Saturday, November 04, 2006

Why military history is being retired

A decade ago, best-selling author Stephen Ambrose donated $250,000 to the University of Wisconsin, his alma mater, to endow a professorship in American military history. A few months later, he gave another $250,000. Until his death in 2002, he badgered friends and others to contribute additional funds. Today, more than $1 million sits in a special university account for the Ambrose-Heseltine Chair in American History, named after its main benefactor and the long-dead professor who trained him.

The chair remains vacant, however, and Wisconsin is not currently trying to fill it. "We won't search for a candidate this school year," says John Cooper, a history professor. "But we're committed to doing it eventually." The ostensible reason for the delay is that the university wants to raise even more money, so that it can attract a top-notch senior scholar. There may be another factor as well: Wisconsin doesn't actually want a military historian on its faculty. It hasn't had one since 1992, when Edward M. Coffman retired. "His survey course on U.S. military history used to overflow with students," says Richard Zeitlin, one of Coffman's former graduate teaching assistants. "It was one of the most popular courses on campus." Since Coffman left, however, it has been taught only a couple of times, and never by a member of the permanent faculty.

One of these years, perhaps Wisconsin really will get around to hiring a professor for the Ambrose-Heseltine chair - but right now, for all intents and purposes, military history in Madison is dead. It's dead at many other top colleges and universities as well. Where it isn't dead and buried, it's either dying or under siege. Although military history remains incredibly popular among students who fill lecture halls to learn about Saratoga and Iwo Jima and among readers who buy piles of books on Gettysburg and D-Day, on campus it's making a last stand against the shock troops of political correctness. "Pretty soon, it may become virtually impossible to find military-history professors who study war with the aim of understanding why one side won and the other side lost," says Frederick Kagan, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who taught at West Point for ten years. That's bad news not only for those with direct ties to this academic sub-discipline, but also for Americans generally, who may find that their collective understanding of past military operations falls short of what the war-torn present demands.

The very first histories ever written were military histories. Herodotus described the Greek wars with Persia, and Thucydides chronicled the Peloponnesian War. "It will be enough for me," wrote Thucydides nearly 25 centuries ago, "if these words of mine are judged useful by those who want to understand clearly the events which happened in the past and which (human nature being what it is) will, at some time or other and in much the same ways, be repeated in the future." The Marine Corps certainly thinks Thucydides is useful: He appears on a recommended-reading list for officers. One of the most important lessons he teaches is that war is an aspect of human existence that can't be wished away, no matter how hard the lotus-eaters try.


Although the keenest students of military history have often been soldiers, the subject isn't only for them. "I don't believe it is possible to treat military history as something entirely apart from the general national history," said Theodore Roosevelt to the American Historical Association in 1912. For most students, that's how military history was taught - as a key part of a larger narrative. After the Second World War, however, the field boomed as veterans streamed into higher education as both students and professors. A general increase in the size of faculties allowed for new approaches, and the onset of the Cold War kept everybody's mind focused on the problem of armed conflict.

Then came the Vietnam War and the rise of the tenured radicals. The historians among them saw their field as the academic wing of a "social justice" movement, and they focused their attention on race, sex, and class. "They think you're supposed to study the kind of social history you want to support, and so women's history becomes advocacy for `women's rights,'" says Mary Habeck, a military historian at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C. "This makes them believe military historians are always advocates of militarism." Other types of historians also came under attack - especially scholars of diplomatic, intellectual, and maritime history - but perhaps none have suffered so many casualties as the "drums and trumpets" crowd. "Military historians have been hunted into extinction by politically active faculty members who think military history is a subject for right-wing, imperialistic warmongers," says Robert Bruce, a professor at Sam Houston State University in Texas.

At first glance, military history appears to have maintained beachheads on a lot of campuses. Out of 153 universities that award doctorates in history, 99 of them - almost 65 percent - have at least one professor who claims a research interest in war, according to S. Mike Pavelec, a military historian at Hawaii Pacific University. But this figure masks another problem: Social history has started to infiltrate military history, Trojan Horse-style. Rather than examining battles, leaders, and weapons, it looks at the impact of war upon culture. And so classes that are supposedly about the Second World War blow by the Blitzkrieg, the Bismarck, and the Bulge in order to celebrate the proto-feminism of Rosie the Riveter, condemn the national disgrace of Japanese-American internment, and ask that favorite faculty-lounge head-scratcher: Should the United States have dropped the bomb? "It's becoming harder and harder to find experts in operational military history," says Dennis Showalter of Colorado College. "All this social history is like Hamlet without the prince of Denmark."

Consider the case of Steve Zdatny, a history professor at West Virginia University. On his webpage, he lists World War I as one of his "teaching fields." But he's no expert in trench warfare or aerial dogfights. Here's how he describes his latest scholarship: "Having recently finished a history of the French hairdressing profession . . . I am now in the opening stages of research on a history of public and personal hygiene, which will examine evolving practices and sensibilities of cleanliness in twentieth-century France." His body of work includes journal articles with titles such as "The Boyish Look and the Liberated Woman: The Politics and Aesthetics of Women's Hairstyles."

Not that there's anything wrong with that. But when fashion history begins to crowd out military history, or even masquerade as it, the priorities of colleges and universities are clearly out of whack. "The prevailing view is that war is bad and we shouldn't study bad things," says Williamson Murray, a former professor who is now at the Institute for Defense Analyses. "Thank goodness cancer specialists don't have that attitude." The problem is most severe at first-tier schools. Two years ago, Coffman, the retired Wisconsin professor, pored over the faculties of the 25 best history departments, as determined by U.S. News & World Report. Among more than a thousand full-time professors, only 21 listed war as a specialty. "We're dying out," he says.

To make matters worse, faculties are refusing privately financed lifelines. Years ago, William P. Harris, the heir to a lumber fortune, tried to establish a chair in military history at Dartmouth, his alma mater. He offered $1.5 million to endow it, but the school turned him down. "Liberals on the faculty objected to the word `military,'" says Harris, who recently pledged his money to Hillsdale College, which was happy to accept it.

