Sunday, August 12, 2007

Unions of urban decay

On Fox News Sunday last week, Newt Gingrich singled out Detroit as an example of deep national problems needing bold solutions. "The Detroit Public School system currently graduates 22 percent of its entering freshmen. If you're an African-American male, you have 73-percent unemployment in your 20s if you drop out of school," lectured Gingrich, joining a long list of outside political and business leaders who speak passionately about what is happening to children here - and in other urban areas like it.

"I do think a president has an obligation to say to the country: `You can't compete with China and India if your education system is failing,' and that has to be solved locally," continued the undeclared presidential candidate, rallying a nation to Detroit's bedside. Trouble is, the locals don't care. And no amount of bold national solutions will matter until they do.

Ignoring the staggering statistics Gingrich cited, Detroit leaders instantly manned the ramparts to shoot the messenger. Detroit Federation of Teachers President Virginia Cantrell said Gingrich should "leave Detroit alone."

Detroit School Board President Jimmy Womack disputed Gingrich's numbers, hauling out a discredited Michigan Department of Education graduation figure of 67.2 percent as proof. In truth, the public system is so broken that Detroit has no idea how many students graduate from its high schools. An independent Manhattan Institute study puts Detroit's grad rate at 42 percent - not quite the 22 percent figure Gingrich cites from a 2006 Education Week report, but still well below the national average of 70 percent.

Piling farce on tragedy, Councilwoman Monica Conyers (wife of Detroit Congressman John Conyers who has devoted his time in office - not to teaching Detroit children - but to impeaching George W. Bush), invited "Gingrich to come here. Detroit is on the upswing" - a ridiculous claim given that the city (as Gingrich noted) has lost half its population since 1950.

As a direct consequence of its education and family collapse (a 70-percent child-illegitimacy rate), Detroit today sports a 47-percent adult illiteracy rate, a significant barrier to attracting new business.

Gingrich rightly says that "we should basically, fundamentally replace the Detroit school system with a series of experiments to see if they'll work." But he is hardly the first person to suggest such a thing.

Consider former Republican Governor John Engler who made Detroit school reform a priority, including a 1998 city school-board takeover and passage of legislation approving charter schools. At every turn, these reforms were met by intense resistance from entrenched unions and their Democratic puppets. Education consultant Tom Watkins, a former superintendent of Michigan schools, is a rare Democrat willing to counter the party line. He calls the refusal to address Detroit's problems "state-sponsored stupidity at best, and institutional racism at worst."

Consider Michigan millionaire and philanthropist Robert Thompson, who in 2003 offered the city $200 million - $200 million! - to build 15 Detroit charter high schools. He was run out of town. Mayor Kwame Kilptrick, who sends his own kids to charter schools, advertised Detroit's poisonous racial politics when he rapped the white businessman for trying "to ride in on a white horse" and save the city.

Or consider Dave Bing, a prominent black Detroit entrepreneur. The former Detroit Pistons star was heaped with scorn for partnering with Thompson. At a 2005 banquet hosted by the Call `Em Out Coalition, Bing was awarded a "Sambo Sell-Out Award" by Councilwoman Sharon McPhail.

Even the great Bill Cosby is shunted aside. When Detroit hosted the NAACP national convention July 7-12, nary a word was spoken about grad rates or shattered families. Cosby, who has made a second career of highlighting dysfunctional black families - including high-profile trips to Detroit - was not even invited. He had to organize his own meeting with 800 black men a week later.

"Let's be clear," said Gingrich, "This is entirely about the unions." True, and as Detroit's middle class drains away, city politicians are ever more dependent on unions for power. An estimated 30 percent of Detroit's population is in government employ - including education. Last year, when Detroit teachers illegally (by state law) walked out on the first week of classes to protest a new labor contract, no one lifted a finger to stop them. Not a Democratic judge. Not the Democratic mayor. Not the Democratic governor.

Many of the reforms Gingrich talks about in Detroit are being quietly seeded in experiments like private Cornerstone schools or the University Prep charter. But the deeper, systemic problems of family collapse and union loyalty are likely to take generations to overcome.


Graduating in history from a British High School may become a thing of the past

The future of history as an A level subject is at risk as pupils choose "soft options" such as media studies over traditional academic subjects, the head of an examiners' body has said. Katherine Tattersall, of the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors, gave warning that the subject could disappear from some schools because it was no longer compulsory for pupils over 14. Ms Tattersall said that history was one of the subjects that was threatened by alternative A levelss such as media studies and photography, which are perceived to be more likely to lead to a job. However, the Department for Children, Schools and Families rejected the claim.

