Saturday, January 20, 2007

New Study Finds More Than $1 Billion in Public Funds to Improve California Schools Yielded Little Student Academic Improvement

Study also explores failures of CA's API system to adequately measure academic improvement and capture best practices

Approximately $1.25 billion in state public education funding provided to schools to help improve student academic performance has yielded little if any academic improvement, even though these schools met the state Academic Performance Index (API) requirements to exit the improvement program as successful. This analysis comes just as the state is set to carry out the agreed upon terms of last year's SB 1133 (Torlakson) and pour nearly $3 billion more into a similar program.

This finding is included in a new study released today by the Pacific Research Institute (PRI), a free-market think tank based in California. "Failing our Future: The Holes in California's School Accountability System and How to Fix Them" exposes the flaws in California's school accountability system, the API, and makes recommendations to improve it. The study, co-authored by James S. Lanich, Ph.D., president of California Business for Education Excellence and Lance T. Izumi, director of Education Studies at PRI, can be downloaded free of charge at and at .

The study reviews the API system and finds that it is not an accurate or meaningful measurement of school and student academic achievement. The study also looks in-depth at two school improvement programs: the Immediate Intervention/Underperforming Schools Program (II-USP) and the High Priority Schools Grant Program (HPSGP). Each program offers additional money to schools, which according to the API, are low-performing schools. Review of student test scores at the 1,620 low-performing schools that participated in these programs over three years, versus low-performing schools that did not participate, shows no significant difference in academic achievement over time as measured by improvement in grade-level proficiency on the California Standards Test (CST).

Collectively these two programs have spent approximately $1.25 billion or an average of $771,604 per school. Despite this lack of improvement in achievement, these schools met their API growth targets established by the state for successful implementation with sufficient results for exiting the program. The lack of significant academic improvement by schools participating in these programs is particularly troubling given that the state is set to spend an additional $2.9 billion of state taxpayer funds to continue a program that does not require higher rates of improvement. AB 1133 (Torlakson), signed into law last year, uses the $2.9 billion settlement from CTA, et al. v. Schwarzenegger, et al. to continue the High Priority Schools Grant Program.

The study also finds the API's "growth" targets are so minimal that simply by achieving the state required "growth" each year, it would take a school with a starting API score of 635 or less (3,423 of California schools have this API) between 61 to 84 years to reach grade-level proficiency. "If we keep using the API as our benchmark for gauging school and student academic improvement, we'll continue to deceive parents and the public about how our students and our schools are really performing academically," said Mr. Lanich. "We should be gauging academic achievement on the single most important measurement: grade-level proficiency. It's simple, it's understandable, and it's the standard every parent expects and every student should meet every year."

Mr. Izumi added that grade-level proficiency is not only a more rigorous measurement than California's API, it is more meaningful because it allows teachers, administrators and parents to understand precisely what is working and not working in our schools. "Under the API, we have an 'accountability' system that isn't accountable."

Poor and Minority Children Left Behind Under California's API System

The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires that not only a certain percentage of all students at a school attain grade-level proficiency in reading and math every year, but also that significant racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and other subgroups of students achieve those proficiency targets as well. The eventual goal is to have 100 percent of students reaching grade-level proficiency in reading and math by 2013-14. Since the API system focuses on collective school-wide performance and growth, there is no incentive to intervene and improve schools with lower-performing students as long as enough higher-performing students keep the school's average scores above the API benchmarks. School-wide API measures fail to detect or address stagnant or declining minority student performance.


According to Failing Our Future, California should set higher expectations for improvement for all schools, abandon the complicated API, focus efforts on grade-level proficiency as measured by the CST, and replicate the best practices from high-performing schools, especially those with low-income and minority populations.

The study profiles two exceptional California schools, the C.A. Jacobs Intermediate School in Dixon and Laton High School in Laton. "For state school accountability systems to be effective, there must be swift interventions and meaningful consequences for the performance or non-performance of schools," said Mr. Izumi, "Unfortunately, as our study shows, California's system is severely deficient in this crucial area."


Britain to abolish head-teachers?

The days of the "hero head", who manages everything in a school from hiring staff to ordering books, could be numbered, according to a report which suggests that business leaders with no classroom experience could run schools. Leaders with a classroom background would still be required for teaching and learning, but there was no reason why they should not report to a principal or chief executive, responsible for overall strategy and non-academic operations.

The report, prepared for the Government by the consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers, follows fears of an impending shortage of head teachers and concerns that workloads, bureaucracy and over-regulation were deterring deputies from applying for headships. Although ministers deny there is a recruitment problem, they acknowledge that the job of leading a school is now so complicated that a new, "modern" approach is needed.One of the biggest barriers to reform identified by the report is the "hero head" perception, among teachers, parents and heads themselves, which presupposes that for big decisions, "only the head will do". Distributing leading responsibilities among a team was often more effective, it concluded.

The report recommends that schools consider new types of leadership: a federated model brings groups of schools under one "super-head"; a multi- agency model has schools run by a team that includes teachers and staff from other agencies, such as health and social care. Schools could also be clustered into groups, with heads rotated from school to school.

The structure of governing bodies should also be changed, the report says, suggesting the creation of "meta-governors" working across a number of schools in a locality. It also recommended greater flexibility in the rewards offered to heads. As well as increasing the pay differential between heads and other staff, it suggests allowing heads to take time off during term time.

Teaching unions were divided over the findings. John Dunford, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he was not opposed to non-teachers being brought into certain school leadership roles: "The possibility should be opened up that the best of school leaders who are not qualified teachers - the bursars and business managers - should be able to come through to the top job, provided that the person in charge of teaching and learning is a qualified teacher."

But Steve Sinnott, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The primary purpose of schools is to educate pupils, not to be commercial organisations. Head teachers have told the Government they do not believe that those without teaching experience can run our schools."

Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, said that the report's recommendations would be discussed with the teaching and support staff unions before any action was taken. The National College of School Leadership would be given 10 million pounds to support its strategy to help to identify future head teachers and cut the time that it takes to qualify, he said.


Aztecs vs. Greeks: Those with superior intelligence need to learn to be wise


If "intellectually gifted" is defined to mean people who can become theoretical physicists, then we're talking about no more than a few people per thousand and perhaps many fewer. They are cognitive curiosities, too rare to have that much impact on the functioning of society from day to day. But if "intellectually gifted" is defined to mean people who can stand out in almost any profession short of theoretical physics, then research about IQ and job performance indicates that an IQ of at least 120 is usually needed. That number demarcates the top 10% of the IQ distribution, or about 15 million people in today's labor force--a lot of people.

In professions screened for IQ by educational requirements--medicine, engineering, law, the sciences and academia--the great majority of people must, by the nature of the selection process, have IQs over 120. Evidence about who enters occupations where the screening is not directly linked to IQ indicates that people with IQs of 120 or higher also occupy large proportions of positions in the upper reaches of corporate America and the senior ranks of government. People in the top 10% of intelligence produce most of the books and newspaper articles we read and the television programs and movies we watch. They are the people in the laboratories and at workstations who invent our new pharmaceuticals, computer chips, software and every other form of advanced technology.

Combine these groups, and the top 10% of the intelligence distribution has a huge influence on whether our economy is vital or stagnant, our culture healthy or sick, our institutions secure or endangered. Of the simple truths about intelligence and its relationship to education, this is the most important and least acknowledged: Our future depends crucially on how we educate the next generation of people gifted with unusually high intelligence

How assiduously does our federal government work to see that this precious raw material is properly developed? In 2006, the Department of Education spent about $84 billion. The only program to improve the education of the gifted got $9.6 million, one-hundredth of 1% of expenditures. In the 2007 budget, President Bush zeroed it out.

But never mind. A large proportion of gifted children are born to parents who value their children's talent and do their best to see that it is realized. Most gifted children without such parents are recognized by someone somewhere along the educational line and pointed toward college. No evidence indicates that the nation has many children with IQs above 120 who are not given an opportunity for higher education. The university system has also become efficient in shipping large numbers of the most talented high-school graduates to the most prestigious schools. The allocation of this human capital can be criticized--it would probably be better for the nation if more of the gifted went into the sciences and fewer into the law. But if the issue is amount of education, then the nation is doing fine with its next generation of gifted children. The problem with the education of the gifted involves not their professional training, but their training as citizens.

We live in an age when it is unfashionable to talk about the special responsibility of being gifted, because to do so acknowledges inequality of ability, which is elitist, and inequality of responsibilities, which is also elitist. And so children who know they are smarter than the other kids tend, in a most human reaction, to think of themselves as superior to them. Because giftedness is not to be talked about, no one tells high-IQ children explicitly, forcefully and repeatedly that their intellectual talent is a gift. That they are not superior human beings, but lucky ones. That the gift brings with it obligations to be worthy of it. That among those obligations, the most important and most difficult is to aim not just at academic accomplishment, but at wisdom.

