Saturday, February 11, 2006


It took a lot of pressure for them to back down

A planned conference by the American Association of University Professors imploded Wednesday amid reports that the group accidentally distributed to invited attendees an anti-Semitic article, published in a magazine affiliated with Holocaust deniers.

The conference was already under fire over an invitation list that critics said was tilted toward scholars who have backed academic boycotts of Israeli universities. The additional turmoil of the article prompted AAUP leaders to apologize early Wednesday. But the three major foundations that are sponsoring the invitation-only conference called for it to be delayed, and the AAUP's own executive committee voted to do so. For much of the day, the AAUP had a statement on its site saying that the conference would go on, but last night, association officials announced that they would postpone it.

People involved in the AAUP were using words like "disaster" to describe the fallout they feared from the incident. In the apology published on the AAUP Web site, the association acknowledged an "egregious error" in which it had distributed "a deeply offensive article by a Holocaust denier." The apology stated that the article had been collected during research for the conference, but was not intended for distribution to anyone. All conference participants were notified of "this blunder," the statement said, adding that "nothing of this sort will ever happen again."

The article in question is "The Jewish Declaration of War on Nazi Germany," which argues that the Nazi government did not come to power in Germany with the intent of any mass violence against Jews, and that Jewish leaders antagonized Hitler and other Germans by organizing boycotts against Germany. The article appeared in The Barnes Review, a publication that sells books and promotes articles that - among other things - question the respect Americans have for President Lincoln, argue that the deaths at Auschwitz were overstated, and suggest that the contributions of Germans to society do not get enough recognition. The New York Sun first reported the distribution of the article.

It doesn't take more than a quick glance at the article or the Web site of The Barnes Review to become aware of the nature of the material. Ruth Flower, director of public policy and communications for the AAUP, said Wednesday night that the association was "trying to reconstruct" how the article came to be included in the materials given out to attendees. She said that she believed that many articles involving boycotts of any sort were downloaded and that somehow this article was included in the materials for participants.

Jane Buck, president of the AAUP and a retired professor of psychology at Delaware State University, said that the executive committee voted unanimously to postpone the conference "out of concern with our reputation and our relationship with our funding agencies." Buck said that she believed that the conference was "salvageable," but that the association needed to regroup, rather than having the session next week.

The idea behind the conference grew out of debates over a movement last year by Britain's main faculty union to boycott two Israeli universities. The AAUP and many other academic groups criticized the boycott as antithetical to academic freedom and the boycott was eventually rescinded. In the wake of that controversy, the AAUP started drafting a statement about academic boycotts (strongly opposing them) and organizing the conference scheduled for next week. The conference was to have been held at Bellagio, in Italy, where 22 scholars from around the world were to have gathered to discuss academic boycotts.

Even before the snafu over the article, critics were upset about the invitation list for Bellagio. British academics who opposed the boycott said it was inappropriate to have so many boycott supporters attend. Last week, Roger Bowen, general secretary of the AAUP, defended the invitations, saying that the association wanted to have a range of opinions represented, and had no intention of endorsing boycotts.

Some AAUP leaders also question how the group was put together. Cary Nelson, the Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences and professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said that when the conference was first described to him, he was told that it would involve leading thinkers about boycotts and academic protest, engaged in serious discussion. He said he didn't think it would involve so many partisans, or people - like the boycott supporters who were invited - who are heavily involved in Middle Eastern political matters.

Nelson, a vice president of the AAUP currently running for president, said that had he been invited to Bellagio (he wasn't), he would have withdrawn, based on the attendees. "I was quite stunned" to learn who was invited, Nelson said. "I didn't see how this could be a calm philosophical discussion if this was largely focused on the Arab-Israeli conflict."

Nelson and other AAUP officials were even more stunned when they learned about the materials distributed to attendees. A statement issued by the Ford Foundation and the Nathan Cummings Foundation - two of the financial sponsors of the conference - said that the meeting needed to be postponed. "While we accept that this offensive paper does not reflect the views of the AAUP, we believe its errant inclusion in the conference materials has undermined the credibility of this conference as a forum for intellectually honest and rigorous exchange," the statement said. The Rockefeller Foundation, which also supported the conference, also called for it to be delayed. So to did the Anti-Defamation League, a group that fights anti-Semitism.

Caryl Stern, associate national director of the ADL, said that her group deeply appreciated the AAUP's "strong position" against boycotts of Israeli universities. But she said that the makeup of the conference had already undercut the meeting, and that the incident involving the material that was distributed suggested "a hijacking of the agenda" of the conference, in a way that could do serious damage. Having the conference now would "taint the statements" of the AAUP opposing academic boycotts, Stern said.

While the AAUP ended the day by postponing the conference, that announcement came only after the executive board sent Bowen, the general secretary, its request that he do so. For much of the day, a statement on the AAUP Web site defended having the conference - even with all the controversy. "The conference should be held now, with the same group of invitees, and with every intention of mounting an academically rigorous conference," the statement said. Foundations and others concerned about the material distributed "have AAUP's assurance that the proceeding and publications issuing from it will not become a forum for hateful and divisive agendas, nor will AAUP's strong stance against academic boycotts waver."



But are satisfied with mere promises again

Incensed lawmakers demanded greater transparency of University of California executives' pay packages, but questioned whether meaningful changes would ever be made by a system that failed to reform years ago. Speaking at a legislative hearing Wednesday, lawmakers cited a 1992 special investigation by former Legislative Analyst Alan Post that recommended deep reforms in the way UC paid its top administrators. Many of the reforms - such as limiting severance packages, housing allowances and other perks - were never implemented. "Why are we here again today? Why has UC not learned from its mistakes?" asked Sen. Jack Scott, chairman of the Senate Education Committee. "Mr. Post's words ring as true today as they did 14 years ago," said Scott, D-Altadena.

A chastened UC President Robert C. Dynes apologized to committee members and promised a "cultural change" at the university that would allow for greater public scrutiny of executive salaries and perks. "My ethics are as upset as yours are," Dynes told lawmakers. "It really is time for us together to straighten the course." "This institution has been drifting for a number of years," Dynes said later in the hearing. "It is time for us in California to face up to this."

UC administrators' salaries and severance packages have been the subject of news stories in recent months that revealed large payouts to top administrators that in some cases were never publicly disclosed or approved by the Board of Regents, the UC governing body. Lawmakers have ordered an audit of UC leaders' pay, and the regents have adopted a new policy requiring them to approve pay raises, bonuses and other stipends for UC employees earning more than $200,000.

On Wednesday, lawmakers focused on a controversial settlement agreement with former UC Davis Vice Chancellor Celeste Rose. Rose entered into a settlement last summer with UC Davis Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef after she threatened to sue the university for race and gender discrimination. Under the terms of the agreement she is paid $205,000 a year for two years to act as a special adviser to the chancellor. She works from home with no set job duties and has performed no work for the university since July 2005. She also was granted a $50,000 "transition payment." "She gets two years' pay to sit home, watch TV and do nothing," said Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria.

Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, quizzed Dynes if UC had held its leaders accountable for the secret deals. "Given what we know, has anyone been fired?" she asked. "No," answered Dynes. "Has anyone resigned?" she asked. "No," said Dynes. "I have questions whether it borders on criminality," Romero added.

Jeff Blair, an attorney with the Office of the UC President, said that Vanderhoef has been in contact with Rose to find her "suitable employment." Blair added that the agreement with Rose should have been approved by the UC Regents, but there was "confusion" within the Office of the President about the procedure to do that.....

