Saturday, July 29, 2006

Does Education Matter?

A review of "Does Education Matter?" By Alison Wolf

Yes, of course education matters. The author, who holds the Sir Roy Griffiths professorship of public sector management at King's College, London, is not questioning whether education is good at all. Rather, she questions whether governmental efforts to expand "access" to higher education and public training programs are justified. The book's subtitle - myths about education and economic growth - suggests that her answer is in the negative. It certainly is. In my view, Professor Wolf has given us one of the most useful books on education policy in many years because she quietly and carefully demolishes the conventional wisdom that it is imperative for government to "invest" more in higher education. After reading the book, I believe that most people will agree that the best we can do is to provide a solid education in each child's early years and forget about trying to manage higher education and workforce training.

Wolf, who has worked both in the U.S. and in Britain, has heard the standard political rhetoric about the new "knowledge economy" and how it supposedly compels governments to make higher education almost universal. In the finest academic tradition, she asked whether those beliefs are true and found them not to be. She writes, "But doesn't follow is that vast amounts of public spending on education have been the key determinant of how rich we are today. Nor is it obvious that they will decide how much richer, or poorer, we will be tomorrow. The simple one-way relationship which so entrances our politicians and commentators - education spending in, growth out - simply doesn't exist." Saying that in today's education-infatuated world is not unlike saying that the sun doesn't go around the earth in Galileo's time.

A standard -- but completely unsubstantiated - notion in America, Britain, and other advanced countries is that the economy is changing dramatically in ways that call for greater knowledge and skill among the workforce and therefore if a nation fails to educate its workers to a greater extent than in the past, it will find itself falling behind. For example, in a recent paper that I wrote about here, former North Carolina governor Jim Hunt states that "The emergence of a global and highly competitive new knowledge-based economy.requires enormous numbers of workers with education and training beyond high school." Wolf is one of the few who doesn't accept that idea. "Politicians may think it is clear that everyone's work will soon be dependent on `creativity', `ingenuity', and `knowledge capital' in a way that is quite different from the past: but it is no such thing. It is just as likely that we already have an over-educated workforce as that we need more graduates for a high-skills economic future."

Instead of beating the drums for increasing "access" to higher education through more government spending in the mistaken belief that a more formal eduction is always better, Wolf contends that the modern economy calls for nothing other than the same solid education in "the basics" that we used to do quite well. "The ability to read and comprehend, write fluently and correctly, and do mathematics appears more important than ever," she writes. "It isn't obvious why this means pouring extra resources into more years of education, rather than maintaining quality in the places that already teach these skills." I would only add that maintaining quality is not the problem in lower education; it will have to be restored. Nevertheless, Wolf is absolutely right that putting people through college who have not mastered reading, writing, and mathematical fundamentals will do very little to make up for their academic deficits. Moreover, conferring college degrees on such people does nothing to improve a nation's productive capacity.

We keep hearing that if a nation "invests" more in higher education for its people, then it will be rewarded with better economic results, but Wolf demonstrates that a national commitment to increasing the percentage of citizens who go to college is neither necessary nor sufficient for prosperity. Switzerland is an example of the former proposition. The Swiss have one of the world's highest standards of living, but only about a third as many Swiss go to college as in other developed countries. On the other hand, Egypt is an excellent example for the latter proposition. Wolf points out that Egypt embarked on a campaign to raise the level of education among its population beginning in the 1970s, more than doubling the rates of secondary schooling and university participation. During that period of time, the nation went from the 47th poorest in the world to .. 48th poorest. Formal education is no panacea.

The World Bank has done a number of analyses finding that there is a negative relationship between education levels and economic growth across the developing nations. Unfortunately, the widespread belief that there is a direct and positive relationship between education and economic growth has, Wolf writes, "led many developing countries, notably in Africa, South-East Asia, and South America, to spend a very great deal of money without creating successful economies in the process." More seat time in classrooms does not automatically mean that students will be more productive than they would otherwise have been.

After burying the "more education equals faster economic growth" myth, Wolf changes focus to ask what kind of preparation for work business leaders would like to see in young people. While she writes specifically about Britain, I have no doubt that the U.S. is no different. She writes, "For the most part, businessmen's views about the public education system were - and are - quite simply expressed. They are that schools turn out pupils who simply do not have the relevant skills or personal qualities. They can't add up; they can't write a business letter; they don't know how to work in teams, or talk to customers, or to understand the need to turn up to work on time. In fact the schools are doing a dreadful job for a lot of money and need to improve, fast."

The most beneficial educational reform, in other words, would be for K-12 to graduate students who have the basic skills to be readily trainable. Wolf is not a fan of government "job training" programs that supposedly compensate for the less-than-optimal degree of training that businesses provide. She doubts the assertion that businesses don't provide the ideal amount of employee training and further doubts that even if it were to some extent true, government could devise any useful policy to improve matters.

What will be the result of a concerted program to raise the "educational attainment" of the populace? Answer: more credential inflation. Employers often use the possession of a college degree as a screening device. That is why it's so often true that when a job ad specifies that a college degree is a requirement, it does not indicate that any particular studies are necessary. As educational credentials escalate, so will employer demands. Although she doesn't cite his work, I believe that Wolf is in agreement with Stanford professor David Labaree, who has observed the ratchet effect of ever-increasing levels of formal education. Labaree writes in his book How to Succeed in School Without Really Learning, "Consumers have to spend increasing amounts of time and money to gain additional credentials because the swelling number of credential holders keeps lowering the value of credentials at any given level..Employers keep raising the entry-level education requirements for particular jobs.but they still find that they have to provide extensive training before employees can carry out their work productively."

Education is a sacred cow in the U.S. and few people question the idea that more of it is necessarily beneficial. However, it is no more true that adding education (i.e., formal classes for credit) is always a good thing than it's true that adding more fertilizer to a field is always a good thing. Congratulations to Alison Wolf for challenging the sacred cow and giving us this extremely insightful book.


How to spend limited taxpayer education dollars

By Star Parker

The National Center for Education Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Education, has just released a study comparing the performance of fourth- and eighth-graders in public and private schools. As important as this research may sound, I think it is more a symptom of our education problems than a useful tool in solving them.