The encouragement of wisdom requires a special kind of education. It requires first of all recognition of one's own intellectual limits and fallibilities--in a word, humility. This is perhaps the most conspicuously missing part of today's education of the gifted. Many high-IQ students, especially those who avoid serious science and math, go from kindergarten through an advanced degree without ever having a teacher who is dissatisfied with their best work and without ever taking a course that forces them to say to themselves, "I can't do this." Humility requires that the gifted learn what it feels like to hit an intellectual wall, just as all of their less talented peers do, and that can come only from a curriculum and pedagogy designed especially for them. That level of demand cannot fairly be imposed on a classroom that includes children who do not have the ability to respond. The gifted need to have some classes with each other not to be coddled, but because that is the only setting in which their feet can be held to the fire.

The encouragement of wisdom requires mastery of analytical building blocks. The gifted must assimilate the details of grammar and syntax and the details of logical fallacies not because they will need them to communicate in daily life, but because these are indispensable for precise thinking at an advanced level. The encouragement of wisdom requires being steeped in the study of ethics, starting with Aristotle and Confucius. It is not enough that gifted children learn to be nice. They must know what it means to be good. The encouragement of wisdom requires an advanced knowledge of history. Never has the aphorism about the fate of those who ignore history been more true.

All of the above are antithetical to the mindset that prevails in today's schools at every level. The gifted should not be taught to be nonjudgmental; they need to learn how to make accurate judgments. They should not be taught to be equally respectful of Aztecs and Greeks; they should focus on the best that has come before them, which will mean a light dose of Aztecs and a heavy one of Greeks. The primary purpose of their education should not be to let the little darlings express themselves, but to give them the tools and the intellectual discipline for expressing themselves as adults.

In short, I am calling for a revival of the classical definition of a liberal education, serving its classic purpose: to prepare an elite to do its duty. If that sounds too much like Plato's Guardians, consider this distinction. As William F. Buckley rightly instructs us, it is better to be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard University. But we have that option only in the choice of our elected officials. In all other respects, the government, economy and culture are run by a cognitive elite that we do not choose. That is the reality, and we are powerless to change it. All we can do is try to educate the elite to be conscious of, and prepared to meet, its obligations. For years, we have not even thought about the nature of that task. It is time we did.

The goals that should shape the evolution of American education are cross-cutting and occasionally seem contradictory. Yesterday, I argued the merits of having a large group of high-IQ people who do not bother to go to college; today, I argue the merits of special education for the gifted. The two positions are not in the end incompatible, but there is much more to be said, as on all the issues I have raised.

The aim here is not to complete an argument but to begin a discussion; not to present policy prescriptions, but to plead for greater realism in our outlook on education. Accept that some children will be left behind other children because of intellectual limitations, and think about what kind of education will give them the greatest chance for a fulfilling life nonetheless. Stop telling children that they need to go to college to be successful, and take advantage of the other, often better ways in which people can develop their talents. Acknowledge the existence and importance of high intellectual ability, and think about how best to nurture the children who possess it.



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, January 19, 2007


If they REALLY stood for the little guy they would

When Congress amended the Higher Education Act 10 years ago, defaulted student loans became the easiest and most lucrative debt to issue and collect. The amendments imposed huge fees on defaulted student loans and took away bankruptcy protection for student borrowers. It banned refinancing of many student loans, and also allowed draconian collection measures to be taken against student borrowers, including wage garnishment, tax garnishment, withholding of professional certifications, termination from employment, and even Social Security garnishment.

Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren told The Wall Street Journal that "student loan debt collectors have power that would make a mobster envious." And no one makes the mobsters greener than Al Lord and his Student Loan Marketing Corporation, also known as Sallie Mae. Lord and current CEO Tim Fitzpatrick have made about $367 million since 1999, making them some of the highest-paid executives in the country. Sallie Mae stock has also gone up almost 20 times in the same period. Way more than Microsoft.

There are only two ways to get that kind of growth with that kind of profit. 1) You do things smarter, better, fast. 2) Do what Sallie Mae did: get into a business where government assumes all the risk - guaranteed student loans - but where a private company gets all the reward. As a result, Sallie Mae became largest student loan company in America, bigger than most of their rivals combined.

In the company's annual report, Lord attributed his company's 29% core cash earnings-per-share growth in large part to fees collected from defaulted loans. He forgot to mention that the law allowed him to forbid Sallie's customers from refinancing with competitors offering better deals. Meanwhile, the borrowers suffer.

Many student loan debtors in default find themselves unable to function in society, and are faced with a decision to either continue the paralysis and live in fear, or begin making payments on a massively inflated amount - often double, triple or quadruple what they originally borrowed. StudentLoanJustice.Org has received thousands of stories from citizens whose lives have been shattered by their student loans. People who default on student loans are typically decent citizens who, for one reason or another, were not able to capitalize on their education. Most agree that they are responsible to pay back what they borrowed, but most cannot afford to pay back the wildly increased amounts that the federal law has allowed to be imposed upon them.

The student loan system in the U.S. has been hijacked by Albert Lord and his friends. Let there be no mistake: These are not creative geniuses who invented a new product or service. These are not captains of industry who built markets and competed their way to the top. Rather, these are nothing more than well-connected executives who took an existing market and used their weight in Congress to erect insurmountable barriers to competition.

Here are just two examples: Sallie Mae convinced Congress that allowing borrowers to reconsolidate student loans would cost taxpayers money, so they banned it. Then they sidestepped the law against inducements (also known as kickbacks) by permitting Sallie Mae to loan schools money to make student loans in the school's name, then sell them to Sallie Mae for a "commission." Imagine if any other business tried that. It would be ridiculous. Or illegal. For Sallie Mae, it was a business model. This cannot be what Congress intended when the Higher Education Act of 1965 was created. And it must be among the first things the new Congress fixes this year.


What's Wrong With Vocational School? Too many Americans are going to college


The topic yesterday was education and children in the lower half of the intelligence distribution. Today I turn to the upper half, people with IQs of 100 or higher. Today's simple truth is that far too many of them are going to four-year colleges. Begin with those barely into the top half, those with average intelligence. To have an IQ of 100 means that a tough high-school course pushes you about as far as your academic talents will take you. If you are average in math ability, you may struggle with algebra and probably fail a calculus course. If you are average in verbal skills, you often misinterpret complex text and make errors in logic.

These are not devastating shortcomings. You are smart enough to engage in any of hundreds of occupations. You can acquire more knowledge if it is presented in a format commensurate with your intellectual skills. But a genuine college education in the arts and sciences begins where your skills leave off.

In engineering and most of the natural sciences, the demarcation between high-school material and college-level material is brutally obvious. If you cannot handle the math, you cannot pass the courses. In the humanities and social sciences, the demarcation is fuzzier. It is possible for someone with an IQ of 100 to sit in the lectures of Economics 1, read the textbook, and write answers in an examination book. But students who cannot follow complex arguments accurately are not really learning economics. They are taking away a mishmash of half-understood information and outright misunderstandings that probably leave them under the illusion that they know something they do not. (A depressing research literature documents one's inability to recognize one's own incompetence.) Traditionally and properly understood, a four-year college education teaches advanced analytic skills and information at a level that exceeds the intellectual capacity of most people.

There is no magic point at which a genuine college-level education becomes an option, but anything below an IQ of 110 is problematic. If you want to do well, you should have an IQ of 115 or higher. Put another way, it makes sense for only about 15% of the population, 25% if one stretches it, to get a college education. And yet more than 45% of recent high school graduates enroll in four-year colleges. Adjust that percentage to account for high-school dropouts, and more than 40% of all persons in their late teens are trying to go to a four-year college--enough people to absorb everyone down through an IQ of 104.

No data that I have been able to find tell us what proportion of those students really want four years of college-level courses, but it is safe to say that few people who are intellectually unqualified yearn for the experience, any more than someone who is athletically unqualified for a college varsity wants to have his shortcomings exposed at practice every day. They are in college to improve their chances of making a good living. What they really need is vocational training. But nobody will say so, because "vocational training" is second class. "College" is first class.

Large numbers of those who are intellectually qualified for college also do not yearn for four years of college-level courses. They go to college because their parents are paying for it and college is what children of their social class are supposed to do after they finish high school. They may have the ability to understand the material in Economics 1 but they do not want to. They, too, need to learn to make a living--and would do better in vocational training.