UC staff, union officials and student leaders also testified that the disclosures on high salaries have been hurtful and maddening, especially at a time when rank-and-file employees have not seen pay increases in more than three years and students fees have jumped dramatically in recent years. "On campuses right now, there is a general sense of outrage among the student population regarding the increasing compensation being offered to top-level administrators while it seems like students are getting the short end of the stick," said Anu Joshi, president of the UC Student Association....

More here


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"

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here


Friday, February 10, 2006


Sorry to mention it but it's mostly people with very limited talents and options who will be willing to stand up in front of most California public school classes every day

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, giving his third annual state of education speech Tuesday, called for a massive investment in boosting teacher quality as one of several efforts to maintain the state's position as an international powerhouse of technology and entrepreneurial innovation. In a sweeping speech touching on California's schools, economy and demographics, O'Connell described a huge gap between what students are learning today and the future demands of the job market. "The simple yet terrible fact is that the population of students that is growing the fastest in this state is the population that is lagging the farthest behind," he said, describing the performance of Latino students in English, math and science.

Hours before his speech began, opponents of the California High School Exit Exam announced that they are filing a lawsuit today challenging the test's legality. O'Connell, in his speech, said the state must stand by the high school exit exam as a graduation requirement. "We've held firm on demanding that a high school diploma actually mean something," he said. "The high school exit exam measures absolutely the least our students must know as they move on to their next step in learning and earning."

He addressed another controversy in education: the ongoing clash between the state's methods for measuring school performance and the federal process under the No Child Left Behind Act. The California system, known as the Academic Performance Index (API), measures student growth on test scores from one year to the next. The federal model, known as Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), sets performance targets students must reach each year regardless of the previous year's scores. O'Connell, a Democrat, said he will work with the Schwarzenegger administration to align the two systems this year. "We simply cannot continue along the confusing and ultimately debilitating path of two separate models," he said.

It was a proposal that drew support from a group of business leaders that typically criticizes O'Connell's views on school accountability - California Business for Education Excellence. Jim Lanich, president of the group and a supporter of the federal accountability system, said melding the two systems would help students and teachers "know what is success, how to measure it and how to improve." "It's not necessarily about API and it's not necessarily about AYP," Lanich said. "It's about getting all kids to grade level in reading, writing and mathematics."

O'Connell said more must be done to recruit new teachers, train existing ones and encourage the best to work in the lowest-performing schools. Those are all changes supported by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, which released a report in December describing an upcoming surge in teacher retirements. Alan Bersin, Schwarzenegger's secretary of education, said he agreed with O'Connell's focus on teacher quality and recruitment. "His priorities for this year are very much in accord with the governor's proposals," Bersin said.


Teach students how to use skills to serve their community

The idea below is a good one -- as students do remember much better things that involve them in real life -- but it could very easily degenerate into a Leftist propaganda exercise

Those so-called 3 R's (reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic) are not enough for pupils in United States public and independent schools. Our schools should be turning out small "d" democrats as well as readers and thinkers. And there's a step toward this goal that has been missing in teacher preparation for a couple centuries. Those studying to be teachers in the vast majority of US colleges and universities don't do any community service integrated with their course work. They don't learn the strong connection between helping to meet community needs and the study of civics. Nor do they learn how to integrate community service with the teaching of civics, and other academic subjects.

A teacher in a service-oriented large city public high school was the coordinator of the student community-service club, and because of the work connected with that activity, she taught only two classes a day: beginning and intermediate typing. She had never done any community service when she was in college preparing for her teaching career, and she had never had an instructor in civics ask her to study how some voluntary civic service should be integrated with the study of civics.

Twenty-three years after she began teaching, she signed up for a course I taught in the combining of course work and community volunteer service to meet license requirements. At the first meeting of this in-service course, she was asked by the instructor to tell about the types of civic service her typing students were doing. "None." Then she explained, "My course is rigorous, and every single student passes the typing test at the close of each course."

The instructor asked whether the teaching included how to make mailing labels, and learned, of course, that yes, it did. And before the instructor could say anything more, the typing teacher literally opened her mouth wide, flung both arms out to each side, and whispered, "Oh, my goodness, we could learn how to do this for a nonprofit that needs labels. Oh, my, we could have been doing this for the past 23 years!"

Those studying to be foreign language teachers are seldom asked to provide community service for those whose language they are learning, yet the opportunity to practice the language and to provide a needed civic service would go a long way to prepare them to guide their future students in that type of service-learning.

The student-teacher majoring in Spanish in California, Arizona, New Mexico, or Texas could, for example, spend time in a day-care facility at a courthouse, providing needed translation work. Or perhaps offer to help with translation - written or oral - at a community center. Or begin a pen-pal relationship with a native Spanish speaker in a local nursing home.

And why? These are activities their pupils will want to take advantage of to learn how the civil society in their local community works as a democracy, and to provide them with practice in their foreign-language course work.

The teacher who has never done any civic service, who has never integrated some form of community service with academic course work, and who commutes to the school site from a community with a radically different socioeconomic base, may be able to guide students to success with the three R's, but is not able to provide the US with learned citizens skilled in being democrats.

Why is it true, nationwide, that the 18-25 age group votes the least and does the least civic service? Aren't these our most recent high school graduates? They should be the first to serve and to vote. Integrating community service work into classroom lessons will help our schools turn out vibrant, participating members of civil society.



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"

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here


Thursday, February 09, 2006


Go ahead and sneer; cringe and shudder — get it out of your system. Oh the horror, running a profitable business that includes many of the facets of a traditional higher education. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that a disproportionate amount of the Ivory Tower is socialistically inclined; subconsciously they may fear that the market value of their research, teaching and professional existence subsists among relatively strange bedfellows, those whose productivity fluctuates along the poverty line.

Will distance education and online courses replace the intimacy of round table discussions with high-caliber teachers? David Gelernter, a professor of computer science at Yale, does not think so. Based upon my own experiences I would have to agree. However we both believe a free market in degree granting. One liberated from political regulation and business myopia, is just around the corner. The proliferation and enthusiasm of such degrees is due in part to the fact that they can often times be earned in a more convenient medium, for a fraction of the cost and in a time-efficient manner. Say goodbye to commuting, as well as student fees you never took advantage of. Nor will you have to rearrange your life so you can attend a class whose instructor instills information that could have just as easily been gleaned from a $50 textbook. As the late Peter Drucker succinctly put it, "Universities won't survive. The future is outside the traditional campus, outside the traditional classroom. Distance learning is coming on fast."

Out with the old, in with the new, right? How will the traditional educational model, built for agricultural and industrialized economies, based on residential living, survive an ever-expanding mouse-accessible information age? Is the cultivation of inquisitiveness only available for four interest-bearing payments of $19,999 at State U.? Are there drawbacks? Like any other undertaking there are always opportunity costs; activities you forfeit in order to pursue alternatives. By enrolling into an online program, Utopia will not spring forth from earth's bosom nor will you sleep on cloud nine. You will still get flat tires and computer viruses, maybe even a headache or two.

Is college as an institution of higher learning going to survive? The top-tier, the Ivies (both public and private), the flagships, those with enough political and economic pull will all perhaps survive into the future. Perhaps various departments such as those comprising STEM (e.g. science, technology, engineering, math), Law or Medical school — perhaps any and all, but as Peter Drucker succinctly put it, residential life will, sooner rather than later, go the way of the Dodo.

