Saturday, February 18, 2006


Capitol Hill is waging a legal battle against charter schools. And I don't mean Congress, mind you, but Capitol Hill the neighborhood, where residents are trying to block 3- and 4-year-olds from attending a public charter school -- and are seemingly willing to take on Congress to do it. These residents, who collectively call themselves the Northeast Neighbors for Responsible Growth, have read more than a few pages of Democrat George Wallace's textbook on public schooling. These neighbors have filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court that asks the court to block the city government from giving the Apple Tree Institute for Educational Innovation the necessary permits to renovate and operate a new charter school for preschoolers. These irresponsible neighbors claim, among other things, that the preschool would have a "devastating effect on the residential and historical character of the neighborhood." Their suit also says that noise, traffic and parking will pose "irreparable" harm to Capitol Hill residents.

Now, I am no fan of preschool programs, whether they are called Head Start or Apple Tree. My heart of hearts tells me that young children should be in nurturing environs, not thrown to the whims of one-size-fits-all programs that mass produce kindergarteners. I am, however, a cheerleader for school choice and the rule of law, and these Capitol Hill elitists have really gotten under my skin. And so have their allies in City Hall. But I'll calm down and back up so you can get a clear picture of what's at stake.

It's been 15 years since Minnesota passed the nation's first public charter-school law, opening the doors for states around the country to offer meaningful school-choice options for parents whose children were trapped in underachieving and violent public schools. Many states followed Minnesota voluntarily. The District of Columbia, whose elected and appointed politicians have moved in lockstep with unions since the 1970s, had to be dragged along. Congress wrote the D.C. School Reform Act in 1995, and it took effect in 1996 after being signed by Bill Clinton. The law, like many of those in the various states, exempts public charter schools from statutes, policies, rules and regulations established for the D.C. Board of Education, and even the D.C. Council and the mayor, so as keep political meddlers, including anti-school-choicers, out of the way. Because of Congress' explicit language, the D.C. school-choice movement gained broad support. There were only 300 children in two D.C. charter schools in 1996; today there are estimated 18,000 in 51 schools.

The District isn't the only jurisdiction with surging charter-enrollment numbers. Michigan, which passed its charter law in 1993, expects enrollment to surpass the 100,000 mark next school year, and Detroit's public school system has lost an estimated 10,000 students since last school year, while charter enrollment hit 22.5 percent. New Jersey, like the District, has 51 charters, with an enrollment of 15,000. The demand is so high that education officials recently announced the approval of six new charter schools. (To find your state, visit

Of course, there always are rejectionists standing at the ready. In the case of Capitol Hill, they want the mayor, or at least his charges in the Office of Planning, to rewrite zoning laws that would effectively prohibit Apple Tree from opening its preschool on its own property. The anti-choicers say theirs is a prima facie case, even without the rewrite, because zoning laws define a public school as a building under the aegis of the Board of Education, which most charter schools -- thanks to congressional oversight -- are not.

So, to recap. A group of taxpayers wants to block the doors of a legitimate -- and much in demand -- public school. The taxpayers file a lawsuit. A legal threat to public charter schools in the nation's capital is a threat to charter schools everywhere.


Denver Archdiocese uncovers sexual abuse bias in favor of public school teachers

In a continuing battle against what many of the state's faithful call an unfair bias against Catholics, the Archdiocese of Denver has uncovered a previously unseen, but sordid list of sexual abuses by many of Colorado's public school teachers. The Archdiocese has lifted the lid on some 85 Colorado Department of Education reports of sexual impropriety among teachers since 1997. Reportedly, the state had revoked or denied teaching licenses, all for reasons involving sexual misconduct with minors. But critics charge, the punishment ended there.

According to a report in Denver's Rocky Mountain News, the list revealed teachers "who prey on grade-schoolers, plying them with love notes.Teachers who download pornography on their desktop computers while students sit before them.Teachers who encourage students to meet them surreptitiously after school, on out-of-town trips, and who give them marijuana or alcohol in exchange for sex."

Recently, all three of Colorado's bishops blasted proposed state legislation which seeks to eliminate or modify statutes of limitation allowing sexual abuse victims to wait up to 40 years before filing suits against Catholic and other private institutions in the state.

The problem, they say, is that the bills would unequally punish the Catholic Church while public school teachers and coaches accused of abuse would--because of state sovereignty laws--be all but exempt. In a letter, read last week to all parishioners in the Archdiocese, Denver's Archbishop Charles Chaput said that every one of the proposed pieces of legislation "ignores the serious problem of sexual abuse in public schools and other public institutions, and focuses instead on religious and private organizations." In other words, he said, "some Colorado legislators seem determined to be harsh when it comes to Catholic and other private institutions, and much softer when it comes to their own public institutions, including public schools. And it will be families, including Catholic families, who suffer."

The bill's sponsors--led by state Senator Joan Fitz-Gerald argue that there is no anti-Catholic intent in the bills, but even the state's secular newspapers and talk radio hosts question that assessment.

Rocky Mountain News columnist Vincent Carroll, wrote recently that special legislation aimed squarely at the Church "would be entirely out of line and Senate presidents never toy with anything so improper." He pointed out however, that the "only allegations Fitz-Gerald or anyone else seems to mention in relation to her legislation involve the church. And that the only organization already targeted by a smoothly functioning coalition of high-powered plaintiffs' attorneys and victim groups is the church."

Archbishop Chaput has called this "an extremely serious moment" for the Church in Colorado and has encouraged the state's faithful to contact their local representatives and demand an end to what he sees as terribly biased bills.



A good start but enrolments are probably still far too high relative to the use that a degree is

The prospect of paying top-up fees has put far more school leavers off applying to university than had been predicted. The number of applications has dropped for the first time in six years as thousands of young people reject higher education in favour of getting a job for fear of future debt. Last month Bill Rammell, the Higher Education Minister, predicted that the number of applicants would fall by about 2 per cent, but for those under 21 it is down by 3.9 per cent. The number of male applicants dropped by 4 per cent, or almost 6,773, compared with last year, leaving women outnumbering men by 56 to 44 per cent.

