students will eventually move on to positions within the U.S. government that can provide access to information of use to the [Cuban intelligence service],” the five-page unclassified FBI report says. It notes that the Cubans “devote a significant amount of resources to targeting and exploiting U.S. academia.”

“Academia has been and remains a key target of foreign intelligence services, including the [Cuban intelligence service],” the report concludes.

One recruitment method used by the Cubans is to appeal to American leftists’ ideology. “For instance, someone who is allied with communist or leftist ideology may assist the [Cuban intelligence service] because of his/her personal beliefs,” the FBI report, dated Sept. 2, said.

Others are offered lucrative business deals in Cuba in a future post-U.S. embargo environment, and are treated to extravagant, all-expense paid visits to the island.

Coercive tactics used by the Cubans include exploiting personal weaknesses and sexual entrapment, usually during visits to Cuba.

The Cubans “will actively exploit visitors to the island” and U.S. academics are targeted by a special department of the spy agency.

“This department is supported by all of the counterintelligence resources the government of Cuba can marshal on the island,” the report said. “Intelligence officers will come into contact with the academic travelers. They will stay in the same accommodations and participate in the activities arranged for the travelers. This clearly provides an opportunity to identify targets.”

In addition to collecting information and secrets, Cuban spies employ “influence operations,” the FBI said.

“The objective of these activities can range from portraying a specific image, usually positive, to attempting to sway policymakers into particular courses of action,” the report said.

Additionally, Cuban intelligence seeks to plant disinformation or propaganda through its influence agents, and can task recruits to actively disseminate the data. Once recruited, many of the agents are directed to entering fields that will provide greater information access in the future, mainly within the U.S. government and intelligence community.

The Cubans do not limit recruitments to “clandestine agents,” the report said. Other people who do not have access to secrets are co-opted as spies because of their political position or political views that can be exploited for supporting Cuban goals, either as open supporters or unwitting dupes.

“Some of these individuals may not be told openly that they are working for the [Cuban intelligence service], even though it may not be too hard for them to figure out,” the report said. “The relationship may openly appear to be a benign, mutually beneficial friendship.”

Chris Simmons, a retired spycatcher for the Defense Intelligence Agency, said Cuban intelligence has long targeted U.S. academics. For example, Havana assigned six intelligence officers to assist Council on Foreign Relations Latin Affairs specialist Julia E. Sweig in writing a 2002 book on the Cuban revolution, he said.

“College campuses are seen as fertile grounds for the recruitment of the ‘next generation’ of spies,” Simmons said. “Cuba heavily targets the schools that train the best candidates for U.S. government jobs, like Georgetown University, Johns Hopkins University, and George Washington University.”

One goal of the Cubans is to recruit students prior to federal employment, a method that allows Havana to direct a recruited agent into targeted key spy targets, like Congress or the FBI, Simmons said.

“A preferred target are ‘study abroad’ programs in Cuba, as participating students are assessed as inherently sympathetic to the Cuban revolution,” Simmons said.

Cuban intelligence has recruited numerous spies in the past that became long-term penetration agents inside the U.S. government. According to the CI Centre, a think tank, there have been 25 Cuban spies uncovered in the United States since the 1960s, including former CIA officer Philip Agee to who defected and worked closely with both Cuban intelligence and the Soviet KGB starting in 1973.

One of the most notorious Cuban spy cases involved Ana Montes, a senior analyst who worked in the highest levels of the U.S. intelligence and policymaking communities.

Montes, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, pleaded guilty in 2002 to spying for Cuba for 17 years. She is serving a 25-year prison term.

Montes was recruited by Cuban intelligence in 1984 while a student at the Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), where she was a graduate student and had voiced her hatred of the then-Reagan administration policy of backing anti-communist rebels fighting the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua.

She was recruited at SAIS by another Cuban spy, Marta Rita Velazquez, who worked for U.S. Agency for International Development and fled the country after Montes was arrested in 2001.

Two other notable Cuban spies were Walter Kendall Myers, a State Department Foreign Service contractor who worked for Cuban intelligence from 1979 to 2007, and his wife Gwen Myers. They were recruited after visiting Cuba. Walter Myers was a leftist who criticized “American imperialism” in a diary entry after visiting Cuba. He held a top-secret security clearance and in 2010 was sentenced to life in prison after a conviction for spying.

Cuba’s spy agencies “actively target academia to recruit agents and to support Cuban influence operations.”

“Unfortunately, part of what makes academic environments ideal for enhancing and sharing knowledge also can assist the efforts of foreign intelligence services to accomplish their objectives,” the report concludes. “This situation is unlikely to change, but awareness of the methods used to target academia can greatly assist in neutralizing the efforts of these foreign intelligence services.”

The FBI report was based largely on testimony from José Cohen, a former officer of the Cuban Intelligence Directorate, known by its Spanish acronym as DGI, who defected in 1994.

The targeting of American spies takes place at schools, colleges, universities, and research institutes. “Cuban intelligence services are known to actively target the U.S. academic world for the purposes of recruiting agents, in order to both obtain useful information and conduct influence activities,” the FBI said.

The academic world, because of its openness and need for networking, “offers a rich array of targets attractive to foreign intelligence services,” the report said, noting that U.S. government institutions draw on academia for personnel, both for entry level staffing and for consultation from established experts.

