Tuesday, October 10, 2006

How to fire an incompetent teacher

Joel Klein led the Justice Department's attack on Microsoft for its alleged efforts to monopolize the software market. But Microsoft is a hotbed of competition compared to the organization Klein runs now. Klein is chancellor of New York City's public school system, a monopoly so heavily regulated that sometimes it's unable to fire even dangerous teachers. The series of steps a principal must take to dismiss an instructor is Byzantine. "It's almost impossible," Klein complains.

The rules were well-intended. The union was worried that principals would play favorites, hiring friends and family members while firing good teachers. If public education were subject to the competition of the free market, those bureaucratic rules would be unnecessary, because parents would hold a bad principal accountable by sending their kids to a different school the next year. But government schools never go out of business, and parents' ability to change schools is sharply curtailed. So the education monopoly adopts paralyzing rules instead.

The regulations are so onerous that principals rarely even try to fire a teacher. Most just put the bad ones in pretend-work jobs, or sucker another school into taking them. (They call that the "dance of the lemons.") The city payrolls include hundreds of teachers who have been deemed incompetent, violent, or guilty of sexual misconduct. Since the schools are afraid to let them teach, they put them in so-called "rubber rooms" instead. There they read magazines, play cards, and chat, at a cost to New York taxpayers of $20 million a year.

Once, Klein reports, the school system discovered that a teacher was sending sexual e-mails to a 16-year-old student. "This was the most unbelievable case to me," he says, "because the e-mail was there, he admitted to it. It was so thoroughly offensive." Even with the teacher's confession, it took six years of expensive litigation before the school could fire him. He didn't teach during those six years, but he still got paid-more than $350,000 total. What did it take to finally get rid of him? What does it take to get rid of any teacher whose offenses are so egregious that administrators are willing to tackle the red tape?

More here


History teaching at A level [Senior High School] is so fragmented that pupils are left with no understanding of the order in which important events occurred and little idea of what went before or after them, one of Britain's leading academics said yesterday. David Starkey, the television historian and a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, said that A levels were too often taught as if they were miniature degrees, with so much analysis crammed in that the periods they covered had to be cut short into "tiny gobbets of chewed-up material".

He said: "There is no point in doing merely a fragment in time with no sense of what might have led up to events and what consequences flowed from them. At the moment, pupils study a bit of American history and a bit of Hitler. That's almost useless." Dr Starkey said that it was absurd that the main history syllabus covering Hitler stopped in 1939. "There is no Second World War and no Holocaust. This approach does a lot of damage. It glamorises Hitler. You have to ask yourself, what is the point of studying it at all?"

He was equally critical of how syllabuses tackled Henry VIII and the Reformation, his own specialist period. "With Henry VIII, the syllabus covers 1502 to 1529. It stops when things get interesting. The other part of the syllabus covers 1529 to 1547 - the interesting bit. This is an absurd fragmentation. It leaves no space to take a step back and discuss what came before or after. "History, if properly taught, should give people a sense of time and a map of time. You should be able to place yourself in time," he said.

Dr Starkey said that teaching also placed far too much emphasis on the science of gathering evidence for historical events, an approach known as the discovery method. "Teachers use the discovery method to teach when the Norman Conquest was. We know when it was. What's the point in having a teacher if not to tell the students what the facts are?" He added that the study of original documents and the search for evidence should not come until university level. Dr Starkey also despaired of the way his own works and those of other historians were used in schools, with teachers focusing increasingly on historiography - the study of the way history is written - rather than history itself. "A-level students would not be able to tell you what happened at the beginning of the Civil War, but they would be able to tell you what (the historian) Conrad Russell thought about the Civil War," he said.

Dr Starkey was speaking before the premiere this week of the film version of Alan Bennett's successful play The History Boys. It depicts the clash between two teachers, one who values learning for its own sake and one who sees teaching as a series of artificially selected exam techniques. It is a debate that Dr Starkey believes is worth having, not least because he fears that the current system of exams, targets and league tables is destroying Britain's education system.

