Saturday, April 21, 2007

"Reading First" Paying Off, Education Dept. Says

Much to the annoyance of the Democrats

Students in the Bush administration's embattled $1 billion-a-year reading program have improved an average of about 15 percent on tests measuring fluency over the past five years, according to an analysis of data by the Education Department. The Reading First program, a central part of the No Child Left Behind law, has been criticized by congressional Democrats who say it has been riddled with conflicts of interests and mismanagement. The House education committee is holding an oversight hearing on the matter Friday.

The data, scheduled to be released today, indicate that students have benefited from the program, which provides grants to improve reading in kindergarten through third grade. "That's the irony," said John F. Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy. "The program was poorly -- even unethically -- administered at the federal level, yet it seems to be having a positive effect in schools."

A department official said the data show that the number of students in Reading First programs who were proficient on fluency tests increased on average over the past five years by 16 percent for first-graders, 14 percent for second-graders and 15 percent for third-graders. On comprehension tests, it increased 15 percent for first-graders, 6 percent for second-graders and 12 percent for third-graders. The official said the analysis is based on results from 16 states that have the most complete data. "The results show that Reading First is an extremely effective program that is helping our nation's neediest students get the skills they need to read," said Amanda Farris, a deputy assistant education secretary who oversees the program.

Critics said the results were not so impressive, considering how much money has been spent on the program. They said the test scores are meaningless because they are not compared with the performance of other students, who nationwide are doing better in reading. [And why would that be? Because of similar reforms elsewhere too?]


Education vouchers, all power to parents

Progress is painfully slow on much-needed reforms to break a culture of mediocrity in Australian public schools

PARENTS of school-aged children can be forgiven for feeling punch-drunk after a week of big talk but little action towards making Australia's education system the best it can be. Parents really need only understand the following: first, they are no closer to getting a clear idea of how individual schools perform to enable an informed choice; second, education unions remain obsessed with class-war politics; third, the Labor state governments, held hostage by the education unions, refuse to even entertain federal Education Minister Julie Bishop's plan that teachers be paid for performance rather than length of service; and finally, the best that state governments could come up with on a national curriculum was yet another bureaucracy and a promise that it would not involve a "one size fits all" approach, which seems to defeat the point.

The least subtle illustration of the three-way campaign being waged in education between the federal and state governments and respective unions can be found in television advertisements launched this week by the Australian Education Union as part of a $1.3 million campaign ahead of the federal election. Ostensibly a campaign for greater funding for public schools, which are a state responsibility using commonwealth grants, the advertisement shows a class of children at a public school being ignored by a passing John Howard. The advertisements ignore the fact that, overall, government schools receive a higher level of government funding than private schools, with the 65 per cent of students in government schools receiving 75 per cent of total taxpayer funding. But most of all, it ignores the fact that a private school student can receive only up to 70 per cent of the funding given to a student in a public school, and possibly as low as 13.7 per cent. This leaves parents who send their children to private schools effectively paying twice -- once in taxes for the public system and then again in school fees.

The teachers union campaign perpetuates the great lie that Catholic and independent schools are populated only by the children of wealthy parents. At least Labor has had the good sense to ditch former leader Mark Latham's crazy scheme to punish a hit list of private schools. Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd has articulated a forward-thinking agenda on education, favouring a national curriculum running from kindergarten through to Year 12 and setting literacy and numeracy benchmarks. Mr Rudd also has a track record of standing up to the teachers union in Queensland and speaking out against fashionable but less rigorous education trends such as Queensland's Studies of Society and Environment system.

At a federal level, the consensus has shifted on education towards a concern for outcomes and away from the politics of envy. The common ground for everyone except the left-wing unions is that a mix of public and private education is desirable both for parents and the state. The continued mischief by teacher unions that complain about standards, but encourage mediocrity by refusing to accept merit-based policies, is unhelpful. It is doubly disappointing that they continue to find support in state governments that have direct responsibility for funding public schools.

The Australian supports public education but also supports the right of parents to choose a private school if they wish. We acknowledge that many parents make a great financial sacrifice to provide a private school education for their children. We support merit-based pay to promote excellence in teaching and we support the provision of quality information that allows the ranking of one school against another, both public and private, to enable parents to make an informed decision. The present system encourages mediocrity and creates an effective black market where only privileged insiders know what is really going on. Parents deserve to be properly armed with knowledge and the power to make their decisions. As we have previously argued, the most equitable, transparent system for education is the allocation of vouchers that enable parents to spend their public education dollar at any institution they like. Such a system would encourage schools, whether private or independent, to perform in order to attract students. There would be an added incentive to reward good teachers properly and for schools to provide the sort of information parents need to make a decision. The Government and Labor should consider introducing a voucher system as policy for the next election. We believe it would be very attractive for parents.



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"

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


Friday, April 20, 2007

Judge Upholds Illinois School's Ban on 'Be Happy, Not Gay' Shirt

Two Neuqua Valley High School students won't be able to wear T-shirts saying "Be Happy, Not Gay," to school on Thursday following a judge's ruling. U.S. District Judge William T. Hart ruled in favor of the high school Tuesday in a preliminary injunction that would have allowed the students to wear the shirts the day after Wednesday's National Day of Silence. On the Day of Silence, students can refrain from speaking as an effort to protest discrimination against homosexuals.

The Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund is representing Heidi Zamecnik of Naperville and Alexander Nuxoll of Bolingbrook in a lawsuit that claims Zamecnik's rights were violated last year when she wasn't allowed to wear the shirt in school. The Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian litigation group, will appeal the judge's decision on the preliminary injunction to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, attorney Jonathan Scruggs said. The lawsuit is still pending. Scruggs said the school is violating the students' rights to free speech by banning the shirt. "The school cannot silence speech merely because some people find it offensive," Scruggs said. "We believe that's the core of what the First Amendment protects."

Jack Canna, an attorney for Indian Prairie Unit School District 204, said banning the shirt is part of a policy "to preserve the notion that kids shouldn't make negative or derogatory comments about other students." Messages left by The Associated Press with the Indian Prairie Unit School District 204 and Neuqua Valley High School were not immediately returned Wednesday morning.


Rod Paige Warns of a 'Death Grip' by Unions

President Bush's first-term education secretary, Rod Paige, is sitting in his office on the 75th floor of the Empire State Building, the leather of his black cowboy boots creaking beneath the cuffs of his pinstriped suit, and talking about the "death grip," the "stranglehold," that teachers' unions have on public education in America. His new book is titled "The War Against Hope: How Teachers' Unions Hurt Children, Hinder Teachers, and Endanger Public Education." The unions, he writes, are "arrogant" and "destructive." They defend incompetent teachers and oppose merit pay for teachers who excel. "No special interest is more destructive than the teachers' unions, as they oppose nearly every meaningful reform," he writes.

Lest New York City teachers get all riled up at him, there's a catch: The book actually praises the president of New York City's United Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten. It says she is among those union leaders who "have exhibited the unique ability to achieve, or at least to strive to achieve, the proper balance between the interests of the public education system and the well-being of the union's members." "Sure, she gives Joel Klein, New York City's commissioner of education, headaches. But I'll bet that even Klein has no doubt that she understands the need for, and is committed to, school improvement for kids," Mr. Paige writes. It's a bet that Mr. Paige may have lost: He tells me that when he last saw Mr. Klein, "He said, `I think you gave her too much credit.'"

Mr. Paige splits his time between Houston, where he was superintendent of schools before joining the Bush administration, and Washington, D.C. He was in New York for a meeting of the board of News Corp., the press and entertainment company led by Rupert Murdoch that owns, among other things, the New York Post and the Fox television networks. Mr. Paige is a director of News Corp., but his main work is as chairman of Chartwell Education Group, a less-than-two-year-old company with about two dozen employees that consults on education reform. It is in Chartwell's office in New York - decorated with photos of Mr. Paige with Mr. Bush and the first lady - that my interview with Mr. Paige takes place.

What does he think of Mr. Klein, I ask. "I think he has made a great difference and he's on the right track," says Mr. Paige, who acknowledges that New York City's size makes it a "very complicated system to operate." He says that Mr. Klein has the advantage of a supportive mayor in Michael Bloomberg and a governance system in which the mayor has a lot of control over the schools. Mr. Paige cites "student performance gains" in New York, as well as the system's being named repeatedly as a finalist for the $1 million Broad Prize for Urban Education. As a member of the board of governors of the Broad Foundation, Mr. Paige says he is familiar with the "pretty excruciating" selection process for that award.

I ask him if he thinks his outspoken criticism of teachers' unions will hurt Chartwell's consulting business. He pauses. "Well, there's been a lot of discussion on that," he says. "You can't improve the system by not addressing the real issues." "The system is not performing," he says. The people who suffer most, he says, are minorities and disadvantaged students. "The union is sitting on both sides of the negotiating table," he says, referring to the power of the unions in electing the politicians they are negotiating with in collective bargaining. The result, he says, are "systems whose main purpose is the employment well-being of the adults in the system."

"This book is about raising the issue for public discussion, because I believe the American public is a wise public," he says. "As Americans, we know better than this." "It's the truth," he says. "All you've got to do is look at a union contract.It speaks for itself."

Are vouchers allowing public school students to escape to private schools part of the solution? As education secretary, Mr. Paige spearheaded a successful effort by the Bush administration to win congressional approval for a school voucher program in the District of Columbia, whose well-funded public schools have a dismal record when it comes to student performance on standardized tests. "I'm very proud of that program," Mr. Paige says. "We've got parents lining up."

What of the latest scandal to hit the New York City schools, the high school teacher on the Upper West Side who led a group of students on a trip to Cuba in apparent violation of the federal sanctions on the Communist government led by Fidel Castro? While declining to get into specifics since he hadn't personally investigated the details, Mr. Paige did say that he felt the "appropriate response has to be aggressive and quick."

Aggressive is one thing Mr. Paige certainly is; his book recounts the fury he kicked up when, as education secretary, he likened the National Education Association to a "terrorist organization," a choice of words for which he quickly apologized. He makes no apology, though, for calling attention to the power of the unions. "The people need to understand," he says. "The power needs to be rolled back so we can have a more proper balance between the interests of the employees and the interests of the parents, students, and taxpayers."


Huge waste in Detroit

The educators seem about as bright as their students

About five years after Detroit Public Schools sold its headquarters and committed $57 million to buying and leasing swanky offices in the New Center area, the cash-strapped district has decided it can't afford all the space. And now taxpayers could face a big hit as a result.

The district is hoping to rent out some of the space. But the rent for much of the 70,000-plus square feet of space DPS leases in the Fisher, New Center One, Albert Kahn and Lothrop Landing buildings are on the high end of what the current market will bear, leading real estate experts to say DPS would either have to eat a portion of the rent to sublease the space or pay $9 million over the next seven years for offices that it cannot afford.