The point of all this is that many universities and colleges are simply not organized to run like a profit-making business. Rather than focusing on revenue generating specialties, they overextend and misallocate resources — ultimately beyond their fiduciary capacity thus find themselves asking for handouts (e.g. donations). This is not to say that the modern institution as a whole will be done away with, but rather they will inevitably be forced to confront the subsidy bubbles that insulate assorted pursuits. How they deal with the reality of market forces will ultimately determine whether each institution lasts.

Why go to college in the first place? For some individuals, attending college is viewed simply as a quick and easy way to hit a monetary jackpot. Like many other illusions of grandeur, it is reminiscent to the unscrupulous business plan of South Park's Underpants Gnomes:

Feeding this spurious dream are State subsidized loans which encourage and create distortions in the labor market, not to mention the reallocation of productive capital. Arguably it may be difficult to compare today's Van Wilder University with the "classical" schools of Oxford or Cambridge. Nevertheless, for the academic school year 2005-2006, the average tuition, fees, room and board of attending a four-year public institution: $12,127. For a four-year private institution: $29,026.

One of the justifications for the price tag is that, in the long run, a college-educated individual would make more money than someone without said education. And since being wealthier "benefits society at large," efforts promoting this lifestyle should be undertaken. However, as Neal Zupancic points out, this is a non sequitur as the causal relationship is not directly connected. This fallacious logic however, did not prevent State intervention from Senator Claiborne Pell who in 1972 pushed legislation which subsidized student loans - under the inauspicious name, a Pell Grant.

Relatively cheap financing (due to these subsidies) coupled with lower admission standards has led a surge in student populations at State universities across the board. Despite alternate financial sources (such as federal grants and private donations), per capita spending has significantly decreased over the past five years. While the demographics may shift, the attendance trend is not decreasing for the foreseeable future.

The central underlying element to Senator Pell's reasoning was skewed: those with college educations earned more money not because of the framed stamped and signed parchments hanging on the living room wall, but because they had some kind of intellectual training that gave them a competitive and productive edge over their non-educated brethren. And for the better part of 30 years, this "go to college and become rich" mentality has been successfully drummed into the minds of several generations of not only boobus Americanus, but much of the developing and industrialized world too.

Arguments regarding sub-standard educations aside, the fiscal outlook of those involved in following the accredited institution route has been documented and demonstrated to be a Pyrrich victory, as noted by Christopher Westley. Not that these individuals are unsuccessful upon graduation, but that they become broke, indebted and even bankrupt — all in the pursuit of a hyped Potemkin lifestyle.

Much like health care or even voting (e.g. what is the market value for a single vote, close to zero?), the industry of higher education has been sheltered from market pressures. Campuses across the country, especially those run at large State institutions are inefficient planned economies — microcosms of socialism in action. As Rothbard's law predicts, the University is not specializing in what it does best. Like an octopus, its tentacles end up in many unrelated pies in which scarce resources are diverted to enterprises and endeavors that stray from what its human capital does best: research and scholarship. The administration involves itself in a smorgasbord of activities that range from acting as surrogate parents and landlords to maintaining campus hospitals and transportation services. Monopolizing food services, dorm-room cleaning (which now apparently involves class-warfare) and even landscaping - no enterprise is too small to be left alone nor too big to be undertaken.

For instance, cell phones have dramatically altered one traditional revenue stream of many universities -- that of long-distance phone calls. As a result, some colleges have raised other student fees to compensate for the budget shortfalls. Or, as Rothbard's adage literally rings true, several universities are now offering their own cell phone plans to counter this trend.

Despite the sizable endowments, grants and discretionary donations that many research universities have, the return on investment from licensing internal innovations is next to nil. This coupled with increased annuities wrought by tenure systems has potentially delivered a crippling blow to an entrenched order. The tenure-system was originally created to secure academic freedom for professors — offering flexibility and openness to speak and research freely without fear of repercussion. (See the Hoppe debate.) However from a financial perspective Stephen Kerr notes that, "raising an employee's salary creates an annuity for his or her organizational lifetime. Furthermore, since future increases are normally calculated as a percentage of salary, erroneously increasing someone's pay will tend to become geometrically expensive over time." In other words, a firm should reward productivity, not tradition or longevity. Therefore performance-based contracts can be used in place of a tenure system, an idea now-embraced by numerous college presidents as well.

Many colleges, particularly those that are State-managed, must change their business models with the times. This is not some pie-in-the-sky ultimatum; according to a recent survey of college presidents by The Chronicle of Higher Education, many "are more preoccupied with financial issues than educational ones." One plausible solution to these monetary quagmires has an irksome kick to it, "53 percent of the respondents said they believed that tenure for faculty members should be abolished in favor of long-term contracts, but those who had been professors with tenure supported it more than those who had not."

Over the past decade, many state universities have learned that they must locate alternate sources of funding as they can no longer solely live off the State dole. In fact, whether they like it or not, many of the flagship State-funded institutions are marginally becoming privatized. For instance, through a charter initiative adopted last year, the University of Virginia (along with Virginia Tech and William & Mary) now has the freedom to modify tuition rates and operate free of numerous state regulations such as those pertaining to procurement, capital outlay, finance and personnel. This quasi-privatization is a step in the right direction, as it should provide better accountability to those who actually finance educations. And it should be noted that these budget shortfalls are not regionally isolated instances on the East Coast.

While some commentators suggest that specialization is for insects, a large portion of school rank and reputation is weighted in research, which directly correlates to publishing in peer-reviewed journals (i.e. impact factor). For example, numerous departmental performance appraisals require that tenured or tenure-track professors spend the majority of their time on original research and publishing -- and the residual is spent teaching (i.e. publish or perish). In many cases this creates a negatively dichotomous relationship between meticulous research and supportive instruction. Unfortunately, many bright researchers lack the personality or training needed to be effective instructors and vice-versa (thus one of the main differences between research universities and teaching). Because of this, many universities hire individuals who have longer curriculum vitae's than they do vibrant personalities. However, this bittersweet yin-yang has its own sense of irony, as specialization and the division of labor are the most promising solutions to an otherwise ruinous situation.....

While pedagogy (the formal discipline of teaching) has been around for several hundred years, humankind has spent the better part of its existence training and otherwise instilling values, beliefs and information into its brethren and progeny. Throughout its storied evolution and development, theoretical frameworks ranging from blank slates to statistical models have been constructed to explain and prescribe the best way to school and educate one another.

Although the Catholic Church and Jesuit Order are historically credited for organizing the first universities to train their priests, Prussia, architect of the modern Welfare state, unsurprisingly had its hand in the creation of the modern education system, including that of Higher Education. John Taylor Gatto, among others, has noted that it was Prussia that first enacted compulsory attendance at the primary school level, in a concerted effort to erect a martially disciplined and compliant populace. Rigid hierarchies of authority (teacher vs. student) were established in an effort to bridge obedience to both military commanders and technocratic civil servants. Some of these positivist methods and theories trickled into higher education and are extensively chronicled by proponents of the deschooling movement and Montessori approach.

And while some professors lament the latest bugaboo known as the Internet, to be historically consistent they should throw sticks and stones at descendants of Johannes Gutenberg, for inventing a more efficient and systematic process of printing texts — thus eliminating a traditional role of scholastic scribes (though, arguably creating in return a plethora of professions, industries and markets in the process — i.e. creative destruction). Perhaps these same instructors could venture into the terra incognita and partner with startups such as Digital Universe, or hawk their expert knowledge to the highest bidder.......

