Saturday, June 24, 2006

Pope report rips into writing at UNC, NCSU

The John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy released a paper Monday criticizing introductory writing courses at UNC and N.C. State for overemphasizing group work and underemphasizing grammar and literature. Nan Miller, author of the paper and a former English professor at N.C. State and Meredith College, also condemned the courses for including instruction about writing for the sciences and social sciences at the expense of writing about the humanities.

The Pope Center, a conservative watchdog group, has criticized Carolina faculty members in the past. The organization has ties to the John William Pope Foundation, a group from which the university has requested about $4 million for programs in Western studies. That grant proposal has drawn ire from some UNC professors who say an outside and politically motivated organization should not intervene in curricular choices.

Todd Taylor, who directs UNC's writing program, called the Pope Center's publication of the paper an effort to "whip up politically biased hysteria aimed at teachers and education." "The writing programs at UNC and N.C. State are some of the least political, least liberal areas of the curriculum," Taylor wrote in an e-mail message. "Both of these programs are national exemplars, filled with instructors who are exceptionally committed to their students."

But Miller said professors are not spending enough time teaching during writing courses. She questioned whether workshop-style classes, in which professors spend little time giving traditional lectures, are effective. "An inherent contradiction in this arrangement is that students with SAT scores not high enough to place out of freshman composition are presumed qualified to critique the work of their peers," Miller wrote in her paper, called "English 101: Prologue to Literacy or Postmodern Moonshine." Miller also said group work wrongly takes competition out of the classroom. "To eliminate competition is the greatest disservice you can do to a student," said Miller, who presented her paper Monday at a luncheon at the John Locke Foundation, the public-policy think tank that founded the Pope Center.

In a telephone interview, Taylor said seminar-style courses -- which emphasize work-shopping and revising writing -- align with the goals of many education associations. "Our pedagogy is perfectly consistent with what the university promotes and what large organizations on teaching and learning promote," Taylor said.

Miller said she conducted most of her research on the curriculum at Carolina by talking with writing instructors and senior faculty members in UNC's English department and by looking at course information online. Other main points of her research were that students do not learn enough about grammar or read enough literature in traditional writing courses. Miller said universities make the latter curricular choice out of a belief that the study of books silences student voices and promotes too much "teacher talk."

Source. The PDF of the full Pope report is here

Democrats for (school) choice

When the Arizona legislature concludes its 2006 session in a few days, it will set a record for school-choice legislation by enacting four new or expanded programs allowing disadvantaged children to attend private schools. Even more remarkable: The programs were enacted in a state with a Democratic governor.

Yet Arizona is not an aberration. Already in 2006, a new Iowa corporate scholarship tax credit bill was signed into law by Gov. Tom Vilsack; and in Wisconsin, Gov. Jim Doyle signed a bill increasing the Milwaukee voucher program by 50%. Gov. Ed Rendell may expand Pennsylvania's corporate scholarship tax credit program, as he did last year. Messrs. Vilsack, Doyle and Rendell are all Democrats. And last year, hell froze over: Sen. Ted Kennedy endorsed the inclusion of private schools in a rescue effort for over 300,000 children displaced from their schools by Hurricane Katrina. As a result, tens of thousands of kids are attending private schools using federal funds, amounting to the largest (albeit temporary) voucher program ever enacted. Before that, a voucher program for the District of Columbia was established with support from Democratic Mayor Anthony Williams and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Joseph Lieberman.

What gives? The Democrats are not exactly untethering themselves from the education establishment. While some (like Messrs. Williams and Lieberman) are converts to the idea of school choice, others (like Messrs. Kennedy, Vilsack, Doyle and Rendell) remain generally opposed. Still, school choice has experienced unprecedented legislative success over the past two years for a few underlying reasons. First and foremost, the school choice movement is acting smarter. Instead of taking the unions and their massive resources head-on, advocates are adopting toe-hold strategies, pursuing small programs addressing specific problems that are difficult for politicians to oppose. The strategy makes sense from a moral perspective, for it focuses assistance on the neediest schoolchildren.

It also works politically, because choice begets choice: Once the Rubicon is crossed and legislators vote to adopt a school choice program--no matter how small or targeted--it becomes easier to support a new one, or expand the old one, the next time around. Hence, of the seven new school choice programs enacted last year, six were in states that already had school choice. The seventh was a program for disadvantaged children in Utah, which was expanded this year. At the same time, pro-school choice legislators are bargaining hard, exchanging increases in public school funding for private school choice.

Arizona offers a classic example. The state already has so much school choice--open public school enrollment, more charter schools per capita than any other state, individual scholarship tax credits--that it's more or less impossible for opponents to demonize it. So accepted and popular is the idea that when Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano proposed a full-day kindergarten public school program last year, she called it school choice because, after all, families could choose whether to enroll their children.

This year, the Republican legislature enacted a $5 million corporate tax credit to provide low-income children with scholarships to attend private schools. Ms. Napolitano vetoed it twice before allowing it to become law without her signature. In a budget compromise between the governor and legislature reached last week, the corporate scholarship tax credit will be doubled this year, and increased by 20% each subsequent year, until it grows to nearly $21 million and 7,000 students by 2010. Additionally, Ms. Napolitano agreed to a voucher program for children with disabilities (similar to programs in Florida and Utah) and a first-of-its-kind voucher program for disadvantaged children in foster care.

In return, Republicans agreed to Ms. Napolitano's statewide full-day kindergarten program and salary increases for public school teachers. Both sides will now see which reforms work better: Pouring more money into public schools, or greater choice and competition. Fortunately, both parties are learning that the two approaches are not mutually exclusive.

Another factor inducing a more supportive or tolerant attitude toward school choice among Democrats is that they are running out of viable alternatives. The U.S. Department of Education reported recently that three million children are attending chronically failing schools--that is, schools that have failed to satisfy minimal state standards for at least six consecutive years. Under the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, children in schools failing to make adequate progress are entitled to transfer to better-performing public schools within the district. Trouble is, the number of children eligible to transfer vastly exceeds the number of seats available in the better public schools. In Los Angeles, for example, only two of every 1,000 children in failing schools have transferred.

For Democrats who truly believe in social justice, that presents a terrible dilemma: Either forcing children to remain in schools where they have little prospect for a bright future, or enlisting private schools in a rescue mission. Democrats are increasingly unwilling to forsake the neediest children.

For children in chronically failing schools, the day of reckoning is fast approaching: Legislation to add private school options to NCLB will be introduced next month. Democrats who supported private school relief for Katrina children to alleviate a disaster will be forced to confront the reality that New Orleans schools were in crisis long before the hurricane appeared--and so are millions of other children in inner cities across the nation. Arizona is evidence of the possible. Although she could have allowed them to become law without her signature, as she did with the corporate scholarship tax credits, Gov. Napolitano yesterday became the first Democrat to sign new voucher programs into law. For children with disabilities or in foster care, how the bill became law is of little moment; but by affixing her imprimatur, Ms. Napolitano conveyed powerful symbolic evidence that the future for school choice is bright.



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. My home page is here


Friday, June 23, 2006

New Arguments on Affirmative Action

While courts continue to hear arguments about affirmative action and Michigan voters prepare to decide the issue in their state, another round of intellectual debate is brewing in law reviews. Two articles - one just published and one forthcoming - challenge some conventional wisdom about affirmative action in higher education. Early buzz suggests that the pieces may attract considerable attention and challenge both critics and defenders of affirmative action.

One article - in the Michigan Journal of Race & Law - takes on the view that the primary beneficiaries of the end of affirmative action in college admissions would be Asian American applicants. The piece analyzes some of the same data that has been used to make that argument and says that what it really shows isn't that affirmative action hurts Asian Americans but that "negative action" (in other words, discrimination) is placing a limit on the enrollments of Asian Americans.

The other article - not yet available online or published - will appear in the North Carolina Law Review. This article examines the attrition of black lawyers from top law firms and links their departures to their poor grades in law school, which in turn the author has previously attributed to the use of affirmative action to admit minority law students who, on average, can't compete at the same level with their white colleagues. A previous article on affirmative action by the same author - Richard Sander - was one of the most discussed pieces of legal scholarship in 2004, drawing both strong praise and intense criticism. Advocates are already lining up to dissect the new Sander article, even before it has appeared.

`Negative Action Versus Affirmative Action'

The article about Asian Americans comes amid many reports that they are the group that most benefits from the elimination of affirmative action. That supposition is important for several reasons, both practical and political. On a practical level, it counters the idea that colleges will be all white in a post-affirmative action era. Politically, these projections have been used repeatedly by critics of affirmative action, arguing that they are not "anti-minority" and to appeal for Asian support in referendums. One of the most dramatic studies on this issue came last year, when two Princeton University researchers analyzed data from elite colleges and projected that, without affirmative action, four of every five slots lost by black and Latino students would go to Asian Americans.