In either event, the leases -- signed when the district paid more for five floors of the Fisher Building than the Farbman Group, a developer, paid for the entire building the previous year -- would be an added expense for the district that has shuttered dozens of schools in recent years to help balance its budget. "We did not make those decisions, but we have to undo some of them because they're not serving the district," said Joyce Hayes-Giles, the Detroit school board's vice president and finance committee chairwoman. The last of the leases runs out in 2014.

Detroit school board members, all of whom took office last year and were not involved in the purchase or leases, said the district needs to move offices into one or more of the schools that are closing. In a memo obtained by the Free Press, board member Marie Thornton listed the prices for the leases -- all with the Farbman Group -- and wrote that she was "appalled." The district pays between $4,120 and $63,784 per month to lease the office spaces -- or about $12 to $19 per square foot -- Mark Schrupp, deputy chief of facilities maintenance and auxiliary services for DPS, confirmed last week.

There's no word on what will happen with the space that the district bought in 2002 in the Fisher Building. DPS spent about $39 million to buy and improve floors nine, 10, 11, 12 and 14 -- about 130,000 square feet -- using money from the $1.5-billion bond voters approved in 1994, Schrupp said. That was more than the $30 million the Farbman Group paid to buy both the 26-story Fisher Building and the Albert Kahn buildings in 2001. The DPS administration offices moved during the 2002-03 school year into the New Center area spaces after the administration of former Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Burnley sold the former Schools Center Building and four other properties to Wayne State University for $9 million. Burnley and the district were criticized after local news media reported on the pricey furnishings in the new offices.

The big-spending Dr Burnley above

Schrupp said the plan to move offices is still developing, but if approved, some administrators could be moved to the all-girls International Academy building on Woodward or the facility that houses Barsamian alternative school after those students move into other buildings this fall. But that's if anyone wants to sublease the space. The asking price for office leases in the greater downtown Detroit area is $17.78 per square foot. And there is a 26.5% vacancy rate, the highest in a decade, according to an online report by CB Richard Ellis Inc., a multinational commercial real estate firm with offices in Detroit.

The $18.70 per square foot to lease the 18th floor in the Fisher Building was probably more than should've been paid, considering DPS leased major space, said Steve Morris, managing partner of Newmark Knight Frank, a firm with offices in Farmington Hills. He said DPS may only get $12 per square foot on subleases because landlords typically make standard improvements to lure tenants to office space.

Parent Joseph Williams said as children are uprooted from 34 schools this year to try to save money, it is only fair that the administrators move out of their nice offices. "Would anybody in this city give their house away and go rent? That's just showing how everybody is taking advantage of our children," said Williams, who is president of the Local School Community Organization at Redford High, which will close this year. As for the move from rented offices and into schools, he said, "I'll believe it when it happens."



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"

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Most Ludicrous, Preposterous Item of the Day

A recent article in the Miami Herald caught my attention. Apparently there is a proposal that would cut funds for gifted education. There is reportedly a bill going through the House and Senate to change the definition of " exceptional student". The fallacious thinking is that AP and IB (Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate) classes ARE gifted education.

I concur with Terry Wilson, President of the Florida Gifted Network that this is a very serious attack on gifted children, gifted adolescents and gifted education. Gifted education is different than just difficult classes (although these classes could be an integral part of a gifted student's plan of study. Even more dastardly and heinous is the plan to include gifted students in grades K through 8. In some instances, gifted students may not even be identified until grades 7 or 8 or even later. We should not stop our endeavors to assist gifted children after 8th grade.

I would urge parents of gifted adolescents in Florida to write or call Sen. Stephen Wise of Jacksonville and urge him to re-consider or re-think what he is doing. I would be happy to speak with him personally and clarify what constitutes "gifted education" , specifically at the high school level.He apparently is Head of the Committee on Education Pre-K-12.I will send him a copy of this commentary. We shall see if he responds.

Gifted children and adolescent need an education that is appropriate for their needs, talents, and desires. Gifted children and adolescents need an education that focuses on higher order thinking skills and critical thinking skills as well as enrichment. Gifted students need enhancement of their convergent as well as their divergent thinking. They also need their emotional and mental health needs addressed. Throwing standardized AP and IB classes at gifted students is not necessarily the answer. Gifted children and adolescent need a curriculum suited to their needs. There are differences between gifted children. One student with an I.Q. of 135 is certainly different than another gifted student with an I.Q. of 155. Each student has their own interests and their own background knowledge and their own preferences and their own learning styles. Don't shortchange our gifted children and adolescents. I would like to use the phrase from the United Negro College Fund- "A mind is a terrible thing to waste". Even more disastrous is the wasting of the talent and potential of a gifted child or adolescent.


Klocek case hopeful

Klocek was fired for challenging Muslim slanders against Israel and DePaul has been lying about it ever since

The case of Thomas Klocek is now poised to go to trial. On April 10, Hon. Daniel J. Kelley, a judge in the Circuit Court of Cook County, upheld six of the eight legal counts leveled against DePaul and others. This came as a result of DePaul's motion to reconsider Judge Nudleman's order from May 2006, which upheld four of the counts against DePaul and others.

In his 17-page order, Judge Kelley points to DePaul's "reckless disregard for the truth" in statements made following Klocek's suspension. This breaks a long silence in the case as DePaul University previously secured a temporary gag order to prevent the release of significant facts in the case.