Generally, studies show students in private schools outperforming students in public schools. However, in this research, statistical adjustment was made to account for differences in socioeconomic background. The result: Whereas the raw data shows superior performance in private schools, much of that differential is eradicated after the statistical massaging. Public-school fourth-graders did better; however, the reading advantage at the eighth-grade level remained with the private-school kids. Predictably, the National Education Association wasted no time to use this study to affirm the unqualified success of the public-school system and to use it as ammo to further load up in its endless and tireless attack on vouchers and school choice.

But there are many things the study doesn't say. One, as John Tierney of The New York Times points out, is that, on average, private-school tuition is about half of what the average public school spends per student (no, most private schools are not fancy New England prep schools). So, even after going through statistical gymnastics to account for differences in kids' backgrounds, public schools spend far more to get not much better results. Tierney goes on to point out that studies specifically designed to test results for providing a choice option in a district under controlled circumstances show that kids with vouchers do better.

But, frankly, with limited taxpayer dollars available, and 3 million kids nationwide in failing schools, is funding more research what we need? Let's keep in mind that this is work funded by the Department of Education. The department was established in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter to improve education in our country. The department's budget then was $14.5 billion. Today, its budget has grown sixfold. Yet over the same period of time there has been virtually zero change, on average, in test scores.

Now I have no doubt that many of the bureaucrats walking the halls of the Department of Education are very fine people. But my common sense is violated to think that a parent in Los Angeles, where my organization CURE is headquartered, needs a single one of these folks in Washington to get his or her child educated. I certainly question that parents need much, or indeed any, of the reams of research and studies the department conducts to get their child educated.

The Department of Education may report that, on average, after filtering out socioeconomic differences, fourth-graders in public schools did better on tests than fourth-graders in private schools. But what are black and Latino parents with kids in Los Angeles Unified School District schools supposed to do with this information? Nine out of 10 black and Latino fourth-graders in L.A. public schools score below proficiency in reading and math. What are the parents of the 250,000 kids in Los Angeles who are in schools that are failing by No Child Left Behind standards supposed to do with this information?

Can anyone still in touch with their common sense doubt that these parents would prefer having a choice where to send their kids to school? Anyone who does doubt this should talk to these parents. My staff does. We're working with them and trying to get at least the school choice that No Child Left Behind guarantees them. We, along with the Alliance for School Choice, have filed complaints with the school districts in Los Angeles that they are not in compliance with NCLB because they are not informing parents that they have the option to transfer their child. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has given the districts until Aug. 15 to respond to our complaint or have their Title I funds from the federal government jeopardized.

Choice, competition and freedom are core values that define what we are about as a nation. It is troubling to think that we have gotten to the point where these truths are no longer obvious and we have to do research to try and figure out if they are a good idea. The Bush administration proposal to appropriate $100 million in opportunity scholarships for poor kids in failing schools is a needed program. Let's use our limited taxpayer dollars to enhance education freedom for poor families and not on superfluous research and bureaucracy.



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, July 28, 2006


Parents are backing Tony Blair's controversial city academy programme overwhelmingly, according to an independent report that will reveal today that each place is heavily oversubscribed. The day after a mother failed at the High Court to prevent her children's Islington primary school being replaced by an academy, a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) is expected to show that the semi-independent schools are receiving three times the applicants to places available. The findings are a "massive vote of confidence" by parents in the Government's programme to build 200 academies by 2010, Lord Adonis, the Schools Minister, told The Times, in spite of criticism by teachers' unions and Labour leftwingers that they are unaccountable and too expensive.

Twenty-five of the twentyseven academies opened so far are oversubscribed for the next term - more than six times so in the case of new academies in Hackney, Southwark and Lambeth. Mossbourne Community Academy, which replaced the failing Hackney Downs school, has had 1,137 applications for 191 places. Those academies that had replaced failing or weak schools - even those that were severely criticised or failed by Ofsted, such as Bexley and Unity - were also oversubscribed, though less so. "No one has ever pretended, least of all the Government, that we'd be able to provide instant success," Lord Adonis told The Times. "The key issue is the rate of progress, and what the report shows is that we are getting the basics right, the rate of improvement is good and that in particular the leadership of the academies is strong."

According to the Government, the PwC report finds that results for 14-year-olds are improving faster than in other schools facing similar challenges. The accountants also found that the freedoms enjoyed by the principals of the semi- independent schools had paid off with more innovative teaching. Since Charles Clarke announced the ambitious education reform programme in 2000, the spotlight has been shone on the new schools, often with uncomfortable results. Last summer it emerged that although only 42 per cent of state school students who took GCSEs passed five with A*-C grades, including English and maths, at the academies the results were far worse. At the King's Academy, 23 per cent of pupils passed at the same rate, while at Unity only 6 per cent achieved similar results, as did 11 per cent at Capital in Brent. Only 14 of the 27 academies had been open long enough for last year's results to be included, but 7 were in the worst 200.

Lord Adonis said that the Government recognised that more progress needs to be made at GCSE level, but while many of the schools were still in the process of being turned around, it was striking that parents wanted to send their children to them


Spelling: A shameful comparison

When kids whose native language is not English can spell English better than our kids can, what does that tell you?

The "wallpaper method" of teaching spelling by sticking words on the classroom wall for children to absorb is failing in Australia. Writing tests conducted by the University of NSW reveal that about nine times more students in Singapore - where about half of children speak English as a second language - can spell less-common English words or those with unusual spelling patterns. The stark difference is attributed to the more traditional drill approach adopted by Singapore schools to teach spelling, with the syllabus even listing words that students are expected to be able to spell.

About 9 per cent of Year 3 students in Singapore could spell words such as chaotic, dilemma, laborious, perceive and voyage, while only 1 per cent of Year 3 students in NSW reached an equivalent score. The improvement in students' spelling over two years was also markedly different, with 36.5 per cent of Year 5 students in Singapore able to spell at the same level, compared with 12 per cent of Year 5 students in NSW.

The tests, conducted by Educational Assessment Australia at UNSW and involving more than 110,000 Australians and more than 10,000 Singaporeans, required students to construct a news story based on an event. While the EAA students comprised a high proportion of private school students, the results are similar to those of the NSW Government's basic skills tests, which are sat by all Year 3 and 5 students in government and non-government schools. The 2003 results for the primary writing assessment of the NSW test show only 2 per cent of Year 3 students and 11 per of Year 5 students composing a factual piece of writing could spell words such as actions, appearance, camouflage, disappeared, frightening, muscular and predators.