In "Negative Action Versus Affirmative Action: Asian Pacific Americans Are Still Caught in the Crossfire," William C. Kidder takes issue with the Princeton study and similar findings by other scholars. It's not that the demographic shift seen by the Princeton researchers wouldn't take place in an admissions system that's truly race-neutral, says Kidder, a senior policy analyst at the University of California at Davis. Rather, it's the question of why those slots would go to Asian applicants.

The reason, he says, isn't the elimination of affirmative action, but the widespread use of "negative action," under which colleges appear to hold Asian American applicants to higher standards than they hold other applicants. Using the available data from the Princeton study - and not all of it is available - Kidder argues that the vast majority of the gains that Asian American applicants would see come from the elimination of "negative action," not the opening up of slots currently used for affirmative action. Based on the data used by the Princeton study, Kidder argues that negative action is the equivalent of losing 50 points on the SAT. The lead author of the Princeton study did not respond to messages about the findings.

Kidder wanted to check his critique of the Princeton findings about undergraduate applications so he also compared the impact of the end of affirmative action on Asian American enrollments at five public law schools where racial preferences were banned: three in the University of California, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Washington. Tracking enrollment patterns from 1993, when all of the law schools had affirmative action, to 2004 - when they all did not - and then to 2005, when Texas restored it, his results were surprising. Without affirmative action, the share of Asian American enrollments dropped at two of the law schools and increased only marginally at three of the schools - even though people assume Asian American enrollments will go way up without affirmative action. Kidder notes that during the time period studied, the percentage of Asian Americans applying to law school increased 50 percent, so the pool should have created the opportunity for major increases.

What does this all mean? Kidder argues that all the references to growing Asian enrollments in a post-affirmative action world encourage a return to the "yellow peril" fear of people from Asia taking over. More broadly, he thinks Asian Americans in particular aren't getting accurate information about the real cause of their perceived difficulties getting into competitive colleges. Their obstacle, he says, isn't affirmative action, but the discrimination Asian Americans experience by being held to higher standards than anyone else. He says that the differential standards appear to be growing and are similar in some ways to the way some Ivy League institutions limited Jewish enrollments in the first half of the 20th century. "Whether an individual Asian American supports affirmative action or not, this is an independent problem, not because of affirmative action," Kidder says.

His interest in law schools comes from his own experience, since he is a graduate of Boalt Hall, the law school at the University of California at Berkeley, and was a student there in the second class after affirmative action was eliminated. He could see the more diverse third-year class and compare it to his own, which was almost entirely white, as is Kidder. "There was an erosion in discourse and the quality of education I received," he says, noting that in his experience, the affirmative action changes that sent black and Latino enrollments tanking did not lead to an influx of Asian American enrollments.

`The Racial Paradox of the Corporate Law Firm'

The article on law firms might appear to be about affirmative action outside of the educational context, but it is very closely related to law school and other admissions policies. Sander, a professor of law at the University of California at Los Angeles, uses the article to explore why black lawyers appear to do well in getting hired by top law firms, but rarely rise to be partners. Sander's earlier work on affirmative action argued that by admitting poorly qualified black applicants, law schools do them a disservice as they don't do as well as they would have at less prestigious law schools. The new piece carries the idea forward and argues that law firms hire black students with grades that would never have been sufficient for a white student - and that this sets the black students up for failure.

While the article has not been publicly released, Stuart Taylor wrote about it Monday in National Journal and copies of the Sander article have since become a hot commodity. (Sander did not reply to messages Tuesday.) Many defenders of affirmative action see the Sander work as likely to have a big impact - as his 2004 article had - and to be applied broadly to higher education. "This is an extension of his basic argument of a mismatch between students and schools, which he's applying to law firms," says Christopher Bracey, an associate professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis and co-administrator of, a group blog of black law professors. "This is now going to be applied to any sector of the economy, and people are going to say that this explains the reduction in tenure rates of African American professors," Bracey says. He sees Sander's arguments as appealing to those "who want to sincerely believe that we are in a meritocracy."

What Sander does in his article is set out a series of statistics that suggest a sharp gap in the educational achievements of white and black law students who end up at top firms. (He also compares figures for other minority groups, but the gaps are most stark for black students). For example, of new lawyers working in law firms with offices of at least 100 lawyers, Sander finds that 21 percent of white students, and only 2 percent of black students, have grade point averages of 3.75 or higher. Only 14 percent of white students who work at such firms have GPA's below 3.25, but 46 percent of black students do. Not only do these data suggest race-based hiring standards, but the new black lawyers themselves believe that their race played a role in getting their jobs. Asked if various factors were important in obtaining their jobs, 56 percent of new black lawyers said that their race or ethnicity was important, compared to only 2 percent of white lawyers who felt that way.

Sander writes that law firms place a high value on appearing to be diverse, and so hire black lawyers with low grades, even though these lawyers are then far more likely to leave the firms and far less likely to rise than are other lawyers. Of various activities and legal duties Sander compares, there is one where new black lawyers are significantly more likely than white lawyers to be participants: 41 percent of black lawyers and 26 percent of white lawyers report that serving on a recruitment committee is something they do regularly.

Citing a range of other data, Sander writes that law firms have found that law school grades actually mean something - and predict success in legal work - so that if they are willing to apply that test to white applicants, they should apply it across the board. Sander writes that law firms would benefit by placing less emphasis on their numbers of black lawyers and more on the quality of those they hire. "If firms are less focused on achieving proportional representation among summer associates, and more focused on hiring a modest number of minority associates whom they are more committed to training and developing, they will both narrow the credentials gap and decrease the likelihood of attrition," Sander writes. He also urged top law firms to pressure law schools to improve black student performance - both by decreasing the use of affirmative action in admissions and by providing more academic support.

The same issue of the North Carolina Law Review with Sander's article will contain a strongly worded rebuttal by James E. Coleman Jr. and Mitu Gulati, law professors at Duke University. In their piece, they argue that Sander overstates the role of grades and understates other factors in explaining the performance of new black lawyers. In particular, they note that law firms have cultures that may or may not be receptive to diversity (and they suggest that some are and others aren't).

Coleman and Gulati also argue that Sander doesn't have enough evidence about grades and subsequent legal career performance to make the claims that he does. They state, for example, that he should have tracked the group of black students who do perform well in law school to see whether their grades correlate with success in large law firms. Failing to look at such students, they write, raises major questions about his findings. They also cast doubt on his reiteration of his belief that black students will be better off earning better grades at less prestigious law schools. Where is the evidence, they write, that top law firms will recruit at such law schools? (There's ample evidence that top law firms recruit at a very narrow group of law schools.)

Even as they question Sander's article, however, Coleman and Gulati write that they fear its impact. Sander's writings are "taken seriously" outside law schools, they write, and this work will damage young black professionals as it will reinforce stereotypes about their abilities, they write. "To the extent there is material in his article that will be understood as empirical confirmation of the lack of qualification of black students, the article imposes a high cost on those who need no additional obstacles placed before them," they write.

Bracey, the Washington University professor, has his own criticism of Sander's ideas - even while acknowledging that he believes that there is a grades gap between black and white law students. Bracey is in many ways part of the sample that Coleman and Gulati suggest Sander should have examined: He not only went to Harvard Law School, but excelled academically, serving as an editor on the Harvard Law Review and holding a clerkship before working for a few years in a large law firm. Sander's work would classify him as someone who somehow "failed" - even though he's a professor at a top law school, Bracey notes. "Many minority lawyers move to different sorts of activities," Bracey says. "That's not necessarily a negative."

In his courses, Bracey says, he feels confident that race does not influence grades: Tests are scored blindly. But when you are a black law professor, he says, you get visits from plenty of students - minority students and women, who talk about the culture of institutions - about fellow students' expectations, about what it means to study in libraries where portrait after portrait shows dead white men, about courses where you are expected to be the voice of black men or white women, or some other group. Even without overt racism, Bracey says that there are many "subtle factors" that have a real impact on the experience of minority law students.

In his courses, Bracey says, he goes out of his way to include plenty of case law about issues of race and gender and bias, but he also makes sure that he asks students - black and white, male and female - about all of these issues. He wants all students to see that these issues are important, and that no one group is responsible for these issues. "I do these kinds of things, but not everyone does," Bracey says. "I'm a blip on the otherwise steady radar that students experience."


Mom? Dad? I'm Home!

Why are so many grads returning to live with their parents? $40 billion in loans

Keep an eye out for more boomerang kids, the ones who move back in with mom and dad. In fact, the most recent crop of college graduates will be home a lot longer than their parents expect because of burdensome student loans.