"Now two judges have independently upheld the validity of Prof. Klocek's complaint against DePaul," says John Mauck of Mauck & Baker, whose firm represents Klocek. "We applaud Judge Kelley's excellent decision. We also look forward to a public trial where DePaul students and the public can judge for themselves whether certain administrators silenced Tom Klocek because a few Muslim activists wanted his political and religious opinions repressed."


Brainless "educators"

A fifteen-year old boy in America was incarcerated for twelve days, wrongly accused of making a hoax bomb threat - because his school had forgotten that the clocks had gone forward. Cody Webb was arrested last month, after Hempfield Area High School received a bomb threat on their student hotline - which provides a range of information to students about the school - at 3.17am on March 11th. They believed they'd found the culprit when they traced the phone number they thought was responsible to Webb.

Unfortunately, they forgot that the clocks had switched to Daylight Saving Time that morning. Webb, who's never even had a detention in his life, had actually made his call an hour earlier. Despite the fact that the recording of the call featured a voice that sounded nothing like Webb's, the police arrested Webb and he spent 12 days in a juvenile detention facility before the school eventually realised their mistake.

Webb gave an insight into the school's impressive investigative techniques, saying that he was ushered in to see the principal, Kathy Charlton. She asked him what his phone number was, and , according to Webb, when he replied 'she started waving her hands in the air and saying "we got him, we got him."' 'They just started flipping out, saying I made a bomb threat to the school,' he told local television station KDKA. After he protested his innocence, Webb says that the principal said: 'Well, why should we believe you? You're a criminal. Criminals lie all the time.' All charges against Webb have now been dropped.



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"

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Private colleges in more demand than ever

California's private colleges are printing more rejection letters and limiting admissions to students with higher test scores, making it tougher to get accepted, according to a Bee analysis of federal data. As a result, applicants who once would have slipped into schools ranging in size from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, which has a student body of about 1,400, to the University of Southern California, which has around 33,000 students, are getting turned away.

Referring to applicants with similar grades, Tom Rajala, associate provost for enrollment at University of the Pacific, said, "Families are coming back and saying, 'Her brother got in five years ago, and she didn't. You've got to tell them, 'It's a very different profile now.' "

At California's private, four-year colleges that require the SAT test and have more than 1,000 students, almost 60 percent of fall 2006 applications were denied. That's up from 55 percent in fall 2001, The Bee's analysis of data from the National Center for Education Statistics found.

Some of the trend is due to a rise in applications from students who never had much of a chance of admittance in the first place. But a lot of it is due to higher standards that reflect more competitive applicants. The Bee determined what combined math and verbal SAT score was needed to be among the top 25 percent of each college's newly enrolled students. (A new writing section was added to the SAT in 2005. In order to compare scores for 2001 and 2006, The Bee did not include data for that section.)

At 17 of the 33 private colleges in the newspaper's analysis, the SAT score needed to be in the top 25 percent rose by at least 20 points from 2001 to 2006. Only three of the colleges saw SAT scores drop at least 20 points. The trend also showed up in California's public colleges, but was not as pronounced.

High school guidance counselors and college admissions officers see a few factors at work. When a school gets more applicants, it can be choosier, admitting only the best and expecting more of them to show up. It's like an auction -- the more bids, the higher the price. "There are a very large number of applicants for a very limited number of openings," said Ralph Robles, head counselor at the Elk Grove Unified School District.

At the same time, as a group, today's applicants look better than their peers did five years ago, Robles said. Parents and students are aware that acceptance rates are down, so youths are studying harder and taking more honors classes. "ACTs, SATs, GPAs are higher," Robles said. "More students are qualified to apply."

All the while, the general availability of financial aid has emboldened some smart students from poorer backgrounds to go for the expensive, private college...

Another factor in colleges' pickiness: Students and parents are not as willing to settle for any school. In other words, it's not just about going; it's about where you go, counselors said. A student with a 1200 combined SAT math and verbal score five years ago might have settled for the state school near home but now wants to land in the best college possible, which raises the bar for everyone else.

"It used to be, 'Just get a college degree,' " said Jerry Lucido, vice provost for enrollment at the University of Southern California. "But the public is starting to view where you go as clearly tied to what will happen to them or their children later in life."


Don't count on osmosis to impart written language skills

A leading Australian legal academic laments that his A-grade university students are deficient in basic literacy and English grammar

ANY disinterested observer would say that the world is better today, on average, than it has ever been. People are living longer, much longer. They have more to eat. They can travel more. They have more leisure. They have more interesting jobs. A far, far smaller percentage of them are stuck as subsistence farmers. And however much things have improved for men in the past century or two, they are three or four times better again for women, at least in the Western world. If anyone seriously wanted to debate that basic claim with a straight face, I'd be happy to do so, preferably for lots of money. I mention it simply because normally it is just out and out false to paint former times - 30, 40 or 50 years ago even - as some sort of golden age when things were so much better than today.

Most jeremiads, or doleful laments about the failings of the here and now, are fairly implausible, to put it as kindly as possible. Rarely do these mournful denunciations of the present stand up to comparative testing. And yet there is one area of life I am intimately aware of where the falling standards grievance appears to be clearly correct. I am talking about university students and their basic grasp of literacy and grammar.