With almost 13,000 fewer students in total and 4.5 per cent fewer English applicants studying subjects from law to electronic engineering, according to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas), student leaders called on the Government to review the fees.

Mr Rammell downplayed the drop and said that he was "reasonably encouraged". He said that although there had been a fall since last year's record rush to beat tuition fees, there were more applications than in 2004. "What we're seeing here is the kind of trend we saw in 1998 when tuition fees were introduced. There was a dip, but slowly the trend went up, and if you take the two years together, there's still an increase of 12,500 students, or 4.8 per cent," he said. "The figures also show there's been no drop in applications from lower socio-economic groups - which has remained at 31 per cent for the past two years."

The Government wants to get half of 18 to 30-year-olds into higher education by 2010. But among the most worrying findings in the latest Ucas results is the 4 per cent drop among male teenagers applying to university. Mr Rammell agreed that persuading white working-class boys into higher education was a challenge, but said that the Schools White Paper published last year and the 14-19 Agenda to change the way that schools assessed children offered possible longer-term routes into higher education.

Courses suffering most include law, psychology, computer science and electrical engineering. Kat Fletcher, president of the National Union of Students (NUS), said that the drop was extremely worrying. "We could be missing out on thousands of doctors, teachers, scientists, engineers because the fear of debt has put them off," she said. She urged the Government to think again. "If figures are going down now, imagine the scenario we could be faced with if universities are given the green light to charge whatever they like per year," she said.

However Drummond Bone, president of Universities UK, said he did not believe that many courses would close and that after a recent massive rise in applications for psychology, a "bounce back from the boom years" was inevitable. Research from Thomas Charles, a debt solutions consultancy, shows that student debt has already grown to more than œ10,000 for tens of thousands of students. From September, most universities and colleges in England and Northern Ireland will charge annual fees of 3,000 pounds.

Last night Mr Rammell was embroiled in a row after suggesting that it was "no bad thing" if students were dropping subjects such as classics and philosophy for courses "with more vocational benefits". [Bravo!] Philosophers, historians and academics said the remarks were short-sighted and out of date



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 17, 2006


Bright children are being denied a chance to win the support of a centre for the gifted because their head teachers think that it is too elitist. The Government wants to register the top 5 per cent with the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth (Nagty), but some heads believe that it fails to meet pupils' needs. While more than half of schools have registered with Nagty, parents and politicians now fear that children at 40 per cent of schools are missing out.

At Christopher Whitehead Language College, a comprehensive school in Worcester, ten pupils achieved ten A* GCSEs each last summer. But no pupil has signed up for the academy, and Neil Morris, the head teacher, is not encouraging them to do so. "We don't feel that it is suitable for our children and we don't feel it is hitting their needs," he said. "More importantly, the parents don't want to subscribe to it. We've got 210 on our own gifted and talented register that we stretch in the best way we can."

Carol Muston, a town planner and single mother, feels that the academy does have something to offer and is asking a school near by to put forward her 12-year-old. "Clearly with Nagty, there are specialist tutors with specialist skills to get the best out of children. That's perhaps not available at normal schools," she said. Since the academy opened three years ago, 83,000 children have been put forward by 60 per cent of schools in England. But in November Nick Gibb, the Shadow Schools Minister, revealed huge regional variations. Ninety per cent of schools in Swindon had Nagty members but only a quarter in northeast Lincolnshire.

The Government decided to track the most gifted children after a study by David Jesson of York University found that state secondary pupils who had been identified as being, at age 11, in the top 5 per cent were only half as likely as those at fee-paying schools to achieve three A grades at A level. Academics have criticised Nagty, however, for offering just 1,000 places at the summer schools and for excluding students from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Some worry, too, that universities will use Nagty membership as a short cut for selection.

Deborah Eyre, the director, said that 87 per cent of students found Nagty membership valuable and it was hard to understand why schools would deter them. "It is not intended to be an either/or for schools. We would expect them to make provision for their brightest students, but this is at a national level," she said. "It's like saying, we offer very good football lessons and out-of-hours coaching with the local club, so we don't need to work with Manchester United." She added that a minority of schools had an "ideology problem", which was based on a misunderstanding.


Affirmative Blackmail: The ABA orders law schools to practice racial preference--even if they have to break the law

According to its mission statement, a primary goal of the American Bar Association is to "promote respect for the law." In the interest of mandating racial preferences in admissions, however, the ABA has just ordered law schools to do the opposite--in fact, to violate the law--and is resorting to blackmail to achieve its end.

Meeting in Chicago this past weekend, the ABA's Council of the Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar voted in favor of "equal opportunity and diversity" standards. Under these standards, any law school that seeks to maintain or acquire ABA accreditation will be required to engage in racial preferences in hiring and admissions, regardless of any federal, state or local laws that prohibit of such policies. Since only graduates of ABA-accredited schools may take the bar exam in the vast majority of states, the association has, in effect, a legal monopoly on accreditation standards.

The new Standard 211, styled "Equal Opportunity and Diversity," will govern admissions and faculty hiring policies. It says nothing about treating people from different groups equally, and lots about "diversity"--a code word for affirmative action preferences. "Consistent with sound legal education policy and the Standards," part (a) says that a law school must provide "full opportunities for the study of law and entry into the profession by members of underrepresented groups, particularly racial and ethnic minorities," and it must also commit "to having a student body that is diverse with respect to gender, race and ethnicity."

Part (b) says, "Consistent with sound educational policy and the Standards, a law school shall demonstrate by concrete action a commitment to having a faculty and staff that are diverse with respect to gender, race and ethnicity." This sounds innocuous, since law schools can reasonably differ on what constitutes "sound legal education policy." Some might think that the educational benefits of a racially heterogeneous student body justify significant racial preferences; others might give more weight to data showing significant educational costs resulting from preferences.

