Saturday, November 18, 2006


A thoroughly Fascist lesson to teach their students

The elitist cocoon within which academia is embedded was on full display in last week's post-election performance by Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan. Voters in Michigan, like voters in California and the state of Washington before them, had just given 58-42 percent approval to a ballot proposal banning the use of race-based preferences in state hiring, contracting and university admissions. Rather than accept such an affront to the gods of diversity, Coleman took to the streets to denounce Michigan's benighted voters and threaten a lawsuit to overturn the result.

"Diversity matters at Michigan," she blustered to a howling mob of hundreds of student and faculty protestors in Ann Arbor. "It matters today, and it will matter tomorrow." She went on to announce that she has "directed our general counsel to consider every legal option available to us." In other words, to paraphrase a politician from another, unlamented era, "preferences today, preferences tomorrow, preferences forever." Moreover, the university may now go to the breathtakingly arrogant extreme of using taxpayer funds to try to undo what the taxpayers and voters approved by a landslide margin.

Never mind that a similar lawsuit was rejected by the liberal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after California's similar Prop 209 was approved a decade ago, or that opponents of Michigan's Proposal 2 had already tried -- and failed -- to get courts to throw the measure off the ballot before the election on various trumped-up charges.

Coleman's rant reflected the degree to which academia remains firmly in thrall to political correctness. A national survey of more than 1,200 professors at four-year colleges and universities in the spring of 2005 by the Institute of Jewish & Community Research, a nonpartisan group in San Francisco, found that professors were three times as likely to call themselves "liberal" as "conservative." And that probably understates the case, since most of the rest are middle of the road only by comparison to their brethren.

Thus if Coleman had not toed the line, she could expect to share the fate of Harvard University's ex-president, Lawrence Summers, who was run off campus by faculty radicals (and a gutless Board of Overseers) after being caught musing about the mere possibility that gender might play some role in career decisions. The egalitarian fringe would prefer to suppress dissent than to permit open discussion of such matters.

Coleman can't complain that Michigan voters didn't know what was at stake on Nov. 7. Virtually the entire political, business, union and academic establishment of Michigan had combined to mount a noisy, mendacious campaign against Proposal 2 that outspent the pro-Prop 2 forces by nearly four to one. And this followed years of lively national debate over the use of racial preferences by the University of Michigan in its admissions process. The U.S. Supreme Court tried to split the difference in the Michigan cases, ruling that a more "holistic" use of race and ethnicity was allowable. But even that was too much for Michigan's voters -- perhaps because they were aware that minorities continue to gain a huge advantage over white applicants with equal qualifications.

Public colleges and universities across the country constantly moan about lack of taxpayer support. Maybe they should take a long, hard look in the mirror. Voters -- and tuition-paying parents -- might be forgiven for wondering what their kids are being taught when prominent schools like the University of Michigan show such contempt for the voters and the democratic process.


Professors fear political correctness

Amusing how the writer below tries to twist the finding into showing Leftist professors as being the intimidated ones -- the usual Leftist inversion of reality

A new survey reports 63 percent of college professors feel their colleagues aren't expressing their opinions when their opinions aren't the dominant view on campus. The findings were published in "Political Beliefs and Behavior" by the Institute for Jewish & Community Research released Oct. 18. The online survey polled 1,269 professors in four-year colleges and departments, co-author Aryeh K. Weinberg said. "Our goal was to set a document about the general self-identification of conservative and liberals on campus," Weinberg said.

The survey asked professors' opinions about domestic and foreign issues by asking whether they agreed with statements such as, "Many of the problems that now exist in Middle Eastern countries can be traced to misguided American policies," along with asking professors their party affiliation and voting history. The objective of the survey was to find the general political views and leanings of college professors, Weinberg said. The survey also found college professors are overwhelmingly liberal, are opposed to American unilateralism, trust international organizations and distrust big business.

University of Nevada, Reno sociology professor Markus Kemmelmeier wasn't surprised by the results. Kemmelmeier said college professors might not want to share their opinion because students who disagree might stop listening to them. "Expressing my views and opinions can come at a great cost," Kemmelmeier said. "You always run the risk of losing the students that don't believe in your views."

Political science professor Eric Herzik said more self-censorship might be because of a rise in conservative students. Herzik said conservative professors used to be more closely scrutinized because of the large numbers of liberal students. "These days more conservative students are more active in defending their beliefs," Herzik said.

Kemmelmeier and Herzik said that even though instructors are self-censoring more, it might not be a bad thing. Because professors are more conscious of what they are saying it could lead to more balanced teaching. But Kemmelmeier and Herzik both agreed that tenure could affect whether professors express themselves or not. Herzik said untenured professors have more to lose than tenured professors, because professors who have tenure are harder to fire than untenured professors.

"The simple reason is it's a risk factor," Kemmelmeier said. If tenured professors received complaints from students it would most likely affect their pay and not their job, Herzik said. But if an untenured professor received complaints it would weaken their chances of becoming tenured and staying at that institution, Herzik said.

Contrary to the findings, managerial science professor Yvonne Stedham said she hasn't seen much self-censorship in the College of Business. A common perception is that the College of Business is predominately conservative, Stedham said. Though the survey reports business faculty are the most conservative professors on campus, Stedham said there is no predominating political leaning one way or another. Stedham said professors discussed their opinions openly in informal conversations or in meetings.



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 17, 2006


Press release from California Charter Schools Association:

California's charter public schools today launched the "My School!" public awareness campaign to mobilize parents statewide to find, support and expand access to charter schools. The campaign aims to double the number of parents statewide who can choose charter schools for their children. The California Charter Schools Association kicked off the campaign with the launch of, an interactive Web site that includes a map of California to help parents find a charter school near them.

The "My School!" campaign, designed to reach more than 300,000 new parents, will help inform parents about their right to choose the best public school for their child. The campaign will also assist parents, teachers and local community groups in starting new high-quality charter schools and will provide additional support to strengthen existing charter schools.

In a survey of California voters commissioned last year by the Association, 78 percent of the voting public said that giving parents the ability to choose the best public school for their child would help improve the overall public school system.

"Charter schools open doors of opportunity for hundreds of thousands of families across the state because they empower parents, teachers and local communities to have ownership over their public schools," said Caprice Young, CEO and president of the California Charter Schools Association and parent of a charter and a district public school child. "The `My School!' campaign will allow more than 300,000 new parents to learn that they have the right to choose the best public school for their child and will help parents find a charter school near them."

More than 50 charter schools across the state have already started to participate in this campaign, including incorporating the "My School!" theme in school curriculum projects, community activities, and creating dialogue among educators and parents about what their school means to them. These schools have provided more than 2,500 photos of their teachers, parents, students and supporters holding a "My School!" sign proclaiming what their charter school means to them.

Visitors to the Web site can quickly find a charter school by viewing an interactive map of their neighborhood and clicking an icon that represents the local charter to get more information. The Web site includes links to each charter school's profile through "Greatschools" ( a nationally-recognized online resource to help parents access even more information on public schools.

The campaign is part of a larger effort by the Association to expand access to charter schools. In addition to increasing its web-based technical support and offering charter teacher recruitment fairs across the state, through the campaign, the Association is announcing a series of programs and services including:

* The "High Quality Charter Grant" program, which will provide $8 million to community groups to open charters in Los Angeles Unified, San Diego Unified, Oakland Unified, Sacramento City Unified and Fresno Unified school districts.

* Offering a series of "How to Start a Charter School" workshops, and through its "Charter Launch" program, will provide over 90 hours of direct support to communities in need, enabling them to start some 65 new charter schools.

* The "California Charter Quality Institute", which will provide ongoing expertise and leadership mentoring to over 40 newer charter schools.

* The launch of the "California Charter Building Fund" in early December, which will provide below market-rate loans to help more than 25 charter schools purchase facilities.


Below are excerpts from the very socialist education policy of the Green party in the Australian State of NSW. No mention of parent choice and an utter loathing of private schools. They are far to the Left of the NSW government -- which is a mainstream Leftist one

1.1 Education is a key determinant of the ability of an individual to participate in the economic, cultural and social life of our society. The provision of quality public education to all children is thus a key social justice objective, as well as being central to creating a cohesive and successful society.