Another reason for the shortage of scholars is that military historians have been shut out of The American Historical Review, the most prestigious academic journal for history professors. Last year, John A. Lynn of the University of Illinois surveyed the last 150 issues of the AHR, which comes out five times annually. During this 30-year period, he couldn't find a single article that discussed the conduct of World War II. Other ignored wars included the American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. There was a single article on the English Civil War, dealing with atrocities committed therein. Lynn located precisely two articles on the U.S. Civil War. One of these also dealt with atrocities. "I guess military atrocities are attractive to the editors," he says. The only article on World War I focused on female soldiers in the Russian army. "I suspect the editors liked it because it was about women, not because it was about war." The lead article in the most recent issue of the AHR is about wigs in 18th-century France.

Although military history is sometimes viewed as a haven for conservative academics, Lynn calls himself a liberal Democrat. Yet his politics haven't swayed any of his left-wing colleagues to accept his field. "When I retire in a few years, I'm sure they won't replace me with another military historian," he says. "That will end a long tradition of teaching military history at Illinois." Other schools already have abandoned military history. James McPherson, the most celebrated living historian of the Civil War, recently retired from Princeton; his prospective replacement, Stephanie McCurry, is an expert in gender relations. The University of Michigan retreated from the field when Gerald Linderman and John Shy retired in the 1990s. Purdue failed to replace the late Gunther Rothenberg. "We had a really strong graduate program, with maybe 18 students," says Frederick Schneid, a former student of Rothenberg and now a military historian at North Carolina's High Point University. "But the department didn't bring in a new military historian and now it's gone."


Military history still clings to a few fortified positions. The service academies continue to teach it; cadets at West Point, for example, must take two semesters of military history during their senior year. ROTC students are also required to pass a course in military history, though the quality of these classes can vary dramatically. "We prefer a member of the regular faculty to teach them, and for these courses to include battle analysis," says Army Lt. Col. Gregory Daddis, the ROTC battalion commander at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "But not every campus has a faculty that can handle this." When a school can't satisfy this requirement - or doesn't want to - the instruction is left to ROTC officers. Elsewhere, students may take "military history" courses that are more likely to concentrate on the quilting patterns of Confederate war widows than Stonewall Jackson's flanking maneuver at Chancellorsville.

Several public universities - Kansas State, Ohio State, and Texas A&M - are highly regarded bastions of military history. A handful of strategic-studies programs, such as those at SAIS and Yale, also approach the subject with seriousness. But even these strongholds are besieged. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Security Studies Program recently introduced a new logo that features a compass. "It seemed there were complaints from others at MIT that the existing logo with its 18th-century cannons was too aggressive," complained Harvey Sapolsky, the center's retiring director, in a recent annual report. "And if the cannons offend, will not the work we do as well?"

Some military historians have found refuge in the military itself. The Army alone employs more than 200 civilian historians. They write official histories, teach at various war colleges and leadership schools, and research questions for active-duty personnel. "Just before the first Gulf War, we got a call from the Pentagon asking us to describe the historical experience of the Army in the desert," says Cody Phillips of the Army's Center of Military History. "So we prepared a report that focused on the North African campaign during the Second World War."

Military historians who try for a more conventional career, however, often confront the academic equivalent of urban warfare, with snipers behind every window and ambushes around every corner. "You shouldn't go into this field unless you really love the work," warns Showalter. "And you have to be ready, like Booker T. Washington, to cast down your bucket where you are." Many talented scholars wind up taking positions at second-rate institutions because they don't have other options.

Even though they're embattled, military historians have a not-so-secret weapon: the public's love for their area of expertise. When history departments actually offer military-history courses, students flock to them. "My classes max out right away," says Sam Houston's Bruce. "I like to think it's because I'm a good teacher, but this material simply sells itself." A surefire way for a history department to boost its enrollment figures - and perhaps win funding that is tied to the number of bodies it packs into classrooms - is to offer a survey course on a big American war.

The hunger for military history is even more obvious off campus. The History Channel used to broadcast so many programs on World War II that it was nicknamed "The Hitler Channel." It still airs a lot of shows on war, and now there's a separate Military History Channel. Booksellers and publishers also recognize the popularity of military history. Most large bookstores have shelves and shelves of titles on generals, GIs, and the wars they fought. "I'm always looking for good books on military history because there's such a large audience for them," says Joyce Seltzer, an editor at Harvard University Press. The audience is highly informed, too. "If you get the tiniest detail wrong, you're going to hear about it," says Arthur Herman, the author of a book on the Royal Navy. "This feedback from readers improves the overall quality of the scholarship."

The refusal of many history departments to meet the enormous demand for military history is striking - the perverse result of an ossified tenure system, scholarly navel-gazing, and ideological hostility to all things military. Unfortunately, this failure is more consequential than merely neglecting to supply students with the electives they want. "Knowledge of military history is an essential prerequisite for an informed national debate about security and statecraft," says Michael Desch, a political scientist at the Bush School of Government and Public Service in Texas. Many voters, for instance, don't know how to contextualize the nearly 23,000 U.S. military casualties in Iraq since 2003. That's a pretty big number. But it's also roughly the level of casualties suffered at Antietam in just one day, and a small fraction of the more than 200,000 casualties endured in Vietnam.

Critics of the war also have plenty to gain from a public that has a better understanding of older conflicts. "People might have realized that we have a poor track record of using the military to do nation-building in Third World countries," says Desch. "The model isn't Germany or Japan, but Nicaragua and the Philippines." Finally, the population of Americans who have served in the military is shrinking, and with it their knowledge of what armies and navies do.

Anybody who has studied the history of war knows that it's possible to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat - it happened at Shiloh, when a Confederate attack nearly routed the Union army, only to have General Grant drive them off the field of battle the next day. Perhaps military historians can stage a similar comeback. In their efforts to do so, they will be wise to remember something that Grant didn't know back in 1862: An awful lot of brutal fighting lies ahead.


The Sovietization of British school inspections

School inspections used to be about improving education. This is no longer the case, says Susan Elkin

I am teaching in an English department in a "bog standard" Kent high school and we are being inspected. Although we have only 500 pupils, we are joined by 13 men and women from London for a complete school week. One cerebral, interesting man is attached exclusively to the English department. Only five of us work in the department, so "our" inspector is with one or other of us almost continuously from Monday to Friday. He makes helpful comments and joins in. At the end of the week, he meets the whole department and shares some thoughts, ideas and observations with us. It is all very constructive.