An empirical study by Richard Sander of UCLA, for example, confirms anecdotal evidence that student beneficiaries of such preferences tend to struggle in law school and end up at the bottom of their classes. Statistics published in the year 2000 also reveal that under current affirmative action policies, 42% of all African-American matriculants to law school either never graduate or never pass the bar (compared with 14% of whites). Some schools might conclude dooming a huge percentage of African-American students to failure is contrary to sound educational policy, and limit their "diversity" efforts to recruitment and retention.

That will not be possible, according to the "interpretations" of Standard 211, which have "equal weight" to the rules themselves. Interpretation 211-1 states that "the requirements of a constitutional provision or statute that purports to prohibit consideration of gender, race, ethnicity or national origin in admissions or employment decisions is not a justification for a school's non-compliance with Standard 211." Racial preferences will thus generally be necessary to comply with Standard 211--despite the fact that several states, including California and Florida, ban race as a factor in law school admissions or hiring or both. Equally outrageous is Interpretation 211-2, which states that, "consistent with the Supreme Court's decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, a law school may use race and ethnicity in its admissions process to promote equal opportunity and diversity." This is a complete misstatement of the law, and the attorneys who wrote this are either incompetent or, more likely, intentionally dissembling.

First, Grutter held only that racial preferences in higher education are legal when used to promote diversity, not when used to promote equal opportunity. The Supreme Court has consistently disapproved of the use of racial preferences other than for either educational diversity, or to remedy past discrimination, and nothing in Grutter is to the contrary.

Second, Grutter did not hold that any law school may use race in its admissions process to promote racial diversity. Rather, the court stated that it was deferring to the Michigan Law School's "educational judgment that such diversity is essential to its educational mission." Other law schools may not share that educational judgment, particularly if the only way to achieve such diversity is by admitting underqualified minority students. Nothing in Grutter would permit such a law school to engage in racial preferences.

Ironically, left-wing lawyers and law professors used to scream that the Grutter litigation posed a threat to academic freedom by trying to prohibit law schools from tailoring the racial balance of their student bodies to enhance the students' educational experience. Now they want to use the heavy hand of ABA accreditation to deny academic freedom to law schools that would not choose racial preferences.

It's worth remembering that the fifth vote in Grutter was provided by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who apparently thought that her opinion would permit, but not require, law schools to use racial preferences for diversity purposes. Now that the ABA is trying to turn "may" into "must," one wonders whether Justice Samuel Alito will be similarly sympathetic to the assertion that allowing racial preferences in admissions enhances academic freedom.

An even greater irony, however, is the ABA's role in all of this. One can be quite certain that despite the plain language of the "interpretations" quoted above, the ABA will claim that it is not really trying to force law school faculties and administrations to violate both the law and their consciences in pursuit of racial "diversity." But in the past, ABA accreditation officials have bullied law schools into precisely that position, even in the absence of written authority backing their demands. The new written standards will only embolden the accreditation bureaucracy, composed mainly of far-left law professors, to demand explicit racial preferences and implicit racial quotas--all in brazen defiance of the law.



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 16, 2006


Opponents of school choice have just released two major studies claiming to show that public schools actually perform better than private schools. One study made the front page of the New York Times. Unfortunately, both of them are seriously flawed. What’s more, a much larger body of much better studies reaches the opposite conclusion. The studies were released within about a week of each other, and by the same organization: the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education. While this may have made it a good week for the center in terms of publicity, it was an awful week in terms of scientific credibility.

The first study found that when you control for demographic factors like race and income, public school students actually have higher test scores than private school students. The authors have been aggressively touting this study as though it showed that public schools were better than private schools. In fact, it shows nothing of the kind. They take snapshots of student achievement in isolated years rather than tracking achievement over time. That may not sound important, but it’s crucial. If you don’t track students over time, you can’t find out why one student has a higher score than another. Single-year test scores mostly reflect student quality, not school quality. A student with high test scores is usually just a good student. It takes a student whose test scores are rising to prove that the school is good.

A much more likely explanation for these data is that the students who enter private schools tend to be slightly worse students than those of the same race and income who enter public schools. That makes perfect sense, because within each racial and socioeconomic group it’s the low performers whose parents will want to make the sacrifices necessary to put them in private schools.

The other study looked at Cleveland’s ten-year-old voucher program. Using a new statistical model to analyze a previously existing data set, it finds that kids remaining in Cleveland public schools do better than voucher users. This study is even more flawed than the previous one. The data set it analyzes does not allow for valid comparisons between similar student populations. The voucher students and the public school comparison groups in the data set are dissimilar not only because one group uses vouchers and the other doesn’t, but also in a host of other ways, and there’s no way to disentangle what’s really causing the test score difference. The study compares apples and oranges.

As it happens, numerous studies that avoid these methodological problems find that private schools do better. Most convincing are seven studies that compared students who won a random lottery to use a school voucher at a private school to similar students who lost the lottery and stayed in public schools. All seven found that voucher kids did better. Studies using other methods also favor private schools overwhelmingly.

Not all of the work sponsored by this organization is as bad as these two studies. It has promoted good, solid research showing that competition from school choice improves public schools. That’s even more impressive given that it’s housed at Columbia University’s Teachers College, the greatest academic stronghold of the teacher unions anywhere in the nation. But the center also has a dark side. From time to time it will release badly flawed studies purporting to show the inferior performance of private schools. With these two studies, it has just had probably its worst week ever. Let’s hope this misleading research doesn’t distract from the real scholarly consensus finding that private schools do better, and that school choice works.



