Friday, January 30, 2015

Your education savings Plan Is Safe. Here’s Why the White House Changed Course

President Obama is abandoning his controversial plan to tax the interest on 529 savings accounts, the White House announced Tuesday.

The 529 plans are savings accounts in which parents and families can invest after-tax dollars. If the money is used for specified college costs, they don’t have to pay federal tax on the interest accumulated in these accounts.

The president’s proposal, which faced bipartisan opposition, would have “effectively end[ed]” the plans, according to the New York Times.

“Given it has become such a distraction, we’re not going to ask Congress to pass the 529 provision so that they can instead focus on delivering a larger package of education tax relief that has bipartisan support, as well as the president’s broader package of tax relief for child care and working families,” a White House official told the New York Times.

Earlier on Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said that 529 plans “help middle-class families save for college,” and said that taxing these accounts should not be included in the president’s budget proposal.

Lindsey Burke, the Will Skillman fellow in education policy at The Heritage Foundation, said that the president’s plan would have hurt middle-class families.

“Taxing college savings accounts would have created disincentives for those who save for college in favor of the federal government directing college spending, lending and handouts—through proposals like ‘free’ community college and student loan ‘forgiveness,’” Burke told The Daily Signal.

“It became clear pretty quickly that the proposal to tax college savings accounts in no way benefited middle-income families,” Burke added. “Families who have diligently worked to save for their children’s college education would have been penalized under this proposal. It seems, at least for the moment, that the administration is dropping its quest for this bad policy.”

Corie Whalen Stephens, a spokeswoman for Generation Opportunity, said taxing the interest on 529 plans hurts middle-class students and their families.

“It’s encouraging to see our president respond to the needs of our generation by dropping his ill-conceived idea to tax 529 college savings plans. His misguided proposal, intended to fund his unaffordable government policies, would have fallen squarely on the backs of middle-class students and their families,” said Stephens.

She added that funding a broken system doesn’t help students.

“Finding new ways for the government to finance a failing higher education system isn’t a solution. In fact, these endless subsidies with no reforms attached to them are the problem. To fix this, our leaders must look to policies that foster innovation and competition to lower overall costs—not repackage failed big government policies,” said Stephens.


Choose To Refuse: Say 'No' to PARCC/SBAC Testing

This is National School Choice Week, but I want to talk about parents' school testing choice.

Moms and dads, you have the inherent right and responsibility to protect your children. You can choose to refuse the top-down Common Core racket of costly standardized tests of dubious academic value, reliability and validity.

Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

I'm reminding you of your right to choose because the spring season of testing tyranny is about to hit the fan. Do you object to the time being taken away from your kids' classroom learning? Are you alarmed by the intrusive data-sharing and data-mining enabled by assessment-driven special interests? Are you opposed to the usurpation of local control by corporate testing giants and federal lobbyists?

You are not alone, although the testing racketeers are doing everything they can to marginalize you.

In Maryland, a mom of a 9-year-old special needs student is suing her Frederick County school district to assert her parental prerogative. Cindy Rose writes that her school district "says the law requires our children be tested, but could not point to a specific law or regulation" forcing her child to take Common Core-tied tests. Rose's pre-trial conference is scheduled for Feb. 4.

The vigilant mom warns parents nationwide: "While we are being treated like serfs of the State, Pearson publishing is raking in billions off our children." And she is not just going to lie down and surrender because some bloviating suits told her "it's the law."

Pearson, as I've reported extensively, is the multibillion-dollar educational publishing and testing conglomerate — not to mention a chief corporate sponsor of Jeb Bush's Fed Ed ventures — that snagged $23 million in contracts to design the first wave of so-called "PARCC" tests.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers raked in $186 million through the federal Race to the Top program to develop the nationalized tests "aligned" to the Common Core standards developed in Beltway backrooms.

As more families, administrators and teachers realized the classroom and cost burdens the guinea-pig field-testing scheme would impose, they pressured their states to withdraw. Between 2011 and 2014, the number of states actively signed up for PARCC dropped from 24 (plus the District of Columbia) to 10 (plus D.C.). Education researcher Mercedes Schneider reports that the remaining 10 are Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio and Rhode Island

State legislators and state education boards in Utah, Kansas, Alaska, Iowa, South Carolina and Alabama have withdrawn from the other federally funded testing consortium, the $180-million tax-subsidized Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which administered field tests last spring to three million students in 23 states.

In New Jersey, the parental opt-out movement is "exploding," according to activist Jean McTavish. Many superintendents have conceded that "they can't force a student to take a test," reports.

Last week, Missouri withdrew from PARCC, while parents, administrators and the school board of the Chicago Public Schools spurned PARCC in the majority of their 600 schools.

In California, the Pacific Justice Institute offers a privacy protection opt-out form for parents to submit to school districts at PJI head Brad Dacus advises families to send the notices as certified letters if they get ignored. Then, be prepared to go to court. PJI will help. The Thomas More Law Center in Michigan also offers a student privacy opt-out form at

Don't let the bureaucratic smokescreens fool you. A federal No Child Left Behind mandate on states to administer assessments is not a mandate on you and your kids to submit to the testing diktats. And the absence of an opt-out law or regulation is not a prohibition on your choice to refuse.

Here in Colorado, the State Board of Education voted this month to allow districts to opt out of PARCC testing. Parents and activists continue to pressure a state task force — packed with Gates Foundation and edu-tech special interest-conflicted members -- to reduce the testing burden statewide. For those who don't live in PARCC-waivered districts, it's important to know your rights and know the spin.

In Colorado Springs, where I have a high-schooler whose district will sacrifice a total of six full academic days for PARCC testing this spring, parents are calling the testing drones' bluff about losing their accreditation and funding.

"The Colorado Department of Education is threatening schools to ensure that 95 percent of students take these tests," an El Paso County parent watch group reports. "Be assured that MANY parents across Colorado -- FAR ABOVE 5 percent in many schools -- are refusing the tests, and not one school yet is facing the loss of accreditation, funding, etc. As long as schools can show that they gave a 'good faith attempt to get 95 percent to test, they can appeal a loss of accreditation' due to parental refusals to test."

You also have the power to exercise a parental nuclear option: If edu-bullies play hardball and oppose your right to refuse, tell them you'll have your kid take the test and intentionally answer every question wrong — and that you'll advise every parent you know to tell their kids to do the same. How's that for accountability?

Be prepared to push back against threats and ostracism. Find strength in numbers. And always remember: You are your kids' primary educational providers.


School inspectors challenged over claims a pupil was asked if she was a VIRGIN

Ofsted inspectors were today challenged over claims they asked a girl in a failing school if she was a virgin.

The extraordinary allegation emerged amid growing anger at the way inspections are carried out to check that schools are teaching 'British values'.

Chief Inspector of Schools Sir Michael Wilshaw flatly denied the claim, but admitted officials investigating claims of homophobic bullying would ask pupils if they call each other 'gay or lesbo'.

This month it emerged that Grindon Hall Christian School in Sunderland had made a formal complaint over an 'intrusive' inspection conducted in the wake of the Trojan Horse controversy over Islamist attempts to infiltrate schools.

Inspectors are also said to have questioned pupils about transsexuality and asked if any of their friends felt trapped in the 'wrong body'

A mother has told of her ten-year-old daughter's devastation that her school was branded 'intolerant' after she gave the wrong answer when asked 'what is a lesbian'.

Parent Lena Wilkinson told of how her ten-year-old daughter Ariella came home crying after she gave the wrong answer when asked 'what is a lesbian'.

The government also withdrew funding from the Durham Free School after it was heavily criticised by inspectors.

But Sir Michael was challenged by MPs on the education select committee about the decision, at a time when parents said it was a good school.

Labour MP Alex Cunningham suggested some parents believe there is a 'political agenda' against Christian schools, and raised concerns about the way inspections were carried out.

'Some parents claim there were some inappropriate approaches to the inspection,' Mr Cunningham said.

