Saturday, August 18, 2007

Latest tests show racial achievement gap

California results show that it's not poverty that causes the racial disparity -- so all sorts of speculative explanations are trotted out instead -- all explanations except the obvious one. The results are PERFECTLY predictable by the average IQ scores for the groups concerned. And IQ rankings are very little changed no matter what you do.

Whether they are poor or rich, white students are scoring higher than their African American and Latino classmates on the state's standardized tests, results released Wednesday show. And in some cases, the poorest white students are doing better than Latino and black students who come from middle class or wealthy families.

The so-called achievement gap -- the difference in performance between groups of students -- has long been chalked up to a difference in family income. It makes sense that -- regardless of race -- students whose parents have money and speak English would do better in school, on the whole, than students whose families struggle with employment, food and shelter. But this year's test scores show that the difference in academic achievement between ethnic groups is more than an issue of poverty vs. wealth.

On the standardized math tests that public school students take every year from second to 11th grade, 38 percent of white students who qualify for subsidized lunch scored proficient or above, compared with 36 percent of Latino students and 30 percent of black students whose families made too much money to qualify for school meals. On standardized English tests, poor white students did about the same as non-poor Latino and African American students. "These are not just economic achievement gaps," state Superintendent Jack O'Connell said in announcing the test scores from an elementary school in Inglewood. "They are racial achievement gaps, and we cannot continue to excuse them."

It's a new twist on what has become a common theme for O'Connell -- the danger the achievement gap poses for California's economic future. About 56 percent of the state's public school students are Latino or black, so their academic performance now will have a big influence on the work force of the future. "I've been pounding this drum and am going to continue to do so, not just for the moral imperative that we have, but for the economic imperative," O'Connell said. "We're going to focus on (the achievement gap) like a heat-seeking missile during my last three years here as the state superintendent."

In general, test scores were flat compared with last year, but up from five years ago. Forty-one percent of students were proficient in math this year, while 43 percent were proficient in English. Even though students are doing better than five years ago -- when 35 percent were proficient in math and English -- the achievement gap between racial groups has remained a constant, with white and Asian American students scoring higher than their Latino and African American peers.

O'Connell said little Wednesday to explain why the achievement gap persists. "That is the $50 billion question," said Francisco Estrada, public policy director for the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, one of several Latino and African American activists who lauded O'Connell for drawing attention to the issue, even while they criticized the state government for not doing enough to improve education for students of color. "Superintendent O'Connell should be commended for not just simply saying, 'We're doing great and let's keep doing what we're doing,' which is what we've heard in other years," Estrada said.

Russlynn Ali, director of Education Trust West, said state policymakers are responsible for the achievement gap that has kept black and Latino students behind because they've done little to put experienced, well-trained teachers and rigorous high-level courses in schools that predominantly serve those groups. "Our system takes poor kids and kids of color -- not just the students of color who are poor -- and provides them less of everything research says makes a difference," she said. "That is the underlying cause of the achievement gap."

While Ali blamed the government for distributing resources inequitably, others said the gap is due to teachers' expectations. "The expectations are not as high for African American students as they are for other students," said Anita Royston, an education consultant who used to work for the Sacramento City Unified School District. That district's school board president once found the same to be true in his Latino family. In 1989, Manny Hernandez said, his son was forbidden from taking college-prep classes in high school. "That kind of tracking took place, not because people were bad or racist, but because that was the expectation," Hernandez said. When he became a school board member some years later, Hernandez wanted to change the district's expectations about who goes to college. The Sacramento City Unified school board increased graduation requirements, so that more students will graduate with more of the courses necessary to enter college.

Sharroky Hollie sees the achievement gap yet another way. He is a professor of teacher education at California State University, Dominguez Hills, who focuses on strategies that help Latino and African American students learn. Hollie says the achievement gap reflects a biased education system that doesn't accept behaviors and learning styles common in African American and Latino communities. For example, he said, an African American student who is talkative and frequently gets out of his seat will be seen as disruptive and defiant in most schools. Instead, Hollie said, teachers should develop teaching strategies that work with the student's social and kinesthetic nature, a trait that could be attributed to his cultural background. [Strategies that will work on kids who won't pay attention??] "The first thing we want schools to do is to change their mind-set in seeing these behaviors as cultural and not negative," he said. "The rest of it is: How can the instruction be reshaped to validate and affirm the cultural behaviors as a segue to standards-based learning?"

Testing experts said too many factors affect test scores to attribute the racial differences to any one thing. Jamal Abedi of the UC Davis School of Education said the test questions use complex language that may throw students off, particularly those who are not native English speakers or who speak in the vernacular at home. "Those terms prevent students from understanding the assessment questions," he said. "Therefore, they may not be able to respond."

Wednesday's release shows how students did on the California Standards Tests they took in the spring. Their scores are divided into five categories -- advanced, proficient, basic, below basic and far below basic. The goal is for all students to reach proficient or advanced. Later this month, the state Department of Education will use these scores to calculate an Academic Performance Index number for each school and to determine whether schools are meeting the requirements set by No Child Left Behind


Stab-proof school uniforms go on sale in Britain to protect pupils from knife attacks

The story below is not the half of it. Some British parents in areas with large black populations send their kids to school in BULLET-proof vests

Parents are sending children to school in stab-proof uniforms to guard against knife crime, it has emerged. They are paying a firm which makes body armour to line blazers and jumpers with a stab-resistant material called Kevlar. The precautions are aimed at protecting pupils from knife attacks as street crime spills over into schools. A wave of stabbings involving teenagers includes the killing of promising footballer Kiyan Prince, who was knifed just yards from his school gates in north London.

Kevlar is a synthetic fibre that can be spun into fabric five times stronger than steel and is used in armoured vests worn by British troops in Iraq. Essex-based firm BladeRunner produces clothing lined with the material for police and security guards. But inquiries from parents have now prompted it to modfify school uniforms.

Barry Samms, one of the firm's directors, said the company initially produced stab-proof hooded tops that were bought by teenagers. It was then asked by parents about the possibility of strengthening school uniforms with Kevlar. The firm now offers to line blazers and jumpers with the material if pupils send in their uniforms. Blazers cost 120 pounds to stab-proof and jumpers 60 to 70. "The blazers and jumpers have come on the back of the hooded tops which we launched in April," said Mr Samms. "Since then we had a small amount of parents contacting us and asking if we could do something similar with their kids' uniforms so we have been modifying them for them. "We have done blazers and jumpers - we have done about half a dozen so far. It's somehing that we can do and it's something we are offering."