Cuban intelligence seeks leftists and others sympathetic to Cuba’s communist regime because it lacks funds needed to pay recruited agents, the report said.

The process includes targeting American and Cuban-American academics, recruiting them if possible and eventually converting them into Cuban intelligence agents.

Cuban front groups also are used to recruit spies in the United States, including a network of collaborators and agents in Cuba that make contact with counterparts in the United States.

Specific universities in Washington and New York that were not specified by the FBI are targets because they are close to Cuban intelligence posts in those cities.

An example of the recruitment effort was provided to the FBI by a “self-admitted Cuban intelligence” officer outlining how a spy is recruited at a U.S. university.

“The Cuban intelligence officers located at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations in New York, New York, or the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., obtain a published work by a specific professor or student … from a university the [Cubans] are monitoring,” the report said.

A Cuban control agent in Havana studies the work and works together with a co-opted Cuban academic and together the pair analyzes published material and forms a plan of action that may include a personal letter to the targeted individual in the United States.

“The letter will suggest a ‘genuine’ interest in starting a friendship or contact regarding the topic of the article,” the report said. “The personal letter becomes a pretext for the Cuban intelligence officer stationed in the United States to use for initial contact with the targeted individual.”

A Cuba spy posing as a diplomat develops a relationship with the academic that can last months or years of assessing motivations, weaknesses, and current future and access to information.

In some cases, the Cubans use compromising video or audio and sexual entrapment to develop U.S. spies.

“Ultimately, when the time is right, the plan will be executed and the targeted individual will be approached and formally asked to help the government of Cuba,” the report said.


Religious education 'too weak' in Anglican primary schools

More than half of Church of England primary schools are delivering poor quality religious education lessons that give pupils little more than a “superficial” grounding in the subject, according to official Anglican research.

A study by the Church’s education division found that under-11s were being fed a “narrow diet of Bible stories” rather than in-depth classes designed to boost their understanding of Christianity.

Researchers found that RE was “not good enough” in 60 per cent of primary schools and officially “inadequate” in one-in-six of those inspected.

It was revealed that Anglican primaries performed no better in the delivery of RE than schools without any religious character at all.

The study found that standards were considerably higher in secondary schools, where children “generally enjoyed their RE lessons and valued the subject”. In all, 70 per cent of secondaries delivered the subject to a high standard.

But a failure to promote the subject to large numbers of the youngest pupils will alarm faith leaders who have repeatedly called for RE to be given greater prominence as a core discipline in all schools.

It came as Prof A.C. Grayling, master of the New College of the Humanities, London, called for RE to be abolished altogether – alongside collective worship in schools – in favour of philosophy lessons.

Writing in the Times Educational Supplement, he said worship in schools was “insidious”, adding: “I would be loath to treat theology as a serious subject of study any more than I would so treat astrology or the divinatory tarot.”

The latest Anglican study – Making a Difference? – said the “key weakness” of RE in the majority of primary schools “was the superficial nature of the pupils’ learning”.

“Too often teaching failed to challenge pupils,” it said. “As a result, the depth of pupils’ knowledge and understanding of religion and belief was not good enough. Specifically pupils were not developing a coherent understanding of the key beliefs, practices and ways of life of Christianity.”

It said the Christian ethos of Anglican primaries appeared to create a culture that “sometimes restricted the breadth of learning about Christianity to a narrow diet of Bible stories”.

The research, which was based on an analysis of 60 schools, found that primaries did give RE a “high status” in the timetable, with almost all schools devoting an hour a week to the subject.

But it said individual teachers often “lacked confidence in teaching RE and did not have the subject expertise needed to be effective”.

“Often the activities provided for pupils, while enjoyable, lacked a clear purpose and failed to extend and deepen their knowledge and understanding,” it said. “The connection between the purpose of the lessons and the tasks given to the pupils was unclear.”

The report made a series of recommendations, including telling schools to review their RE curriculum and widen access to staff training.


Anger as British children aged four are given just ONE chicken nugget as part of new free school meals scheme

A row has broken out over school dinners after it emerged reception pupils were being given just one chicken nugget for their lunch.

Infant pupils around the country are all entitled to a free hot meal every lunchtime under the government's flagship scheme brought in this month.

But the quality of the food they are being given was called into question today when the measly meals being served up to the youngest pupils in Birmingham were revealed.

City Councillor Valerie Seabright said: 'I welcome free school meals, but I'm seriously concerned having been to see a school that was not the best quality.

'The rations and portions are not brilliant. In reception class, children get just one nugget, Year 1 get two and Year 2 get three or four.

'The whole point is to make sure that children get adequate meals with good nutrition. In one class I went to the children didn't get any fresh vegetables or fruit.

'This is serious. It is not working. I think we should insist that there is more training of staff. They need to know about sizes of rations.'

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg launched plans to give all under-sevens a free meal at lunchtime and the scheme started in schools earlier this month.

But the idea has already suffered setbacks after it emerged some schools had to bus in meals and others were providing cold food for pupils.

Councillor Seabright said council-owned food provider Cityserve - which is responsible for meals at 92 per cent of the city's schools - was leaving youngsters short-changed.

She added: 'It's all very well just saying 'We have free school meals', but you have to be able to implement that policy.