'A Member of Parliament said to me last night one parent had claimed that a girl was even asked if she was a virgin. Is that something that you would investigate?'

Sir Michael insisted that the claims had been thoroughly investigated, adding: 'Those allegations are false.

'We looked at the evidence base thoroughly, and we found no evidence to suggest that inspectors used inappropriate language and terminology to these children.'

But he defended the right of inspectors to quiz young pupils about bullying and bad behaviour in language they can understand,

'I think it has to be understood that if there are allegations for example of homophobic bullying - and there were - then it's really difficult for an inspector to establish that.

'If you approach a group of children or a child and say is there homophobic bullying in this school, they wouldn't know what you were talking about.

'But if the inspector says are children calling each other gay here or lesbo here, then they would understand what that means.

'And there was very, very bad homophobic bullying going on in these schools.'

He rejected claims from parents that the two schools were good, insisting inspectors found poor behaviour and declining standards in both schools.

'They saw a lot of bullying taking place, and I think it has to be recognised that parents always, even when schools are declining very badly, always try to support the school. 'These two schools are doing badly and parents deserve better.'

Mr Cunningham warned that some of the parents claim there is a 'political agenda, a small-p political agenda and that Ofsted has got it in for Christian schools'.

But Sir Michael insisted Ofsted was committed to taking tough action against all schools, regardless of their religious make-up.

There was 'absolutely not' an agenda against Christian schools, but made clear every school had to teach British values.

'We are going into schools in Birmingham, in Bradford, in Luton, in Tower Hamlets with children from predominantly Asian heritage, who are predominantly Muslim, we are failing those schools, we are putting them into special measures, we are saying some tough things about those schools because they are not promoting British values, they are narrowing the curriculum, and they are not doing what they should be doing to widen the horizons of those youngsters.

'We are going to apply exactly those principles to other schools in the country, including those schools.'

Ministers ordered schools to teach British values in the wake of the Trojan Horse scandal in Birmingham.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan last night told a think-tank that students should be taught about values such as tolerance, respect, democracy and the rule of law regardless of faith or cultural alignment.

She said it was right that schools inspection watchdog Ofsted was now monitoring the promotion of such values in classrooms.

She said: 'The events in Birmingham last year showed what happened, when those that don't subscribe to our fundamental British values try to hijack our education system, radicalise our children and break those societal bonds. What happened in Paris this month showed what can happen when people like that succeed.

'But promoting fundamental British values is about far more than combating extremism. The very reason that fundamental British values are successful in tackling extremist ideology is because they help to open young people's minds, making them into citizens who respect difference, who welcome disagreement and who challenge intolerance.

'I'm afraid I have no sympathy for those who say that British values need not apply to them, that this should purely be a special test for schools in predominantly Muslim communities or our inner cities.

'Every school regardless, faith or none - should be promoting British values, because it's the right thing to do.'


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Kline Speaks on Education Reform at the American Enterprise Institute

John Paul Kline, Jr. is a member of the Republican Party and  serves as the Chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce

At an event hosted by AEI three years ago, I spoke about the failure of U.S. schools to teach our children what they need to know to thrive in the 21st century economy. I described the state of the American education system as “sobering.” As I look back, those words described the situation rather mildly. I wish I could say things have started to turn around, but they have not.

It’s estimated that one out of every five students will drop out of high school, which means every day thousands of children walk away from one of the best shots they have to earn success in their lifetimes. These young men and women will face fewer job prospects and lower wages, and be more dependent on government assistance to help pay the bills and put food on the table.

But don’t get me wrong. Just because a student receives a diploma doesn’t mean he or she is guaranteed success. Far too many high school graduates are entering the workforce with a sub-par education. According to the National Assessment for Educational Progress, only 38 percent of high school seniors can read at grade level and just 26 percent are proficient in math.

Each year countless parents have no choice but to send their kids to broken schools. Meanwhile, Washington talks about reform yet nothing changes. Something has to change.

I know you are all familiar with a little law known as No Child Left Behind. Signed by President Bush 13 years ago, enacting the law was the last time federal policymakers reformed our K-12 education system. Despite its best intentions, the law is failing to meet the needs of students.

For example, a one-size-fits-all federal accountability system hampers innovation and limits the ability of states and school districts to address their students’ needs. Outdated teacher quality measures fail to adequately capture how well teachers teach, and a massive investment of taxpayer resources has done little – if anything – to change the trajectory of student achievement levels.

Instead of working with Congress to replace the law, the Obama administration has spent the last several years offering states temporary waivers from the law’s most onerous requirements if states agree to new mandates dictated by the Secretary of Education. Congress wanted to provide relief, yet the administration said, “You can have relief, but only with strings attached.” Now states and schools are tied up in knots.

Allowing the Secretary of Education to act like the nation’s superintendent only creates confusion, uncertainty, and frustration. Another example is the ongoing debate around Common Core. What began as a voluntary effort at the state level to improve education standards has led to a broader revolt against federal overreach into our classrooms.

I support a state’s right to determine what its education standards will be. And I understand how important parental involvement at the local level is in determining how these standards are met. The Department of Education doesn’t have a role in this process. Secretary Duncan doesn’t have a role in this process – nor do any of his predecessors or successors.

Success in school should be determined by those who teach inside our classrooms; by state and local leaders who understand the challenges facing their communities; by parents who know better than anyone the needs of their children. 

Unfortunately, we have reached the point where too many decisions are made in Washington. While there are heroic efforts taking place in classrooms across the country, the federal government has more control over schools than ever before. It is making it difficult for educators to provide a quality education and countless children are paying the price. We need to do better. We have a moral obligation to do better.

That is why more than a year ago the Republican-led House passed the Student Success Act. The Student Success Act would have restored the balance between the federal government’s limited role and the responsibilities of states and local governments to deliver an excellent education to all students. The bill moved away from one-size-fits-all accountability requirements and eliminated the onerous “Highly Qualified Teacher” requirement that tells us nothing about teacher effectiveness.

The legislation also consolidated more than 70 ineffective and duplicative education programs into a Local Academic Flexible grant, giving districts maximum funding flexibility to support local efforts to increase student achievement.

The Student Success Act was the first comprehensive bill reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to be considered in Congress in more than 11 years. It was an important step to replace a flawed law, but unfortunately, it was the last step taken in the 113th Congress. Our Democrat colleagues in the Senate refused to consider the bill or any legislation addressing K-12 education, forcing schools to continue wrestling with a convoluted waiver scheme and broken law.  Fortunately, there are new allies in the Senate who share our sense of urgency.

Chairman Alexander has already begun the reauthorization process in the Senate and I look forward to partnering with him. He and I both agree that Congress needs to act because the status quo is failing our students. The stakes are too high to let this opportunity slip by. It’s time to reform the law so every child can receive the quality education they deserve.

Replacing No Child Left Behind would be a significant achievement for any Congress, but we need to do more. There are other windows of opportunity to improve education we must pursue.

As you may know, the Perkins Act provides federal funding to states to support career and technical education or CTE programs. The law helps high school and community college students access valuable training programs and hands-on experience necessary to gain an edge in the local workforce.
The best CTE  programs are known for their rigorous coursework and hands-on training in fields ranging from computer science and information technology to law enforcement and nursing.

However, like so many federal laws, this one needs to be reformed as well. We need to do a better job connecting coursework with industry demands and local labor market needs. We also need to help students as they leave high school and prepare to enroll in a college or university. Finally, we need to enhance accountability to help ensure taxpayer dollars are well spent. A number of my committee colleagues are passionate about this issue and eager to get to work improving the law.

Last but not least, we need to strengthen higher education so more Americans can turn the dream of an advanced degree into reality.

A college degree is a good investment, yet for many the cost is simply too great. Others struggle to fit the traditional college experience into an already hectic lifestyle that may include family, work, or both. What can we do to help address these challenges?