When I pop along as usual to the music department at lunchtime on Tuesday to sing in the choir with the senior pupils, I find the music inspector helping our (only) music teacher by playing accompaniments so that she can get on with conducting. I also notice the science inspector apparently helping pupils with experiments when I pass the chemistry lab.

Did we know they were coming? Yes, we had a few weeks' notice and naturally we scurried around in advance to present our school in the best light. But there was no requirement to produce forests of pointless paper "policies" that no one ever looks at before or after the inspection. So, of course, this isn't Ofsted, with its dogma of discounting what isn't documented. I am winding the clock back more than 20 years to the early Eighties, when I was in a school that underwent a full inspection by Her Majesty's Inspectorate (HMI). Founded in the 19th century, HMI was the forerunner of Ofsted and has now been incorporated into it.

I was lucky to have this experience. HMI inspected schools like ours at random, but there was no brief to be exhaustive. It used to be said that, statistically, you could teach for 100 years and never see an inspector - clearly not ideal if you want teachers and schools to be accountable. Their method, however, was exemplary. No inspector in our school that week suggested there was one "correct" way of tackling a subject, organising a lesson, assessing work or relating to pupils. They had the wisdom to know that there are almost as many good learning methods as there are teachers, and that encouraging those who are clearly good at the job to build on their strengths and "to go with what works" is far more likely to get good results - and I don't mean just examination grades. There was no evidence of fixed criteria and there were certainly no tick boxes.

Compare that with the blinkered reductiveness of Ofsted, whose purpose is to enforce the Government's dumbed-down education policies and to suppress breadth and initiative. If a teacher isn't doing precisely what the Department for Education and Ofsted dictate, his or her lesson is publicly damned as "unsatisfactory". Anastasia de Waal, author of Inspection, Inspection, Inspection!, recently published by the think tank Civitas, argues that Ofsted is a Government lapdog, not the education watchdog it pretends to be. A spokesman for one of the schools Miss de Waal cites said: "If there is a box for it, it must be ticked and if something doesn't have box, it's ignored." Another commented: "When I challenged a judgment in discussion, the inspectors shrugged their shoulders, saying they simply had 'to follow the rules and tick the boxes'."

One of the Government's obsessions is with rigidly structured lessons. Mine always began with a greeting, a joke and then, mostly, "Let's start from where we got to yesterday". In 36 years of reasonably successful teaching, I rarely managed a self-contained lesson - because life and learning are simply not divisible into neat units for the convenience of petty bureaucrats. Moreover, good, confident teachers who know what they're doing and who care about learning can never quite predict where a lesson is going. A pupil might ask an interesting question and the discussion might veer off in a relevant, but unexpected, direction - anathema to control freaks and Ofsted inspectors.

Driven out partly by the absurdity of the Ofsted inspections, Sue Gibson no longer teaches garden history in a further education college. "I was criticised for not altering my method of delivery every 10 to 15 minutes," she says. "In a two-hour lesson, that would have meant changing my teaching method at least eight times. These were college students being prepared for the workplace. Producing students with a concentration span of only 15 minutes would, to any sane person's thinking, only add to the numbers of unemployed." Miss Gibson is relieved to be out of it, but says she regrets the waste of her years of experience and knowledge.

Ofsted has achieved what Miss de Waal calls the "homogenisation" of teaching. That means schools are getting worse, not better. They change to accommodate what Ofsted wants. Most are too frightened of the punishments that Ofsted can dole out - "special measures" and the like - to do anything else.

Although we weren't exactly thrilled to see HMI, there was mutual respect between teachers and inspectors in the 1980s. The inspectors were regarded as the creme de la creme in the teaching profession, and you had to be outstanding to make it as one. Today, the relationship of most teachers with Ofsted is based on well-founded mistrust and suspicion. Inspectors, typically, are part-time hirelings borrowed from schools that are clones of the ones they're inspecting. Independent they are not.



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 Pages are here or here or here.


Friday, November 03, 2006


English literature students who reduce Hamlet's agonies to "2b or not 2b" will not be penalised so long as they display an understanding of the subject, an examinations authority has ruled. While the use of text message jargon would not achieve top marks, it would be accepted if the answer was right, a report by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) said.

The SQA report on Standard Grade English - the equivalent of English and Welsh GCSEs - reveals that examiners are becoming increasingly concerned about literacy standards among pupils. Many students have a grasp of English so poor that they resort to the stunted shorthand of the text message. The assessor's report says that candidates are failing to achieve good grades because the quality of their English does not match the quality of their answers. The SQA said yesterday that while text shorthand was "not acceptable" in exams, the positive-marking philosophy of the Scottish system meant that marks would still be given for correct answers, even if they were written in text message.

"In English the candidates need to show knowledge [of the subject] and express it appropriately. Text message language is not considered appropriate," a spokesman for the SQA said. "However, an answer written in text would be accepted if it was correct, but the candidate would not get top marks. To get the best marks they would have to write in standard English."

The liberal approach is not echoed in England and Wales where GCSE candidates lose marks for failing to write in standard English. Edexcel, one of England's largest exam boards, said: "We acknowledged that text language has its own lexicon, but students need to know why it is inappropriate within a report, an exam or a business setting. "If in geography students used short forms of words and were rushing towards the end of an essay, and had used the words correctly earlier, they would be forgiven. "But in English text language would be frowned upon and they wouldn't be given marks for it."

Dave Smith, of the Plain English Campaign, said that it was no wonder more and more employers were complaining about the poor literacy skills of school leavers. The SQA report concluded that teachers should emphasise to pupils the importance of avoiding "informalities of talk and text language in written submissions except during direct speech".


Tough jobs and education policy from an Australian LEFTIST

Young people who drop out of school and stay at home "twiddling their thumbs on PlayStation or Xbox" would be kicked off the dole after six months if they did not return to study or training under a reform plan from Labor backbencher Craig Emerson. The radical policy to be released today aims to prevent the formation of a permanent underclass in Australia that cannot find a job even in a boom. Dr Emerson, who last month called for school to be compulsory until Year 12, will use new research to identify the problem group in the community at risk of becoming unemployable.