Combine those who are unqualified with those who are qualified but not interested, and some large proportion of students on today's college campuses--probably a majority of them--are looking for something that the four-year college was not designed to provide. Once there, they create a demand for practical courses, taught at an intellectual level that can be handled by someone with a mildly above-average IQ and/or mild motivation. The nation's colleges try to accommodate these new demands. But most of the practical specialties do not really require four years of training, and the best way to teach those specialties is not through a residential institution with the staff and infrastructure of a college. It amounts to a system that tries to turn out televisions on an assembly line that also makes pottery. It can be done, but it's ridiculously inefficient.

Government policy contributes to the problem by making college scholarships and loans too easy to get, but its role is ancillary. The demand for college is market-driven, because a college degree does, in fact, open up access to jobs that are closed to people without one. The fault lies in the false premium that our culture has put on a college degree.

For a few occupations, a college degree still certifies a qualification. For example, employers appropriately treat a bachelor's degree in engineering as a requirement for hiring engineers. But a bachelor's degree in a field such as sociology, psychology, economics, history or literature certifies nothing. It is a screening device for employers. The college you got into says a lot about your ability, and that you stuck it out for four years says something about your perseverance. But the degree itself does not qualify the graduate for anything. There are better, faster and more efficient ways for young people to acquire credentials to provide to employers.

The good news is that market-driven systems eventually adapt to reality, and signs of change are visible. One glimpse of the future is offered by the nation's two-year colleges. They are more honest than the four-year institutions about what their students want and provide courses that meet their needs more explicitly. Their time frame gives them a big advantage--two years is about right for learning many technical specialties, while four years is unnecessarily long.

Advances in technology are making the brick-and-mortar facility increasingly irrelevant. Research resources on the Internet will soon make the college library unnecessary. Lecture courses taught by first-rate professors are already available on CDs and DVDs for many subjects, and online methods to make courses interactive between professors and students are evolving. Advances in computer simulation are expanding the technical skills that can be taught without having to gather students together in a laboratory or shop. These and other developments are all still near the bottom of steep growth curves. The cost of effective training will fall for everyone who is willing to give up the trappings of a campus. As the cost of college continues to rise, the choice to give up those trappings will become easier.

A reality about the job market must eventually begin to affect the valuation of a college education: The spread of wealth at the top of American society has created an explosive increase in the demand for craftsmen. Finding a good lawyer or physician is easy. Finding a good carpenter, painter, electrician, plumber, glazier, mason--the list goes on and on--is difficult, and it is a seller's market. Journeymen craftsmen routinely make incomes in the top half of the income distribution while master craftsmen can make six figures. They have work even in a soft economy. Their jobs cannot be outsourced to India. And the craftsman's job provides wonderful intrinsic rewards that come from mastery of a challenging skill that produces tangible results. How many white-collar jobs provide nearly as much satisfaction?

Even if forgoing college becomes economically attractive, the social cachet of a college degree remains. That will erode only when large numbers of high-status, high-income people do not have a college degree and don't care. The information technology industry is in the process of creating that class, with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs as exemplars. It will expand for the most natural of reasons: A college education need be no more important for many high-tech occupations than it is for NBA basketball players or cabinetmakers. Walk into Microsoft or Google with evidence that you are a brilliant hacker, and the job interviewer is not going to fret if you lack a college transcript. The ability to present an employer with evidence that you are good at something, without benefit of a college degree, will continue to increase, and so will the number of skills to which that evidence can be attached. Every time that happens, the false premium attached to the college degree will diminish.

Most students find college life to be lots of fun (apart from the boring classroom stuff), and that alone will keep the four-year institution overstocked for a long time. But, rightly understood, college is appropriate for a small minority of young adults--perhaps even a minority of the people who have IQs high enough that they could do college-level work if they wished. People who go to college are not better or worse people than anyone else; they are merely different in certain interests and abilities. That is the way college should be seen. There is reason to hope that eventually it will be.


Only drastic surgery can save Britain's schools

The university where I whiled away my misspent youth had a notoriously tough entrance procedure, full of trick questions to trip up the unwary and humiliate them into the bargain. Oddly, however, the exams you took at the end of your three years weren’t much harder. The reason is clear to me now. The lecturers were far too grand to do anything as dreary as teaching, and the students were far too busy getting drunk. So the authorities had to make sure that they let in only students who knew enough when they arrived to pass their finals three years later.

I’m sure that this eccentric approach has been purged by now. But I was reminded of it last week when I read of the Government’s plan to raise the age at which children can leave full-time education from 16 to 18 — because I have a sneaking suspicion that many comprehensives are operating today rather like my old university operated 30 years ago. The brightest kids could easily sail through their GCSEs almost as soon as they come into the school at the age of 11 or 12. Instead, they spend five years getting more and more bored. But at the other end of the spectrum, at least 20 per cent of pupils couldn’t pass five GCSEs if they were kept in our current school system till they were 94. Or so the league tables suggest.

It’s against this lamentable background, and the monumental failure of the Government to tackle the problem of the failing 20 per cent, that this airy-fairy proposal to raise the school leaving age must be judged. Forget for a moment the billions of extra funding needed. What’s preposterous is the notion that a system incapable of teaching a huge number of children the basics of literacy, numeracy and decency after 12 years of full-time schooling should somehow magically be able to do so after 14 years.

The result of keeping disaffected kids in the system till they are 18 could be catastrophic. Perhaps you don’t recall the last time the school leaving age was raised — in 1972, when it went from 15 to 16. I have wry memories. A few months before going to university, I did work experience in a local school, and watched with incredulity as a bunch of stroppy 15-year-olds who had expected to escape the previous summer were forced to kick their heels for three more terms — and proceeded to run amok. The legacy of that misconceived move lingers still. Is there anyone, apart from dutiful Blairites, who believes that today’s 16-year-old school-leavers are better educated than the 15-year-old leavers of the 1960s?

There is a way to raise the leaving age without going through that pointless chaos again. But it would require a radical reshaping of the entire school system. Here, just for your amusement, is what I would do.

First I would extend primary-school education by two years (mirroring the prep schools in the private sector). That would allow these enlarged primary schools to beef up their arts, sports and music — because the best specialist teachers would be attracted by the chance to take older children to a higher level. It would give primary teachers six extra terms in which to drum the basics of reading and arithmetic into slower learners. And most crucially, it would allow the the decision about appropraite secondary education to be deferred until children were 12 or 13, when it is far easier to know whether a child is cut out to be “academic”.

Those that are academic would pass a wideranging test at 13 and get a “certificate of basic education” (let’s call it the CBE, just to be confusing) covering the minimum literacy and numeracy skills normally needed in life. They would then move to secondary schools that would prepare them for a much tougher and broader set of A-levels than we have at present.

Non-academics would take a different path. They would still work towards their CBEs, but also develop the vocational skills needed to go straight into work at 18. Indeed, they would spend much of each term on work placements: old-fashioned apprenticeships, except in contemporary industries such as IT, food technology and retailing as well as the old blue-collar trades.

“Aha!” I hear the Islington liberals cry. “You are simply reviving the old apartheid system with grammar schools and secondary moderns, albeit with a 13-plus exam instead of the old 11-plus.” Not so. The problem in the old days was the stigma of failure attached to non-grammar-school children. My system would invest the vocational educational route with as much dignity, pride and rigorous standards as the academic route. It is the only way forward if British craft and trade workers are to compete in an increasingly global market place. Ask yourself why London is heaving with foreign plumbers, welders, electricians and carpenters who do a far better job than their British counterparts.

And it’s also the only way forward if we want to stop our educational system from churning out thousands of unemployable teenagers each year. Grafting makeshift vocational courses on to the existing state educational structure is useless.

But such a big rethink calls for political courage. Forget it, then. What the Government has concocted is a headline-grabbing gimmick that applies sticking-plaster to a festering wound. How typical. Is there anyone, apart from Blairites, who believes that today’s 16-year-old school-leavers are better educated than the 15-year-old leavers of the 1960s?



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, January 18, 2007

Intelligence in the Classroom: Half of all children are below average, and teachers can do only so much for them

CHARLES MURRAY speaks some unpopular truths

Education is becoming the preferred method for diagnosing and attacking a wide range problems in American life. The No Child Left Behind Act is one prominent example. Another is the recent volley of articles that blame rising income inequality on the increasing economic premium for advanced education. Crime, drugs, extramarital births, unemployment--you name the problem, and I will show you a stack of claims that education is to blame, or at least implicated.

One word is missing from these discussions: intelligence. Hardly anyone will admit it, but education's role in causing or solving any problem cannot be evaluated without considering the underlying intellectual ability of the people being educated. Today and over the next two days, I will put the case for three simple truths about the mediating role of intelligence that should bear on the way we think about education and the nation's future.