And let me be abundantly clear that I am talking about some of the best university students in the country. These are not just any students. They are what can properly be described as elite students, the very top high school students in all of Queensland who have managed to pass through a winnowing process that the vast preponderance of their fellow high school students fails to get through. It is extremely difficult to get into the law school at my university and the students who manage to do so have some of the best marks, and minds, in Australia.

Yet lots and lots of these highly intelligent tertiary students lack basic grammar knowledge. Forget gerunds or the subjunctive. They cannot cope with basic sentence construction. They use semicolons and colons without the faintest idea of how they should be used, and on a seemingly random basis. The possessive apostrophe is either wholly absent, is regularly confused with the abbreviating apostrophe, is sprinkled around in the hope of getting it correct once in a while (giving the reader such treats as the possessive its'), or all of the above. Definite and indefinite articles are regularly omitted. Run-on sentences are commonplace. And it's not even an exaggeration to say that a few of them don't seem to realise that you need a verb to make a sentence, that "Being the prime minister" doesn't quite cut it.

Quite simply, my elite law students, or a good many of them at any rate, have been provided with almost no technical writing and English grammar skills. One must assume that the same is true of virtually all Australian school leavers. Nor are these particularly challenging skills to acquire. All of my students have the intelligence to learn them in two or three weeks, in my view. They have quite literally, or so I hear on occasion, never been taught these things. Why not? It could be, I suppose, that these skills are no longer considered important. More crucial, on this view, is the fostering of children's (or should we now say childrens?) creativity and self-esteem. But if that, or some similar notion, is one of the reasons so many tertiary students seem to have atrocious writing skills, let me give you the other side of the story.

No one can think at all without language and its labels, categories and generalisations. It follows that no one can think clearly unless they can use language clearly. To make a subtle point or introduce a fine distinction, one needs the tools that a complex and sophisticated language offers. Nor does a knowledge of these complexities and sophistications curtail creativity. Jane Austen was a master of English grammar. And what would Winston Churchill's speeches have been had he not had a superb grasp of the language?

Of course, one might think clarity, precision, irony, humour and even a fully developed capacity for self-expression must bow down before the need to foster students' self-esteem or creative urges. Personally, though, I've never come across any very creative writers - be they political commentators, authors of fiction, historians, what have you - whose grasp of basics was deficient.

Worse, or at least ironically, the absence of sound writing skills may well, in adult life, serve to lessen one's self-esteem. It may make it harder to get a job or a promotion, or may make one feel inarticulate and dumb. Take law, my profession. Lawyers spend their working lives manipulating language. They draft contracts, wills, articles of incorporation and myriad sorts of letters. They argue in court. They interpret statutes. They pick over the words of judges in past cases. Their job revolves around the expert use of language. Of course a solid grounding in basic English skills is a huge advantage to them, and to many, many others.

Alas, a more depressing possibility in getting basic grammar skills taught today may be that a sizeable chunk of our recently graduated teachers may not know these skills themselves. Years of the osmosis school of learning to write, where you just cross your fingers and pray that by reading enough some ineffable and mysterious process will kick in and people will magically pick it up, may be coming home to roost. That wouldn't be much of a surprise, would it? Merely to state the osmosis approach shows how ridiculous it is.

(The author above, James Allan is a professor of law at the University of Queensland, has taught at universities in New Zealand, Canada and Hong Kong)



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"

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Scotland: Don't stare at Muslims

PUPILS and teachers have been told by an official body not to stare at Muslims for fear of causing offence. A document intended to educate against religious intolerance and sectarianism urges teachers to "make pupils aware of the various forms of Islamophobia, ie stares, verbal abuse, physical abuse". But Learning Teaching Scotland (LTS), which issued the advice to schools north of the border, has been criticised by politicians and Muslim leaders for going "over the top".

The document states: "Some Muslims may choose to wear clothing or display their faith in a way that makes them visible. For example, women may be wearing a headscarf, and men might be wearing a skullcap. Staring or looking is a form of discrimination as it makes the other person feel uncomfortable, or as though they are not normal."

Osama Saeed, a spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain, accused officials of going too far. "There are far more serious elements of Islamophobia. People look at all sorts of things - that can just be a glance. A glance and a stare are two different things - glances happen naturally when all sorts of things catch your eye whereas a stare is probably gawking at something. "Personally I have not encountered much of a problem with people staring. I don't know how you legislate for that."

Murdo Fraser, deputy leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said: "In a multicultural society like ours there are people with all different forms of dress and I don't think it's unreasonable to expect children in particular to look at those who are differently dressed from them. To describe this as a form of discrimination seems to go completely over the top."


Non-teachers teach in Britain

Unqualified school helpers are being used as cheap labour to teach A-level and GCSE classes in subjects about which they know nothing when specialist subject teachers are on leave, a union claims. In the very worst cases, an untrained assistant was required to teach A-level English for an entire term, while another was put in charge of a GCSE maths group. Other instances include former dinner ladies and prison officers replacing qualified supply teachers.

The practice was condemned as an "absolute scandal" yesterday by members of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), who likened it to putting an enthusiastic member of the ground staff in charge of flying a plane because the pilot and co-pilot had not turned up. The likely result was a reduction in quality of education, a decline in classroom discipline and a danger that work will dry up for fully qualified supply teachers, the union's annual conference in Belfast heard.

Government reforms to teachers' working conditions in 2003, supported by the NASUWT, brought about a reduction in teachers' hours and specified that teachers would not have to cover each others' classes for longer than 38 hours a year - or an hour a week. Instead, classroom assistants and cover supervisors, who are not teachers and who are paid about 13,000 pounds a year, would be given a far greater role.

