Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Politics As Usual for Los Angeles Teachers Union

From anti-Israel rallies to incoherence on school reform, the union places politics above helping students

United teachers Los Angeles is misnamed. Last week's events show that the teachers union is hardly united - and that its focus too often strays far from education and Los Angeles. By being overly political and acting against reform, the union has let down both its members and the district's students.

The teachers finally rose up against their union leadership last week, voting by a convincing margin to oppose the legislation that gives Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa a measure of influence over the schools. Union leaders at first opposed mayoral control of the schools; then, without consulting their members or even their governing body, they worked out a deal to get behind a half-baked bill that fragments responsibility rather than centralizing it and blurs accountability rather than clarifying it. The leaders defended themselves by saying Villaraigosa wouldn't wait for them to consult its policymaking body.

The union suffered another embarrassment when it backed off from plans to co-host an anti-Israel rally at its headquarters. The reason for its hasty retreat is obvious - outcry from both the public and within its own ranks. Less clear is what the union was thinking in the first place, getting involved in a sensitive international issue and hosting a rally certain to offend many teachers, students and parents.

But then, building student achievement often comes in a distant second to politics as UTLA priorities. Last week, union President A.J. Duffy told The Times that even though scripted teaching methods raise scores, "test scores are a phony gauge of whether public education is successful or not." He's entitled to his opinion, but like them or not, tests are one of the measures by which the district tracks the progress of its students. And their progress is the job of every teacher. The union leadership's resistance to the reforms that improve scores is an obstacle to the improvement of L.A. schools.

Fortunately, there are many teachers who disagree with Duffy, who put student achievement first, who believe in trying new things that might help. These are the teachers who think more about the classroom than the union. Unfortunately, they don't tend to vote in union elections. Slightly more than a quarter of the union's members voted in the election that made Duffy president. Maybe if those teachers were more active in UTLA, the L.A. schools would have the kind of union they deserve.



There have always been a few bright sparks who made it to university before their eighteenth birthdays. I knew some 17-year-olds when I was at college: they had been so far ahead of their class that their teachers let them skip a year. They didn't get any special treatment at university. Though not legally adults, they were entering an adult institution and were treated pretty much the same as everybody else.

Now with all the paranoia about child protection, universities have changed their view of 17-year-olds. Seventeen-year olds are officially children, and so a whole morass of bureaucracy is developing to protect them from the potentially abusive adults on campus. One admissions tutor at University College London (UCL) says he must now check the criminal records of any staff involved with students under the age of 18. Given that tutors are already over-burdened by bureaucracy, it's likely that they just won't bother: `The practice will be that they won't admit 17-year-olds. They will read this advice and turn down those applicants.' The tutor - who was 17 himself when he started university - argues that this `denies students the opportunity of an education when they are ready for it'.

Those under-age students who do make it through the door will find themselves subject to a distinct system of protection, with a whole special layer of restrictions and protective measures. The University of Glamorgan sends students a letter informing them of their special status. `The university is also required to offer you special protection against sexual harassment, and this responsibility we take very seriously', it says. Even though over-16s can give consent for medical treatment, the university `follows good practice and seeks to involve those people with parental responsibility', asking students to get their parents to fill out a form about medical treatment.

The University of Kent reads both 17-year-olds and their tutors their rights and responsibilities on matriculation day. University advice states: `The Head of Student Guidance and Welfare will contact all U18 students at the start of term to ensure that they are aware of the university regulations and any restrictions placed upon them as a result of their age. `One member of academic staff should be put forward to act as personal tutor for all students who are under 18 and this information provided to the Director of Student Guidance and Welfare Services. That person must undertake a Criminal Records Bureau [CRB] check.... That person should be reminded of the special duty of care owed to underage students and in particular of the offence of abuse of trust under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000.'

As for accepting students younger than 17, Oxford is turning around its traditional habit of accepting child prodigies. At the start of term last year, university authorities said they just couldn't cope with the need to monitor and vet everybody with whom the child came into contact. Ruth Collier, a spokesperson for admissions, said: `Suddenly we can't offer one-to-one tutorials, while the people who do administration in our colleges have to spend a great deal of time making absolutely sure they are not inadvertently placing a child in a potentially dangerous situation with anyone who hasn't had a criminal records check.'

Interviews and university open days have become a minefield. The University of Essex requires that student mentors and helpers undergo a CRB check. It also insists on the presence of two `designated child protection officers' for school visits where students are not accompanied by a teacher or parent, and these officers' `names and contact details must be communicated to the young people involved in the activity, their parents, and staff members'.

Behind all of this lies a changing definition of adulthood and childhood. When adult meant `mature', the existence of 17-year-olds on campus wasn't such a big deal. They couldn't vote or drink legally, but it was only a question of a few months. Since becoming adult was a about becoming gradually more mature, the grey area of 16 to 18 could be fudged. Now, `adult' and `child' have come to mean potential abuser and potential abuse victim. This sets them apart as two completely separate groups, with completely different interests. Children are not in the process of being assimilated into the adult world, but instead need to be protected and defended from it. When this is the view, there is a legalistic obsession with age. A person flips, on their eighteenth birthday, from being abused to abuser, from being protected to regulated. So a person aged 17 years and 11 months would need their tutor to be CRB-checked; if the following month they were to help out at a university open day, they themselves would need to be CRB-checked.