Much more here

The Myth of the Math and Science Shortage

Why do we keep falling for this? Once in every second-term presidency, the chief executive lectures the country about the impending disaster of a shortage of mathematicians and scientists. People think: oh no, we'd better get on the stick and create some in a hurry! Thus does the President want to spend $50 billion over 10 years — a figure these people made up out of whole cloth — and we are all supposed to submit, cough up, and turn our sons and daughters into natural-science brainiacs. And the President is just sure that his great job-training mission is not limited to Silicon Valley but extends to all cities, rural areas, and ghettos in America.

He is not only raising false hopes, diverting career paths, and wasting money, he is raising a non-problem and purporting to solve it with a non-solution. The central-planning approach to boosting science was tried and failed in every totalitarian country, and the same will be true in nominally free ones as well. Still, it seems that megalomaniacs just can't resist the urge to push the idea, which is why mathematicians and scientists leftover from Soviet days are driving cabs and tending bars in today's Russia.

Let's say the president made a huge stink about the shortage of teeth cleaners, web designers, dancers, or piano tuners. We might more clearly recognize the error. Professions are things chosen by individuals as they follow market signals. If there is a shortage, the wages of the people with these specializations would go up, thereby drawing more people into the profession. People would rush to study teeth cleaning and the like. This influx of new labor would push wages down again. When the wages get too low, people leave these professions and find others.

Thus does the market for labor specializations work rather well, here, there, and everywhere. Wages aren't the only consideration for why people go into some fields and not others, but it is a major factor. The market provides a helpful signaling mechanism to assist people in the development of certain skills. Shortages and surpluses resolve themselves.

No presidential speeches are necessary. No commission needs to be established. No taxpayer dollars need to be expended to make it all happen. We need only pay attention to the signals of the market and follow our own self-interest. The shortages and surpluses are systematically driven toward equilibrium, provided there is no government intervention to spoil the process.

Think of how jobs have changed. We have fewer people around today who know how to farm because fewer people are necessary to do the job. More kids than ever are going into computer sciences because of the perception that these fields will be lucrative in the future. In neither case was a government program necessary. People entering the job market find out quickly what is in demand and what isn't and compare that to their own capacity for doing the job.

The reason the whole math and science racket bamboozles us again and again has to do with our own limitations and our perceptions of foreign countries. We think: heck I know nothing of these subjects, so I can believe that there is a shortage! And surely math and science are the keys to just about everything. And look at those Japanese kids in school that we see on television. They can run circles around the tattooed bums that populate American public schools. We are surely "falling behind!"

In the first place, it wouldn't actually matter if it were true. The whole point of the international division of labor is that we benefit from the skills of everyone around the world. If there were one country in the world where everyone knew math and science — call it Nerdistan — and one other country in the world where everyone specialized in art and literature — call it Poetistan — both countries would enjoy the benefits of both talents provided they were engaged in trade. The Nerds could enjoy poetry and the Poets would have lots of hand-held contraptions. And since the professions in both countries were presumably chosen by market means and voluntary choice, that configuration of talent yields the best of all possible worlds.

Apart from that, however, there is another consideration: none of the past predictions of a math-and-science shortage have ever come true. In fact, when Al Gore raised the same frenzy some years ago, some commentators noted that it is actually easier to make a case that we face a shortage of less skilled workers: people to drive trucks, work in warehouses, clean kitchens and hotels, take care of kids, and work on docks. Here is probably where we are going to see the wage growth in the future.

In any case, people who have studied this in detail have reached an inconclusive verdict, except to observe that current unemployment rates among math and science people with PhDs are higher than the general population. Also, as Daniel Greenberg writes, "Average salary scales for professors show the marketplace value of different disciplines: law, $109,478; business, $79,931; biological and biomedical sciences, $63,988; mathematics, $61,761." He points out that the editor of Science Magazine even noted the absurdity: "Why do we keep wishing to expand the supply of scientists, even though there is no evidence of imminent shortages?"

Actually, Donald Kennedy's entire article is worth a read. He points out that the worst thing that could happen is for government to attract people into a technical field that they really can't handle. They only end up working outside the area in which they are trained, or adding to the ranks of the unemployed. The scientists themselves know how hard the job market is, and of course they don't want more people in their field driving down wages. But the point stands: if wages were high enough, good people would be attracted to these fields without subsidies, badgering, and lecturing.

And what pretense does government have for purporting to know better than the market what jobs are necessary in the future? Somehow it seems especially egregious for the political class to get into this act, for this group is probably the least well educated in technical fields. Their specializations are in duplicity, glad handing, and handing out other people's money to those who are willing to participate in the racket of the redistributivist state. What do they know about the market for mathematicians?

So why does government continually badger us about the impending shortage of mathematicians and scientists? Maybe it is just a big excuse for getting and spending our money, and one excuse is as good as another. But maybe there is something more sinister at work. Perhaps government would like to create a glut of mathematicians and scientists who cannot find work in the private sector, and so these people would have no alternative but to go to work for the Pentagon and other warfare state agencies. Here, politicians imagine, they would create great gizmos to spy on people, centrally plan, and create smart bombs and other toys for politicians to play with.

Sound crazy? I'm open to any explanation, and perhaps this "conspiracy" view supposes the political class to be smarter than it really is. Regardless of the real reason, let us not suppose that the real reason is the one they give: that we face an imminent shortage. We don't. And if we did, the political class would be the last to know about it. To the extent they succeed, they will end up wasting people's time and money, and the person repainting your house might just have a PhD in mathematics.



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"

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here


Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Britain's biggest companies gave warning last night that, despite a record number of graduates entering the job market this year, many will lack the basic skills needed for employment. Almost half of businesses said that they did not expect to receive “sufficient applications from graduates with the correct skills”. Last year 598 positions were left unfilled as a third of employers said that they could not find candidates of sufficient quality.

Managers cite a series of shortcomings in potential recruits. These include: Too much time spent working on degrees and not enough joining clubs and societies, where students might work in teams. Not enough experience of giving presentations in tutorials, leaving new graduates unable to communicate ideas in the work place. Poor spelling, grammar and mathematical ability mean that graduates are making basic mistakes, writing illiterate memos and are in need of constant supervision.

The recruitment crisis comes at a time of record growth in the graduate market. Starting salaries are expected to average £23,000 and the number of vacancies available is likely to rise for the third year running. But a survey by the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) shows that many of the 260,000 graduates are being let down by the university system. Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the AGR said: “[Graduates] must have the right aptitude, which partly comes down to the skills they can offer. If they concentrate purely on academic studies and have no work experience, they are not going to impress the employer.” Mr Gilleard admits that business is partly to blame, by shifting the balance in favour of more academic degrees. Companies are setting ever-higher entry requirements in an attempt to find the cleverest applicants. As a result, students are concentrating on getting a 2:1 degree or better and letting their extra-curricular activities drift.

Mr Gilleard is confident that, when top-up fees are introduced in September, universities will work harder to improve student career prospects. “Variable fees should act as a catalyst because students will gradually take the approach that ‘this is an investment and the university can help me get more from my life’,” he said.

Helen Bostock, a vice-president at JPMorgan, said that most of the bank’s candidates have attained four grade As at A level and good degrees, so students should consider what will make them stand out. She recommends doing summer jobs, volunteering or work experience but insists that “soft” skills do not outweigh the value of a degree. “In some roles they are weighted more than others, but you must have good academics whatever job you want,” she said.