But Peter Wathan, a delegate from Bedfordshire, told the conference that unscrupulous head teachers were exploiting them as "cheap labour" by assigning them their own lessons. He cited the case of a popular school in his area that was using an unqualified cover supervisor to teach a GCSE maths group. "It happens to be a lower stream group - perhaps they don't deserve a qualified teacher in the head's opinion," he said.

Austin Murphy, a supply teacher from Leeds, said that the scale of the problem was far greater than people realised. "I do know of a school in south Leeds where a cover supervisor was asked to take on this role for maternity leave," he said. "They did GCSE and A-level classes. This person has no experience whatsoever in that subject. "Clearly this is an absolute scandal. It should be known that this is happening," he said.

Pat Lerew, the union's former president, who is now a supply teacher, said that putting cover supervisors or teaching assistants in charge of children while they complete worksheets prepared by an absent teacher could lead to a breakdown in discipline. "Pupils churning out reams of work with no feedback will rightly lose motivation and ask what is the point of this," she said.

John McCarthy, a fully qualified supply teacher from the union's Cannock and mid-Staffordshire branch, said that he was being deprived of work because lessons are covered by assistants, including, at one school, a former dinner lady and a former prison officer. Delegates backed a motion that replacing qualified teachers with cover supervisors will "lower the quality of children's education".

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said that official guidance made it absolutely clear that cover supervisors do not teach. "We have record numbers of teachers in our schools with over 35,000 more than in 1997. We have also removed many administrative tasks from teachers and overseen a doubling in the number of support staff to help free up teachers' time to do what they do best - teach," he said.



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

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

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Education Tax Credits to the Rescue

Philadephia's troubled education system could benefit from tax credits

Spiraling violence in the Philadelphia school district may be making most of the headlines, but the district faces another, less well-known crisis: a runaway budget that threatens to sink an already floundering school system.

The School Reform Commission recently adopted a "lump sum" budget statement last week projecting that the Philadelphia school district will be $82.5 million over budget next year. And as the Inquirer reports, Public Financial Management of Philadelphia, a financial consulting firm specializing in government clients, produced an independent assessment projecting "a shortfall of nearly $1 billion in five years." This was after the district came up $73 million short in fall 2006 and now projects it will end the fiscal year with a $37 million deficit.

Paul Vallas, the Chief Executive Officer for the School District of Philadelphia, suggested recently that the problem could be solved by borrowing money and increasing the district's share of property-tax millage. But going back to taxpayers' wallets won't solve a systemic problem. Philadelphia can save the millions it needs through education tax credits, which are already saving costs and improving education in Pennsylvania.

These programs allow businesses to receive tax credits for donations to scholarship granting organizations, which help low-income children choose good private schools. And since it costs around $5,300 for the average private school to educate a child - as opposed to around $10,500 for the average public school - the credits cut costs a lot.

In Pennsylvania, businesses can get a 90 percent income tax credit on every dollar they donate. That means if a business owes the state $5,000 in taxes and donates $5,000 to a scholarship organization, it only has to pay $500 in taxes. Programs in other states offer 100 percent tax credits, so that business would owe nothing in taxes after donating. Tax credits can also apply to individual income taxes. This helps parents pay for education expenses like tuition and textbooks for their own children.

Education tax credit programs allow businesses and individuals to spend more of their own money on good schools that cost less. Pennsylvania's business tax credit program is already saving the state a lot of money, even as it helps low-income children escape expensive and failing schools. Pennsylvania now provides tax credits to corporations for a total of up to almost $36 million in scholarship donations per year, up from $27 million in 2005.

A $27 million tax credit program amounts to about one third of one percent of Pennsylvania's education expenditures, but because the amount spent on each scholarship is so much less than the amount spent per pupil in the public system, these credits are estimated by a Cato Institute study to save between $150 and $200 million annually.

A 2003 study by the Commonwealth Foundation, a Pennsylvania think tank, found that the state business tax credit program was already saving $136,000 a year by supporting 23 children in the Philadelphia school district. That's pocket change to a bureaucrat, but it could be a lifeline to better education for thousands of students. By covering just what parents need to send their child to a better, less expensive school, a program that supported just over 8 percent of Philadelphia students with about $24 million in tax credits would save enough to cover the $82.5 million budget shortfall the School Reform Commission predicts.

Much of this savings goes to the state government, which pays for the biggest chunk of education. But if the state devoted the equivalent of only 3.2% of the Philadelphia school budget - that's $65 million out of over $2 billion - to education tax credits supporting about 20 percent of students in the city, the local district would save $82.5 million, eliminating its budget shortfall altogether.

The City of Philadelphia could even start an education tax credit program of its own, giving individuals or businesses credits for donations against any of the many taxes it levies, like the net profits tax, the real estate tax, the school income tax, or the wage and earnings tax.

And after all, the time has come to stop the fiscal madness and put parents and communities in charge of education decisions. The District overspends year after year, and even with over $2 billion to play with, it's clear Philadelphia is not getting its money's worth. We should enable taxpayers to spend their own money on education and allow parents to choose the best schools for their children. Taxpayers spend their money more wisely than boards of bureaucrats, and parents know what's best for their children. It's past time to give them back the power to make those decisions.