He said parents who had inquired about stab-proof clothing were genuinely fearful for their children's safety. He said: "From what I can gather and from speaking to parents it's just peace of mind for them. "I spoke to a lady yesterday whose son was mugged on a bus coming home from school. She has also got two daughters, but she always sends them to school with no money on them and no jewellery."

Police chiefs said the precautions were an "extraordinary step". "The reality of course is that crimes involving knives are proportionately very very low" Alf Hitchcock, of the Association of Chief Police Officers told BBC News Online. "But we do recognise some parents have that fear and some feel they need to go these steps."

Seven boys under the age of 16 have died in knife attacks in the space of just two months this year. Teachers are also demanding to be equipped with stab-proof vests to protect them from attack as they frisk pupils for knives and guns. New laws which recently came into effect will allow staff to conduct forcible searches of students suspected of carrying offensive weapons. But members of the Professional Association of Teachers are saying they should not be made to carry out searches unless they are provided with body armour.


Who cares about punctuation?

Comment from Australia

If punctuation guru Lynne Truss had intended to make the title of her new book ambiguous, then she has succeeded brilliantly. Forget Eats, Shoots and Leaves the surprising international bestseller. This time, Truss has lined up apostrophes for her special attention. The new book is titled The Girl's Like Spaghetti. This is confusing. What the book's title is intending to say is the girl is like spaghetti. It all comes down to the placement of an apostrophe. But for a child looking at the cover, which is pitched for junior primary aged children, they could be forgiven for thinking that The Girl owns something. The point illustrates the need for clarity with punctuation. More than this it is how it is taught that makes it meaningful.

While Truss may find apostrophes pesky little squiggly things, it seems that the apostrophe, like so much punctuation and grammar, is abused. A casual look around any city's signage will find apostrophes missing, floatingly homelessly over a word ending in "s" or placed incorrectly. Then again you'd have to know what is correct to notice.

Understanding apostrophes is just one of the skills in determining a literate child. Others include correct spelling, clear sentence construction and a full suite of punctuation marks. The reality is something very different. On recent state literacy testing, one in four Queensland children at Year 7 level failed the state benchmarks for agreed acceptable minimum literacy standards. Let's be absolutely clear here. The operative word is "minimum". Students who do not make the cut on Queensland's literacy tests are effectively illiterate. This is in no way acceptable.

This uncomfortable reality is one of the reasons why the Federal Government from 2008 will introduce national literacy and numeracy tests at Years 3, 5, 7 and 9. Queensland parents need to know if their children compare favourably with children in the other states and territories. If they do not do so, then the reasons need to be understood and necessary action taken.

As uncomfortable as it may be for some, the literacy buck stops with teachers. Sure it is unhelpful if shops and advertising appropriate apostrophes, spelling and punctuation for effect. It is up to schools to correct it. On Queensland evidence, 25 per cent of Year 7 students are not performing at even a very basic literacy level. So who teaches them and how are they prepared?

When research was being undertaken into the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy in 2005, chairman Dr Ken Rowe found that many university students were receiving literacy instruction while they were learning how to be teachers. At the time, Rowe observed: "Many university faculties of education are running remedial English classes for their trainee teachers. Their basic grammar and spelling is that poor." Add to this that up to 30 per cent of students in schools were "simply not achieving to the extent they could or should", Rowe said.

The Queensland Government in the June state Budget promised $35.6 million over four years to improve literacy. That's a lot of apostrophes. Moreover, $10 million over four years has been set aside to meet the literacy and numeracy needs of indigenous students. But unless students can confidently understand how the English language works, apostrophes and all, then this will be money of limited impact. Already the school curriculum, particularly at primary level, is awash with socially based subjects masquerading as a rigorous curriculum. The result of schools looking at animal care, bike safety, dental hygiene and financial management, perhaps all good in themselves, is "literacy lite".

This is why the draft Primary School Charter, released earlier this month by the Australian Primary Principals Association, has recommended four core subjects are essential with art, sport, music and languages in a supplementary role. The core includes: English literacy, Maths and numeracy, Science and Australian history. This makes sense. By uncluttering the curriculum, more time can be given to the inculcation of basic skills in literacy and numeracy. A view expressed by APPA president Leonie Trimper, who has warned that currently, the curriculum is compromising the acquisition of core skills. "Primary schooling marks a cultural milestone in the lives of all young Australians so we must get it right. Children only get one chance to establish a solid foundation on which to build a future," Trimper said on release of the draft Charter.

While Lynne Truss has identified the need for a book about apostrophes, the pity is that it is needed at all. The aim should surely be that all Queensland children know how to spell, punctuate, read and write clearly - let alone amend a rogue apostrophe.


Friday, August 17, 2007

No tolerance at the university of Maryland

Four things Leftists cannot tolerate: Christianity, conservatives, Israel and anybody who disagrees with them. But conservatives have to tolerate everything, of course. Democracy would of course be impossible if most people could not tolerate others with different views

For two decades, America's schools and colleges have made a signal virtue of "tolerance" and the "celebration" of diversity. When skeptics have voiced concerns that these bumper-sticker sentiments pose a threat to free speech and intellectual freedom, or threaten to substitute the habits of therapy for those of disciplined inquiry, they have been dismissed as retrograde curmudgeons.

Tolerance is a cardinal virtue when it entails parties disagreeing over questions of beliefs, values, and culture, but respecting the rights of their opponents to live and politic within the confines of the American constitutional order. However, in today's colleges and universities, tolerance has too often evolved into a watery, uncritical acceptance of illiberal behavior. A telling little farce recently played out at the University of Maryland, illustrating just how troubling "tolerance" can become.

As the Washington Post's Marc Fisher reported, University of Maryland student Mia Lazarus recently went to buy some chips and juice at the Maryland Food Collective. The clerk at this grocery and sandwich shop in the student union read her t-shirt's "Baltimore Zionist District" and "I Stand for Israel" slogans and then declared, "Your shirt offends me. I won't ring you up."

Another co-op cashier eventually sold Lazarus her chips and juice. But more instructive than Lazarus's ability to finally buy her groceries has been the aftermath. After an hours-long, "teary" meeting between Lazarus, her friends, and the collective, the coop agreed that it would serve any customer who wasn't physically or verbally abusive, but that workers offended by a customer's politics could arrange for another clerk to serve a patron.

The president of the university's Pro-Israel Terrapin Alliance opined, "The arrangement we worked out, while not ideal, is a reasonable accommodation. I would not want to force anyone to act against their own political beliefs." Coop employees told the Post's Fisher that "no one should have to have contact with people whose views they find hurtful."