Today's simple truth: Half of all children are below average in intelligence. We do not live in Lake Wobegon. Our ability to improve the academic accomplishment of students in the lower half of the distribution of intelligence is severely limited. It is a matter of ceilings. Suppose a girl in the 99th percentile of intelligence, corresponding to an IQ of 135, is getting a C in English. She is underachieving, and someone who sets out to raise her performance might be able to get a spectacular result. Now suppose the boy sitting behind her is getting a D, but his IQ is a bit below 100, at the 49th percentile.

We can hope to raise his grade. But teaching him more vocabulary words or drilling him on the parts of speech will not open up new vistas for him. It is not within his power to learn to follow an exposition written beyond a limited level of complexity, any more than it is within my power to follow a proof in the American Journal of Mathematics. In both cases, the problem is not that we have not been taught enough, but that we are not smart enough.

Now take the girl sitting across the aisle who is getting an F. She is at the 20th percentile of intelligence, which means she has an IQ of 88. If the grading is honest, it may not be possible to do more than give her an E for effort. Even if she is taught to read every bit as well as her intelligence permits, she still will be able to comprehend only simple written material. It is a good thing that she becomes functionally literate, and it will have an effect on the range of jobs she can hold. But still she will be confined to jobs that require minimal reading skills. She is just not smart enough to do more than that.

How about raising intelligence? It would be nice if we knew how, but we do not. It has been shown that some intensive interventions temporarily raise IQ scores by amounts ranging up to seven or eight points. Investigated psychometrically, these increases are a mix of test effects and increases in the underlying general factor of intellectual ability--"g." In any case, the increases fade to insignificance within a few years after the intervention. Richard Herrnstein and I reviewed the technical literature on this topic in "The Bell Curve" (1994), and studies since then have told the same story.

There is no reason to believe that raising intelligence significantly and permanently is a current policy option, no matter how much money we are willing to spend. Nor can we look for much help from the Flynn Effect, the rise in IQ scores that has been observed internationally for several decades. Only a portion of that rise represents an increase in g, and recent studies indicate that the rise has stopped in advanced nations.

Some say that the public schools are so awful that there is huge room for improvement in academic performance just by improving education. There are two problems with that position. The first is that the numbers used to indict the public schools are missing a crucial component. For example, in the 2005 round of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 36% of all fourth-graders were below the NAEP's "basic achievement" score in reading. It sounds like a terrible record. But we know from the mathematics of the normal distribution that 36% of fourth-graders also have IQs lower than 95.

What IQ is necessary to give a child a reasonable chance to meet the NAEP's basic achievement score? Remarkably, it appears that no one has tried to answer that question. We only know for sure that if the bar for basic achievement is meaningfully defined, some substantial proportion of students will be unable to meet it no matter how well they are taught. As it happens, the NAEP's definition of basic achievement is said to be on the tough side. That substantial proportion of fourth-graders who cannot reasonably be expected to meet it could well be close to 36%.

The second problem with the argument that education can be vastly improved is the false assumption that educators already know how to educate everyone and that they just need to try harder--the assumption that prompted No Child Left Behind. We have never known how to educate everyone. The widely held image of a golden age of American education when teachers brooked no nonsense and all the children learned their three Rs is a myth. If we confine the discussion to children in the lower half of the intelligence distribution (education of the gifted is another story), the overall trend of the 20th century was one of slow, hard-won improvement. A detailed review of this evidence, never challenged with data, was also part of "The Bell Curve."

This is not to say that American public schools cannot be improved. Many of them, especially in large cities, are dreadful. But even the best schools under the best conditions cannot repeal the limits on achievement set by limits on intelligence.

To say that even a perfect education system is not going to make much difference in the performance of children in the lower half of the distribution understandably grates. But the easy retorts do not work. It's no use coming up with the example of a child who was getting Ds in school, met an inspiring teacher, and went on to become an astrophysicist. That is an underachievement story, not the story of someone at the 49th percentile of intelligence. It's no use to cite the differences in test scores between public schools and private ones--for students in the bottom half of the distribution, the differences are real but modest. It's no use to say that IQ scores can be wrong. I am not talking about scores on specific tests, but about a student's underlying intellectual ability, g, whether or not it has been measured with a test. And it's no use to say that there's no such thing as g.

While concepts such as "emotional intelligence" and "multiple intelligences" have their uses, a century of psychometric evidence has been augmented over the last decade by a growing body of neuroscientific evidence. Like it or not, g exists, is grounded in the architecture and neural functioning of the brain, and is the raw material for academic performance. If you do not have a lot of g when you enter kindergarten, you are never going to have a lot of it. No change in the educational system will change that hard fact.

That says nothing about the quality of the lives that should be open to everyone across the range of ability. I am among the most emphatic of those who think that the importance of IQ in living a good life is vastly overrated. My point is just this: It is true that many social and economic problems are disproportionately found among people with little education, but the culprit for their educational deficit is often low intelligence. Refusing to come to grips with that reality has produced policies that have been ineffectual at best and damaging at worst.



The number of teachers taking early retirement in England has almost doubled in the past seven years, with the majority coming from state secondary schools, newly published figures show. The number retiring has shot up from 5,580 in 1998-99 to 10,270 last year. Early retirement rose in state secondaries by 93 per cent, compared with a rise of 52 per cent in primaries. Most complained of having to juggle poor classroom behaviour with endless new government initiatives.

The figures, which came from a parliamentary question posed by the Conservatives, emerged as Tony Blair and Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, doubled the number yesterday of aspiring "chief executive" heads and deputies to work in London's toughest inner-city secondaries.

After a year training 20 teachers under the American- inspired Future Leaders programme, the Government decided to expand the course, having received positive feedback from schools and staff. The expansion, announced by Mr Blair and Mr Johnson, is designed to recruit more candidates into the classroom from outside education. The aim of the scheme is to break the cycle of poverty and educational failure in inner-city areas.

With a quarter of all head teachers retiring in the next decade, John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has applauded the move.


Australia's mathematics teaching below India's

The quality of maths and science education in Australia has been ranked below countries such as India, where 40 per cent of the population cannot read or write. In its annual report on global competitiveness, the World Economic Forum ranks Australia 29th for the quality of its maths and science teaching and 12th for the quality of its educational system. Singapore, Finland and Belgium lead the 125 countries assessed on the quality of their maths and science education, with India ranked in seventh place, the Czech Republic in eighth and Tunisia ninth. Other countries ranked higher than Australia include Romania, Estonia, Barbados, the Slovak Republic, Serbia and Montenegro, Lithuania and Indonesia, as well as OECD countries including New Zealand.

The assessment by the WEF, an independent organisation that hosts an annual gathering of global political and business leaders in Davos, Switzerland, is at odds with other international studies assessing the performance of Australian students in maths and science. These include the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Program for International Student Assessment, which ranked Australian students fourth among 41 countries in scientific literacy in 2003.

The world's longest-running study of maths and science - Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study - also assessed the mathematical and scientific knowledge of Year 4 and Year 8 students in 2003 and ranked Australia in the top 15. But the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia said yesterday the WEF rankings were based on an assessment by industry and major business of Australia's maths-science capabilities. APESMA chief executive John Vines said the lack of confidence expressed by business in the standard of Australian education reflected workforce issues. "It's consistent with the concerns we've been expressing for some years about the shortage of qualified maths and science teachers in the classroom," Mr Vines said.

He said the federal Government's failure to address the problem by providing incentives for scientists to retrain as teachers indicated it was not "fair dinkum" about solving the problem. "It's a clear strategic issue for Australia whether it wants to be a country that has the capacity to design and develop its own infrastructure and resources defence capabilities," he said. "They're all underpinned by strong skills in science and there doesn't seem to be the evidence that the Government is taking that issue seriously enough."

The Australian reported earlier this month that a big package of initiatives in school education and science taken to cabinet by Education and Science Minister Julie Bishop was rejected. The newspaper has also reported on the low prestige attached to studying science, reflected in university entrance scores that require a higher mark to study fashion design, sports management or traditional Chinese medicine than a science degree.

The WEF report, released late last year ahead of next week's Davos gathering, calculates a global competitiveness index based on factors judged critical to driving economic productivity and competitiveness. They are grouped into nine pillars that include health and primary education, and higher education and training. The rankings are based on an analysis of available data as well as the results of an executive opinion survey of more than 11,000 business leaders last year. The quality of education measures secondary and tertiary enrollment rates as well as the quality of education as assessed by the business community. "In particular, we take into account the quality of science, maths education, and management schools, as well as the availability of specialised training for the workforce," the WEF says.