'The children obviously didn't just get the one chicken nugget, there was potato and vegetables on offer too, but I don't know if they should be given this processed food at all.

'All the children are getting the same money per head so it's a bit naughty of the company to give the reception class less.'

Others in the area pointed out that even if children were given more generous portion of nuggets, the food was unlikely to provide the nutrition children need.  Labour's Barry Bowles said: 'These are processed foods. Why are we not giving them fresh food?' [Like raw chicken?]

Birmingham City Council's children's boss has admitted the situation is 'unacceptable' and said bosses are investigating meals provided by Cityserve.

Nutrition expert Mel Wakeman said the vague advice schools are given for dinners alow them to serve up inadequate meals.

She said: 'The way the guidelines are worded, children could potentially have two portions of fried food and two pastry based meals a week, which would be too much.

'I don't think we should just get rid of all the food children like because we have to be realistic, they just won't eat what is put in front of them if it's really boring.

'But with things like chicken nuggets, I don't think they should have that kind of fried food more than once a week.'


Friday, September 19, 2014

Should we judge a potential partner on their degree?

Gaynor Sbuttoni, an educational psychologist, tells me: “It can be useful but it’s not the be all and end all. Obviously education does affect the person you are, so from that angle you might prefer to be connected with someone who has a similar education background. But if you think about it, there are lots of couples from different educational backgrounds - they get together and it works.”

Her only concern is that, in some relationships, a stark educational difference might lead to problems: “The danger is if it’s an unbalanced relationship, and [one person] considers themselves to be lesser by having a ‘poorer’ education.”

This is something experienced by a friend of mine. She went to a top university and when she met her (now ex) boyfriend, he was intimidated. He’d been to a community college but never progressed to university. Though he was on a similar intellectual level to her – they both loved discussing politics – he had a chip on his shoulder about it.

That complex never faded and, after a year, they split up. She blames it on the difference in their education.

Jo Barnett, a dating coach, isn’t surprised. She thinks education is pretty important when dating, as two people who have been to university are likely to have more in common: “You have got shared experienced, you’re going to be on a similar wavelength. I know people do look at that criteria,” she says.

But Barnett thinks that the trend is reversing and that we're less judgemental now.

With the emergence of social media and budding tech entrepreneurs, she says: “What’s more important is what you’re currently doing and what you want to be doing. People judge very much on the now. If I come across someone who’s studying to be a doctor, marvellous, but you’re still not working.”

Of course, it’s all very well trying to find common ground with someone you’re dating. But what about when you're making education the sole focus of your search?

A friend, Rebecca, 25, tells me she found herself becoming obsessed with people’s professions and education when she was using an online dating site earlier this year.

“I have judged in the past and I felt really bad about it," she says. "But I don’t have more info to go on. If I’m making decisions based on a limited amount of information there has to be a checklist.”

I think there’s a danger in going too far. When you are just swiping through people’s profiles on your phone, you can forget they’re a real person. They may have gone to a prestigious uni but do you actually think they seem nice? It’s easy to ignore the obvious pitfalls when there’s so much choice.

Sbuttoni agrees: “Is it right that you judge the papers someone receives as a measure of their educational successes? And if you’re deciding to quantify a person by their education, what is that? How valuable is that to you?

“You don’t actually get to know a lot about the person you’re dealing with by their education. The person’s capability of emotion is much more important in a relationship that what their actual education is.”

She's right. A degree isn't going to keep you together through the highs and lows.

"We all judge – it’s normal,” says Barnett. “The struggle is using the restraint not to judge.

“I think [people who judge on education] should realise they’re not doing themselves any favours because you’re dismissing people you don’t know.”

 If you’re focusing so closely on the superficial, you’re closing yourself off from other options.

Yes, you might meet someone who has a similar life experience to you, but - isn’t that kind of dull? Maybe – shock horror – you might just have more fun with someone who has a different story to tell.


Teachers Hope to Erase Union Dues That Deny Free Speech

Fourth-grade teacher Rebecca Friedrichs doesn’t support a new state law allowing self-identifying transgender children in the public school system to choose which bathrooms, locker rooms and shower facilities they will use.

Allowing these students to occupy the same private space with classmates who don’t share their biological traits, Friedrichs believes,  puts the interests of a few ahead of those of the many — and is potentially embarrassing and damaging for other students. She says she feels the same way about permitting transgender children to join all-male or all-female teams as they see fit.

Frankly, she says, “it’s hard for me to protect the modesty of other children.”

Friedrichs, a 27-year teaching veteran who works in Anaheim, Calif., also thinks it is a mistake for the state teachers union to push so hard for tenure to protect bad teachers. She supports school choice for parents because it helps poorer families get more out of the educational system.

And she backed Proposition 8 — the 2008 ballot initiative that upheld marriage in California as the union of a man and a woman — because she believes it is bad for society.

Yet, Friedrichs spent money to advocate the “transgender student” bill. She also spent money to push for more protections for tenured teachers, and to oppose school choice and Prop 8.

Why would she pay to advance policy positions she opposes?  Because, as a teacher in a big union state that doesn’t revere the “right to work,” she must.

Friedrichs used to belong to the California Teachers Association, the state affiliate of the powerful National Education Association. She volunteered for the teachers union in her school and attended CTA’s state conferences.