Post lifted from The Locker Room

Douglas Reeves, CEO and founder of the Center for Performance Assessment, comments on a recent study by Peggy Hsieh and Joel R. Levin published in the Journal of Educational Psychology. Hsieh and Levin showed that only a small percentage of education research uses a randomized experimental design (random assignment to control and experimental groups), and over the years, the percentage has been decreasing.

They point to two reasons for this. The first is a growing preference for qualitative research, a product of post-modernism and relativism in the academy. The second reason is that, empirical research is difficult to conduct and yields unpopular results, many authors simply take their studies down an easier path. I think the latter explanation is key

Recently, I wrote a Spotlight on the failure of class size reductions in low income and low performing elementary schools. The evaluation team used an experimental design to assess the class size reduction program and found that the experimental group did no better than the control group. Needless to say, these results were unpopular, so unpopular, in fact, that the State Board of Education did not post the entire report on its website.

The significance of research design is lost on those who compared the state's program with other research that has been done on small class sizes. But the problem is not the critics but the education researchers who have done even more to diminish the credibility of the profession.


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 15, 2006


By Sid Dinerstein

I am Dred Scott.

In 1847 I tried to buy my freedom for $300. In 1858 Chief Justice Roger Taney, a Democrat, ruled that I must remain a slave. I died the following year.

In 2006, I asked the taxpayers of Florida to buy my educational freedom. Chief Justice Barbara J. Pariente, a Democrat, ruled that I must remain an educational hostage. I died another death.

The five liberal justices on the Florida State Supreme Court took away the Opportunity Scholarships for all Dred Scotts because the receiving schools – the private schools – weren't "uniform" with the failing public schools. That's true. They were better. Children learned there. Safely. Ritalin free.

ACLU'ers pick their children's, or their grandchildren's, schools on this "uniform" concept. An ACLU'er can only go to a public school that is "uniformly" excellent, like Dreyfoos or Suncoast or Bok Middle School, or most schools in Boca Raton, Palm Beach Gardens or Wellington (in South Florida). But try to find an ACLU'er in a "uniformly" challenged school like Glades Central or Roosevelt Middle School, and you will come up empty. ACLU'ers only go to schools that "uniformly" resemble the private schools that they won't let poor children go to.

The liberals on the Court say that "uniformity" is defined by the curriculum. Rest assured. The public schools of the ACLU children have curricula much closer to St. Andrews (private) or The Benjamin School (private) than they do to Glades Central.

All ACLU'ers love vouchers. They love the GI Bill vouchers that sent their uncles to St. John's University. They love the Pell Grant and "Bright Futures" vouchers that send their grandchildren to Florida State University or Palm Beach Atlantic University. They use their own Medicare vouchers at JFK Medical Good Samaritan Hospital. And the only reason we haven't mentioned Food Stamps or Section 8 Rental Housing Vouchers is because ACLU'ers are too rich to need them.

And yet, when the Dred Scotts of today ask for their vouchers, the ACLU just says: "No!" So what is really going on? The answer is, money. Dred Scott was sold in 1847 and Dred Scott is being sold every day in 2006. The NEA, the National Education Association, what we often call the Teachers' Union, takes in $350 million each year. And what does it buy? The better question is, "Who" does it buy?

Here are a few: Protect Our Public Schools is an organization dedicated to wiping out Charter Schools. The NEA gave them $500,000.

The Congressional Black Caucus was bought for $40,000.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute was bought for $35,000.

The National Organization for Women was bought.

So was the NAACP.

And Jesse Jackson's Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

People for the American Way held out for $654,000.

And, of course, last, but not least, the ACLU took NEA money in exchange for selling the potential of our at-risk youth.

In other words, this organization, and all of its sister left-wing organizations, takes money from the fabulously rich NEA. And all you have to do is sell Dred Scott, again and again and again. The ACLU takes the money. Dred Scott loses his potential. It's all very black and white. The Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution has one common theme: 10 times over it says people come before government; by picking their own religion, owning their own guns, keeping their own counsel. And when the Bill of Rights runs out of specific areas to protect the citizens from the government, it adds the blanket statement reminding us that the ambiguous always goes to the people.

The people of the great state of Florida, through their constitution, are no less generous or just. When we ask for quality public schools we seek optimism and opportunity, not pessimism and imprisonment. And when parents have determined that uniform quality public schools require a School Voucher to an outsourced institution, the Bill of Rights reminds us that "we the people" come before the narrow interests of the government schools. Quality education is the uniformity that our state constitution guarantees, not special interest payoffs from one educational possibility, the local government school district. Dred Scott will return to the government schools when they have earned his participation, no longer at the wrong end of the bullwhip.

If there are lawyers who think I have it wrong, I have two suggestions: First, go back to law school and get a refund. Then go visit the Joseph Littles-Nguzo Saba Charter School and ask them to take your law school money and sell you a heart. School choice is the civil rights issue of the 21st century – and the ACLU is the hired gun for the "separate but unequal" crowd. I believe, upon looking at the faces of the young, that everyone will understand the cruelty of the ACLU. When that happens, free yourself by standing up and saying: "I am Dred Scott!"

U.K. teachers being given wider powers of punishment

Discipline creeping back

Teachers in England will have a new legal right to confiscate pupils' mobile phones or music players and punish unruly children beyond the school gates under government plans set out yesterday. Youngsters misbehaving on public transport or in the street on the way to or from school will be targeted under the moves, which are part of the prime minister's "respect" agenda.

New powers to introduce a clear legal right for teachers to discipline unruly pupils and restrain them using "reasonable force" were published in the education white paper - soon to be bill - last October.

Many headteachers already operate a system of pupils being regarded as "ambassadors" for their school while they are dressed in uniform outside the school. But under the government plans, teachers would have the power to discipline pupils who misbehave on the way to and from school strengthened, with a legal right to take action.