First, we have to empower students and families to make informed decisions. Students and families should have access to the best information that is easy to understand.

Second, we need to simplify and improve student aid. Let’s pull students and families out of the current maze of programs and help students receive a clearer picture of their financial aid in a more timely manner.

Third, we need to promote innovation, access, and completion. Innovation is the key to giving families more affordable choices in higher education.
We also need to strengthen programs that encourage access and help ensure every student who enrolls in an institution completes their education.

Fourth and finally, we must provide strong accountability and preserve a limited federal role. We need to ensure taxpayer dollars are well spent, but also be mindful that federal rules and reporting requirements add administrative costs on schools – costs that are typically passed on to students in the form of higher fees and tuition.


Restoring Local Control of Education: A Silver Bullet for Common Core

Two federal bills would restore education control to the states and stop Common Core for good

The massive unpopularity of Common Core education standards has served as a rallying cry for concerned parents and teachers to get involved in politics—sometimes for the first time in their lives. Nothing galvanizes grassroots activism like the realization that the government is failing our children. These efforts have been remarkably successful, with three states repealing Common Core outright last year, and many state-level bills already being introduced in the new Congress.

This has been a great and inspiring movement, yet even in states like Indiana that passed a full repeal of Common Core, parents have been frustrated by the implementation of new standards that are different in name only, and require much of the same backwards pedagogy and excessive testing as Common Core.

The reason for this is that the federal government is using funding from the president’s Race to the Top program as an incentive for states to adopt “college and career ready standards.” If states try to take an independent path on education, the Department of Education can punish them by denying them billions of dollars in grants, as well as waivers to the failed No Child Left Behind program.

To truly reform education, we need to restore local control and stop the federal government from being able to bully the states into doing its bidding. Fortunately, two recently introduced bills in the Senate propose to sever the ties between federal funding and state adoption of standards, curricula, and testing requirements.

The Local Leadership in Education Act (S. 144), introduced by Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), and the LOCAL Level Act (S. 182), introduced by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to forbid the federal government from requiring that states implement any standards as a condition of funding, grants, or waivers. This would free up the states to set their own education policy and finally loosen the federal government’s grip on what was always intended to be a local issue.

Congress is likely to hold a vote to reauthorize ESEA later this year. If the language of either of these bills were to make it into a reauthorization package, the implications would be huge. This year, we finally have the chance to stop Common Core in all fifty states by restoring local control of education, a first step in setting American students on the path to more choice, better schools, and a better future.


Obama Proposes Eliminating Tax Cut Designed to Help Families Save for College

The Obama administration will soon propose raising taxes on middle-income families struggling to save for college–at a time when college costs are higher than they’ve ever been.

For years, families have been using 529 college savings accounts. Once you invest after-tax dollars in these accounts, the money grows tax-free and you can withdraw the initial capital and the interest acquired without facing federal tax penalties if you use the money for education expenses.

But now President Obama wants to tax the money made from those investments–a move that the New York Times called “a radical change” that would “discourage savers from using the accounts because the withdrawals would be taxed as ordinary income.”

Under Obama’s proposal, if families withdrew money that had been earned from investments from these accounts for college expenses, they would now have to pay taxes on that income.

Some have already pointed out that the proposal could also reduce the amount of federal financial aid for which a student is eligible, since that newly taxable income would be recognized by the Internal Revenue Service.

The administration’s policies are creating disincentives for those who save for college while advancing policies in which federal government directs college spending, lending and handouts.

At a time when college tuition is more expensive than ever, we should be encouraging families to save – and should certainly not be penalizing families in favor of Uncle Sam stepping in to provide things like “free” community college and student loan “forgiveness,” as the administration has proposed.

Financing the administration’s push for “free” community college, announced earlier this month, appears to be the impetus for the proposal to tax family savings. The money acquired via taxing the 529 accounts earnings will be used to offset the costs of giving two years of “free” community college to everyone.

The White House’s plan for the federal government to finance free community college will encourage increased spending on the part of the community college system, will not provide any benefit to low-income students (who can already use Pell Grants to pay for tuition at community colleges), and will crowd-out the for-profit college sector. It’s also likely to result in a 6-year high school system, since high schools may feel less responsibility to fully prepare students by 12th grade, if they know a “grade 13” and “grade 14” await.

The administration’s tax proposal would also strike a similar blow to Coverdell savings accounts. Coverdell accounts allow parents to save up to $2,000 per year for a child’s K-12 educational expenses. While contributions to Coverdell accounts are made with after-tax dollars, like 529’s, interest earned on contributions accrues free from federal income taxes. President Obama’s proposal would limit educational options for elementary and secondary students.

In its quest for a federally funded “cradle-to-career” education system, the administration is crowding out the most important ingredient in educational success: families, and their ability to save for and direct their own children’s education.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Inside the world's most expensive school: $140,000 a year Swiss institute has its own yacht, concert hall and equestrian center and counts royalty among its pupils

It is widely regarded as the most expensive school in the world with fees more than double those of Eton.

The Institute Le Rosey charges £80,000-a-year in fees and has taught the children of Sir Roger Moore and Elizabeth Taylor.

It is also a firm favourite of European royalty and the super-rich.

Officials from the school travelled to London last week in a bid to attract more students to the boarding school.

The London event was one of a series of presentations across the globe with delegations heading to North America, Canada, Europe and the Middle East between now and March.

Among the facilities on offer for the elite boarders, there is a 38ft yacht as well as a 1,000 seat concert hall. There is also an equestrian centre complete with 30 horses, allowing students to learn skills such as dressage

According to the school's website, 'Le Rosey’s campus is set in 28 hectares of magnificent landscaped grounds where age-old trees frame our buildings and sports facilities. This exceptional environment offers a full range of academic, sports and arts facilities.

'In each boarding house, teachers living with their families ensure discipline, tidiness and are available to listen to any problems, big or small that Roseans may be faced with in their day to day life.

'Le Rosey is committed to ongoing investment to continue to improve accommodation, teaching, sports and leisure facilities.'

The school is located approximately 20 miles outside Geneva with 179 en-suite bedrooms housing between one and three students.

The students are taught in 53 class rooms and eight science laboratories. There are also specially designed rooms for music, orchestra, art and IT.

In addition to 13 games rooms, there are two health centres.

The school also features ten tennis courts, two 25-metre pools, three football pitches, rugby pitch, shooting range and archery.

There is also a 'computer-regulated greenhouse.

Students can also use a local 18-hole golf course and karting track.

In winter, the school moves to the Gstaad ski resort.

Headmaster Michael Gray told The Times: 'It happens with Swiss efficiency but is somehow mysterious. You go away for the holidays and come back to a different school.'

The school has a strict rule that no country can have more than 10 percent of the student population.

Former pupils have included the Shah of Iran, King Albert II of Belgium and Prince Rainier of Monaco.

Mr Gray added: 'No one goes around saying "I’m richer than you". It’s completely unsnobbish. If people put on airs and graces they wouldn’t survive. We had someone recently from a famous family, and after three days it didn’t work out and he left.'


This Graph Shows Why You May Want to Think Twice About Going to Law School

The old conventional wisdom was that law school was a ticket to steady, high-paying work.

The new conventional wisdom is that law school is more of a gamble, but if you can find a job after graduating, you’ll make buckets of cash.

It turns out neither is exactly true.

In a breakdown of law school graduates’ earning prospects Monday, Business Insider took a look at the huge divide between what graduates of top law schools make and what their colleagues from lower-ranked schools earn — and how the divide can skew reporting.

As the graph above shows, law school grads don’t make an “average” salary near $100,000. They either nab a top job paying around $160,000, or they fall into a bigger clump of grads earning between $40,000 and $60,000 — which is right around the national $46,000 average for all workers.

So is law school worth it? If you get into a top school such as Harvard, Yale or the University of Virginia, it may well be. But if you’re planning on going to an unranked school, be prepared to study for three years just to earn a salary you could have commanded without a law degree.