More than half those of working age who failed to finish Year 10 are out of work - despite the economy achieving a generation-low unemployment rate of 4.8 per cent - according to official data commissioned by Dr Emerson. "This is not about punishment, it's about getting young people the education and skills needed for them to have a prosperous future," Dr Emerson said. "This is a learn-or-earn program where there is no third option of sitting around doing nothing."

His paper will be presented to the economic and social outlook conference in Melbourne this morning. Co-hosted by The Melbourne Institute and The Australian, the Making the Boom Pay conference will run for two days, with tonight's keynote dinner address being delivered by Treasury Secretary Ken Henry. Opposition Leader Kim Beazley will outline more of Labor's reform agenda in tomorrow's main luncheon address.

The Emerson plan is likely to upset many of his own Labor colleagues because it echoes the Fightback proposal of former Liberal leader John Hewson to remove the dole for all recipients after nine months. Labor's workforce participation spokeswoman Penny Wong said she supported the central idea behind "learning or earning", but would not go as far as Dr Emerson. "People should work if they can, and young people should be either learning or earning. Labor does not support time-limited social security," Senator Wong said.

Dr Emerson argues that if a variety of schools were funded - including "second chance" schools that help students not academically inclined - there would be "no excuse and no justification for leaving school early to sit at home on the dole". "Australia cannot afford to have up to 54,000 long-term unemployed young people neither working nor studying to improve their skills," he will say today.

Dr Emerson says that, in addition to working, studying or training, long-term unemployed young people should be given the option of doing military or community service. "As an alternative to military service, a peace corp could be established to help build community infrastructure in our Pacific island neighbouring countries. "When the range of alternatives that I am advocating is put in place, the dole should not be available to unemployed young people beyond six months. They would receive income support payments for studying or training, but not for sitting at home, twiddling their thumbs on PlayStation or Xbox."

Australian Council of Social Service director Andrew Johnson attacked Dr Emerson's idea, saying such plans had failed in the US. "Time-limited payments are both unfair and ineffective in helping disadvantaged people get into education or work. In the US, one of the few nations who cut off all payments after a time period, child poverty rates are high and levels of youth employment participation are lower than here in Australia," Mr Johnson said.

Dr Emerson says his research, which relies on unpublished figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, rebuts John Howard's claim that leaving school early is the best option for students not academically inclined. The ABS figures show that of those who finished Year 10, more than one-third are unemployed. More than 60 per cent of 15 to 24-year-olds who left school before finishing Year 10 are not employed. In the mining boom states of Western Australia and Queensland only about half of boys from disadvantaged backgrounds are finishing high school, while three-quarters of boys from more privileged backgrounds are doing so. In the Northern Territory, 13 per cent of boys and 18 per cent of girls from disadvantaged backgrounds are finishing high school.



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 Pages are here or here or here.


Thursday, November 02, 2006


Being a swot was once the quickest way to lose friends. Now researchers have found that teenagers who are top of their class are just as popular as athletic "jocks". Girls or boys who combine academic success with a friendly approach and good fashion sense are the most liked by their peers. The jocks were seen as bullying, cocky and more likely to take advantage of others.

Daniel Muijs, a professor of education at Manchester University, said: "There has for some time been an image of clever children in schools being these swotty, geeky, nerdy type of kids, but this is clearly not the case any longer." Researchers at the University of Amsterdam, asked almost 300 14-year-olds at two Dutch high schools to identify the characteristics of their most widely liked peers. Three-quarters of the children said the athletic types were arrogant and half found them threatening, while just 7% considered them intelligent. But their rebellious behaviour, such as talking back to teachers and even being expelled, meant they were still seen as "cool".

But swots were admired, too. More than half were prepared to help others with homework, and 59% were considered friendly. Many pupils also admire their cleverer peers for their ability to master new technology and gadgets quickly. Eddy de Bruyn, a professor of education at the University of Amsterdam, who led the study published in the Journal of Adolescent Research, said: "These children have social intelligence. They are not nerds, they know how to get on with people and they understand the politics of a social group. "The jocks, on the other hand, can be very controlling and bitchy. It's all about them being the top dog, about them being the centre of attention. They are popular because they are powerful, but their friendships often don't mean very much."

Alain de Botton, the philosopher and author, recalled that intelligence was rarely an asset when he was at Harrow school in the 1980s. He said: "Sport was definitely the only route to popularity and academic success was likely to get you beaten up fast. "I survived by making the brutes laugh, and doing their homework." He added: "The influence of academic success as a way of increasing popularity suggests another triumph for the bourgeoisie, who have always put intelligence way above other things, so it isn't surprising this ethos has gradually filtered back to the school system."

Alex Bagenal, 12, from Oxford, agreed with de Bruyn's findings. He said: "At my school you get the rockers, the sporty ones and the nerds. But you also get people that can move between groups, who are popular because they have the knowledge and can fit in. That's how I see myself."

The study also showed differences between "alpha" boys and girls. In jock groups, girls were more likely to find it "cool" to be expelled than boys, and were less likely to help others with their homework. Boys were seen as verbally and physically aggressive, and threatening.

De Bruyn said: "If you take a class of 30 kids and ask them to choose the most popular . . . usually pretty girls will come out on top. The boys who are most interested in fashion are more popular but also more anti-social."



Undergraduates who study for as little as 20 hours a week are more likely to be awarded a first-class degree at a newer university than those at older institutions, a survey says. Scientists at Cambridge have to work 45 hours a week to obtain a top-class degree; those studying physics and chemistry at the University of Central Lancashire have to study 19 hours a week for a 2:1 or a first.

The Higher Education Policy Institute survey of 15,000 first-year and second-year undergraduates questions the true value of a degree, showing that some students work far harder than others, depending on the subject. Although tuition fees are now paid upfront in a loan by the Government, graduates must pay them off once they earn 15,000 pounds. Banks estimate that by 2009 a student's debt will be approaching 30,000 pounds, which most will be paying off until their mid-thirties.

The survey, published today, shows that while, on average, students claim to be working 25.7 hours a week in lectures, seminars or private study, medics and dentists are apparently working ten hours a week more. Overall the study shows that undergraduates on courses in mass communications put in five hours fewer than the average each week. The differences were more pronounced between subjects than between different universities, although those at older universities studied more.