EAA director Peter Knapp attributed the difference in spelling capabilities to the teaching methods used, with Australian schools adopting a more progressive strategy that encourages teachers to teach spelling in context. The fact that results for the different tests in Australia and Singapore, and populations of students, were so similar suggested the problem was the way in which spelling was taught. "I think it's definitely an issue of pedagogy and the absence of anything explicit in our syllabus documents," Professor Knapp said. "Spelling is not a high-order cognitive skill such as sentence construction, however, it requires practice and memory - two aspects of traditional pedagogy that have somehow fallen out of favour. "Teachers are encouraged to teach spelling in context, the wallpaper approach, that children absorb the spelling of words through reading them and saying them or looking at them on a classroom wall."

The chairman of the national inquiry into the teaching of literacy, Ken Rowe from the Australian Council for Educational Research, said the secret of Singapore's success was its direct and explicit instruction.



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, July 27, 2006

"No Child Left Behind" is beyond uninformative. It is deceptive

CHARLES MURRAY points out below that Blacks and Hispanics are still lagging about as much as they ever did. So the burdens imposed by NCLB are not getting compensatory results. Murray knows WHY the gap is not closing but he does not pursue that below

Test scores are the last refuge of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). They have to be, because so little else about the act is attractive. NCLB takes a giant step toward nationalizing elementary and secondary education, a disaster for federalism. It pushes classrooms toward relentless drilling, not something that inspires able people to become teachers or makes children eager to learn. It holds good students hostage to the performance of the least talented, at a time when the economic future of the country depends more than ever on the performance of the most talented. The one aspect of the act that could have inspired enthusiasm from me, promoting school choice, has fallen far short of its hopes. The only way to justify NCLB is through compelling evidence that test scores are improving. So let's talk about test scores.

The case that NCLB has failed to raise test scores had been made most comprehensively in a report from the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, released just a few weeks ago. The Civil Rights Project has an openly liberal political agenda, but the author of the report, Jaekyung Lee, lays out the data in graphs that anyone can follow, subjects them to appropriate statistical analyses, and arrives at conclusions that can stand on their scholarly merits: NCLB has not had a significant impact on overall test scores and has not narrowed the racial and socioeconomic achievement gap.

Is it too early to tell? As a parent who has had children in public schools since NCLB began, I don't think so. The Frederick County, Md., schools our children have attended have turned themselves inside out to try to produce the right test results, with dismaying effects on the content of classroom instruction and devastating effects on teacher morale. We actually lost our best English teacher to the effects of high-stakes testing. "I want to teach my students how to write," he said, "not teach them how to pass a test that says they can write." He quit.

So, yes, I think that if we parents have had to put up with these kinds of troubling effects on our children's schooling for four years, we are entitled to expect evidence of results. After all, "accountability" is NCLB's favorite word, and the Department of Education is holding school systems accountable for improvements in test scores with a vengeance. Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander.

The Department of Education will undoubtedly produce numbers to dispute the findings of the Civil Rights Project, which brings me to the point of this essay. Those numbers will consist largely of pass percentages, not mean scores. A particular score is deemed to separate "proficient" from "not proficient." Reach that score, and you've passed the test. If 60% of one group--blondes, let's say--pass while only 50% of redheads pass, then the blonde-redhead gap is 10 percentage points.

A pass percentage is a bad standard for educational progress. Conceptually, "proficiency" has no objective meaning that lends itself to a cutoff. Administratively, the NCLB penalties for failure to make adequate progress give the states powerful incentives to make progress as easy to show as possible. A pass percentage throws away valuable information, telling you whether someone got over a bar, but not how high the bar was set or by how much the bar was cleared. Most importantly: If you are trying to measure progress in closing group differences, a comparison of changes in pass percentages is inherently misleading.

Take the case of Texas, from which George Bush acquired his faith in NCLB. As the president described it to the Urban League in 2003: "In my state, Texas, 73% of the white students passed the math test in 1994, while only 38% of African-American students passed it. So we made that the point of reference. We had people focused on the results for the first time--not process, but results. And because teachers rose to the challenge, because the problem became clear, that gap has now closed to 10 points." President Bush's numbers are accurately stated. They are also meaningless.

Any test that meets ordinary standards produces an approximation of what statisticians call a "normal distribution" of scores--a bell curve--because achievement in any open-ended skill such as reading comprehension or mathematics really is more or less normally distributed. The tests that produce anything except a bell curve are usually ones so simple that large proportions of students get every item correct. They hide the underlying normal distribution, but don't change it. Thus point No. 1, that using easy tests and discussing results in terms of pass percentages obscures a reality that NCLB seems bent on denying: All the children cannot be above average. They cannot all even be proficient, if "proficient" is defined legitimately. Some children do not have the necessary skills. Point No. 2 goes to the inherent distortions introduced by the use of pass percentages: Because of the underlying normal distribution, a gain in a given number of points has varying effects on group differences depending on where the gain falls.

To illustrate point No. 2, consider a test that has a hundred-point scale with a mean of 50 and a standard deviation of 15 (the standard deviation, a measure of the variability of the scores, tells you how tall and skinny or how short and broad the bell curve will be). How many students are involved when a range of, say, 10 points is at issue? The shaded areas in Figure 1 show two possibilities.

The total area under the bell curve includes all the students. The shaded area on the left includes all those with a score of 40 to 49 points--24.8% of all students, if the distribution is perfectly normal. The shaded area on the right includes all those with a score of 80 to 89 points--just 1.9% of all students. Suppose we are still comparing redheads and blondes. If the mean score of redheads goes from 40 to 50, it has risen all the way from the 25th to the 50th percentile of all students. If the blonde mean goes from 80 to 90, it has moved merely from the 98th to the 99th percentile of all students. You do not have to be a statistician to see that these built-in features of normally distributed scores--gains that are equal in points are not equal in the number of students they affect or in the percentile distances that students move--complicate the use of pass percentages when comparing groups.

If you want to get deeper into the math, you may visit a quirky and provocative Web site,, run by someone who calls himself La Griffe du Lion. I surmise that he is an established scholar--a quantitative discipline seems likely--who once published on the fraught topic of group differences, learned how unpleasant and even professionally perilous that can be, and decided to remain anonymous henceforth. In any case, his technical skills are first rate. Click on the topic line entitled "Closing the Racial Learning Gap" for a much more detailed version of the argument and data that I am presenting here.