The report says education and training are emerging as key drivers of competitiveness: "Today's globalising economy requires countries to nurture pools of well-educated workers able to adapt to their changing environment."


20 years needed to fix Australian science education

Australia has already lost its scientific knowledge base, creating a problem that will take two decades for the education system to redress. CSIRO chief of mathematical and information sciences Murray Cameron said yesterday the decline in maths and science skills would take 20 years to solve. "We haven't generated enough of the next generation (of scientists and mathematicians) and our capacity to do so will decline markedly over the next 10 years," he said.

President of the Australian Council of Deans of Science John Rice said the knowledge base of science and maths teachers in schools was 20 years out of date and said governments were doing little to upgrade their skills. "We have lost our level of scientific and mathematical knowledge. It's already gone," he said.

A study by the World Economic Forum, reported yesterday in The Australian, ranked Australia 29th out of 125 countries for the quality of its maths and science education as assessed by business and industry. The rankings by the WEF, an independent organisation of global political and business leaders, placed Australia behind India, the Czech Republic and Tunisia. But the WEF report is at odds with international assessments of the academic performance of Australia's students, which rates them in the top 15 or higher out of up to 50 countries.

Professor Rice, dean of science at the University of Technology, Sydney, said the discrepancy reflected the ability of students to perform well academically without skills required by industry. Professor Rice and Dr Cameron said the lost scientific knowledge base was caused by declining numbers of students choosing careers in maths and science. Talented students turned to more lucrative courses such as law and medicine.

A large proportion of science and maths teachers were not qualified in the discipline, meaning students were not taught the same depth of knowledge and were eschewing advanced maths and science courses. "Because people have downplayed science and maths, you aren't getting the higher calibre students taking up maths and science. They're going elsewhere to other jobs, leaving a very large vacuum," Professor Rice said. "The turnaround time to change that is quite long. In the end, it's 20 years." He called for an overhaul of maths and science teaching, which he described as too removed from real world.

Dr Cameron said the WEF findings reflected the loss of high-calibre students from science and maths. While first-year maths at university 30 years ago attracted the top 100 students in the state, today they were doing well to attract 10 of the top 100. "We need more good graduates going into schools to excite students and then become the next generation of good teachers," he said.

Engineers Australia president Rolphe Hartley said the number of engineers trained in Australia was half the OECD average. "Governments have lost the plot in this area. We have a shortage of qualified maths and science teachers and governments need to look at teacher education," he said. Business Council of Australia director of policy Patrick Coleman urged governments to invest in the development of teachers.



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, January 17, 2007

The gummint skools

"That biological parents are the enemies of their offspring"

A Dec. 31 Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial detailed some of the $7 billion in spending the members of the 2007 Nevada Legislature have already proposed - all while earnestly bleating that no tax hikes will be required. "Atop the list," we noted, "is a mandatory program to round up all of Nevada's children and lock them away from the subversive influence of their biological parents in day-long, tax-funded baby-sitting centers, not at the age of 6 (which is bad enough), but at the age of 5."

A well-intentioned soul objected that the "references to all-day kindergarten in Sunday's lead editorial are so sarcastic that few readers will give them credence." But no sarcasm was intended. Those interested in the history that backs up that brief reference might start with "The Tyranny of Compulsory Schooling," a speech by former multiple-year New York City (and state) PUBLIC SCHOOL Teacher of the Year John Taylor Gatto. There you will find:

"Sweden, a rich, healthy, and beautiful country, with a spectacular reputation for quality in everything, won't allow children to enter school before they're seven years old. The total length of Swedish schooling is nine years, not twelve, after which the average Swede runs circles around the over-schooled American. Why don't you know these things? To whose advantage is it that you don't? ..."

Then, explaining why our government seeks to get it hands on our kids at a more formative stage, purposely seeking to divorce children from the subversive influence of their own biological parents, Mr. Gatto details the Prussian connection. After that German state's "humiliating defeat by Napoleon in 1806, a new system of schooling was the instrument out of which Prussian vengeance was shaped, a system that reduced human beings during their malleable years to reliable machine parts, human machinery dependent upon the state for its mission and purpose," Mr. Gatto has learned. "When Blucher's Death's Head Hussars destroyed Napoleon at Waterloo, the value of Prussian schooling was confirmed. ...

"By 1905, Prussian trained Americans, or Americans like John Dewey who apprenticed at Prussian-trained hands, were in command of every one of our new institutions of scientific teacher training: Columbia Teacher's College, the University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins, the University of Wisconsin, Stanford," Mr. Gatto continues. "The domination of Prussian vision, and the general domination of German philosophy and pedagogy, was a fait accompli among the leadership of American schooling. "You should care about this for the compelling reason that German practices were used here to justify removal of intellectual material from the curriculum; it may explain why your own children cannot think. That was the Prussian way - to train only a leadership cadre to think.

"Of all the men whose vision excited the architects of the new Prussianized American school machine, the most exciting were a German philosopher named Hegel and a German doctor named Wilhelm Wundt. ... G. Stanley Hall, one of Wundt's personal proteges (who as a professor at Johns Hopkins had inoculated his star pupil, John Dewey, with the German virus) ... shrewdly sponsored and promoted an American tour for the Austrian doctor Sigmund Freud so that Freud might popularize his theory that PARENTS AND THE FAMILY WERE THE CAUSE OF VIRTUALLY ALL MALADJUSTMENT (emphasis added) - all the more reason to remove their little machines to the safety of schools. ...

"Teacher training in Prussia was founded on three premises, which the United States subsequently borrowed. The first of these is that the state is sovereign, the only true parent of children. Its corollary is that BIOLOGICAL PARENTS ARE THE ENEMIES OF THEIR OFFSPRING. When Germany's Froebel invented Kindergarten, it was not a garden for children he had in mind but a garden of children, in which state-appointed teachers were the gardeners of the children. Kindergarten is meant to PROTECT CHILDREN FROM THEIR OWN MOTHERS. ...

"The best-known device to break the will of the young, practiced for centuries among English and German upper classes, was the separation of parent and child AT AN EARLY AGE. Here now was an institution backed by the police power of the state to guarantee that separation. ..."

The theory is advanced that mandatory government day-care for 5-year-olds is necessary to ameliorate the burden of day care expenses on young parents. (Were you under the impression they were going to teach them to read? Current pedagogical doctrine is dead-set against that, since the educrats don't want the kids to actually escape at any earlier age from the other end of the indoctrination tunnel, let alone discover that reading real books is actually easy and FUN, which might encourage them to run about reading stuff other than their tedious, dumbed down, government-assigned pabulum.)

In fact, the real purpose here, in addition to severing at the earliest possible age the subversive impact of parents teaching kids to question authority, is to expand the beneficiaries of the teacher full employment act by an additional 10 percent - new recruits to join the endless chorus of whining that our graduates only get dumber every year because these union members are "underpaid."

Why do young parents need to pay for day care? Because two full-time salaries are now required to support a family, leaving no parent at home with the kids during daylight. This was not true in America until the 1960s. What changed?

The reason one salary will no longer support a family with a car and a free-standing home is because Americans have been progressively impoverished by the purposeful government policies of inflation and higher taxation. Basically, mom now works to pay the higher taxes on dad's inflation-devalued salary.

What do those taxes support? In addition to the expanding Social Security and Medicare Ponzi schemes - wealth transfers to further fragment the family by encouraging grandma and grandpa to live independently near their money somewhere in the Sun Belt - the main beneficiary of all that extra tax loot are the monstrously expanding government monopoly youth propaganda camps, which teach our kids wacko new environmental and social doctrines, while substituting sound bites about "dead white slave-owners" and the (mythical) wise ecological husbandry of the noble, peaceful Red Man for any detailed knowledge of our true political, philosophical, and technological history.

In other words, day-long day care for 5-year-olds receives its real electoral support because parents want some relief from the expense of child day care for 5-year-olds, which has been made necessary by the fact that both mom and dad now have to work outside the home to fund day-long government day care for 6-to-18-year-olds. Compare this to the days before 1960, when economic necessity under a far smaller government required most people to marry before having children and moms could generally afford to stay home with their young kids.

What on earth could convince young parents that the current system - which produces high school graduates increasingly devoid of complex literacy - is somehow better? Nothing could possibly achieve this fantastic result except the most massive, dedicated, and successful archipelago of government indoctrination camps ever devised. "It's very useful for some people that our form of schooling tells children what to think about, how to think about it, and when to think about it," Mr. Gatto concludes. "It isn't very healthy for families and neighborhoods, cultures and religions. But then school was never about those things any-way: that's why we don't have them around anymore. You can thank government schooling for that. ...

