Wednesday, October 12, 2005


Almost half of children are leaving primary school without the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. Official unpublished figures obtained by The Times reveal that, after six years of schooling, 44 per cent of 11-year-olds have not achieved Level 4, the expected standard set by the Government, for the combined “three Rs”. Ministers repeatedly emphasise that meeting this grade is critical for pupils to cope with the secondary school curriculum; 70 per cent of pupils who achieve Level 4 get five good GCSEs at 16, compared with 12 per cent who do not.

Two months ago Jacqui Smith, the Schools Minister, boasted that “this Government’s unrelenting focus on the basics is paying off”, after new figures for Key Stage 2 test results for Level 4 showed that 79 per cent of 11-year-olds had passed English and 75 per cent had passed maths this year. However, the Government omitted one statistic, which showed in a provisional estimate that the combined percentage of all pupils who had passed Level 4 in reading, writing and maths tests was just 56 per cent.

In an e-mail shown to The Times, a member of the Department for Education and Skills, responsible for compiling the data, wrote: “We have not in the past provided an analysis of those pupils achieving Level 4 and above in the [sic] all of the above subjects, but have done so for English, mathematics and science. This figure will be released in the final 2004 KS2 publication, scheduled for June 2005.” The results published in August did not include this figure, however. Instead, they revealed that 68 per cent of pupils had achieved Level 4 in English and maths; 79 per cent passed the English test, which combines reading and writing scores. When the English scores are extrapolated into reading and writing tests, those who failed at writing may have passed Level 4 English because their reading ability had pulled up the overall scores. The Opposition is now calling on the Government to publish the final combined figure and question why it has been suppressed.

Last week Ofsted, the schools watchdog, said that thousands of children were starting secondary school unable to read and write properly because of poor teaching in one in three English lessons. In December David Bell, the chief inspector of England’s schools, said urgent Government intervention was required to rescue pupils from illiteracy. His endorsement of the traditional phonics methods of teaching English was backed by Nick Gibb, the Shadow Schools Minister.

Ed Davey, education spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, accused the Government of taking “their eye off the ball of the basic skills in primary education”. “This is hugely embarrassing for Ministers boasting of improvements and proves there are questions regarding how they are running the education policy,” he said.

However, Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, insisted it was the tests, not the ability of children, which were at fault. “End-of-year SAT tests are treated like rocket science but they’re very rough and ready and need to be taken alongside other reports.”

Much of the poverty of ability in reading, writing and arithmetic appears to lie with boys lagging behind girls in reading and writing. Alan Smithers, director of education and employment research at the University of Buckingham, says that, to overcome this, intervention is needed at a much earlier age. He suggests that if children as young as 3 practised sitting still, talking to each other and grasping pencils in a more formal kindergarten setting, they would be more ready to learn to read and write when they reach primary school



"Less is more" and "Size doesn't matter." Whether architectural credo or as a subliminal, salacious message, people get stuck on mythical truisms. These maxims are glue traps to the New York City Department of Education, whose Chancellor Klein has embarked on a frenzy of fixing schools by dissolving them into tinier cells of infamy.

Large high schools are being split into four "personal touch" ignorance-bearing academies. This revolutionary ruse has been pulled before. The late Andrew Jackson High School, whose halls were bloodier than the alleys of Medellin, was reduced to four quaint nurturing learning hothouses. No longer a player on the police blotters, that high school has literally disappeared from the map and public consciousness. Some beat reporters, in quest of an expose', no doubt credit the Klein garrison state with cleaning up that particular academic toilet.

Fragmenting a huge failing institution into puny satellites and spinoffs will give the DOE cover to patch the recent revelation that applicants to its high schools have identified themselves as repulsed by eighty-six percent of their choices. Because of the baby boom of mini high schools, each with its own handsomely paid administration, that percentage will dramatically drop, just in time for the tabloids to pass on verbatim the Chancellor's inevitable self-congratulatory press release.

The release of the New York City High School Directory is awaited with breath more baited than that for the 9/11 Commission Report or the Academy Awards. Every school is glowingly spotlighted. Each is depicted as a fountainhead of specialized learning. There are more "unique focuses" than there are masterpieces at the Louvre.

No doubt someone was hired to thumb through an encyclopedia, identify every wide and narrow area of human endeavor, and forge a name for a new high school consecrated to its pursuit. From aviation to zoology, with perhaps some horticulture as an academic antipasto, there is a Gothic edifice to hoodwink the undiscerning, much as the slapped on paint over facades of incinerated South Bronx structures for tourists coasting from Boston to see en route here during the glory days of the Dinkins Administration.

An Oxford University professor, so worldly that from tinkering in his attic he devised a jamming device to thwart the signal of all boomboxes within a hundred yard radius of his beach cabana, was wildly impressed that these schools each sounded unique in more ways than there are fishes in the sea or lovers in Don Juan's black book. That High School Directory is such a state-of-the-art whitewash that not even he could believe that scarcely one-percent of the seniors in one of these urban temples knows how to outline an essay or diagram a sentence. I would bet my tax-deferred annuity that not one-half of them knows what alphabetical order means.

In answer to its own question, "What is special about small schools?", the Guide to NYC Small High Schools exclaims: "You will be safe. Everybody will know your name. You will learn fewer subjects well." Perhaps they should fine tune that last disclaimer.

These schools' concentrations are evident from their titles. Most are along the lines of "Expeditionary Learning," "Global Citizenship," "Urban Planning," and my odds-on-favorite, the "Peace and Diversity Academy." There are two schools for "social justice." Perhaps they will be varsity rivals. Other schools run the gamut, or the gauntlet, from "Aerospace" to "Hospitality Management" to "Ballet Tech." Selected supervisors might just as well rotate alma maters every other day for all the expertise they will possess, or know or care which is which. Instead of high-handed initiatives and grandstands, Chancellor Klein should reconcile his policies to proven traditional working models, and endear himself just a little to the real educators whom he has estranged.

(From Redhog)


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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