Meanwhile, Lazarus clearly saw it as her responsibility to make amends. When Lazarus and her friends from Maryland's Jewish community met with the collective, they brought a chocolate cake they had baked as a peace offering. In a studiously nonconfrontational letter to the cashier who turned her away, Lazarus wrote, "I got the impression that your action at the register was a very `in the moment,' emotional reaction. Nonetheless, the way you expressed your feelings was not the most constructive." In case that proved too sharply worded, she then volunteered at the coop herself.

Ironically, the University of Maryland's "human rights code" prohibits discrimination on the basis of political beliefs, along with sex, race, and so on. The university's student union director, Gretchen Metzelaars, was, however, unable to convince members of the coop that they had discriminated. After agreeing to serve students like Lazarus in the future (by allowing clerks to discreetly slip away from customers they disapprove of), the coop told Metzelaars, "Okay, but if someone came in wearing a swastika, we wouldn't serve them."

Did the experience shake Lazarus's simple faith in the power of tolerance? Turns out she's a big fan of the coop's solution. Asked whether allowing clerks to selectively refuse to serve customers was acceptable, or whether it rested on the same troubling rationale that once supported "separate but equal," Lazarus rejected the analogy. "Separate but equal wasn't equal," she told him. "In this case, I'm getting the same service, but it's just from a different cashier."

Exactly how "tolerance" devolved into coddling those who choose to take offense for the slightest of reasons is a question for another day (although decades of experience demonstrates that on-campus tolerance is more frequently understood as the right of "victims" to air grievances than of heterogeneous speakers to be heard). Another question is how and why we've allowed identity politics to constrict public spaces.

But the pressing problem with the way "tolerance" as touted by too many educators is that it rewards zealotry; while the zealots are understood to be beyond its soggy grasp, the rational and pragmatic are expected to do what is necessary to keep the peace.

The champions of "tolerance" have pitched it as a costless and all-embracing virtue, all the while dismissing or sidestepping concerns that it might dim critical faculties or undermine commitment to core American values. Indeed, the goings-on at the Maryland Food Collective suggest just how readily this doctrine can become tantamount to unilateral intellectual and moral disarmament.

Is this the way to equip the new generation for the rigors of the 21st century? When Islamofascists next demand that newspapers refuse to run a cartoon or an essay, or cite "provocative" American books or music as a justification for murder, can we have any confidence that we have prepared the painfully pleasant Mia Lazaruses of this world to stare them down? For those who have long suggested that "tolerance" should be the lodestar in our educational compass, this is a question well worth pondering.


British dumbing down continues

Pressure for a reform of A levels [High School diploma] has led to a surge in support for rival qualifications

With a record crop of A-level results expected today, one of Britain's leading examination boards has said that it will introduce a new exam in dozens of schools from next month with a view to offering it nationally from next year. The new "AQA Bacc", from the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance, is designed to offer sixth-formers a broader range of studies than A levels so that university admissions staff can select the brightest students for their most popular courses.

A big criticism of the A-level system is that so many students get A grades it is impossible to tell the really brilliant from the merely well-drilled. In response, many universities have introduced their own admissions tests to identify the top candidates, and the Government has promised to introduce a new A* grade at A level from next year for students gaining 90 per cent or more.

With the AQA baccalaureate, students will still study three A levels but will take a further paper in critical thinking, citizenship or general studies. They will also complete an extended essay, project or thesis designed to show their ability to develop an argument and their writing skills. The new qualification will also highlight any community work they have done.

John Mitchell, director of Qualifications Development and Support at AQA, said: "To achieve this award, students have had to demonstrate planning, research and self-management skills alongside academic ability. In developing such important skills, AQA Bacc students are well placed for progression to further study or employment." Results of the first students to take the new qualification, in a trial at Farnborough Sixth Form College, will be published today. John Guy, the college's principal, said: "The extended project has encouraged students to undertake real research in an area above and beyond their A levels, providing evidence of real stretch and challenge."

The AQA's decision to bring in a new qualification follows growing interest in the highly academic international baccalaureate (IB), which the Government has supported. Last year Tony Blair said that more state schools would offer the IB to ensure that students could choose the courses that best met their individual abilities and needs.

The IB offers a much broader curriculum, in which students study a range of seven subjects rather than just the traditional three for A levels. The number of schools offering the IB in Britain has doubled in the past decade and is expected to reach 100 by 2010.

Growing numbers of private schools are also expressing an interest in the rival Pre-U qualification, which is being developed in Cambridge. Due to be taught from next year, the Pre-U will involve a return to final exams after two years, rather than the "bite-sized" modules of A levels. Support for the new exams reflects growing concern among university admissions officers about grade inflation at A level. A survey of 56 universities, published yesterday, found that nearly 40 per cent of admissions officers thought the Government's decision to back the IB was an acknowledgement that it is a better preparation for university than A levels.

Last night the Liberal Democrats called for an independent review of exam standards. Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, accused them of trying to undermine young people.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Theory behind busing finally bombs

Moving Students Out of Poor Inner Cities Yields Little, Studies of HUD Vouchers Show. Rather a pity they didn't test the theory first, isn't it? But Leftists just KNOW: Evidence not necessary

Many social reformers have long said that low academic achievement among inner-city children cannot be improved significantly without moving their families to better neighborhoods, but new reports released today that draw on a unique set of data throw cold water on that theory.

Researchers examining what happened to 4,248 families that were randomly given or denied federal housing vouchers to move out of their high-poverty neighborhoods found no significant difference about seven years later between the achievement of children who moved to more middle-class neighborhoods and those who didn't. Although some children had more stable lives and better academic results after the moves, the researchers said, on average there was no improvement. Boys and brighter students appeared to have more behavioral problems in their new schools, the studies found. "Research has in fact found surprisingly little convincing evidence that neighborhoods play a key role in children's educational success," [But IQ does -- though we must not mention that. Better to fart around with myths] says one of the two reports on the Web site of the Hoover Institution's journal Education Next.

Experts often debate the factors in student achievement. Many point to teacher quality, others to parental involvement and others to economic and cultural issues. Some critics, and the researchers themselves, suggest that the new neighborhoods may not have been good enough to make a difference. [The classic last-ditch defence of a busted theory: Demand ever higher standards of proof for the contrary narrative] Under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Moving to Opportunity program, one group of families received vouchers that could be used only to move to neighborhoods with poverty rates below 10 percent, one group got vouchers without that restriction and one group did not receive vouchers. Families with the restricted vouchers moved to neighborhoods with poverty rates averaging 12.6 percent lower than those of similar families that did not move, but not the most affluent suburbs with the highest-performing schools. "There is a wide body of evidence going back several decades to suggest that low-income students perform better in middle-class schools," said Richard D. Kahlenberg, senior fellow at the Washington-based Century Foundation. "But, in practice, Moving to Opportunity was more like moving to mediocrity."