He fears that highly prescriptive curriculums, combined with a fear in schools of failing in the league tables had produced "nothing but elaborately polished mediocrity" among students, who were coached to pass exams, but not to understand their subjects. He believes that among teachers it has bred an "encompassing cynicism" and destroyed their autonomy, self-confidence and sense of risk


Australia: "Conservatives" seize the education reform initiative

The 19,834th demonstration that Conservatives do NOT oppose change

The Howard Government seeks to transform the politics of education with its campaign to reform school curriculums and achieve more uniform national standards. The initiative by Education Minister Julie Bishop yesterday unveils a bold new agenda replete with risk and opportunity. It invests the Coalition with the initiative in education policy, and is anchored in the deep professional and parental alarm about the values and quality of school curriculums.

Bishop's speech reveals much about the nature of the Government in its fourth term. This initiative involves a willing resort to use central government powers against the states. It constitutes a new cultural assault on the ideological Left and the teacher unions. And it will divide Labor between the choice of popular "back to basics" reforms and its powerful supporters in the educational and teacher union lobbies, who will insist on a showdown with the Howard Government. While the Labor states will protest and threaten resistance, they recognise the need to make some concessions on curriculums. This process is under way.

The critical line in Bishop's speech was her claim that the politics of education was moving from staff and student ratios to a "new frontier" of teacher quality and curriculums. This is a shift from a Labor to a Liberal agenda. A shift in the ideas that dominate education policy in Australia. And it is an ominous warning to Labor that in a policy area long deemed to be Labor's political domain, the Government intends to set the future agenda. The new ideas outlined by Bishop are raising school standards, a greater national curriculum consistency and a new system of accountability for what happens in schools. She invoked the recent declaration in this newspaper by Professor Ken Wiltshire that the states had failed to maintain the quality of school education.

The problem for state governments is their subjugation to education theory that undermines traditional disciplines and politicises curriculums. The states cannot win this argument at the bar of public opinion. Asking 15-year-olds to write about Shakespeare from a Marxist perspective or deconstructing Big Brother won't fly with the public. The litany of examples is exhaustive.

The states may fight Bishop's pledge to "take school curriculum out of the hands of ideologues" by campaigning on state rights. Given his cautious instincts, John Howard will not want a confrontation with the states. But Howard has prepared the ground for this cultural battle. Pivotal to Bishop's reform agenda is her ability to persuade the teachers. Hence her commitment to performance-based pay and compulsory professional development. Her strategy will be to entice individual teachers but penalise the union. It will be a difficult task.


Leftist Australian State government jolted into education reform

The Queensland Government is considering plans to overhaul Years 11 and 12 amid growing debate over national education standards. State Education Minister Rod Welford yesterday welcomed plans by the Queensland Studies Authority to review the senior syllabus. The proposals include introduction of a technical English subject and extension level subjects for advanced students. The QSA also suggests a review of assessment levels in term 3 of Year 12, when students are expected to complete a core skills test, major assignment work and subject tests.

"I think it's a pretty good report and offers us a way forward but there's a lot more work to be done," Mr Welford said. The comments came as Premier Peter Beattie yesterday weighed into the education debate by responding to a Sunday Mail report that a Year 9 student at Windaroo Valley State High School, south of Brisbane, was failed when she refused to write about life in a gay community. Mr Beattie said he did not believe the assignment was appropriate for a 13-year-old.

He said the assignment was not part of the curriculum but one of several topics suggested by the independent Queensland Studies Authority and he called for it to be withdrawn. "I would hope that obviously we educate young Queenslanders to live in a global world, we have to be realistic about what happens in the world," he said. "(But) I don't think it's appropriate for a 13-year-old to be doing an assignment like this and I think the authority should withdraw it."

Mr Beattie also defended the curriculum taught in Queensland schools and said he would not support a national system that could "lower the standards". Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop last week said all Australian students should study a national curriculum, claiming state systems were being run by left-wing ideologues.

But in an apparent softening of the Commonwealth's position, Ms Bishop said yesterday she wanted to work with the states to develop a national curriculum. "I'm not talking about a Commonwealth takeover," she said. Nevertheless, Ms Bishop said the states had to "get their act together". "We are on the money on this issue," she said. "Parents are sick of left-wing ideology curriculum." Ms Bishop also questioned the benefit of union representatives sitting on state curriculum councils.

Opposition education spokeswoman Jenny Macklin said the key was to work with the states, not threaten them. "Labor wants to see nationally consistent high standards of education in all our schools right around Australia," she said. "What Labor doesn't want is (Prime Minister) John Howard and his Education Minister playing politics with our children's education, threatening the states."



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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