A soon-to-be released study commissioned by AllianceBernstein Investments attempts to document just how much and how long the burden of college debt weighs down grads. The survey of some 1,500 21- to 35-year-old college grads, sometimes referred to as Generation Broke, found this cohort owes an average of $30,000 in student loans. What's more, they are delaying marriage, kids, even medical procedures, to pay off their educational loans. "Clearly, the scope of this issue is much broader and more far-reaching than just college planning," says Michael Conrath, senior product manager for 529 college savings plans at AllianceBernstein Investments.

The bottom line? Parents with debt-laden grads may want to dig into their pockets to help their kids gain some financial footing, says Jennifer DeLong, AllianceBernstein's director of college savings plans. And, more than ever, parents with young kids need to start socking money away for college as soon as possible. "Unless parents today do something about it and begin to save, we are not going to break the cycle," DeLong says.

Grads say parents should take some of the blame for this mess. Forty-four percent with debt would give their parents or guardian a "D" or "F" in their financial preparations for college.

The Class of 2006 faces an especially frightening financial picture. The 3 million students graduating from U.S. colleges and universities this year carry more than $40 billion in student loans, and interest rates on federal loans are jumping two percentage points in July. That means new grads are going to feel an even bigger pinch than their predecessors, such as the people profiled in "Thirty & Broke" (BW -- Nov. 14). They do have a window to secure the lower rates if they consolidate their loans with one lender by June 30 ("Locking in low rates," BW -- May 22).

The first step for new grads is to tackle credit-card debt, since interest rates tend to be in the double digits. Those who want to play the balance-transfer game -- the survey found a $3,000 average balance -- can find a list of credit cards with low introductory interest rates at

Living with mom and dad, while not ideal, will cut costs. Nearly a third of the respondents to the AllianceBernstein study say they had been "forced to move back in with parents or guardians or lived with them longer than they expected" because of education-related debt. Over a third of respondents with debt had sold personal possessions to make ends meet, vs. 17% of respondents with no debt. More than a quarter said they had delayed a medical or dental procedure.

That's a predicament Kelly Reid, 27, knows all too well. After she finished graduate school at the London School of Economics & Political Science, Reid sold her car to pay off loans, and she moved back in with her mother in Harrisburg, Pa., for eight months. She avoided going to the dentist for three years because she couldn't afford it. Her advice: Suck it up and live with your parents for as long as it takes to get your financial house in order. "You are not pathetic," says Reid, now a program manager at a human rights group in San Diego. "I take comfort in the fact that all my friends moved back home, too."

Advisers say planning ahead for college is key for parents, yet three-quarters of those polled who have kids say they haven't started saving for their own children's college education. "By the time my kids go to college, I'll still be paying off my debt, plus taking on theirs," says Maddy Stephens, 25, a publicist in Los Angeles who graduated from Trinity College and University of Southern California, with more than $70,000 in student loans.

Even if they make sacrifices to trim costs, few respondents expect to pay off their college debt anytime soon. Indeed, 31% of those paying off college debt say Madonna will become a grandmother before they are debt-free. Like the Material Girl, they are living in a material world.



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. My home page is here


Thursday, June 22, 2006


Four decades after school uniforms were abolished in France, head teachers are being urged to bring them back in an attempt to improve classroom discipline. Gilles de Robien, the Education Minister, called yesterday for trials in a few schools with a view to reintroducing uniforms across the country.The move comes as debate rages in France over the need to restore order on unruly youths, and as ministers in Switzerland and Germany are also expressing support for a return to a formal dress code. M de Robien was supported by Francois Bayrou, head of the centrist Union for Democracy in France party and a likely candidate in next year’s presidential election. He urged his compatriots to “reflect on the British approach”.

British-style uniforms were abandoned in French schools after the Second World War when pupils were told to wear overalls instead. But those, too, disappeared after the May 1968 riots ushered in a philosophy of individual freedom. School dress codes now tend to be lax, although the Government introduced legislation banning pupils from wearing religious symbols, notably Muslim headscarves, in 2004.

Calls for a return to uniforms have caught the mood of a nation increasingly worried about its youth. Both the leading contenders for the presidency — the Socialist Segolene Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy, the centre-right Interior Minister — have pushed order and discipline to the centre of their policies. In an opinion poll published yesterday 59 per cent of respondents said that they would prefer more order and authority in France, while 37 per cent said they would prefer greater personal freedom.

The mood is also changing among parents, with 48 per cent saying that they are in favour of restoring uniforms and 44 per cent against. Mothers are more likely than fathers to favour school uniforms.

Although supporters of school uniforms cite discipline as a reason, parents also have an eye on the household budget, with a typical family now estimated to spend between 600 euros and 700 a year on clothes for teenage children. Yesterday M de Robien said uniforms “may be an interesting way of avoiding the rush for expensive clothes, although I would not want to take a dogmatic approach to this”. Dominique Marcilhacy, a spokeswoman for the Union of European Families, said: “Children who don’t have the right clothes are rejected and ostracised in a very cruel way. That is a good reason to consider uniforms.”

Some senior French politicians are also calling for l’uniforme a l’ecole to stamp out what they describe as indecent clothes — and particularly the Lolita look. Eric Raoult, the Mayor of Raincy, near Paris, for instance, denounced girls “who wear low-slung jeans so everyone can see the ring in their navel. They wouldn’t be allowed into a nightclub like that.”


Australian Catholic school parents want grades

The overwhelming majority of Catholic school parents support the introduction of the new A-to-E report cards, particularly the move to rank students against their peers. The support opens up a potential split with parents groups in government schools after their national body, the Australian Council of State School Organisations, foreshadowed at the weekend a campaign to inform parents of their right to refuse the new plain-English reports.

ACSSO president Jenny Branch wants state parents and citizens branches to ensure parents are aware they can choose to exclude their child from the new system, designed in response to complaints existing assessment models are vague and confusing. Challenging the push towards simpler A-to-E gradings on report cards, she told The Weekend Australian on Saturday the "traditional end-of-the-year report card is a celebration of achievement of a child throughout the year".

But a survey by the Federation of Parents and Friends Associations and the Catholic Education Office in Sydney shows almost three in four Catholic school parents support the introduction of the plain-English reports and just 8per cent are opposed. Reporting the results in the parents newsletter, About Catholic Schools, federation executive officer Franceyn O'Connor said parents were "largely enthusiastic" about the five-level grading system. "Many parents have indicated in several discussions and meetings held throughout the year that they welcome the opportunity to compare their child's progress against statewide standards using a common grading scale," Ms O'Connor said. "They appreciate how difficult it may be for teachers to convey bad news but they still want a fair and honest assessment of their child's abilities to determine their rate of progress."

The federal Government introduced a requirement for all schools in the government, Catholic and independent sectors to provide plain-English report cards as a condition of funding. All the states and territories are introducing the reports, which must grade students in five levels, such as A to E, and also provide information on the students rankings according to their peers.

Ms O'Connor said the decision by governments to only grade and rank students from Year 1 was crucial for parents' support, with the survey showing more than one in five were concerned that grading children when they started school could harm their self-esteem. ACSSO, representing parents in government schools, maintains opposition to the grading and ranking of students, raising questions of how representative their views are.

The federal Education Department has received many letters of support for the reforms to school reports and federal Education Minister Julie Bishop said the parents she had spoken to welcomed the changes. "The vast majority of parents I talk to want to know in plain English how their children are performing, and how they're performing in relation to other students," she said.

One parent quoted in the Catholic newsletter, Veronica Molloy, who has two children in high school and one at primary, welcomed the chance to gauge how her children were performing against statewide standards. Ms Molloy's only concern was about preconceived ideas that attached a stigma to any grade lower than an A. "There are a lot of negative perceptions in society about a C grade, for example," she said. "Children themselves might perceive any grade other than an A as a failure ... it's up to the Government to address these misconceptions."



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. My home page is here


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Education Myths

Myths aren't lies. They are beliefs that people adopt because they have an air of plausibility. But myths aren't true, and they often get in the way during serious problem-solving. This essay identifies seven common myths that dominate established views of education these days. Dispelling these misconceptions could open the door to long-awaited improvement in our nationIs schools.

The money myth

If people know anything about public schools today, it's that they are strapped for cash. Bestselling books, popular movies, and countless lobbying groups portray urban schools as desperately underfunded, and editors of the New York Times write without fear of contradiction that "providing quality education for all America's children will take...a great deal of money." Bumper stickers declare, "It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber." No matter what aspect of education is being debated, activists generally find the solution in more school spending.

This is the most widely held myth about education in America--and the one most directly at odds with the available evidence. Few people are aware that our education spending per pupil has been growing steadily for 50 years. At the end of World War II, public schools in the United States spent a total of $1,214 per student in inflation-adjusted 2002 dollars. By the middle of the 1950s that figure had roughly doubled to $2,345. By 1972 it had almost doubled again, reaching $4,479. And since then, it has doubled a third time, climbing to $8,745 in 2002.