But she left when their disagreements began to pile up.  “If the union is on one side of a debate, it’s a sure bet that I’m going to be on the opposite side,” Friedrichs quips in an interview with The Daily Signal.

So she joined the Christian Educators Association International, a non-profit group that represents Christians in public schools.

Under current law, Friedrichs still must, in her words, “spend part of my workday paying for political activism that I don’t support and that I think is actually harmful to education.”  This is wrong, she says. And she’s going to court to prove it.

Taking On the Teachers Unions

Friedrichs and nine other California teachers — along with the  Christian Educators Association International — sued the CTA, several local unions and the NEA.

The teachers’ claim: Union rules and state law violate the First Amendment by requiring them to fund speech and advocacy they don’t support.

California is an “agency shop” state. Teachers pay about $1,000 per year in union dues even if, like Friedrichs, they don’t belong to the union.

Non-members can apply to be reimbursed for the portion of their dues that goes to political advocacy, usually $300 to $400. But it is not easy, and it brings scrutiny and stigma from the union.

Moreover, the teachers union itself decides how much to spend on political activities. It sends a letter with the figures each year, and non-members have six weeks to submit an official objection and then get in line for a rebate.

This process grew out of the Supreme Court’s 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which said public employees who object to political expenditures still have to pay all their dues up front but could receive a refund later. This “opt out” arrangement later was extended to include private unions in a 1986 ruling, Communication Workers v. Beck.

The Christian plaintiffs in Friedrichs v. CTA argue the opt-out arrangement doesn’t sufficiently safeguard their free speech rights.

“The union decided what is political and what isn’t,” Rebecca Friedrichs says.  “We are only allowed to opt out of the overt political portion of the dues, and the union decided what is political and what isn’t,” Friedrichs says, adding:

We disagree with their assessment. Teachers are afraid to opt out because they don’t want to suffer the consequences of being a fee payer. They lose their liability insurance, and they are labeled by union leaders. That’s why we need an opt-in system, so the dues [for advocacy] are voluntary.

‘It’s the Unions Who Are Free-Riding’

This all began in the mid-1900s, when the U.S. Supreme Court  “carved out an exception to the First Amendment” for labor law, says Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights:

In an effort to maintain labor peace, the court reasoned it was necessary to outlaw ‘free riders’ who might object to the union stance but still draw benefits from collective bargaining.

CTA, the state affiliate of the National Education Association,  argues the premise of Friedrichs’ case is flawed because union membership is voluntary and the refunds safeguard teachers’ free speech rights. 

“Individuals who chose to join pay union dues,” NEA General Counsel Alice O’Brien says. “We are proud that some 3 million educators have chosen to join together to form NEA.”

But Friedrichs — who spoke in August at The Heritage Foundation as part of a panel on Americans who want to leave unions  – isn’t persuaded. Nor do she and the other plaintiffs see merit to the “free rider” argument.

“There’s a big difference between what the union views as a benefit and what I view as a benefit,” Friedrichs says. “It is the unions who are free-riding on me. They are using my money for their agenda.”

Karen Chavez-Cuen, another plaintiff, has taught elementary school music for 20 years in the Chino Valley Unified School District. In an interview with The Daily Signal, she says the opt-out system is flawed because much of the bargaining process itself is “inherently political.”

Take tenure protection, Cuen says:

The union is just relentless in pushing for more protection for ineffective teachers, and it’s impossible to fire them. And the rest of us have to cover for them and undo the damage to our kids. It’s fine that I get a refund, but there’s a make-believe distinction between what’s political and what’s not.

The case has reached the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The complaining teachers have asked the court to expedite the case to the Supreme Court on the basis that only the nation’s highest court has the authority to overturn its own precedent. The Ninth Circuit has yet to rule on that request.

‘Wouldn’t It Be Wonderful?’

Meanwhile, an organization called Privacy for All Students is working to place a referendum on the November ballot that would allow voters to overturn the law providing for transgender students to have their choice of facilities. The law, officially titled the School Success and Opportunity Act, is commonly referred to as “The Bathroom Bill.”

Because of  a dispute over the validity of certain signatures, it isn’t clear the proposed referendum will qualify for the ballot.

“We have options for transgender students such as adult bathrooms that could be available to them whenever needed,” Friedrichs says. “But it’s hard for me to protect the modesty of other children because of a bill that has been pushed with my money.”

If the case is fast-tracked to the Supreme Court next year and the plaintiffs receive a favorable ruling, it would mean the union would have to solicit voluntary contributions for political causes such as transgender rights.

“What we are asking for is pretty straightforward,” Karen Chavez-Cuen says.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the only people joining the union and making donations were the ones who wanted to do so voluntarily?” Cuen says. “And wouldn’t be wonderful if the people who didn’t want to join and make these contributions had that freedom? What we are asking for is pretty straightforward.”


Obama’s Latest Hostile Takeover Target: Private Career Colleges

The Obama administration’s latest college crusade claims it will help students. In reality, it’s a hostile takeover attempt by government of the private for-profit career college sector that will hurt students, taxpayers, and the economy.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan acknowledges that the “majority of career colleges play a vital role in training our workforce to be globally competitive.” Yet he insists that students must be protected from debt he says is foisted on them by a relative handful of bad actors.

