Monday, May 21, 2007

British exam bungle

Alan Johnson's chances of becoming Labour deputy leader take a serious blow today from a highly critical attack on one of the biggest changes to secondary education in the past 40 years. Plans for the new job-related diplomas to run alongside A levels have been described as muddled, in danger of lacking practical content and being rushed through without being properly tested. In a scathing report, the Commons Education Select Committee today accuses the Government of not being clear about the purpose of the qualification, the learning that it will involve and a failure to involve teachers and examiners in its development. Mr Johnson, the Education Secretary, is frontrunner in the race for the deputy leadership and a champion of overhauling 14-19 education to keep more teenagers in school.

The specialist diplomas, the first five of which are to be introduced in September, combine practical work experience with academic study in an attempt to offer more relevant courses for teenagers. They came about after Tony Blair refused to abandon the A-level "gold standard" in 2004 in favour of one overarching diploma to replace GCSEs, A levels and existing vocational qualifications. Instead, the Government proposed single diplomas in 14 subjects alongside A levels, from engineering to hair and beauty.

However, in spite of asking both business and universities to design the new qualification, critics have voiced fears that it will neither offer hands-on vocational training nor be sufficiently academically demanding. The MPs lay the blame for this squarely at Mr Johnson's door. "The Government describes diplomas as charting a middle course between vocational and academic learning, but it is far from clear that those in charge of developing the different diplomas share a common understanding of what they are for and what kinds of learning they will involve," they wrote.

The select committee cautioned that there was still confusion about key aspects of the plan. Work to develop the diplomas had been "uncomfortably compressed", and there were widespread concerns that they would not be ready. Teachers, lecturers and exam boards also have had too little input into them and time to prepare for their introduction in schools and colleges next year. "Too often in the past, initiatives have been rolled out in a rushed manner, with negative consequences in terms of quality," the MPs said, adding that if more problems emerged during the first pilot, the rest of the scheme should be delayed. They also raised concerns about the continuing lack of a clear grading system and content, which meant that few universities appeared prepared to take them seriously.

The comments come as a survey of 565 teachers and lecturers reveals that almost two thirds believe that the new diplomas will be seen simply as training programmes leading to low-paid, low-status jobs for nonacademic pupils. According to Edge, the educational foundation which commissioned the research, only 3 per cent of teachers think that diplomas will appeal to middle-class students. Teaching unions said that schools needed more money and training to prepare them for the qualifications, and that A levels should be brought into the structure to break down the barrier between academic and vocational qualifications


Racist treatment of a white teacher is OK

In a new twist in American race relations, a federal court has ruled that a white teacher in a predominantly African-American school was subjected to a racially hostile workplace. The case concerned Elizabeth Kandrac, who was routinely verbally abused by black students at Brentwood Middle School in North Charleston. Their slurs make shock jock Don Imus look like a church deacon. Nevertheless, despite frequent complaints, school officials did nothing to intervene on Kandrac's behalf, arguing that the racially charged profanity was simply part of the students' culture. If Kandrac couldn't handle cursing, school officials told her, she was in the wrong school.

Kandrac finally filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and subsequently brought a lawsuit against the Charleston County School District, the school's principal and an associate superintendent. Last fall, jurors found that the school was a racially hostile environment to teach in and that the school district retaliated against Kandrac for complaining about it. The defendants sought a new trial, but U.S. District Judge David C. Norton recently affirmed the verdict. However, he did not support the jury's findings of $307,500 in damages for lost income and emotional distress.

Although Kandrac clearly suffered -- she was suspended from her job shortly after a story about her EEOC complaint appeared in the local newspaper, and her contract was not renewed -- her case didn't meet evidentiary requirements for damages. The judge said a new trial would have to determine damages, but the school district and Kandrac settled for $200,000.

While the dollars-and-cents issue may have been of paramount importance to school and district officials -- and would have lent heft to the verdict -- the more compelling issue for students, parents and society is the idea that a particular group of people can be allowed to behave in a grossly uncivil and threatening way by virtue of their racial "culture."

The key legal question was whether a school could be held responsible for students' behavior. In this case, the black children of Brentwood had been given a pass for their behavior because vulgar language was considered normal for their culture. Defense attorney Alice Paylor told jurors that the kids heard this same language at home and there was "no magic pill" to make them behave. Paylor is probably right about that, though a magic paddle might have worked wonders. Back in the day, if a student talked the way these did, he or she would have received a well-deserved thwack, been suspended and sent home to face the wrath of his or her father. That process likely would have put a swift end to the tribal tyranny now often tolerated in the service of self-esteem.

Let's be clear: What these children called this teacher is beyond reprehensible and could be only be construed as hostile and threatening. Here's a sample: white b----, white m----- f-----, white c---, white a------, white ho. Other white teachers and students corroborated Kandrac's account, including a male war veteran who testified he would rather return to Vietnam than to Brentwood.

Kandrac's attorney, Larry Kobrovsky, argued that the repeated use of "white" made these slurs racists in nature. But school officials insisted that because black students were equally abusive to other blacks, the language wasn't inherently racist.

Here's what we know without question: If majority white students had used similar language toward black students and teachers, the case would have been plastered on the front page of The New York Times until heads rolled. A black Kandrac would have a million-dollar book deal, a movie contract and hundreds of interviews to juggle. Her oppressors and those who passively facilitated her abuse would have been pilloried by the media -- their faces all over the evening news -- while the reverends Al and Jesse organized protests. But a white Kandrac -- who faced a daily barrage of insults, who had books and desks thrown at her and her bicycle tires punctured -- was treated like an incompetent wimp. She was just a lousy teacher out for money, the defense attorney said.

Though Kandrac lost her job, the real losers are the children deprived of an education by the actions of a tyrannical few. And the worst racists are those teachers and administrators who denied these empowered brats the expectation of civilized behavior. May the rest of America now be emboldened to act decisively in the interest of students who want to learn.



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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