Nearly a quarter of a million pupils took history exams last year, a record number. However, take-up of the subject and others, such as modern foreign languages and geography, is likely to show a decline when A-level and GCSE results are published this month. Ms Tattersall said: "History is disappearing because it is no longer a requirement of the national curriculum for 14 to 16-year-olds. It is just one of the subjects that is at risk. History is also disappearing into the new citizenship [syllabus], which is being promoted by the Government."

Ofsted, the education inspectorate, said recently that two thirds of pupils dropped history at the age of 14. It also said that pupils lacked an overview of world history and that the subject focused too much on England.

Ms Tattersall rejected criticism that exams were being "dumbed down". She said: "Examinations are far more sophisticated and demand a greater range of skills than they used to, and kids have a lot more to do."" Heather Scott, chairman of the Historical Association secondary committee, said she feared that the status of history was being diminished. She said: "We remain particularly concerned by the growing number of secondary schools ending pupil statutory entitlement to Key Stage 3 history in Year 8 by collapsing the Key Stage into two years. In effect, time for history is reduced by a third and the age at which pupils no longer study the subject falls to 13."

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said that history was secure on the curriculum. He said: "We don't agree that history A level may `become a thing of the past'. Ofsted states that it is one of the best-taught subjects. Standards in history compare well with other subjects and are improving: at A level, 75 per cent of candidates achieved an A-C grade compared with an average for all subjects of 71 per cent."

Classical scholars persuaded the Government to prevent the scrapping of the only remaining A level in ancient history this year. The move by the OCR exam board to replace the subject with a "classical civilisation" alternative had caused an outcry among academics and students.


Too few female academics in New Zealand?

According to the feminist assumptions embodied below there are but such assumptions deny innate male/female differences so are religious rather than factual

Canterbury's universities still have a long way to go to improve their numbers of senior female academics, the Human Rights Commission says. Women now make up 8.22 per cent of professors at Canterbury University compared to 6.15 per cent in 2005 and 3.33 per cent in 2003. Just over 20 per cent of associate professorships are now occupied by women, a major jump from the 2005 figure of just 6.41 per cent. Lincoln University now has women in 9.4 per cent of its professor positions, compared with 5 per cent two years ago, and 20 per cent are associate professors compared with 5.88 per cent in 2005.

Equal Employment Opportunities commissioner Judy McGregor. said the figures showed progress was slow, but steady. "We are delighted that Canterbury and Lincoln are taking seriously the need to recruit and promote women into senior roles, but there's still a long way to go," she said. Canterbury University vice chancellor Roy Sharp said the university culture in the past made it hard for women. "That's what I was told and that's why I set up the equity and advisory committee. It's a question of changing the culture of an organisation."

Sharp said attention was also being focused on the low percentages of Maori and Pacific staff. In 2005, Maori made up just 1.8 per cent and Pacific .6 per cent of academic staff. Those numbers have improved slightly to sit at 3.5 per cent and .9 per cent, respectively. "I think it will take time and there's nothing you can do to hurry it in a way because you can't appoint people who are not the best for the job," Sharp said. "The situation has improved a lot, but that doesn't mean we can't and won't improve further."

Canterbury University Pacific student adviser Liz Keneti would like to see more Pacific staff at the university. "Academia is not a traditional career path for Pacific people so they do need to be steered," she said. [Aren't the Pacific islanders lucky to have such a wise, all-seeing mother to "steer" them? There is a photo of the wise one below]

Lincoln University does not measure the ethnicity of its staff. Environment, Society and Design Development divisional director Stefanie Rixecker said because Lincoln was a small institution, it was easy to keep track of its ethnic mix and it had many international academics. The university had faced challenges in the past promoting women to senior academic positions, she said. "Traditionally, we have been focused on agriculture so there's been an historical time lag for women moving up the ranks." Lincoln was looking to balance its gender issues as positions became available. "We have some catching up to do and we could and should be doing better."


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Jonrayray - if you have an opinion on my comment, why did you not email me since you know how to get to our support website that has my contact details? So what is it are you trying to make out from the very few words you appear to have an issue with. By 'steered' I meant to be encouraged towards a career path they may not have considered. Many dont because we have so few role models in academia. Organisations and governments have been 'steering' prospective and potential people for years through things like scholarships in order to increase areas where more skilled people are needed. By the way many Pacific people find the term Islanders offensive!! What are you doing for Pacific people that gives you the right to judge my views on what I believe would help to benefit Pacific people?? How about tryng to fully understand a person's views and stepping in to make a difference rather than making judgements and belittling remarks about someone who is at least trying.