Rather than hold those select institutions accountable through existing laws, since 2010 Duncan has been attempting to use his department to gain control of the private for-profit career college sector, which is the fastest growing nationwide increasing from 200,000 students in the late 1980s to 2 million as of 2010 (pp. 2, 5, 7-8).

This isn’t the Obama administration’s first attempted takeover of higher education.

Thanks to an Obamacare provision the U.S. Department of Education took over direct lending to students. Duncan insisted that the feds would be more efficient and cost-effective than private lenders, but costs actually went up. In recent years the Obama administration has also pushed interest rate freezes on federal student loans, which have done nothing to make a college education more affordable.

The administration’s latest takeover scheme is attempting to impose onerous regulations on all private for-profit career colleges.

Back in 2010 the U.S. Department of Education unveiled a set of proposed “gainful employment” rules requiring private for-profit colleges to meet mandated loan repayment rates and debt-to-earnings levels before their students could qualify for federal student aid.

In 2011 the department unveiled the final gainful employment regulations, which deemed students’ employment “gainful” only if it was “in a recognized occupation.” The regulations further mandated that at least 35 percent of former career college students must be repaying their loans; the estimated annual loan payments cannot exceed 30 percent of their disposable income; or the estimated annual loan payments cannot exceed 12 percent of former students’ total earnings.

The regulations were supposed to go into effect on July 1, 2012, but they were struck down the day before by Federal Judge Rudolph Contreras for being “arbitrary and capricious.”

In 2013 the Obama administration revived its crusade against what Duncan called “predatory” career colleges with proposed mandates that are no less arbitrary or capricious than their predecessors. Under the new proposed regulations unveiled earlier this year, for students to qualify for federal aid for-profit career colleges must prove the estimated annual loan payments of graduates do not exceed 20 percent of their discretionary earnings, or 8 percent of their total earnings, and the default rate for former students does not exceed 30 percent.

Duncan justified the move saying that “of the for-profit gainful employment programs the Department could analyze and which could be affected by our action today, the majority—72 percent—produced graduates who on average earned less than high school dropouts. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker found that this claim didn’t come close to passing the Pinocchio Test:

Could attending a for-profit institution actually result in a three-out-of-four-chance of earning less than a high school dropout?...In straining for a striking factoid, the Education Department went too far.

Department of Education officials insist that 90 percent of career college students losing aid will find suitable alternatives, but independent research concludes the figure will be far lower.

Should the Obama administration succeed and gainful employment regulations take effect next year, more than 4 out of 10 students currently enrolled at private for-profit career colleges could lose access to federal financial aid. Over the next decade as many as 7.5 million students could lose access.

And who are these students?

Most of private career college students are older adults, more than half (51 percent) are low-income, and 80 percent of them are the first in their families to attend college (pp. 9 and 23). Moreover, close to half of all career college students (49 percent) are high-risk students, compared to less than 20 percent at public and not-for-profit institutions.

Compared to public institutions private for-profit career colleges enroll more women and minorities, not to mention more than one-quarter of military family members (28 percent).

These students seek out private for-profit career schools precisely because the public and non-profit sectors aren’t the right options for them, including not offering the desired degree programs or flexible schedules that help them balance family and career responsibilities. Forcing these students into schools and programs the feds (and their union allies) prefer won’t help them or taxpayers.

The net taxpayer cost of a private for-profit college student is $183 compared to more than $13,000 per public college student (2013 Fact Book, p. 40). If private for-profit options aren’t available, many of these students would have to transfer to public colleges at cost taxpayers nationwide an additional $1.7 billion annually. In the long-run gainful employment regulations could cost students and taxpayers even more.

As many as 23 million skilled and educated workers are needed over the next decade, and private for-profit career colleges specialize in offering degree programs in the highest-growth occupational fields (2013 Fact Book, pp. 37-39).

At a time when 90 million Americans are undereducated, 12 million are unemployed, and family incomes are down, a government takeover of education through gainful employment regulations is the last thing American students, taxpayers, or our economy needs.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

School Orders Girl to Remove ‘Virginity Rocks’ Shirt

Virginity does not rock at Ramay Junior High School in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

That’s the lesson 13-year-old Chloe Rubiano learned. Chloe is in the eighth grade. She is also a good church-going girl. So you can imagine her mom’s surprise when she got in trouble at school.

Chloe showed up at school wearing a T-shirt that reads: “Virginity Rocks.”   “It’s a positive message,” said Bambi Crozier, Chloe’s mom.

But school officials disagreed. They said the shirt could cause a classroom disruption and contained sexual content. Apparently some folks at Ramay Junior High don’t understand the concept of virginity.

The 13-year-old, who bought the shirt at a Christian music festival, was told she had to change shirts.

“It was so bizarre,” Mrs. Crozier told me. “She had the shirt for several years at wore it a number of times to school.”

I called the school district hoping to talk to the person in charge of the fashion police – but no one’s called me back. A spokesperson told local news outlets that they have a rule banning any clothes that might cause a distraction.

“Why is it such a bad thing to talk about virginity when they’re handing out condoms and girls are pregnant?” Mrs. Crozier wondered. “It blows my mind.”

