Thursday, July 24, 2014

Common Core Set to be a Defining Issue for 2016

In this age of political polarization, it’s increasingly rare to find an issue that can bridge party lines and unite people of all ideological stripes.

When such an issue does come along, it sets the stage for the kind of meaningful political change that would otherwise, in different times, be impossible. Common Core education standards have emerged from the shadows of obscurity and have become such an issue.

Common Core standards originated in the same way that all government regulations come about: out of fear. For decades we have been told that our children are lagging behind those in other countries, that they cannot compete globally, and that their very futures are in danger unless government steps in and fixes the broken school system.

Parents were understandably rattled by this kind of fear-mongering, and the resulting response has led to such conclusively failed programs as Head Start and No Child Left Behind. When these programs failed to yield the promised results, Common Core was proffered as a solution. Desperation and a feeling of helplessness led many parents to agree – at least until they saw the actual results.

Once the education standards began actually affecting local schools, realization began to set in, followed by dismay, and then anger.

The kinds of curricula resulting from Common Core’s one-size-fits-all mandates were counterintuitive, confusing, and upsetting to children. Recognition of these problems led moderate Republicans – such as Govs. Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal – who initially agreed with the aim of the standards to recant their support.

Even progressives, who tend to support the federal government’s involvement in education, began to recoil as they saw the distress caused to their children. Comedian Louis C.K. made headlines when he used his Twitter feed to denounce the standards for making his kids cry.

Common Core has affected not just parents and students. Teachers are increasingly discovering that Common Core negatively impacts their ability to do their jobs. As a result, several of the nation’s largest teacher’s unions have now come out against the standards, calling their implementation “completely botched.” The American Federation of Teachers is also proposing a resolution to reject Common Core standards altogether.

In the face of widespread opposition, even Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has walked back his support of the program.

“I’m just a big proponent of high standards,” he said, admitting that he would not object to states withdrawing from Common Core. “Whether they’re common or not is kind of secondary.”

It has even been pointed out that the tests aligned with Common Core standards are so difficult that schools have starting curving the results to such a degree that random guessing will result in a passing grade, defeating the whole point of stricter standards.

There’s nothing like an abject policy failure that harms children to unite Americans.

As such, the role of the federal government in education policy is certain to be a key issue in upcoming elections, both in November of this year, and especially in the presidential election in 2016. Are we going to commit to a top-down, out of touch bureaucracy to manage the lives of our children, or are we going to give parents the right to decide what is best, whether it be public, private, charter, or home schools?

Does it really, as Hillary Clinton has written, “take a village” to raise our children, or does it just take individual empowerment and freedom of choice?

It’s a national conversation we need to have, which is why FreedomWorks has partnered with Glenn Beck to present “We Will Not Conform,” a strategy session to educate parents and activists on how to defeat Common Core standards, to be held in Dallas, Texas, and broadcast in theaters nationwide on July 22 and July 29.

The future of Common Core has broad implications for the direction of American education. Do we let parents decide, or does government know better? The answer may very well determine the next president of the United States.


Britain's toughest school-run: Mother takes four-hour journey involving 12 buses to get her daughter to school after being turned down for place at primary 10 minutes away

For many mothers, the school run can be one of the most stressful parts of their day.

Spare a thought then for Melissa Stowe, who faces a four-hour journey involving 12 buses to get her daughter Olivia to and from school after the little girl was turned down by primary ten minutes from their home.

When the four-year-old starts school in September, Miss Stowe, 22, will have to take three buses from their home in Methley, Leeds, West Yorkshire to drop her off in Allerton Bywater, and three buses back.

Miss Stowe will then have to repeat the exhausting two-hour round trip - along with eight-month-old baby Daisy and her pram - when she collects Olivia at the end of the day.

Miss Stowe had applied to get Olivia into the reception class at her nearest school in Methley, which is just 10 minutes walk from the family’s home.

However, the school, which has been rated 'outstanding' by Ofsted is massively oversubscribed and she lost an appeal.

Olivia cannot get in, even though she is already at the nursery there.

Olivia has now been placed on the waiting list, and at an appeal hearing Miss Stowe was told there is nothing she can do but wait for a place, if one becomes available.

The school where Olivia has been offered a place is 4.7 miles away by road, but school places are allocated 'as the crow flies' - with that distance being 1.78 miles away.

Neither Miss Stowe, nor her partner James Sheard, 24, drive.

Miss Stowe also cares for her disabled mother, which makes her situation even more difficult.

'We did two test runs of the journey and Olivia was completely exhausted,' Miss Stowe said.

'We will be setting off just after my partner leaves for work every morning, but he will actually get home before us. It’s crazy.'

The full-time mother says she will have to set off at 6.40am for the 6.50am bus to be able to get Olivia to school for 8.40am - meaning in total she will spend almost eight hours a day on buses.

'We are having to rely on three buses,' she said.

'Those buses run at half-hourly intervals so if one of those buses doesn’t turn up we are going to be late.

'I feel so sorry for Olivia having to make that journey. I took her on the bus for a couple of taster sessions and she was so tired at the end of it'

'The schools are now talking about fining for lateness so that is another worry. I am so stressed about it.'

Because the crow flying distance is relatively low the family do not even qualify for any help with bus fares - it will cost them £35 a week.

'James is looking into passing his test and if he did he would have the possibility of a work’s van, but he still wouldn’t be able to take us because he sets off at different times to us,' said Miss Stowe.

Miss Stowe said she will have to wake at about 5.30am to get ready and feed Daisy before waking up Olivia at 6am to get ready for school, and would not get home until after 5pm each evening.

She said: 'When I went for the appeal I took Daisy with me for them to see how difficult it would be for me but they did not seem to consider it would be a problem.

'There was even a suggestion for me to walk across a canal towpath but that journey would be no good with children in tow and in dark, damp mornings and evenings.'

There are other schools that are closer to Miss Stowe but, because they are also oversubscribed she has been placed on their waiting lists, and because she is further away from those, she is further down the lists.

Miss Stowe is the latest among a string of parents who have failed to be allocated slots in their nearest or chosen schools for the new school year starting this September.

While education bosses insist every child in Leeds does have an allocated school place, they admit they are 'acutely aware of the pressure' on spaces.

Paul Brennan, Leeds City Council’s deputy director of children’s services, said: 'We are aware that a number of parents in Methley have expressed concerns about securing places at local schools and we are working hard to address this.

'This year has seen us managing an unusually high demand for places in the area which we anticipate will fall next year.

'We will continue to talk to local schools about possible expansion and will do all we can to support parents to get places in a good school as close as possible to their home.

'National legislation, which limits early years class sizes to no more than 30 pupils, also means that school place appeals can only be granted under exceptional circumstances.'

He stressed the importance of parents completing their applications on time as this is 'vital' in helping secure places at preferred schools.

Miss Stowe also expressed concern that a major new 180-house development planned for Methley will add additional strain to school places in the area.

However, the council said no decision has yet been made regarding planning permission for the new scheme and discussions are ongoing with the developers to ensure full community contributions from the developer regarding education provision are secured.

Leeds faces a potential shortfall of more than 4,000 primary school places within three years.


Australian kids on top of the world at International Olympiad in Informatics

Mostly Han Chinese, I'm guessing, though Ishraq Huda sounds Indian.  About 5% of the Australian population is Han and they tend to top everything educational

Our team brings home two Gold and two Silver medals with Australia's 1st perfect score and 1st and 5th place in the world for computer programming.‏

Australia’s four-member secondary school student team achieved our best ever result at the 2014 International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) held in Taipei, Chinese Taipei, from 13 to 20 July. The top performer in the Australian team was 16-year-old Ishraq Huda, who was one of only three in the world to attain a perfect score, Australia’s first IOI perfect score and best individual ranking result.

Ishraq shared first place with students from China and the United States. Ishraq won a bronze medal in 2013 on his first attempt.

First-time team member, Oliver Fisher, solved 5 out of 6 questions perfectly and also won Gold. Oliver ranked 5th which made Australia the only country in the world to have two students in the top five.

Competing against more than 311 contestants from over 82 countries, the 2014 Australian team brings home 2 gold and 2 silver medals, compared to 3 Silver and 1 Bronze last year.