1.2 Only a well-funded and resourced public education system can deliver high quality outcomes for all Australian children, regardless of their socio-economic background, abilities and level of family support. Only public education can build a collective sense of belonging and a respect for diversity.

1.3 The Greens NSW believe that it is the primary responsibility of the state government to fund and administer public education. This responsibility is enshrined in 4(d) of the NSW Education Act 1990 which states that "the principal responsibility of the State in the education of children is the provision of public education." We also believe that the Federal government must also make the funding of public education its primary responsibility.

1.4 The massive increases in total Commonwealth and state government funding of private schools has exacerbated the financial disadvantage of public education and has drawn resources away from our government schools and TAFEs. Continued government funding of the wealthiest elite private schools is inequitable and inefficient.

1.5 Both commonwealth and state governments have abandoned their responsibility to the public education system, including TAFEs and Universities. Consequently salaries are inadequate to match the complexity and importance of the tasks demanded of teachers. Class rooms are insufficiently cleaned and maintained. There is an urgent need for more specialist teachers for students with learning difficulties, school and TAFE counsellors, resources for children with special needs, public pre-schools and funding for teacher training and development. Libraries and textbooks urgently require more funding. Class sizes remain too large, especially in the early years of education.

1.6 The attempted closure of eight public schools in Sydney is a symptom of the failure of the current and previous governments to provide adequate funding and appropriate policy settings to protect and enhance the social and economic values that public education delivers.

1.7 Despite the state government's failure to adequately provide for public education, the Greens NSW celebrate the achievements of our government schools and TAFE colleges and congratulate the teachers, parents and students on the excellence of outcomes, derived from a shared sense of responsibility for the future of our society.

1.8 The Greens NSW welcome the initiative of the NSW Federation of Parents and Citizens Organisations and the NSW Teachers Federation in establishing an independent inquiry into the Provision of Public Education in NSW, conducted by Professor Tony Vinson. The process of extensive consultation with teachers and parents has lead to a number of high quality recommendations, including additional resources for teacher professional development and reduced class sizes in the early years of schooling.

1.9 The State government has embarked on a program of privatising the construction, ownership and operation of new public school grounds and buildings, despite overwhelming international experience that the Privately Funded Infrastructure model is more expensive in the longer term and can damage the ability of the school to deliver independent, quality education and community service.

1.10 The day to day operation of schools is funded globally (i.e. by a single allocation of funds to cover all activities) and expected to run on business principles. The size of the global budget is inadequate to meet the needs of most public schools so that some educational standards are compromised.

1.11 Public schools are also expected to supplement their resources by the fundraising work of parents and citizens groups. Further, many schools are forced to obtain sponsorship from local businesses and industry, raising the potential for schools' autonomy and independence to be compromised.

1.12 The effects of the increasing gap between rich and poor have produced an ever growing sector of the community that experiences poverty, periodic or long-term unemployment and unstable access to housing. The effects of these social problems have a profound influence on the educational achievement of affected children. Consequently problems associated with literacy, numeracy and general learning have become more acute.

1.13 NSW is the only state that has a disadvantaged schools program, now known as the Priority Schools Funding Program. While this is commendable, the program is far from adequate, largely due to lack of support at a Federal level. The programs funded under this scheme, while educationally sound and useful, are not able to make significant in-roads into the basic problems experienced by schools servicing disadvantaged communities.

1.14 Teacher in-service training in public education has been drastically curtailed over the past ten years, making it difficult for teachers to cope with the demands of introducing new syllabi into the curriculum in the time expected.

1.15 The introduction of the new HSC curriculum and changes to curriculum requirements for other years has not been accompanied by adequate resources, thus placing an unacceptable burden on teachers in public education.

1.16 The Greens NSW face the challenge of seeking to improve the public education system by addressing:

1.16.1 low morale;

1.16.2 increased workload for teachers;

1.16.3 pressure to adopt business principles in school and TAFE management;

1.16.4 the haphazard development of secondary education, which has largely resulted in the development of a range of specialist high schools to the detriment of local comprehensive high schools. This has resulted in competition between some schools, at the expense of cooperation. The restructuring has occurred in a secretive way without publicly accountable or contestable evaluation and is fragmenting the NSW education system. This approach to the organisation of secondary schools undermines the equity objective of public education.....

1.24 Many of the non-government schools receiving large allocations of government funds serve children from wealthy families and are already well endowed with resources such as heated indoor swimming pools, rifle ranges, and high-tech computer labs and libraries that can only be dreamt of by public schools.....

1.27 The 80 or so wealthiest private schools in NSW including The Kings School, Parramatta, Sydney Grammar, Presbyterian Ladies College, Barker College and Kincoppal Convent and Newcastle Grammar receive more than $40 million dollars in NSW State per-student funding (plus other subsidies on loan interest payments and textbooks) and much more from the Federal Government.

1.28 This amount is approximately double the NSW contribution to the Priority Schools Funding Program (previously known as the Disadvantaged Schools Program), which serves to reduce class sizes in public schools which serve communities which suffer from socio-economic disadvantage. This program makes a valuable contribution to improving educational outcomes and social equity.

1.29 Private schools are exempt from the provisions of the Anti-Discrimination Act, allowing them to discriminate against children on the basis of religious background, ethnicity are physical disability. Many private schools, for example, exclude children who are confined to wheelchairs. Further, some private schools discriminate on the grounds of family income in that they charge fees which exclude children from poorer backgrounds. Some private schools also practice discrimination against staff on the basis of sexual practice....

2.3.6 comprehensive public education contributes to the reduction of inequality, supports social cohesion and economic well being, creates a safer society and reduces rates of imprisonment in the general population;

2.3.7 only comprehensive public education is capable of providing everyone with a sound foundation for lifelong learning by granting both sexes equal access to early childhood services, schools, TAFE and university education, irrespective of the economic, social and cultural background of their parents, and thus contributes to equal opportunity for all;

2.3.8 education of students in comprehensive public schools and colleges contributes to the diversity of the learning environment, promotes respect for and understanding of others, and contributes to the reduction of social, racial and cultural prejudices among young people;

More here


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

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

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


Thursday, November 16, 2006


New Zealand high school students will be allowed to use text-speak - the second language teenagers have developed for cellphone messages - in exams, according to news reports on Thursday.

The move has divided students and educators amid concerns that it could damage the English language, The Press in Christchurch reported. It said that the New Zealand Qualifications Authority was still encouraging students to use proper English in exam papers but would give credit if an answer written in text-speak "clearly shows the required understanding". Deputy chief executive Bali Haque told the paper that in English examinations, where candidates were specifically required to demonstrate proper use of language, text abbreviations would be penalised.

Teachers' spokesperson Debbie Te Whaiti said that the move reflected the situation in the classroom, where teachers were grappling every day with the use of text-speak. One Christchurch school principal, Denis Pyatt, said that he would not encourage students to use text abbreviations in exams, but added: "I think text messaging is one of the most exciting things that has happened in a long time. "It is another development in that wonderful thing we call the English language." But another teacher, Stephen Rout, said: "Students need to be able to write and understand full English."



The Canadian Association of University Teachers is welcoming today's settlement of a human rights complaint launched by eight female professors against a federal government research program. "Today's settlement is an important step toward redressing some very serious inequities in the academic research community," said CAUT President Greg Allain. In their complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission initiated in 2003, the professors argued that the design of the federal government's Canada Research Chairs Program discriminated against equity-seeking groups.

Allain says the settlement breaks important new ground by requiring the Program to undergo a complete gender-based and diversity-based analysis. In addition, Allain notes, universities will have to establish targets for the representation of women, visible minorities, persons with disabilities, Aboriginal people and ensure that the recruitment process for Chairs is "open, transparent, and equitable."