Since the early 1970s, when the federal government launched a standardized exam called the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), it has been possible to measure student outcomes in a reliable, objective way. Over that period, inflation-adjusted spending per pupil doubled. So if more money produces better results in schools, we would expect to see significant improvements in test scores during this period. That didn't happen. For twelfth-grade students, who represent the end product of the education system, NAEP scores in math, science, and reading have all remained flat over the past 30 years. And the high school graduation rate hasn't budged. Increased spending did not yield more learning.

This big-picture evidence is strongly confirmed by academic research. Though you'd never know it from the tenor of most education debates, the vast majority of studies have found no sustained positive relationship between spending and classroom results. Economist Eric Hanushek of Stanford University examined every solid study on spending and outcomes--a total of 163 research papers--and concluded that extra resources are more likely to be squandered than to have a productive effect.

Still, countless people assume that our schools are underfunded. One explanation is that people don't want to believe that large amounts of public money have been used without producing significant results. There's plenty of room for debate on how best to reform our school system, but the sooner Americans realize that lack of resources is not the real problem in our schools the sooner we can have a meaningful debate on how to make education more productive.

The teacher pay myth

The common assertion that teachers are severely underpaid when compared to workers in similar professions is so omnipresent that many Americans simply accept it as gospel. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen has declared that teachers ought to be excused from paying any income taxes. Teachers unions are not shy about claiming, like one spokesman for the National Education Association, that "it's easier to earn more money with less stress in other fields." Even First Lady Laura Bush, herself a former public school teacher, has said that for teachers, "salaries are too low. We all know that. We need to figure out a way to pay teachers more."

But the facts tell a different story. The average teacher's salary does seem modest at first glance: about $44,600 in 2002 for all teachers. But when we take an accurate account of what teachers are paid for their labor and compare it to what workers of similar skill levels in similar professions are paid, we find that teachers are not shortchanged at all.

One reason for the prominence of the underpaid-teacher belief is that people often fail to account for the relatively low number of hours that teachers work. It seems obvious, but it is easily forgotten: teachers work only about nine months per year. During the summer they can either work at other jobs or use the time off however else they wish. Either way, it's as much a form of compensation as a paycheck--as anyone who has ever had to count vacation days knows. If a teacher makes $45,000 for nine months of work while a nurse makes $45,000 for 12 months of work, clearly the teacher is much better paid. Nurses would certainly consider it to be a generous raise if they were offered three months' vacation each year at the same annual salary.

The most recent data available indicate that teachers average 7.3 working hours per day, and that they work 180 days per year, adding up to 1,314 hours per year. Americans in normal 9-to-5 professions who take two weeks of vacation and another ten paid holidays per year put in 1,928 working hours. Doing the math, this means the average teacher gets paid a base salary equivalent to a fulltime salary of $65,440. That's the national average for all teachers--more experienced instructors, and those working in better-paying school districts, make tens of thousands of dollars more, sometimes approaching the equivalent of six-figure salaries.

Data from the U.S. Department of Labor show that in 2002, elementary school teachers averaged $30.75 per hour and high school teachers made $31.01. That is about the same as other professionals like architects, economists, biologists, civil engineers, chemists, physicists and astronomers, and computer systems analysts and scientists. Even demanding, education-intensive professions like electrical and electronic engineering, dentistry, and nuclear engineering didn't make much more than teachers per hour worked. And the earnings of teachers are much higher than those of registered nurses, police officers, editors and reporters, firefighters, and social workers.

Some argue that it's unfair to calculate teacher pay on an hourly basis because teachers perform a large amount of work at home--grading papers on the weekend, for instance. But people in other professions also do offsite work. The only important question is whether teachers do significantly more offsite work than others.

Many assume that teachers spend almost all of the school day teaching. But in reality, the average teacher in a departmentalized school (where students have different instructors for different subjects) taught fewer than 3.9 hours per day in 2000. This leaves plenty of time for grading and planning lessons during regular school hours.

What's more, unlike most other professionals, public school teachers cannot easily be fired. Teachers have unparalleled job security because of the strong tenure protections they (but almost no other profession) enjoy. They face essentially none of the performance tests, work quotas, or pressures to produce that people in most other professions requiring a college degree do. Further, unlike other professionals, teachers are not rewarded for exemplary performance with pay raises because their salaries are entirely driven by their years of experience and the number of academic credentials they have earned. This leaves them with little incentive to do great amounts of weekend or overtime work.

It has been well documented that the people drawn into teaching these days tend to be those who have performed least well in college. If teachers are paid about as well as employees in many other good professions, why aren't more high performers taking it up? One suspects that high-performing graduates tend to stay away from teaching because the field's rigid seniority-based structure doesn't allow them to rise faster and earn more money through better performance or by voluntarily putting in longer hours. In any case, it's clear that the primary obstacle to attracting better teachers isn't simply raising pay.

The myth of insurmountable problems

Schools frequently cite social problems like poverty, broken homes, and bad parenting as excuses for their own poor performance. They claim the existence of these challenges means education is doomed to fail. Some seem to think that the very idea of a "failing school" is misleading--that it is really society that has failed, not educators. "It's just plain folly to demand that a school, where a kid spends part of the day, be held accountable for what happens the rest of the day," argues Richard Cohen. Student failure is inherent in poverty itself, he says.

No one would deny that because of factors beyond a school's control, learning is more difficult for some students. If the advocates of this argument were merely cautioning us to be mindful of difficulties like poverty and broken homes, or exhorting us to try to alleviate social problems, no one could disagree with them. But instead, they use these problems as an excuse to oppose school reforms. If low-income minority students perform poorly, they argue, it's because of poverty. No school reform can ever make a difference. Kids who start out lagging must always lag. Social problems are forever more powerful than anything a school may do.

This argument that schools are helpless in the face of social problems is not supported by hard evidence. It is a myth. The truth is that certain schools do a strikingly better job than others at overcoming challenges in the culture. To test the evidence on this question, I developed a systematic method for measuring levels of advantage and disadvantage in student populations across states. I combined measurements of 16 social factors that researchers agree affect student outcomes, such as poverty, family structure, and health. I named this measurement the Teachability Index, and tested its relationship with actual student outcomes. I found it to be a reliable predictor. Armed with this tool, I calculated the level of achievement that each state's students should be expected to reach. Then I compared that to actual achievement in every state. I found a large degree of variation.

In Texas, for example, schools perform much better than their student demographics would predict: whereas its raw test scores place it 32nd among the states, Texas ranks fourth after its academic outcomes are adjusted for the Teachability Index. In Louisiana, on the other hand, schools performed less well than student backgrounds would predict.

Inherent in the claim that schools are helpless to educate disadvantaged students is the idea that any attempt to improve educational outcomes through reforms to the system would prove futile. However, the evidence suggests that reforms that focus on the incentives of public schools lead to educational gains. One reform that has been shown to work is measuring each school's performance through standardized testing, and then providing rewards or sanctions based on a school's performance. This gives a school a direct incentive to educate its students well. States with this sort of accountability testing make statistically significant improvements, researchers have demonstrated. Stanford investigators have found that stronger accountability systems particularly help black and Hispanic students.

Another reform that can help overcome the educational challenges caused by social problems is school choice. Few question that vouchers help the students who use them to leave failing public schools for a private school. This positive impact for voucher participants has been found in five "random assignment" studies. Less understood, however, is the positive effect that school choice has on students who remain in the public schools as well. When school choice programs, such as vouchers and charter schools, are adopted, urban public schools that once had a captive clientele must improve the education they provide or else students, and the funding they represent, will go elsewhere.

In a study I performed of a voucher program in Florida, I found that when chronically failing public schools faced competition from vouchers, they made very impressive gains compared to the performance of all other schools. Similarly low-performing schools whose students were not eligible for the vouchers did not make similar gains. Many other researchers have found that school choice programs increase the performance of public schools. In fact, despite the frequent claims of teachers unions, I am not aware of a single study that has found that a school choice program harmed the academic performance of a public school system.

Both of these strategies--accountability and choice--have been shown to improve student performance, even in places where lots of kids come to school with lots of problems. Other strategies that focus on the incentives of public schools have also been demonstrated to have positive effects. So schools are hardly helpless in the face of social challenges--we only need to adopt the proper reforms.

The class size myth

Just about everybody agrees that smaller classes produce better results. This view was captured crisply in a Chicago Tribune feature story on schools: "The advantages of small classes seem intuitive; who wouldn't want children to learn in a small class? Parents crave them, teachers love them, and policymakers push for them."

As popular discontent with the state of education has grown, class sizes have emerged as a key political issue for both parties. The National Education Association has been particularly aggressive, supporting "a class size of fifteen students in regular programs and even smaller in programs for students with exceptional needs." Given that shrinking class sizes means hiring more teachers, and thus putting more money into the pockets of teachers unions, it is hardly surprising that unions are the loudest supporters.