Tennessee: Legal challenge to school attire policy may be difficult

Organizations opposed to Metro School Board's approval of standard school attire may be disappointed to learn that fighting the policy with legal action may prove difficult, according to a Nashville First Amendment scholar. Following Tuesday's 7-2 vote by the board to implement the standard student dress policy, both a parents' group and the Tennessee branch of the American Civil Liberties Union said they would monitor the policy for potential student civil liberties issues - neither saying they would pursue legal action.

However, if any individual parent or group were to bring such action against the board or Metro Schools it would be difficult to win because most uniform policies do hold up in court, says David Hudson, a scholar at the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. Hudson, who specializes in the student expression issues involving uniforms and dress codes, said a solid "opt-out" provision is crucial to any standard school attire policy in avoiding legal challenges. "You need to have that opt-out," Hudson said. "If you don't have that opt-out then you're going to have like what happened in North Carolina when a student successfully challenged a uniform policy saying it conflicted with his family's religious beliefs. I think that's actually a positive thing that they have the religious opt-out."

That challenge, a 1999 case involving the Halifax County Board of Education in North Carolina in which a guardian sued the board claiming the school uniform policy violated her right to free exercise of religion and her right to direct the upbringing of her great-grandson, is the exception to the rule, he said. The school district lost because they failed to have an opt-out policy for religious or medical reasons, according to Hudson.

Ashley Crownover, who formed the standard school attire opposition group Metro Parents Against Standard School Attire said she would like to see a change in the draft policy's opt-out provision. With that change in place, Crownover said she likely would not pursue a legal challenge. "We feel hopeful that a policy containing a reasonable opt-out for parents who have conscientious objections to school uniforms will be included in that new policy," Crownover said. "We feel it's essential."

Currently, Metro Schools' draft policy contains a provision stating that if the "bona-fide religious beliefs, medical or special education needs of a student conflict with the Standard School Attire policy, the school will provide reasonable accommodations." Students would not be required to wear khaki pants (or skirts) and collared shirts - the required attire under the approved draft policy - if they could prove to their individual school principals that they had a legitimate religious objection.

The parent's group would like to add a clause allowing parents to opt-out on the basis of moral or conscientious objections. Director of Schools Pedro Garcia said the policy was open to modification at the school board's meeting, but the approval of SSA districtwide was final.

Tennessee ACLU representatives issued a statement Tuesday saying they remained concerned about the policy's implementation and would be monitoring the implementation of the entire SSA policy in Metro Schools to ensure fairness to parents and students.

Garcia, according to district officials, will be looking at the policy in the coming days with administrators and members of the SSA study committee in hopes of finalizing it. They were unclear as to whether or not the current opt-out provision would be revised.

Crownover said even though changing the provision would make some parents more comfortable with the policy, she herself would not force her children to comply. She said her 12-year-old has decided not to comply and although they are expecting some repercussions, she hopes a new opt-out provision will be in place by that time. "I think they will be gentle at first," Crownover said. "I'm hoping to get an opt-out. I hope that a reasonable opt-out will be written into the policy so that people like me who feel so strongly about school uniforms will have the option to opt-out."



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"

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


Sunday, April 15, 2007


Cultural clashes involving Islam have recently made headlines in Minnesota. At the airport, some Muslim taxi drivers refuse to transport passengers carrying alcohol; at Target stores, some Muslim cashiers won't scan pork products. Now there's a new point of friction: Minneapolis Community and Technical College. Its officials say the college, a public institution, has a strict policy of not promoting religion or favoring one religion over another. "The Constitution prevents us from doing this in any form," says Dianna Cusick, director of legal affairs. But that seems to depend on your religion.

Where Christianity is concerned, the college goes to great lengths to avoid any hint of what the courts call "entanglement" or support of the church. Yet the college is planning to install facilities for Muslims to use in preparing for daily prayers, an apparent first at a public institution in Minnesota.

Separation of church and state is clearest at the college during the Christmas season. A memo from Cusick and President Phil Davis, dated Nov. 28, 2006, exhorted supervisors to banish any public display of holiday cheer: "As we head into the holiday season ... "all public offices and areas should refrain from displays that may represent to our students, employees or the public that the college is promoting any particular religion." Departments considering sending out holiday cards, the memo added, should avoid cards "that appear to promote any particular religious holiday."

Last year, college authorities caught one rule-breaker red-handed. A coffee cart that sells drinks and snacks played holiday music "tied to Christmas," and "complaints and concerns" were raised, according to a faculty e-mail. College authorities quickly quashed the practice. They appear to take a very different attitude toward Islam. Welcome and accommodation are the order of the day for the college's more than 500 Muslim students. The college has worked with local Muslim leaders to ensure that these students' prayer needs and concerns are adequately addressed, Davis told me.

Muslim prayer is an increasingly controversial issue. Many Muslim students use restroom sinks to wash their feet before prayer. Other students have complained, and one Muslim student fell and injured herself while lifting her foot out of a sink. Some local Muslim leaders have advised the college staff that washing is not a required practice for students under the circumstances, according to Davis. Nevertheless, he says, he wants to facilitate it for interested students. "It's like when someone comes to your home, you want to be hospitable," Davis told me. "We have new members in our community coming here; we want to be hospitable."

So the college is making plans to use taxpayer funds to install facilities for ritual foot-washing. Staff members are researching options, and a school official will visit a community college in Illinois to view such facilities while attending a conference nearby. College facilities staff members are expected to present a proposal this spring. In Davis' view, the foot-washing plan does not constitute promotion or support of religion. "The foot-washing facilities are not about religion, they are about customer service and public safety," he says. He sees no significant difference between using public funds to construct prayer-related facilities for Muslim students and the cafeteria's provision of a fish option for Christian students during Lent.