According to Allain, a survey of chair holders conducted by CAUT in 2005 found that only 20 per cent of the Chairs at that time had been awarded to women. Just over 9 per cent of Chairs were visible minorities, less than 2 per cent identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered, and only 1 per cent indicated they had a disability. Only 0.2 per cent were Aboriginal Canadians. "Thanks to the courageous efforts of the eight women involved, there are some very important advances made in the settlement that will benefit the entire academic community," said Allain. "It's unfortunate, however, that it took a formal human rights complaint to get the government to agree to things that should have been done in the first place."

Established in the 2000 federal budget, the Canada Research Chairs Program was provided with $900 million over five years to create 2,000 new university research chairs. CAUT is the national voice of more than 55,000 academic and general staff at universities and colleges across Canada.



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 15, 2006


THE fountain pen, complete with leaky nibs, bursting cartridges and indelibly stained shirts, is making a compulsory comeback in a last-ditch attempt to save the nation's handwriting. The spread of vowel-free text messages among the young and the rise of grammarless e-mails across all age ranges is leaving children, university students and even teachers unable to write legibly by hand.

But now a leading independent school has ordered pupils aged nine and over to write only with fountain pens. Bryan Lewis, the headmaster of The Mary Erskine & Stewart's Melville Junior School in Edinburgh, believes that his pupils' educational attainment and sense of self-worth will all benefit. "All teachers who join our junior school are taught a handwriting style by my colleagues and they, in turn, teach all our children the same style," Mr Lewis said. "They are helped by our insistence that children from primary 5 onwards write in fountain pen. "Learning to write in fountain pen not only results in beautiful presentation but also has the not-insignificant bonus of developing children's selfesteem."

Mr Lewis's policy is likely to be well-received by those in authority. Tony Blair is a fountain-pen user and has been known to give heavyweight Churchill pens as gifts. The Prime Minister, who was educated in the Scottish private school system, writes all his speeches in longhand with a favourite fountain pen before passing them to his secretaries to be typed.

At Mr Blair's end of the market, fountain pen sales are reportedly booming. Purveyors of expensive jewellery such as Bulgari and Chopard are starting to produce luxury pens.

It is widely accepted that the use of the fountain pen, necessarily slower and more deliberate than the ballpoint or rollerpen, produces more elegant handwriting. Those who write for a living tend to profess affection for the fountain pen. In Eighteenth, the poet, Kate Bingham, praised the "low-tech simplicity" of the instrument and recalled the excitement of watching "the tip of a new pen touch its first white sheet, the hand behind solemn and quivering, unsure whether to doodle or draw or let the nib try for itself, licking the page in thirsty blue-black stripes". John Banville, the Booker prize-winning Irish author, also prefers to use a fountain pen. He has been reported as saying that "a fountain pen is about the right speed. A machine goes too fast. It goes faster than I can think."

But the fall of the fountain pen from common usage was once widely welcomed because of its association with ruined school uniforms, messy pages and classroom squabbles. In the days when fountain pens were widespread, was there ever a pupil whose school blazer did not have a giant inky map all over the lining or a blue puddle in the top pocket? The fountain pen was also a favourite weapon of the naughty schoolboy. The nib could be used to jab other pupils and some models, especially those which filled from bottles by pistons or levers, were ideal for squirting ink. The more primitive dip-in types also made crude darts. But the favourite of every schoolboy was the ink pellet - the blotting-paper-and-ink device detested by every teacher.

Mr Lewis is adamant that the return of pen and ink will have positive results for his pupils. The demise of the fountain pen and handwriting went hand-in-hand, he argues, with the rise of "progressive" teaching methods. He added: "Modern teaching methods overwhelmed the curriculum in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They proved to be no more than an excuse for the lowering of standards of basic literacy and numeracy under the guise of freedom of expression. From that time generations of children were no longer taught to write properly. They couldn't recognise the importance of spelling, to read with expression and understanding, and to master numbers. "In many cases the pupils of that era are now today's teachers. They can hardly be expected to teach basic literacy and numeracy skills when they went through childhood either unaware of, or indifferent to, rules of grammar and spelling."

The Scottish Qualifications Authority has lamented that the standard of handwriting on some exam papers was so poor that its markers could not read them. A spokesman for the Campaign for Real Education said: "Good spelling, handwriting, grammar and punctuation make for confident use of language and smooth communication."



A public school is still a public school, with all the perverse incentives and policies that implies

Mimi and Gol Ophir left behind their Riverside Drive apartment with views of the Hudson a decade ago to move to the Westchester suburbs, reluctantly trading comfort and convenience for what they believed would be better public schools for their growing family. Only the suburban bargain the Ophirs thought they were getting turned out to be no bargain at all. They chose the Yorktown school system, a relatively well-off district whose students consistently outscore their peers on state tests. But the Ophirs came to view the schools as uninspiring and unresponsive, and now they pay $51,000 a year for their children, 11-year-old Dylan and 9-year-old Sabrina, to attend the private Hackley School here - on top of $23,000 annually in property taxes. "That's the whole point of moving to Westchester: you pay the high taxes, but you get the good schools," Mrs. Ophir, 43, a full-time mother who formerly worked as a lawyer, said with anger and frustration. "That's the tradeoff, I thought."

Like the Ophirs, many New Yorkers with the means to do so flee the city when they have children, seeing the suburbs as a way to stay committed to public education without compromising their standards for safety and academics. Yet a small but growing number of such parents are abandoning even some of the top-performing public schools in the region. In school districts like Scarsdale, N.Y., and Montclair, N.J., where high test scores and college admission rates have built national reputations and propelled real estate prices upward, these demanding families say they were disappointed by classes that were too crowded, bare-bones arts and sports programs, and an emphasis on standardized testing rather than creative teaching.

Some are private school graduates themselves who, try as they might, feel guilty giving their offspring anything less. Others were spoiled by their children's experiences in private school in preschool or the early grades before leaving the city. Still others simply found that public school programs in suburbia did not live up to their promise. So they forsake city living to wind up shouldering the double burden of high taxes and tuition bills. Or they end up moving back to Manhattan or commuting with children in tow to the city's private schools. "It was not part of our plan at all, and I'm not sure how sustainable it is," said Tracy Fauver, of Bedford, N.Y., whose three children attend the Rippowam Cisqua School in the town; tuition there runs from $17,500 to more than $26,000 per student. She said her husband's Ford Focus had become something of a joke parked alongside his co-workers' Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs, as the family has forgone fancy cars and vacations to afford the tuition.

Headmasters and admissions officers at more than a dozen prestigious private schools in the region - including Rye Country Day in Westchester, the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey and the Westminster School in Simsbury, Conn. - say they have seen steady increases in applications in recent years. Private-school placement consultants in New York City and Westchester track similar trends: one such company, Manhattan Private School Advisors, now counts 325 suburban families among its clients, more than three times as many as three years ago, while another, Abacus Guide Educational Consulting, gets five calls a week from Westchester families, compared to one a week two years ago. "In the past, it used to be calls from some less desirable school districts in Westchester," said Emily Glickman, the founder of Abacus Guide. "Now it is places with creme de la creme school districts like Bronxville, Larchmont, Mamaroneck, Pelham."

According to a survey by the National Association of Independent Schools, applications at a random sample of 14 private schools in the New York suburbs were up to an average of 334 per school in 2005, from 250 a decade earlier, an increase of 34 percent; nationally, there was no such change among the more than 900 schools surveyed. At the 55 area schools submitting data in both years, enrollment jumped 16.4 percent.

More here


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

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

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


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Some good in new NY governor Eliot Spitzer?

Although he might be bad for business, he could be surprisingly good for kids. As Kathleen Lucadamo reported in Monday's Daily News, Spitzer, "speaking to Orthodox Jews at a Brooklyn yeshiva, said it is unjust that private schools educate 15 percent of the state's students but get only 1 percent of the education budget."

Spitzer couldn't be more right. He supports encouraging public education through private means, and is increasingly unabashed in saying so. Earlier in the year, Spitzer flipped from hazy opposition to support of what was then Governor Pataki's proposal for an education tax credit. "I support the idea of education tax credits," he claimed, though he had previously declared that "vouchers would destroy the public school system." The education tax credit at issue turned into a blanket child tax credit, but Spitzer still expresses support for the concept of education-specific tax credits. His spokeswoman Christine Anderson said this week that "if elected, Eliot will explore the feasibility of expanding such programs."