Countries represented in the top ten include Australia, China, United States, Russian Federation and Bulgaria. This is Australia’s highest ranking since Australia commenced participating in 1999.

Informatics is the science of computer programming and information processing, requiring mathematics skills and creative solving. Hosted by a different country each year, the IOI is part of the UNESCO-sanctioned International Science and Mathematics Olympiads, which are annual worldwide competitions for exceptionally talented secondary school students and represent the pinnacle of achievement in each discipline.  It is the most recently established and now the second largest of the Olympiads.

 The cut-off scores for a Gold medal was 449 and Silver was 323 marks.

The not-for-profit Australian Mathematics Trust, under the Trusteeship of the University of Canberra, runs the training and selection for Australia’s International Mathematical and Informatics Olympiad teams.

The first stage in selection for the Australian IOI team is the Australian Informatics Olympiad (AIO), a 3-hour annual computer programming competition held in high schools. The next AIO will be on Thursday, 4 September and is open to all high school students who can program. For more information contact the Australian Mathemetics Trust on 6201 5137.

Adjunct Professor Mike Clapper, Executive Director of the Trust, said, ‘We are extremely excited about these excellent results and where they might lead us for future participation. This is the best outcome for Australia to date’.

The Trust’s best-known activity is the annual Australian Mathematics Competition sponsored by the Commonwealth Bank which, together with other competitions, helps to identify students for participation and development in the Olympiad programs.  The Mathematics and Science Olympiads are supported by the Australian Government Department of Education through the Mathematics and Science Participation Program.

 The Trust also offers students the opportunity to explore whether they have an aptitude for programming through the Australian Informatics Competition (AIC), which is a non-programming competition designed to promote logical and algorithmic thinking.  In 2015, the AIC will be available on-line and there will be a new division for Upper Primary students.                                                



Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Why it’s really bad that Michael Gove is gone

Following David Cameron’s Cabinet reshuffle yesterday, many teachers and education union leaders, together with their collective hangers-on, worked themselves up into a celebratory frenzy over the demotion of Michael Gove, the education secretary they so loved to hate. All of two minutes after the announcement of his departure #GoveGone was trending on Twitter, accompanied by increasingly competitive declarations of loathing for the man or expressions of jubilation at his demise. In contrast, the earlier news that the minister of state for universities and science, David Willetts, was also to be replaced was met with a far more muted reaction. Despite the fact that Willetts oversaw the introduction of the current tuition fees regime in English universities, there now appear to be very few who have a bad word to say about him.

Cameron’s aim of securing electoral success through surrounding himself with people who are easy on the eye and don’t upset the electorate meant both Gove and Willetts had to go. Many #GoveGone tweets expressed regret that his departure has come before the General Election – it is assumed that the Conservative Party could never win if he were still in the education post. This view was obviously shared by Cameron himself. Gove has never publicly expressed anything other than enthusiasm for his role as education secretary and an overwhelming desire to see the reforms he has put in place through to completion. Cameron’s ditching of a man who is, by all accounts, both his friend and colleague reveals more about Cameron’s lack of loyalty and principle than it does about Gove’s abilities as a Cabinet minister. Willetts’ crime, on the other hand, is presumably that of being insufficiently diverse for current tastes.

According to the narrative of those trying to fill column inches, the mixed reaction to the departure of both ministers reflects the way bullish, blundering Gove upset all those around him while the more measured and thoughtful Willetts garnered the begrudging respect of academics. It’s no doubt true that Gove’s conviction and determination led him into sometimes unnecessary confrontations. But in reality, the different responses to each man’s departure reflect the fact that Gove threatened the educational establishment in a way that Willetts simply never did.

From his very first day in his post, Gove battled against the group of union leaders, teacher-trainers, members of local education authorities and academics he unhelpfully labelled as ‘the blob’. He challenged the culture of low expectations that has built up in education. He tried to put an end to content-lite courses that demanded little of pupils and mired schools in league-table gaming rather than teaching a knowledge-based curriculum. Unlike many who preceded him, he was an education secretary who believed that schools should be about far more than responding to the immediate demands of social problems or promoting particular values, and that children today are capable of learning poetry and times tables, reading books (even long non-American ones) and understanding the chronology of history.

Unfortunately for some schools, Gove ended a system where cut-and-paste coursework counted towards final marks, modularised exams were taken early and taken often, and low-level vocational courses were deemed to be equivalent to academic exams for the purposes of league tables. For this, he should be applauded. It can be argued that Gove didn’t go far enough and that schools still place too much emphasis on teaching functional skills and emotional wellbeing rather than knowledge. Gove could certainly be bloody-minded and arrogant. Worse, he demonstrated an instrumental regard for league tables and school inspections, data monitoring and performance analysis that often belied his rhetoric about a love for knowledge. At times he clearly confused schooling and education, imposing, for example, petty bureaucratic diktats banning children’s term-time absences. He could rightly have been taken up over any of these things, but instead of engaging in debate, his many opponents turned him into a pantomime villain and made him the target of vicious personal attacks and infantile jokes.

In comparison, the cool response to the departure of Willetts shows that despite the fact that he oversaw an increase in tuition fees to £9,000, reinforced the status of students as consumers, and arguably miscalculated the cost to the government of higher levels of student loans, he never challenged the current consensus on higher education and only ever confirmed the existing prejudices of many of those who work in universities. Above all else, Willetts shared the dominant instrumentalism that pervades academia today. In speeches and interviews throughout his four years in post, he described a degree as an investment and claimed students should go to university in order to cash in on a future graduate premium. Symbolically, under Willetts, universities remained in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Willetts is praised for championing students and teaching, but his inability to conceive of the purpose of university in anything other than the most crudely economic terms is apparent here, too. His view was that ‘ultimately universities have to provide [students] with up to £9,000 of education’. How this amount of education was to be measured and delivered to the student/customers he did not specify.

Whereas Willetts wins plaudits from commentators for suggesting that universities should give preferential treatment to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, Gove argued schools can make a difference and working-class pupils are capable of achieving good grades. Willetts is praised for his focus on social mobility, but again this just means he only understood higher education in terms of economic benefits and thought universities should lower their entry requirements so that more people could gain from this financial windfall; Gove, on the other hand, had a more liberal view of the importance of children knowing stuff. Willetts reportedly fought against tighter visa restrictions on international (revenue-generating) students but lost this Cabinet battle to home secretary Theresa May; Gove would perhaps have been less ready to relinquish ground. In the end, it was Willetts’ cowardice that meant he didn’t cause controversy. He introduced tuition fees but kept universities tightly under state control. A braver university minister might have set them free altogether.

Ultimately, Gove will be remembered and Willetts will not. In fact, the ‘lest we forget’ tweets are already circulating on the Twittersphere. Gove provided a much-needed challenge to the all-too-cosy world of education and won few friends as a result. Willetts, cowardly in the face of arguments, always ready for pragmatic compromise, and demonstrating a philistine view of education at every turn, challenged no one. Gove will be missed – the reforms he had begun to push through could have had a positive, transformative impact on education in this country, raising standards and aspirations. Perhaps university lecturers should hope for someone similar to shake up higher education.


Stop this educational madness

It’s time to resist calls for more mental-health interventions in education

Calls to raise awareness of mental-health issues and initiatives aimed at encouraging people to ‘come out’ with their problems are coming at us from all sides. Following the World Health Association’s apocryphal proclamation that mental ill-health is the world’s biggest epidemic, there has been a spate of calls in the UK this July to intervene in a crisis among young children in state schools, to offer resilience classes to high-achieving young women in independent schools, and to embed mental-health provision in university courses. And, as I wrote recently on spiked, university support and medical services are under unprecedented pressure from students and their parents to treat a wide range of mental-health ‘issues’.