When civics isn't civil

By Nathan Barton

Arizona and North Dakota just passed laws requiring that candidates for high school diplomas pass a “civics” examination based on the citizenship test required of immigrants seeking to become US citizens.  These laws are being pushed in at least fifteen other states, mostly by an affiliate of the Joe Foss Institute, called the Civics Education Initiative, which has the citizenship test (or some version of it) on its website.

The purpose of the test is ” to ensure all students are taught basic civics about how our government works, and who we are as a nation…things every student must learn to be ready for active, engaged citizenship.” It is a noble purpose, if you assume that despite its failures, government is necessary or at least inevitable.

Sadly, the contents of the test do NOT match this stated purpose. Indeed, the contents are, at best, good to use for an elementary school class, a trivia game, or one of those “see how people are so stupid” games that Sean Hannity, Jay Leno, or Glen Beck offer: funny and fun, but…

The problem seems to be a misunderstanding of what constitutes a good citizen, and what should be included in the study of civics. Is the goal of civic studies – being an “active, engaged citizen” – accomplished by demonstrating that a person has a knowledge of geography, history, and trivia that can be graded using a multiple-choice question format?  Or is there more?  I think that more is required.

Because of this confusion, the test has no possibility of accomplishing the stated purpose. Rather, the test is a mishmash of questions about geography and history: important in their own right but NOT germane to being a good citizen, or understanding how government works.  Rather, the test promotes an incredibly limited and weak understanding of how to be active and engaged in civic (political and public) life.

According to the Free Dictionary, civics is “The branch of political science that deals with civic affairs and the rights and duties of citizens.”  This makes sense, even from a libertarian point of view.  If we do not know the rights which we (and every person around us!) have been given to us because we are human, we cannot understand our duty to respect those freedoms in others.  If we do not understand the difference between rights and privileges, or between exercising our rights and being parasites, we are NOT going to properly deal with civic affairs. And if we do not understand the few duties that are the lot of members of a free society, we will never perform them.  And if we do not understand how decisions are made in society, we will find it difficult to influence them or even respond effectively to them, and be prepared for the constant assault on our freedoms.

Sadly, the vast majority of questions on the test have nothing to do with civic affairs or rights and duties.  For example, knowing the name of the national anthem, or which war General Eisenhower served in, does NOT demonstrate whether a person has the knowledge to better evaluate whether or not a government office or official is honoring citizen’s rights or what duties they may have as citizens.  Knowing what ocean is off the East Coast does nothing to improve or demonstrate a person’s ability to participate in municipal or county affairs. Knowing which states border Canada or Mexico does little to prepare a person to intelligently and rationally deal with issues of border jumpers and naturalization.

The test is terribly difficult, as well: it is a test that I, my wife, and both of our sons would have received a “decent” passing score (90% or better) when we were in sixth grade, at age 12.  (Of course, we were told just a week or so ago that the AVERAGE college freshman reads at a 7th grade level; the average high school graduate reads at a 5th grade level, according to a 2012 report.  So maybe that isn’t too far off the mark, as far as difficulty.)  Except that no society in history ever depended on the experience, knowledge, and skills of twelve-year-olds to ensure that their society functioned, that rights were protected, and that wise common decisions were made. But of course, this IS the Fifty States in 2015: so the situation is even worse.  In Arizona, the students only have to have a passing score of 60%: the bar is very low indeed.

Which begs another question. Looking at this test and its questions also makes you realize just how low the standard is for people to become US citizens.  Is it any wonder that the more we become a nation of immigrants, the more our republic has deteriorated into a pitiful democracy?  And further sliding into a tyranny?

If this is the essential knowledge citizens need, then how poorly prepared are both new naturalized citizens and 18 year olds (able to vote) to do anything related to their “duties” or responsibilities, much less responsibly exercise their rights!  Indeed, none of the questions seems to be directly related to what (right or wrong) is considered to be duties of a citizen.  There is nothing I could find in the test about keeping up with current affairs, ensuring that public officials do their jobs, or petitioning government bodies or officials for redress of grievances.  And nothing about exercising religion, self-defense, or other vital liberties.

That is not even counting rather petty but annoying items, like calling that conflict of 1861-65 the “Civil War.”

If THIS is what we are formally establishing as minimum standards for determining whether or not someone is (or can be) a good citizen, we are going to continue to fail as a society and fifty sovereign states.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

New Parent Trigger School, Same Old Intimidation

A group of parents has become the first in Orange County, California to submit petitions that, once verified, will require the state to convert their children's school into a charter school. It's the second or third step in a marathon to improve an elementary school where only one-third of students rated proficient in reading and half rated proficient in math in 2013.

The parents already have faced an intimidation campaign similar to ones waged against other parents who pulled the parent trigger in the Sunshine State. Led ? of course ? by the state's teachers union and school district, the low-income and mostly Latino parents were first told their meetings to discuss employing the parent trigger had to be covered by a $1 million insurance policy. When they moved meetings to a parking lot, they were heckled by union members, The Wall Street Journal reports. The Journal continues:

In an October newsletter, the union warned teachers that `If you see signature gatherers or unusual people on your campus, contact the office, and depending on the situation, approach them and inquire why they are there or what they need.' While teachers by law can't tell parents not to sign the petition, the union said `it is okay to make statements such as: "If I were a parent at this school, I wouldn't sign the petition."'

The union also falsely claimed that signature collectors were bribing parents with free iPads. The superintendent wrote a letter to parents last month warning that `it has been reported to us that there are people in our community who have been paid by an organization to gather parent signatures for a petition that could completely change the way some of our schools are run ...'

Yes, sir. That's the point. The parent trigger works on the premise that parents deserve the opportunity to completely change their child's education situation if the current one isn't getting results. While the establishment worries about upsetting its comfortable salary structure and daily schedule, parents worry their child can't read or compute very well. That's why placing power over education in parents ? the consumers' ? hands unequivocally yields better results than government-run quasi-monopolies. More states should try it sometime.


Black teen assaults teacher in NJ class

A YEAR nine student in the US has been arrested after he allegedly slamming his teacher to the floor during class - over a mobile phone.

Police said the New Jersey high school physics teacher confiscated the student's mobile phone during class which led to the attack.

The attack, captured on another video phone, shows the teen wrapping his arms around the 62-year-old teacher and pushing him into an empty desk.

The exchange quickly escalated when the boy wrestled the man across the classroom and slammed him to the floor.

In the video, the teacher initially tries to continue talking to the class but is later heard yelling what sounds like, "Let me go".

Other students in the class move out of the way but do not intervene and finally yell for security once the teacher is on the ground.

The 16-year-old boy is heard yelling "Give me my f***in' phone bro" and then can be seen reaching down to grab something from the teacher, presumably the phone.

"What strikes me is that the teacher never even defended himself," said Lee McNulty, a retired teacher from the same school who has been vocal recently with criticism about violence and disorder in the high school. "That just shows how much teachers are afraid of losing their job."

Peter Tirri, president of the Paterson Education Association, the teachers union, said he's "disappointed" that other students didn't come to the teacher's aide.  "Maybe they were afraid," he added. "I don't know."

According to reports, students are allowed to keep their phones in class for education purposes, but teachers can take them away and return them if they're caught using them for other purposes.

"It's troubling that in our society today students think that inside a school they can put their hands on each other and teachers as well," Jonathan Hodges, a veteran school board member, told

"I went online trying to find this video and I found numerous videos of teachers being attacked by their students."

School officials confirmed that criminal assault charges have been filed against the student, who has been suspended from school.

The names of the teacher and student are not being released at this time.


Australia: Education expert supports university deregulation

A FORMER key policy adviser to Labor has blasted both sides of politics for the stalemate on higher education, urging the party to abandon its opposition to fee deregulation and “get over its sentimental attachment to the Whitlam legacy of free educatio­n’’.

