Saturday, October 06, 2007

Get Congress Out of the Classroom

DESPITE the rosy claims of the Bush administration, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 is fundamentally flawed. The latest national tests, released last week, show that academic gains since 2003 have been modest, less even than those posted in the years before the law was put in place. In eighth-grade reading, there have been no gains at all since 1998.

The main goal of the law - that all children in the United States will be proficient in reading and mathematics by 2014 - is simply unattainable. The primary strategy - to test all children in those subjects in grades three through eight every year - has unleashed an unhealthy obsession with standardized testing that has reduced the time available for teaching other important subjects. Furthermore, the law completely fractures the traditional limits on federal interference in the operation of local schools.

Unfortunately, the Congressional leaders in both parties seem determined to renew the law, probably after next year's presidential election, with only minor changes. But No Child Left Behind should be radically overhauled, not just tweaked. Under the law, the states devise their own standards and their own tests. Based on the test results, every school is expected to make "adequate yearly progress" in grades three to eight so as to be on track to meet that goal of universal proficiency by 2014. Schools that do not meet their annual target for every group of students - as defined by race, poverty, language and disability status - are subject to increasingly onerous sanctions written into the federal law.

Schools that fail to meet their target for two consecutive years must offer their students the choice to go to a more successful public school; if they fail the following year, they must provide tutoring to their students. If the students continue to miss their target, the entire teaching and administration staff may be replaced, or the school may be turned over to state control, or it may be converted into a charter school.

Yet these tough sanctions thus far have been ineffective. Federal agencies report that only about 1 percent of eligible students take advantage of switching schools and fewer than 20 percent of eligibles receive extra tutoring. In inner cities, where academic performance is weakest, only a handful of students move to successful schools because there are very few seats available to them. In rural America, choice is limited by the small number of other schools in the geographic area. Furthermore, neither research nor experience validates any of the "remedies" written into law. There is little evidence that failing schools improve if they are turned over to state control or converted to charter status.

No Child Left Behind can, however, be salvaged if policymakers recognize that they need to reverse the roles of the federal government and the states. In our federal system, each level of government should do what it does best. The federal government is good at collecting and disseminating information. The states and school districts, being closer to the schools, teachers and parents than the federal government, are more likely to be flexible and pragmatic about designing reforms to meet the needs of particular schools.

However, under current law, state education departments have an incentive to show that schools and students are making steady progress, even if they are not. So the results of state tests, which are administered every year, are almost everywhere better than the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the benchmark federal test that is administered every other year.

Many states claim that 80 percent or more of their students are proficient in reading or math at the same time that the federal assessment shows only a minority of students in those states reaching its standard of proficiency. We will never know how well or poorly our students are doing until we have a consistent national testing program in which officials have no vested interest in claiming victory.

Under current law, Congress now decides precisely which sanctions and penalties are needed to reform schools, which is way beyond its competence. The leaders of the House and Senate Education Committees are fine men, but they do not know how to fix the nation's schools.

The obvious solution is to reverse roles. Washington should supply unbiased information about student academic performance to states and local districts. It should then be the responsibility of states and local districts to improve performance. Congress should also drop the absurd goal of achieving universal proficiency by 2014. Given that no nation, no state and no school district has ever reached 100 percent math and reading proficiency for all grades, it is certain that the goal cannot be met. Perpetuating this unrealistic ideal, however, guarantees that increasing numbers of schools will "fail" as the magic year 2014 gets closer. Unless we set realistic goals for our schools and adopt realistic means of achieving them, we run the risk of seriously damaging public education and leaving almost all children behind.


British teachers 'fear evolution lessons' because of Muslims

The teaching of evolution is becoming increasingly difficult in UK schools because of the rise of creationism, a leading scientist is warning. Head of science at London's Institute of Education Professor Michael Reiss says some teachers, fearful of entering the debate, avoid the subject totally. This could leave pupils with gaps in their scientific knowledge, he says.

Prof Reiss says the rise of creationism is partly down to the large increase in Muslim pupils in UK schools. He said: "The number of Muslim students has grown considerably in the last 10 to 20 years and a higher proportion of Muslim families do not accept evolutionary theory compared with Christian families. "That's one reason why it's more of an issue in schools."

Prof Reiss estimates that one in 10 people in the UK now believes in creationism - whether it be based on the Biblical story or one in the Koran. Many more teachers he met at scientific meetings were telling him they now encountered more pupils who believed in literal interpretations of these religious texts, he said. "The days have long gone when science teachers could ignore creationism when teaching about origins."

Instead, teachers should tackle the issue head-on, whilst trying not to alienate students by dismissing their beliefs out of hand, he argues in a new book. "While it is unlikely that they will help students who have a conflict between science and their religious beliefs to resolve the conflict, good science teaching can help them to manage it - and to learn more science. "By not dismissing their beliefs, we can ensure that these students learn what evolutionary theory really says - and give everyone the understanding to respect the views of others," he added.