It is no surprise that schools, colleges, adult education centres, universities and workplaces have responded by offering more ‘support’ for mental-health issues. Funding for the Workers’ Educational Association is now directed at services such as ‘confidence-building’, ‘anger management’ and ‘mutual recovery for mental health’, confining its long-running remit for liberal subjects and ‘return to learn’ to history. Across the education system, individual consultants and commercial outfits tout a seemingly endless cacophony of interventions to eager buyers. Schools pay vast sums for ‘positive motivation’ trainers to take pupils out of a day’s lessons, play them pop music and teach ‘positive-thinking strategies’, while their teachers are reduced to crowd managers and presented as part of the problem. In a market free-for-all, some schools run their own ‘mental toughness’ training for 16-year-olds taking GCSEs, while others offer mindfulness, circle-time and happiness training. The University of East Anglia has introduced therapy dogs and plans to encourage staff to take their dogs to work. Some universities have compulsory resilience classes for medical students and trainee teachers. Many offer online self-help groups, cognitive-behaviour therapy and stress-management courses. Others are developing masters’ courses in ‘vulnerabilities and protection’.

Far from being a source of shame or stigma, canny students and parents, and sometimes colleagues, latch on to the discourse of mental ill-health for special pleading, for a quick sick note from the doctor, or just to invoke a soft response to lazy or bad behaviour. This year, some universities have mitigation claims on the grounds of mental issues running at 50 per cent. Alongside an army of snake-oil merchants touting dubious products with no evidence of impact, lawyers will soon be profiting from the introduction of the UK government’s new disability legislation as universities will have to start defending themselves against claims that mental-health needs weren’t met. Some institutions are already allocating resources in anticipation of this.

An array of influences is at play. Each five-year revision of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual for clinical psychologists designates new behaviours and responses as category disorders and syndromes. These are growing at exponential rates (see, for example, ‘Turning crime into a mental-health issue’). In tandem, the meanings we now attach to stress, anxiety, depression, abuse, trauma, vulnerability and recovery stretch them to the point of banality. But there are also structural factors: as austerity cuts to social-care centres and community-health services start to bite, doctors refer people with mental-health problems to courses run by bodies like the Workers’ Educational Association.

All of this raises the question of how those of us who work in education should respond to what seems to be an unstoppable tide. We can criticise the discourse and point to a self-fulfilling prophecy of need, a highly contagious social construction that turns everyday mundane experiences and relationships, some of which are undoubtedly difficult or troubling, even stressful or anxiety-inducing, into potential mental-health time-bombs. We can get cynical about those who trivialise problems for their own advantage.

Or we can pillory the interventions as a harmless distraction from the routine day-to-day issues, point to the lack of evidence for impact and criticise a pointless waste of scarce resources that doesn’t help those who really need it. More practically, we can become Orwellian experts in Newspeak, rewriting publicity for support services and introductions for ‘freshers’ week’ to erase the language of vulnerability and remove invitations to seek help for anxiety and stress. We can be clearer and more assertive about where scarce resources for support should go and more discerning about sick notes and mitigation. We can tell some people to get a grip. There seem to be more of these kind of upfront responses now than there were a couple of years ago.

But none of these responses stops mental ill-health being increasingly felt and embodied. These problems are not merely socially constructed. Beyond the trivial or cynical claims being made with regard to mental health, more people seem to find everyday life and education a constant source of distress. The idea that almost all people are psychologically and emotionally vulnerable is everywhere, and we need a wider debate about what impact this has had on how we teach and how we relate to people. We need to resist calls for more support and more intervention and start rethinking how education and other meaningful activities can lead to a world outside the self.


Graduate jobs going begging in Britain.  Quarter of employers had to leave posts unfilled last year because they were unable to find suitable recruits

Almost a quarter of graduate employers had to leave posts unfilled last year because they were unable to find suitable recruits, a survey found today.

As the graduate job market bounces back following the recession, bosses are struggling to find staff with the right knowledge and attitude to work.

Firms are planning to offer 17 per cent more jobs this year – the biggest increase in vacancies since annual surveys of graduate recruiters began 14 years ago.

But they are also concerned about a lack of applicants with the skills they need, according to the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR).

Some 23 per cent of nearly 200 employers surveyed were forced to leave some jobs open last year and there is anecdotal evidence the trend is continuing.

The research also found that firms are increasingly monitoring the social class of graduates recruits.

The number collecting data on the background of their new intake has almost doubled in two years to just under a quarter.

Employers are mainly checking whether or not their parents have degrees, while the proportion recording whether or not recruits went to private school has declined, from 84 per cent to 74 per cent.

More than a third of firms (34.1 per cent) already have schemes in place to diversify the social class mix of staff and a further 16.5 per cent plan to introduce them next year, it emerged.

In further findings, the typical graduate starting salary for 2013/14 is predicted to be £27,000, up £500 on last year.

Graduates planning to work as investment bank or fund managers can expect the highest pay, with typical starting wages of £43,500.

One in 14 graduates can expect to start on at least £41,000.

AGR chief executive Stephen Isherwood said that the rise in vacancies and salaries was ‘fantastic news’ for graduates but warned that the graduate job market was not ‘easy’.

‘There are still unfilled graduate vacancies as employers are not always able to find the right people, with the right knowledge, skills and attitudes, for the job,’ he said.

‘Graduates must ensure they really do their research, target their applications and ensure their CVs do them justice if they want to be in with a good chance of securing a place on a graduate scheme following university.’


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The $2 Million Teacher

Teachers Pay Teachers lets educators reassert their professionalism—and earn big bucks

When Paul Edelman was working as a middle school teacher in New York City during the early '00s, his school gave him none of the lesson plans, handouts, and workbooks necessary for running a classroom. "When school ended at 3 p.m., it was really just the beginning of my workday," says Edelman. He says his first year was "brutal," and his second and third years were only marginally better.

Edelman's experience is hardly unique; many young teachers burn out in part because their schools expect them to generate all of their own materials. "I cried every night," says former teacher Amy Berner. "Every night you sit down and think, 'I am completely unprepared for tomorrow.'"

Out of such pain came an idea: "What if we could create a vast repository of resources that already worked for other teachers," he asks, "juiced with free market forces?"

In 2006, Edelman started Teachers Pay Teachers, an online marketplace for educators to sell digital copies of their classroom materials to each other for small amounts of money. "It's booming," says Berner, the company's head of community and editorial. Gross sales ballooned from $900,000 in 2010 to $44 million in 2013, and so far teachers have earned nearly $48 million on the site. There are more than one million products to choose from, including lesson plans, worksheets, flash cards, PowerPoint presentations, games, quizzes, graphic organizers, bulletin board ideas, and parent guides. And the materials are built by real teachers, so they tend to be perfectly tailored to classroom use.

Edelman says that requiring educators to produce their own classroom materials has its benefits. "I like that teachers in the U.S. have the freedom to create and teach the way they teach best," he says. Despite feeling overworked and underprepared, Edelman says that he was still grateful as a teacher not to have "a nationalized and controlled curriculum," as many other countries do. Teachers Pay Teachers offers the best of both worlds because educators don't have to spend all their free time generating materials from scratch, but they still get to pick what's best for their students—and can tailor the material however they see fit.

For teachers, whose compensation generally reflects not their talent and drive but the number of years they've served in the classroom, Teachers Pay Teachers brings a refreshing dose of market incentives. More than 1,300 teachers have earned at least $5,000 selling their materials through the company, and 164 have earned more than $50,000.

The site's breakout star and top seller is a kindergarten teacher in Macon, Georgia, named Deanna Jump. By selling activities and lesson plans, such as Guided Reading 101: Printables, Strategies and Word Work ($8) and Insects Math and Literacy Fun ($6.80), along with 145 other products, Jump has earned more than $2 million on Teachers Pay Teachers. With her wholesome good looks and exceptional talent as a teacher and curriculum author, Jump makes for an ideal public face. And she hasn't changed with her newfound wealth: Jump still teaches, and the first thing she did after the money started rolling in was purchase a handicap-accessible van for her quadriplegic brother.

At a time when teachers are being judged by central bureaucracies based on how their students perform on high-stakes tests, and union contracts enforce absurd work rules and lockstep pay increases, Teachers Pay Teachers offers educators the dignity of being treated like professionals. "It's like, 'I'm actually being respected for the expert that I am,'" says Berner. "Calling it a revolution in education I don't think is overstating it."


UK: Christians lie and wives must have sex or go to hell, Trojan Horse pupils told

 Children were taught that all Christians are liars and attempts were made to introduce Sharia law in classrooms as part of an alleged 'Trojan Horse' takeover plot of Birmingham schools, an inquiry has found.