Professor Peter Noonan, one of the nation’s leading education policy experts, also wants the Abbott government to back down on its holy grail of full dereg­ulation by appointing an independent body to advise on the best model to prevent excessive tertiary student fee increases and rein in the risk of taxpayer-funded bad HECS debts.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne is working to lock in Senate crossbench backing for the government’s higher-education changes, including offering a compromise which could trade away $2 billion in budget savings to win support for dereg­ul­ating the tertiary sector.

The government has won praise from Universities Australia and vice-chancellors for being prepared to move on its proposal for a 20 per cent cut to university course funding in order to allow to institutions to set their fees.

Key independent senator John Madigan revealed last week his willingness to continue negotiating on the reforms, joining a number of his colleagues in declaring the current funding level “unsustainable’’.

But the government faces fierce opposition from Labor, the Greens and other crossbenchers, including the Palmer United Party.

Professor Noonan — who was on the Rudd government’s 2008 Bradley review, which uncapped student numbers, and served as a key policy adviser to former Labor education minister John Dawkins when fees and the Higher Education Contribution Scheme was introduced in 1989 — said Labor couldn’t afford to run a scare campaign on the reforms and had to be constructive.

He told The Australian parliament could endorse “fee variability” in a two-stage process, starting with parliament agreeing to establish a body that could recommend a model with the right market constraints within months. The model could then be voted on in parliament in time to meet the start date of the government’s higher-education reforms next year.

Professor Noonan said the government’s commitment to full fee deregulation was bad economics given the market was distorted by cheap student loans that blunted price signals, and it had no accountability on how universities spend fee money.

“To call that micro-economic reform would be heroic,” said Professor Noonan, a professorial fellow at the Mitchell Institute in Melbourne. “Anyone who thinks that a system that blunts price signals can simply underpin price deregulation doesn’t understand economics.”

He said the government’s plan to make universities use some of their premium fee revenue for scholarships risked inflating fees and would be used by universities as simply a marketing tool. Student disadvantage should be addressed by the welfare system.

He also attacked Labor, saying fee variability was logical, would make the system financially sustainable and would boost quality if done right. Professor Noonan said it was also unfinished business for Labor after it began deregulating student numbers in 2010: “Labor has to get over its sentimental attachment to the Whitlam legacy of free education.”

He warned that if Senate negotiations allowed full fee deregulation, any Labor government wouldn’t be able to afford to wind it back and the party therefore needed to be constructive to ensure the market design was right.

“There is no doubt there are risks for Labor in this and it would be seen as a backdown … but trying to pick up the pieces after it has happened will be a bigger problem,” he warned. “Labor can’t afford to run some scare campaign. They need to be constructive.”

Professor Noonan dismissed proposals for a full review of fee deregulation, saying there had been enough reviews, going back decades. He warned that if the process dragged on the opportunity for good policymaking could be lost in the noise of the next election.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Illinois' Wrong Turn on Common Core

Earlier this week, Rev. James Meeks announced on on WLS 890 AM that he had been chosen by Governor Bruce Rauner to be the new chairman of the State Board of Education. During the interview Tuesday morning, Rev. Meeks’ said, “We have to have a Common Core Curriculum in the state of Illinois.”

That statement set off alarm bells within me.

Although Meeks, a Democrat, headed the Senate Education Committee while in the state senate, and bucked his party by advocating for vouchers and charter schools — a  noble and outstanding thing to do — Meek’s unconditional support for Common Core is unacceptable.

Having been chosen by Governor Rauner to reform education, how can he say the Common Core Curriculum is really the pathway to education reform? Are Meeks and Rauner so out-of-touch that they are unaware Illinois started to adopt the Common Core standards in 2010 and fully implemented them last school year?

Starting this spring, the PARCC tests linked to Common Core standards will be used in school districts across the state. The tests will be given to students in grades three to eight, but only partially rolled out in high school because the state board of education had its budget request for assessments cut by $10 million. The ACT exam has been a state mandated assessment for high school juniors in recent years and doubles as a college entrance exam.

Being out-of-touch might be excused for the time being, but it is evident that both Governor Rauner and Rev. James Meeks need to be educated on what Common Core is all about, which will not be an easy task. Why is this so?  The Illinois Education (IEA), as a progressive organization, fully supports Common Core. It also has tremendous clout in getting what it want as a Democrat-aligned organization.

As shared by Joy Pullman, research fellow for the Heartland Institute, in her recent booklet, “Common Core:  A Bad Choice for America”:

Some advocates of Common Core insist it is not a curriculum and that it will promulgate an academic curriculum based on great works of Western civilization and the American republic.  But the standards are being used to write the tables of contents for all the textbooks, used in K-12 math and English classes.  This may not technically constitute a curriculum, but it certainly defines what children will be taught, especially when they and their teachers will be judged by performance on national tests aligned with these standards.

Initiatives related to Common Core include teacher evaluations, since many states tie teacher ratings to student performance on tests; school choice, because many school choice states require participating private schools to administer state tests; nearly all learning materials, because these must now correspond to Common Core; and college entrance exams including the SAT and ACT.

Following is shocking information about a teacher, Dr. David Pook, who helped write the controversial Common Core State Standards.

Dr. David Pook is a professor at Granite State College in Manchester, New Hampshire. He’s also the chair of the History Department and one of the authors of the Common Core standards.  Pook’s role is documented at the pro-Common Core website,, which confirms that he worked closely with Susan Pimentel and the Council of Chief State Officers in drafting the Core Standards for English Language Arts, and currently has several projects underway with Student Achievement Partners on work aligned with the CCSS.

As a guest at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, Dr Pook opened up on his reasons for participating in the creation of the Common Core standards.  In the video posted by Campus Reform, the audience can be heard gasping and laughing, stunned and revolted by this comment by Dr. Pook’s:

The reason why I helped write the standards and the reason why I am here today is that as a white male in society I am given a lot of privilege that I didn’t earn.

Dr. Pook went on to say that all kids deserve an “equal opportunity to learn how to read,” the same advantages he had.  Ironically, as Campus Reform notes, the Derryfield School where Pook works does not use the Common Core State Standards and has a student body that is 91 percent white.

Below are some basic facts about Common Core for Governor Rauner and Rev. Meeks to consider, both having endorsed the disaster that is Common Core:

Common Core gives the federal government the power to collectextensive data from students including Social Security numbers, records of school attendance, supposed learning disabilities, religious affiliation, disciplinary records and parent’s income information.

 Regarding the claim that the Common Core standards were developed by top leaders in states, this is false.  The standards are owned and copyrighted by two private trade associations in Washington, D.C. and were drafted by essentially five people. The standards were then submitted to a “validation” process that was little more than a rubber stamp. The only two content experts on the Validation Committee, Dr. Sandra Stotsky and Dr. James Milgram, were so disgusted by the charade and by the deficiencies of the resulting standards that they refused to sign off on Common Core.

The Common Core standards have never been tested or piloted anywhere, and indeed are acknowledged to be considerably less rigorous than many of the state standards they replaced. Kids are being used as human Guinea pigs on untested standards, all in the hope that Common Core is the magic bullet to solve our education problems.

In English language arts, Common Core replaces content knowledge with what Dr. Stotsky labels “empty skill sets” that will not prepare students for authentic college coursework. The standards also diminish the study of classic literature in favor of nonfiction “informational text” of the type students may find in their entry-level jobs (after all, Common Core consists more of workforce-development training than genuine education). This theory – that exposure to technical manuals rather than great stories will make students better readers, and ultimately better employees – is not only preposterous on its face, but refuted by all available research.

The Common Core math standards are even less likely to achieve the lofty results touted by the Chamber authors. One of the lead authors of the math standards admits that they are not designed to prepare students for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) studies in college. How could they, when they include no trigonometry or calculus and stop with an incomplete Algebra II course? And as Dr. Milgram of Stanford University points out, Common Core’s mandated “reform math” techniques stand in stark contrast to the traditional techniques employed by the highest-achieving countries.