Unlike other myths, this one isn't totally baseless. Research suggests there may be some advantages to smaller classes--though if so, the benefits are modest and come at a very high price tag. And whether this research is actually correct is a matter of debate. So the strong claims for class size reduction made by political activists are not at all justified.

The centerpiece of class-size research was the STAR project, a 1980s experiment conducted by the state of Tennessee. Students were randomly assigned to one of three types of classes as they progressed from kindergarten through third grade. The first type was a regular-sized class of around 24 students with one teacher. The second option was a regular-sized class with a teacher plus a teacher's aide. The third alternative was a small class of around 15 students with one teacher.

The study found that students in the small classes showed a one-time benefit in test scores as compared to students in regular-sized classes (the teacher's aide resulted in no significant difference). The increase, however, was not large--the equivalent of an eight-percentile-point improvement in performance for a student starting in the middle of the pack. But follow-up research found that 44 percent of students in STAR's small classes took college entrance exams, compared to 40 percent among regular-class students--not so trivial a difference. If we could be reasonably sure that this increase resulted from smaller classes, and could be replicated on a large scale without sacrificing other educational priorities, then class-size reduction would be solidly supported. Unfortunately, the evidence does not allow us to reach those conclusions.

There were a number of shortcomings in the STAR program's implementation that raise doubts about the accuracy of its findings. Most significantly, students weren't tested when they entered the program--so we can't confirm that the three groups started out at the same level as the experiment began. There is no way to know if the project's random assignment method was accurate, and thus no way to be certain that differences observed among the groups weren't there from the beginning.

There is reason to be suspicious because of an anomaly in the research findings: If smaller classes really do improve student performance, we would generally expect to see these benefits accrue over time. But instead, the improvement in STAR test scores was a one-time event. This is unusual and unexpected. Considering that the project's supposed benefits were moderate to begin with, this raises serious doubts about whether the STAR results should lead to policy prescriptions--particularly since evidence on large-scale class size reduction is much less encouraging.

In California, the state appropriated $1 billion in 1996 to reduce elementary school class sizes. When California's test scores rose, advocates of smaller classes held up their program as a model. The reality, however, wasn't so clear. A RAND Corporation study concluded that California students who attended larger elementary school classes improved at about the same rate as students in smaller classes. Though California's overall educational performance went up, it did not seem to be due to smaller classes. (The state had also undertaken a number of other major education reforms at the same time it was reducing class sizes.)

Even if class size reduction does improve performance under optimal conditions in a small, controlled experiment like the STAR project, labor pool problems may prevent this from being reproduced on a large scale. Replicating the benchmarks of the STAR project would entail hiring almost 40 percent more teachers nationwide. Digging that deeply into the teacher labor pool would require accepting a lower quality of hire, likely bringing disappointing results.

And the financial costs of reducing class sizes on that scale would be exceptionally high--$2,306 per pupil according to calculations by Caroline Hoxby of Harvard University. There is only a finite amount of money available, so every dollar spent on class size reduction is a dollar that will not be available for salary increases, books, equipment, or the implementation of other reform policies. This will be true no matter how much money a school system has. Given that other reform strategies are more promising and less costly, the modest benefits of class size reduction simply can't justify the very large sacrifices that would have to be made.

The certification myth

Receiving professional certification is generally regarded as a reliable sign of expertise, because in most occupations, credentials are given to those who have proven their worth. Few people would see a doctor who wasn't licensed, or a lawyer who hadn't passed the bar. Teacher quality is certainly a crucial factor in students' academic achievement, but having an extra education degree is not linked to success.

Many researchers, politicians, and most Americans assume that more credentialing means better teachers, but the evidence suggests that it doesn't. One of the strongest and most consistent findings in the entire body of research on teacher quality is that teaching certificates and master's degrees in education are irrelevant to classroom performance. Yet most school systems reward certification and experience, instead of rewarding more reliable direct indicators of good teaching.

In a review conducted for the Abell Foundation, researchers found that teachers holding a master's in education did not produce higher student performance, and among new teachers, traditional certification made no difference in student performance. After examining every available study on the impact of teaching credentials on job performance--171 in total--Eric Hanushek found that only nine uncovered any significant positive relationship between credentials and student performance, five found a significant negative relationship between the two, and 157 showed no connection. Looking at Teach For America--a program that lets recent college graduates become teachers without obtaining traditional education credentials--three scholars at Mathematica Policy Research found that students taught by these non-credentialed instructors made significant gains in math in one year, and kept pace in reading. Current policy--which generally centers on teachers having education certificates--therefore appears to be seriously misguided.

The current teacher pay system, which connects compensation to education degrees, also harms teacher quality by artificially redirecting time and money toward earning those pieces of paper instead of advanced knowledge in specific subject areas. One NAEP study pointedly concluded that education master's degrees have "little effect on improving teachers' abilities," and therefore the enormous amount of money spent pursuing these degrees "is arguably one of the least efficient expenditures in education."

Researchers have also investigated the relationship between years of teaching experience and students' academic achievement. Here, the story is inconclusive. If anything, the evidence indicates that teachers grow a little more effective during their first few years as they get up to speed in the classroom, but that after this initial period, their effectiveness plateaus. This evidence raises doubts about the practice of giving relatively small raises in a teacher's second and third years, while giving teachers in their 20th and 30th years large annual raises.

Members of the education establishment fiercely resist giving up the old linkage of pay to paper accomplishments. When Michigan adopted new standards emphasizing a teacher's proven academic ability (as measured in skills tests) rather than their credentials or years of experience, the Detroit News profiled angry teachers. "It's a slap in my face that I have to go back and take a test," said one teacher with a master's degree and 30 years of experience. Until we stop hiring and financially rewarding teachers according to qualifications that are irrelevant to their performance, we can never expect improved quality in classroom instruction.

The rich-school myth

A popular myth says that private schools do better than public schools only because they have more money, recruit high-performing students, and expel low-performing students. The conventional wisdom is captured in one Michigan newspaper's warning that "a voucher system would force penniless public schools to shut down while channeling more and more money into wealthy private schools."

There is no question that, on average, students in private schools demonstrate significantly greater achievement. For example, on the eighth-grade reading portion of the NAEP test, 53 percent of private school students perform at or above the level defined as "proficient," compared to only 30 percent of public school students. In eighth-grade math, only 27 percent of public-school students perform at the "proficient" level, compared to 43 percent of private-school students. Interestingly, twice as many private-school eighth graders go on to earn a bachelor's degree as their public-school counterparts, in percentage terms.

However: it simply isn't true that public schools are penniless while private schools are wealthy. In fact, the opposite is closer to the truth. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the average private school charged $4,689 per student in tuition for the 1999/2000 school year. That same year, the average public school spent $8,032 per pupil. Among Catholic schools (which educate 49 percent of all private-school students), the average tuition was only $3,236. The vast majority of private-school students actually have less than half as much funding behind them as public-school students.

Some point out that private schools don't always provide all the services that public schools do: transportation, special ed classes, lunch, counseling. But in an analysis comparing public-school and Catholic-school costs in New York, D.C., Dayton, and San Antonio, researchers found that excluding all of these services plus administration costs from the public-school ledger still left public schools with significantly more resources than Catholic schools. Besides, if public schools provide additional services, then those services should contribute to their students' educational outcomes. All spending is ultimately relevant to the question of a school's cost-effectiveness.

Just as lack of money cannot be blamed for poor outcomes in public schools, neither can differences in selectivity be held responsible. Surprising as it may be, most private schools are not very selective. A study of the nation's Catholic schools concluded that the typical institution accepted 88 percent of the students who applied. Other research in D.C., Dayton, and New York private schools found that only 1 percent of parents reported their children were denied admission because of a failed admissions test. Moreover, the academic and demographic backgrounds of students who use vouchers to attend private school across the country are very similar to those who don't.

Private schools don't significantly alter their student populations by expelling low-achieving or troublesome students, either. One study found that "Catholic high schools dismiss fewer than two students per year" on average. While it is true that every student is officially entitled to a publicly funded education, students in public schools are regularly expelled. According to the U.S. Department of Education, roughly 1 percent of all public school students are expelled in a year, and an additional 0.6 percent are segregated into specialized academies. That's more than in Catholic and other private schools. Moreover, public schools actually contract out 1.3 percent of their disabled students to private schools.

In any case, numerous studies have compared what happens when students with identical backgrounds attend private versus public schools. And consistently, in study after study, the matched peers who remain in public schools do less well than children who shift to private schools. Higher student achievement is clearly attributable to some difference in the way private schools instruct--and not to more money, or simple exclusion of difficult students.