Spitzer's still no fan of vouchers, but education tax credits are emerging as both the "third way" for Democrats and the policy of choice for social conservatives seeking to send their children to religious schools and libertarians who just want more choices. Spitzer appropriated the tax credit issue from his current opponent, attorney John Faso, who sponsored the ETC bill as minority leader of the state assembly in 2001.

Education tax credits have been on the rise across the nation. In the past year, Arizona, Rhode Island, and Iowa have all passed new programs, and Pennsylvania expanded its existing business tax credit for donations to private scholarship funds. The Arizona and Iowa bills both got past Democratic governors, and the Rhode Island business tax credit came about in a legislature controlled by Democrats in both houses.

At $330 per child, the current New York tax credit is paltry, but its political implications are enormous: an ambitious Democrat has embraced education tax credits in a true-blue state. Like Bill Clinton signing on to "end welfare as we know it," the acceptance of the principle and the approach matters greatly. President Clinton didn't want to go all the way with the Republican welfare plan. But his acceptance of the conservative conception of the problem and the range of solutions moved the political center of gravity to a point that allowed their victory.

The politics of school choice is changing, too, and school-choice supporters need to take advantage of it. Supporters of school choice should take advantage of Spitzer's overtures to raise their expectations and push for educational freedom on a much more meaningful scale.

As we have seen in Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and elsewhere, tiny pilot and hyper-targeted programs have served their purpose in demonstrating the effectiveness of school choice and helping a small number of students. But coverage for low-income children will expand most rapidly if a broad and politically powerful set of constituencies gets behind it, and that means the middle class. It's easier to help the disadvantaged through a program that helps everybody.

Whether their concern is for low-income children alone or for educational freedom across the board, school choice supporters need to build on the new momentum and push forward with big, broad-coverage education tax credits. With political opposition to these credits softening, New York has never had a better opportunity to bring educational choices to children.

It doesn't matter if Spitzer's support for school choice is limited: His statements have changed the game. As he heads to the governor's mansion, school-choice supporters should think big, and push him to pass broad bills that would allow all parents to choose where their children are educated.



What causes the phases of the moon? Why do seasons change? Kids come up with the darndest answers, says Bill Weiler. He compiles lists of children's misconceptions about science for the American Institute of Physics. North Carolina State University physics professor John Hubisz found similar problems in a two-year study of middle-school science textbooks. All told, he compiled 500 pages of errors in 12 textbooks, including mix-ups between fission and fusion, incorrect definitions of absolute zero, and a map showing the equator running through the southern states.

Reporting on the ways science textbooks are developed and sold to schools, Forbes writer David McClintick says many companies "churn out rubbish" with countless errors. One widely adopted text, for instance, claims the earth rotates around the sun, when it actually revolves around the sun and rotates on its axis.

But textbook companies are reluctant to change blatant errors, even when renowned scientists submit long lists of corrections. Astrophysicist and schoolteacher Leonard Tramiel, testifying before California's Curriculum Commission, an 18-member panel that approves textbooks, reported finding 30 errors in the first 100 pages of one science book. The company corrected only three mistakes, leaving a book rife with errors that, if approved, could be used for six years or more in California classrooms and in other states.

As school started this year, I took Hubisz advice to "borrow a middle-school science text and randomly open it up." I immediately saw his point that texts often present important concepts in a clutter of cartoon-like graphics. Some errors were glaring, and the short blocks of print, written at a low reading level, glossed over explanations.

Can science teachers change students' misconceptions? The answer is yes, but only if teachers are competent, patient, and willing to do more than cover the curriculum and coach students on test questions. University of Dallas physicist Richard Olenick urges teachers to blend good science and artful instruction to help students "make connections between what they learn in science classrooms and what they already know." He says it's possible to change students' preconceptions by cultivating curiosity about important concepts, such as gravity and density; building new understanding piece by piece; and helping students see the errors in their thinking.

Joseph Stepans, science education specialist at the University of Wyoming, says students need many opportunities -- not just one -- to "replace their naive ideas about natural phenomena with scientifically accepted concepts." In Targeting Students' Science Misconceptions, he urges teachers to check students' prior knowledge through interviews, group discussions, journal writing, and illustrations. At the National Center for Improving Student Learning and Achievement in Mathematics and Science, based at the University of Wisconsin, director Thomas Carpenter and his co-researchers recently completed an eight-year study on teaching practices that help students "learn with understanding." Carpenter says students' scientific (and mathematic) understanding emerges when teachers engage students in four ways of thinking:

* Constructing relationships: Students relate new ideas to ones they already understand.
* Extending and applying knowledge: Students apply new concepts to solve unfamiliar problems.
* Justifying and explaining generalizations and procedures: Students think like scientists and mathematicians to test the validity of key ideas.
* Making knowledge personal: Students strive to understand emerging concepts as they work and study in groups and teams, much like real scientists

Carpenter says the best way to improve science teaching and learning involves training teachers to understand scientific concepts, practicing scientific inquiry the way real scientists investigate problems, confronting their own scientific reasoning and misconceptions, and generating and demonstrating scientific understanding.

About a year ago I discovered Carpenter's recommendations at work in a California elementary school. Until recently, science lessons at San Diego County's Jefferson Elementary School were mostly lackluster worksheets. But a school partnership with the San Diego Natural History Museum has transformed science by using a local watershed -- where water drains from mountains to the Pacific Ocean -- as a "broad learning canvas." To begin, the museum provided teachers with 32 hours of training in applied field biology and ecology, curriculum standards pertaining to water-related studies, and technology skills such as digital photography and data graphics. Then toxicologists, botanists, and hydrologists had the teachers don boots and backpacks and venture into a nearby canyon to learn about water quality, water conservation, and erosion, topics they'd soon be teaching to fourth- to sixth-graders.

But the teachers still had to prove their scientific understanding. In the third stage of training, they completed the same performance assessments they'd designed for their students -- presentations of scientific principles using examples from their own photographs, charts, and other data. The impact of teacher training shows up in the ways students now learn science. Instead of completing a steady stream of worksheets, kids use scientific fieldwork techniques to identify and eradicate invasive plants in the watershed and study microorganisms in water samples. In the classroom, they chart water levels on spreadsheets, and at the end of the year they present their research in the school auditorium.

The transformation in science shows up in the school's achievement scores. When the school-museum partnership began in 2001, overall Academic Performance Index scores were 574; now they're over 750. Scores for Hispanic and ESL students, the fastest growing segment of Jefferson's population, have risen from 492 to 689. Once cited as an underperforming school, Jefferson is now a California Distinguished School.

Georgia's Pinson says she's learned that her students need adequate time and repeated opportunities to observe and try out science principles and theories. And they need to spend more time on experiments and hands-on activities and less time on textbooks and worksheets. Teachers, she says, need to unpack kids' prior knowledge and develop lessons that specifically target their misconceptions. It's impossible to predict if Pinson's 9-year-olds will revert to their childlike misconceptions when they're 19 or 49, but for now her students are listening to one another, volunteering information and ideas, cooperating on projects and experiments, and, with help from a patient and caring teacher, working hard to learn good science. It's a good start.



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, November 13, 2006

First we take your money, then we take your schools

In a speech last week at a Washington, D.C., charter school, Bush brought education back to the front burner, promoting federal initiatives to train 70,000 new Advanced Placement teachers, help pay the costs of AP exams for low-income students, and furnish vouchers for 28,000 poor children nationwide. The President also devoted his weekly radio address entirely to education, talking up the No Child Left Behind Act, the signature accomplishment of Bush's first year in office, which is scheduled for reauthorization next year.

Bush's education agenda, however, doesn't stop at K through 12. Last month, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced that the administration would also pursue new policies in higher education, including plans to track information on every college student in the country, and to increase federal financial aid. And that's just the beginning. The Secretary will be holding a "summit" next spring to explore even more ivory tower reforms.