The Gates Foundation gave over $7 million, much of which has gone to promote Gates’s pet education project – the Common Core national standard

The truth about Common Core is obvious to all who are willing to take the time to evaluate the untested educational program. 

Common Core is very racist and very political.  As stated by Dr. Pook early on this this article, his aim was to balance the scales because he, and many others, were benefiting from some mythical ‘white privilege‘ that was not earned.

As Jason Dewitt of Top Right News notes:

"Common Core is not only about irrational and bizarre math problems as some might think. Make no mistake, this program is about indoctrinating our children into a leftist way of thinking which includes destructive ideas such as the embracing of Islam and normalizing sexual promiscuity.

Is it any wonder that states are rejecting and suing the federal government over Common Core?  45 states signed on to Common Core education standards in 2010, sight unseen.  States, however, are starting to rebel and are taking action. As of September, 2014, Oklahoma and Indiana have dropped Common Core, with Oklahoma having its No Child Left Behind waiver revoked in retaliation.

South Carolina and Missouri have taken strong steps toward replacing Common Core, while North Carolina seems to have found a compromise in which they’d merely tweak the standards. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has been doing everything in his power to drop the standards, though so far to no avail. He’s currently embroiled in a lawsuit against the US Department of Education. Check here for a roundup of other state action against Common Core.

Michelle Malkin, Glenn Beck and many others have written extensively about the abject disaster that is Common Core, and as Americans have been exposed to examples of its instruction, and motivations of its backers, they have increasingly rejected it.

U.S. schools, and many in Illinois, do need to improve. Consider this 1912 eighth grade exam: Could you make it to high school in 1912?

Education has been dumbed down since 1912, but is Common Core the answer?  On the contrary, it seems like a bad choice for America – and for Illinois.


Universities are no place for the anti-terror thought police

The UK Counter Terrorism and Security Bill, currently making its way through parliament, will impose a duty upon universities to prevent people from being radicalised and drawn into extremism, religious fundamentalism or terrorism. The British government clearly thinks it is incumbent on academics to police the behaviour of students, monitor their whereabouts and report anything suspicious to the police.

The proposed legislation builds upon the Prevent strategy, which was introduced by the Labour government in the mid-2000s as an attempt to eradicate violent extremism. As a result of Prevent, universities have, over the past 10 years, introduced a plethora of rules to regulate student societies and invitations to external speakers. If passed, the new demands will go further in banning ‘radical’ speakers from campus. Universities and students’ unions will be expected to enforce far stricter procedures for checking the profiles of guest speakers. Anyone with strongly held religious or political views will be banned outright. For others, the time and energy needed to comply with such bureaucratic checking mechanisms will surely act as a deterrent. In addition, the latest proposals further compel universities to identify individual students they consider vulnerable to radicalisation and to report them to a local authority panel where they will then be monitored closely by the police and subjected to ‘deradicalisation’ counselling.

Such directives are proving controversial. Universities and students’ unions already ban speakers, and commentators have pointed out that the new legislation will further restrict academic freedom. The imperative to monitor and report individual students has received less attention but is also highly problematic. There is no consensus around what a student ‘vulnerable to radicalisation’ looks like and even less agreement as to how they can be spotted at the back of a lecture theatre. How lecturers are expected to distinguish between the intellectual experimentation many young people go through while at university and their becoming radicalised is anyone’s guess. Worse than just providing moral dilemmas, the expectation that academics should effectively spy on their students will inevitably erode the trust that is essential for teaching and learning to take place.

Previous examples show how such legislation will play out in practice. In May 2008, Hicham Yezza, an administrator at the University of Nottingham, and PhD student Rizwaan Sabir were arrested under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act on suspicion of the ‘instigation, preparation and commission of acts of terrorism’. The arrests were triggered by the presence on Yezza’s office computer of a document Sabir was using in his doctoral research and had sent to Yezza to print. The document, described by the police as an ‘al-Qaeda training manual’, was freely available on the internet and for sale on Amazon. Yezza was held in custody for six days before being released without charge, only to be immediately re-arrested on immigration charges, detained for a further 27 days under threat of deportation and finally sentenced to nine months in prison for not having a correct visa. Sabir received compensation from the police for false imprisonment. Not only did the entirely groundless charges devastate the lives of the individuals involved; the case also served to chill academic freedom and create a climate of mistrust within universities.

More generally, we can see the impact over the past couple of years of universities playing a greater role in enforcing immigration controls through monitoring the whereabouts of international students in the UK on study visas. Universities are expected to notify the UK Border Agency if such students do not turn up to start their course or are absent without permission. Universities must keep records of international students’ contact details and a copy of their biometric residence permit, and, perhaps most significantly, must formally monitor attendance. Institutions which do not fully comply have their right to sponsor international students withdrawn and lose a valuable source of revenue.

In singling out international students, such demands risk contravening institutional equality and diversity policies. The preferred solution is often to monitor the attendance of every student to avoid accusations of unequal treatment. This imposes additional, time-consuming procedures upon university staff and, worse, it undermines the long-held assumption that students are adults, in charge of their own learning and free to determine for themselves the extent of their participation.

There are of course cases of British university students, or recent graduates, being implicated in high-profile terrorism offences. But given that almost half of all school leavers now take up a place at university, this is hardly a surprising correlation. At issue is whether the damage to higher education and academic freedom that will undoubtedly result from the proposed legislation is likely to be justified by a drop in the number of students becoming radicalised.

Anyone who has followed spiked’s Down with Campus Censorship! campaign will know all too well that today’s universities are hardly bastions of free speech. Every week seems to throw up another instance of a speaker being no-platformed, or a song, newspaper or student society being banned. Such censorship has a long and ignoble history and, although panics about student radicalisation are often overblown, it is clear that restricting free speech on campus has done little to prevent the instances of radicalisation that do occur.

Current restrictions on free speech are largely driven by a desire to avoid offence and dissent. Today’s universities operate under a self-imposed consensus where all views are afforded equal respect, except for those considered too beyond-the-pale to be aired at all. This simultaneously removes dangerous ideas from public discussion and prevents them from being challenged, while at the very same time respecting backward religious practices such as gender segregation as just an alternative, equally valid, perspective. This practice of banning but not condemning allows Islamic extremism, where it exists, to go unchallenged. What universities really need is an end to all restrictions on debate and the creation of an intellectual climate that encourages rigorous criticism. They need to be places where the nihilism of terrorism is trumped by both a celebration of free speech and the passing of critical judgement.


Charlie Hebdo – not safe for Bristol students

The flagrant disregard Britain’s students’ unions show towards the principles of free speech and democracy is now wearyingly predictable – like the incessant death rattle of a terminally flatulent dog.

So it was hardly surprising that the University of Bristol Students’ Union (UBU) recently conceded that Charlie Hebdo, even before the attack carried out on its offices in Paris earlier this month, would have been banned from sale in UBU outlets. The reason? Charlie Hebdo would violate UBU’s Safe Space policies.

In case you’ve never heard of Safe Space policies, they are a declaration of our universal right to be free from judgement and offence. They are now enforced by sanctimonious students’ unions across Britain and are written vaguely enough to be applicable to pretty much anything that troubles the union high-command. This is handy in a culture where our definition of what constitutes acceptable speech falls prey to constant revision.

Now, the question as to whether UBU would tolerate the sale of Charlie Hebdo on campus is a hypothetical one. Charlie Hebdo has never been sold on Bristol’s campus, purely because there was no demand for it. But Bradbrook’s admission reflected the problem afflicting students’ unions today – that free expression has been usurped by the obsession with censoring anything that might damage the apparently delicate emotions of minority groups.