Harvard University sociologist William Julius Wilson said that although the families that were studied moved to neighborhoods that weren't as poor, they still had many disadvantages. Three-fifths of the families relocated to neighborhoods that were still "highly racially segregated," he said, and "as many as 41 percent of those who entered low-poverty neighborhoods subsequently moved back to more-disadvantaged neighborhoods."

The authors of one of the new reports were Lisa Sanbonmatsu, a postdoctoral fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research; Jeffrey Kling, a Brookings Institution economist; Greg J. Duncan, an education and social policy professor at Northwestern University; and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, a child development and education professor at Columbia University. They cite several possible explanations why students' performance did not improve when their families moved to less poverty-stricken neighborhoods in the Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York areas. Some families returned to poorer neighborhoods after sampling a more middle-class environment. "For many families who remained in their new tracts, the poverty rate in their neighborhood increased around them," [Moving blacks in destroyed the neighborhood? How surprising!] the researchers said.

Stefanie DeLuca, a Johns Hopkins University sociologist who wrote the second report based on interviews of Moving to Opportunity families in Baltimore, said many of the parents had little faith that better teaching in better schools would help their children. They felt it was up to their children to make education work.


Classics vanishing from British High Schools

THE last dedicated A-levels in Latin and Greek are to be scrapped from next year, sparking opposition from the country's leading classicists. As thousands of A-level candidates wait to get their results this week, it has emerged that the OCR exam board is planning to combine the two subjects along with ancient history and classical civilisation into a single classics A-level, to be taught from 2008. Other boards that set A-levels in England have already combined the subjects or stopped offering them.

Although the classics A-level would still allow pupils to specialise in Greek, Latin or the other two subjects, opponents believe the proposed syllabus waters down the knowledge required. "We do not think it provides adequate training for university classics," said Christopher Pelling, regius professor of Greek at Oxford University. "The demands of a first-year university course would demand a vast leap from what students will learn at A-level." But Greg Watson, chief executive of OCR, defended the new qualification, saying it could revive classics. Last year just 183 candidates sat Greek A-level and 927 took Latin.

"There is a real eagerness to get classics moving again. Most of the classicists we've talked to say this seems to be the right way to go," said Watson. "Maybe the reason people aren't doing classics is because it seems a bit intimidating or a bit fusty and giving them the opportunity to combine Latin, for example with a couple of units of history and culture, could bring the subject to life."

The clash over classics comes in advance of A-level results to be released this Thursday that are set to revive the row over whether standards are going up or down. Officials expect a quarter of students will gain A grades, up from 24.1% last year, and that overall results will improve for the 25th successive year. So many are now gaining As that reforms are to be introduced from next year to help universities distinguish the best.

"Some of the most selective universities have been saying with some justification that A-levels have not been stretching enough at the top end," said Watson The changes include a new grade of A*, likely to require a mark of 90%. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority estimates that 5-6% of papers will win A*s, creating an elite from whom leading universities are likely to choose successful applicants.


Australia: Wimpy "modern" teacher backed up by official body

Any real man would have tried to break up a student fight. And are teachers "in loco parentis" or not? What parent would not try to break up a fight between children in his care?

Should school teachers jump in to separate brawling students? Teacher Peter Moran didn't think so, and instead hung back and watched a ferocious "bitch fight" involving eight girls. Mr Moran, a senior teacher and football coach, stood behind about 50 students crowded around the 16-year-old girls as they threw punches at each other and pulled out clumps of hair. He yelled for them to stop and waved his arms. But he did not intervene. "I'm here to teach, not to break up fights," Mr Moran told a distressed and injured girl afterwards. She told him to "f--- off, c---".

The headmaster of Langwarrin Secondary College, Robert Loader - a teacher with 40 years' experience - contacted the Education Department's conduct and ethics branch. He thought his teacher had a duty of care and should have "moved into the students" during the fight. The Education Department, which was later supported by the Industrial Relations Commission, dismissed Mr Moran and the Victorian Institute of Teaching cancelled his teacher registration.

But in a decision with far-reaching ramifications for Victorian teachers, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal recently overturned the decision to cancel Mr Moran's registration and attacked the lack of guidelines available to teachers on how to deal with physical fights. "There is no immutable rule that a teacher should physically intervene in a fight between students," VCAT ruled. "There are many occasions when it would be physically dangerous to the teacher or to one of the students to do so. "A teacher is not required to risk his physical safety or that of another student in the discharge of his professional responsibility."

VCAT said the teaching profession needed guidelines on how to handle fights and should educate teachers on appropriate strategies. "Teachers have a responsibility to protect students. However, we do not consider that extends to placing himself or herself physically in harm's way or taking the risk of harming another child," VCAT said.

Mr Moran, who started teaching in 1979 and spent 12 years at the Langwarrin school, hired a senior barrister and went to VCAT to appeal against a finding of serious incompetence by the Victorian Institute of Teaching, which registers teachers. VCAT brought down its decision on July 31. It concluded that only luck had prevented the fight from assuming "catastrophic proportions". But it found that Mr Moran's lack of intervention was an error that did not warrant deregistration. It found he was incompetent in not ascertaining the extent of one girl's injuries despite seeing handfuls of her hair on the ground.

VCAT ruled that suspension until January 1 next year was more appropriate than deregistration. "It is conduct that took place during only a few minutes of this teacher's career," the tribunal said. Mr Moran, who declined an interview with The Sunday Age, was directed to undertake courses on student discipline and professional development.

Despite VCAT's decision, Mr Moran will be unable to teach in the state system due to his earlier dismissal by the Education Department. Unemployed since his dismissal in 2002, he now will be able to apply for teaching jobs in the private sector. Mr Moran - tall, well-built and winner of several football coaching awards - was on yard duty on July 23, 2002, when students started streaming towards an area known as W6. Up to 100 students were crammed into a yard around eight girls who were arguing.

Mr Moran was about six metres from the girls, in a corner and out of sight of a surveillance camera. He says he told the students to "break it up" and "go, leave" and waved his arms. He claims he asked two boys to get the vice-principal after the teacher assigned to the area did not appear. (Due to an administrative error no teacher was assigned to the area that day.)

In evidence to the VCAT hearing, one student said Mr Moran told her, "(girl's name) is a smart chick and she knows what she's going to get herself into". Mr Moran denies this. Another student said he seemed to enjoy the fight. However, VCAT found it more likely that he "looked discomforted and smiled awkwardly". "Our impression from watching the video is that (Moran) appears inexplicably absent from the centre of the action for the three minutes of video footage prior to the occurrence of the fight itself," VCAT says. Mr Moran made no move towards the action during the 30-second fight. After it was over, friends of an injured girl abused him for not intervening.