The myth of ineffective school vouchers

When reporting on school vouchers--programs that give parents money they can use to send their children to private schools--the media almost always describe research on vouchers' effects as inconclusive. The New York Times, for instance, responded to a Supreme Court decision approving vouchers by declaring: "All this is happening without a clear answer to the fundamental question of whether school choice has improved American education. The debate...remains heated, defined more by conflicting studies than by real conclusions."

In reality, though, the research on vouchers isn't mixed or inconclusive at all. High quality research shows consistently that vouchers have positive effects for students who receive them. The only place where results are mixed is in regard to the magnitude of vouchers' benefits. There have been eight random-assignment studies of school voucher programs, and in seven of them, the benefits for voucher recipients were statistically significant. In Milwaukee, for example, a study I conducted with two researchers from Harvard found that students awarded vouchers to attend private schools outperformed a matched control group of students in Milwaukee public schools. After four years, the voucher students had reading scores six percentile points above the control group, and standardized math results 11 percentile points higher. All of the students in this study (which is mirrored by other research) were low-income and Hispanic or African American.

In a study of a different program based in Charlotte, North Carolina, I found that recipients of privately funded vouchers outperformed peers who did not receive a voucher by six percentile points after one year. All of the students studied were from low-income households. In New York City, a privately funded school choice program has been the subject of many careful studies. One found that African-American voucher recipients outperformed the control group by 9 percentile points after three years in the program. Another analysis found a difference of 5 percentile points in math. A similar program in Washington, D.C. resulted in African-American students outperforming peers without vouchers by 9 percentile points after two years.

Every one of the voucher programs studied resulted in enthusiastic support from parents as well. And all this was achieved in private schools that expend a mere fraction of the amount spent per student in public schools. The most generously funded of the five voucher programs studied, the Milwaukee program, provides students with only 60 percent of the $10,112 spent per pupil in that city's public schools. The privately funded voucher programs spend less than half what public schools spend per pupil. Better performances, happier parents, for about half the cost: if similar results were produced for a method of fighting cancer, academics and reporters would be elated.

Spread the truth

Over the past 30 years, many of our education policies have been based on beliefs that clear-eyed research has recently shown to be false. Virtually every area of school functioning has been distorted by entrenched myths. Disentangling popular misconceptions from our education system--and establishing fresh policies based on facts that are supported by hard evidence--will be the work of at least a generation. That work will be especially difficult because powerful interest groups with reasons to protect and extend the prevailing mythology will oppose any rethinking. But with time, and diligent effort by truth-tellers, reality and reason have triumphed over mythology in many other fields. There is no reason they can't prevail in schoolhouses as well.


The Media Studies Mess

By Keith Windschuttle, the ABC board's latest appointment, who says media studies reject everything that journalism stands for

University degrees in communications and media studies in recent times have had the highest entry level requirements of any courses in the humanities and social sciences in Australia. In some institutions, it is as difficult to get into a media course as it is to get into medicine or law. This popularity has been important in ensuring that many of the new universities created since 1988 have been able to attract a high-calibre enrolment and have not been seen to house a second-rate student body.

Not surprisingly, this development has been a source of pride to many of the new university administrators. Indeed, these courses are changing the idea of what it means to study for an arts degree. Every year, more of the older universities, faced with declining entry aggregates in the humanities, are reappraising their traditional liberal arts degrees to accommodate media and communications studies, thus shoring up their student demand.

Within media studies, journalism is one of the options between which students choose. Journalism is offered as a major or a subject stream by more than 20 universities in Australia. In a typical bachelor of arts degree, the journalism stream occupies one-third to one-half of the total hours a student spends as an undergraduate. The rest of the program normally contains a small number of liberal arts subjects, with the remaining one-third to one half of the total degree devoted to media theory. There are a number of variations on this model, including some programs devoted almost entirely to media and communications theory, but it remains fairly typical.

There are three characteristics of journalism that most teaching in the field upholds. First, journalism is committed to reporting the truth about what occurs in the world. Second, the principal ethical obligations of journalists are to their readers, their listeners and their viewers. Third, journalists should be committed to good writing. This means their meaning should be clear and their grammar precise. However, in most of the media theory that is taught within Australian communications and media degrees, none of these principles is upheld. Indeed, they are specifically denied, either by argument or by example, by the dominant intellectual field that has reigned in media theory for at least 15 years. The methodologies and values of journalism are undermined, contradicted and frequently regarded as naive by the proponents of media theory.

In those institutions that teach journalism and media theory within the one degree, the result is a form of intellectual schizophrenia among students and staff alike. But even in those journalism schools fortunate enough to avoid this material, it remains completely unsatisfactory that the practice of professional education is overshadowed and denigrated by the dominant theory.

When journalism was taken up as a subject by a number of colleges of advanced education in Australia in the mid-1970s, prevailing academic opinion held that vocational education on its own was insufficient to constitute a bachelor's degree. So to get their courses through the higher education boards that most state governments had set up to accredit the new college degrees, journalism educators had to add something else to their subject matter. In most cases, the additional material comprised some liberal arts subjects plus communications studies or media studies.

At the time, however, the field of communications was dominated by American management theory and hence was largely inappropriate, while academic discussion about the media was then focused on the relatively narrow issues of the organisation of work, the ownership of the press and the selection of news. So there was a big gap in the market for a more all-encompassing field of study. This gap was quickly filled by British cultural studies, a movement that came to define the nature and methodology of media theory and which, despite several twists and turns, has held sway ever since. In Australia, cultural studies came to be taught in media degrees that contained vocational majors such as journalism, film production and the like, which were confined to the then colleges of advanced education, as well as in a number of new courses in communications theory offered by English and sociology departments in the established universities.

While journalism educators are trying to teach students to use active voice, short sentences, concrete nouns and verbs, precise grammar and clear meaning, they are faced with cultural studies courses that reward students who ape the passive voice, arcane abstractions, long and turgid expressions and grammatical howlers that characterise the latter.

Perversely, one of the reasons the cultural studies movement has been so successful is because it has adopted verbiage. Few people outside the field can understand what is being said, so wider opposition is thereby minimised. Obscure expression is a clever tactic to adopt in academic circles, where there is always an expectation that things are never simple and that anyone who writes clearly is thereby being shallow. Instead of signalling a communication theorist's inability to communicate properly, obscurantism such as the above is assumed to equal profundity.

But if media theory is as degenerate, how could media courses be so attractive to students? It is important to understand that the popularity of media courses owes nothing to cultural studies. Indeed, if my experience is any guide, large numbers of students will freely admit to sympathetic lecturers that they loathe everything cultural studies stands for. Once they have experienced it, most students come to regard media theory as a largely incomprehensible and odious gauntlet they must run in order to be allowed to do what they really came to the institution for: to study media practice. Students who take media courses want to learn skills that will gain them employment in what they perceive to be attractive and interesting careers. Before they enrol, very few of them realise how much of the course is consumed by media theory, nor do they appreciate what media theory actually is. They assume it is something that complements media practice, not its antithesis.

The great irony in the conduct of media courses lies in the relative status of those who teach theory and those who teach practice. Most media practitioners who join academic departments do so after at least 10 years', and more commonly 20 years', employment in the industry. However, most only have BA pass degrees and find that although their industry experience will get them a job, it will not get them a promotion. To be promoted from lecturer to senior lecturer, they are required to complete a PhD or a masters research degree. The result is that most lecturers in journalism, television production and similar practical subjects languish at the lecturer and senior lecturer level in the academic hierarchy.

On the other hand, the theorists in cultural studies are invariably people who have done honours degrees at university and then gone on to postgraduate studies. They go straight from university study to university teaching. Hardly any of them gains direct experience within the media. Most cultural studies theorists in Australia have never been employed by any media organisation in any capacity. Most have never set foot inside a newspaper office or TV studio, let alone made a living from writing or broadcasting. They know the media only from the consumer's perspective, that is, from what they see on the screen or read on the page. The reality of the industry, its production methods, values and constraints are understood by them, at best, at third hand, and in most cases not at all.

Yet because they have gone through the university system and gained postgraduate qualifications, they are considered better fitted to running media studies departments than the real practitioners. The result is that within Australian universities the theorists have gained the lion's share of positions as professors in the field. They head most of the departments, chair curriculum committees, set texts and pull strings in making appointments.

What, then, is to be done? Most of the people I am criticising here are members not of a suppressed younger generation but of an entrenched older one. Most have tenured posts and are aged in their 40s or early 50s, which means they have another 20 years of working life left in them, 20 years in which they are most unlikely to change their ways. The best way for media practitioners to respond would be to compete with them head on. Rather than confining themselves to their specialist areas, they should be writing their own general textbooks and developing their own theory. Those who know the cultural industries from the inside are much better placed than any of their opponents to throw proper light on the field.