It’s wrong for the Safe Space policy pre-emptively to censor any magazine just because it has the potential to upset certain students. The right to judge, criticise and even mock other people’s beliefs is the foundation of an enlightened, liberal society. If students’ unions infringe on that right, even in the interests of empathy, it is not only sanctimonious – it’s also immoral.

Free speech must be absolute if it is to have any meaning. It can’t just apply to modes of speech you deem tolerable. No Platform and Safe Space policies are immensely patronising and stifle the kind of open, boisterous debate many of us went to university for in the first place. It’s time UBU looked past its braindead moralising and understood this.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

A dream about credentialism

Have you ever dreamed that you're suddenly one class, credit, final exam, or semester short of graduation?  Many people, myself included, have this recurring nightmare.  There a whole reddit on it.  A typical case:

    "I've had this kind of dream very frequently over the past several years. Even though I graduated college 10 years ago, I dream that I'm back in college but not the one I went to (oftentimes several credits short of graduating) and begrudgingly have to do one more year or semester, and feel very disappointed. In my dream I'm back in school at my current age, with kids who are at least 10 years younger and I feel uncomfortable.

In contrast, I've never ever heard of someone dreaming about suddenly forgetting whatever job skills they learned in school."

How should we interpret these stylized facts about the dream world?  Most plausibly: Belief in the sheepskin effect is extremely deeply rooted.  When you're stuck in this nightmare, you're often confused by the discovery that you failed to cross the educational finish law.  But the idea that failing to cross the educational finish line has dire consequences doesn't confuse you at all.  Whether awake or asleep, you take the power of the sheepskin effect for granted (unless, like many labor economists, you're struggling to talk yourself out of the obvious).

Furthermore, people also have a deeply rooted belief that crossing educational finish lines has a big effect on employability but little effect on job skills.  The nightmare isn't that you suddenly can't do your job.  The nightmare is that you're the same person you were yesterday, but society throws you into limbo because your papers aren't in order.

Dream evidence is obviously easy to dismiss.  Human capital purists may even say I'm desperately grasping at straws.  But these reactions strike me as dogmatic.  At minimum, sheepskin nightmares highlight the fact that educated humans, no matter how competent, have pronounced anxiety about their official educational status.  Why would they have this anxiety if they firmly believe that competence, not credentials, rule the social world?


Dad told off for packing ‘unhealthy’ lunch

A DAD was taken aback after getting a note from his daughter’s teacher complaining he had packed her a lunch that was too unhealthy and demanding he promise to do a better job of it the next day.

Justin Puckett, a family doctor from Missouri, posted the letter on Facebook.

In the note his daughter’s substitute teacher at Kirksville Primary School in Missouri listed the unhealthy foods in his daughter Alia’s lunch. They included: four chocolate bars, a bag of marshmallows, crackers and a pickle.

It ended: “Please see that she packs a proper lunch tomorrow”. It was followed by a request for a parental signature that Dr Puckett, offended by the letter’s officious tone, declined to do.

The father-of-four told US ABC 3: “I have the ultimate responsibility to raise my children and I take that role very, very seriously and so maybe I took it bit more personally that there was some offence that maybe I wasn’t doing a good job in that duty, something that is my number one job.”

Dr Puckett said the school later called to apologise. The school also released a statement saying “we had an individual take it upon themselves to send a note home to parents” and promising “this will not happen again”.


Since when has knowing what lesbians do been a British value?

The task of education is to impart knowledge – especially of that which might develop literacy and numeracy, for without proficiency in words and numbers one may be muted from community and computed for a lifetime of ignorance, incomprehension and poverty. And when the eyes of the child are turned to the light in order that they might see for themselves and understand their perceptions of the world, they will come to know the value of moral, spiritual and physical formation, for what is the mind if it cannot grasp transcendence? What is intelligence if it is wilfully bound by corporeal indolence? And what is wisdom if it is not the inculcation of virtue and all the principles of goodness?

A good school will be holistic in its curriculum: it’s ethos will be values-based; its culture will be ordered, disciplined and respectful; and its teachers will represent the reification of all that is noble, true, right, lovely, pure and admirable; of all that is praiseworthy and excellent. Within a life-enhancing framework of intellectual rigour, creative vision, practical dexterity and pastoral oversight, the child will flourish in academic attainment, physical prowess and spiritual intelligence.

Unless, that is, the state schools’ inspectorate decides to focus on other matters.

It is reported that two schools – two Christian schools – have been slated by Ofsted because their pupils were ignorant of matters concerning ethnic identity and exotic sexual behaviour. They might have known that some people are born black and some are born brown, but one poor boy, when quizzed by the inspectors, couldn’t explain what a Muslim was beyond an association with terrorism. What theological ignorance. What bigotry of belief. What inexcusable doctrinal disregard and social insensitivity. The lead inspector thereby concluded: “Leaders are failing to prepare students for life in modern Britain. Some students hold discriminatory views of other people who have different faiths, values or beliefs from themselves.” And so the Durham Free School – which was lauded by the Education Secretary only two years ago – must close.

And then there is the school where 10-year-old pupils were asked what lesbians did. The answers the children gave are not reported, but clearly their clitorical ignorance and masturbatory innocence failed to satisfy the perverted priorities of the inspectors. And so the Grindon Hall Christian School – which rides high in educational league tables and delivers the top school-leaving exam results in the area – has been placed in ‘special measures’.

Ever since the ‘Trojan Horse’ revelation in Birmingham, where a certain illiberal interpretation of Islamic sharia was found to constitute the ethos and pervade the culture of a number of Muslim schools, the Department for Education has decreed that all state schools must promote ‘British values’, which they define in such terms as tolerance, fairness, respect for other faiths, adherence to the rule of law and appreciation of the virtues of democracy. It isn’t clear what is peculiarly British about such values, or if, indeed, they are values at all beyond those which are common to enlightened and civilised humanity.

But there is nothing essentially wrong with requiring schools to teach such values: it must surely be a task of education to instil a sense of national identity, inculcate patriotism and propagate knowledge of associational traditions and cultural mores in the perspective of our island history.

But since when has knowing what lesbians do been a British value? Since when has knowing what a Muslim believes been a British value? If ignorance of difference or the intolerance of diversity is to trump the measure of academic attainment, how might we rate those Ofsted inspectors who are ignorant of the doctrinal tenets of Christianity or intolerant of a school’s historic freedom to manifest its faith ethos? While there may indeed have been some examples of inadequate teaching or weaknesses in aspects of structure, what teacher doesn’t have a bad-hair day? What institution is beyond measures for improvement?

Perhaps, given evidence of leadership deficiencies and pedagogical shortcomings, you might incline toward the Ofsted view that such schools are manifestly inadequate and ought to close. This is taxpayers’ money after all. And you might think this whole ‘victimised Christian’ wailing is nothing but a camouflage for academic ineptitude and an evasion of accountability. Except that in a draft report the inspectors disclosed their own bigotry: “The Christian ethos of the school permeates much of the school’s provision,” they observed. “This has restricted the development of a broad and balanced approach to the curriculum,” they judged. That last sentence, which didn’t make its way into the final report, testifies to a concerning anti-Christian agenda.

In what sense are traditional British values not Christian? What traditional Christian values are not peculiarly British? If the moral orthodoxy of our Christian expression has been irrevocably reduced to an undiscerning mush of multicultural incoherence, the acceptance of multifaith syncretism and the relativist tolerance of every human behaviour, then our British values have ceased to be recognisably British. Indeed, they have ceased to be values of any virtue at all.


Friday, January 23, 2015

Journalism school dean: The First Amendment ends at insulting Mohammed

Unusual, not because it’s rare to see an American journalist bowing to Islamic sensibilities on depictions of Mohammed but because typically they don’t go so far as to demand legal limits on their own profession. When the New York Times refuses to run a cartoon goofing on Islam, they don’t want the reason to be government censorship. They prefer to be censored by more sympathetic agents, like violent Muslim radicals.