Mr Moran told the hearing he was waiting for the teacher rostered on yard duty to arrive and was standing back so he could see the two entrances to the area. He thought early intervention could inflame the situation. In May 2004, Mr Moran told a separate inquiry that the principal, Mr Loader, had instructed teachers not to touch students under any circumstances. He also said the crowd of students was threatening and that he was terrified. The inquiry dismissed both arguments. In February last year, Mr Moran told a hearing by the Victorian Institute of Teaching that he could have been accused of assault if he had touched a student. He told the institute's panel he believed he had been made a sacrificial lamb.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Contrary to what you might think, most special education students don't suffer from Down syndrome or other severe cognitive disabilities. Nor are they unable to learn in school or pass the ISTEP-Plus exams. Most have been diagnosed with "specific learning disabilities" such as dyslexia. Others suffer from speech impediments or behavior difficulties that stem from problems at home. In many cases, special ed students can perform well in school -- if they are taught by trained professionals. Unfortunately, there's a shortage of special ed teachers.

Concerns over special education have grown over the past decade, as the No Child Left Behind Act and its accountability requirements force school districts to show whether they are giving at-risk students, including those in special ed, the attention they need to succeed. Many school officials -- across the nation and the state -- are concerned that the requirement to test even the most severely disabled students makes educators look bad. Some local and state educators want to lower expectations for special ed students. Considering the evidence found by The Star, lower expectations seem counter-productive.

Too many special ed students are dropping out of school. Forty-nine percent of special ed students ages 14 to 21 who left school during the 2004-05 school year -- 5,200 young Hoosiers -- dropped out, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Only 28 percent of special ed students nationwide dropped out that year. The state trails the nation in graduating special ed students. Only 40 percent of special ed students who left school graduated compared with a 55 percent national average.

Blacks, already more likely to land in special ed than whites, fare worse than others in those settings. Sixty percent of black special education students -- 1,400 youngsters -- dropped out that year, compared with 47 percent of whites. Nationwide, only 35 percent of black special ed students dropped out. Graduation rates are even more abysmal. Twenty-seven percent of blacks leaving special ed in 2005 earned a diploma, compared to 43 percent of whites. Thirty-nine percent of black special ed students nationwide graduated in that period. Blacks are twice as likely as whites to spend more than 60 percent of their time in special ed classes. They get fewer opportunities to achieve academically.

Most special education students aren't suffering from mental retardation or other cognitive disorders. Mentally retarded students make up just 13 percent of Indiana's special education population between the ages of six and 21. While they make up a larger portion of the state's special ed population than the national average, they aren't the majority. Forty percent of special ed students are primarily diagnosed with "specific learning disabilities," a wide-range of disorders that include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Another 24 percent are primarily diagnosed with speech impairments caused by brain injury and such birth defects as cleft palates. Students suffering emotional disturbances account for the rest.

These students can learn, notes Erin Dillon of the Education Sector, an educational think tank, in a recent report. Sixty-nine percent of third-grade special ed students who didn't need accommodations passed the math portion of the ISTEP-Plus exam last year, barely trailing students in regular classes. For the most part, this can be done while still mainstreaming students into regular classes to avoid the stigma of special ed labeling. Additional help, including reading specialists and counselors, is key to helping those students achieve. The use of individualized learning plans, mandated by the federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, can also help parents and teachers help students succeed.

Sadly, a shortage of special education teachers, especially those trained in handling emotional problems, means that students aren't getting the specialized instruction they need. So classes end up being taught by instructors with little or no special ed experience.

Another problem is the over-diagnosis of learning disabilities, especially among young black and white males. The lack of intense early remediation to deal with achievement gaps is a culprit. Cultural differences between students and the teaching corps, which consists mostly of white females, also doesn't help. Black males, who made up just 30 percent of Indianapolis Public Schools' overall population in 2004-05, accounted for 39 percent of those diagnosed with a learning disability and 53 percent of the emotionally disturbed population.

Solving these problems will require systemic changes in the public education system: Improve pay for special ed jobs, along with merit bonuses to attract talented teachers. Provide specialized training for all instructors to sensitize them to the needs of special ed students and help streamline them into regular classrooms. Be more discerning in diagnosing special education needs. This can be helped by luring more males, especially black men, into teaching.

There are some special ed students, notably those with mental retardation, whose ability to learn will always be limited. But a large pool of students has the potential to do great things, given the opportunity. That's why it's so important to address this need -- a need that lies at the root of many learning issues facing educators. The students deserve better.


What a great idea from Britain

Pupils are to be given a question-by-question breakdown of their GCSE and A-level results over the next fortnight, which could give parents the ammunition to sue schools for poor teaching. Edexcel, one of the country's largest exam boards, will give heads feedback on the performance of all their students and teachers when they publish their results for the examinations, starting on Thursday. Not only will heads and teachers be able to compare results for questions across year groups, but some fear that parents and pupils will be able to do the same.

Teaching unions have expressed concerns that Edexcel's latest move could be exploited by parents to punish underperforming staff and have called for the information to be used solely for in-school improvements. Next week more than 200,000 sixth-formers will receive their A-level results amid expectations that a quarter of entries could achieve an A-grade, thereby putting greater pressure on students aiming for places at the top universities.

Jerry Jarvis, the managing director of Edexcel, admitted that revealing more information could encourage parents to sue schools, but he said that it was crucial that pupils knew whether they had been taught badly. "The last thing we want to do is damage the teaching environment, when we're short of heads and so on," he said. "So we don't want this technology to be used to sue schools, but we know that parents want the best for their children, so the pressure to get the results is going to come."

Last year the examination board piloted the results feedback system of 1,500 pupils at 10 schools. From next week the results of all the 1.2 million pupils taking Edexcel GCSE and A-level examinations will be made available to heads all over Britain. Teachers will also be able to apply to see the results of their pupils. They will be able to compare them across the year group, with the national average and with past years. But they will not be able to look at other schools' results.

The students will also be able to access their own results, module scores and grades online. But they will have to ask their teachers for the school's comparative figures. They will also be able to tell how close they were to a higher grade and gauge whether they should ask for a re-mark. Mr Jarvis is also considering arming students with their test results throughout the year, as well as their classmates' average, the national average in a subject or course and that of neighbouring schools. "If I then see that I'm likely to gain a C and I can see that the class is performing at a much lower level than others, what do I do with that information?" he asks.

Steve Sinnott, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said that part of the problem was that parents were not expert at understanding the marking system.