For our purposes, you need know only this: If the real difference between two groups, measured as it should be with means and standard deviations, remains constant, the size of the pass-percentage gap between two groups changes nonlinearly in a mathematically inevitable way. In other words, if there really is a constant, meaningful difference between groups, you can generate a curve that predicts how the point gap will change as tests are made easier or harder or as students become more or less competent. La Griffe has done this, and his curve fits the Texas data almost perfectly. In Figure 2, the white pass rate is used as the basis for predicting the size of the white-black gap. The circles represent the observed sizes of the test score gap from 1994 to 2002.

Test scores in Texas went up for both blacks and whites. Maybe that's good news, representing real gains in learning for everyone, or maybe it's not so good, representing the effects of teaching to the test. The data Texas reports do not permit a judgment. But the black gains are almost exactly what would be predicted if the magnitude of the underlying black-white difference remained unchanged. If there really was closure of the gap, all that Texas has to do is release the group means, as well as information about the black and white distributions of scores, and it will easy to measure it. Whatever the real closure may be, however, it cannot come close to the dramatic reduction that President Bush found in the difference between black and white pass rates.

In this instance, the percentage-passed measure misleadingly showed a huge reduction in the black-white achievement gap. But look at the left-hand side of the curve. In a state that imposes tough standards--for example, one that establishes a threshold that only 40% of whites pass--across-the-board improvements in scores can misleadingly show an increase in the white-black achievement gap when none occurred.

Question: Doesn't this mean that the same set of scores could be made to show a rising or falling group difference just by changing the definition of a passing score? Answer: Yes. At stake is not some arcane statistical nuance. The federal government is doling out rewards and penalties to school systems across the country based on changes in pass percentages. It is an uninformative measure for many reasons, but when it comes to measuring one of the central outcomes sought by No Child Left Behind, the closure of the achievement gap that separates poor students from rich, Latino from white, and black from white, the measure is beyond uninformative. It is deceptive.



The Education Secretary praised independent schools yesterday for helping children to become more rounded individuals by teaching sport, music and drama and allowing them to develop the social skills needed in the workplace. Alan Johnson, the MP for Hull West and Hessle, is widely tipped as Labour's next deputy leader. He made the comments a day after revealing that he had appealed to a private school to admit the gifted son of a constituent because there were no suitable state schools in the area. His speech to the National Family and Parenting Institute in London irritated teachers' unions and leftwingers.

He told parents: "One of the reasons why independent schools get such good results, apart from the level of selection and the extra resources, is the time they spend with children doing sport, music and drama, building social skills, confidence and team-working. "This helps children develop not just academic and vocational skills but social skills as well. These skills are vital in today's workforce where the ability to communicate, interact and engage are essential - they are the skills which employers increasingly look for first."

Mr Johnson said that schools could play a role in the community and help children to develop not just academic and vocational skills, but also social skills. The former postman and grammar school boy said that some primary schools were trying to develop good team-working and communication skills in young children through the "seal" programme, which is on trial in Nottingham.

In February, the managers of 222 top businesses said that they did not expect to receive applications from graduates "with the correct skills". The reason, they said, was that students spent too much time studying and not enough time joining clubs, where they might learn how to work in teams and give presentations. Poor spelling, grammar and arithmetic were also problems.

John McDonnell, the Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington and a fierce opponent of private schools, dismissed Mr Johnson's comments. He said: "It runs counter to all the evidence . . . that comprehensive education builds up social cohesion, whereas private education reinforces the divisions."

Teachers' leaders said that the minister had shown naivety. Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said that one of the biggest selling points of private schools was smaller class sizes, which made it easier for teachers to give pupils more individual attention. "Reducing class sizes has a direct impact on the time teachers can spend with children," he said. The only limit on class sizes for state schools was 30 for children aged 5 to 7. Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "We think there are a lot of independent schools which provide an excellent education and we would really love state schools to have the resources to do the same."

Mr Johnson's speech was edited before being posted on his department's website. The edited version omitted any reference to independent schools.When asked why, an adviser said: "This should be as delivered - but some of the party political sections have been removed for propriety reasons."



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, July 26, 2006


Why feed your kid when the school will do it? Particularly if you are an illegal immigrant, which a large proportion of those discussed below are. And the schools probably do a better job of feeding the kids than they do of educating them. Just what we all need: Well-fed dunces!

More than half of California's K-12 public education students enrolled in free or reduced-price meal programs last year, the first time that the majority of youngsters were approved for assistance, according to state and federal officials. California was one of a dozen states where the majority of students were certified for such programs, said Jean Daniel, a U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman.

In Contra Costa, almost a third of all students signed up for the federally subsidized lunch and breakfast programs, the third school year in a row the county has seen an increase in the percentage of students. Nearly seven out of 10 Pittsburg students enrolled, the largest percentage in Contra Costa, and an increase for the fifth year in a row. Roughly six out of 10 West Contra Costa students registered, according to the state Department of Education. "That's what schools are combating -- the impact of poverty," said Tom Tesler, director of categorical programs for Antioch schools, where almost 40 percent of students are enrolled in meal assistance. "The overlying factor that no one argues with is why students perform poorly is poverty. The socio-economic condition makes it difficult for them to do well in school."

State and federal officials, food-policy advocates and scholars point to a variety of factors for the increase, such as higher costs of living and stagnant wages, improved efforts to enroll students and changing views that school-meal programs are an important tool for families.

More funds for meals

Although some scholars consider the milestone another sign of public school decline, school food service managers and food-policy advocates see the increasing percentage of enrollees as a boon. Not only does it mean more students are being served, it also brings more federal money to school districts. "It's good for me financially," said Heidy Camorongan, director of food services for West Contra Costa schools. "The more free-and-reduced students I have who qualify -- I can feed them. Then once I feed them, I can claim reimbursement from the (federal government) and the state."

The larger trend of growing need may be difficult to address, but the federal government's capacity to change nutrition is huge, said Matt Sharp of California Food Policy Advocates. "On the micro level it positively influences the long-term eating habits of half of public-school children in the state," he said. To be eligible for free meals, the income of a student's family must be at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty line. For a family of four, that will equal $26,000 next school year. To qualify for reduced-price meals, for which students are not charged more than 40 cents, annual income must be from 131 percent to 185 percent of the poverty line, which would be at or below $37,000 next year for the same-sized family. A full-cost lunch is $2.50 at Antioch secondary schools, for instance, and $2.25 at elementary schools.