More than a third of vacancies for graduates with the leading employers this year will be with accountants, professional service firms or banks. While more than half of the jobs are in London or the South East, only 4.2 per cent will be in Scotland and 1.6 per cent in Wales. Nearly one in ten posts (8.8 per cent) will be offered abroad. The South West of England is the only area in the country where these employers predict fewer vacancies than last year


Inattentive and sloppy teachers in Germany

A new bestselling book has branded German teachers as idle incompetents who are passing on the onus of education to increasingly frustrated parents. School education - once the pride of Germany - has become a "game preserve for human failures", argues the author of The Teacher Hate Book.

The 220-page diatribe by Gerlinde Unverzagt sparked hundreds of e-mails of support and has touched a popular nerve. A Parents' Power Party is starting up to demand that teachers salaries should be based on performance rather than on seniority. German educational standards have been slipping, according to international comparisons of pupils' writing and reasoning skills. The country is now at the lower end of the European league tables in literacy and maths. Yet, according to Frau Unverzagt, teachers have responded by becoming even more sloppy. "Blatant spelling mistakes are not marked as wrong, but are rather awarded a question mark in the margins as if the correct spelling was somehow a matter of debate." Elementary mathematics is rendered incomprehensible, geography teachers muddle continents.

More and more parents have to compensate for poor teaching, she says. Parents' evenings are dedicated to explaining the new German spelling rules. The parents are then supposed to ensure that all homework is written correctly before it is submitted to the teachers. Josef Kraus, president of the German Teachers Association, has personally protested to the publishing company, claiming it was unfair to blame teachers for the ills of society.

"But the truth is, nothing will change until the teachers accept the need for change," says Frau Unverzagt, a journalist and single mother of four children. She argues that teachers should not be given civil servant status - which makes them almost unsackable in Germany. Frau Unverzagt wrote the book under a pseudonym to protect her younger children. Teachers are not only lazy, she says, but also vindictive. "My eight-year-old son's teacher came into class, held up the book and pointed at him, declaring `your mother did this'." The boy nodded nervously. "When he came home, he was a nervous wreck and told me `Mummy, I've betrayed you'."

Germany's education system is regionally based. The new book directs its criticism at Berlin but in Bavaria, where there is better funding and higher standards, there is less parental anger. A comprehensive survey by Dortmund University, however, showed general German dismay with teachers. Schools have become a social battlefield. Some now insist that German is spoken in the playground and during classroom breaks to promote the integration of immigrants. Teachers have been put in the position of patrolling the corridors on the alert for non-German words and yet unable to impose any meaningful penalties on linguistic offenders.



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"

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

California: Preschool Initiative's Misguided Approach

Considering how hard it is to find prominent individuals with a selfless impulse toward public service, we shouldn't begrudge the film director Rob Reiner his efforts to expand preschool education in California. But that's not to say that Reiner's Preschool for All initiative, which will appear on the June ballot as a constitutional amendment, is a good idea. On the contrary, it's another attempt at ballot-box budgeting featuring misleading PR and misguided pied-piper appeal.

Reiner's initiative would make three hours of daily preschool available to all California children in the year before they enter kindergarten. It would establish state standards for pre-K education, including a mandate that teachers have a bachelor's degree, and give jurisdiction to the state Department of Education. The funding would come from a 1.7% tax on household incomes over $800,000. This would boost those taxpayers' top marginal rate to 11% and yield about $2.4 billion a year by 2010.

No one disputes that such a program would be a good thing in principle; overwhelming evidence shows that children benefit from preschool, and disadvantaged kids benefit the most. Business, concerned about lagging student performance, is getting behind the initiative (judging by support from some local chambers of commerce) as are public employee unions and civic leaders.

The issue for taxpayers and policymakers, however, is more complicated: How else might the state spend $2.4 billion in annual revenue? Might any of that spending be equally necessary - or more so? How about arranging for every child in the state to be medically insured? Or providing every child access to textbooks, supplies, qualified K-12 teachers, a nutritious lunch and a safe learning environment?

That $2.4 billion would pay the annual interest on a $53-billion infrastructure bond (at 4.5%), allowing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to almost double his infrastructure plan. It could rebuild the Sacramento Delta levees, the condition of which threatens the lives, homes and livelihoods of millions of Californians.

Incidentally, the 1.7% levy would raise the top state income tax rate to a level not seen since 1995; after this, squeezing more money out of these wealthy stones will be almost impossible. (Earners of more than $1 million are already charged an extra 1% of the excess to fund a mental health program, so their top rate would be 12%.) If the Reiner initiative passes, not a dime of that money would be available for anything but preschool. Ever.

Not only would the principle of free preschool be enshrined in the state Constitution, but so would a particular approach to preschool. Suppose educational experts determined down the line that the most effective program combines preschool with smaller primary-school classes, or that the most appropriate teacher training might not require a BA? Tough. The rules will be written into the Constitution and, accordingly, hard to change. State educational practice will be embalmed, the clock stopped at 2006. Yet, even today's educators disagree about the right approach. Some contend, like the initiative campaign, that the only sure way to reach the neediest children is to make preschool available to all children, not just the most disadvantaged. "There's never been a targeted program that reaches 100% of the children who are eligible," says Karen Hill-Scott, an education consultant working with the campaign.

Others say that targeted programs yield the best results and that preschool gains rapidly fade if primary schools don't pick up the slack, perhaps via full-day kindergarten (not common in California) and follow-up services for four or five years (not part of the Reiner initiative). The proper place to weigh these disagreements is in a legislative hearing room. The initiative's sponsors chose not to go the legislative route; they have their own vision of preschool and want us to believe it's the only option.

Promoters of initiatives love to portray their projects as silver-bullet cures. That's already happening in this case. The Reiner team claims that Rand Corp. researchers have "found" and "confirmed" that, for every $1 spent on preschool, the state will get $2.62 back. We'll undoubtedly hear this figure repeated ad nauseam for the next four months. But it's a subtle misstatement of the Rand study. The study's author, senior economist Lynn Karoly, based her calculations largely on a Chicago program aimed almost exclusively at black children in the city's poorest neighborhoods. She called that program "the most relevant to an analysis" of a universal program in California. But the two programs are hardly identical. Chicago's serves a homogeneous disadvantaged population; California's goal is to reach all economic classes within the state's uniquely diverse population.

As Karoly observes in her study, the Chicago program also provides "health screening, speech therapy services and meals," along with home visits and training for parents and continued support for some students in primary school. None of these elements is specifically funded by the Reiner initiative.

Researchers have calculated the fiscal return from Chicago's program at $7.14 for every dollar spent. Not only are the subjects less likely to repeat grades, drop out or land in jail; they also earn more over their lives than others raised in similar circumstances but unexposed to the program. But these are empirical data, derived by carefully tracking ex-preschoolers through age 20 or older; by contrast, Karoly's figure is an extrapolation applied to a program that doesn't yet exist. Accordingly, Karoly told me, she tried to be "as conservative as possible," and her study should be seen as a projection, not a measurement.

The initiative promoters may not be so circumspect. The debate over our children's educational future risks being turned over to electioneering press releases and TV spots featuring heart-tugging slogans. Are we about to be led down the wrong path?


Schools of Re-education?

For those who have been troubled by the tendency of universities to adopt campus speech codes, a worrisome new fad is rearing its head in the nation's schools of education. Stirred by professional opinion and accreditation pressures, teachers colleges have begun to regulate the dispositions and beliefs of those who would teach in our nation's classrooms.