Martin Ward, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Lecturers, said most heads would welcome the information, and that they would be concerned only if it allowed parents to make comparisons between classes. "I don't think it will be easy to make comparisons on that basis, but obviously there's a concern that parents will try to and come to erroneous conclusions," he said.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Missouri: Kansas city school science labs get an ‘F’

The state of science laboratory classrooms took a double shot Friday. First, a local study showed that most middle school and high school lab classes in the Kansas City area are probably not safe enough, are poorly organized, are ill-equipped and don’t blend with the curriculum.

Then came Carl Wieman — a Nobel Prize winner in physics and chairman of the board of science education at the National Research Council of the National Academies — with the really sobering news for area educators. In analyzing the roots of success for students who achieve science careers, he has found that it’s as if they succeed despite their experience in labs, not because of it. “Labs can and should play an important role in science education,” Wieman told a gathering of science teachers and administrators at the Central Library downtown. “But generally they are not.” For far too many students, lab classes are “generally useless,” he said. Science classes in secondary schools and the introductory courses in colleges that should be inspiring students are too often pushing them away.

The bad news for science converged as part of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s continuing investment in trying to boost science, math and technology education. The foundation paid for a five-month study of 170 lab classrooms among 30 area school districts by SuccessLink, a nonprofit agency created by Missouri to research best education practices.

Concerns were numerous, particularly in middle schools, said Amy Youngblood, the project director for SuccessLink. Goggles, aprons, gloves, fire blankets and first-aid kits were frequently missing. Fume hoods often didn’t work. Nearly half of the districts did not provide lists of chemicals kept in their schools. Many lists that were provided were not current. Many lists included chemicals that were considered excessively risky by the Environmental Protection Agency. Many middle schools had chemicals that were appropriate only for work at the high school level and above.

Most of the labs viewed in the study needed more space. Many storage rooms were cluttered or inconveniently located, or their contents were too unfamiliar to teachers. Most schools were not giving enough time to lab classes, and the time spent in labs was often not well integrated into the overall curriculum. If students aren’t engaged in science as a connection to the real world and real learning, then the skills won’t follow them beyond the classroom, Youngblood said. “At the end of the day, can they do it in the field by themselves?” she said.

Wieman said he steered his career from physics to science education because he wanted to help understand why secondary schools and colleges weren’t inspiring more students. Students fall on a scale from novice to expert in their attitudes toward science and how they understand the scientific method and its role in the world, he said. National studies are showing, he said, “that students in introductory sciences courses (in colleges) are more novicelike in their attitude toward science when they finish the class than when they started. “That’s very disturbing.” Also troubling, he said, are surveys of various college students in science courses that reveal elementary education majors as “dramatically more novicelike.”


Science education drought in Britain

A shortage of science graduates threatens the future of British industry at a time of record demand for scientists to combat problems such as climate change and to take advantage of trends in the global economy. Even when students opt for science degrees, they are often lured into the “wrong” kind of subjects, which they perceive as more glamorous than hard-core options of physics, chemistry, maths and engineering. TV dramas such as Silent Witness have popularised the study of subjects such as forensic science, despite a lack of jobs in this field, and sports science and psychology courses are also growing even though they do not necessarily give people better job opportunities.

With A-level results coming out this week, Richard Lambert, the Director-General of the CBI, called on the Government to offer £1,000-a-year “golden carrots” to students to encourage more to study the science, technology, engineering and maths subjects that were becoming increasingly important to the economy. The shift to a low-carbon economy would require dramatically increased numbers of people with skills in these subjects, he said. The CBI estimated that Britain would need 2.4 million newly qualified staff with such degrees. “Too many potential scientists and engineers are abandoning these subjects at an early stage in their lives and missing out on rewarding, varied and lucrative career options,” Mr Lambert said. “Some employers are already finding it difficult to get the right talent, and the problem is set to get worse. Bursaries towards the cost of degrees which are most useful to the economy could kick-start thousands of young people into reconsidering a future in science.”

While the number of students obtaining first degrees in science subjects had risen by nearly half since 1994, much of this was because of the numbers taking biology, computing, sports science and psychology. Since 1984 the number of people studying physics A level has slumped by 57 per cent, and the take-up of chemistry has dropped by 28 per cent. And although there was a rise in applications to study science, technology, engineering and maths subjects at university this year, in the long term the proportion graduating in physics and chemistry fell by 25 per cent between 1994 and 2006.

Mr Lambert cautioned that “a pared-back science curriculum, a lack of specialist teachers and patchy classroom lab facilities” undermined the study of science. Many see science subjects as harder and opt for what they believe are easier choices, he said.

Graham Love, chief executive of the defence and security company QinetiQ, said that there was a decline in the number of applicants with suitable qualifications. “Five years ago we were getting 75 applicants per job,” he said. “Now the figure is 30. That is a concern because our business is based on our ability to continue to recruit high-calibre science, technology, engineering and maths graduates.”

Andy Duff, chief executive of RWE npower, said: “We need people with the right skills to deliver secure, affordable power for the nation and who relish the chance to be at the forefront of the battle to address climate change.”


Elite maths 'discouraged' in Australia

SCHOOLS have been accused of discouraging average maths students in an attempt to boost their academic results. As the number of year 12 students enrolled in advanced and intermediate maths continues to slide, the chairman of the national committee for mathematical sciences, Hyam Rubinstein, said because maths was viewed as a difficult subject in schools, only the best and brightest were encouraged to pursue it at an advanced level. "If a school wants to maximise their performance, they may feel that 'if we encourage weaker students not to take maths, our results will look better'," he said.

Professor Rubinstein's concerns precede the release of a report ordered by federal, state and territory governments on numeracy teaching, learning and assessment practices. The report is due later this month. Last year 10 per cent of students took advanced maths and 21 per cent took intermediate maths compared with 14 per cent and 27 per cent in 1995


Monday, August 13, 2007

High College Costs Driven by Global Warming Researchers Say

Researchers at California State University, Van Nuys, and Michigan Central Teacher College of Farwell reported this week that global warming is the primary cause of both declining academic performance among North American college undergraduates and the rising costs associated with a baccalaureate degree. The three-week-long multiple-perspective study was undertaken by assistants for the Senior-Level Sub-Dean of Diversity Quotas in Environmental Studies at CSUVN and four tenured members of the Alternative Literacies [sic] Program at MCTCF. The team systematically surveyed multiple self-evaluations and statistical-anecdotal probability memoranda culled from a wide variety of auto-probative and theosophical sources appearing in carefully vetted blogs posted on the Internet since February. “This is one of the most exhaustive studies of its kind to be carried out by institutions of our accreditation-level, in California or Michigan, during the past seventeen and a half months,” said Dr. Michelle Mausse, a CSUVN Diverse Arts Practical Instructor, who is acting co-chair of the project, and supervising gender-fairness editor of the semi-final quasi-executive summary of the project’s yet-to-be-published report. Mausse also said that a surprising side-result of the consortium’s monumental data-collection effort was a strong indication that an expected storm of irate denials inspired by and aimed at the report would almost certainly exacerbate global warming, thereby degrading student performance even further and raising the price of a college education even higher.