Bahram Bekhradnia, of the institute, said: "If students are putting 32 hours a week into engineering and 21 hours a week into business studies, is a degree telling you the same thing about the universities and the experience the students have had? You can get a 2:1 with different amounts of effort." The authors say: "This report does not prove that the degree classification system is flawed, but it certainly raises questions that need to be addressed." They note that 60.9 per cent of students of physical sciences at Plymouth University receive a 2:1 or first-class degree for working 20 hours a week. At Cambridge, where students may have twice the A-level points, they work 45 hours a week for the same class of degree.

About half of students were disappointed by some aspect of university - mostly with the quality of teaching. Nearly 30 per cent of overseas students - who pay much higher fees than British and other EU students - said that their university experience did not represent value for money.

Drummond Bone, of the vice-chancellors' group Universities UK, said: "There is no national curriculum in higher education, and so we should not be surprised that different courses at different institutions involve different use of facilities, contact hours and so on."

Oxford University plans to open a research centre in India next year, to exploit funding and talent in the fast-growing economy. The Said Business School is in talks on opening at least one centre, probably in Bombay or Bangalore, and hopes to open several. They will not offer degrees, but will link Indian policymakers, corporate leaders and researchers with experts at Oxford.



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 Pages are here or here or here.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006


The University of California and an association of fundamentalist Christian schools are heading for a showdown over their competing views of academic freedom. The conflict erupted over a decision by UC admissions officers a couple of years ago to reject future proposals for high school curricula based on certain Christian textbooks published by Bob Jones University Press of South Carolina and A Beka Books of Florida. Approval was not withdrawn from courses that already received an OK.

The Christian schools sued UC, asserting a right to teach the viewpoints they choose. A federal judge in Los Angeles has refused to throw out the suit, ruling in August that the schools should have a chance to prove that religious discrimination was behind UC's decision. A two- or three-week trial is expected in 2007.

Among the books are a physics text that treats the Bible as infallible truth and a biology text that calls evolution "a retreat from science." American history, government and literature texts also are at issue.

The 4,000-member Association of Christian Schools International has been joined in the suit by current and former high school students in Riverside County and their alma mater, Calvary Chapel Christian School of Murrieta, which says its mission is to teach students "to understand, analyze and interpret every subject from a biblical perspective." "At the same time," the mission statement continues, "we will be familiarizing our students with the so-called 'facts' of the subjects."

In its response to the suit, UC has said it's not stopping the Christian schools from teaching or studying anything, but that the schools "have no right to freedom from academic evaluation." UC lawyer Christopher Patti said in an interview that the challenged texts fail to meet the university's academic standards. They're too narrow in outlook, he said, with "huge gaps ... about the experience of ... any nonwhite movements in the United States," or they rely too much on faith and supernatural explanations instead of objective evidence and reasoning.

Despite long-established legal precedents recognizing a university's right to control its admission standards as an aspect of academic freedom, U.S. District Judge S. James Otero said in his opinion in August that "if in fact" UC has been discriminating against religious viewpoints, "such action would run afoul of the limits of (its) freedom to determine its admissions policies."

Among many issues to be sorted out at the trial is whether UC's admissions criteria, which permit students to qualify via routes other than approved course work, such as standardized testing, leave Christian school students at a disadvantage. "We're clearly not trying to keep these kids out," Patti said. He said graduates of the school in Murrieta have had a particularly high admission rate in recent years. He also said UC's approval rate for courses taught at Christian schools is identical to the rate for schools overall.

But Robert Tyler, who represents the Christian schools, said the UC has been turning down Christian school courses at the same time it has accepted secular school courses based on viewpoints such as feminism or Buddhism or "the influence of nearly every imaginable group on history" except Christians. The Christian schools assert they want to use the disapproved texts only as supplementary materials, to deepen the education their students get from standard texts. For example, Tyler said, to explain the concept of separation of church and state, a standard U.S. government text might discuss the Supreme Court's 1952 pro-church decision in Zorach v. Clauson.

A Christian text might go back to the origin of the phrase in Thomas Jefferson's 1802 letter to the Danbury (Conn.) Baptist Association, which was concerned that a larger denomination might establish a national church. The class then might consider how a national church would work, "to give students a better understanding and, frankly, a more diverse understanding," Tyler said.

Patti countered that far from being merely supplementary, the Christian texts contradict the standard curriculum with a single point of view that fails to promote critical thinking. While "the university has no opposition to questioning current scientific points of view," he said, certain ways of questioning aren't legitimately academic because they aren't subject to scientific testing. The Bob Jones physics text, for example, teaches that "the only sure truths are found in God's Word, which is settled forever in heaven. ... The Bible, written by an omniscient God, can never be proved wrong."

The higher education establishment seems to be firmly in UC's corner. Barmak Nassirian, spokesman for the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, said universities must defer to academics to define the essence of their disciplines, not only in biology, chemistry and physics but also in the humanities and social sciences. "You simply can't bring a bundle of your particular views" to the university and demand that it "manufacture a degree," he said. "We wouldn't do this in engineering" if someone refused to concede, for example, the theory of gravity.

Christian high schools in the Sacramento area and elsewhere refused to comment on the issues. But one prominent school official who's familiar with the case said UC shouldn't be examining Christian high school curricula at all. The university should admit students solely on the basis of their ability to succeed, said Assemblywoman Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster, a co-founder and board member of Desert Christian Schools. In their suit, the Christian schools say their students score better on standardized tests than students overall. They say that should be enough to satisfy UC admissions officers, who should not be "parsing through the viewpoints and content of Christian school instruction and texts to ferret out disapproved religious views."



Three quarters of parents think standards of discipline in schools are worsening despite repeated Government crackdowns, research shows. The Government's own polling revealed a widespread belief that pupils are becoming harder to control. In a blow to Labour almost a decade after taking office, it also showed declining public confidence in educational standards. The damning verdict came in a survey of 4,000 adults commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills.

School discipline was rated as by far the most important issue facing education - ahead of other matters like levels of funding. Just over three quarters of respondents believed that standards of behaviour in schools were getting worse. The scale of concern will embarrass ministers who have spent billions on a raft of policies aimed at restoring "respect" to classrooms ranging from parenting classes to school behaviour consultants.