UCL recently changed its regulations from covering students under 17, to covering students `under 17 years and 3 months' - presumably those who would not turn 18 in the course of the year. Somebody's months and years are counted precisely, to decide which side of the abuser-abused line they fall down on. Challenging this ridiculous treatment of 17-year-old university students would be one way to take on this poisonous view of adult-child relationships that is widespread today


Australia: Teachers' union sets up Communist Cuba as an example

They can't help wearing their hearts on their sleeves

A South Australian teachers' union journal has praised the achievements of Cuba's education system, saying class sizes are small, schools are free and teachers well-trained. The Australian Education Union has defended the publication, just days after federal Education Minister Julie Bishop claimed school curriculums had been distorted by "Chairman Mao" type ideologies of state bureaucrats.

Former union organiser and journal editor Dan Murphy said the communist island under the regime of Fidel Castro had a 100per cent literacy rate, higher than Australia's. "For a poor, underdeveloped country, they've achieved quite well and nobody can deny that," said Mr Murphy. "It (the article) doesn't shirk away from other issues like requiring teachers to reinforce communist values. But it's not a piece of propaganda out of Miami; it covers other facts you don't strictly get." AEU state president Andrew Gohl yesterday endorsed the South Australian teachers union article, saying: "The fact that (Cuban) education is free, compulsory and funded significantly by the Government is something all governments should aspire to".

The chief source of information for Mr Murphy's August feature was Havana-based Gilda Chacon, a trade union official from the Cuban Federation of Workers. She visited Adelaide in July and was partly sponsored by the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, for which Mr Murphy previously worked. "I think it's a balanced investigation into the available evidence on Cuba," he said.

The AEU also published a letter to the editor from student teacher and Communist Party of Australia member Craig Greer in its latest issue. Mr Greer wrote that the federal Government "still can't find enough money to mirror a fraction of what the Cuban Government has achieved". "If Cuba is a dictatorship, then I'm ready to be dictated to."

The debate follows claims last year by senior NSW education adviser Wayne Sawyer that the education profession was to blame for the re-election of the Howard Government. Students had voted for John Howard because English teachers had failed to teach them critical thought, he argued.

After calling last week for a national curriculum, Ms Bishop said yesterday that parents wanted ideology to be taken out of the classroom. "We need to focus on a commonsense curriculum with high, nationally consistent standards that reflect the values of the community," she said.

The US State Department, in a report on Cuba last year, said all elementary and secondary school students received "obligatory ideological indoctrination".

Cuban-born journalist and author Luis Garcia said Cuba's education system was "heavily politicised" and not an example Australia should follow. "The purpose of education (in Cuba) is not just to teach how to read and write and understand complex issues but essentially it has become a defender of the Castro regime," Garcia said.


Australian university makes students re-study High School mathematics

James Cook University has forced more than half its first-year science and engineering students to sit a high-school-level maths course. The Queensland university revealed yesterday it had become so frustrated by falling standards among high school graduates, and confused by a lack of parity between states, that it joined Wollongong University and the Australian Defence Force Academy in conducting a maths exam of its own design on first-year science and engineering students.

James Cook head of maths, physics and information technology Wayne Read said less than half the Queensland students passed. He said the university this year allowed 190 students to proceed with advanced mathematics but forced 250 to complete a "lookalike" high school Maths B course run by the university. Of the 250 compelled to do the "lookalike" course, an estimated 20 per cent had already done Maths B at high school. "There has certainly been a decline in the (mathematical) abilities of students when they enter university," said Professor Read, who has been an academic since 1987. "That decline started in the early 1990s."

The revelation came as a senior defence force lecturer backed federal Education Minister Julie Bishop's call for a national curriculum, and teachers in Western Australia bemoaned a continuing decline in the mathematical abilities of high school entrants. The debate about falling maths standards and inconsistencies between states comes as a federal parliamentary committee prepares to release its findings on the nation's education and training standards.

The West Australian Curriculum Council yesterday denied that the state's maths curriculum had slipped behind other states, despite a comparison published in The Weekend Australian showing the mathematical abilities required of students in Western Australia were well below national standards. "The WA maths curriculum is consistent with curricula set in other states across Australia. It has not slipped behind any other states," a spokeswoman for the Curriculum Council said.

But pressure group People Lobbying Against Teaching Outcomes said the abilities of first-year high school students in Western Australia had declined. PLATO spokesman Greg Williams said many Year 8 students did not have a grasp of basics such as fractions, multiplication and percentages.

Australian Defence Force Academy lecturer Steve Barry, who teaches high school graduates from across the nation at the academy's School of Physical, Environmental and Mathematical Sciences, called for a national curriculum. "It is my opinion that the absence of a uniform Australian mathematics curriculum at high school is detrimental to students from some states, particularly those who then travel interstate to enter university," he said.



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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