The danger of pushing so many education initiatives, of course, is that many voters who have traditionally supported Republicans despise big government, especially federal intrusions into their schools. That's a group, as the upcoming midterms are likely to show, that Republicans can't afford to lose. Which puts the Bush administration in a tight spot: Just as it is attempting to plunge federal tentacles ever deeper into the schools, it must also convince the public that federal control is the furthest thing from its mind. "Local schools remain under local control," Bush declared in his radio address, though NCLB dictates everything from how reading is taught to teacher qualifications. Similarly, in response to a question about the expansion of federal power during her tenure, Secretary Spellings recently insisted that "I'm a good Federalist and a good Republican." But the billion-dollar question remains: How can the administration hew to the ideal of local control while simultaneously advocating federal intrusion into the classroom?

They can't. Either they stick to the Constitution and keep the federal government out of education, or they chuck it and run the schools from Washington. Rhetorically, though, the Bush administration is trying to square the circle, dodging the Constitution and asserting that because the federal government spends money on education - an amount that's grown roughly 36 percent under Bush - it has an obligation to force "accountability" on the schools. "With one-third of higher education investment coming from the federal government," Spellings said recently, "it's right for me as the Secretary of know what the heck we're getting for it."

Similarly, President Bush asserted in last week's radio address that all "the federal government is asking for" with NCLB "[is] demonstrated results in exchange for the money we send from Washington." Rhetoric notwithstanding, if the Bush administration were really devoted to federalism - or even just plain fairness to taxpayers - it wouldn't expand its powers over the nation's schools. As far as taxpayers are concerned, it's bad enough that Washington takes our hard-earned cash. Should they also lose control of their schools? And federalism? If you're a "good Federalist," you know that the Constitution doesn't give Washington any authority to appropriate money for education or to run schools, much less to spend money on education and then use it to buy control of the schools.

Regrettably, the reality is that George Bush has not been a good Federalist. When it comes to education, he has repeatedly flouted the Constitution and expanded the scope of federal power. If he continues to do so for the next two years, his legacy will not be what he had hoped.



Islamic extremists have infiltrated at least four British universities to radicalise Muslim students, says a "troubleshooting" imam who sends teams to campuses to tackle indoctrination. Sheikh Musa Admani believes fundamentalists are bypassing campus bans on groups with radical links by presenting themselves as "ordinary Muslims" to fellow students or forming societies with alternative names. Some students, says Admani, have been so deeply indoctrinated that they are close to travelling to Afghanistan and Iraq to engage in jihad, or holy war.

Admani, a Muslim chaplain at London Metropolitan University, runs a charity that helps to rehabilitate young men who have fallen prey to extremism. He is also an adviser on Muslim affairs to Bill Rammell, the higher education minister. "We are dealing with people filled with hatred," said Admani. "It's hatred for the white man and the West in particular, because they have read the works of Qutb and Maududi (Islamist ideologues followed by Al-Qaeda) who set Muslims apart from everyone else."

Admani's claims come in the wake of a warning by Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, the head of MI5, about the extent of the threat faced from home-grown Islamic extremists. She said the domestic security service has identified 200 terrorist networks involving at least 1,600 people, and 30 "Priority 1" plots to kill are being investigated. "Radicalising elements within communities are trying to exploit grievances for terrorist purposes; it is the youth who are being actively targeted, groomed, radicalised and set on a path that frighteningly quickly could end in their involvement in mass murder of their fellow UK citizens, or their early death in a suicide attack or on a foreign battlefield," said Manningham-Buller.

Yesterday Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan police commissioner, called for new measures to combat the growing terrorist threat. One of the "truly shocking" things about the recent alleged transatlantic airliner bomb plot, he said, was "the apparent speed with which young, reasonably affluent, some reasonably well educated British-born people" were radicalised to the point where they were prepared to murder thousands in alleged suicide attacks.

Admani's charity, the Luqman Institute of Education and Development, has been tackling the effects of this indoctrination by sending volunteers to campuses to challenge "the warped view of Islam" spread by extremists. The charity has received reports from students about fundamentalists operating in at least four UK institutions: Brunel University, west London, Bedfordshire University, Luton, Sheffield Hallam University and Manchester Metropolitan University. Up to 10 students at Brunel are being "deradicalised" by a caseworker from the institute. Jawad Syed, who nearly succumbed to extremism himself when he was a Brunel student, said: "Some of the students are watching jihadi videos and might be listening to different sheikhs encouraging jihad."

Earlier this year the Islamic society at Sheffield Hallam University hosted a lecture by Sheikh Khalid Yasin, an American preacher who favours the death penalty for homosexuals. Shakeel Begg, another radical cleric, recently urged students at Kingston University, southwest London, to wage jihad in Palestine. In a tape-recorded speech obtained by The Sunday Times, Begg, who is a Muslim chaplain at Goldsmiths College, part of London University, said: "You want to make jihad? Very good . . . Take some money and go to Palestine and fight, fight the terrorists, fight the Zionists." British-born Asif Hanif, who killed three people in a suicide attack on a bar in Tel Aviv, Israel, in 2003, had attended Kingston.

Admani said some extremists win their peers' trust in university prayer rooms before inviting them to off-campus lectures. In other cases, groups banned by the National Union of Students, such as Hizb-ut Tahrir, are thought to be operating under alternative names. Last month students at Staffordshire University were invited to attend a discussion entitled "The true word of God: the Koran or the Bible". The event was addressed by a former member of Al-Muhajiroun, a proscribed organisation.

A further twist on extremism and campus life emerged in court last week when it was revealed that Dhiren Barot, the most senior Al-Qaeda plotter to be captured in Britain, had used a forged pass to carry out research at Brunel. Barot, 34, a Hindu convert to Islam, was sentenced to at least 40 years in jail after he admitted planning terrorist attacks that could have caused "carnage, bloodshed and butchery" in Britain and America. Brunel University said: "The safety of our students and staff is paramount, as is the security of our campus. We will look into the [Luqman] institute's claims and respond accordingly."

Referring to Begg's lecture at Kingston, Professor Peter Scott, the university's vice-chancellor, said: "Should the university be made aware of any concerns about the views expressed at such events, it has the protocols in place to investigate." Staffordshire University said it was investigating last month's lecture. "No extremists of any kind will be welcome at our campus," said a spokesman. Manchester Metropolitan University said: "If any evidence of extremism comes to light, we will immediately act upon it." Bedfordshire University and Sheffield Hallam University denied that extremists were operating on their campuses. [Good British ostriches]


Wacky Leftist attack on Australian conservatives in an alleged textbook

By Christopher Pearson

The postmodern Left has just launched a new, unusually vicious polemic. It's called The War on Democracy: Conservative Opinion in the Australian Press. Its authors are Niall Lucy, a Derrida scholar, and Steve Mickler and it was published by the University of Western Australia Press. Luke Slattery, Miranda Devine, Gerard Henderson, Janet Albrechtsen, Andrew Bolt, Michael Duffy and I all rate a denunciatory chapter.

Readers familiar with our work will have noticed that while Slattery has some old-fashioned ideas about the Western canon and the secondary school curriculum, his inclusion is an outright category mistake because he's not remotely conservative in any ordinary sense of the word. Henderson is more of a sceptical observer than an ideologue these days and often found himself broadly in sympathy with the Hawke and Keating governments when they were in office. Duffy, who wrote an appreciative biographical account of Mark Latham and cut his teeth in anarchist punk bands, is too unpredictable to count as a dyed-in-the-wool anything. Albrechtsen, a fan of the republic, Malcolm Turnbull and market solutions to almost every problem, is of the political Right but, again, scarcely a true conservative.

Even if, for the sake of argument, it's granted that the term is roughly applicable to the rest of us, it's clear that the authors' intention is demonising rather than descriptive or diagnostic. The niceties of distinguishing between neo-con, palaeo-con and Tory seem to be beneath them, or perhaps beyond the ken of their anticipated undergraduate audience. For this is a textbook, designed for the impressionable young in media and cultural studies courses and the semiotics end of political science. It's also intended as an object lesson, a terrible warning of what to expect from the academic Left if you stray too far from its orthodoxies.