When a reporter asked why Mausse anticipated such a belligerent reception for her findings, she replied, “Given the cutting-edge status of our conclusions and the transgressive methods employed during our strenuous three weeks of research, you can bet that Bill O’Reilly and Fox News will be working overtime to sap public confidence in our assertions.” According to Mausse, the best way to prevent such obfuscation would be “to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, ban SUVs, and approach North Korea with an environmentally friendly attitude.”

As stated in the semi-final quasi-executive summary, “Last year’s harsh winter in the Northeast and this summer’s record-breaking cool weather across the Upper Midwest prove incontrovertibly that global warming is on a steep rise.” In an informative historical aside, the report states that public consciousness about global warming arose in earnest in the late 1960s with the appearance of Dr. Saul Schmerlich’s prophetic tract, Heat-Death by 1970 – No Doubt About It. Mausse attributes her own environmental “conversion” to perusing the Utne Reader’s “condensed” version of Schmerlich’s book while writing her feminist studies thesis at Mannless County Community College, near New Mytilene, Ohio, in 1984. Republication of Schmerlich’s book has correlated over the decades with strong, measurable decreases in science-competency among first-semester freshmen, “and not just at campuses like CSUVN and MCTCF,” Mausse adds. Is Schmerlich’s book therefore a bad influence? “No,” says Mausse. “Without Schmerlich, young people wouldn’t be alarmed about global warming and if they weren’t alarmed about global warming, they wouldn’t be in a haze when it comes to science. Scientific illiteracy is not unambiguously bad although the anxiety it produces is. Fighting global warming means getting people to relax and feel comfortable about their ignorance while maintaining an implacably hostile stance towards the deniers.”

Reminded that her own university had recently issued a statement contradicting the assertion that scientific literacy among the 17-24 age group has sunk in North America to near Third-World levels, the feisty Mausse attacked “phallogocentric thinking and the prejudice against non-linear reasoning intrinsic to the patriarchy.” She blamed the alleged error or contradiction on “structural biases in male-dominated education-research hitherto not addressed by affirmative action hiring.” As Mausse told a news conference earlier today, “Women tend to be more nurturing, caring, and intuitive than men, and our work reflects those qualities in a harsh, unsentimental, and unflinching way.”

The research revealed by Mausse and her collaborators defines a three-stage process by which global warming drives down the level of student performance, increases the likelihood of degree non-completion, and at the same time inflates the cost of undergraduate matriculation.

The first stage of the process is global warming itself. The team ascertained the reality of global warming by repeatedly viewing the Al Gore documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, and by skimming selected pages of Schmerlich’s Heat-Death by 1970 – The Revised Edition. Several telephone consultations were also arranged with Ward Churchill, noted plastic artist and former chair of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “We wanted the authentic Native American perspective,” Mausse explains, “as part of our diversity mandate.” A photograph of Churchill’s papier-mâché figurine, “Hot Prof,” will decorate the cover of The Mausse Report “whenever it’s published,” its main author affirmed. “Hot Prof” depicts an environmentally sensitive, tribally affiliated, non-Ph.D.-holding chair of an academic department horribly oppressed by a white-male-European-inflicted global climatic catastrophe.

After global warming per se, says Mausse, the second stage of the process that she and her co-researchers have discovered is global warming awareness, already hinted at in Mausse’s remarks about Schmerlich. “Normally,” Mausse explained, “we here at CSUVN value the diverse forms of awareness dearly, such as awareness of being a fully tenured faculty member at one of the most highly rated third-tier pre-teacher-training colleges in Van Nuys, but some kinds of awareness turn out to have a deleterious effect on holistic non-gendered wellbeing.” Mausse’s senior research partner, Dr. C. Lardner Brainepanne of the Farwell Alternative Literacies [sic] Program (Michigan), seconds this point. “For example,” Brainepanne says, “research has shown that awareness of not being able to read or write so good gets a lot worser for a person when they’re forced to be in a room with a bunch of smart-asses who know a lot of really big words. When I was a undergraduate, there was this teacher, see, and he went around acting like he knew more than anybody else in the whole damned classroom. That four-eyed little rat-face really got on my nerves. That’s why we invented alternative literacies [sic] in the first place – to take the gut-wrenching awareness out of illiteracy and make TV-based cultural complacency compatible with high self-esteem.”

Mausse picks up the thread of Brainepanne’s explanation. “Simply put, awareness becomes obsession, but in a good way. Thinking obsessively about how many manatees, dugongs, and sea cows Vice President Dick Cheney has already tortured and murdered, and about how many copies of The Greenpeace Manifesto he’s already flushed down the toilet, can make it virtually impossible for a person to think about other, unimportant things, like science. I go to sleep every night thinking obsessively about sea cows and toilets, and so does my husband. We have to remind people constantly of how close to extinction Bush and Cheney have already pushed the spotted owl, the snail darter, and the lorax, not to mention Al Franken, Janeane Garofalo, and Garrison Keillor. How many of those are left? I devote most of my lecture-time to just this and I show An Inconvenient Truth as often as possible, especially in my literature classes, along with The Lion King or Ocean’s Eleven. Many of my better, most committed students bring their environmental convictions with them from high school, along with their body-piercings, tattoos, backwards baseball hats, enthusiasm for Nick at Night, binge drinking, cell phones, and sexual promiscuity. So it’s not surprising that facts and figures or abstruse scientific arguments only confuse and anger our young people. We make an effort metaphorically at CSUVN not to confuse these youths further by literally turning their baseball caps around in the so-called right way.”

In a third, culminating stage of the process, global warming decreases academic performance by forcing students to wear fewer and skimpier clothes, a trend noted keenly by students themselves, especially males. Arwel Wankler, a seventh-year junior-level adult-entertainment major at Van Nuys, told a reporter, “Dude, what with all the sun bathing on a June afternoon, the main lawn here at CSUVN is a total babe-park. It’s Thong City! My boss at the place where I intern – Spanker Videos International… like, he’s not even a student and he spends hours and hours of his own time right here scoping out the scene. Quite a few Van Nuys girls have gotten good employment out of that.” Mausse points to Wankler as a demonstration case for her hypothesis. “Arwel should have graduated summa cum casually, our highest distinction, three years ago, but he has taken my capstone seminar on Lesbian Semiotics and the Politics of Oil four times without being able to pass the final exam. There isn’t even any reading in that course, but you do have to bring your own oil. I guess his parents will just have to keep financing him until he sweats out the transgressive challenge and earns his degree, or until the earth cools off. I admire him for his hold-onto-it-until-you-bring-it-off attitude.”