At the University of Alabama, the College of Education explains that it is "committed to preparing individuals to promote social justice, to be change agents, and to recognize individual and institutionalized racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism." To promote its agenda, part of the program's self-proclaimed mission is to train teachers to "develop anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-sexist . . . alliances."

The University of Alaska at Fairbanks School of Education declares on its Web site: "Teachers often profess 'colorblindness' . . . which is at worst patronizing and at best na‹ve, because race and culture profoundly affect what is known and how it is known." Consequently, the program emphasizes "the interrelatedness of race, identity, and the curriculum, especially the role of white privilege."

Professors at Washington State University's College of Education evaluate candidates to ensure they exhibit "an understanding of the complexities of race, power, gender, class, sexual orientation, and privilege in American society." The relevance of these skills to teaching algebra or the second grade is, at a minimum, debatable.

Brooklyn College's School of Education announces: "We educate teacher candidates and other school personnel about issues of social injustice such as institutionalized racism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism; and invite them to develop strategies and practices that challenge [such] biases."

One can sympathize with the sentiments at work. Moreover, in theory, academics can argue that merely addressing these issues implies no ideological bias. But in practice, education courses addressing "white privilege" and the "language of oppression" typically endorse particular views on issues such as affirmative action and student discipline. These codes have real consequences.

Ed Swan is pursuing a degree in teacher education at Washington State. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that he flunked an evaluation of dispositions last year. The teacher who failed him explained that Swan, a conservative Christian and father of four Mexican American children, had "revealed opinions that have caused me great concern in the areas of race, gender, sexual orientation and privilege." Washington State insisted that Swan agree to attend sensitivity training before being allowed to do his student teaching -- where observers could observe his classroom performance.

In 2005 Scott McConnell was informed by LeMoyne College's Graduate Program in Education that he was not welcome to return and complete his degree. His offense? He wrote a paper advocating the use of corporal punishment that was given a grade of A-minus. The department chairwoman's letter to McConnell cited the "mismatch between [his] personal beliefs . . . and the LeMoyne College program goals."

The conviction that teachers should hold certain views regarding sexuality or social class is rooted in a commendable impulse to ensure that they teach all students. But even if scientific evidence established that certain beliefs or dispositions improved teacher effectiveness, colleges should hesitate to engage in this kind of exercise. The truth, of course, is that no such body of rigorous, empirical evidence does exist.

In any event, there's good reason to be skeptical of claims that to be effective, teachers must have certain views or attitudes. Given that both kindhearted and callous doctors may be effective professionals, it's not clear why we should expect good teachers to be uniform in disposition. In fact, with the array of students that schools serve, it may be useful to hire teachers with diverse views and values. Ultimately, screening on "dispositions" serves primarily to cloak academia's biases in the garb of professional necessity.

Schools of education are not merely private entities. Rather, in each state, they are deputized by licensure systems to serve as gatekeepers into the teaching profession. Even the vast majority of "alternative" training programs are sponsored by a school of education. The National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education -- which established requirements that would-be teachers embrace "multicultural and global perspectives" and develop "dispositions that respect and value differences" -- has tried to backpedal recently by protesting that it didn't "expect or require institutions to attend to any particular political or social ideologies." Much more is needed. The cultivation of right-thinking cadres has no place in America's colleges and universities.



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"

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here


Monday, February 06, 2006


(By Ilana Mercer)

Boys (and men) have been in trouble for some time, but "progressives" have only just noticed. In "The Trouble with Boys," Newsweek, a representative of the species, articulates the problem:

"By almost every benchmark, boys across the nation and in every demographic group are falling behind. In elementary school, boys are two times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with learning disabilities and twice as likely to be placed in special-education classes. High-school boys are losing ground to girls on standardized writing tests. The number of boys who said they didn't like school rose 71 percent between 1980 and 2001.. Nowhere is the shift more evident than on college campuses. Thirty years ago men represented 58 percent of the undergraduate student body. Now they're a minority at 44 percent."

The magazine then implicates the perennial "progressive" bugaboo: "quantifiable and narrowly defined academic success," for which "activist parents" are responsible. The writers blame parents for ensuring that "school performance has been measured in two simple ways: how many students are enrolled in accelerated courses and whether test scores stay high."

Other than pushy parents, Newsweek also faults "curricula [that] have become more rigid." Too much teaching at the expense of the cult of the "whole child" has, seemingly, caused boys to stumble. The scribes, four women and one man, must be confusing America with Singapore. Curiously, the magazine allows that boys used to do okay at school. What happened to change that is an enigma, best left to the experts. The experts-also the people who put boys in this predicament in the first place-aver that, while a considerable investment was made to empower girls, boys were neglected.

There's a problem with this reasoning. If boys used to do well at school, then an "investment in girls" would not explain their deterioration. Unless "investing in girls" is Orwellian for privileging girls at the expense of boys, which is precisely the impetus behind Title IX and other legislative loadstars. Presently, boys toil under elaborate affirmative action initiatives in secondary and tertiary schools that subordinate merit to the equal representation of girls in every field of endeavor, including sports. "Experts" such as the National Education Association-the largest union in the country and the al-Qaida of education-will say we spend too little money and tolerate unacceptable teacher-student ratios. Oh, come off it. We shell out more per child than any other developed country, and at 1:16.5, the teacher-student ratio has never been lower. Soon there'll be more adults than children in the system.

The travails of boys, moreover, need to be put in perspective. American high-school kids, boys and girls, have been crowned the cretins of the developed world, as measured by every conceivable international test. That carnivorous girls have climbed to the top of this pile is no great achievement. No, the galloping ignorance among American students is proportional to budgetary profligacy.

The problems plaguing boys are not pecuniary, but paradigmatic: the progressive, child-centered worldview and feminism. For decades now, America's educators have insisted that learning be made as natural and as easy as possible, when it is neither. To this end, content-based, top-down teaching was replaced with pop-culture friendly, non-hierarchically delivered flimflam. But as classicists such as E. D. Hirsch Jr. have pointed out, effective, analytical and explicit instruction is very definitely not a natural but a highly artificial, often-unintuitive process.

Evidence abounds that boys thrive in the more disciplined, structured learning environment. America's loosey-goosey schools, however, shun discipline and moral instruction. Boys are also biologically predisposed to competition. But in the progressive school, cooperative experiences and groupthink are preferred to individual achievement. And girls favored over boys.

When boys bubble over with unbridled testosterone, instead of challenging, disciplining, and harnessing their energies, as teachers once did, they are emasculated or medicated. The former means being made over in the image of woman; the latter entails being diagnosed as "learning disabled" and drugged with Ritalin. It is a consequence of the demonization of male biopsychology.

The school is a microcosm of society. Both have been thoroughly feminized. The false feminist narrative suffuses every aspect of a boy's life. Women everywhere are depicted as brawny, brainy, and beautiful; men as buffoons. On celluloid, an 80-pound waif manages to wallop a 200-pound gangster with no punctures to the silicone sacks. When male teachers manage to infiltrate the public school system, they are of the androgynous genus-and every inch as feminist as their XX-carrying colleagues. The quintessential male role models-the Founding Fathers-are persona non grata in courses, as are other so-called pale, patriarchal pigs. A boy risks purgatory and worse should he mention weaponry or female anatomy.