It does make you wonder why the guidance counselors are doling out condoms to the junior high crowd.

“I think they’re bigger concern (is) they just don’t want to talk about virginity,” she said. “Today, people think that virginity is a dirty word. It’s not in our household.”

Or maybe they’re concerned the “Virginity Rocks” shirt might cut down on condom distribution?

Who knows?

Mrs. Crozier said her daughter did as she was instructed to do and put on a gym shirt.

“We totally believe in respecting rules,” she said. ‘We totally believe in listening to leadership. If that’s what their request is – that’s okay. There are certain battles in life you are going to choose and whether or not you can wear a shirt is not a big deal.”

So being a good church-going girl, Chloe abided by the school’s orders – because heaven forbid a 21st century teenager be caught promoting abstinence. Planned Parenthood must be having convulsions.

Mrs. Crozier said she was taken aback by the national attention her daughter’s shirt has received.  “All I did was post on Facebook to my friends,” she said. “Now my daughter has gone viral.

Chloe, meanwhile, seems to be taking her 15 minutes of fame in stride.  “She thinks it’s cool,” Mr. Crozier said. “She updated her Instagram page to say ‘Chloe: As Seen on TV.’”


Ohio high school band learns about Marxism — the hard way

MARXISM: A lesson in Marxism was probably the last thing the Cuyahoga Falls high school marching band expected from their school board.

The Cuyahoga Falls High School marching band accepted an invitation to play at Disney World, with a lesson in Marxism thrown in.

After two years of working, fundraising and saving, the only thing left for the band members was official approval from the school board.

On Jan. 21, the board voted unanimously to approve the field trip, which cost $1,250 per student. But here’s the catch. If a student can’t go and cites “financial hardship,” the program must come up with the money.  Either that student goes, or no one does.

Students and their parents are doing what they can. According to news reports, one student sold entertainment books and worked as a pet sitter. Another sold various items to raise the cash.

Band director Brandon DuVall said every band member had access to enough fundraising money to cover the costs.

But now, thanks to the school board, a student could claim financial hardship – at the last minute. Either the rest of the band would have to come up with the money, or they all would suffer.

The school board said two policies led to the decision. Educational opportunities should not be restricted based upon a student’s inability to pay, and, second, students cannot be charged for transportation costs on a school day.

The board, which got conflicting legal opinions, ultimately decided the trip would not violate the transportation policy. DuVall and Superintendent Dr. Todd Nichols were left to deal with the transportation issue.

Financial hardship, they decided, would be defined by eligibility under the National School Lunch Act and the Child Nutrition Act of 1966. Any student who qualifies for free or reduced meals would pay 50 percent of the participation fee. The Instrumental Music Patrons charitable organization and the school board would pay the balance.

“From each according to his abilities to each according to his needs.”  —  Karl Marx

This might not have been the lesson the school board intended to teach, but it’s the one the band members learned – the hard way.


Nanny State: Vermont Bans Desserts in School

In what may be the ultimate Nanny State move, Vermont has outlawed consuming or bringing brownies, cakes, or cookies to school. The mandates are part of a new program titled “Smart-Snacks-in-Schools” and will apply to lunch items, vending machines, and fundraising events between midnight and half and hour after school. reported:

    “These changes are really supporting the types of diets that we as a country should be following to have a healthy diet and lifestyle,” said Laurie Colgan, child nutrition program director at the Agency of Education, in an interview with the Vermont Watchdog.

    This healthy lifestyle has already been instated within the school.

    “The new school lunch pattern has low-fat, leaner proteins, greater variety, and larger portions of fruit and vegetables,” Colgan said. Additionally, “the grains have to be 100 percent whole-grain rich.”

    Colgan said this does not have to mean an end for fundraising. Rather, she is encouraging schools to turn fundraising away from schools, and focus on non-food items such as flower bulbs, cards, and wrapping paper.

So what do you bring to celebrate your birthday with your classmates? Shelley Mathias, principal of Edmunds Elementary School in Burlington, suggested fruit shish kebabs.

Mathias also confided to the Vermont Watchdog that she has never seen desserts served at her school in the four years she has been there:      “The kids like kale here, and they eat broccoli.”

Really? Now there is certainly nothing wrong with encouraging healthy habits at school, but to forbid children to eat desserts is taking supervision to the extreme. This is just another Big Government power grab where laws replace individual responsibility.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Top British school to provide lessons in true grit: £34,000-a-year college to teach pupils how to deal with setbacks

A leading public school is to give pupils lessons in ‘grit’ to help them emulate children in high-performing East Asian nations such as Singapore.

Wellington College will encourage youngsters to adopt beliefs more commonly associated with so-called ‘tiger mothers’ – that ability is not fixed and hard work will eventually pay off.

The Berkshire school – which charges boarding fees of £34,125 a year – aims to find the best way of teaching pupils to persevere in the face of academic setbacks, instead of assuming they are simply not clever enough.

It has become known for adopting innovative approaches including ‘happiness’ lessons to boost pupils’ well-being and outlook on life.

Working with a Harvard University researcher in a two-year project, pupils will be introduced to cutting-edge brain science which emphasises the role of effort and practice – rather than relying on innate talent.

If successful, the initiative could be introduced in other schools.