His book; Teaching about Scientific Origins: Taking Account of Creationism, gives science teachers advice on how to deal with the "dilemma". He supports new government guidelines which say creationism should not be discussed in science classes unless it is raised by pupils. But Prof Reiss argues that there is an educational value in comparing creationist ideas with scientific theories like Darwin's theory of evolution because they demonstrate how science, unlike religious beliefs, can be tested. The scientist, who is also a Church of England priest, adds that any teaching should not give the impression that creationism and the theory of evolution are equally valid scientifically. "They are not," he said.

Dr Hilary Leevers, of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, said science teachers would be teaching evolution not creationism and so should not need a book to tell them how to "delicately handle controversy between a scientific theory and a belief". "The author suggests that science teachers cannot ignore creationism when teaching origins, but the opposite is true," she said. "Science teachers are there to teach the scientific theory of evolution. If a student initiates discussion about creationism in a science lesson, it provides an opportunity for the teacher to discuss how it differs from a scientific theory.

"Further discussion of creationism should occur in religious education as it is a belief system, not one based on science."


Friday, October 05, 2007

Why atheists, humanists and libertarians should embrace alternative schooling

Yesterday I reported on the role of fundamentalist extremism in causing a rise in the number, and loudness, of atheists in America. This was inspired by an article in the Washington Post on the new atheists. A second article on the topic has now appeared in the Post as part of a series of article on beliefs about religion.

The growth of atheism among young people is truly astounding. I have believed, for a couple of years now, that American fundamentalists were in trouble. They have overreached for power and they were too closely identified with Bush. They were pissing off a lot of people including other Christians and they were, as the saying goes, cruising for a bruising. And they are getting it.

In the 1980s about 11% of young people, ages 18 to 25, in Pew survey identified themselves as atheists, non-believers, agnostic or as having no religion. A follow up Pew poll that would have been done toward the end of last year said that the number had risen to 20%. The Post article mentions a recent Barna survey on religious beliefs and says "one in four four adults ages 18 to 22 describes themselves as having no faith."

If the Barna survey is correct that means the increase in self-identified atheists, among the young, is continuing at a rather astounding pace. I remember reading a New York Times piece on the social/camming network, Stickam, which is mainly occupied by young people. I read a few articles on the site and similar ones and then browsed through the site. I randomly read the "profiles" which users left for themselves. And I remember being surprised by the number of users, mostly young, who described themselves as atheists.

The article also mentioned another phenomenon based on classical liberal principles -- the rise of alternative schooling. And that is the main thrust of what I have to write about today. The Post said that "charter schools based on humanist principles have opened in New York City and Florida" in recent years along with summer camps for kids of atheists. The alternative education principle is one I have promoted here. Too many non-conservatives, mainly progressives, have seen alternative, non-state education as a means of pushing religion and other Religious Right values.

But last February, when Utah passed a state-wide voucher system (now being opposed heavily by the self-serving teacher's unions), I wrote:

I would like to see good quality, secular, private schools teaching kids. Instead of bitching about private education mainly being run by religious groups secular liberals need to open their own schools. Consider this my friends on the Left. You can have a school where you don't have to turn over the ID data to the military for recruitment as you do with state schools. You can have a school where you don't have to have some fundamentalist nutter come in with his version of sex education -- as you do in the public schools. You don't have to worry about some board of education forcing theology on you in the form of so-called Intelligent Design.

The non-believing community ought to be embracing alternative schooling. Oddly, for decades, they were the leaders in the field. Until the late 1960s alternative education in America, outside the Catholic school system, was almost entirely operated by humanists, progressives and secularists. But when racial integration became prominent thousands of "Christian" schools were created in order to continue segregation.

Unfortunately most people have notoriously short memories. They don't remember the work of Ivan Illich in his book Deschooling Society. It goes much further back than that. Joseph Neef founded three humanist oriented schools in the US between the years 1809 and 1827. Montessori began her first school in 1907, and Rudolf Steiner started his first school in 1919. By the 50s, 60s and 70s the alternative education movement was dominated by people like Paul Goodman, John Holt, Jonathan Kozol and Illich.

All this was forgotten by the tsunami of "Christian" segregated schools that rose up almost overnight. And in reaction to that non-conservatives clung to the state education system. The problem for them is the problem for the Religious Right today. The state is a cumbersome leviathan that creates chaos and conflict wherever it goes. If there is a job to be done they will screw it up. To have one's ideas associated with the perpetual destruction imposed by big government is the kiss of death.