"I think it would be fair to say that the overwhelming majority of people who make schools work today are unaware why they fail to give us successful human beings, no matter how much money is spent or how much good will is expended on reform efforts. This explains the inevitable temptation to find villains and to cast blame - on bad teaching, bad parents, bad children, or penurious taxpayers." Instead, Gatto urges us to consider the possibility that "School may be a brilliantly conceived social engine that works exactly as it was designed to work and produces exactly the human products it was designed to produce" - fragmented adults who can't imagine how to survive without the state.

Educrats and their enablers may express outrage at Mr. Gatto's research. But significantly, few of them will actually allow themselves to read their esteemed former colleague at any length (his greatest book, The Underground History of American Education, can be downloaded online for free), let alone look up, read, and evaluate his references. For you see, they don't teach them to do that any more, in the schools.


Now a cloak of invisibility falls on British school standards

By Chris Woodhead

When Labour won the 1997 election the prime minister, much to my amazement, decided both to keep me in the post of chief inspector of schools and to continue the rigorous approach to testing and school inspection the Conservatives had introduced in the late 1980s. That approach was beginning to deliver, and I was happy to stay. By autumn 2000 when I decided I could no longer continue in the post it had become clear that any commitment to rigour was fast declining.

Last week it disappeared completely. The secretary of state for education, Alan Johnson, announced that the government is set to abolish the national curriculum tests children currently take at 7, 11 and 14. Instead, they are to be assessed when they are “ready”, and, if the school does not like the result, then the child can be tested again until, presumably, the desired score is achieved.

This decision is the final nail in the coffin of school accountability. Nobody will know quite how the tests have been administered, and it will be impossible to compare one school to another. At secondary school level “personalised learning” will lead to students taking GCSE and A-level exams at different times. So here, too, comparisons become difficult.

Johnson, of course, pretends otherwise. League tables, he blusters, will still exist. Parents will still be in a position to make an informed choice about the school they wish their child to attend. It is nonsense, of course.

The truth is that ministers will no longer have to face the annual humiliation of admitting that they have failed once again to hit their self-imposed targets for improvements in literacy and numeracy. They will no longer have to try to persuade us, as Jim Knight did last week, that the appalling fact that only 45.3% of 16-year-olds achieve five good GCSE grades including English and maths is actually good news.

What a U-turn. At the beginning Labour made it clear that mastering the basics — being able to read, write and do sums — meant more than anything else. But last week’s revamped government league tables based on five good GCSEs tell a different story. It’s disgraceful that after 10 years fewer than half of 16-year-olds are reaching basic standards in English and maths.

At some schools the difference made by including English and maths in the GCSE tally is stark. At Madeley court comprehensive in Telford, for instance, just 16% of pupils got five good GCSEs including English and maths last year. Before the basic subjects were included in the scoring, the figure was 82% (boosted by entering pupils for a controversial GNVQ in information technology, which counts as a ridiculous four GCSEs).

Parents are expected to make sense of this kind of swing in fortune. They are meant to ponder new “value added” league tables which purport to register how successful schools are in teaching children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds or ethnic minority families. No grammar school appears in the top 100 schools in this league table, and schools which languished at the bottom of the conventional table now shoot miraculously to the top.

Confused? So am I, but don’t worry. We are meant to believe a new educational dawn is about to break. Free from the burden of external scrutiny our teachers will focus on the needs of each of the 30 children in their class. They will adapt the boring constraints of the national curriculum to the interests of each child. Learning is to be “personalised”. Creativity and innovation will flourish.

In some schools, perhaps; in most, I suspect not. The truth is that the government has given up. It has abandoned the reforms which, in time, would have improved education.

Schools, like children, need challenge. Transparency matters. How, after all, are problems in failing schools going to be solved if we do not know which schools are failing? Who really thinks that real teachers in real classrooms can or should respond to the individual needs of each of their pupils? The truth, of course, is that learning cannot be “personalised”. Learning French grammar is learning French grammar. Full stop. Good teachers will help individual pupils overcome their individual problems as they always have, but beyond this platitude the concept of “personalisation” has no meaning.

The rot began with David Blunkett, who, for all his tough public talk, was never comfortable with “naming and shaming” failing schools and who oversaw a review of the national curriculum that emphasised the teaching of “learning skills” over the mastery of factual knowledge.

In 2000 my successor as chief inspector, Mike Tomlinson, announced that in future inspection was to be “something we do with schools rather than to schools”. The school was to be a partner in its own inspection, but, Tomlinson added defensively, “the rigour and objectivity of inspection” will not be affected.

It has, of course. In 2005 a new system of inspection based on the school’s evaluation of its own performance was introduced. The period of time the inspectors spend in the school has been reduced to a day or two. Most teachers will not even see an inspector. So much for rigour and objectivity.



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, January 16, 2007


In the light of the considerations presented below, a cynic might suggest that the continuing hatred of (selective) grammar schools emanating from the British Left is NOT about equality: it's their hope of turning the mass population into dumb docile sheep who can be pushed around by Leftist politicians. Grammar schools are and always were the best avenue of upward mobility for the British working class. Note that the BNP -- Britain's most working-class and least elite party -- pledges to restore all those that have been closed, and open them in every community that wants them.

There are three problems with our schools. We are failing to give an excellent education to cleverer boys and girls. We are failing to give a sound basic education to less able pupils, especially in deprived areas. And we are failing to stimulate the social mobility that good education makes possible.

Your educational chances, and your life chances, depend too much on where you live. The Government's City Academy programme attempts to address the problem of the underprivileged areas. It is expensive and unproven. Sadly, money and buildings do not solve all educational problems. We can expect successes and failures. On the other two problems, the Government's silence is deafening. Yet in the 21st century, Britain cannot afford to educate its people less well than the best in other countries. It is a personal tragedy as well as a national loss when many of our best youngsters are not helped to fulfill their potential. We have to educate everyone well if we are to compete with the rest of the developed world and the emerging economies of the East.

We have some very good individual schools, including some good comprehensives, but the system as a whole simply does not achieve enough. International results put Britain so far down the league tables that it must be time to look at another way of doing things. Between 2000 and 2003, for instance, the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) [And PISA is very undemanding!] showed the UK slipping from fourth to 11th in science and from eighth to 18th in maths.

However, there was one dazzlingly good result: when Pisa divided state schools from the private sector in 31 developed countries, our independent schools came top of the 62 groups. So if Britain is running the best schools in the world, why are we not also running the best state schools?

I think, after 46 years in and around teaching, that I know the answer. An outworn ideology prevents the country from learning from the successful model in its midst. One of the most important lessons is that independent schools are schools of choice. They deal with reasonably willing pupils, with teachers who care about their subjects and their students, and with parents who are supportive. Independent schools are, in the real sense of the word, selective: the parents select the school and the school selects their sons and daughters.

Where selection remains in the state system - in those English counties which have fought to retain grammar schools, and particularly in Northern Ireland - we can see its value. Their results show that selection works better, not just for the very able, but for the student body as a whole. In Northern Ireland, 10 per cent more pupils achieve five A*-C grades at GCSE than in England, and 30 per cent of A-level papers get an A grade compared to 22 per cent in England. That makes the Government's recent legislation intended to abolish selection in Northern Ireland particularly regrettable.

But education is about much more than just exam results - and as well outperforming the rest of the UK in tests, Northern Ireland also provides the model for what a selective system can achieve for social mobility. There, 42 per cent of university entrants come from less privileged backgrounds, compared to only 28 per cent in England. The concentration of our remaining grammar schools in a small number of mostly higher-income areas means that many able children from poor families miss out on the opportunities selective education can provide.

Yet it is the poor who benefit most from access to grammar schools. Recent research from the University of Bristol compared the results of selective and non-selective LEAs. While the average level of attainment was not significantly higher, the minority of children from poor families who made it to grammar schools did 'exceptionally well', bumping up their average GCSE scores by seven or eight points - equivalent to converting their grades from Bs to As. This compared to a four-point uplift for grammar-school pupils as a whole.

There is a way of extending these opportunities to pupils from all backgrounds in every part of the United Kingdom. It is not a case of reverting to the 11-plus, nor of creating a few good schools for the academically able and forgetting about the rest. A pamphlet published this week by the Centre for Policy Studies (, Three Cheers for Selection: How Grammar Schools Help the Poor, proposes a selective system which would free schools to choose their students; which would offer ladders of opportunity to clever boys and girls from deprived areas; and which would create a national network of specialist academic schools. This is the debate we should be having: not a debate about whether or not to select, but on how to do it.