The inquiry commissioned by Birmingham City Council found evidence of religious extremism in 13 schools as school governors and teachers tried to promote and enforce radical Islamic values.

Schools put up posters warning children that if they didn't pray they would "go to hell", Christmas was cancelled and girls were taught that women who refused to have sex with their husbands would be "punished" by angels "from dusk to dawn".

The report found that the extremism went unchecked because the council "disastrously" prioritised community cohesion over "doing what is right".

It concluded that there was a "determined effort" by "manipulative" governors to introduce "unacceptable" practices, "undermine" head teachers and deny students a broad and balanced education.

Sir Albert Bore, Birmingham's leader, apologised for the council's handling of the scandal.

He said: "The actions of a few, including some within the council, have undermined the reputation of our great city.

"We have previously shied away from tackling this problem out of a misguided fear of being accused of racism."

A separate review by Peter Clarke, the former counter-terrorism chief, found evidence of "co-ordinated, deliberate and sustained" attempts to introduce an "intolerant and aggressive Islamic ethos" in schools.

The review, which was commissioned by the Department for Education, found that the schools were trying to impose "segregationist attitudes and practices of a hardline and politicised strain Sunni Islam".

Birmingham City Council's report found no evidence of a "conspiracy" to promote "violent extremism or radicalisation" values, but was still highly critical.

A detailed summary of evidence suggested that there was an attempt to introduce Sharia law at the Al-Fuqan school, and when a woman was recommended for a job on individual suggested a "man with a beard" was needed.

At the Golden Hillock School a teacher allegedly told children at an assembley "not to listen to Christians as they were all liars". The incident was referred to counter-terrorism police. One teacher at the school also reportedly told children they were "lucky to be Muslims and not ignorant like Christians and Jews."

At Nansen School the study of French was replaced by the study of Arabic and Islamic religious assemblies were reinstated. Christmas and Diwali celebrations were councils, and children were not allowed to use a doll to represent Jesus in a nativity play. A total of 28 female teaching assistants were dismissed.

At the Oldknow academy, children were told at an assembly that they should not send Christmas cards and that Mary was not the mother of Jesus. Children were asked whether they believed in Christmas and encouraged to chant "no we don't".

At the Park View Academy children were taught that "if a woman said no to sex with her husband then angels would punish her from dusk till dawn". Girls were taught that a "good" Muslim woman wears a hijab and ties up her hair.


Britain needs new generation of grammar schools, sacked minister says

David Cameron is facing a rebellion over grammar schools as part of a growing backlash in the wake of his reshuffle.

Damian Green, the sacked Home Office minister, said that he is concerned that the topic of grammar schools has become "taboo" for the Conservatives.

He told The Telegraph that he will enlist the support of fellow MPs in the run up to the General Election as he makes the case for building a new generation of grammar schools across Britain.

Mr Green said: "One of the things I intend is to make the case for grammar schools. I went to a grammar school, I am in favour of them, but they have become a taboo.

"I believe that we need to provide an excellent educations across the spectrum, including taking the brightest children pushing them to succeed. They are a route of opportunity rather than a manifestation of privilege."

Mr Cameron is also facing criticism from two influential Conservative MPs over Europe and human rights in the run up to May 2015.

Owen Paterson, who was last week fired as environment secretary, is expected to join forces with Liam Fox, who rejected a junior ministerial post he found demeaning.

The pair are expected to put pressure on Mr Cameron to provide more details over the powers that he will repatriate from Brussels.

One sacked minister said: "They have alienated Liam and Owen, they could live to regret it."

According to reports, Mr Paterson had a "blazing row" with Mr Cameron on Monday night over the decision to remove him in the reshuffle.

Mr Paterson's wife, Rose, later confronted Lynton Crosby, the Tory strategist, and demanded to know why her husband had been sacked.

The former Environment Secretary believes that the decision to axe him will push rural voters into the hands of Ukip.

Mr Fox, who until the reshuffle was tipped as a new foreign secretary, said it was "incredibly naive" to imagine that Britain will win concessions from Jean-Claude Juncker, the new President of the European Commission.

In the wake of the reshuffle, Mr Green is considering restarting the parliamentary friends of grammar schools, which was previously run by Graham Brady, who is now chairman of the back-bench 1922 committee.

There are just 164 grammar schools left in England and 69 in Northern Ireland — down from just under 1,300 under the system’s peak in 1965. The law prevents any more from being built.

Mr Cameron, who was educated at Eton, triggered a furious row within the Conservative party in 2007 after ruling out an expansion of grammar schools, saying parents do not want their children “divided into sheep and goats at the age of 11”.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Court Rules Against Woman Challenging University’s Race-Based Admissions Standards

On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled against Abigail Fisher in her ongoing battle against the University of Texas at Austin for discriminating against her based on race. The court upheld the university’s admissions policy which uses racial and ethnic preferences to achieve “diversity” on campus.

Texas adopted a plan in the mid-1990s that automatically admitted Texas students in the top 10 percent of their high school class to all state-funded universities. Following a 2003 Supreme Court decision that authorized schools to consider race or ethnicity as a “plus factor,” the University of Texas began subjecting applicants for the remaining spots to a “holistic review” that included preferences for underrepresented minorities. Abigail Fisher, a white applicant, did not graduate in the top 10 percent, so her application for admission was in competition with candidates who received racial preferences. Fisher challenged the university’s consideration of race in court after her application was denied.

This case, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, went to the Supreme Court in the 2012-2013 term. Last June, in a 7-1 decision, the Supreme Court held that the lower courts were too deferential to the university’s judgment upon reviewing the university’s admissions plan. The Supreme Court previously stated that racial preferences are constitutional if they pass strict scrutiny review, which requires that the university prove that its classification based on race is “narrowly tailored to further compelling governmental interests.” “On this point,” the Supreme Court determined that university officials are entitled to “no deference.” The Court explained that it is “for the courts, not for university administrators” to ensure that the means used by the university pass strict scrutiny review, which must not be “strict in theory but feeble in fact,” and it sent Fisher’s case back to the federal appellate court for a more searching examination.

Unfortunately, in a 2-1 decision, the Fifth Circuit essentially rubberstamped the university’s judgment once again. The burden was on the university to demonstrate that its use of racial and ethnic preferences advanced its compelling interest in obtaining a “critical mass” of campus diversity, but, as a dissenting judge pointed out, the university didn’t come close to defining what a “critical mass” is. Of course, this is not to say the university should be able to use racial quotas, but it’s difficult for a court to determine if the university’s use of race was necessary to achieve a “critical mass” when the university did not “describe[ ] what ‘critical mass’ requires.”

Further, as Justice Anthony Kennedy noted in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School Dist. 1, classifications based on race are constitutionally permissible only as a “last resort.” Thus, the university was required to show that there are “no workable race-neutral alternatives” in order to justify its use of race classifications. The majority found that there were, in fact, “no workable race-neutral alternatives” since the state of Texas had tried various alternatives to increase diversity in the past and the top 10 percent program produced too many students from majority-minority schools (who apparently don’t provide the “right” kind of diversity).

This stereotyping by race contradicts the equal protection guarantee in the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. The government should not be in the business of sorting people by such innate characteristics as race and ethnicity. The University of Texas is, after all, a state-run school and its use of racial preferences remains discriminatory. Even though they may be “cloaked in good intentions, the University’s racial tinkering harms the very people it claims to be helping,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his concurring opinion in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. Indeed, racial preferences are nothing more than government-sanctioned discrimination, and as Chief Justice John Roberts said, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

In a statement following the decision, Fisher said, “It is disappointing that the judges hearing my case are not following the Supreme Court’s ruling last summer. I remain committed to continuing this lawsuit even if it means we appeal to the Supreme Court once again.” It looks like the justices may have a yet another opportunity to consider the continued validity of racial preferences in college admissions.


UK: How Ofsted marks teachers down for actually teaching! Watchdog prefers 'jazzy' child-led learning to 'chalk and talk' lessons

Ofsted inspectors are favouring ‘trendy’ learning methods over traditional ‘chalk and talk’ teaching, a report claims today.