Decent, humanist schools are possible. And with various voucher programs where funding follows the students good, secular schools can be created much more easily than ever before. And it can be done without the artificial conflict created by monopolistic education. In addition such schools can't be controlled centrally by some third-rate Texas politician and changed from above. Sex education, courses I would support in a private school, became abstinence courses across the US because of the now heavily centralized, and federally funded, nature of education. This couldn't happen nearly as easily with a decentralized network of humanist schools.

I suspect one of the great tragedies of libertarian politics in recent years has be the Quixotic political campaigns for candidates with little, or no, chance of winning. These campaigns act like black holes that suck up and destroy vast financial resources and activists leaving nothing in their wake to speak of. A campaign that consumes millions of dollars, and in a few times will end, eats up enough funding to open several alternative, libertarian-oriented, secular schools. That money would not only fund them but allow them to be tuition free for years. Of course if tuition is charged the schools would could go on a lot longer.

Bob LeFevre was closer to the mark than most modern libertarians when he founded Freedom School in 1957. But instead of only educating adults he should have expanded into all ages and opened an alternative schooling system. Considering that some of his teachers included Rose Wilder Lane, Milton Friedman, Leonard Reader, Gordon Tullock, Bruno Leoni, Ludwig von Mises, and Frank Chodorov -- what a school it would have been, even if they only gave guest lectures now and then.

Any group that wants to change a culture has to change minds. Political campaigns are short-term, sound bites. They reflect already existing views, they don't create them. They follow trends, they don't start them. What starts trends is the minds of people changing. And that is an educational process and politics is poor at educating anyone.


Gore film OK for British students

Former US vice-president Al Gore's Oscar-winning climate change documentary can be shown in English schools, a judge said yesterday, even though he believes it promotes partisan political views. Educational authorities are making Mr Gore's documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, available to all English secondary schools, a decision challenged in court by a part-time school official who claims the the film is inaccurate and biased.

High Court judge Michael Burton said the movie could be shown if the written guidance for teachers bundled with the program was changed to prevent Mr Gore's views from being promoted to children. Earlier yesterday, the Government said it was rewriting its advice. "With the guidance as now amended, it will not be unlawful for the film to be shown," Justice Burton said. The judge said, however, that he felt the film promoted "partisan political views". He did not elaborate.

Justice Burton's comments, following a four-day hearing, were not an official ruling and he said a final judgment would probably be announced next week. He said he decided to indicate what his decision would be because he felt schools needed to know in what circumstances they could show the film. During the case, schools were not required to stop showing the documentary.

It was a partial victory for claimant Stewart Dimmock, a truck driver from Dover, a port city in southeastern England, who works part-time on a school board. Mr Dimmock has said he is fighting to have his children educated in an environment "free from bias and political spin".

While An Inconvenient Truth will still be shown, the judge said British teachers would have to be careful not to endorse Mr Gore's political views when they present it to pupils. [And how likely is that?]


Thursday, October 04, 2007

Britain: Creationism can be a topic in class

Teachers have been given permission to discuss the controversial theory of creationism in science lessons. Pupils should be able to ask questions about the theory provided teachers emphasise it has "no underpinning scientific principles", new Government guidance says. If the subject is raised teachers will be expected to contrast the strict Biblical belief that the Earth was created by God in six days between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago with Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Teachers are told to respond "positively and educationally" to such questions and be "respectful of students' views, religious or otherwise".

But the document – drawn up to clarify the rules after Christian academics challenged the teaching of Darwinism in GCSE biology – makes it clear that such beliefs are not "scientifically testable" and are not valid scientific theories.

It is hoped the guidance will help avoid the situation in the United States where some schools – under pressure from the religious Right – have compelled science teachers to introduce lessons in intelligent design, a creationist off-shoot.

The guidance says schools must teach the broad outlines of evolutionary theory to pupils aged five to 14, and focus clearly on the "nature of, and evidence for, evolution" at GCSE and A-level. Questions about creationism should provide an "opportunity to explain or explore why they are not considered to be scientific theories".


The Freedom Trip Wire

For many liberals and conservatives, the pivotal battleground this election season isn't Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina. It's Utah. There, a fight over the state's universal K-12 school choice program portends to be the trip wire for the school choice movement across the country. Utah is the location of the fault line between those who would prod conventional public schools out of their mediocrity and those 21st century Luddites who will protect the status quo to their death. The latter group's battle cry is, "Entrenched bureaucracy forever!"

Earlier this year, Utah's legislature and governor - in the state's rugged western tradition - bucked the powerful teachers' unions and provided parents with true educational choices for their children. The groundbreaking initiative was met with substantial indignation by state and national teacher union bosses who immediately filed petitions to do away with the new law.

Ironically, as the nation celebrates the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights struggle for access to quality education in Little Rock, Ark., these unions have been morphed into the George Wallaces, Lester Maddoxes, and other freedom deniers of our times. The head of Utah's largest teachers' union promised an "ugly, mean and expensive" campaign, and the National Education Association has given her $3 million to wage it. That's a lot of money in a state with one media market. School choice advocates have pledged to raise and spend whatever necessary to protect the program. They seem ready to blunt the union's trademark bare-knuckle tactics in defense of their children's civil rights.