College officials claim that the restrictions on Christmas displays apply to employees who are state agents, and so are subject to more restrictions, while students are free to express their religious beliefs. But where the Muslim prayer facilities are concerned, college authorities themselves are consulting with religious leaders, researching other schools, and using taxpayer money to make improvements to facilitate one group's prayer.

Issues surrounding the intersection of church and state and religious accommodation are complex. But the college's treatment of Christianity and Islam seems to reflect a double standard. It's hard to imagine the college researching and paying for special modifications to the college to facilitate Christian rituals. And the "safety" justification? Imagine if a particularly strict group of Christian students found it necessary to sometimes baptize others in the restroom sinks. Would the school build them a baptism basin because a student hit his head on a sink?


Australia: Employers have to be devious to get the sort of employees they want

Not a great way to encourage job-creation -- something the do-gooder airhead excerpted below seems not to realize. The solution to the problem she identifies is for schools to offer less permissive and more prescriptive education -- but we will wait a long time to see that. Schools DID once teach children to speak in a way that would gain maximum social acceptability but now anything goes

Jobseekers are being warned about "social" discrimination in the job market. Executive recruiter Slade Group says social discrimination - which can be based on the way you speak, where you live or where you were educated - is particularly prevalent in entry-level and mid-level roles. Slade managing director Anita Ziemer says social discrimination is often disguised as businesses attempting to find the "right cultural fit". She says examples include employers seeking candidates of specific socio-economic status by targetting people from certain residential areas.

"In one case a client eliminated a high performing financial adviser as a candidate because he dropped the 'youse' word," she says. "In NSW it's illegal to discriminate on the basis of social origin, but ... it is difficult to prove during the job application process."

Recruitment & Consulting Services Association CEO Julie Mills says a good recruiter will refuse to search for a candidate based on socially discriminatory criteria. "This industry would come down on anybody like a tonne of bricks if we found out they were using those sorts of things as their benchmark - clients will try it on ... as long as recruiters don't act on it," she says.

Ziemer says social discrimination relates to perception psychology - a snap judgment based on pre-conceived ideas. "There is a lot of evidence that defines the attributes of top performers in any work setting, yet nowhere does it talk about your suburb, the school you went to, or whether you speak the Queen's English," she says. "Unfortunately there is an unspoken barrier erected by potential employers which is still present ... particularly in law, finance and consulting. "Ironically, social discrimination becomes less prevalent in (senior appointments) because by that time, employers are hiring on proven capabilities."

More here

Education Union deceit

Truth never has mattered to Leftists

THE Australian Education Union has proved once again it is better at political spin than mathematics. In an inflammatory television advertisement designed to shame John Howard over his Government's funding for private schools, the AEU has reignited a black-hearted campaign kicked off by former Opposition leader Mark Latham for the 2004 election. The campaign is as wrong-headed today as it was then. But this should not surprise, coming as it does from AEU federal president Pat Byrne, who has a history when it comes to political intervention. In a speech prepared for a Queensland Teachers Union conference following the last election, Ms Byrne lambasted voters for putting economic issues ahead of compassion in their decision to vote for the Coalition.

For the upcoming election, the union will spend $1.3 million on a television and letter-box campaign in marginal seats accusing the Government of neglecting public education by directing the bulk of commonwealth funding to private schools. The television advertisement shows a class of children at a public school excitedly preparing for a visit by the Prime Minister, only for him to drive straight past without stopping. The voice-over tells viewers that since the Government was elected, the share of funding for public education has decreased to 35 per cent, despite the fact that 70 per cent of Australian children attend public schools.

The campaign mirrors a $1 million advertising blitz by the AEU against the Government at the last election, urging a boost in funding for public schools. But what both union campaigns failed to mention is that public school funding is a state responsibility. The federal government does provide the majority of taxpayer funding for non-government schools, as the state governments do not fund the private sector. But overall, government schools receive a higher level of government funding than private schools. Sixty-seven per cent of students are in government schools that receive 75 per cent of total taxpayer funding. And under the Howard Government's funding formula, which is based on income demographics for the school catchment, the poorest non-government schools can receive a maximum of 70 per cent of the taxpayer funding provided per government school student, with a sliding scale down to a minimum of 13.7 per cent. The AEU campaign conveniently leaves out the fact that commonwealth education funding to government schools has increased by 120 per cent since 1996, while enrolments have risen by 1.1 per cent over that period. And it must be remembered that the state funding for public schools comes largely from commonwealth grants.

That parents are voting with their feet and taking their children away from public schools and putting them into the private sector underscores the danger in anti-government campaigns based on demonising private education as elitist. The reality is that parents who send their children to private schools effectively pay twice: once in taxes for a public system they don't use and again in private school fees. Labor has rightly dumped Mr Latham's failed policies of trying to widen the public-private divide. Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd should not thank the AEU for reminding voters about it. All levels of government certainly have their failings on education, but this does not excuse the AEU's shameless political campaign based on a false premise. The Australian strongly supports the public school sector and believes it should be properly funded and offer a rewarding career path for teachers. But a union campaign that attacks the federal Government when its track record on education funding is better than that of the Labor states, which escape criticism, is a bit rich and must be marked a failure.



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"

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.