The schools minister, Jacqui Smith, said yesterday: "It takes only a handful of poorly behaved pupils to make life difficult for teachers and disrupt the education of other pupils. This is why our white paper proposes to take forward the recommendations of Sir Alan Steer to provide teachers and support staff in lawful control of pupils with a clear legal right to discipline. This will ensure that staff can insist confidently and without fear of challenge, for example when confiscating inappropriate items from pupils - it will mean an end to the 'You can't tell me, Miss' culture." She went on: "It will also take discipline beyond the school gate, allowing schools to punish pupils for unacceptable behaviour on the way to and from school - to tackle bullying and ensure pupils are positive ambassadors for their schools when travelling on buses and trains."

Steve Sinnott, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Europe's biggest teachers' organisation, said: "Whatever the other faults with the white paper, the government's proposal to give an unambiguous right to teachers to discipline pupils is welcome and long overdue. Teachers need to be absolutely confident about their authority. I want the government to understand that it is the teacher who has the responsibility for discipline and the imposition of sanctions within the classroom. The legislation must focus on enhancing the authority of the teacher."

Earlier, Ms Smith predicted that the government would get its education reforms through parliament as "useful discussions" with rebel MPs continue. She said there was "considerable support" for the "building blocks" of the white paper plan. Her remarks - to a conference organised by the Institute of Public Policy Research - followed a compromise in a letter to rebel MPs on Monday which was designed to win support for the proposals to give schools more independence.



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 14, 2006

From fixing cars to farming, math more important than ever

As Tennesseans consider the wisdom of requiring a fourth year of high school math, it's important to keep a few things in mind about the modern workplace and workforce. First and most importantly, today even students headed for a technical education instead of college must have excellent math skills to succeed. The line between what college-bound students and technical students need to know has become blurry indeed.

In the 1970s, students who couldn't do anything else enrolled in automotive classes because they required the least proficiency in basic skills such as math and reading. Today, auto mechanics is one of the most challenging curricula in technical schools, with the advent of computer-controlled automotive systems and computer-driven diagnostics. These days, to succeed in auto mechanics school and in the workplace diagnosing problems and repairing cars, students need very strong math and reading skills. The engines are all different, the manuals are online, and automobiles are increasingly complex. Sure, there will always be a need for people to change the oil, and that doesn't require math, but stepping up to be Mr. Goodwrench does.

Many other program areas at Tennessee Technology Centers also call for advanced math skills. Certificates in drafting, electricity and industrial maintenance all demand a good grasp of intermediate algebra and trigonometry, while a field such as machine tool technology requires advanced algebra, solid and coordinate geometry and trigonometry. So advanced mathematics is in no way irrelevant to the technical track in high school.

Second, some argue that college-bound students who have already decided to pursue studies that don't require much math shouldn't have to take a fourth year of it in high school. But the reality is that on average, people change their major three times while they're in college and change their jobs seven times during their working lives. Over 11% of the students enrolled in Tennessee Board of Regents universities have "undeclared" majors, meaning they haven't yet decided on any course of study, much less a career plan. So, preserving all the options for young people requires strong grounding in math, science and reading.

Finally, careers that don't necessarily require any education beyond high school and that might seem math-free really aren't anymore. Being a homebuilder requires knowledge of measurement, geometry, trigonometry, ratios and proportions along with a little algebra. Graphic artists, especially those working in animation, have to understand sines and cosines from trig plus key concepts from calculus and how mathematical functions and equations work. Farming demands the ability to use weights and measures, basic arithmetic, rates and ratios, geometry and area, interest and percentages and computers to run soil tests and the new generation of farm machines linked to satellites.

There is a general correlation between earnings and technical skills required in a job, and mathematics forms the basis of technical skills. While some students have more aptitude for math than others, most students, if they apply themselves, can learn it quite well. Why decide to limit exposure to such an important tool at such an early age? Math is good for students, and it's good for Tennessee



California again

They're among the San Juan Unified School District's most beloved institutions - and among its most controversial. San Juan's eight public "choice" schools are models of academic success, regularly posting some of the district's highest scores on state tests. But some say these schools foster racial and economic segregation by drawing savvy, education-minded parents away from lower-performing schools throughout the district. [And what is wrong with that?]

In December, Superintendent Steven Enoch proposed changes to San Juan's open enrollment policy. In doing so, he turned up the heat on a long-simmering debate over whether the district's choice schools are equally accessible to all. "I'm very mindful of the pros and cons of our system, which has a long standing in this district," he said recently. "The reality is our choice schools, for a variety of reasons, are generally successful. ... But there is a question about whether or not it is a level playing field."

The district typically assigns every family to a neighborhood school that must accept all comers within a geographic boundary. But many families opt instead for the district's choice schools, which have no geographical boundaries, offer alternative teaching styles and admit students who apply through a lottery system called open enrollment. The popularity of open enrollment is part of the fast-growing school-choice movement. Most states offer some choice in the form of charter schools, vouchers, and transfers within or between districts. School choice advocates say the movement puts pressure on low-performing schools to improve and offers families more options. Opponents say choice debilitates public school systems and threatens the ideal of free and equal schools for all. "The underlying tension in American education today is between those who want to advance the spirit of common schooling ... versus those who believe that market forces are sacred," said Bruce Fuller, professor of education and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley.

In San Juan Unified, the growing furor over choice schools illustrates the larger rift over the goals of public education. Critics say the schools "skim the cream" and leave neighborhood schools bereft of involved parents. Proponents say they attract parents who might otherwise head for private schools, charter schools or other districts - an important consideration for San Juan Unified, which is struggling with declining enrollment. Regardless of their stance, many people seem to agree that choice is necessary to accommodate children's different learning styles. But making neighborhood schools more appealing, some say, is just as important. "I would like for us to be a place where all our schools are perceived to be very strong community schools," said San Juan board President Larry Miles. "If you decide to go to El Camino (a choice high school), it's because something there attracts you - not because you don't want to go to Mira Loma or San Juan."