'Psychological marker'

Although the percentage of the enrolled students hovered under 50 percent for the three previous school years, crossing the majority threshold is a psychological marker for California, said Sean Reardon, an education professor at Stanford University. That does not mean that half the state's families are poor, said Deborah Reed, an economist with the Public Policy Institute of California. But free and reduced-price lunches commonly are used to gauge child poverty and are a prime marker of a school's socio-economic structure. A 2003 Public Policy Institute study shows that a school's academic performance tends to decline when the percentage of students who receive free or reduced-price lunch increases.

The state's child poverty rate stayed relatively the same from 2000 to 2004, at about 20 percent, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty. The percentage of low-income children, which includes poor children, declined slightly in that period to about 43 percent. Meanwhile, state Department of Education figures show that the percentage of students who receive free or reduced-price lunch has increased over the past five school years. Kathleen Walden, assistant director of child nutrition services for Pittsburg schools, said she sees more students approved for reduced-price lunch and fewer free lunches.

More here


Parents of persistent school bullies could face fines of up to 1,000 pounds if they fail to tackle their children's behaviour. The Government has issued tough new guidelines on cyber-bullying as research published today shows that one in five pupils has been bullied via their mobile phone or the internet. Under the guidelines, schools will have to monitor "all e-communications on the school site or as part of school activities off-site". They will also have to update their anti-bullying policies and teach pupils e-etiquette.

"No child should suffer the misery of bullying, online or offline, and we will support schools in tackling it in cyberspace with the same vigilance as in the playground," said Jim Knight, the Schools Minister. "Every school should account for cyber-bullying in their compulsory anti-bullying policies, and should take firm action where it occurs." Mr Knight said that the Education and Inspections Bill would give teachers a "legal right to discipline pupils" and enable them to take firm action on bullying. Meanwhile, orders would force parents to tackle their child's persistent bullying and attend parenting classes or face 1,000 pound fines. Currently, pupils must be excluded once or suspended twice from school before their parents face any fine.

According to recent estimates, almost two thirds of teenagers aged 13 to 17 have home pages on networking sites, where they post photographs or chat with friends. A survey for the Anti-Bullying Alliance - involving 92 pupils from 14 London schools - found that a fifth had been victims of bullying by text, email or phone at least once or twice in the past two months. "Happy slapping" - in which an attack on a victim is videoed via mobile phone - was considered to be the worst form of cyber-bullying, while chatroom and instant-message bullying were considered less harmful than traditional forms. One third of the victims said that they did not report bullying incidents.

The study was led by Peter Smith, Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths College, London. He said: "Ten years ago, psychologists thought of aggression in verbal or physical terms, which traditionally was a male domain. But cyber-bullying is more akin to relational or indirect bullying, such as spreading rumours, where girls are more likely to get involved." For phone abuse, the Government recommends that victims turn off incoming SMS for a few days, change their phone number and do not reply to text or video messages. Text harrassment is punishable by up to six months in prison.



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, July 25, 2006


Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, stood accused of fooling himself yesterday, as he prepared to defend the rising number of A grades at GCSE and A level in recent years. Weeks before this year’s results are published, Mr Johnson will launch a pre-emptive strike against critics of the ever-rising pass rate by insisting that pupils are simply getting better at exams. Since Labour came to power the proportion of young people getting five good GCSE passes has risen by 6.8 percentage points from 54.4 per cent in 1997 to 61.2 per cent in 2005. Last summer almost a quarter of all students were awarded one A grade or more at A level. Universities complain that they can no longer discriminate between the bright and the brightest. Pupils, teachers and examiners insist that the exams have not got any easier despite the improvement in results.

Now the Government claims that research carried out to investigate the writing skills of 16-year-olds proves that children’s achievements have improved over the past decade. Mr Johnson will today tell the UK Youth Parliament meeting at Leicester University that young people must be praised for excelling in exams. “We should be celebrating the fact that pass rates are going up and attainment is rising,” he will say. “Despite the received wisdom of those that seek to detract from the achievements of our young people, research shows young people’s performance is improving.” The minister will cite a report called Variations in Aspects of Writing Between 1980 and 2004 as evidence that the crucial skills of punctuation, grammar and vocabulary have risen in the past decade.

The study, by Cambridge Assessment, examined sentences written by 1,779 teenagers in the creative writing sections of English exams in 1980, 1993, 1994 and 2004. The academics found that today’s GCSE pupils have a better mastery of written English than a decade ago and that pupils use a wider range of vocabulary and have a better grasp of grammar. The report’s authors said: “This evidence of improvement in skills which are fundamental to academic work in all subjects — not just English — should prove very welcome to all concerned in education.”

However, Alan Smithers, director of education and employment research at the University of Buckingham, said that the minister was “fooling himself” over the grades being achieved in the exams. Professor Smithers said that independent studies had shown “no, or slight, improvements” in student achievement, and that this research did not support Mr Johnson’s claims.

The report, which was published last year, looked specifically at vocabulary, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure and the use of non-standard English. However, the authors said that investigating “vital qualitative features of writing, such as imagination, content and style” was impossible on the evidence. Sylvia Green, director of research at Cambridge Assessment, said that the study had found a dip in performance in the 1980s, but that during the 1990s punctuation, grammar and vocabulary had returned to previous standards.


Low-income Australian families turn to private schools

It tells you a lot about the standards prevailing in most government schools

One in six children at independent schools is from a low-income family, a report on social trends has found. Data collected for 2003-04 and published in the Australian Bureau of Statistics report Australian Social Trends 2006 shows 16 per cent of students at independent secondary schools and 17 per cent of Catholic school students were from low-income families. More than one-quarter of students in government schools were from low-income households and 8 per cent were from high-income-earning families. The proportion of students from high-income households at independent schools was 26 per cent, compared with 16 per cent at Catholic schools.

The head of Christian Schools Australia, Stephen O'Doherty, said 80 per cent of students in schools belonging to the organisation were from families in the bottom half of income groups. "It is not the high-income families that have driven enrolments at all. The growth of enrolments in Christian schools are people in low income groups," he said. "It tells us that low-income families will spend money on education rather than other things. People will work two jobs and the perception is that they get quality education from non-government schools, values and discipline." Mr O'Doherty said even non-church goers were seeking "biblically-grounded values".