The Daily Mail revealed on Saturday that more than 400 schools now have police officers stationed on site to help curb truancy and playground hooliganism.

Declining pupil behaviour is repeatedly cited by teachers choosing to leave the profession. "Over three-quarters felt that the general standards of behaviour in schools were getting worse" the report for the DfES concluded. "Around half felt that behaviour in their local schools was getting worse."

Both parents and childless respondents believed pupils' behaviour was deteriorating. A majority also thought the Government was not giving teachers enough support to tackle unruly behaviour. Even during the past year, public confidence in the education system has ebbed away, according to research by EdComs and ICM on behalf of ministers. More than half of respondents questioned in September last year thought exam results were the "best ever" but only 36 per cent agreed by June 2006. Meanwhile only 22 per cent agreed that there were "fewer poorly performing schools" by June, down from 30 per cent in September 2005. And just 25 per cent thought the quality of teaching had "never been better" by June, down from 31 per cent.

Declining numbers believe school adequately prepares children for the world of work. Only 32 per cent thought youngsters left school with a proper grip of the three Rs.

In a further blow to Tony Blair, the research found limited support for his flagship "trust schools" aimed at changing the face of the education system. Planned legislation will give businesses, faith groups, universities and other outside organisations a say in running schools but only 15 per cent of respondents declared themselves strongly in favour.

There was clear backing for the Prime Minister's drive to give parents more choice over where to send their children, "they were least in favour of involving outside organisations in the running of schools".

DfES officials acknowledged that parents were worried about standards of discipline. They said that new measures contained in proposed legislation would strengthen teachers' powers in law to assert their authority over troublesome pupils. Laws on physically restraining violent pupils will also be clarified. A spokesman said: "While Ofsted tell us that behaviour is good in most schools most of the time, this survey shows that parents are concerned about behaviour. "This is precisely why our Education Bill confirms the right to discipline so no pupil will be able to question a teacher's authority and gives teachers the legal right to restrain a pupil where they are a risk to themselves or others."



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 Pages are here or here or here.


Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Los Angelenos fleeing unionized schools

Los Angeles Unified opened 20 charter schools this fall - roughly one-third the total launched statewide - with most of them modeled after existing programs, the California Charter Schools Association announced Thursday. The opening this fall of 65 public charters in California brings the total to more than 600 campuses, with some 220,000 students enrolled. With that surge, one in 15 public schools statewide is a charter.

More significant, association officials noted, is that most of the new charters are modeled after existing programs. "We've created great schools and now we're building on those successes," said Caprice Young, president and CEO of the association. "In the past we had a lot of brand-new schools that were based on the ideas of individually great educators and parents," Young said. "For the first time we've seen a concerted effort to replicate great ideas and great schools, and that's an exciting thing."

LAUSD has 103 of the independent public schools, the most of any district in the nation. It has opened 40 charters since 2005. Young projects that the LAUSD will continue to add 20 to 30 charters a year. Statewide, more than 300 charter schools are in development.

Half the charters that opened this fall are in the Los Angeles, San Diego and Oakland unified school districts, underscoring the trend that charters are more popular in urban communities with high concentrations of underserved students. "It means the district and charter schools are going to be partners forever, and we're eager to have a closer relationship with the district to make the educational system great for all students," Young said.

But the explosion of charters concerns the Los Angeles Unified board. The growth in the number of charter schools has caused enrollment to drop in the nation's second-largest school district, which has to compete with the independent campuses for students - and funds. District officials, as well as the president of the teachers union, bristle at assertions by the Charter Schools Association that middle and high school charters are significantly outperforming their district counterparts.

A fairer comparison would be with the district's magnet schools, which outperform charters, school board member Jon Lauritzen said. "I think it's basically unfair to compare an entity that is able to take their entire budget and focus it entirely on their own schools," he said. "They have some real advantages over our schools in the flexibility of actually providing the type of education that a particular community wants, whereas we are trying to provide a curriculum that works for everyone all across the school district."

Earlier this year, Lauritzen was unsuccessful in his bid to place a moratorium on approving additional charters. Other board members have indicated they may support legislation that would make it easier for school boards to deny charters that would have a negative fiscal impact on the district. Contrary to Young's prediction that the charter movement will continue to grow, Lauritzen believes it will slow as enrollment in the district drops. "Initially, there were a lot of schools where there was overcrowding, where a charter fit well into the program, but as we continue the declining enrollment, there's going to be less and less room for charters and less demand for the services charters offer," Lauritzen said.

Among the 20 charters that opened in Los Angeles this year was Excel Academy, modeled after Community Charter Middle School in San Fernando, which was founded in 1999 by Jacqueline Elliot. "It was a natural progression to replicate Community Charter when there's a great demand," said Elliot, whose initial campus has blossomed into PUC Schools, which has a waiting list of more than 1,000 students.


Australia: Low income students do well at university

Research has exploded some myths about university entry and performance - including the notion that richer children and students from private schools get better marks. They do not, sometimes by a wide margin. One study, based on research that examined the performance of 26,000 children, found that less well-off students often performed better at university than their richer or privately educated peers. But the truth of some perceptions was reinforced: the research shows that far fewer students from less privileged backgrounds ever make it to tertiary study, and fall dramatically behind their richer peers in the final years of high school even if they have the same measured ability in year 9.

Economists at La Trobe University and the Australian National University examined the students - 13,000 starting year 9 in 1995, and 13,000 who started it in 1998 - to shed light on why students of high ability from disadvantaged backgrounds remain badly underrepresented at university. The results of their research, which was funded by the Australian Research Council's Discovery Project, could force policymakers to reconsider how to improve access to tertiary education.

The researchers found no evidence that fear of large HECS debts discourages poorer students from proceeding to university - contrary to Labor Party rhetoric. The authors say HECS appears to have solved the problem of funding constraints for poorer students.

And the findings imply the Federal Government is wasting its money on scholarships designed to increase university participation among rural, indigenous and other disadvantaged groups. If they achieve the same entry score, students from disadvantaged backgrounds are just as likely as rich students to enter university - and they are more likely to go on and do well. "We're failing to find any evidence that money is an issue once they've finished high school," said one of the researchers, Buly Cardak, of La Trobe University. Dr Cardak and Chris Ryan, of the Australian National University, present their findings in Why are high ability individuals from poor backgrounds underrepresented at university?