They prefer child-led activities to such an extent that it is ‘inconceivable’ for teachers to allow pupils to learn from textbooks during a visit from the watchdog.

An examination of Ofsted reports by the think-tank Civitas reveals that inspectors show an ‘aversion’ to direct teacher instruction and like group work instead.

This is resulting in staff putting on ‘jazzy’ lessons to impress them, according to the study, Playing The Game: The enduring influence of the preferred Ofsted teaching style.

Robert Peal, a history teacher and education research fellow for Civitas, examined 130 Ofsted reports of secondary schools inspected between September and October last year. Of these, 52 per cent showed a preference for lessons in which pupils learn independently from teachers and 42 per cent favoured group work.

Eighteen per cent criticised teachers for talking too much and the same proportion criticised lessons because the pupils were ‘too passive’.

There was only one example of an inspector recommending a more teacher-led approach.

Two months later, Ofsted issued new guidance for inspectors which stated they should not back one style of teaching over another in the course of their work. And in January this year, Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of schools, wrote to inspectors saying: ‘Please, please, please think carefully before criticising a lesson because it does not conform to a particular view of how children should be taught.’

Mr Peal studied an additional 130 reports of inspections conducted between January and March this year to assess whether inspectors had taken the guidance on board. Only 8 per cent demonstrated a preference for pupil independence and there were no reports of inspectors criticising teachers for talking too much. Two per cent flagged up the ‘passivity’ of pupils.

But Mr Peal claims the changes are ‘largely superficial’ and that ‘fundamental problems’ remain because reports have simply been rewritten to ensure signs of ‘bias’ are not included.

Inspectors have been given a list of ‘banned’ phrases to prevent schools from thinking the watchdog has a preferred style of teaching. Serco – which is contracted by Ofsted – provided its inspectors with alternative ways of making comments in May.

Instead of writing that ‘too much teacher talk dominates’, it was suggested that inspectors could write ‘explanations are not clear’.

Inspectors are also still backing child-led learning in verbal feedback to staff, according to Mr Peal. One teacher told Civitas: ‘“Too much teacher talk” is often verbally mentioned in feedback but, due to new criteria, not written down.’

Writing in the report, Mr Peal claims inspections are ‘distinctly in favour of child-centred teaching methods and prejudiced against more teacher-led alternatives’.

He said: ‘Teachers are accustomed to putting on “jazzy” lessons, replete with group work, role play and active learning in order to fulfil what has become widely acknowledged as the Ofsted style.

‘So strong is the inspectorate’s reputation for favouring trendy teaching methods that the idea of putting on a “chalk and talk” lesson or learning from a textbook with an Ofsted inspector in the room has become inconceivable within the teaching profession.’

In June, Ofsted announced a pilot scheme in the Midlands to end grading teaching quality on each lesson observation form. Instead, lead inspectors will form an overall judgment on teaching in the school from their team’s summaries.

An Ofsted spokesman said: ‘As HM Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has repeatedly made clear, Ofsted does not have a preferred teaching style. It is up to the classroom teacher to determine how they should teach.’


UK: Teachers pour away seven-year-old pupil's bottle of squash during hot weather claiming it breached school's health policies

A mother has pulled her seven-year-old son out of school after teachers started pouring away his bottle of squash claiming it breached the school’s health policy.

Sammie Riley, 25, started sending son Bailey to The Bewbush Academy in Crawley, West Sussex with bottles of squash because he doesn’t like the taste of water.

However, she was shocked to discover teachers had been pouring the juice away and replacing it with water because the flavoured drink is against the school's health policy.

After finding out her son’s drink was tipped away twice in one week, the mother-of-three decided to take action and kept him off school.

She said: ‘The school have pulled me in about it and told me they have a no juice policy.

‘I kept him off school on July 2 and sent him back on the Thursday but again the staff had tipped his juice away and refilled it with water. I was absolutely fuming.

‘Bearing in mind it was a really hot week with temperatures of 26C outside, it must have been hitting 30C in the classrooms and my son was unable to drink.

‘Bailey came home dehydrated with a really bad headache and I wasn't happy for him to go back to school.  ‘I was livid that they have been tipping Bailey's drink away.’

Miss Riley spoke to the acting head and head of Year 2, but was told it was ‘water or nothing’.

She was also told that staff had tried putting cucumber and lemon in the drinks to spruce up the water, which didn't work.

The mother, who is now considering setting up a petition, has accused the school of double standards because they ban juice but hand out sherbet sticks and lollipops at the end of the week for ‘rewards’.

She said: ‘It is part of their health policy but how is it helpful for my son to become dehydrated and unable to concentrate in lessons?  ‘Of course I'd prefer him to drink water because it's healthier but at this stage I want him to drink rather than being left with nothing.

‘I don't think the school should me to make my son drink something he doesn't like.

‘The school is being totally ludicrous and contradicting its own health policy because they are giving out treats as rewards.’

Headteacher Elizabeth Harrison said parents are able to pack non-fizzy drinks for children to enjoy during break-times, but they must have nothing but water in lessons following advice from health professionals


Sunday, July 20, 2014

What does FFUC stand for?

Fossil Free UC is a group that wants UC to divest its endowment fund of fossil fuel investments. Ophir Bruck from the group sent me this article to explain his group’s thinking. The author explains that fossil fuel investments aren’t really money makers in the long haul, so there’s no real sacrifice from staying out of that market.

Nice try, but the real reason that students are pushing UC to divest in fossil fuels is apparent: UC is an easy target. UC will not fight back. The worst thing that could happen to these activists is that administrators will pat them on the head and praise them for caring so much.

The worst outcome for students, however, would be less money for the endowment. Past disinvestment decisions — for tobacco and Sudan– have cost the endowment $471 million and $6 million respectively.

After my Sunday column appeared, I received this email from Daniel J.B. Mitchell, Professor-Emeritus of the UCLA Anderson Graduate School of Management and UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

    "Actually, UC Academic Senate members who have looked at this matter are not keen on divestment, in part because if applied to the pension fund, it might worsen the underfunding problem.  (The anti-fossil fuel group has amended its proposal to exclude the pension – for now – as a result.  But there is no guarantee it wouldn’t be included at some later date.  Note that if excluded, UC could sell its fossil fuel holdings to the pension and technically meet the demands of the divestment folks.)  The fossil fuel divestment push is also potentially entangled with proposals for anti-Israel divestment, something the regents won’t go for."

One final note: I try not to over-use the word “hypocrisy” in my column. Everyone with standards is a hypocrite about something.

But also, the anger people feel toward hypocrisy often looks silly next to the offense to which it is attached. As the late Washington Post editorial page editor Meg Greenfield once said, if a politician murdered his mother, the media’s first response  likely would be “not that it was a terrible thing to do, but rather that in a statement made six years before, he had gone on record as being opposed to matricide.”

With that caveat, liberal plutocrat Tom Steyer is a hypocrite. He made a fortune in part by investing in fossil fuels. You can read about his Australian and Indonesian coal investments in the New York Times here. The Washington Post writes about his investments in tar sands and coal  here. His opposition to the Keystone pipeline notwithstanding, you can read about his ties to an oil sands pipeline to Canada in this Reuters story.

Now Steyer’s pressuring universities to not make money the way he made it.

I understand how UC lefties believe that disinvestment makes sense. But Tom Steyer didn’t try it until he was a billionaire. Why would anyone heed his “moral” teachings?


British education boss should read this (plagiarised) letter – and then fire the headteacher who wrote it

A headteacher of a primary school in Lancashire has been widely praised on Twitter for a letter she sent home to children, with lots of people suggesting that the letter should be the first thing Nicky Morgan reads in her new capacity as the Secretary of State for Education.

I agree with this sentiment. Nicky Morgan should read this. It will give her a good idea of just how much more work there is to do when it comes to improving England's state schools.

The first thing to note is that the KS2 results which the letter is referring to – the Sats results passed on to local authorities and which are included in the school league tables – are comprised of two components: teacher assessments and standardised tests.

Consequently, it's not true to say the people who "score" the children don't know them. When it comes to reading, writing and speaking and listening, for instance, the pupils are scored by their classroom teachers. Almost everything the letter says in the second paragraph is therefore complete guff.