The threat posed by the introduction of courses in communications and media studies into the older universities, as well as the contamination of traditional humanities subjects by the assumptions and politics of cultural studies, rises all the time. How best to resist this, or, rather, whether it is still possible to resist at all, I am not sure, but since the post-Dawkins university system is now driven by student demand, and since secondary school students are so demonstrably ill-informed about the study of media and communications at the tertiary level, one strategy would be to try to influence demand by enlightening the potential customers.



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. My home page is here


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Cuban Propaganda Gets the Chop in Florida

But against heavy legal pressure

Portraying life in Castro's Cuba as some sort of paradise is something that only the far Left would do. That untold numbers of Cubans risk their lives to escape the "paradise" concerned is surely enough all by itself to give the lie to such a picture.

Yet there are lots of copies of books in the school libraries of Miami that DO portray Cuba in a rosy light. Finally, however, the school board has voted to remove such misleading books from all Miami-Dade school libraries.

The ACLU is going to sue to keep the books of course. Defending lies is no problem for them, as long as they are Leftist lies.

There are of course untold numbers of lying books and articles in the world and all adults have to make judgemnents about which to believe. But to be happy with little kids being fed lies in the guise of education is obnoxious.

Student strike-breakers

A big whine below about British students wanting value for their money

The industrial action by university lecturers in Britain has now been suspended after a deal was reached between the unions and their employers. The University and College Union (UCU) agreed to a pay rise of 10.37 per cent over 22 months and a 15.5 per cent rise for the lowest-paid non-academic university workers. There will also be an independent review of salaries in 2008, which will examine how much money is available for pay rises from extra revenues gained from top-up fees.

Although the ending of the strike should be welcomed, there are worrying lessons to be learned from the student population's reaction to it. We witnessed a startling lack of solidarity within higher education and a very small-minded approach to education from many of those students who have benefited greatly from it. Sally Hunt and Paul Mackney, the general secretaries of the UCU, said: `No settlement ever provides everything that you want for members, but we believe that this is the best that can be achieved within the current national negotiating environment.' Students are partly to blame for creating that negative `negotiating environment', which limited public support for the lecturers.

The majority of the media coverage of the strike showed students moaning about the detrimental effect such industrial action might have on their studies. For instance, 21-year-old fashion student Lucy Macfarlane questioned what students were `getting from it' (university) despite the government `putting fees up so much'; she also maligned lecturers for using students as `bait'.

This trend of self-centred thinking extended as far as Kat Fletcher, president of the National Union of Students (NUS), who continually emphasised the `extremely difficult time' students faced during and after the strike, despite the fact that the NUS, officially at least, supported the lecturers' demand for higher pay. The NUS supported the lecturers' demands while disagreeing with the only viable method they had of achieving a substantial pay rise - namely, striking during the exam period.

The majority of students are guilty, it seems, of treating education as nothing more than a means to employment, and by doing so they are betraying the very spirit of education. [Which is .... ?]

A survey in the Times Educational Supplement highlighted the bizarre student approach to the strike. Sixty-eight per cent of students agreed that academics deserved higher pay, as did the Bett Committee (1999), the last major independent review of university pay, which recommended a `significant increase' in minimum starting salaries for lecturers and said that those with much responsibility, such as professors, merited `rewards more commensurate with the weight of their responsibilities'. However, 77 per cent of students simultaneously opposed the lecturers' boycott of assessment. It is of course legitimate for students to be concerned about their work going unmarked; however, the student population failed to recognise that the lecturers were not striking out of malice but rather were taking the only course of action through which they could achieve their aims.

If all of the academics in England staged a one-day strike at any other time of the year, as workers in many other industries can, it would have achieved nothing and received little attention. It is only when exams are threatened that lecturers get attention from vice chancellors and media coverage. Yet Emma Powell, the Student Union president at the University of Kent, where students marched against their lecturers, stated: `We don't want to be used as leverage anymore. We do support the [union's] demands for better pay but we just want our marks.'

This lack of solidarity within higher education was detrimental to the UCU's quest for higher pay. The media and public seemed more concerned with the effect the action would have on graduates in the short term than with the decline in wages that has been occurring for nearly 30 years. A mix of self-importance and indifference characterised the student response to the strikes....

The notion of an institution of education entering into a business agreement/contract with its students is a perversion of the very spirit of education that such institutions must cultivate. Education should not be seen purely as a means to employment, yet it is exactly this mindset that seems widespread among students up and down the country. Education is an end in its own right, a vital component of self-fulfillment; it must not be seen to be subservient to other goals and should not be treated as such. [In that case the teachers should be idealistic and accept low pay too?] ....

Those on the left worry about liberalising the market in higher education further, but they have missed a vital point. The market already exists in the most damaging place of all - the minds of the students.

More here

Schools may be 'liable' for bullies

Schools which fail to protect students from bullying could be forced to pay thousands of dollars in legal damages, an academic has warned. Brisbane-based Professor Des Butler, from Queensland University of Technology's (QUT) Faculty of Law, said there were many Australian examples of bullied students taking civil court action against their schools and winning "sizeable" financial compensation. "Under the law, a school may have breached its duty of care if it has failed to prevent its students from being bullied at school," Prof Butler said.

He said bullying had become a serious problem, which could result in criminal and civil action against the perpetrator as well. "The problem with taking civil action against the perpetrator, they may not be worth suing," Prof Butler said. "This is why we see cases of schools being sued, because they are seen as having deep pockets. "Public schools have government backing and private schools have insurance."

He said that in 2001 a jury ruled in favour of a teenage boy who was awarded $60,000 after suffering bullying over three years at a school in Ballarat, Victoria. "It was a daily campaign he had to put up with - one student tried to strangle him with a cord ... it was a combination of both physical and psychological (bullying)," Prof Butler said. "The school was held to not have taken adequate steps to deal with it."

Prof Butler said another Melbourne student was awarded $73,000 in 2003 for her school's failure to prevent her being bullied over two years. "She again was subjected to a range of behaviours, verbal and physical assaults, intimidation and harassment ... she had girls calling her 'fat bitch', 'fat slut', 'two-dollar hooker' ... she was in years seven and eight," he said. "They were engraving these things into classroom tables and threatened to kill her and harm her on a daily basis."

However, Prof Butler also said schools were not insurers of students' safety. "The school is only held responsible if it has failed to take reasonable care and take the precautions that a school would take," Prof Butler said. "Just because a student has been bullied doesn't mean a school is automatically responsible for it. "You can't exactly wrap them with cotton wool - you can't have a prison camp type of environment but by the same token there are certain behaviours that shouldn't be allowed. "Part of the problem with these things is where do you draw the line?" He said it was essential schools adopted a "zero tolerance" policy to tackle bullying with tough consequences.



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. My home page is here


Monday, June 19, 2006

Another Chance for a Colorblind Constitution

Maybe America's next generation of students will get to see a colorblind Constitution after all -- at least through their high school graduation. Three years ago, a bare majority of the Supreme Court of the United States further delayed Dr. Martin Luther King's dream that his children would one day live in a nation where they would "not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character" when five justices ruled colleges and universities could admit students based on their race.

As Justice Clarence Thomas wrote of the decision then, the High Court had granted colleges and universities a "25-year license to violate the Constitution," thus teaching America's future leaders the lesson that their race matters. But, on Monday, a new High Court signaled that maybe, just maybe, that same lesson won't be taught to our nation's elementary and high school students. Specifically, the justices agreed to hear two cases next term challenging the practice of some public school districts to use race in deciding whether students can choose to attend the elementary or high school of their choice.

The cases come from Louisville, Kentucky, and Seattle, Washington, where the public school districts allow students (with the assistance of their parents) to choose which schools they want to attend. However, in assigning a school to each student based on his or her preferences, those school districts also considered the student's race if the school of choice already enrolls too many pupils of that same skin color.

Of course, the school districts claim they have a legitimate reason for engaging in this obvious racial discrimination. The school districts argue they need to ensure each one of their elementary and high schools maintains the "proper" racial balance so that their students can reap the reward of educational diversity. Not surprisingly, this was the rationale approved by the bare majority of the Supreme Court three years ago.

In truth, the racial balancing engaged in by the Louisville and Seattle public school districts is anything but permissible under both the Fourteenth Amendment and the Supreme Court's interpretation of it. While five justices did uphold the University of Michigan's consideration of an applicant's race in admitting each student to law school, the Court said such racial consideration had to be "individualized" on a student-by-student basis to promote the "educational benefits" of "diversity."

Indeed, in the companion University of Michigan case, a larger majority of the High Court struck down the University's undergraduate admissions process that gave a fixed number of "bonus" points toward admission to under-represented minority applicants. Such a rigid preference for students of particular races was unconstitutional racial discrimination that violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, the High Court ruled.