The lessons will aim to explode the widely-held view that only some children are born ‘smart’. Instead of giving up, they will be told that working hard will boost their abilities in areas they find difficult.

Schools in countries such as Singapore, South Korea, China and Japan, which regularly top global league tables, are known to value hard work rather than focusing on natural ability.

But experts warned youngsters should not be ‘drilled at all costs’.  Project leader Dr Christina Hinton, of Harvard Graduate School of Education, said she believed it was right to encourage hard work, but that the approach ‘should be paired with compassion’.       

Dr Hinton said: ‘The results would show these countries excelling and they would also show that they adopt a growth mindset, that the harder you work the better you will do.

‘You’ll hear things like, “that’s such a beautiful project, you must have worked so hard” as opposed to “that’s such a beautiful project, you must be so bright or so talented or so smart”.

‘Right away, the cultural assumption is that if you did something very well then you worked very hard, as opposed to then you are talented.

‘Actually that is more accurate from a neuroscience point of view. Working really hard at something does develop your brain and your abilities.

‘It’s a really important concept and important to correct that misconception in pop culture and definitely with children.’

Dr Hinton said she believed tiger mothers were ‘right’ in their belief in encouraging hard work.

But she added: ‘It should be paired with compassion. It’s good for students to work really hard but it’s important to really invest in things that they personally feel are important and interesting, not what someone’s forcing them to do.

‘If a student is really passionate about something themselves and they are working really hard, that’s the ideal case. They will be more what we call intrinsically motivated or internally motivated. I think it’s problematic if there’s too much pressure coming from external forces making them do things.

‘Kids can’t just do what they want all the time, of course. But it needs to be a supportive environment, and for them not to be drilled at all costs, that’s not good education.

‘Some neuroscience shows that if your brain is too stressed in that way, it’s not as effective at learning. You really want to support them emotionally while you are supporting them to be hard workers, I think that’s important.’

The project is being carried out in conjunction with three local state schools and the techniques it develops could be adopted by schools around the country.

It is one of the first to emerge from Wellington’s new educational research centre which was launched this month to eliminate ‘guesswork’ and ‘hunches’ from teaching practice.

Tasks are likely to include spotting shortcuts around the school which have become well-trodden paths as more people have walked on them.

‘We use that as a metaphor for what’s happening in the brain - that the more you are using your circuits the more strengthened they are becoming,’ Dr Hinton added.

‘There are genetic contributions but the environment has a really powerful impact on the brain. Nothing is set in stone genetically.’

The moniker ‘tiger mother’ was popularised by US law professor Amy Chua who described how she chivvied her daughters to achieve academic and musical success Chinese-style in a best-selling guide which provoked fierce debate in Britain.

The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, published in 2011, was described as ‘the story of my family’s journey in two cultures’.


Teach-in at Brown U highlights sharp divides over Gaza

Panel addresses political context behind violence in Gaza, draws some criticism from audience

A teach-in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict grew tense Wednesday evening as opinions clashed in a MacMillan 117 filled to capacity.

The event, entitled “Why Gaza Matters: The War and its Consequences,” featured a panel of five speakers followed by a question-and-answer session that continued nearly an hour over the planned time frame.

The panel was moderated by Beshara Doumani P’17, director of Middle East studies and professor of history, who encouraged students to ask tough questions and voiced his hope to “bridge the gap between public discourse and academic knowledge on the issue.”

Panel speakers addressed the historical, political and international dimensions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Professor of History Omer Bartov said the conflict is a “deadlock” that stems from the fundamental idea that it is better to gain territory than to gain peace. On both sides, “no leader has been produced who has had the courage and sense to make the sacrifices that are called for,” he said.

“This conflict is very personal to me,” said Sa’ed Atshan, postdoctoral fellow in international studies, who is from Palestine. “My family and friends are there,” he said, adding that a few of his friends’ family members had died in the conflict. Atshan showed a presentation to the audience, including slides with photos of relatives of friends who had lost their lives.

Many describe Gaza as an “open-air prison” where people are “trapped in a brutal siege with nowhere to go for safety,” Atshan said, adding that those living in Gaza are being “denied the basic rights.”

Atshan also addressed how the American media treats the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and said the mainstream media in this country assumes that Israel and Palestine are “symmetrical in terms of the power they yield” despite an actual imbalance. He described Israel as an occupying force with nuclear weaponry, while he characterized Palestine as “a colonized, occupied, stateless population.”

Melani Cammett, professor of political science, highlighted the political dimensions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Conflict and violence empower extremists,” she said, adding that support for Hamas was bolstered during periods of heightened tension, such as when the Israeli blockade began to take effect in 2008.

Cammett said data has shown a “lower level of self-reported economic security” for Palestinians who are unaffiliated with or opponents of Hamas, which she said was likely due to “discretionary access” for Hamas supporters in the Gaza. “The blockade disproportionally hurts people who were less supportive of Hamas,” she added.

“It’s tragic how extremes on both sides are feeding and legitimizing each other to produce no solution other than more and more violence,” Bartov said.

Cammett highlighted the recent decrease in global public approval of Israel, with the United States emerging as an exception. There has been “strong and consistent support” for Israel in the United States, she said, including higher public support for Israel among Republicans than among Democrats, a characterization that raised a question during the question-and-answer session about Cammett’s motivation behind associating support with Israel with conservative opinions at Brown. Cammett responded to the question by saying she had no objectives behind the characterization other than the available data.