The Federal Government is reviewing its formula for funding private schools. Mr O'Doherty said the low-fee schools could become unaffordable for low-income families unless the Government addressed the way its formula was being applied. Brian Croke, who heads the Catholic Education Commission NSW, said the proportion of families who could afford to send their children to Catholic and independent schools was declining. Both were looking at expanding their scholarship programs to ensure low-income families were not shut out.

The report also shows that parents spent an average of $8690 on independent secondary school fees. Government secondary school fees were about $390. Fees at Catholic secondary schools averaged $3600. The Government was contributing an average of $10,000 for each student in public schools, almost double the $5600 it spent on students in private schools. Parents contributed more than $400 million in school fees and donations to government schools. Independent schools received more than half, and Catholic schools 22 per cent of their funding from fees and charges.

The data confirms the drift from public to private schools: 67.1 per cent of students were in government schools last year, against 71 per cent in 1995. The proportion of students in non-government schools has grown from 29 per cent in 1995 to 32.9 per cent last year. In NSW, government school enrolments fell from 749,880 in 2003 to 740,439 in 2005. Numbers in non-government schools grew from 357,456 to 367,247. Between 1995 and 2005 the total number of schools nationally fell by 25 as a result of amalgamations and closures. The number of independent schools increased by almost 20 per cent in that time.



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, July 24, 2006


Boys are falling behind in school and getting in trouble outside of it. Many seem to have a blank spot where their ambition should be. What's gone wrong?

Who says there's a boy crisis?

Nearly everyone involved in education-and the statistics bear them out. Girls have opened a big gap over boys in reading and writing skills, and that gap grows wider the longer they are in school. In many high school honors and advanced-placement courses, girls outnumber boys five to one. Boys' share of college admissions has dropped to 42 percent and is declining steadily. Boys also are responsible for 80 percent of school discipline problems. They are almost twice as likely as girls to be suspended from school, while four out of five high school dropouts are male. And their problems extend far beyond the classroom. Boys are considerably more likely to commit violent crimes and go to prison. The suicide rate for boys has tripled since the 1970s, and is now four to six times the rate for girls.

Does the trend hold for boys of all races?

Yes, but the disparities are most dramatic among blacks and Hispanics. They bring up the rear in academic performance, and they have a much greater chance of being held back than either white boys, or girls of any racial or ethnic group. The achievement gap turns into a gulf as minority children grow older. Less than half of black and Hispanic boys graduate from high school, compared to nearly 60 percent of black and Hispanic girls and more than 70 percent of whites and Asians of either sex.

What's behind the gender gap?

There is no single explanation. Some experts say teachers often fail to take into account differences between boys' and girls' brains. Studies have shown that because of the way male brains are structured, boys prefer more kinetic, hands-on learning. Girls develop their verbal abilities earlier, so they generally learn to read younger and faster. Others blame feminism. Christina Hoff Sommers, author of The War Against Boys, argues that a feminist ethic has taken over education-to the detriment of boys. Boys are naturally boisterous and competitive, Sommers says, but mainstream education stresses decorum and obedience, making boys feel like outsiders. She also says reading lists are dominated by female-oriented literature that turns boys off to reading, which seems "girlish." Still other experts blame the broader culture.

What does culture have to do with it?

Author William Pollack argues in Real Boys that popular culture teaches boys to suppress all emotions except rage. This "boy code," Pollack says, prizes toughness and rebellion, and denigrates studiousness and traditional achievement. "The message does not come across that being smart is being cool," says University of Washington administrator Thomas Calhoun. This problem appears to be particularly acute among urban blacks. More than 50 percent of young black males grow up without fathers, and their role models are hip-hop stars who rap about financing their gaudy lifestyles through drugs or prostitution. Black youngsters who do try to stick to their studies often find themselves taunted for "acting white." In recent years, these attitudes have been adopted by middle-class white kids for whom hip-hop is the very definition of cool-and who assume they can succeed in life even if they don't get good grades. "The men don't seem to hustle as much," Jen Smyers, a dean's-list student at American University in Washington, D.C., recently told The New York Times. "They seem to think that if they have a firm handshake and speak properly, they'll be fine."

Why do they think that?

Partly, because it used to be true. Until recently, a college degree had little affect on the average earning power of men, because men dominated high-paying trades like plumbing, electrical work, and construction. And even for those going into white-collar professions, family and personal connections could often make up for a poor academic record. But in the new service- and technology-based economy, men must now compete directly with large numbers of highly educated, ambitious women and immigrants. Boys whose "educational attainment is not keeping up with the demands of the economy," says educator Tom Mortenson, are headed for trouble.

Can anything be done?

Yes-and some of the most promising solutions are the simplest. School psychologist Michael Thompson favors recruiting more male teachers, who now are outnumbered by female teachers by almost nine to one. One school principal reported that fights at his school dropped by 40 percent in one year after he recruited more male teachers. Other educators favor single-sex education, so curricula can be more finely tailored to boys' learning styles. Some parents have even begun to hold their sons out of kindergarten for a year, to give them a chance to catch up with the girls developmentally. "There is a still huge resistance to the idea that boys need help," says Lisen Stromberg, president of the nonprofit advocacy group Supporting Our Sons. "It flies in the face of our ideals of manhood in America." But the best way to make stronger men, Stromberg says, "is by having emotionally resilient boys who do well in the classroom."

The `Boomerang Kids'

Parents are paying the price for boys' failure to achieve. The Census Bureau reports that almost 14 percent of 25- to 34-year-old American men still live with their parents. (Only 8 percent of women in that age group live at home.) The trend holds for all races, ethnic groups, and economic classes, and has become so widespread that it has entered the popular culture. The recent film Failure to Launch centers on a 35-year-old man who still lives with his exasperated mom and dad. A similar premise underlies a new Fox sitcom, Free Ride. Housing developers, meanwhile, are starting to design homes to accommodate these so-called boomerang kids, adding separate entrances, bedrooms, and bathrooms to new single-family homes. Simple economics helps explain why so many young men are returning to the nest. Recent college graduates are carrying 85 percent more debt than graduates of a decade ago, while pay for entry-level jobs has not kept pace with inflation. "Him living here is not a problem for us," said Harry Hartshorne, a suburban Detroit retiree whose 42-year-son, Neal, a stained-glass craftsman, has been living at home since his early 20s. "It may be a problem for him, but he's not anxious to solve it."



