Tuesday, August 31, 2004

28 August, 2004


"Just look at how some of the winners are responding to this year's U.S. News & World Report college rankings. No sooner did it emerge that Princeton was tied with Harvard for America's best college than the Princeton PR office issued a statement sniffing that rankings "cannot capture the distinctiveness of any institution."....

Others object to the whole idea of ranking. Take Mount Holyoke President Joanne V. Creighton, who wrote this for USA Today in 2001: "Not only should we refuse to give lip service to this specious and oversimplified labeling of our institutions, we should resist labeling our students with numbers, too. There are insidious parallels between the bogus ranking of colleges and universities by U.S. News and the ranking of students by their SAT scores. "

Insidious, indeed. The academy is increasingly reluctant to acknowledge distinctions in merit. This plague of indecision is yielding larger numbers of co-valedictorians and co-salutatorians and often puts students in the dark about how they really stack up against their peers. Grade inflation hasn't helped. "We're all different" has somehow morphed, within the protective confines of the ivory tower, into "we're all equally good." "

More here.

25 August, 2004


A college would rather expose its degrees as meaningless than face the fact that there are important inequalities between people

"Two untenured science professors at Benedict College in South Carolina were fired for refusing to adhere to a grading policy that makes effort 60% of the course grade for freshmen. The policy applies only to the first two years of school (the sophomore year applies a 50/50 formula), and then the students are allowed only in the junior year to be "judged strictly on academic performance." The professors, Milwood Motley and Larry Williams, had gone along with it for awhile, but finally could not accept the consequences of the policy.

Motley, who came to Benedict five years ago from the Morehouse School of Medicine, said he was uncomfortable with the concept from the beginning. But he went along with it grudgingly until he was confronted with an academic dilemma: giving a passing grade to a student he believed had not learned the course material. Awarding a C to a student whose highest exam score was less than 40 percent was more than he could tolerate. There comes a time when you have to say this is wrong," he said. This spring, he defied the SEE policy, as did department colleague Williams. Neither has tenure. Williams would not comment for this story. "I did it (awarded grades) strictly on academic performance," Motley said. "They told us to go back and recalculate the grades, and I just refused to do it."

Despite a faculty grievance committee vote to recommend reinstatement, college president David Swinton refused".

More here

22 August, 2004

Another triumph for America's Leftist educators: "He said Americans had a reputation for being ignorant of world affairs. The annual National Geographic Survey had thrown up the sad fact that only 23 out of 56 young Americans knew the whereabouts of the Pacific Ocean".

20 August, 2004

"What is liberalism all about?: Regardless of whether the particular issue is race, agriculture, housing, or a thousand other things, liberalism is about the government telling people what to do in their lives and work.... It has been said that knowledge is power but, politically, power trumps knowledge. When government agencies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the courts take statistical differences in the "representation' of various ethnic groups in an employer's work force as evidence of discrimination, they don't have to prove their belief to anyone. They have the power. Employers have to try to prove their innocence to them. When the people who run our schools and teachers colleges prefer the "whole language' and "whole math' approaches to teaching English and mathematics, it doesn't matter how many studies show that these approaches don't work. The education establishment has the power and power trumps knowledge".

"Hispanic" Maths? 2+2=5?: "The University of Arizona will be the site of a Center for the Mathematics Education of Latinos and Latinas. The National Science Foundation has awarded a $10 million grant to create the center, which will team math and education researchers at the University of Arizona with the Sunnyside and Tucson unified school districts. The goal of the five-year grant is to advance math education by developing a model that connects math instruction and learning to the cultural, social and linguistic contexts of Hispanics, UA officials said"

19 August, 2004

Teacher's union misrepresents Charter schools: "Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often called the nation's report card, show students in charter schools doing less well than the nationwide public-school average, which includes middle class students from well-heeled suburbs.... Big deal. These results could easily indicate nothing other than the simple fact that charter schools are typically asked to serve problematic students in low-performing districts with many poor, minority children. Indeed, if the AFT believes these findings, it must also concede that religious schools excel. According to the same NAEP data from which the AFT study is taken, religious schools outperformed the public schools nationwide by nine points, a gap that is as large as the public school-charter school difference AFT is trumpeting".