But let's give the author of the letter – Rachael Tomlinson, the headteacher of Barrowford Primary School – the benefit of the doubt. Let's assume she's just referring to the small handful of Key Stage 2 results that are externally assessed. The letter seems to be addressed to those children who did poorly in those tests and offers them a number of excuses. You may not have done well in the externally-marked tests, she's saying, but, hey, it doesn't really matter, because you can "dance or paint a picture" and "your laughter can brighten the dreariest day".

The assumption the headteacher is making here is that these children will feel bad about not doing well and she's providing them with reasons why they shouldn't. But the reasons she gives are all bogus. Yes, they shouldn't feel bad about their poor test results, but not because they do other things well – such as laughing. Rather, it's because the fault lies with the school. As countless high-performing primary schools across the country have demonstrated, it's possible for all children to do well in the externally assessed Key Stage 2 tests, regardless of the challenges they face when they arrive in Reception. Yes, Ms Tomlinson, even those who speak two languages. If the teachers at Barrowford Primary School really know the pupils as well as the headteacher claims, then the school has no excuse for poor Key Stage 2 test results.

The third thing to note about this letter are the final words: "… there are many ways of being smart." Well, yes, maybe, but they certainly don't include things like being someone your friends can rely on or being able to take care of a little brother or enjoying "spending time with special family members and friends". Those are all admirable qualities, but they're not evidence of intelligence. Ms Tomlinson seems to be redefining the word "smart" here to denote almost any human trait – even the ability to travel from A to B – in order to give false comfort to those children at her school who've under-performed in the externally moderated tests. Is that really a useful lesson? That if a child performs badly in a test, they should tell themselves it doesn't matter because they already possess the quality the test was trying to measure in abundance and the reason they can tell themselves that is because it's perfectly all right for them to define that quality to mean absolutely anything whatsoever?

There may be "many ways of being smart" but the fact is that sixth forms and universities tend to measure smartness in the same way that these tests do and teaching children that such measures are unimportant will mean they're less likely to get into them. That won't have much of an impact on middle-class children – the children of parents who profess to be "touched" and "moved" by sentiments like this, but, in reality, make damn sure their little darlings know how important test results are – but it will have an impact on children from under-privileged backgrounds. If their teachers tell them that being able to "wonder about the future" is achievement enough, and they don't have to worry about learning to read, write or do maths, they're unlikely to be able to compete with their middle-class peers.

The fourth thing to note about this letter – and you've probably spotted it by now – is the use of the word "neat" as a synonym for "great". Why is a headteacher at a school in Lancashire using this Americanism? The answer, it turns out, is because she copied it – virtually word for word – from a letter sent to students at an American elementary school last year. Here is the text of that letter, taken from the blog of Diane Ravitch, an American education reformer:

    "We are concerned that these tests do not always assess all of what it is that make each of you special and unique. The people who create these tests and score them do not know each of you– the way your teachers do, the way I hope to, and certainly not the way your families do. They do not know that many of you speak two languages. They do not know that you can play a musical instrument or that you can dance or paint a picture. They do not know that your friends count on you to be there for them or that your laughter can brighten the dreariest day. They do not know that you write poetry or songs, play or participate in sports, wonder about the future, or that sometimes you take care of your little brother or sister after school. They do not know that you have traveled to a really neat place or that you know how to tell a great story or that you really love spending time with special family members and friends. They do not know that you can be trustworthy, kind or thoughtful, and that you try, every day, to be your very best… the scores you get will tell you something, but they will not tell you everything. There are many ways of being smart."

Now, Ms Tomlinson has subsequently admitted she copied the letter – "Mrs Tomlinson said she found the letter on a blog from the US posted on the internet," reports the BBC – but she certainly didn't say that in the original letter home to parents. On the contrary, she tried to pass the letter off as all her own work. That's appalling on numerous levels. It's plagiarism, to begin with, and that's bad enough. But, worse, all the qualities Ms Tomlinson identifies as belonging to the children in her school – because she and her teachers "know" them so well, unlike those heartless external examiners – don't, in fact, belong to them at all. They belong to the children at an American elementary school.

The thrust of the letter is that all children are unique, and therefore can't be properly measured by a standardised test. It's the age old romantic objection to tests of any kind – boiler-plate anti-intellectual mumbo jumbo. But Ms Tomlinson clearly doesn't have much faith in this progressive shibboleth if she thinks the children at her primary school in Lancashire are completely interchangeable with children over 3,000 miles away. Not quite so unique after all.

Yes, Nicky Morgan, you should read this letter – and then encourage the local education authority in Lancashire to sack Ms Tomlinson. She doesn't have any confidence in externally-moderated Key Stage 2 tests. She thinks if children don't do well in them it's their fault, not hers. She's encouraging practices at her school that will entrench inequality. And she's a plagiarist.


OK: Supreme Court upholds Common Core repeal

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the Legislature had the authority to repeal Common Core education standards for English and math in the state's public schools.

The state's highest court took the action a little more than four hours after attorneys presented oral arguments in a lawsuit that challenged the Legislature's action.

The lawsuit alleged lawmakers violated the state Board of Education's constitutional authority over the "supervision of instruction in the public schools" when they repealed Common Core standards earlier this year. But the Supreme Court's 8-1 decision said the Legislature's action was not unconstitutional.

The case was argued about a month before public school students across the state are scheduled to return to classrooms. The standards were scheduled to go into effect in the upcoming school year.

Attorney Robert McCampbell, who represents parents, teachers and four members of the seven-member Oklahoma Board of Education in the lawsuit, said he was "disappointed with the result" but respected the court's decision. McCampbell said he was not surprised the court ruled so quickly.

"We had asked for it to be placed on the expedited docket and they granted that request," he said.

House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, said he was pleased with the decision. The legislation that repealed the standards also instructed the board to revert to educational standards in place before June 2010 and develop new state educational standards by 2016.

"I look forward to the adoption of new standards for education in Oklahoma which will challenge our students and prepare them for the future," Hickman said.

During oral arguments, McCampbell argued the Legislature's repeal of Common Core was unconstitutional and represented and "unprecedented expansion" of its powers.

"Supervision of instruction is vested in the Board of Education," McCampbell said.

Solicitor General Patrick Wyrick argued that the Legislature, which in 2010 instructed the board to adopt Common Core instructional standards also adopted by more than 40 other states, has supreme authority to pass laws and that public school education standards are subject to legislative review.

"This court has always held that rulemaking is a legislative function," Wyrick said.

The legislation that repealed Common Core standards for English and math did not include standards for science and social studies. Other states that have repealed or formally withdrawn from Common Core standards are Indiana and South Carolina.

Conservative groups maintained that the standards represented federal intrusion into Oklahoma's public education system, and Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law legislation repealing the standards last month. Some Common Core standards have expressed concern that Oklahoma students will fall behind those in other states because of their repeal.

McCampbell said the Legislature has broad authority to set education policy in the state. But the Board of Education, not lawmakers, should decide what math problems are taught in public schools and whether the Gettysburg Address should be taught in the 10th grade or the 11th grade, he said.

"They are reaching into the classroom," McCampbell said. "That's supervision of instruction in the public schools."

But some parents and teachers who were present for the oral arguments expressed support for repeal of the Common Core standards.

Nikki Fate, who attended the hearing with her 7- and 9-year-old daughters, said she believes Common Core standards are developmentally inappropriate.

"It is cognitive abuse on our children," Fate said. "They're learning way too much at a fast pace and their brains aren't developed for it."


Friday, July 18, 2014

Schools Dispense With History in Favor of Political Correctness

Former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin once said, “Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.” Lenin understood how important education is to a young person’s worldview, and how intractable ideas can become. Lenin used education to the fullest, as do his heirs in the West.

The cultural revolution of the 1960s remains very much with us. In the last 50 years it has chipped away at the foundations of our nation, little by little, relentlessly, with an agenda of fundamentally changing this society. The nation of Barack Obama is no longer that of John F. Kennedy.

One institution that has undergone immense change is the public education system. Formerly, public schools were dedicated to educating youths and imparting in them an understanding of the history of America, its uniqueness in history and a knowledge and appreciation of the natural rights guaranteed by our Founding documents. Until socialism arrived, these had always been considered the acme of political philosophy and government organization. The goal was to prepare graduates as good citizens and informed voters.