Selection is unmentionable in political circles only because it is a synonym for the 11-plus [A scholastic aptitude test once universally taken at age 11 -- which tended to dictate the child's future educational chances]. I would not want to go back to that. We should be debating more flexible methods of how best to choose pupils for schools and when. Almost everyone - except the lunatic fringe that would like university places decided by lottery - accepts selection at 18. But since good students have fallen by the wayside by then, what about 16, or 14? Why is it all right to select pupils for 'Gifted and Talented' programmes at a much younger age (and even to offer vouchers to the top 10 per cent, as the schools minister Lord Adonis proposes), but not to select them for particular schools? Why can specialist schools select 10 per cent of their intake for being good at languages or general studies, but not because they may be clever?

New polling undertaken by ICM for the Centre for Policy Studies shows that the public is no longer in agreement with the politicians. Despite the years of public argument against selection, the majority favour it. The idea that more academic children maximise their potential through streaming, or by attending selective schools, is backed by 76 per cent of the public - and 73 per cent believe that this applies to less academic children, too. Even if the majority would still opt for a mixed-ability school for their own children, as many as 40 per cent would now choose a selective school if it was on offer. More than 50 per cent were in favour of schools being set free to choose their pupils by a mix of exams, interviews and head teachers' recommendations.

The 40-year experiment with comprehensive education has failed. It was meant to provide, in Harold Wilson's words, 'grammar schools for all', and to lead to increased social mobility. It has done neither. It has not raised standards - and, as the Sutton Trust has recently shown, we now have a less mobile society than in the 1950s and 1960s. In effect, selection by ability has been replaced by selection by neighbourhood. That is neither sensible, nor egalitarian. It is time to rid ourselves of an outworn dogma and explore practical ways of making our schools as good as we can make them.



Huge tax increases have led to what? Stifling bureaucracy, mainly

Hundreds of thousands of pupils will be taught in dilapidated classrooms because the Government is abandoning its targets for a 45 billion pound schools rebuilding programme. The plans, heralded by Gordon Brown in successive budget speeches, have become mired in red tape, forcing the Government to admit that three years after promising to rebuild all 3,500 secondary schools before 2020 not a single project has been completed. It expects to open just 14 of the 100 new schools it had planned to by the end of this year, according to official Department for Education and Skills figures, The Times has learnt.

Pupils, parents and teachers who had been promised new facilities are having to continue using buildings that have been described as not fit for purpose, with a lack of modern facilities and many temporary structures. The programme, Building Schools for the Future, is in such chaos that construction firms have pulled out, the official in charge has been replaced and the accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers have been brought in to review the mess.

When it launched the programme in 2004, the Government promised to spend 3 billion a year rebuilding or refurbishing every secondary school in the country over the next 15 years, in what it said was the biggest schools investment programme in Britain ever. It said that the first 100 building contracts would be signed in 2006, and the first 100 new schools would open in 2007.

But according to the figures, obtained by the Conservatives, only five building contracts have been signed and the Government now expects to open only fourteen new schools by the end of this year. The first new-generation school is not scheduled to open until this summer, in Bristol. Next year 200 schools were planned to open, but just 56 are now expected to do so. The problems mean that the Government has been unable to spend much of the money set aside by the Treasury for building schools. This financial year it has failed to spend 700 million promised by Mr Brown, and the last financial year it failed to spend 166 million.

George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor, said: “These admissions are yet more evidence of Gordon Brown’s spin on education. In every Budget and pre-Budget statement he claims to be giving more money to education, but he is still not building the new schools he promised.”

The delays have caused anger and frustration among teachers and parents. Steve Sinnett, the general-secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the mess was “absolutely unforgiveable” and that there was no doubt that it was affecting education. “We have a building stock that is not fit for purpose. Some schools are little better than slums,” he said. Malcolm Trobe, president of the Association of School and College leaders, said: “The youngsters, parents and the community have an expectation of a new school and it’s getting delayed and delayed.”

The Department for Education and Skills has brought in Tim Byles, a former chief executive of Norfolk County Council, to take control of Partnership for Schools, the agency in charge of the programme. Mr Byles is talking to ministers about abandoning the building targets and hopes to announce new ones later this year. He told The Times: “The early forecasts were too optimistic. We need to be realistic about the timings for this programme . . . and I believe that needs to be reset in the light of experience.” The delays were a result of insisting that schools were being properly built, he added. “Do you want to get this multigenerational investment right, or roll it out as quickly as possible? We took the decision to get it right.”

But schools and construction firms blame red tape, which has made the procurement process cumbersome and expensive. They also blame a lack of expertise among local authorities and school headteachers, who have no experience of overseeing such vast building projects. Mr Byles said he was confident that the programme could be brought back on track over the next 15 to 20 years. The Department for Education said in a statement: “Addressing decades of investment will not happen overnight. We were always clear that we would learn from the lessons and get this project right. “Every child being taught in world-class facilities in 50 years time will be grateful that we took the time to get this right.” [But why does it take so long to get it right?]



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, January 15, 2007


The EU has been accused of using underhand means in the classroom to try to 'brainwash' British children into becoming enthusiastic supporters of the European project. A new teaching pack on the EU has been introduced for use in Key Stage 3 and 4 'citizenship' classes that claims to offer a balanced view of the organisation and its role. The taxpayer-funded materials - available to schools in bulk and at no cost from the European Parliament's UK office - hail the effectiveness of EU legislation on everything from smoking and workers' rights to genetically modified organisms and food labelling.

But Eurosceptics were up in arms last night about elements of the lesson notes and pupil worksheets, which guide teachers and pupils in 'de-bunking' the views of a man who is critical of a lack of democracy in the EU. The UK Independence Party, which blew the whistle on the pack, also attacked the way the Eurosceptic character featured in the pupil worksheets - 'Portsmouth plumber Charlie Bolton' - is an ageing, white man who contrasts with other young, smiling, fresh-faced people. Below a chart showing how the various institutions of the EU, such as the European Parliament and European Commission, interact, Charlie Bolton says: 'Europe - it's just faceless bureaucrats - none of them elected. 'And they impose their laws on us from Brussels whenever they fancy. All that red tape to make our lives harder.'

It then guides pupils to reject the notion that the EU is anti-democratic by reminding them of the elected European Parliament. 'Do you agree with Charlie? What does the flow chart tell you about how laws are made?' it asks. The teacher is also instructed to show pupils how to counter his argument and to lead the pupils to conclude that he is wrong and that the EU is democratic. The lesson plan reads: 'Discuss Charlie Bolton's attitude to EU legislation. If Charlie knew that the Members of the European Parliament are elected and that the Council of Ministers represents our governments, do the students think that he would change his mind?'

Yorkshire's UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom hit out last night at the pack, branding it 'bias and propaganda, masquerading as neutral fact'. 'At a time when the Government has been downplaying Britain's history and political traditions in our schools, taxpayers are instead forced to pay for our children to learn EU systems,' he said. 'Given that up to 75 per cent of our laws are now made in Brussels, I suppose it does make some sense, but I am sure that most parents would want their children to learn our political systems and institutions rather those that are being imposed upon us. 'It is obvious that the EU has given up on persuading the grown ups, so now they have started on the children.'

Shipley's Tory MP Philip Davies, spokesman for the Better Off Out campaign, added: 'The EU gets more like the Soviet Union every day when it resorts to brainwashing children. 'All it does is confirm my worst fears. 'But it's not just Charlie Bolton who's sick of the EU - opinion polls show that more and more people are fed up with membership and now a majority of businesses are against it. 'It smacks of utter desperation on their part because they know they've been rumbled.'

The European Parliament insists that the pack is impartial and that it helps pupils make their own minds up about the EU. 'The resources have been designed to offer a balanced introduction to the European Union and the European Parliament, to encourage students to take part in discussion and to form their own view on the subjects covered in the resources,' say the officials responsible for the pack


British Labour party minister axed 2,700 special needs places

RUTH KELLY, who was heavily criticised last week for educating her dyslexic son privately, presided over the closure of more state special school places annually than any other Labour education secretary since 1997, new figures show. In 2005, the only full year Kelly ran the education department, school closures led to the loss of more than 2,600 places for children with special needs. The closures continued in 2006, when Kelly was in charge until May.

Her record has angered parents who cannot afford private education and rely on state schools where there is often inadequate expertise.

The figures add to the claims of hypocrisy faced by Kelly, now the communities secretary, when it emerged she was prepared to spend £15,000 a year on a place at a private school in Oxfordshire.

She defended the decision on the grounds that her local council, Tower Hamlets in east London, could not provide for her son’s “particular and substantial learning difficulties”. The nine-year-old is understood to have dyslexia and dyspraxia, which affects co-ordination.