A separate study, to be published by the University of Western Australia's Professor Paul Miller and Dr Elisa Rose Birch, shows students from less-privileged backgrounds get first-year university results that are more than 3 percentage points higher than rich children, for any given university entry score. Their paper, The Influence of Type of High School Attended on University Performance, shows the private school students were significantly more likely to fail.

Both studies imply that disadvantaged children smart or motivated enough to get to university may not need help from there. "But something is going on before then," Dr Cardak said. "They're not able to convert their talent into the same entry score as more advantaged kids." Dr Cardak and Dr Ryan found two out of three students from privileged backgrounds went to university; fewer than one in five disadvantaged students did so.

Having a disadvantaged background was found to weigh hugely on performance in the final years of school. If a rich student and poor student had the median level of literacy and numeracy in year 9, the rich one was likely to go on to achieve a university admission index (or ENTER) score of 77. But the poorer student was likely to have a score of just 63 - and probably miss out on university . The gap was even greater at lower levels of year 9 aptitude. "Disadvantaged students are unable to capitalise on their ability in the same way as their advantaged counterparts in terms of ENTER scores," they write.

The results were broadly unchanged even when the sample was limited to students who stated an intention to go to university in year 9 - which seems to rule out student motivation as the difference. Dr Cardak and Dr Ryan argue that "policy needs to address the schooling decisions and outcomes of these students . well before the beginning" of their final year at school.



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 Pages are here or here or here.


Monday, October 30, 2006

Bureaucratized Georgia public schools show typical bureaucratic rigidity and stupidity

They can only work an on/off switch once a year!

Students and teachers at one DeKalb County school say the freezing temperatures we saw overnight made it awful chilly inside their classrooms. They can't understand why the school system wouldn't turn on the heat. The school system says no matter how cold it gets, it's their practice to turn the heat on in all schools on October 30. Students and teachers say when the temperatures dip into the 30's, like it did overnight and this morning, it is hard to study without heat.

"It was freezing. We were doing testing today and I couldn't even concentrate," said Briar Vista Elementary School student Beleyou Leulesged. "It was like you were covered in snow," said student Kaylah Edwards. If you thought it was cold outside overnight and at daybreak, students at Briar Vista say it was even colder inside their school most of the day. When students and teachers complained about the frigid conditions and asked for the heat to be turned on, they say they were told they were not going to turn on the heat until Thanksgiving.

A DeKalb County Schools spokesperson told Channel 2 that's not entirely true. We found out the school district doesn't turn on the heat system-wide until October 30. And once the heat is on for all schools - it stays on. "But I mean, what's the problem if you turn it on now and for the rest of the months," asked Leulesged.

The school system did tell us that principals can petition to have their heat turned on before October 30. But if it warms up, the heat won't be turned off - so many principals choose to wait.

Kayla Edwards told us it was tough for students to take their tests because of the chill factor. "Some people only had on sweaters and they were still complaining about how cold it was," said Edwards. Teachers say classrooms that were facing the sun were okay, but the others felt like the North Pole


More Christianity coming to Australian Schools

Chaplains will be posted in schools across Australia under a federal Government plan to provide students with greater spiritual guidance. Prime Minister John Howard will today unveil details of the $90 million national chaplaincy program, which also aims to give support to students during times of grief. The initiative, which was immediately criticised for discriminating in favour of Christians, was approved by Cabinet earlier this month.

Today's announcement follows last weekend's fatal car crash near Byron Bay which killed four teenagers from Kadina High School. It also follows the tragic death of a Sydney high school student who was found dead the night before her first HSC exam.

Under the plan, government and non-government schools will be able to apply for a grant of up to $20,000 a year to employ a chaplain. The federal Government wants to encourage schools to spend more time developing the ethical and spiritual health of students. While not necessarily requiring to have a religious background, the chaplains will be expected to provide religious support. The chaplains will also be required to work with existing schools counsellors in supporting students dealing with issues such as a family break-up or the death of a fellow student. The program will leave it up to individual schools to decide on whether to employ a chaplain on a part-time or full-time basis.

Andrew Macintosh, of political think tank The Australia Institute, condemned the proposal as "ridiculous". "The money would be far better spent on teaching resources," he said. "And it is overtly discriminatory if you are only talking about Christian chaplains." It would be more appropriate to appoint professional counsellors without religious affiliations to provide support to students in times of grief, he said.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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


Sunday, October 29, 2006

Bored of education flap

The poor performance of America’s schools is front and center on just about every politician’s agenda. And whenever there are politicians involved, there is always demagoguery. The solution for almost all of them is throwing more government money at it. Of course, all money comes with strings attached and with government, you can be sure that the strings will result in accomplishing precisely the opposite of what it’s supposed to.

I’m from a generation that had the highest average SAT scores on record. I went to Catholic grammar school, public high school and private college. I’ve concluded that most, if not all, social and economic problems stem from either an obstruction to freedom or an abrogation of responsibility, at some point. You have to look back to the beginning of the process to and trace it forward to find it out but if you look long and hard enough, you will find it. The results are like an error in astronomy. A mistake of even a fraction of a degree will result in missing the target by light years. Education is no exception. So let’s look at it from the beginning.

A man and a woman get together and have a child (Now, don’t any wise guys out there bring up test tube babies and surrogate mothers, etc. Children still are overwhelmingly born through sexual actions between two people, a man and a woman). They have taken the action to bring a child into the world. They are the responsible parties. That responsibility includes the feeding, housing, clothing, health care and education of that child.

Education is one of the first functions that a family delegates to others. Throughout history, this has usually been entrusted to religious authorities. In biblical times, a man was not considered educated unless he knew the scriptures. Indeed, the gospels tell the story of how Jesus impressed the elders at the temple with his knowledge of the scriptures. This continued until very recently when education became the province of government. There is no doubt that had it not been for the tedious work of thousands of monks after the fall of the Roman Empire, much of the great works of antiquity would have been lost.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, governments began to dabble in the arenas that were traditionally the province of the religious bodies. This was part and parcel of the age of a human centered secularism, secular humanism, if you will. One of those arenas was education. The first experiment in The United States in government-sponsored education was in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Even as public education spread, though, it retained a quasi-religious atmosphere complete with prayers and even bible studies. Various civil liberties organizations, most notably The American Civil Liberties Union, have succeeded in eliminating anything religious from public education. The Supreme Court took it upon itself to outlaw school prayer in the 1962 Engel vs. Vitale decision. Interestingly, it was in 1963 that average SAT scores hit their highest point and began their long slide to where they are today. It may not be coincidental.