There's long-standing precedent for San Juan's choice schools. In the 1970s, parents and employees successfully lobbied the board to establish a few alternative schools that offered innovative teaching styles. Some were "open," stressing hands-on, self-directed learning. Others were "fundamental," emphasizing structure and discipline. Meanwhile, magnet schools were popping up nationwide. These schools, aimed at desegregation, usually lacked traditional geographic boundaries and drew white students to African American neighborhoods with alternative programs.

San Juan Unified soon adopted the magnet school concept for purposes other than desegregation. In the late 1970s, declining enrollment on the west side led the board to establish a set of alternative magnets near its western border in Sacramento. Within a decade, San Juan had eight such schools across the district: six elementary schools, one middle school and one high school. They were so popular the district eventually switched from a first-come-first-served system to a randomized lottery. "We had families that actually stayed up all night, and they were lined up around the buildings in sleeping bags and lawn chairs so they would be first in line for enrollment," said Pam Costa, director of schools and programs for elementary schools.

Today, a student at one of San Juan's choice schools is more likely to be white and well-off than is an average district student. But the schools do reflect the demographics of the census tracts in which they're located, according to figures from the state Department of Education and the 2000 U.S. Census. The same can't be said of the district's lowest-performing schools. For instance, 20 percent of students at Dyer-Kelly Elementary on Edison Avenue are white, but the census tract in which the school is located is 66 percent white, according to state and census data. Fully 95 percent of Dyer-Kelly's students qualify for reduced-price lunch, a key indicator of poverty, while in the surrounding neighborhood, just 38 percent of families with school-age children fall under the poverty line.....

As part of his redesign plan, San Juan Superintendent Enoch has proposed that each choice school approach the board for approval every three years. "These schools get to distinguish a philosophy and set expectations that are maybe more restrictive than neighborhood schools - and it seems like that's a privilege," he said. For their part, however, parents who have children at choice schools embrace the programs, saying they offer distinct teaching styles and strong extracurricular opportunities. Fair Oaks resident Dená Leineke said that after years at her assigned elementary school, one of the district's best in terms of test scores, her fifth-grade daughter still couldn't write a sentence. "She didn't fit into the cookie-cutter shape," she said. After a year at Green Oaks Fundamental Elementary in Orangevale, she said, her daughter writes multi-page essays. Leineke said the difference is the school's structured program. "I don't think Green Oaks is better, exactly, but they set high standards and they're really teaching the kids to respect discipline and responsibility," she said.

More here

Comment on yesterday's posts about the Queensland meltdown -- From Education Unbound

Recent reports out of Brisbane concerning the poor literacy standards of Queensland Year 7 students should make all parents sit up and take notice, but there is more to the story and the official responses to it than just the issue of poor literacy.

Colin Lamont who has had experience both as a teacher and as Queensland chairman of the Australian Council of Educational Standards has put his finger on the real issue when he lays the blame squarely on educational bureaucrats and not the teachers. This is not to say that teachers are all perfect. Many who went through the system in the later 70's and 80's were themselves products of a flawed education, but on the whole most teachers try hard and let's be honest they are teaching primary and secondary kids here not university students. So why is there so much fuss about teacher standards? Because it deflects attention from the real masters of the system and the real culprits in the mess that is public education - the educational nomenclature in their ivory towers in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane etc. What made the Sunday Mail test so relevant is that its marking was not controlled by the bureaucracy and so could not be massaged to hide the failings of the system.

Make no mistake - it is the system that is at fault not teachers as a group. The response of the Education Minister was clearly written for him by a member of his Department. It is designed to soothe and reassure that the Department is doing something about literacy but that in general all is well in the cloud-cuckoo land of state education. Likewise the response of the Teacher's Union reflects only the cosy relationship of the leadership of that group with the Department. Both have a vested interest in things as they are. Both will screw the actual teachers in the front line as the easiest scapegoats. When I was growing up, "professional" meant working "autonomously" today it means keeping your mouth shut about the failures of the system. The failure of the current Education System is systemic not individual. It is time we got rid of bureaucrats and employed more teachers to teach basic knowledge that kids can use to access other areas of life. Education is about opening doors not giving guided tours.


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 13, 2006


Another example of a phenomenon to be seen in most of the English-speaking world

The State Government has launched an urgent overhaul of child literacy as a former education boss accuses Queensland schools of failing students. Education Minister Rod Welford told The Sunday Mail the reforms would target reading, writing and spelling skills amid widespread public concern about falling standards. The announcement came as Colin Lamont, former state chairman of the Australian Council for Education Standards, warned our children had been "dumbed down" and today's students would be no match for their counterparts of 50 years ago.

The shocking appraisal was backed by the dismal results of a basic spelling test set by The Sunday Mail for a Brisbane Year 7 class. Almost two-thirds of the 11 and 12-year-olds failed, with some unable to spell any of the words. Mr Lamont, a former Liberal MP, blamed the state's education bureaucrats for an "appalling" lack of child literacy and numeracy skills - not teachers, whom he says are overburdened with administrative work and are given limited in-service training. "Thirteen and 14-year-olds today do not understand basic literacy and numeracy," Mr Lamont told The Sunday Mail. "They learn about fundamental, day-to-day stuff - like how to send a text message - because it is supposed to be relevant."

Mr Welford acknowledged growing public concern over a decline in standards. "I am aware that there is a lot of interest in the community, especially from parents, with literacy and numeracy," he said. "That is why this year literacy is going to be one of the key areas we focus on." Mr Welford said the literacy overhaul would involve the release of an information guide to schools this week. It would include a "framework" on how to change the curriculum to deal with the teaching and learning of literacy from pre-school to Year 10. Mr Welford had also commissioned the Queensland Studies Authority to do a general review of the curriculum up to Year 10. "We will look at what are the essential things that young people must learn to be competent by Year 10," he said. "Literacy will be one of the top priorities."