Its opening gambit is to assert that the villains of the piece are in some sense waging war on democracy. This, I'm sure, will come as a surprise to my colleagues, all of whom were strong supporters of a universal adult suffrage for Australian parliaments when last I checked, even if some share my enthusiasm for the British House of Lords in the pre-Blair era. (Strange as it may seem, there's a persuasive argument that the Lords, where membership was a hereditary lucky dip topped up with politically appointed bishops and life peers, was a more representative body than an entirely appointed or party-list elected house. But I digress.)

The authors have a concept of democracy that is radically different from the workaday world of parliamentary representative chambers and other elective bodies on which we rely. For them, "the democratic project remains, and must always remain, unfinished, since there could never come a time when we could be satisfied that we had enough democracy, enough freedom, equality and friendship for all the different social differences there are today and others that come in the future".

We are at war with democracy, they say, not as "a system of representative government but as a project without origin and which remains, and must remain, forever unfinished", "an ongoing democratisation of ever more diverse and hitherto obscured areas of society". This borders on the millennial as well as the metaphysical and strikes me as an ill-considered mix of the ultra-Puritan Levellers' ideals and the rhetoric of Mao Zedong's "continual revolution".

When I talk about democracy I have in mind a project with its origins embedded in Periclean Athens; with its noblest expression in Lincoln's Gettysburg Address on government of, by and for the people; with its triumph over Hitler's fascism and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. Lucy and Mickler draw their inspiration from the soft left agenda - a critique of consumer capitalism and endorsement of "socially progressive ideas and movements, anti-authoritarian attitudes and a liberal approach to difference".

It comes as no surprise that they are hell-bent on rewriting what little they know of Australian history. "Conservatism has played no part in helping to produce Australia as a modern democratic society," they say, in the context of a discussion of women's and indigenous voting rights and extending other rights to minorities. They seem not to have heard of the pro-women's suffrage South Australian liberal premier Charles Cameron Kingston or to realise that the Commonwealth Electoral Act of 1962 and the Aboriginal Referendum of 1967 passed under Liberal-led governments. The first gay law reform in the country (more on that later) was also initiated by Murray Hill, a Liberal in the SA parliament.

I turned to the chapter devoted to yours truly, expecting ad hominem abuse but not quite a full-dress Robespierrean prosecution. "It isn't just that we think Pearson is a hypocrite; in fact we don't think 'hypocrisy' covers it. But if it was good enough to get Al Capone for tax evasion, we'll settle for showing that Pearson is different because he's hypocritical." The first evidence they adduce is that I've written in support of covenant marriage, a legally enforceable model that aims to wind back Lionel Murphy's "no-fault" divorce arrangements. They query "why a gay man would think he had any authority to comment on a woman's role in marriage", by lending support to what the Bible says on the subject. But surely everyone, whatever their sexual preference, has a legitimate concern with the survival of marriage as an institution and surely, in a pluralistic society, even people who take the Bible seriously are allowed to say so once in a while? Lucy and Mickler don't seem to have noticed the strictures of covenant marriage apply to men as well as women and that the essence of them is they're entirely voluntary.

I can't see any substance in this charge of hypocrisy, although they think it's self-evident. They then quote from an interview published by the Festival of Light, in which they detect an "obvious misattribution" on sexual politics in the '70s, but in which I'm also credited with 17 years of celibacy before my conversion to Catholicism. It was news to me and, had I seen the leaflet, I'd have corrected it at the time with rueful references to Augustine of Hippo's prayer ("Oh God, make me chaste, but not yet") and my published autobiographical essay on the subject. When I contacted the FOL on Wednesday, it became clear that, in a rushed phone conversation, admissions of 17 years of partnerless prudence in the era of AIDS had been charitably misconstrued as heroic virtue. Perhaps it explains the portentous allusion to Capone.

The next charge of hypocrisy is my "continuing lack of condemnation of some of the sickening sins of the church", especially the cover-up of child abuse by pedophile clergy. Now it's clear that most child abusers are not priests but men in de facto relationships, uncles and even fathers, although you'd never guess it if you relied on tabloid journalism and its bigoted, anti-Christian agenda. Molestation is a terrible betrayal of trust, whoever perpetrates it. The question is: how often would one have to say so before this local chapter of the Committee of Public Safety were satisfied?

The gravest charge against me is "not explaining to readers how he can be openly gay and at the same time opposed to social movements, opposed to the very idea of democratic social progress that makes it possible for him to be a public figure who is known to be other than heterosexual". Law reform didn't arrive, they tell us, "as a result of conservative activism or by divine decree. The right to be an Australian citizen who is other than heterosexual today was won by others in a struggle against conservatism and the church."

As it happens, I was involved in the struggle for homosexual law reform in SA from the beginning, in the wake of George Duncan's drowning, in an incident where members of the vice squad refused to answer questions at the inquest "on the grounds that they might tend to incriminate". I was an active member of the Social Concern Committee, which engineered the consensus that enabled Peter Duncan's reform bill to pass in the state, with a fair measure of bipartisan support. I acted as a go-between in negotiations with the Anglican and Catholic churches, which lent pivotal endorsement. The Maoists and Trotskyites who'd so effectively colonised gay lib and, like the Left to this day, regard gays as a wholly owned, natural constituency, contributed little. In the judgment of many at the time, they jeopardised reform with their revolutionary talk and ultra-leftist antics.

It's true that some conservatives and clergy vehemently opposed Duncan's bill. So did some sections of the Labor Party. I interviewed most of them and found them generally polite and, despite our differences, often affable. Lucy and Mickler perhaps might have learned something from them about civil disagreement over matters of high principle. But they betray little evidence of the curiosity or imagination needed to engage with world views other than their own. Their only really strong suit is bile.



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, November 12, 2006

Public schools: Spending money in all the wrong places

In school reform, the chasm between establishment advice and what the data show keeps on growing. In exchange for a "Performance Promise," voters approved a $20 million bond issue for Jefferson County Public Schools to be used on projects that, according to the District's web site, "have been proven to increase student achievement - smaller classes, classroom coaches, staff development, extended learning and individualized attention."

But contrary to Jeffco's claims, reducing teacher workloads does not improve student achievement. Between 1950 and 1994, the pupil-teacher ratio in American schools fell by 35%. Student achievement deteriorated. The achievement decline is not explained by changes in family structure, poverty, special education, or increasing numbers of immigrants. Some studies suggest that class size reductions may result in small achievement gains in special situations. In general, however, the more thorough the study, the more likely it is to find that class size reductions produce no gains in student achievement.

Project STAR, which followed Tennessee kindergartners assigned to classes of different sizes through high school, is often cited as proof that small classes raise achievement. A re-analysis of the data by Princeton professor Alan Krueger suggests that any class size effect was limited to kindergarten and first grade. Unfortunately, the quality of the underlying data is suspect. More than 50% of the children in the initial kindergarten classes had dropped out of the experiment by the end of the first 4 years. Project Star also did not control for variations in teacher quality. With the exception of Professor Krueger, no outsider has been allowed to examine the project data.

Teacher quality, not class size, is what school districts should improve. Especially teacher quality defined in terms of increases in student performance, rather than by years of teacher education or experience. In one large city school district, good teachers have raised student performance by 1.5 grade equivalents in a single academic year. (Bad teachers got only .5 of a grade equivalent.) At this performance level, 5 excellent teachers in a row would erase the standard performance level difference between children from high and low-income families: excellence in teaching can overcome less fortunate family circumstances.

Jefferson County Public School officials would say that the Performance Promise addressed teacher quality by funding staff development. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that the kind of training endorsed by Schools of Education, public school districts, and teachers' unions, does anything to improve student achievement. According to the Jefferson County Public Schools web site, staff development courses include such gems as "Making Sense of Algebra, Grades K-2? and "Gender Equity in the Mathematics Classroom 4-8." Given that second graders ought to be mastering their multiplication tables, and that gender studies have never helped anyone master fractions or decimal equivalents, Jeffco money would be better spent on bonuses to teachers with high verbal abilities and deep knowledge of the academic subject they teach. These attributes, not certification, master's degrees, or continuing education in education, best predict individual teacher productivity. The best predictors of teacher productivity are good communication skills and strong subject matter knowledge.