Coeds are not immune from the distraction. A young “interpretive dance major,” identifying herself only as “Tiffany,” says that the only thing she brought with her from high school were her augmentations, which are environmentally quite sensitive. “Mostly I only go out at night anymore,” the young woman says. “Fortunately, I work at a place called The North Pole. The ‘pole’ is refrigerated as well as antiseptic and my job is sort of… air conditioned.”

In the past, sociologists and education specialists have blamed falling test-scores on factors like the intentional de-emphasis of basic literacy in K-12 and the corrosive effects of insipid mass-culture on the cognitive skills of children in elementary and secondary schools. They have blamed soaring higher-education costs on administratively top-heavy institutions and the insistence by unionized faculty members that they teach fewer courses per semester than was regular in the past. Astrophysicists and climatologists have attributed a small rise in the mean yearly global temperature to a cyclic increase in solar activity, said also to have affected the planet Mars, whose polar caps are retreating. “Nonsense,” Mausse and Brainepanne argue. “If you divest yourself of linear thinking, you’ll quickly see that global cooling in the past is part of a much vaster Bush-Cheney conspiracy. Look at the creepy Skull-and-Bones eye on that pyramid on the dollar bill and tell us if there’s anything Bush and Cheney can’t do with their insidious male gaze. As a matter of fact, we celebrate global cooling in past centuries, since without it global warming today would never have been so obvious.”

According to Mausse, global warming, in addition to depressing intellectual acuity in college students and hiking the baccalaureate’s price tag without any foreseeable limit, has other devastating effects. “There are the vapors, for example. More and more cases of the vapors are being reported on college campuses, especially when someone questions the rationale for great programs like feminist studies or diverse arts. We’ve also heard reliable tales of conniption fits and ‘restless panty syndrome.’”

When the report sees print, it will include five key policy recommendations.

*Keep as much of Canada as possible frigid and uninhabitable for the next ten thousand years.

*Get people in Des Moines to act “cooler” – like people in Portland, say, or Seattle.

*Reinstate Rosie O’Donnell on The View.

*Use less toilet paper – only one sheet per visit.

*Mandatory goddess-worship.

Mausse sees a connection between the problems she investigates and, perhaps surprisingly, the current debate over immigration. She even sees an opportunity to bring conservatives, who tend to take a skeptical position on global warming, to her point of view. Referring to the second-to-last policy recommendation, she says, “As we learn to use less and less toilet paper per visit, there will be fewer and fewer people from foreign countries wanting to come to the United States – and people born in this country will find more value than ever in the soft vellum of their expensively purchased college diplomas.”

The above deeply insightful story came to me via an email from the author, Thomas F. Bertonneau []

Boston fathers Create Bulletproof Backpacks

Sadly, the report below is NOT satire. Note also that in some areas of Britain with a large black population, parents send their kids to school wearing bulletproof vests

It's time for parents to make the annual trek to get back-to-school items, which usually includes jeans, jerseys and a few notebooks. Boston television station WCVB reported Thursday that a couple of Boston men want parents to consider something else -- a bulletproof backpack. "They have them with them on the floor, on their laps, on the bus. They always have a backpack," said Joe Curran, of My Child's Pack

It started with the Columbine shooting in 1999. Curran and Mike Pelonzi said that they watched and worried for their own children. They had the idea to hide bulletproof material inside a backpack. They call it defensive action. "If the kid has a backpack next to them, or under the desk, they can pick it up, the straps act as a handle and it becomes a shield," Curran said.

It's much lighter than a 15-pound police vest. After three years of experimenting, the backpacks that were tested by an outside lab ranked threat level two. It stops an assortment of bullets, including 9-millimeter hollow point bullets. The fathers researched school shootings from 1900 to this year.

They will sell for $175, but do the special book bags play upon paranoia when most schools are called safe? "I want to keep my kid safe," Curran said. "I don't care what you do -- if you want to fight the good fight or fix the world's hurts, I can't help you, but my kids are going to be safe because of these backpacks."


The Australian Left pledges $20m security for Jewish schools

That should wrap up most of the Jewish vote for them. The Australian Labor party has however long been supportive of Israel so the latest policy is in accord with party traditions

Jewish schools are set to become the main beneficiaries of a $20-million security plan announced by Kevin Rudd in Sydney on Friday. Rudd, together with his education spokesman Stephen Smith, also offered an extra $16 million in general funding to Jewish schools and committed to the Howard Government's changes to the socioeconomic status (SES) funding appeals process.

The joint announcement came on a red-letter day for Labor, which is also set to benefit from the Greens' announcement on Friday it will hand preferences in the key seat of Wentworth to ALP candidate George Newhouse, who was present for the funding announcements at Sydney's Moriah College.

Rudd told the gathered media that if elected, the ALP would assist any school with a particular security risk, but emphasised the funding is for "predominantly the Jewish schools". "This will be funding which will be available immediately. We are very conscious of the particular needs of the Jewish community in regard to security," Rudd said. "We are not talking about regular acts of vandalism, because they occur at schools right across the country, [but] where because of national security considerations there are particular threats to particular school community, we believe nationally we have a responsibility to act."

Smith added that a Rudd government would fund security so that Jewish schools would not have to direct resources away from education. "We would actually [prefer] the schools to be spending money on educational outcomes and so those schools which are assessed to be at risk will be eligible to apply for assistance," Smith said.

Member for Melbourne Ports Michael Danby, Australia's only Jewish federal MP, made the trip to Sydneyfor the important announcement. Danby has been lobbying against the government's controversial SES system, which disadvantages some "poorer" Jewish schools, for nearly 10 years. "The announcement today is, as far as I am concerned, the biggest political achievement I have been involved in since being elected in 1998," Danby said.

Last week, Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop announced an amendment to the SES funding appeals process, which the Coalition has promised Jewish schools it would address for almost a decade. The Howard Government also announced a plan that will see donations towards funding Jewish community security become tax-deductible.

The security spending announcement was followed by confirmation that a Labor government would support the government's amendment. Under the new appeals process, Jewish schools have already begun to appeal their SES rating based on a calculation that will take family size into account.

In addition, Labor said it would also throw an extra $4 million per year for the next four years in the direction of the Jewish schools, particularly ultra-Orthodox schools such as Kesser Torah College in Sydney and Yeshivah-Beth Rivkah Colleges and Adass Israel School in Melbourne.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Unions of urban decay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Too few female academics in New Zealand?

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

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

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

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

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

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