A view from the inside

If you believe that Government provides the solutions, then you have to believe in me. As a member of an elected board of education I have been granted the power to mandate solutions to local education and health issues, real or perceived. My qualifications: I was elected to my position by receiving sufficient votes to beat enough of the other candidates. I was not elected by a majority, more like a plurality of the 25% or so residents who chose to vote in that election. Not much of a mandate, but I will take what I can get.

You see, once ensconced on the board, the fact that close to 85% of the residents in my district of voting age either voted against me, or decided my election was not worth their time, carries no weight. The power vested in my position, and now in me, by Ohio state law does not depend on unanimity of support. It does not even depend on majority support. All I needed was to be the marginal vote-getter in an off-year election and the board seat was mine.

Interestingly, the same folks who would never accept my omniscience as a friend, neighbor, or community member, accept my omniscience as an elected official. Of course these folks don't consciously acknowledge my omniscience, but they do subscribe to the omniscience of the governmental body, the school board in this instance. It is as if the board as a whole attains a higher plane of reason where the whole is multiples of the sum of the parts. In reality, most board members are simply parents trying to make the best decisions for their own children. Certainly they pray that they are right, but they do not subscribe to their omniscience at home, just in the board room.

Based on lots of research and agonizing internal reasoning, or simply the result of my then-current whim and fancy, I get to make decisions that affect the lives and future of other’s children. All it takes is for an article in an education periodical or posting on a web site to catch my attention and I could be advocating the next nuttiness in your life. Should someone suggest that children today are overfed and under-exercised, I could be writing the new policies, procedures, and guidelines that mandate each child eat nothing but organic carrots at lunch and perform sets of jumping-jacks at their desks on the hour, every hour.

Sound far-fetched? Well, it’s not. Every crazy idea has both advocates and enablers. The advocates push the issue while the enablers nod their collective heads in approval. It really does not matter if the enablers truly agree with the advocates since the enablers will never call the advocates into question. The lovers of Liberty try to make a stand but find their voices lost in the sea of feel-good, collective consensus-building. The crazy idea then ends up before the board and I get to decide. Will whim and fancy, or research and reason, be my guide? You never can really tell.

So I get to decide on the issue while you get to fear the results as the occasional band of roaming morons spray paint SUVs, demand that KFC play Mozart in their slaughterhouses – yes, the chicken we eat must be slaughtered somewhere, and protest McDonalds and Wal-Mart as evil incarnate. These are products of a system that I get to run based on my world-view, or the world-view that piques my interest at any given time.

And I get to change with the winds, not so much based on political pressures, but based on the ideas or ideals that I believe today that all children must believe tomorrow. As my views flutter in the wind, new advocates arrive on the scene and the increase of crazy ideas reaches hurricane speeds while the enablers bob their heads in accelerating unison.

The problem is that local government is simply comprised of friends, neighbors, community members, who you generally appreciate but whose views on very personal matters, such as parenting, are not always the same as yours; just as you do not always agree with the parental decisions of those closest to you – your parents and siblings. In fact, one of the easiest ways to end a family reunion in anger is to begin telling siblings how to raise their children.

In addition, even if I possessed the latest research on education and had advanced reasoning skills, as an elected official, a member of government, the best I can offer is my opinions and beliefs, and I am wrong more often than right. Education research is based on standards that can never match consumer desires, and all opinions and beliefs of that research are nothing more than an individual’s bias. Without a free market and real consumers driving the education system, expect waste and inefficiencies; failures. But give us, your school boards, power and we will decide; we will indoctrinate as we see fit, based on our own biases or those biases fed to us by educationist organizations.

But society must allow parents to raise and indoctrinate their children as they see fit, not as the unionized wing of government sees fit. Thomas Jefferson believed that it was far better to suffer the occasional fool than to create a school system that offends fathers, and mothers. I assume that the majority of parents would opt for their own decision-making skills if pushed to decide, but I may be wrong.

Why do so many people have such little faith in their own parenting, and their neighbors' parenting, that they truly believe that without a unionized labor force inculcating children, nothing of value will ever be learned? Are we really at the point where the future of civilization is in the hands of the public school education monopoly? Maybe preschool should start right after birth so that parents have no adverse influence on their children. And, why do residents feel that I can make the decisions for their children that they would not allow to be made by members of their own family?

The answer is that they have accepted collectivism in the form of government as the solution. Whereas our forebears rebelled against such paternalism – or do-gooder nanny-ism – the current generations have come to accept government in all facets of their lives. We allow the schools to dictate our children’s future and simply assume that the schools are always rights. We allow the local health department and schools to decide what goes in our children’s lunch boxes and accept that mandate as correct.

How in the world did my election to the board cloak me in the cape of omniscience and allow me to be more enlightened than regular folks? Karl Marx and the other socialists and communists saw little need for the family and other institutions; they believed that they knew better. Gramsci, the Italian socialist, believed that socialism would win in the end if it based its means on a strategy of long-term goals; a Fabian approach. Why fight in the streets when the damage can be done by destroying families and institutions?

In many ways, we have allowed socialist collectivism to be the main outcome of public education. The schools create the environment that nurtures the advocate and encourages the complacency of the enabler. It is really no wonder that the collective body, the school board, is assumed to be omniscient while the individual board member, in his non-board role, is simply considered one in the crowd.

Don't simply sit back and be a silent enabler, stand for freedom against the aggressions of the advocator. And remember, if this is so, that the schools and all other local governments are always right, that simply means that I am always right. And even I do not agree with that.



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, July 23, 2006


Sikh, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, and Christian - each faith has its holy days. Schools across the country are asking how to respect them all. Consider the University at Albany, which canceled classes on major Muslim holidays. Faculty wanted the move out of concern for Muslim students after the Sept. 11 attacks. But then came the questions: What about Hindus? Buddhists? President Kermit Hall last fall decided to return to the original calendar. "Can you operate a university and give each religious group an accommodation? I think the answer is, 'No,'" he said.

Make that "maybe." School administrators across the country are rethinking their calendars as their student bodies become more diverse. In May, Muslim parents asked New York City's education department for days off on two major Muslim holidays, which some districts in Michigan and New Jersey already have granted. In January, a Long Island mosque petitioned New York Gov. George Pataki to consider the holidays when scheduling mandatory statewide testing. Last month, the state Legislature passed a bill that would take all religious holidays into account when scheduling the mandatory tests. The Council on American-Islamic Relations called it the first step toward recognizing Muslim holidays in public schools.