Another thing that improves student achievement is school choice. Independent, private and charter schools are less likely to hire certified teachers than the public school system and more likely to hire teachers from high quality colleges and universities who are first of all knowledgeable in the subjects they teach. They may work them harder, reward the good teachers, and get rid of the bad. They pay salaries that reflect market conditions. Because public schools appear to respond to surprisingly small competitive threats by raising student achievement, public schools in districts pressured by traditional forms of school choice-open enrollment policies, private and charter schools-have higher student achievement. According to Harvard professor Caroline M. Hoxby, "if all schools in the United States experienced high levels of the traditional forms of choice, school productivity [as measured by student achievement] might be as much as 28 percent higher than it is today."

Jefferson County Public School officials say that they are facing budget cuts of $17 to $20 million. In true dot com style, they anticipated revenues from the Performance Promise in their operating budget. The student achievement failure requires immediate cuts of $3.5 million. Taking advantage of the budget cuts as an excuse to limit competition, school officials say they are considering limiting or suspending new charter school applications. That this may lower student achievement is just too bad. "Tough budgets, call for tough measures," they say. The teachers, and their union, will do just fine. A 2002 story in The Rocky Mountain News reports that in the next school year the Jefferson County Public Schools expect $11.3 million in new revenues from the state, Amendment 23, and an enrollment decline. Projected new costs, which far outstrip the revenues, include $3.4 million for utility costs and $1 million for a new school. The rest, $26.5 million, is for cost of living increases, staff "experience" increases, and employee benefits.



Teaching is fast becoming an all-female profession with women outnumbering men in the classroom as much as 13 to one, dramatic new figures revealed today. The number of male teachers has plummeted to an all-time low, threatening a classroom discipline crisis as a generation of boys misses out on authority role models. In parts of the country worst-hit by the male recruitment slump, fewer than 10 per cent of primary teachers are men. In Reading, just 38 primary teachers are male compared with 478 women.

But the decline has been particularly marked in secondary schools, fuelling fears of rising misbehaviour among disaffected teenage boys whose lives lack male authority figures. Analysts believe male teachers are "fast becoming an endangered species" as salaries rise more quickly for other graduate jobs, especially high-flying City roles which traditionally attract men. There are also fears men are being scared away by the fear of false child abuse allegations while others are thought to be put off by the absence of male companionship in primary schools.

It means that in the space of a generation, the proportion of secondary school male teachers has dropped from 55 per cent to 41 per cent. Across all state schools, just a quarter of teachers are men. The shortage is most severe in the commuter belt surrounding London where soaring house prices and high cost of living renders teaching merely the 'second income' for many couples, according to an analysis conducted for the relaunch issue of the Times Educational Supplement. Local authority areas with the fewest male teachers include Reading, Sutton, Windsor and Maidenhead, Surrey, Wokingham, Richmond-upon-Thames, Harrow, Camden and Bracknell Forest.

Teachers are said to be 'mostly women whose husbands or partners have good jobs'. The highest concentrations of male teachers are found in lower-cost areas such as Cornwall, Devon, Norfolk, North East Lincolnshire and Hull.

The findings sparked calls last night for urgent measures to make teaching more attractive, especially in the South East. The imposition this September of 3,000 pounds-a-year top-up fees on university courses is thought to have particularly deterred male applicants. Multi-million pound Government advertising campaigns aimed at tempting more men into teaching are thought to have mainly benefited fee-paying schools, where salaries tend to be higher, it emerged.

Experts are concerned the lack of male role models in the classroom could have serious implications for boys' performance in exams. It is thought to be one of the key reasons why boys now lag behind girls in every major school examination. Analysts from the research firm Education Data Surveys said the trend warranted national debate. Professor John Howson, EDS director and visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University, said: "We've all known it's been like this in primaries. When you add in all the classroom assistants, the dinner ladies and the office staff, probably only about one per cent of the primary workforce in somewhere like Reading is male. "We've rather accepted it. But do we want secondary schools to go the same way?" Since men are more likely to become heads and deputies, who are registered as teachers but often do not have active teaching duties, the number of male teachers actually in the classroom is even smaller.

Professor Howson continued: "In the classroom, the division is even more stark. It is perfectly possible for a child to go through their whole education and be taught entirely by women. That may not necessarily be a bad thing, but it is an issue that society has to have a debate about. "Clearly some schools where all the teachers are women are functioning very well but there may be groups, particularly the older age group of pupils, for whom having some more male role models around would be helpful in making them better operating schools."

The Training and Development Agency, the teacher training body, said male teachers were "important". A spokeswoman said: "Different people bring different qualities to the classroom. It is important that children are exposed to a teaching force which is representative of society." But the agency is concerned men still have "misconceptions" about teaching such as the likely salaries they can earn. Professor Howson said a senior teacher leading a large secondary school department could command more than 50,000 pounds-a-year in London, and 46,000 outside.


Education failure: Kids don't know even the basics

Jokes about softening of education standards would be funnier if they weren't so true, writes Shelley Gare from Australia

A Tasmanian reader writes to a newspaper column, describing what happened when her husband tried to hire a car at Sydney airport. Given his credit card and driver's licence, the clerk punched several computer keys fruitlessly before asking helplessly: "Is Tasmania in New Zealand?" A university lecturer discovers that of the 33 students in her class, not one has heard of Chairman Mao. What's more, they get irritated when she expresses astonishment. "How would we know that unless we'd studied Chinese history?" they demand of her.

The lack of general knowledge among so many of us is now so mind-bogglingly obvious that it has become part of the culture to swap funny stories. But this is an ignorance that has been learned. And too many of us stood by and let it happen. The crisis is not confined to Australia. When British playwright Alan Bennett was rehearsing his young actors for his recent play The History Boys, about a government grammar school in the 1980s, he told journalist James Button he discovered they had no idea who the poets A.E. Housman and W.H. Auden were. Later, he realised one of the actors didn't know what a plural was.

The trouble, as always with airheads, is that we don't take their nonsense seriously at first and then it's too late. Who would have believed 20 years ago, that one day we might seriously debate whether correct spelling really mattered? Our thinking processes have been addled by postmodernism, with its insistence that nothing is better than anything else.

What the Right and its belief in the free market have done to our value systems in the past 30 years, insisting money is the be-all and end-all, the Left merrily - or, playfully, as the postmodern crowd may prefer to say - has done with knowledge, learning and education at the same time. Our value and belief systems have been turned upside down.

The circuitous theories of French philosophers Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Roland Barthes arrived on our shores in the '70s and '80s to be widely misunderstood and misinterpreted. Soon they were being applied in even more half-baked form to teacher education and then to teaching in schools. The effect on young brains has been roughly the same as what would happen to an assembly line of Rolls-Royces if you poured glue into all the door locks. Two generations of experimented-upon young Australians have emerged unable to read, write and think with the skill and clarity they should have been able to assume would be theirs.

Too often, under the postmodern influence, schooling has turned into a hatchery for baby airheads unable to think for themselves or communicate clearly. But as journalist and editor Luke Slattery has questioned in an essay on the all-encompassing belief in postmodernism and its theory: "How did a minor tradition within continental philosophy come to dominate, to the point where it would brook no dissent, in both teaching and research in the English-speaking humanities?"

Whatever the original worth and intention of the movement, postmodernism, with its insistence that there are no such things as objective truths, knowledge or values, gave licence to far too many to take the easy way out. A host of behaviours that generations had taken for granted as being normal and/or necessary - from swotting up French verbs, to slogging at understanding a poem, to receiving grades, to being ticked off for being lazy or careless - were suddenly on a verboten list because they interfered with our creativity, originality, freedom, happiness and rights. And particularly our self-esteem.

Funnily enough, the behaviours newly banned are the ones that also require rigour, resources and a sense of reality, all of which, in our new airheaded world, have become more and more difficult to find and muster. How convenient is that?

American academic Susan Ostrov Weisser, a professor of English, points out in an essay on college classroom culture, published in US journal Academe, that the study of literature increasingly comes down not to expertise and knowledge but to feeling. Instead of a student and teacher discussing, perhaps, the biographical, historical and social contexts in which Charlotte Bronte wrote, and researching the evidence, they talk about how the student reacts to the novel, what it personally does or does not mean to them. "No one can then agree or disagree with you because it's all about you," Weisser says.