But the Left has so completely changed both public schools and colleges that they have almost no relation to their earlier selves. The term “political correctness” originated in the old Soviet Union. It was used to control people’s speech and, ultimately, their thought. Today’s schools are a study in political correctness.

High schools frequently offer some variety of Advanced Placement (AP) tests in various courses. If students score well enough on a given test, they can earn credit for an equivalent basic course in college, thus shortening their time (and expenses) in school. The test most students take is the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). Theoretically, the better a student scores, the wider his or her choices of colleges after high school graduation.

Both the AP and the SAT tests are properties of a company called the College Board. As with schools, the College Board used to be dedicated to high standards both in curriculum and testing. But as the hippie generation with its perverse agenda has taken charge of these institutions, the College Board years ago fell in line, as a good comrade should.

Because of its unique position as producer of the tests that determine students' chances in college, the College Board has a great deal of power to shape high school curricula, including those of private schools, and to influence state standards. It’s therefore noteworthy that David Coleman, president of the College Board, is also the architect of Common Core. We’ve reported on Obama’s Common Core curriculum several times and its corrosive effect on not only the education of young people but also society at large.

Unfortunately, too few are aware of this clandestine attempt to nationalize and further corrupt America’s schools, from kindergarten through grad school.

The College Board recently released a very few sample questions for the new AP U.S. History Exam. Understandably, the College Board has always been very concerned about security to protect its latest test (historically, tests have been repeatedly edited to replace badly written questions and to add new, more topical ones). Illegal distribution of coming exams would require scrubbing an entire test cycle. This latest framework is being treated as a state secret. Samples of the test, however, have been released to certified AP U.S. history teachers who have been warned under penalty of law as well as loss of their AP teaching privileges to keep them secret. Since teaching AP classes is one of the most rewarding experiences high school teachers can have, don’t expect any leaks of the test’s contents.

This entire business is clearly an attempt to force these standards on states while the president keeps Americans distracted by his never-ending scandals. The entire American education system is being converted into a multicultural, one-culture-is-as-good-as-another propaganda machine. Some of the Founders, such as Declaration of Independence author Thomas Jefferson and Constitution writer James Madison, are mentioned; that’s it – mentioned. They’re exposed as examples of Western class, gender and racial evil. And while teachers may chose to teach the Constitution as it is written, by doing so, they disadvantage their students because they know the real Constitution isn’t on the test.

Living up to its “Lone Star” nickname, Texas is the only state so far that’s really fighting this abomination. Ken Mercer, a member of the Texas school board, wants to introduce a resolution rejecting the new AP exam, but he’s been told that he must wait until September when doing so will be too late.

In 1788, Founder Noah Webster wrote in On the Education of Youth in America, “Every child in America should be acquainted with his own country. He should read books that furnish him with ideas that will be useful to him in life and practice. As soon as he opens his lips, he should rehearse the history of his own country.” The sad fact is that unless more school boards and members of the public wake up and smell the stench, this advice will increasingly be ignored. And what follows isn’t pretty. Indeed, it’s a nasty seed that’s already proving very difficult to uproot.


Common Core is crony capitalism for computer companies

In a recent interview with The Washington Post, Bill Gates insisted that his support for the Common Core education standards was purely philosophical—he was offended by the notion that anyone would suspect him of pushing a policy that helps his own bottom line. He has no reason to peddle Common Core, he said, except that he cares deeply about the state of education in the U.S. and sincerely thinks expensive new curriculum standards and rigorous standardized testing will improve U.S. schools:

    "I hope I can make this clear, I believe in the Common Core because of its substance and what it will do to improve education, and that’s the only reason I believe in the Common Core. And I have no, you know, this is giving money away. This is philanthropy. This is trying to make sure students have the kind of opportunity I had. You, you’ve, there is nothing, uh, it’s so, almost… outrageous to say otherwise in my view."

To that end, the billionaire philanthropist has spent hundreds of millions of dollars promoting Common Core through the advocacy efforts of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

But wait a minute—doesn't Gates work for a pretty big computer company, or something? Oh, and doesn't the testing component of Common Core require schools to upgrade their computer software? Who wants to bet that Core-aligned standardized testing requires Windows 8?

It does! As The Post's Valerie Strauss points out, a Windows web page actually recommends that schools hurry up and buy the latest Windows software in order to enjoy a smoother transition to tech-heavy standardized testing required by Common Core:

    This is not to say that that is what sparked or drove Gates’ personal interest in the initiative; he has said he supports the standards because he thinks they will improve public education, and it seems fair to believe him when he says that is his motivation (whether or not the premise is actually true).

    Still the fact remains that Microsoft is hoping to make some money from the implementation of the Core in classrooms.

As Strauss writes, this fact does not make Gates a liar. It seems likely he does indeed think that imposing a set of uniform standards on the states will improve students' educational outcomes. But it should underscore that massive, expensive public policy changes—even well-intentioned ones—carry ramifications for rent-seekers. (Indeed, many states only agreed to the standards because the Obama administration promised them federal grant money in exchange.)

I have already noted that Common Core looks like corporate welfare for textbook giants, since Pearson—the largest textbook company in the world—won a non-competitive government contract to design tests for half the states. It may also be crony capitalism for computer companies.

Whether or not Common Core helps Microsoft's bottom line is ultimately irrelevant to whether the policy is sound, of course. But when both Tea Party conservatives and teachers unions—as well as students, teachers, parents, and Louis CK—are complaining that the school years is being filled up with wonky high-stakes tests that are expensive to implement and impossible to prepare for, it's worth asking who proposed this bright idea. And why.


UK: Banning packed lunches: A slap in the face for parents

Last week, All Saints’ Primary School in Clayton-le-Moors in Lancashire announced it was to ban packed lunches for infants (children aged four to seven) from September. The move coincides with the introduction of free school meals for all infants. But by slapping on a ban, the school might as well put up a sign to parents saying ‘SORRY, WE DON’T TRUST YOU’.

The plan follows an inspection of packed lunches at the school (something which should still be shocking in itself, but has become common), which found that fewer than one per cent of the meals brought in by children met government nutrition guidelines. Such a statistic says more about the obsessive nature of the guidelines than it does about the quality of packed lunches; former childhood staples like crisps and chocolate are now treated as deadly poisons. And the food being offered by the school, if a sample menu is anything to go by, looks pretty stodgy. Does a turkey sub roll followed by a sweet pudding really amount to a healthier choice?

The ban looks unnecessary, too, given that school meals are now free for these young children. Most parents would probably not bother with a packed lunch if the school will feed kids for free. But the lack of choice means that parents who have their own individual reasons for giving children a packed lunch will now be denied that choice. Parents with fussy children may prefer to give them something they will actually eat. Parents who obsess about everything being organic and ‘pesticide-free’ will be denied a choice, too. There are all sorts of reasons why parents might choose the expense and hassle of a packed lunch over free school meals. A ban simply takes that decision away from them.

The school-meals crusade has been built on wild claims about dramatically improving educational performance, classroom behaviour and obesity rates, none of which stands up to much scrutiny. The result is the nationalisation of children’s eating habits and a slap in the face for parents.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Common Core Becomes Touchy Subject for Governors Group

Organization Leaves Education Standards Off Its Meeting's Official Agenda

The National Governors Association was one of the founders of Common Core, a set of academic standards aimed at raising student achievement. But as Democratic and Republican governors gathered here for summer meetings, Common Core wasn't on the official agenda, a sign of how the bipartisan idea has become a political minefield.

Three Republican-led states recently abandoned Common Core, concerned that national standards would allow President Barack Obama too much power to affect education policy. They include the state represented by the current governors' association chairwoman, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin.

Now, the governors' group is staying out of the fray as states decide how to implement the Common Core into curriculum and whether to offer tests aligned to the new standards.

"Common Core has become a divisive issue in our nation, with the concern that the federal government is trying to mandate standards down to states," Ms. Fallin said Friday. "The governors are listening to their voters and their constituents back home who are concerned about the federal overreach into states, and each governor will do what's in the best interest of their states."