Rigidly is exactly how racial preferences have been used by the Louisville and Seattle public school districts. Quite simply, those school districts used race as a disqualifying factor once a specific elementary or high school already had "enough" students that looked the same. This certainly cannot be the holistic "individualized" consideration of race in education the bare majority approved three years ago.

Moreover, this new Court should get back to basics and reconsider what they want to teach our nation's school children about the Constitution. Three years ago, five justices taught students applying for higher education that their race could matter more than their past educational performance or future academic potential. Next year, the newly constituted High Court should teach America's elementary and high school students that the Constitution ensures their race shouldn't matter at all, and that Dr. King's dream is on its way to becoming reality.


Australia: Attack on university media courses

The article below quotes the current head of journalism studies at the University of Queensland as rejecting Windschuttle's critique of such courses. The former head of Journalism at the University of Queensland, Prof. John Henningham, however, would likely support the thrust of Windschuttle's criticisms. An experienced journalist himself, he was so dissatisfied with the university offering that he took early retirement and started his own private J-school. See here

Keith Windschuttle, the controversial author and historian this week appointed to the ABC board, believes graduates from university media courses over the past 20 years have been taught anything but good journalism. In a paper first delivered in 1995 and reprinted in The Weekend Australian today, Windschuttle says journalism is committed to reporting the truth, without favour, to inform the audience - but the media theory taught in universities denies these principles. "The methodologies and values of journalism are undermined, contradicted and frequently regarded as naive by the proponents of media theory," he wrote in 1995. "I haven't changed my views at all," Windschuttle said yesterday, "There are some real ex-journalists teaching but they are swamped by those teaching cultural studies nonsense."

Michael Bromley, professor of journalism at the University of Queensland, said yesterday that Windschuttle's argument was very old and outdated. "In some places around the world they didn't even have the argument because it seemed so pointless," Professor Bromley said. "Journalism is about the social world. It is about people's social experience and social reality and the things they talk about. "Good journalists can pick up on those things and report them fairly and accurately. If life changes and things move on, and people are less interested in politics and more interested in Kylie Minogue, then who are we not to report that - or pull a face and say that should not be featured."

ABC TV reporter Quentin Dempster, who was favourite to take up the role of staff-elected board member before the position was abolished by the Government, said Windschuttle's views on media courses could prompt "a debate worth having". "If Keith could give more specific examples of the journalism which has been debauched in such a way, that would be useful to engage the journalism academics around Australia," Dempster said yesterday. "One of the things that has always concerned me about journalism is the influence of commerciality on journalism and editorial judgment and story selection and things like that. If Keith could be more specific and give us some examples it would be a debate worth having."

Dempster said he was opposed to Windschuttle's appointment. "I've got no problem with Keith Windschuttle or anyone else, at a personal level, being on the ABC board," Dempster said. "What his appointment continues, however, is a pattern of jobs for political and ideological mates that has been followed by both the Labor Party in government and the Liberals in government - and I'm sick and tired of it. "We want to make the ABC better."



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. My home page is here


Sunday, June 18, 2006

U.K.: What have burnt toast, Gerry Adams and a burger to do with September 11?

Ever wondered what our schools are teaching children about terrorism? To judge by some of the material in an education pack being used in my London borough, the questions might include: could al-Qaeda poison your burger? Did the American Government stage the September 11 attacks? And what lessons for the Middle East can you learn from arguing with your mum?

The glossy pack of CD-Roms and worksheets is for secondary school citizenship classes. Called 9/11: The Main Chance (no, I don't know either), it is sponsored by the Neighbourhood Regeneration Fund (no, I don't know either). When I saw it reported in the Walthamstow Guardian, it sounded too bizarre to be true. Having studied the pack, I can confirm that it is bizarre, but it is true. So here is a glimpse of what might be going on in the citizenship classes that the Government now claims will teach children "our values".

9/11: The Main Chance attempts to deal with September 11, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and human rights in a simple way intended to make sense to pupils not keen on conventional teaching methods. The result seems more likely to raise levels of confusion and concern.

A worksheet on the targets chosen on 9/11 asks pupils: "Are there any possible targets in your local area?" If that is not enough to get them boycotting public transport, it asks: "What weapons or methods could be used?" There follow helpful links: one to a story on "Food terrorism - the nightmare scenario" illustrated by a juicy burger (which seems an extreme way to get children off junk food), the other to a report "How safe is our water? The threat of terrorism", which may help the water companies to cut consumption. When the Walthamstow Guardian asked if the 9/11 attacks should be used as a teaching tool, one educationist said the pack was not about "preaching" to children, but about providing "impartial and unbiased information" and "letting them make sense of it".

That would be information such as: "The terrorists had shown that, despite America's size and military power, careful planning and complete faith could defeat them."

So al-Qaeda defeated America. Or did it? After all, according to this impartial pack, "it is not known whether Flight 93 was taken over by passengers or shot down by the military". The only people to whom this should be "not known" are conspiracy theorists. You might as well tell kids it is not known whether men really landed on the Moon.

The outside sources of "impartial and unbiased information" include a news website that speculates about whether images of Satan appeared in smoke over the Twin Towers, and the mystic significance of the number 11. Another link, to explain the role of the US Vice-President, turns out to be an excerpt from a 9/11 conspiracy website that asks whether Dick Cheney "was directing the response to the attack. Or was he directing the attack?" The pack's main attempt to situate 9/11 in some context is a lengthy list of "Osama's grievances". Raising the chestnut about terrorists and freedom fighters, the pack asks: "Which category do these people belong in: Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Gerry Adams, Martin Luther King?" A better question might be: what do any of them have to do with 9/11?

The orthodoxy today is that all education must be made "relevant" to pupils' own experience. Thus the section on "Tolerance and 9/11" ends with a quiz about how you would react if your mum burnt your toast, or your brother lent your favourite DVD to his mate. The lesson on conflict resolution suggests that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is like a family dispute about sharing.

No doubt this teaching pack was put together by well-intentioned educationists, despite the inaccuracies and omissions. Of course it is not "pro al-Qaeda". But nor does it appear to be pro anything else. Instead it reflects the wider confusion and incoherence about these issues. We are unsure who we are or what we stand for as a society, and it is nonsense to expect citizenship classes to fill that vacuum. Government commitment to teaching "values" is worthless when we don't know what those might be.

This teaching pack is big on "putting yourself in the other person's shoes". The trouble is, if you are not sure where your own shoes stand in the first place, you risk falling flat on your face.


Australian State vows to bring back A-E grades in its schools

New South Wales would introduce A to E graded school report cards despite mounting opposition from teachers and parents, state Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt said. Under nationwide changes to be introduced from next year, the states will start implementing report cards, from year one onwards that grade students on a scale of A to E. More than 12,000 NSW Teachers Federation members have rejected the report cards, saying they brand students as failures. The teachers also have revealed a lack of training in implementing the new system.

Adding voice to the teachers' opposition, national bodies representing government school teachers and students' parents also are encouraging parents to refuse to accept the new cards. Ms Tebbutt today acknowledged the teachers' opposition and admitted her Government must "lift its game" supporting schools to implement the new system. But she said the Government was responding to parents, who want better information about their children, and she was committed to introducing the reports. "The parents that I've talked to are overwhelmingly positive about the changes we are introducing," Ms Tebbutt said. "They have been frustrated beyond belief with the report cards that they have been getting."

The "plain-English" A to E report cards, to be introduced nationally, are aimed at helping identify student problems in particular areas with a standardised national scheme. All states are required to introduce the cards by next year to maintain their federal funding under national reforms to the reporting of student grades.

NSW Teachers Association president Maree O'Halloran said the Australian Council of State School Organisations is encouraging parents to rejecting the A-to-E model. P&C Associations were also telling her they want a choice about assessment. "The state government is saying A to E, no choices," Ms O'Halloran said.

Contrary to his party's federal counterpart, NSW opposition education spokesman Brad Hazzard said parents do not want the A-to-E model. "They don't want their children labelled - particularly six-, seven-, eight-year-olds - labelled as failures," he said. "Really it's utterly unnecessary, and the state opposition opposes it. The A-to-E system will not work in the best interests of children." Greens MP Lee Rhiannon said the reports were insulting to children and would damage schools' sense of community. "It's something that the Government should just say is a bad idea, and move on," Ms Rhiannon said.

Moves towards a national system followed complaints from parents and educators that the existing reports were vague and confusing. Currently schools are free to use their own system of presenting students' progress to parents, resulting in a number of different assessment models. Some involve an A to E grading, others use numbers one to six or descriptive terms only. The Government said the A to E reports would bring the consistency missing from assessment that will better inform parents. But the A to E system has split parents and teachers, with some parent bodies arguing that the proposed report cards were not intended to identify problems with students but to provide a written record of their achievements.



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. My home page is here