However, Mr Welford urged caution when comparing the scholastic ability of children today with those in the past. "Children in the 1950s could do some things better than some children do now and there are children doing things today that kids 30 years ago would not have had a clue about - such as Powerpoint presentations and designing things on computers," he said. "The skills we need to focus on today are different from the past, but that does not mean literacy." Mr Welford said it was crucial that youngsters were better prepared for life after school. "Children are getting a very good education in our schools, one that is more relevant to the 21st century. However, that doesn't mean that literacy and numeracy skills should be neglected," he said. The State Government last year announced a $127 million reform package aimed at delivering better education and higher skills.


NOTE: You can find here the English exam taken in 1955 by Queensland schoolchildren at the end of Primary school. Most High School graduates would have difficulty with it today.


A former education boss has delivered a damning assessment of Queensland's schools, accusing bureaucrats of failing our children. Colin Lamont, a former Liberal state MP and Queensland chairman of the Australian Council for Education Standards, warned children were being "dumbed down". Mr Lamont, who teaches at Griffith University, said he was appalled at the lack of literacy and numeracy skills. Spelling and grammar had been "sacrificed on the altar of relevance" and primary school students in 2006 were no match for their counterparts of 1955. "Thirteen and 14-year-olds today do not understand basic literacy and numeracy," said Mr Lamont, who also taught English and history at secondary school. "They do not have a reference to our rich, cultural heritage. They learn about fundamental, day-to-day stuff - like how to send a text message - because it is supposed to be relevant."

He blames the bureaucrats, not the teachers, who are overburdened with administrative work and have change thrust upon them almost invariably without relevant in-service training. In a stark example of how education standards had diminished, Mr Lamont said 50-year-old scholarship papers (which all primary school children had to pass before gaining free secondary education) would be too difficult for children today. "The degree of difficulty in the maths paper is such that I doubt many of today's teachers would pass it. But we were 13 at the time and found little or no difficulty with the content," he said.

"The English paper was equally beyond today's teacher, but of course no one is taught grammar any more, so there is a distinct disadvantage. "Nothing in it was irrelevant to a good, sound preparation to turn out articulate and literate graduates, to a level unknown today. "Even the social studies paper reveals a wide general knowledge of the world which is non-existent today - in a classroom that deals with suburban history and geography in the name of 'relevance'."

The two-hour, eight-question English and social studies exams were sat on the same day. The mathematics paper - done without the aid of a calculator - came the following morning. The Sunday Mail has provided two questions from each exam (with pounds, shillings and pence adjusted to dollars, and miles to kilometres) for our readers' interest.

Education commentator Christopher Bantick said that 50 years ago children straight out of Year 8 - then the last year of primary school - were employable at that young age because they knew how to read, write and add-up. "Kids today don't know enough about the structure of words to spell," Mr Bantick said. He said a Federal Government report last year revealed students could not pass primary school tests from 50 years ago. "The curriculum of 50 years ago was a lot narrower. A lot of time was dedicated to spelling, grammar and arithmetic. "The performance level today across a range of subjects might be better . . . but the great black hole is that they don't know their own country, they don't have a sense of their own place and what makes it up geographically or economically."

State Opposition education spokesman Stuart Copeland said there were "real concerns" in the community about the standards of education. "A lot of the basics are being neglected . . . they are out of vogue, not as trendy," he said. He said parents told him students were not being taught simple numeracy and literacy. "It is affecting us as a nation and our viability on the international stage. We have got to make sure our children are well educated."



Tech-savvy Queensland children are struggling to spell even common words. While many six-year-olds know how to write mobile-phone text, children are failing basic classroom spelling and grammar. The results of a spelling test given this week to pupils aged 11 and 12 will shock parents. The Sunday Mail gave the test, compiled by a former teacher and education expert, to a typical class of students. They were words the expert considered that a "typical" child of that age should be able to spell.

More than 7 per cent of students could not spell a single word from the list of 23. More than 65 per cent misspelled half of the words or more. Almost 8 per cent of the students got just three words right. Less than 12 per cent got 20 or more right. One student aged 11 was able to spell every word in the test except one. The results fuel fears the growth of text messaging is affecting children's spelling and grammar.

Education expert Christopher Bantick said he was not surprised by the results and said the situation was "shameful". He said people a generation ago could "spell infinitely better" and there was a whole generation who had not been taught spelling and grammar. "Imagine if we did not have spell-checkers," Mr Bantick said. "These are common words which are used in the media, in conversation, in advertising and in society. "Kids will learn to spell if they are taught properly . . . and teachers have to carry part of the weight. "You have 22-year-olds and 24-year-old who are teaching kids . . . and they have never been taught themselves. "We are making kids dumber and we are making them dumber because we are not giving them what they need." Mr Bantick said texting was changing the way society used language. "My concern is that kids will start to spell as they text and text will become the new speech."

Queensland Teachers Union president Steve Ryan said the test results were not representative of the student population. He said Australian students rated very highly internationally for literacy. "We shouldn't condemn a whole cohort of students based on a narrow test," Mr Ryan said. "Yes, the issue of spelling is a concern and has to be addressed but in general we'd expect the results would be better than that. "Schools are doing the best they can with the resources being given the them." [So how come the schools of yesteryear with far fewer resources did so much better?]

The children were asked to spell article, disappoint, government, height, knowledge, privilege, permanent, announcement, trousers, mountainous, improvement, elastic, obstinately, referee, chimney, thieves, principal, principle, stationary, stationery, separate, orchardist and civil.



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 12, 2006

The Education Monopoly and Intelligent Design

With the recent election results in Kansas and Delaware, the debate continues to intensify over teaching evolution and “Intelligent Design” in the public schools. There is much at stake, from scientific integrity to philosophical baggage. The stakes are greater than they ought to be because of the way our country delivers educational services.