Nina Tannenwald, director of the international relations program and senior lecturer in political science, said the concept of human rights is central to the conflict, and there is no prospect of a stable solution without addressing the “grievances” on both sides.

Violation of international law on one side does not justify the violation by the other, Tannenwald said. Though Israel has the right to self-defense and Palestinians have the right to resist occupation, there are limits to both parties’ actions, she added.

In the question-and-answer session that followed, Adam Bennett ’16 said the panel lacked representation of and support for Israel, garnering claps and shouts from the audience, some of whom yelled that the panel was biased. Bennett also questioned whether the role of the panel was to foster “an objective conversation” about the conflict or to serve as a forum for the Middle East Studies program.

When the panel members moved on to address the next question, some audience members  said the panel was “a stacked deck.” Doumani reiterated that the panel would only address four questions at a time, prompting two audience members to exit the room.

Nancy Khalek, assistant professor of religious studies, expressed her disappointment over some community members’ “angry departure” of the teach-in before it had concluded.

“The value of a teach-in comes from actually listening to each other,” Khalek said, calling for people to discuss the situation in Gaza with “a slightly more open mind and a little more empathy for each other.”

In response to Bennett’s question, Atshan asked audience members to consider“why don’t we have anyone who supports Hamas” in the auditorium. Atshan urged the audience “not to impose our own labels” and to “listen empathetically to what others have to say,” which led to snaps of approval among some audience members.

Matt Dang ’16 said he was “surprised, to say the least” at the abrupt change in tone during the question-and-answer session. It was interesting to see the clear divide in strong opinions in the auditorium, as the open discussion became more of an argument, he said.

Jonathan Tollefson ’15.5 said he was surprised at the lengths to which audience members went to try to defend Israel.

Carly West ’16 said she saw the panel as an “interesting mix of constructive, insightful people with civil questions and sharp, emotive reactions.”


All schools 'should run a longer day' to benefit poor pupils

Schools should run a longer day to prevent pupils from working-class white families falling behind their peers, according to the Department for Education.

All state primaries and secondaries should consider extending the school day to give pupils more teaching time and access to "character building activities".

This is likely to include extra-curricular activities such as sport, cadet forces, the Duke of Edinburgh award and debating societies which are seen as vital to the development of important "life skills" outside the classroom.

In a report, officials said pupils from poor backgrounds benefited the most from a longer day because it gave them time to “complete work in a calm and supportive environment” – away from often chaotic home lives.

The DfE failed to set out recommended opening and closing times but evidence from the Education Endowment Foundation - a government-funded charity - has found that some schools extended the day from the usual seven or eight hours to 12.

It would involve running lessons and extra-curricular activities from 7am until 7pm.

But the EEF has indicated that "smaller increases are associated with greater gains, and with more than three of four hours a day the benefit decreases".

Schools should plan their day based on “what works in the best interests of their pupils’ education and not simply on tradition”, the DfE said.

Some schools that have already extended the day make it compulsory for pupils to attend extra lessons but extra-curricular activities run into the evening are often option.

The conclusions were made in response to a report from the Commons education select committee in June that found large numbers of working-class white pupils – particularly boys – were being turned off school.

Figures show poor white British children – those eligible for free school meals – perform worse in their GCSEs than any other ethnic group, with just a third gaining five good grades last summer. This compares with more than three-quarters of poor children from Chinese families, 61.5 per cent of those from Indian backgrounds and 59.2 per cent of poor Bangladeshi pupils.

In a report today, the DfE endorsed many findings of the report, including calls to increase the length of the school day.

Since 2011, all state schools in England have been able to run classes into the evening without undertaking a “prescriptive” application process, the DfE said.

The report said: “Longer days can mean schools have more time to work with pupils who need additional help, and can open up opportunities for pupils to access purposeful, character building activities that help them build the confidence to succeed when they leave school.

“Some schools, including some in disadvantaged areas, are already recognising the benefits of longer days and are re-organising their timetables to ensure a good balance of teaching, extracurricular activities and supervised self-directed work.

“Those schools report that just having a dedicated time of the school day to complete work in a calm and supportive environment can make a big difference to pupils; increasing confidence and engagement in schoolwork.”

The report said the DfE would not enforce a longer day but told how Ofsted, the education watchdog, was planning to “identify successful practice in this area as part of its inspection” process.

These examples will be published on the Ofsted website as evidence of the benefits of a longer day, it emerged.

In a series of further conclusions, the DfE also set out plans to boost the language and vocabulary skills of all poor children amid fears large numbers of pupils start compulsory education unable to speak properly.

New hubs will be set up in children’s centres to target infants from 96,000 families “at risk of language delay”, it was announced.

The DfE also raised the possibility of overhauling the way it classifies pupil deprivation, which gives schools access to additional funding through the "pupil premium".

Currently, deprivation is based on the number of pupils claiming free school meals but the system has been criticised in the past because some parents fail to register.

The DfE said it was investigating the possibility of matching parental income and benefits data with pupil records to establish an automatic entitlement to extra funding. Clauses set out in the new Small Business, Employment and Enterprise Bill may enable this link to be made, it emerged.