Monday, August 15, 2005


Congress is taking the first steps toward pressuring colleges to maintain ideological balance in the classroom, a move that supporters insist is needed to protect conservative students from being graded down by liberal professors. A resolution attached to the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which has passed the House Education and the Workforce Committee and is expected to be taken up by the full House in September, tells colleges to grade students on the basis of their mastery of subject matter rather than on their political views.

The provision makes no mention of specific political leanings, but represents a victory for conservative student groups who have been arguing for years that American universities are bastions of liberalism seeking to impose their liberal orthodoxy on dissenters.

The measure is not binding, but some higher education analysts caution that it is not to be taken lightly. Colleges and universities, they say, should consider this a warning shot from a Republican-controlled Congress fed up with the liberal academy. ''If the universities don't move, all that's going to happen is this will build," said David Horowitz, a conservative author and a driving force in the free speech movement that inspired the resolution. ''They're sitting on a tinderbox. Now we have resolutions. I guarantee you, if they thumb their noses at this, there will be statutory legislation."

The resolution, which also tells institutions not to take political orientation into account when allocating money for programs and declares that campus speakers should reflect a range of viewpoints, was made following several recent controversies involving politics in the academy.

Last year, Columbia University launched an investigation of its Middle East studies department after a student documentary accused professors of intimidating Jewish students when they tried to express views supporting Israel. Earlier this year, Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., reneged on a speaking invitation to University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill because he had published an article blaming America for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and comparing the victims to Nazis. The University of Colorado fired Churchill for his comments.

The resolution does not specify how colleges and universities should achieve political balance, only that schools should encourage expression of diverse views. But many college administrators fear that it could lead to congressional interference if students seek to explain low grades by saying they disagreed with their professor's political views. Also, the provision's biggest backers in Congress make no secret of their intent to make colleges more welcoming to conservative students

More here


It could teach a lot of American schools a thing or two

The school gates once marked a clear division of responsibility: on one side parents ruled and on the other teachers taught. Not any more. Conditioned to a highly competitive world, parents are challenging teachers to justify the trust that has always been extended to them - teachers can get with the program or get out of the way. "When your child goes to school you've got no idea what they're supposed to be learning and how they are being taught," says company manager Piers Morgan. "Parents often get mixed messages about what's happening in the school."

But at Cammeray Public School, where Hamish Morgan is in year 2, the lines of communication are clear. The classrooms are open to parental scrutiny, and mothers and fathers attend evening mathematics seminars to learn about syllabus developments. Teachers answer emails about homework from parents who have signed an agreement with the school about how the lessons will be taught. Each child has a "personalised learning" plan to fit the curriculum to individual needs. Hamish is a whiz with numbers so he does maths at year 3 level. "Parents want to know things like how much homework their kids are doing, is it too much, what should they be reading, and at what level," says Morgan, the president of the school council. The school's principal, Christine Taylor, says the team approach makes parents feel confident about what their children are learning and enables them to help more at home.

But for many other parents, what children are being taught at school is of paramount concern. Educated in the 1970s and '80s, when grammar went the way of the dodo, parents are demanding back-to-basics school lessons for their children. They want times tables drilled and poetry memorised stanza by stanza. At dinner parties, there is hand-wringing that children can't spell, do fractions, conjugate a verb and don't read "real" literature.

Social researcher Hugh Mackay says it's part of "a broader picture of parental concern about the well-being of their kids" and is heavily influenced by Australia's falling birth rate, now down to 1.7 babies per woman. With fewer children, parents are more protective and aspirational, and they want "the best education" for their brood.

On most indicators, school education in the 21st century is better than in the 20th century. Students score highly on international tests, are taking harder subjects for the HSC and 75 per cent finish year 12, compared with 35 per cent in the 1980s. But there are flashpoints in almost every subject - from alleged postmodernism in senior English to how maths is being taught in primary schools. In the past decade, subjects have been increasingly linked to the "real world" to be relevant to students. At the same time, conservative politicians and parents have called for a return to the three Rs, and there is evidence that education authorities are responding.

Parents are placing more value on their children's education "as seen in the growth of private education and demands for greater accountability", says Peter Knapp, the director of Educational Assessment Australia, a centre at the University of NSW. They are pushing for "more testing and rigorously teaching fundamentals like grammar early on. You can see that with the way grammar was brought back into the K-6 [kindergarten to year 6] syllabus," he says. This year about 200,000 students will sign up for his centre's tests. These academic inquisitions are on top of the 10 statewide exams they sit at school, starting with the Basic Skills Test in year 3 and finishing with the HSC in year 12. "Teachers are saying, 'We've got too many tests for kids' ... but parents are saying, 'There aren't enough tests, we want more'," Knapp says. "We now give our tests to one-third of all NSW schoolchildren, between about year 3 and year 10, in English, writing, computer skills, science and mathematics." He explains the return to fundamentals as a parental "backlash" against the education fads of the 1980s and '90s. "You got kids leaving school who couldn't write. Parents have become much more hard-nosed. They're paying for their kids' education and they want results. You see it in the trend away from state schools," he says.

When the federal Minister for Education, Brendan Nelson, launched his crusade last year for "plain language" student report cards, he was armed with the results of a $60,000 survey of 3000 parents. "Parents want to be told in plain language exactly how their kids are performing," he says. "They want to know how they are performing in relation to the rest of the class and they want to know how they're going against the rest of the country." From next year, 10,000 schools will be forced - through Government legislation - to give students an A, B, C, D or E grade and rank them into performance quartiles within the class. "The only people that I've had opposing our agenda for publishing school performance ... are teachers, principals and educational bureaucrats ... It's like having a dialogue with the deaf," Nelson says.