David Willetts, the shadow education secretary, who asked the question that led to the figures emerging, said he backed a moratorium on closures. “Every week I get letters protesting at special schools being closed,” he said. “It is an incredibly sensitive subject.”

The figures obtained by Willetts show that 2,770 places in special schools were closed in 2005 and another 2,051 in 2006. Some of these have been replaced by small units attached to mainstream schools.

Local councils have been under pressure to close special schools in an inclusion drive by Labour to educate children in mainstream schools wherever possible.

However, in 2005, as the closure of special schools was gathering pace under Kelly, Baroness Warnock, whose 1978 report on special educational needs paved the way for the policy, admitted it was leaving “a disastrous legacy”.

Last year there was a slight policy shift when Lord Adonis, schools minister, said there would be a tightening of conditions that had to be met before special schools could be closed.

Jackie Gibbon from Hereford whose nine-year- old daughter is dyslexic and dyspraxic, said: “I’d love to be in Ruth Kelly’s position, but we can’t afford it.”


Australia: Year 12 English students study SMS, podcasts


Show and tell is one assessment task suggested for Year 12 English students in South Australian schools by the state's curriculum board. Changes to the state's English curriculum this year also include the study of SMS, podcasts, graphic novels and song lyrics. Teaching resources authorised by the Senior Secondary Assessment Board of South Australia for assessing students in the English Studies course, which is the literature course, include ideas for "non-text-based" activities. "Choose three objects which are of significance to you, and explain their importance in your life," the document says. Other activities suggested include giving demonstrations of packing a picnic basket, reading astrology charts, making a cake, giving a facial or grooming a dog.

English Studies is based on the critical study of texts, while English Communications is a broader study of the power and role of language in society. From this year, as part of their study of personal communications, English Communications students in Year 12 will have the opportunity to study text messages, along with family gatherings, letters and telephone calls. Other forms of communication studied under the various topics include talkback radio, junk mail, press releases, chat rooms, online shopping and podcasts.

Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop yesterday lamented the studying of text messages in lieu of time-tested classics such as Shakespeare, particularly in states such as South Australia and Queensland that do not have English as a compulsory subject for all school students. Ms Bishop said that as part of the development of a national curriculum framework in English, she would like to see Shakespeare included as a compulsory text. "I strongly encourage state education authorities to include Shakespeare and other classics in their curriculum," she said. "An appreciation of the best literature available should be an essential part of schooling. I would encourage state education authorities to aim higher, for higher standards."

Ms Bishop described the study of text messages in Year 12 as illogical, and said most students would know more about it than their teachers. "By replacing the teaching of the classics with courses that encourage them to text, are you encouraging students to take the easy path? It's not challenging or stretching students." Ms Bishop said the introduction of national literacy tests from 2008 would include assessment of spelling, grammar and punctuation not currently tested in state-based assessments. "The difficulty is not having students learn how to send text messages, but having them speak correct English."

Jury Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Adelaide, Penny Boumelha, welcomed the idea of English being compulsory for school students. Professor Boumelha said that teaching students how to write text messages was of little value in an English course. In the curriculum document, text messages form part of the communication study. A spokesperson for the assessment board was unavailable yesterday.



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, January 14, 2007

Special needs are universal now

Comment from Britain:

My children are special to me, and they have needs (like they need to be told to get up for school). But I don’t think they have special needs. The way things are heading, that alone may yet make them part of a “special” minority. The Ruth Kelly ballyhoo [where a British government minister put her kid into a private school to help him with his dyslexia] highlighted one problem with special needs education: the policy of “inclusion” which means sticking children with serious difficulties in mainstream schools without specialist help, to the detriment of all. But an even bigger problem is the crazed expansion of the category “special needs”.

According to the Department for Education, almost 1.5 million children in England now have special educational needs — around 18 per cent of the total. Call me stupid, but how could that possibly be? It must reflect the fashion for medicalising childhood problems — see apparent epidemics of everything from autism to attention deficit disorder. It could also have something to do with special needs being a ticket for schools to obtain resources and parents to get their children school places.

And that’s not all. This week Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, announced plans for all schools to adopt “personalised learning and teaching”. Today’s official mantra is that every child is unique — that is, they all have special needs.

God knows the system is bad enough, but this could make it worse. Even if state schools had resources for one-to-one teaching, a personalised system means abandoning the democratic ideal of a universal education. Except in rare cases, most kids surely do best by interacting with others and learning through a teacher who is more than their mentor or mate — not sitting in a personal ghetto with only their personal computer from which to copy the answers.



The Bard may soon return to Queensland schools as the Federal Government considers making Shakespeare compulsory for English students. Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop said the compulsory study of Shakespeare was one of a range of options being considered for English students. Ms Bishop, expected to step up her overhaul of Australian education this year, said that for centuries schoolchildren had been enriched by the English playwright. She was considering reintroducing the Bard as a compulsory part of the English curriculum, she said. "I would say that is one option. But English itself is not even compulsory in Queensland schools at the moment," she said.

Ms Bishop has indicated a willingness to use federal funding as a bargaining chip to force states to improve curriculums. She wants English and history reintroduced as compulsory subjects across the nation. Ms Bishop noted British research released this week showing Shakespearean language "excites the brain".

Ms Bishop said Shakespeare's plays were not the only literary classics she wanted back in the classroom. Australian literature from Banjo Paterson to Patrick White also could enrich young minds, as opposed to "deconstructing that trashy reality show Big Brother".

The Federal Government has backed its belief in the Bard with a $50,0000 investment in the Bell Shakespeare Regional Teacher Scholarships program, which kicks off this year. The investment will provide 12 English teachers from regional and remote schools with a program to build expertise in bringing Shakespeare to life.


When government schools are no good ....

There is a huge demand for private education in Australia in a desperate attempt to escape Left-run non-education in State-government schools. Around 40% of Australian teenagers are now sent to private schools. But huge demand forces up prices -- as it always does. Australia's most famous conservative government -- the Menzies (Federal) administration -- long ago instituted a semi-voucher system by giving grants to private schools -- thus going over the heads of the State governments. Federal grants to private schools are however still much less per head than what State governments spend on their schools

Some of Sydney's most prestigious private schools are charging parents as much as $4000 in non-refundable fees to enrol their children, on top of tuition fees that can cost more than $20,000. Annual fees for senior students this year will be as high as $21,117 at Cranbrook, $20,967 at Kambala, $20,913 at King's and $20,826 at Sydney Grammar. At Cranbrook School, a non-refundable enrolment fee of $4615 is payable on acceptance of a place. Parents must also pay a non-refundable fee of $300 to make an enrolment application. The school generates about $1 million each year from enrolment fees and more than $23 million in tuition fees. Under its funding arrangements for private schools, the Federal Government no longer takes into account the amount of non-refundable fee income a school generates.

Lyndsay Connors, who heads the NSW Public Education Council, said schools were no longer penalised for the extra income. "This kind of impost by private schools on parents would normally be their own business," she said. "But in this country, these schools are not only provided with public funding, but with ever-increasing amounts of it. The least they could be required to do is let all of us shareholders know what all this public and private money is being spent on. What exactly are we subsidising?"

St Ignatius' College, Riverview, charges a non-refundable enrolment fee of $4000, King's $3600 and Sydney Grammar $3470. Loreto Normanhurst and Loreto Kirribilli each charge $3000 and Abbotsleigh $1720. St Andrew's Cathedral School charges a non-refundable enrolment fee of $2000 a family. Overseas students are also required to pay an enrolment bond of $18,500 and a NSW Board of Studies charge of $700 for each year 12 student sitting the HSC. Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore) charges students $1000 to enrol and another $2000 to confirm the enrolment. Both are non-refundable and in addition to annual fees. Year 11 and 12 students pay a total of $37,950 over two years, paid in five instalments.

Its headmaster, Timothy Wright, said the fee was designed to deter parents from making an application if they did not seriously intend to enrol their child. "You might find parents put their names down at four or five schools and four of those schools make plans for that child arriving," Dr Wright said. "If a school suddenly found that 10 per cent of their expected enrolments didn't come, they would have a serious problem." Dr Wright said income from non-refundable fees helped fund the sizeable costs associated with running the enrolment office.

The Association of Independent Schools' executive director, Geoff Newcombe, said non-refundable fees were intended to provide certainty for parents and schools and to discourage parents from making multiple applications. "In many cases, a late withdrawal means that the school would have difficulty in filling that place for a term or two - even though they have waiting lists - because the parents have enrolled in another school," Dr Newcombe said. "Many schools use that as a contribution towards the school's capital fund and towards the bursary scholarship fund."



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.