Evolution refers to two different but related areas in science. On one hand, evolution is an observable mechanism by which life evolves in modest increments over time. This evolution is an indisputable scientific theory, supported on empirical grounds. On the other hand, evolution is also used to refer to a largely unobservable process by which today’s observable range of life supposedly developed from the earliest days on the earth. In this case, evolution is a hypothesis, proposing that the development of life is an unguided process.

“Intelligent Design” fully accepts evolution in the former sense. But it proposes an alternative hypothesis for the development of life: The development of life was a guided process, caused by an intelligent designer of some sort. This, too, is intuitively compelling. When one sees something complicated and meaningful (for example, Mount Rushmore), it is easy to infer that it was designed. As today’s most famous evolutionist, Richard Dawkins, has said: What we see today has “the appearance of being designed.” Is the apparent design real or an illusion?

Scientific considerations aside, this issue provokes such controversy because the dominant provider of education has such strong monopoly power, and most consumers have little ability to avoid its dictates. Let’s see why this is the overarching problem, and how we could avoid it.

Imagine that the government decides that food is important, so everyone can eat for free at the government-run restaurant in their neighborhood. A government bureaucracy, the manager of the restaurant and a local “Food Board” would determine the menu. And passionate constituents would try to influence their choices. Proponents of the Atkins diet would clamor for all meat, vegetarians would argue for all veggies and other people would want a range of options. This is a recipe for turmoil. For example, if the Atkins people were politically persuasive, the vegetarians would be deeply offended, and the others would not be wholly pleased, either.

The solution is as easy as the problem is silly. The government would allow different types of restaurants to compete, based on consumer preferences. Better yet, government would get out of the restaurant business, leaving that to the private sector, intervening only to help the needy afford food through vouchers or other subsidies to individuals.

The same is true with education. Leaving aside the question of moral obligations, if one group wants their children taught sex education with cucumbers and condoms in the fifth grade, that is their prerogative as parents. But that shouldn’t be forced on other people. Another contentious example is school prayer. Some parents want a prayer to Jesus Christ. Many parents want a prayer to the lukewarm deity of civil religion. Others want no prayer at all or prayer to other gods. By providing options, school choice deals with such issues in a far more effective manner than a government entity with significant monopoly power.

Who doesn’t want this freedom for others? Elitists and theocrats don’t. They wage battle within the monopoly, hoping to capture the process and force their view of truth down the throats of others. (Ironically, these two groups despise each other, but they’re more alike than they realize.) More important, the special-interest group that enjoys its monopoly power is not interested in such freedom. All producers prefer as little competition as possible; the market for education is no different.

For self-proclaimed liberals, this should be an easy decision, given their usual penchant for individual choice and support for the poor. Instead, they are often captive to the dominant interest group. Conservatives generally support competition and the private sector, but they are not passionate enough in this context to carry the day. Libertarians strongly favor breaking up government monopolies, but they are not yet numerous enough to make a difference.

Science, religion and politics. Real wars and now “culture wars” have been fought in their name. Let’s put down our weapons and give all Americans freedom to educate their children as they see fit.


It Takes Government to Create a Reading Crisis

When Horace Mann and his colleagues launched the public-school movement some 175 years ago, they made extravagant promises. Turn the education of children over to enlightened altruistic experts working under government auspices, they said, and illiteracy, vice, and crime will become things of the past. I’m not kidding.

Most people don’t know about these promises, so they don’t know how badly the government’s schools have failed by their own standards. Apologists for state schooling often defend their abysmal record by saying that no one should expect the government’s teachers and administrators to efficiently educate children who bring all of society’s problems with them to the classroom. But that’s what the founders of what used to be called the “common school” pledged.

The broken promises continue. The schools have a hard time teaching reading. Consider the U.S. Department of Education’s latest literacy figures. The department’s press release began thus: “American adults can read a newspaper or magazine about as well as they could a decade ago, but have made significant strides in performing literacy tasks that involve computation, according to the first national study of adult literacy since 1992.” Of course, this raises the question of how well adults could read a newspaper or magazine a decade ago. Therein lies the tale.

The department defines literacy as “using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.” Now let’s look at what percentage of high-school graduates, college graduates, and graduate-school students and degree-holders qualified as “proficient” in the three kinds of tasks used in the study. The three tasks are “prose,” able to perform tasks using continuous texts; “document,” able to perform tasks using noncontinuous texts in different formats; and “quantitative,” able to do computations with numbers embedded in printed material. “Proficiency” is defined as having the “skills necessary to perform more complex and challenging literacy activities.”

According to the study, in 1992, 5.3 percent of the high-school graduates tested were proficient in the three kinds of tasks. In the latest study (2003) this percentage dropped to 4.6. For college graduates the percentages were 36 in 1992 and 29 in 2003. For graduate students or holders of graduate degrees, the percentage went from 45 to 36. When the three kinds of tasks are broken down, we find no improvement in the ten years. The best that can be said is that in a couple of categories, the results were unchanged.

Results were slightly different for changes in the “intermediate” literacy category, defined as having skills to perform “moderately challenging literacy activities.” The percentage of high-school graduates in this category declined slightly from 44 to 42 in the ten years. For college graduates and graduate-level students, there were increases, from 48 to 53 for the former category and from 45 to 50 for the latter.

When you look at the percentages in the basic literacy and below-basic categories for high-school and college graduates and graduate-level students, the results are downright depressing. In many cases the ranks of these categories have grown; in others they improved a little or stayed the same.

This is hardly a ringing endorsement of government schooling. Despite what the state’s teachers and experts might imply, learning to read is not that difficult. Children used to teach themselves with only light guidance from a parent. It takes a government to create a national reading crisis.

These results will undoubtedly be used to justify more government spending on education. President Bush is proposing more than a $100 million to promote education in foreign languages — in the name of fighting terrorism. (Oh, please!) It is time we stopped being fooled by the people who are responsible for the education mess. As if we needed more evidence, this latest study shows that it’s time to separate school and state.



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