Glyn Davis, vice-chancellor of the University of Melbourne, remarked recently that the term postmodernism is on its way to meaninglessness. Maybe, but postmodernism flushed through the system in the '80s and nothing will be quite the same again. People say political correctness is finished. That's not true either. Postmodernism and political correctness don't have to be in our faces any more: they are embedded in our culture.

An English professor recalls wistfully when his field was regarded as a discipline. Now, he says, just the word discipline is frowned on because it sounds too, well, disciplinarian. Disciplines have disappeared into a kind of "cultural stir-fry" so that department letterheads can list a range of studies. An English department probably won't be called English any more either, but some amalgam that makes you ponder just which bit of it would signal that if you drilled down in that spot, you might be lucky enough to find a palely loitering Keats.

There have been several attack dogs on the traditional notions of learning. Deconstructionism seeks to reveal the concepts and influences (patriarchal, racial, elitist) that may have led to the creation of a work so that less attention is paid to the piece - its effect, its beauty, its sweep, its passion, its ability to take us out of our own world - than to who created it and why. I've done my best with deconstructionism and, every time, I keep thinking that call-girl Mandy Rice-Davies said it better in 1963. Told that Lord Astor denied her allegations about sex at his racy house parties at his country estate, Cliveden, she defended herself cogently: "He would, wouldn't he."

Meanwhile, constructivism argues that learning is a journey and that education has to be done in the context of the student's experience, with the teacher a "co-explorer". Everything must relate back to the student. Everything must be relevant, a word that here has all the charm of a vice. The real message: don't aspire, think small. Let the child's existing knowledge be the yardstick of everything he or she is to be taught in future; and then, to top it off, like a monstrous shiny artificial cherry on a cake of fake cream and off-the-shelf sponge, let children be the judge of their own progress and let them be measured by their own ability.

Such theory is behind the much vaunted outcomes-based education that now flourishes in Australia and other "new" countries such as Canada, New Zealand, the US and South Africa. Not that it flourishes in France. There has been no deconstructionist or constructivist pawing over of the French school system. You can be sure that Jean-Louis in Lyons is getting his daily dose of maths, grammar and all the other basics. Trust the French to realise that postmodernism and all the other theories were never supposed to be taken so seriously that you'd apply them to your precious children.

Kevin Donnelly, a former secondary school teacher of English and history in Melbourne, who started his own company, Education Strategies, writes frequently on the iniquities of the modern education system. He escaped his working-class Broadmeadows background through education and says he'd still be there if he'd been subjected to going on a personally relevant journey at school. He was actively involved in the Victorian Secondary Teachers Association for 10 years but was appalled by the moves that brought in continuous assessment where, before, a child's marks had mostly been determined by a final exam. For him, the change was always going to favour kids in comfortable backgrounds who had parents who "could pay for a tutor or even do the kids' work themselves". Kids from poorer homes with less well-educated parents suffered.

In the mid-'80s, Donnelly saw what he believed was "the Left taking the 'long march' through the institutions", referring to a conscious effort on the part of people who were politically active on the Left to change society by changing the institutions of society, especially in education. Left, for Donnelly, in thiscontext, means not the Left of social concern, compassion and humanism but the radical, social-engineering Left. Reading, that skill that allows a human being to operate as a member of a civilised, democratic society, withequal ability to question and, even better, to imagine, became the first casualty.

Cognitive scientist Max Coltheart left Australia in 1969. By the time he returned, two decades later, the public education system had been turned on its head, the traditional methods of schooling that had worked for centuries had been virtually outlawed except in a band of select and selective schools, and university entrants were so ill-prepared it was not unusual for them to have to take courses in how to spell and write before they could start to study and prepare essays. He discovered that trainee teachers knew little about how to teach reading, writing and spelling. At first, he thought it was an aberration; then he realised that it had hardly been on their curriculum.

Worse, the educationists in charge, Coltheart says, were preaching something called the whole-word method, and that learning to read was the same as learning to speak. It came instinctively to children, they argued, and all teachers had to do was aid and abet the process, providing what they called a "reading rich" environment. There was no need to teach the alphabet or explore letter-sound relationships. It was a kind of natural magic, like little children unconsciously picking up foreign languages. Coltheart asks now in exasperation: "If everyone can learn to read naturally, why is most of the world illiterate? Learning to read is artificial. We have to be taught."

By April 2004, he had had enough. He and 20 other distinguished academics, researchers, psychologists, linguists and educators wrote to then federal minister for education Brendan Nelson stressing their concerns about the way reading was typically being taught in Australian schools: "The ability to read is a complex learned skill, which requires specific teaching." The education establishment retaliated, digging into a grab-bag of statistics that claimed to prove Australia has among the most literate children in the world, quoting results from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development program for international student assessment. But as The Australian Financial Review columnist Peter Ruehl pointed out acerbically, "PISA tends to be one of those New Age life skills tests, where students are not corrected for faulty grammar, spelling and punctuation. What are you going to do? On your job application at Merrill Lynch, write: 'Look how good I done on the PISA test'?"

Spelling, of course, is not supposed to matter any more, which is stiff cheese for those of us who can spell and who see in it the same sense of security that comes with, say, knowing that cars drive on roads, not pavements. Now, correct spelling is seen as something put on only for special occasions, like people wearing hats and gloves in the '50s. A NSW secondary school teacher, Ryszard Linkiewicz, wrote a piece in August 2005 for The Daily Telegraph: "The brutal fact is that the standards have been lowered to such an extent that children who, in former times, would have been regarded as sub-normal are now regarded as well within normal range. No longer are students penalised for errors in spelling and grammar. Any response, no matter how incoherent or insouciant, must get a mark." (Linkiewicz's piece proves that there are many teachers, usually older ones educated in more formal times, who are worried about what's happening, but there are penalties for speaking out and so most don't.)

Education was once felt to be a kind of "moral transaction" between parents and children. Educating by the late medieval period was supposed to be one of the duties of human beings. But what we're seeing now feels like a full-frontal attack on the notion of education. In 1979, American critic Christopher Lasch wrote in his book The Culture of Narcissism, "In the name of egalitarianism, they preserve the most insidious form of elitism, which in one guise or another holds the masses incapable of intellectual exertion."

At least the letter from Coltheart and his colleagues to Nelson helped towards the national inquiry into teaching literacy. The education minister announced its findings on December 8, 2005, and recommended the use of a phonics-based teaching method for reading. As Coltheart pointed out on an ABC Life Matters program in late August 2005, the phonics method where children are taught to associate sounds with letters has been working very well since 1570.

The people who now steer education often use the phrase rote learning disparagingly in articles and commentary when they're talking about the past. There is much hoo-ha, for instance, about why students should be looking at Shakespeare not through his language but via the messages he sends about race, gender and so on. In an opinion piece for a Sydney newspaper, Melina Marchetta, a teacher and the author of Looking for Alibrandi, wrote that when students have "meaningful debate on issues of inequity based on race, class and gender", they are acquiring valuable skills "of comprehension, evaluation and synthesis in order to participate meaningfully in an increasingly complex world".

The Sisters of Mercy who took me through Othello and The Merchant of Venice back in the '60s could never have expressed it quite like that. But while we studied and appreciated Shakespeare in the traditional way, for his language and vision and plotting, we too considered the place of Othello the Moor in a white society, Portia, a woman, playing lawyer and the depiction of Shylock, the Jewish money-lender. If the nuns at a not particularly prominent convent school in Perth were broadminded enough to discuss such issues in 1968, I think we can be assured that the present crop of teachers did not invent this particular wheel.

The truth is that too much of today's debates is airheaded tosh that covers up the fact kids are not getting the teaching and acquiring the knowledge they deserve. Worse, Donnelly believes that what we have seen so far is only the beginning, especially now that the teachers going through training grew up in this theory-driven system. He says, "At least now I think it's beginning to change because it's out there in the public arena." In the meantime, if you'd like your child to get a good education, there's always France.



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

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

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