In addition to a core-curriculum, banished too from America's feminized and foolish schools is the "archaic" idea of a literary canon. Not only do boys have to internalize feminism's lumpen jargon; they must also synchronize their male brains to Oprah's challenged synapses. English teachers expect them to study "Memoirs of a Geisha" and "The Secret Life of Bees."

If epic literature worms its way into the school's shopping-mall assortment of flimsy courses and frivolous subject matter, then it is duly deconstructed and shred: Boys are taught to see great works of art through feminism's grim and distorting prism. Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and T. S. Eliot were members of the ruling class of oppressors; their artistry no more than a manifestation of the alleged power relationships in society.

Progressive schools-and the feminist and feminized "education" they inflict-are ultimately extremely bad for boys and girls alike. But while they favor girls, casting them as a besieged class of helots; they are hostile to boys, who are perceived as members of a ruling elite that refuses to let go of patriarchal privilege and power.

In an e-mail to me a young man described his daily grind under this mirthless and unmerciful ideology:

"I cannot seem to escape the biases of feminism no matter where I turn. Every female teacher somehow manages to bring the argument around to point out that males overrun everything. If I produce any artwork with any sort of tall thin form in it, I'm immediately criticized for producing artwork that involves phallic symbolism. Thus meaning that I obviously am promoting male dominance in society."

He said he felt "worn down" by the experience. Others like him just walk away.

Florida Supreme Court Sends Students Back to (Public) Schools

Florida's Supreme Court recently ruled 5-2 to strike down the state's Opportunity Scholarship Program, more commonly referred to as school vouchers, which are continually given to students in the state's failing schools. CFIF Senior Vice President & Corporate Counsel Renee Giachino recently spoke with Clark Neily, one of the attorneys who argued the case before Florida's high court, about the impact of the decision on 733 schoolchildren at 53 schools statewide. What follows are excerpts from the interview that aired on "Your Turn - Meeting Nonsense with Common Sense" on WEBY 1330 AM, Northwest Florida's Talk Radio.

GIACHINO: Clark, I have invited you back on the program to discuss the same case that we have following with you - that is the case that you helped argue before Florida's highest court, the case commonly referred to as the school voucher case -- although I think the technical term for the program is the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Before we turn to that subject, can you please share with the listeners some information about the Institute for Justice?

NEILY: The Institute for Justice is a libertarian public interest firm based near Washington, D.C. and we basically sue the government to try to secure the right for people to engage in the occupation of their choice, to own and enjoy private property, to express themselves under the First Amendment and, of course, also to send their children to schools of their choice and not where somewhere bureaucrat tell them where they should send their children. If people want more information we have a website and it is We would love to have you check out the website and we would love to hear from you if you have any questions or if you have anything that you want to talk with us about.

GIACHINO: Clark, you mentioned that one of the missions of the organization is to sue the government. But in the case that we are going to discuss, am I right that you were actually on the same side as the Florida state government?

NEILY: Yes. This is one of the settings in which the Institute for Justice does actually end up on the same side as the government. The reason for that is that there are some state governments and even local governments that have been very forward looking on the issue of school choice. Florida is frankly the most forwarding-looking state in the country - they have the highest number of school choice programs and the broadest applicability of such programs. So really Florida is delivering school choice to the most number of people in the country. The good news, that is the silver lining of this case, is that continues to be true even in the wake of this very unfortunate Florida Supreme Court ruling striking down the Opportunity Scholarship Program. There are just over 700 kids in that program. They want to be able to finish up the school year. But the program is going to be over as of the end of this school year. The good news is that there are over 30,000 children in other school choice programs in the State of Florida and those have not been challenged yet so they are going to continue to go on.

GIACHINO: Clark, before we talk more specifically about the ruling in the voucher case, I want to back up a little bit for the benefit of some of the listeners who might not have tuned in during either of your two previous appearances with us. If you would please describe for the listeners what we are talking about when we say school choice and school vouchers here in the State of Florida.

NEILY: Sure. There is a basic philosophical difference there. Some people believe that the government is in the best position to tell you where your kids should go to school. Then there are people who believe that the parents are best situated to make that choice. And what really is going on here in Florida is that the governor decided that the best way to make sure that kids are getting a good education in the State of Florida was to say to parents, "look if your child is trapped in a school that is not getting the job done, if your child has been trapped in a school that has been rated by the state as failing, we are going to give you the option of taking your child out of that school and either sending them to a higher performing public school or to a private school of your choice. And the state is willing to give you a voucher so you can send that child to a private school."

It is a wonderful, wonderful program and it has had a wonderful impact both on the children who have been receiving the state aid to go to the private schools and also on the schools that have been forced now to compete for the students and recognize that they cannot just keep going on as business as usual. There have been four different independent studies of the program and every single one of those studies shows that public schools exposed to competition from this program improved dramatically and it is very, very unfortunate that the program is not going to be around much longer to spur that kind of improvement.

GIACHINO: Am I right - I think that the last time that you joined us you explained that these vouchers don't just come into play after the school has received its first failing grade but that they are given multiple opportunities to improve that grade before the voucher program may be invoked in their physical school?

NEILY: Yes, that is true. To become eligible for the voucher program, a school has to have gotten two "F" grades - two failing grades, within any two consecutive years. So, yes, you are right, it is not as if the state just steps in out of the blue and says that all of the kids here qualify to transfer out. Instead it is targeted at schools that have a chronic problem and just are not able to get the job done.

It is a common myth that this is some how an attack on the teachers or the people who work at this school. It is no such thing. There are a lot of basic structural problems in our public education system that would prevent even very effective teachers from being able to really educate the kids in their classroom. My father is a public school teacher. I know this for a fact and have seen it in his job and he has told me of the things that he faces that prevent him from doing an effective job in his classroom.

So really all this program says to parents is that we are not going to demand that you leave your children trapped in a failing public school - this chronically failing public school, while we tinker with it and try to straighten it out. Which who knows how long that might take - a year or five years or even ten? Even one day in a chronically failing school is too long for anybody's child and I think the only way that anybody would put up with that is if it were somebody else's child who is going to be trapped in that failing public school. I have never met a single person in the whole State of Florida with a child trapped in a failing public school who wasn't a supporter of this program.

GIACHINO: When the parents then make it known that they want to be a recipient of the voucher or that they want to be a part of the Opportunity Scholarship Program, the state doesn't dictate which schools that they go to right - it is up to the parents?

NEILY: That's right. It is up to the parents. And of course they have a choice of remaining in the public school system and transferring to a higher performing school if that is at all an option. But of course one of the problems there is that the higher performing public schools are more popular and will not have the class size to accommodate these new kids. So sometimes the only real option for these parents is to transfer into a private school and the state would pay at least a portion of the tuition - they get a voucher and there is a maximum cap on that voucher. Of course these parents are able to take their children out of that failing public school and enroll them in a private school of their choosing.

Of course I should add that this is a form of school choice that wealthier parents exercise every single day throughout this country. People with enough money to do it exercise school choice either by putting their children into private schools or by moving to school districts where they have good public schools. We believe that everybody in the State of Florida should have the same ability to exercise school choice and to ensure good educational opportunities for their children, regardless of whether they have the money to afford private school or to afford living in fancy school districts. That is what this case is all about and that is what this program is all about. I am sad to say that the Florida Supreme Court really turned its back on that in this case....

More -- much more -- here


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"

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here


Sunday, February 05, 2006

Only 98% left behind

From a charter school teacher

Last March, in Learning is easy - Education is complex, I wrote about charter schools in Minnesota, and expressed a general opinion that educational opportunities are improved by the presence of charter schools, but that it's a damned shame that the entrepreneurial people starting and running charter schools can't instead open PRIVATE schools on a level playing field with public schools.