To be precise here, though, DeWayne Hickham, the dean of Morgan State’s J-school, isn’t demanding a “Mohammed exception” to the First Amendment. He’s demanding an exception for all speech that would make the audience so angry that they might react violently — exactly the sort of slippery slope on censorship that people like you and me worry about when images of Mohammed are suppressed. Actual line from this op-ed, regarding the new cover of Charlie Hebdo: “The once little-known French satirical news weekly crossed the line that separates free speech from toxic talk.”

    "The most current issue of Charlie Hebdo again has Mohammed on its cover. This time, he appears crying under a headline that reads: “All is forgiven.” Well, apparently not. Ten people have been killed during protests in Niger, a former French colony. Other anti-French riots have erupted from North Africa to Asia. In reaction to all of this, Pope Francis has said of the magazine, “You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”…

    In 1919, the Supreme Court ruled speech that presents a “clear and present danger” is not protected by the First Amendment. Crying “fire” in a quiet, uninhabited place is one thing, the court said. But “the most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”

    Twenty-two years later, the Supreme Court ruled that forms of expression that “inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace” are fighting words that are not protected by the First Amendment.

    If Charlie Hebdo’s irreverent portrayal of Mohammed before the Jan. 7 attack wasn’t thought to constitute fighting words, or a clear and present danger, there should be no doubt now that the newspaper’s continued mocking of the Islamic prophet incites violence. And it pushes Charlie Hebdo’s free speech claim beyond the limits of the endurable."

Amazingly for a J-school prof, none of that is right. The Supreme Court hasn’t used the “clear and present danger” test for First Amendment cases in decades. The test now for inflammatory speech is the Brandenburg test, a strciter standard that allows the state to criminalize incitement only in narrow circumstances — when the speaker intends to incite violence and violence is likely to quickly result. Charlie Hebdo’s Mohammed cartoons may have met the “likely” prong of that test but they sure didn’t meet the “intent” part. The “fighting words” doctrine is still good law but it too has been gradually narrowed over time. Today, for the moment, it’s limited to “direct personal insults” between people who are face to face. That’s the key difference between publishing an offensive cartoon and, to borrow the Pope’s recent analogy, stepping up to a man and insulting his mother. From the Supreme Court’s perspective, those situations are apples and oranges.

I appreciate Wickham’s candor in trying to expand “fighting words” to allow censorship of all kinds of offensive speech, though; I’ve worried about that myself, as longtime HA readers know. If speech can be criminalized because it angers a man to the point where he wants to attack you, why should we limit it to speech said in his presence? “Fighting words” is a potential trojan horse for smuggling all sorts of exceptions for “hate” into the First Amendment. I’m surprised more lefties aren’t as forthright as this guy is in making the case for it.

Someone should poll the media on whether they agree with Wickham’s “heckler’s veto” assumption that it’s Charlie Hebdo’s staff, rather than, say, the jihadis like Al Qaeda who put a bounty on them and ended up murdering them, that’s guilty of “incitement.” I’d be curious to see the numbers


UK: Ofsted director forced into apology on Rotherham abuse failings

An Ofsted director has been forced to say sorry to Rotherham child sexual exploitation victims for the service’s failings.

Debbie Jones, Ofsted director with responsibility for inspecting children’s services, only made the apology after being repeatedly pressed to do so by MPs.

Speaking to the Communities and Local Government Committee this afternoon, Ms Jones initially refused to issue a direct apology for its failures to highlight the scandal during repeated inspections in Rotherham.

She said Ofsted had previously admitted the inspection regime had not been good enough, but that improvements have been made.

However, she was asked repeatedly by Clive Betts, committee chairman and Labour MP for Sheffield South East, to give a ‘straight-forward answer’ and issue an apology.

She eventually said: “We in Ofsted along with everybody else feel that what we have done is not good enough.

“Of course we are sorry. We are sorry along with everybody else that has been in front of this committee.

“The frameworks we had at the time did not focus on child sexual exploitation, not to the degree they do now.

“At the time, child sexual exploitation did not have the focus, wrongly, that it does now.”

The independent Jay report published in August revealed at least 1,400 children in Rotherham were abused between 1997 and 2013.

It said Ofsted inspections of Rotherham’s child protection services took place in 2003, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

The 2009 report resulted in Rotherham Council being given a notice improve children’s services. The notice was removed in January 2011.

Ms Jones said Ofsted’s 2014 inspection of Rotherham’s children’s services, which gave an ‘inadequate’ rating proved the inspection regime had improved.

She said: “I hope the people of Rotherham were reassured by what we reported very robustly recently.

“Had we inspected on the current framework before, the likelihood is we would have a different outcome. We have raised the bar.”

However, Ms Jones said she could not guarantee future grooming scandals similar to Rotherham will not occur.

She said: “It would be wrong of me to say there won’t be another Rotherham. I couldn’t possibly say that. I hope the systems that have been put in place will ensure the spotlight is there.

“However, it is wrong to say it could never happen.”


'Degrees don't guarantee jobs – and nor should they'

Last Sunday's Observer ran a piece that asked what higher education could, and should, do to adapt to the modern world. Its assertion that perhaps work experience could be provided as part of a degree course got me thinking, yet again, about the purpose of university.

I refer you to an article I wrote this time last year, having bumped into a piece by Evelyn Waugh in my then-university library. In the piece, entitled 'Was Oxford Worth While?', Waugh concludes that it wasn't, and graduates today might take the same view of their university experience if they have found themselves unemployed after graduation.

The Observer doesn't ask whether university is worthwhile but rather probes the idea that universities should become at one with the modern world, with particular reference to placement years and careers matching.

The idea that universities should provide better careers services is not unknown, but it begs the question of what university is actually for. Déjà vu, much?

The Observer suggests that universities should set students up better for the real world, and it's hard to contest that. But that isn't their primary role. They are not an academic 'mum and dad', ready to catch every student when they can't decide what to do next.

Part of growing up includes learning to do things for yourself. This invariably means preparing yourself for work. It's not rocket science: brush your hair, learn how to make a phone call and make sure your nails are clean. It's pretty basic.

My university education didn't explicitly help me with the only parts of a job specification that are actually essential: being a nice, sensible person who can get up every morning five days a week and come into an office.

It gave me the opportunity to do work experience in the holidays so that I *could* get a job, but I did the rest myself. Because that's what growing up is all about.

People are very quick to blame the establishment, whatever kind it is, for things that they have failed to do themselves. Of late, university education has been consistently blamed for not producing work ready graduates, and there is an element of blame that might fall on colleges.

Ultimately, if you graduate from university with no plans, ideas or ambitions then that's not the fault of your tutors. They are not your parents, and your fees – however much they cost – can only fund your indecision for so long.

Most of my peers that complain about not knowing what they want to do next have never been to the careers office to ask for help.

We live in a continually appalled, offended and precious culture of blame: education suffers as a result of it, as does everything else. Blame is put on everything and anything except ourselves, and this permeates the arena of work ready graduates.

Soft skills are important, but cannot be learnt from a textbook. Most of them fall under the rarely-used-these-days category of common sense. Turning up to a job interview looking presentable and writing a thank-you note after isn't anything but good manners.

If this crisis of ill-preparation actually exists, then how much of it down to the university? Higher education is not a spoon feeding exercise in how to get through the day, it is supposed to line the corridors of potential study, and allows three or so years for you to grow up socially.

This bit you have to do yourself, and getting ready for work is part of that.

It is lazy to suggest that universities must be the sole provider of life preparation for students, whatever the cost. An academic degree is what you get from university, on paper – the question of whether your academic degree is worth the paper it's written on is another debate. The rest, the socialising and ability to turn up on time, is down to you.

People complain that my generation isn't resilient enough, that those younger than me need lessons in 'character' to learn some grit. Such nonsense. The only way to become more resilient is to live, unfettered and without having your yogurt fed to you on a spoon.

To all those that have applied to university this week: good luck. Once you're in, you can make your own.