But also last month, despite a Muslim group's lobbying at every board meeting, the Baltimore County district in Maryland approved a calendar with a day off for the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashana, but none for Muslim holidays. The group had hoped the district's growing diversity - 47.8 percent of students last year were minorities - would be persuasive. "Either I go against my faith, or I miss my schoolwork and have imperfect attendance," said 15-year-old Kanwal Rehman, who will enter 10th grade in Baltimore this fall. In January, her midterm exams fell during Eid al-Adha, one of the two most important holidays in Islam.

It can get complicated. When Muslims in the Tampa Bay region of Florida asked for a day off to celebrate the end of Ramadan, another local religious group perked up. "There was discussion in the Hindu community if we should also push for a holiday," said Nikhil Joshi, a board member of the national Hindu American Foundation. The Hillsborough County school board responded by ending days off for all religious holidays. The move inspired more than 3,500 e-mails. Christian leaders pleaded for the Muslim holiday. Finally, the district restored this fall's original calendar, with days off for Good Friday, Easter Monday and the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur. The Muslim community was relieved it hadn't hurt other faiths. The Hindu community decided not to ask for days off. "You would hope in a country of religious freedom all would be recognized, but we know that's not practical," Joshi said.

School districts say they can't take days off for purely religious reasons, but they can act if they think operations are affected by students or staff taking the day off. That practice gives school holidays a certain regional flair. Some schools close for the beginning of hunting season. San Francisco schools have Cesar Chavez Day on March 30 to celebrate farmworkers, and Chicago schools have March 5 to honor Casimir Pulaski, a Polish count who helped the American side in the Revolutionary War.

Religion is more sensitive. Some districts mark "special observance days" when no test or exam can be scheduled. Other districts find inspiration in the business world - each student gets a number of "floating" days to celebrate his or her own holidays with an excused absence. "'Choose your own holiday' has become more popular," said Kathryn Lohre, assistant director of Harvard University's Pluralism Project, which studies diversity in religion. "It takes pressure off the school boards."

New Jersey's board of education now lists 76 excused religious holidays, from Russian Orthodox to Sikh. New York City schools are even more flexible. Students with a letter from parents get an excused absence for a holiday in any religion. Some have tried the traditional route of schoolwide holidays, and failed. In Ohio, the Sycamore Community School District once canceled classes on the Jewish High Holy Days after some parents asked why schools closed on Good Friday. Muslim and Hindu parents then asked why they didn't get days off. The American Civil Liberties Union sued the district. The case was settled in 2000, and the High Holy Days became school days again.



What will higher education look like in 50 years? If you weren't in Honolulu a couple of weeks ago, you might not know. Alas, I wasn't there either. But a glance at the panels of a conference convened there--called "The Campus of the Future"--offers a clue: College in the coming decades will have even less to do with learning than it does now. Of the conference's almost 200 offerings--e.g., "Responding to Climate Change," "Branding Your Identity" and "Takin' It to the Streets"--none seemed to have even a tangential relation to the idea that, in college, teachers are supposed to impart knowledge to students.

The organizers, in their defense, are not academics and probably don't consider it their jobs to think about what goes on inside classrooms. (The sponsoring groups included the Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers and the National Association of College and University Business Officers.) But they were interested enough in classroom life to ask Thomas Friedman to lecture on the topic. The New York Times columnist obliged, offering his thoughts on what colleges can do to keep America competitive in a global economy.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Mr. Friedman "urged educators to focus less on concrete outcomes like grades and test scores and more on teaching students how to learn, instilling passion and curiosity in them and developing their intuitive skills." To anyone who has followed the rhetoric of educationists in recent years, these bromides will sound familiar. Suffice it to say that if colleges take up Mr. Friedman's suggestions, they will move further away from their academic mission, and the kind of student who thrives in a university environment will change.

Mr. Friedman suggested to his audience of 4,000 that preparing students for an uncertain future was akin to "training for the Olympics without knowing which sport you will compete in." This blustery overstatement is also painfully familiar: Change is so rapid, we are told, that we can't even imagine what the future will look like. I recently found myself at a "career night" at my old high school in Worcester, Mass., where I heard ideas similar to Mr. Friedman's. An alumnus on my panel advised students that "the job [you] will hold probably doesn't even exist today."

One has to wonder whether such claims will become, for students, an excuse for laziness. Remember the young Alvy Singer in Woody Allen's "Annie Hall"? Upon finding out that the universe will eventually come to an end, he decides to stop doing his homework. In such a way, students today--hectored about the hyper-changing world they are in--may decide that there is no point in traditional learning since the future will be so very different. Why read Gibbon when only "intuitive skills" are going to be worth anything?

But for all the anxiety of education experts, it may well be that the skills that were useful to our parents and grandparents will be useful for years to come. People who edit Web sites, after all, still have to know grammar. Biologists who manipulate DNA still have to know the phases of meiosis. Businessmen--who, Mr. Friedman suggests, now need to be "synthesizers," and "adaptors"--still have to know how to calculate the bottom line. Even columnists may find that the history they learned in school comes in handy (though perhaps not often enough).

A few years ago, David Brooks wrote a piece for The Atlantic called "The Organization Kid," in which he described the harried life of a college student today. At Princeton, Mr. Brooks recounted, he "asked several students to describe their daily schedules, and their replies sounded like a session of Future Workaholics of America: crew practice at dawn, classes in the morning, resident-adviser duty, lunch, study groups, classes in the afternoon, tutoring disadvantaged kids in Trenton, a cappella practice, dinner, study, science lab, prayer session, hit the StairMaster, study a few hours more."

Perhaps, as Mr. Brooks concluded, students are amazingly diligent these days. Perhaps they are more serious about college than, say, the baby boomers were. But study after study has shown that less and less of their time is devoted to academics. It is given over instead to "leveraging," "synthesizing" and other Friedman-ite activities, often aided by handy electronic organizers.

Some might say that a palm-piloted life is exactly what a young person will need for the 21st century. But not everyone is suited for it. We've been reading a lot recently about boys falling behind girls in school. You don't have to hang around teenagers for long to realize that girls are much bigger fans of to-do lists and neat calendars than boys. They are more adept at "multi-tasking," too. Meanwhile, boys throw themselves into one or two subjects, keep messy notes and need to be reminded where they have to be next.

Some dean may chalk these proclivities up to immaturity, but there is a reason to value the kind of academic single-mindedness that male students often bring to an educational environment--the kind of thing that pushes up those old-fashioned test scores. Even on the campus of the future.



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