Charter schools ARE public schools, of course, but with a bit more freedom in some ways. In other ways, they are even more constricted than the large traditional schools. Their regular oversight is perhaps less stringent, but their results are more harshly judged. We've come to expect poor results from traditional schools... to understand that those school systems are so well insulated and protected that hoping for real change is fantasy. Charter schools, because they don't enjoy the patronage of the teachers union or the maze-like insulation of the public school bureaucracy, are sort of hanging out there in the breeze, tolerated by the powers that be. There are those who enjoy the failure of a charter school.

I'm doing a bit of teaching in a Minnesota charter school... just started my 2nd quarter teaching art at a charter high school, as an unpaid volunteer. The school serves a special student need... it's for students who have had a substance-abuse problem and have been through treatment. That's what the students all have in common, and dealing with that issue is a significant part of the way the school helps their students. Because the people in the school understand the abuse problem, they can and do provide a helpful setting for the students. Students must remain clean to remain in that school, which gives them an incentive and reward for staying clean.

This "Sobriety High" is of real value... providing a good choice where none existed before. I will opine that the traditional public high schools are of almost no help for a student who has fallen into some sort of substance abuse. More likely that they make the problem worse and are even a contributing factor to the original occurance.

At a time in life... the teenage years... when young people are struggling to identify and develop their own individuality, that place where they spend all day, 5 days/week is a damned important context. Large schools cannot deal with students as individuals, and that is precisely what teens need. To condemn teens (or any children) to big slab-walled, prison-like institutions is contrary to the develoment of inquisitive, intelligent minds. Remember... our public school system was copied from the Prussian system, which had as its goal the creation of compliant, obedient workers for the government. Individuality was (and remains) a negative trait in such schools.

Charter schools are, to be blunt, a half-assed solution to the public school problem. They're a wonderful choice, but only when compared to the miserable standard of public schools. If they were free of the regulation and bureaucracy of the public school system... free to really innovate... free to please nobody except the parents and their children, there is no doubt in my mind that they would take a giant stride forward in effectiveness. Parents can move their child from a big traditional school to a charter school, at no extra cost to them, but if they could take that same money to any private school, unfettered by government control, we could at last see a return to the spectacular learning that our nation once had.

For those of you who believe that the poor would suffer from elimination of "public" education... do some study of the history of learning among blacks and other immigrant peoples in America BEFORE the idea of government-controlled schools was introduced. Back then, poor people didn't allow their children to suffer in violent, drug-ridden, depressing inner-city schools... they organized their own schools, and literacy, even among the poorest, was higher than it is now.

Some people working in charter schools are not likely to appreciate what I've said. I've listened to leaders of some of the prominent charter schools, and, unfortunately, they speak the same education double-speak one can hear from the entrenched bureaucracy... language designed to say little but give a glowing impression... spoken with that practiced constant smile intended to give the impression that all is swell here. I imagine that they too have designs on moving up the governmental administrative career ladder. They also have to worry about not rocking the boat and about pleasing those who can remove their charter.

Charter schools are another "program" that's supposed to demonstrate that the public school behemoth is innovating and serving special needs. Sure, it's an improvement for a few children... 17,000 in Minnesota, out of about 810,000. That's just 2%, and Minnesota is a "leader" in charter schools. That only leaves 98% "left behind".



This article is about the situation in the Australian State of New South Wales but a similar problem can be found almost anywhere in the Western world

If you want to know who the bad teachers are in a school, ask the students. They are good judges. So when the year 5 students in an OC - opportunity class for the gifted and talented - complained about their teacher, detailing scenes of unusual classroom chaos, parents took notice. They contacted the school. At first their voices fell on deaf ears. So some parents protested with their feet; several students were taken out of the prized OC places they had won through competitive examination and went back to their local primary school. "There was no control in the classroom and no evidence of any work being done," a parent told me. Another said: "She was floundering, out of her depth." Parents felt sympathy for the teacher, who had one year's teaching experience and was trying. But the inadequacies could not be ignored.

The parents got lucky. They were middle-class and assertive, and angry at the broken promise of special "opportunity" for their children. As well, they had the option of putting the children back into local schools. The threat of mass defections with attendant bad publicity could have undermined the reputation of the OC program. Their concerns were heeded. It took only until mid-second term for the teacher to be shifted to a non-teaching job out of the school. It was done mainly for "health reasons", much easier grounds for removal than incompetence.

Most children in regular schools are not so lucky. It is notoriously difficult to remove poor-performing teachers. "Teachers have to have two heads to be kicked out," a former Department of Education bureaucrat told me. Principals have no real incentives to weed out the time-servers and non-performers. They have no motivation to rock the boat. There is no pressure of competition in the public sector; most parents are trapped, feeling they must wear the dud teacher. There is no performance-based remuneration for principals or teachers, so nothing is lost or gained by confronting the non-performers. And there is no stomach to fight the NSW Teachers Federation. Industrial relations concerns rather than professional ethics have dominated thinking about bad teachers.

Teachers' rights need to be protected from malicious students and interfering parents with absurd expectations. Not every teacher is a Mr Chips; mediocrities abound in any profession and are not the issue here. Terrible teachers are easy enough to identify. Just ask the children. But in any dispute over teacher competence, the customer - the student - is rarely right. The balance of rights and responsibilities is out of kilter.

With another school year under way, parents can only cross their fingers that the good teacher falls their way. It is no secret what constitutes a good teacher. When Tony Vinson conducted his inquiry into public education in NSW, he found students identified the qualities easily - expertise in the subject, ability to control the classroom without shouting, dedication, and being approachable and fair.

Most students can survive a year, or a subject, taught by an incompetent teacher. But sometimes the consequences are more serious. It can colour a year or shape a life. In the junior years, it can determine whether a child learns to read, and by the end of high school, a bad teacher can ruin a child's chance of getting into a desired university course. The OC students, for example, suffered further instability, after their teacher's removal, under two casual placements before a permanent teacher started at the beginning of term four. She had only a few weeks to turn things around before the children sat the in-school and, in March, the external exams for entry to selective high schools. Compared with previous years when virtually all the OC students made it to the local selective high schools, few of the crop for this year did so. And while there may be several explanations, including the possibility that the group overall was not so bright, and the instability was not the factor, parents have been left thinking the system let them down.

Wonderful teachers change lives, are remembered forever, though rarely thanked. But in today's workforce, teachers occupy an unusual place. They have virtual life tenure, yet are protected from the scrutiny most other professionals undergo. No one can follow them into the classroom, except the children, whose views are often discounted. Teachers spend years marking and assessing children's work, yet get no systematic feedback from the children on their own strengths and weaknesses.

If there is a beacon of hope it lies with the new NSW Institute of Teachers, an independent statutory body, which has put in place a mechanism for accrediting and licensing teachers, and even for differentiating between the competent, the accomplished, and the leaders. For the first time this year, teachers with about one year's experience will have to be accredited in order to continue to teach after meeting stipulated standards, providing evidence of classroom work, and assessment by the principal or a senior teacher. It will make it easier for principals to be freer in their comments, and ensure poor teachers are not accredited. With a high proportion of teachers due to retire over the next seven years, it was considered a waste of resources to try to cover the old hands. It is a start. But what a pity students will have no input into the teacher evaluations when they are the real experts.



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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