He led British sailors to a stunning victory over the powerful Spanish Armada in 1588. He is renowned for his naval cunning. He is a true British hero. He is Gandalf.

Well, not really. But in the minds of one out of every 20 British young adults, J.R.R. Tolkien's white-robed wizard has replaced Sir Francis Drake. This and other wildly wrong answers in a recent survey here about British history (half of 16- to 34-year-olds did not know that the Battle of Britain took place during World War II), point to a staggeringly poor grasp of cultural heritage.

The survey is prompting noisy accusations about the dumbing down of the nation that gave the world such luminaries as William Shakespeare, Charles Babbage, and Stephen Hawking.....

Educators point to failings in the school system. History courses, for example, focus too heavily on the 20th century, they say, neglecting earlier periods. Shakespeare students often do not have to read the full play - they just watch a video and read a few scenes that may come up in examination questions.

Exams are a pale imitation of the tests set 20 or 30 years ago, according to teacher Chris Brotherton. "Exams are getting easier," he says, anticipating another set of inflated results when marks are awarded for 16- and 18-year-olds later this month. "Because we have 45 percent going on to university now, compared to 15 percent a generation ago, it has to be easier to get an 'A' grade."....

A surge in university admissions suggests that youth see value in acquiring knowledge. But Nick Seaton, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, says professors complain that the academic standard of incoming students "is nothing like what it was 10 or 15 years ago."... "Undoubtedly, traditional standards in this country have dropped markedly over the last 20 or 30 years and a lot of it we would put down to the cultural change in the education system where content has been thrown out in order to allow more young people to achieve success," Mr. Seaton says.

More here

16 August, 2004


And a Leftist State government (NSW) in Australia has had to come to terms with that

"Selective schools are public education's most effective weapon against the drift to the private sector. But the proliferation of these academic hothouses is sucking the lifeblood out of the greater public system, critics argue, by draining local comprehensive high schools of their best and brightest.

NSW has embraced the selective school system. In 1988 there were 12 selective high schools, including five with a specialist bent such as agriculture and music, out of a total 381 government high schools in the state. By 2002 there were 28 academically selective or partially selective high schools, two performing arts schools and 30 specialist schools that selected some students, the Vinson inquiry into public education found.

At the state's recent schools expo in Sydney, the principal of Riverside Girls High School, Judy King, spent two days manning the Department of Education's booth. "The only question I was asked ... was 'how can I get my kid into a selective school?' It drove me bats. When I said 'I'm here to talk about all types of the government system, comprehensives and so on', they weren't interested."....

This year, the State Government added three more schools to its growing list of comprehensives offering selective streams. And principals like Sydney Secondary College's Mark Anderson need no convincing that such programs are an effective weapon against the private school juggernaut. At his previous school, enrolments had dropped from 1145 to 484 in a decade....

But when Mr Anderson left in 2001 the school had grown to more than 600, simply through the introduction of a gifted and talented program."

More here

13 August, 2004

Highly educated Catholic dinosaurs: They still have not caught up with the triumph of capitalism. "Diotallevi and Cipriani interviewed a selection of persons largely representative of the Italian Catholic intelligentsia.... When questioned on politics and economics, a great number of them demonstrated an orientation markedly in favor of state intervention: 44 percent of those interviewed held that the state should provide jobs for everyone; 48 percent held that the labor market should be made more rigid and less flexible; a very great number of them want the state to have control of the most important businesses. And the closer those interviewed are to the heart of Church organizations, the greater is their opposition to economic liberalism. It is the same in the field of health care. Here as well, opposition to the free market increases with the level of education and religious participation of those interviewed..... The political battles for which Italian progressivist Catholics fight also have little or nothing distinctively religious about them. This is true both for interventionism and for the pacifism that opposed the war in Iraq.

12 August, 2004

An excellent summary of the voucher education record here. Excerpt: "Critics of school choice often argue that private schools have an unfair advantage because, unlike government schools, they can select the "cream of the crop" and expel disruptive students. But St Adalbert's experience has decisively disproved this view.... More than two-thirds of her students have come from families below the poverty line. Yet, thanks to a solid core curriculum, minimal bureaucracy, and disciplined and structured classrooms, St Adalbert's has seen more than 90 per cent of its pupils go on to post-secondary education or to paid jobs."