Mathematician Garth Gaudry, head of the federally funded International Centre of Excellence for Education in Mathematics, is a harsh critic of the lack of rigour in the curriculum. "If you ask the average parent they would say 'there are two subjects I really want my kid to master: English and mathematics'," he says. "They're absolutely right for the simple reason that if you know those two subjects you can learn lots of other things by yourself. They are foundation subjects."

The NSW Board of Studies is about to set guidelines on how much time should be allocated to each subject. Literacy and numeracy - which can be taught across subjects other than English and maths - should comprise 45 per cent to 55 per cent of the school week. It will be the first time in a generation that these "indicative" times have been used in schools, and they will be combined with a streamlined list of what is "mandatory" subject matter. There are only 24 teaching hours in a primary school week, yet the curriculum has grown like topsy, jamming in non-essential studies like road safety and recycling. The president of the Board of Studies, Professor Gordon Stanley, says the 316 "mandatory outcomes" that teachers have to teach will be replaced by new statements that spell out what students should be able to do at each stage of their schooling. These statements will list "the essential learning that we expect all schools to be delivering as part of the minimum curriculum". "From a parents' perspective I think the stage statements are more intelligible than some of the detail we have currently," he says.

The board's inspector of primary education, Margaret Malone, said the guidelines would cover 80 per cent of the school day and include times for English, maths, science, technology, creative arts, history, geography and personal development. The remaining 20 per cent of time gives schools flexibility to teach extra reading, religious instruction or use it for school sport.

Ironically, it is the "overcrowded curriculum" that has sent parents fleeing to coaching colleges for more tuition for their children. Mohan Dhall, public officer for the Australian Tutoring Association, said many parents feared that "the basic skills will be overlooked" because there was so much to cover in the curriculum. At Sydney's prestigious Ascham school, a mother this week told the Herald that "everybody I know has coaches, many have three". So what makes these parents, who are paying $18,000 a year in fees, seek more help? "We have coaching because we feel she is missing some of the basics," the mother said. Her daughter, doing her HSC, needs a high mark to get a place in her preferred university course.

Parents nostalgic for the "good old days" - when they were made to chant times tables until they were blue in the face - need a reality check, long-serving education bureaucrat Paul Brock politely suggests. "You would never, ever have done King Lear for the Leaving Certificate. You didn't even have to study poetry ... You could opt out of it. I have read chief examiners' reports in the '40s complaining bitterly that their students couldn't write or spell properly," says Brock, the director of learning and development research in the NSW Department of Education and Training. "The good old days? The HSC English curriculum now is immeasurably more challenging than the old Leaving Certificate English curriculum." In nearly two decades on the English syllabus committee, from the late 1960s into the 1980s, Brock watched the course content become more difficult. He is adamant that HSC English is now harder than ever before. "And despite all the fuss, the vast majority of texts on the syllabus are still classics by any definition of the word."

Poet Les Murray shudders when he recalls his school days in the 1950s. Poetry, which was seen as "an effeminate thing for girls", was rarely taught to boys and it was only by accident that he discovered the joy of verse. "I had one teacher, luckily, who showed me how exciting it was," he says. "Education in schools has always been pretty crap. I can't imagine it would be much worse now."

The results of two international assessments, released late last year, summed up the curriculum conflict for governments, educators, parents and employers. Our students know enough to get by in everyday life but they don't always do it by the book. The 12,500 Australian 15-year-olds tested for the OECD Program for International Student Assessment rated in the world's elite for how they could apply reading, mathematical and scientific skills to real-life problems. They had the mathematical skills to perform currency conversions and to read graphs in newspapers. But a quarter - and more boys than girls - were at or below the lowest international reading benchmark.

Geoff Masters, the chief executive of the Australian Council for Educational Research, says the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study - which examined 10,000 Australian year 4 and year 8 students - painted "a less positive picture" of how much they absorbed from maths and science textbooks. This test showed a disturbing 35 per cent of Australian year 8 students were at or under the lowest international maths benchmark. Both tests are run in more than 40 countries every three or four years, so it is possible to track each country's improvement, or lack thereof. The study has rung alarm bells because Australian students in the nine years to 2003 did not improve at the same rate as students from other countries and were significantly outperformed by England, Belgium, The Netherlands, Estonia and Hungary. This gave the appearance that "Australia has been standing still while other countries have been moving forward", Masters wrote last month in his centre's journal, Research Developments. "If Australia is to lift its performance in mathematics and science over the next decade, then greater attention will need to be given to the teaching of basic factual and procedural knowledge."

Anne Baker jokes that she and her husband, Chris, have laboured over enough homework to qualify for honorary Dip Eds. The couple send their son Simon, in year 11, and daughter Kim, in year 9, to the "parent-controlled" Covenant Christian School in Belrose. An association of parents at the school meets to determine the way the curriculum is taught, and runs the selection process for new teachers. Parents sit in on classes as helpers, organise reading groups for younger students, volunteer in the library and supervise exams. One conundrum the parents faced was whether to allow students to read the popular Harry Potter books when "they don't really reflect the Christian message". "Some parents didn't mind their kids reading it, but other parents did," says Baker. "We allowed the first two books to stay in the primary school, and the other books were only allowed in the senior school." At home she proofreads assignment drafts and tracks the children's workload. When Kim struggled, as a younger student, her mother spent "a year doing extra work with her at home". "Now that they're a bit older, it's not quite so hands-on," says Baker. "It's mainly making sure they're on schedule with their work, that they're sticking to a timetable. I help them break work down into chunks and time-manage. "I suppose we're like the new teachers, but outside school," she says.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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