Complicating the issue is that both political parties are internally split over Common Core, making it harder for governors to find safe ground, especially if they are eyeing presidential bids in 2016.

The Republican Party is divided between business leaders who say the program would help build a more educated workforce and conservative activists wary that federal grants to states that adopt Common Core come with strings attached.

The Obama administration embraced Common Core by offering those financial incentives, but its allies in the labor movement want to delay provisions that would evaluate teachers based on test results. "Teacher voices have not been strongly enough represented in their development or their rollout," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which on Friday began debating a resolution at its annual convention condemning the implementation of Common Core standards.

The governors' association isn't taking a position on Common Core implementation, though the group was at the table when the standards were created in 2009. "I guarantee you there will be a lot of discussion this week about it among individuals and in governors-only meetings in terms of, 'Tell me what you are doing. What's the impact?' " said Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican who has maintained his support for Common Core.

His state is one of several, along with North Carolina, Florida, Colorado, Ohio and Utah, that conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks is trying to pressure into dropping the standards. "We're watching the governors very closely on this," said Jacqueline Bodnar, a FreedomWorks spokeswoman. "This issue is provoking one of the strongest reactions we've gotten from our activists."

Indiana, led by Republican Gov. Mike Pence, was the first Common Core state to declare it would come up with its own standards, followed last month by South Carolina and Oklahoma. Republican Gov. Gary Herbert of Utah told reporters in March that states such as Indiana were essentially leaving the standards unchanged and merely rebranding them—a claim rejected by Mr. Pence, viewed as a possible presidential candidate in 2016.

Mr. Herbert stood by his assessment in an interview Friday and said he wants to help correct the "misinformation" about Common Core. He asked: "Is there something wrong with the standards, of knowing what you need to be able to do by a certain grade level?"

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said he isn't worried about states modifying Common Core as long as they maintain high academic standards and measure student achievement.

"There are concerns from the right and the left about whether we are over-testing kids and whether that is getting in the way of their ability to learn," he said. "I think we're going to go through this for a year or two."

One governor with potential national ambitions, Louisiana Republican Bobby Jindal, is trying to pull his state out of Common Core testing, against the wishes of state lawmakers and the state education board. He also is facing backlash from former allies in the business community who see high academic standards as crucial to economic development.

"I hope these governors stay the course," said Paul Pastorek, the former schools superintendent in Louisiana under Mr. Jindal when he supported the standards. The governors group "was an original sponsor for good reason, because most people recognized that our standards are very inconsistent and often times very low."

In New Jersey, led by GOP Gov. Chris Christie, one of Mr. Jindal's potential rivals in 2016, opposition to Common Core is coming predominantly from the teachers union. A vote on a union-backed bill that would have delayed Common Core testing was called off this past week because Mr. Christie is unlikely to sign it and has indicated he would prefer to address concerns with an executive order

"This is one of the few pieces of legislation with co-sponsors who are very progressive and very conservative," said the bill's sponsor, Democratic state Sen. Jeff Van Drew. "It puts the governor in a place where he has to look at the issues very carefully."



Ofsted: top schools 'downgraded' for failing poor pupils

Top schools are being stripped of their “outstanding” status by Ofsted for failing to close the gap between rich and poor pupils, it emerged today.

For the first time, the education watchdog confirmed it had downgraded a number of schools in the last year because of concerns children from working class families had been allowed to lag behind.

It said weak leadership remained an “obstacle to narrowing the attainment gap in a significant minority of schools” in England.

The disclosure was made in an analysis of the Coalition’s flagship “pupil premium” – extra cash handed to schools to specifically raise standards among poor children.

The policy – championed by the Liberal Democrats – will see around £2.5 billion spent by 2014/15, with each state primary school handed £1,300 per pupil and secondaries given £935.

According to Ofsted, the reforms are starting to have a “positive difference in many schools”, with cash “helping to increase outcomes” for children from the most deprived families.

The study said head teachers “know that their schools will not receive a positive judgment” unless they can show sustained improvements in results for poor pupils.

It said the achievement gap between working-class pupils and their peers was closing in all schools judged “good” or “outstanding” by Ofsted, but insisted some had still been downgraded because money had been misspent.

The report said that in a “number of previously outstanding secondary schools that have declined to good or below, inspectors have judged that the pupil premium funding was not being effectively spent”.

The study also showed continuing gaps in results between poor pupils and their wealthier peers, combined with concerns over a “postcode lottery”.

Ofsted said only 38 per cent of poor pupils gained five good GCSEs, including English and maths, last year compared with 65 per cent of their relatively wealthy peers. The gap was narrowing at a “very slow rate”, it said.

The report also raised concerns over “considerable variation” between local authorities, with more than three-quarters of poor pupils in Kensington and Chelsea, west London, gaining good GCSEs compared with just over 20 per cent in Barnsley – the worst performing area.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector, said: “One of the greatest challenges this country faces is closing the unacceptable gap that remains between poorer children and their better-off classmates when it comes to educational outcomes.

“I am passionate about improving the prospects of our least advantaged children so I am encouraged by the clear signs in today’s report that more effective spending and monitoring of the pupil premium is starting to make a positive difference in many schools.

“The success of London illustrates vividly that poverty should not be an automatic predictor of failure and so the government needs to tackle those parts of the country like Barnsley where poorer children are still getting a raw deal.”

The pupil premium is handed to schools for every child eligible for free schools – those with parents on benefits or earning less than £16,000 a year.

The report – based on an analysis of 151 Ofsted inspections – said there were “encouraging signs from inspection that the concerted efforts of good leaders and teachers are helping to increase outcomes for pupils eligible for the pupil premium”.

Most schools use the money to pay for additional teaching staff, booster classes, reading support and aspiration-building programmes. It is also used to fund after-school, weekend and holiday sessions, typically in English and maths.

But Ofsted said it would “take time to establish whether this increased focus will lead to a narrowing in the attainment gap between those eligible for the pupil premium and other pupils”.

Today’s report said that weak leadership and governance “remains an obstacle to narrowing the attainment gap in a significant minority of schools, particularly in those judged inadequate for overall effectiveness”.

David Laws, the Lib Dem School Minister, said: “The pupil premium is transforming the life chances of pupils across the country, helping to build a stronger economy and a fairer society.

“This report shows that our reforms to make schools more accountable for how they spend the funding is revolutionising the way such pupils are given the best possible start to life... And where performance is an issue we are taking swift action to ensure all pupils are given the education they deserve."


Australia: School suspensions hits record high in NSW, system broken and in need of complete review

New NSW Department of Education figures showing a 35 per cent rise in the number of students being sent home from school for bad behaviour (SMH, p3), is a major concern because studies show the suspension system rarely creates positive outcomes for the pupil or the community, NSW's peak body for youth affairs warned today.

“We know suspensions are largely ineffective in improving student behaviour and in the majority of cases simply exacerbate root problems,” Youth Action Director Eamon Waterford said.

“What’s truly disturbing about this rapid recent increase is that suspensions used to be an option only in the case of violent or highly antisocial behaviour. But youth workers across the state are reporting a sharp rise in suspensions for 'persistent misbehaviour' in children as young as five.

"Youth workers are telling us they are encountering more and more students suspended for repeated truancy. You don’t have to be top of the class to recognise the logical blunder there.”

Mr Waterford said the suspension system was not just a problem for the students suspended.

“Suspension is a blunt tool and its impact ripples out widely,” Mr Waterford said.

“Struggling students sent home for 4 weeks are only ending up further behind in their classwork. This means that suspension is only further entrenching a young person’s lack of interest in school. This has impacts on long-term employment and increases the burden on our welfare system."

Mr Waterford said the NSW Government should use the startling statistics to immediately prepare for a complete review of the suspension system.

“The NSW Government should not waste this crisis – they should conduct a full review of the school suspension system,” Mr Waterford said.

“It doesn’t need to be too tricky. Thankfully, we already have a good idea of what works: and that’s good school counsellors and in-school youth workers. As things stand, NSW schools are chronically understaffed to support students in the school, which is why they’re being forced to suspend students.

“If we want better students, better citizens, and a better society we need to be actively addressing behaviour in schools – not just putting the problem out of sight and out of mind.”