The Leftist influence in Australia's public schools makes them a tolerant, accepting, pleasant, learning environment for kids, right? Australian parents are voting with their feet over that one. And escaping all the Leftist propaganda is only part of it. Parents know the importance of discipline and have this strange idea that their kids should not have their learning disrupted by having behaviour-problem kids thrust into their midst

"A demand for better discipline and a hankering for tradition, smart uniforms and moral values are driving parents out of public education and into private schools, exclusive research for the Herald reveals. School culture - not academic results - is the main reason parents select private schools, according to the study by the Australian Council for Educational Research, based on a national poll of parents of high school students.

"One factor stood out: the extent to which the school embraced traditional values to do with discipline, religious or moral values, the traditions of the school itself, and the requirement that a uniform be worn," the study says. Concern over discipline is the reason a third of the public school parents surveyed would switch their children to private schools if they could afford the fees. "This suggests that if private education was more affordable, the drift away from government schools would continue," concludes the study, Why Parents Choose Private or Public Schools.....

In the 10 years to 2003, enrolments in public schools increased nationally by 1.2 per cent, compared with a growth spurt of 22.3 per cent in private schools. Each year, the NSW public education system loses about 5000 existing or prospective students to private schools.

The fastest growth is in non-government high schools. Every capital city, except Darwin and Hobart, has at least 40 per cent of students in private secondary schools. In Sydney, the rate is 41.7 per cent.....

"Traditional values are probably the best predictor of the people wanting to select a non-government school. That's what they're after." Professor Masters said the mantra of discipline for choosing private schools was often a general comment about the "culture of the school being focused on the core business of learning". Parents do not want their children's study interrupted by disruptive students."

More here

5 August, 2004


A great cry that regularly emanates from politicians who want to sound "caring" is the need for more "investment" in education (which means of course more of that lovely government spending and hence more taxes). The cry is usually justfied as an investment in "human capital". The claim is that more education leds to more capable people (don't laugh!) and hence more productivity and a wealthier community generally. It has been known since the 1973 work of Ivar Berg (review here) that this is utter horse-sh*t. The educational system has long been so airy-fairy that most of it is already more a hindrance than a help to worker productivity and income generation. If we wanted to do something useful for people we would be cutting education-spending back to the low level that actually works (like such revolutionary policies as making sure nobody gets out of grade school until they can read and write) -- not increasing it. Berg's studies (recently updated and reissued) focused on microeconomic indices (differences between people within a given population), however, so it is a welcome update to read this recent article, focusing on macroeconomic comparisons (differences between countries). The different methodology, however, leads to the same conclusions. For an extended look at the dubious value of a humanities education in particular see here.

And here is the latest example of such a boneheaded cry -- a summary of the promises from the recent Democrat convention: "George Bush's increase in national education spending, the largest since the program's inception, wasn't enough. The Democrats want to raise elementary spending at least $27 billion but, of course, spend nothing on educational vouchers for those who need to escape the failed government monopoly school system. And Democrats want the same priority for college education spending, at least $25 billion more yearly."

Reality finally bites: "Chicago is closing 60 failing schools, opening 100 new schools and letting private managers run most of the new schools with no union contract. Chicago business leaders used the prospect of federal sanctions under No Child Left Behind "to pressure the city to put many schools into private hands, outside union jurisdiction," reports the New York Times. The local teachers' union is distracted by charges of fraud in the recent election for union president. With nobody in charge, the union hasn't done much to fight the plan."

Degrees for sale: "Cash-strapped British universities are awarding degrees to students who should be failed, in return for lucrative fees, The Observer can reveal. The 'degrees-for-sale' scandal stretches from the most prestigious institutions to the former polytechnics and includes undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, foreign and home students. In the most extreme case, The Observer has evidence of a professor ordering staff to mark up students at risk of failing in order to keep the money coming in. Lecturers at institutions across the country, including Oxford, London and Swansea, told The Observer the scandal is undermining academic standards, but they cannot speak publicly for fear of losing their jobs." This sort of thing has long been an ongoing scandal in Australian universities too. Why should government employees care about degrading their product?


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