Of course, once government gets into anything, politics follows. Education has been no exception. Schools have become flashpoints for all types of social experiments, including integration, sex education, tolerance (whatever that means) and myriad others. This, that or the other group decides that it wants its agenda pushed in the schools. Squabbles result and are resolved either in the courts or through political pressure. In either case, a school committee administers the decisions. The pitiful results we have today confirm the old barb that the camel was a horse designed by committee.

Consequently, we have had the expenditure of, at this point, billions of dollars to enforce various agendas, some admirable, others less so. These are precious resources that should have been spent on educating our youth rather than in pointless squabbles but that’s always the way when government and politics get involved.

And all the education in the world doesn’t help society much if it produces students without some type of moral compass. Suppose we educated a generation of Charles Mansons? Now it might be possible to have a moral society without the concept of God or some higher authority to whom we are all obligated but history has not been especially encouraging in this regard. Man and state centered societies have given us the Germany of National Socialism, the Italy of Fascism and the Soviet Union, Red China and Cuba of International Revolutionary Socialism. That’s not an especially sanguine omen.

There are those who will argue that we must set standards for performance in the schools. In fact, that is the position of this Bush administration. But, whose standards? That is the exact argument that many blacks and other minorities have had over the years. They claim that the performance tests are culturally biased and maybe they are. And how do you inculcate values? And, once again, whose values do we inculcate? Yours, mine, his, society’s? Who’s to say that one set of values or one orientation is better than any other?

How about a market solution? I’m Catholic. For years, it was the policy of the Church that Catholic children should be educated in a Catholic system. The Church authorities acquiesced under the onslaught of secular education, only continuing to require that Catholic children obtain doctrinal training as a condition for the sacrament of Confirmation. As it turns out, it was a mistake for the Church to cave in. These are forces that you cannot compromise with. What is wrong with a child being educated with a Catholic understanding as a foundation for learning? It was done for centuries. For that matter, what is wrong with having children learn from a Jewish, Baptist, Episcopal or any other perspective? Who’s to say that one is right and another wrong?

Certainly, there are people who might not want their children to learn from a religious perspective. That would be fine too. Let them get together with others of their persuasion and organize secular schools accordingly. And if some blacks desire that their children be steeped in an Afro-centric tradition, then amen. It’s their responsibility.

The answer to the question of which system is the most valid will be answered when the children go out into the world and seek jobs. Would some get left behind? Undoubtedly, but many are being left behind now. Could the results be much worse than they are now? And even if some improvement in the current system occurs, as seems to be happening, there’s no doubt that the politicians will decide to intervene again and mess it up. Political systems have political results.

The first mistake, the Original Sin if you will, is the assumption by the state of parental responsibility. It’s like the error at the source that misses its target by light years. It is also the very first skirmish in the battle to replace family, God and religion with state, Man, and government.

Private and religious education have produced some awesome results over history. Even today, Catholic colleges like Notre Dame, Georgetown and Providence have acquired formidable academic reputations, rivaling the very best secular institutions (PLEASE forgive us results like Bill Clinton. Any system will have its disasters.) There are thousands of religious colleges and schools across the country that are competing successfully, on minimal budgets, because of the huge siphon that government education represents. There can be no doubt that the reservoir of resources that would become available to the private sphere would unleash a creative explosion in approaches to education that would boggle the imagination.


Literacy tests dumbed down too

Grammar and spelling mistakes? No problem! Now the literacy tests are "a measure of students' ability to participate in the community". I guess even an armed robber "participates in the community", though

The international OECD test cited as proof that Australian students have one of the highest literacy rates in the world does not test spelling and grammar. The Program for International Student Assessment of 15-year-old students in more than 40 countries assesses their ability to understand written texts and apply that knowledge but fails to examine correct use of language.

"The concept of literacy used in PISA is much broader than the historical notion of the ability to read and write," the report says. "It is measured on a continuum, not as something that an individual either does or does not have. A literate person has a range of competencies and there is no precise dividing line between a person who is fully literate and one who is not." Head of the Australian Council for Educational Research Professor Geoff Masters, which leads the consortium that runs PISA, said the test was a measure of students' reading, not writing.

But reader in English and head of humanities at the Australian National University Simon Haines said a solid foundation in reading implied "a foundation of knowledge of what words and sentences are". "Spelling and grammar are part of this knowledge of what a word fundamentally is, what written construction fundamentally is," he said. "Relatively trivial one-off spelling and grammatical errors probably shouldn't be marked down, but repeated errors of the same type, or errors indicating more fundamental misunderstandings, probably should be. "This is part of teaching students how to use language."

The PISA reading literacy test is conducted every three years, with the first held in 2000. In that test, the best of Australian students scored second to Finland. The study defines reading literacy as "understanding, using and reflecting on written texts in order to achieve one's goals, to develop one's knowledge and potential and to participate in society". In its analysis of students' answers, the report says that spelling mistakes were very common but incorrect spelling had no bearing on the marking. "Answers with mistakes in grammar and/or spelling were not penalised as long as the correct point was made," it says.

Professor Masters said the definition of literacy had changed over time and once meant an inability to write one's name. But PISA took a broader attitude, saying literacy was a skill developed over a lifetime and a measure of students' ability to participate in the community.

The study also found that Australian students performed relatively poorly in their comprehension of continuous texts, such as narratives, and coped better with non-continuous texts, such as diagrams and maps. Boys in particular struggled with continuous texts, and were generally outperformed by girls. Professor Masters said the results indicated that teachers should make sure students read continuous texts such as books.

Literacy expert Bill Louden, head of the graduate school of education at the University of Western Australia, said PISA tested reading comprehension and was not a writing task, so "spelling and grammar errors don't come into it". "It wouldn't do in an English classroom, where you have continuous long works that needs to score kids on their capacity to write grammatically, write coherently and spell correctly," Professor Louden said.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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