In fact, grassroots groups like Parents for Choice in Education and child-centered school choice advocates like Dr. Patrick Byrne of are on the front line of this fight. They seem to have the will and fire power necessary to win this battle. If they succeed in defending the law, school choice advocates will give Utah's parents a valuable educational tool and the nation will have a universal school choice model to evaluate and, if successful, emulate.

Called the Parents Choice in Education Act, the program was carefully crafted to address the concerns typically associated with previous voucher-driven school choice programs. Children receive between $500 and $3,000 in scholarships depending on their parents' income. Every child currently in public school can participate. Children attending independent schools will be evaluated according to criteria such as prior qualification for federal lunch programs where lunch is either free or at a reduced cost. Students entering kindergarten this year are immediately eligible, with all students qualifying by 2020.

Non-government schools must meet rigid state standards to participate. The schools must give students nationally approved achievement tests. The results of the testing must then be given to state officials and parents. The schools must meet important accountability standards and disclose credentials of educators as well as the institution's own accreditation status. Independent auditors also must pour through the school's financial records and report the information to the state.

Under the program, vouchers can only be used at non-government schools. Before parents are given access to the scholarship funds, they must actively opt their children out of a conventional public school. When parents opt their children out of a conventional public school, the state will continue to fund that school - for five years - as if the students never left. Therefore, if a public school loses a significant number of students, it will have a few years to address the root causes of the departures before state funding is shifted.

The program seems to address the most often mentioned concerns of school choice opponents. It provides for non-government school accountability. It continues to fund underperforming government-run public schools and gives those schools five years to get their act together. And, it serves a very real public need - the need for quality enhancing, freedom-expanding competition in the education marketplace.

Parents want the empowerment that comes with educational choice. Pilot voucher programs in cities like New York, Cleveland, and Milwaukee are consistently overwhelmed with tens of thousands of applicants for a few hundred slots. Parents in those cities desperately want to rescue their children from failing public schools and unresponsive education bureaucrats. Utahns are no different. "With vouchers, parents can find the education that is best for their children," the spokeswoman for Utah's Parents for Choice in Education, Nancy Pomeroy, told the Desert Morning News.

Entrenched teachers' unions and their supporters see things differently. "This has nothing to do about educating children," State Senator Gene Davis, a Democrat, told the Associated Press. "It's about taking taxpayer dollars and giving them to private industry." Not really. It's about letting taxpayers make their own decisions with their money. Parents most certainly qualify as taxpayers.

The senator's comments may confound parents, but they shed light on the fact that for school choice opponents it's really not about educating children. For them, it's about collective bargaining, retirement benefits, and lowered accountability. How can we forget the infamous words of the late president of the American Federation of Teachers, Albert Shanker, who said, "When school children start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of school children." I doubt Utah's school choice advocates will let the voters forget this come November.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Conservative group looking to aid U of I

Conservative commentator Robert Novak said Thursday that his Washington colleagues were stunned to learn that a group of University of Illinois alumni was setting up an organization to encourage and finance conservative studies on campus. They asked, "Capitalism and limited government at a public university? How can that be?" Novak, an Illinois graduate, told about 250 people gathered for the launch of The Academy on Capitalism and Limited Government Fund.

Some U of I faculty members fear that the group's plans to raise money to pay for classes and research on free-market capitalism and limited government would create an undue conservative political influence on campus. They also complain that the new group was formed without faculty input. "The main thing that concerned me is that this was something that was sort of dropped on the faculty," associate history professor Mark Leff said in an interview. "We read about it in the newspaper, and all of the sudden we find out that there's this organization."

Conservative groups, which have complained that universities serve as little more than liberal training grounds, have emerged on and around campuses across the U.S. to press their own ideology. "The left has made the university into a political platform," said David Horowitz, a conservative activist whose California-based Horowitz Freedom Center campaigns for greater conservative presence on campuses. "Of course there's going to be a reaction." The John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, for instance, regularly pressures the University of North Carolina about what the group considers "shallow and trendy" teaching that ignores American history and conservative principles such as limited government.


The destructive British class system

Which has become more entrenched under Labour, despite their inflated rhetoric. Why? Because the Labour party has done its best to block the best route to upward mobility -- the Grammar (selective) schools. A Grammar School graduate comments:

I recently met a bright 17-year-old from a working-class background who attended his local comprehensive in London. He was funny and articulate. I asked whether he or anyone at his school had considered applying to Oxford or Cambridge. He laughed: "We don't think it's for people like us." It is a reaction I hear often and helps to explain a sad waste of talent in Britain today. Last week a study showed that just 200 elite schools accounted for one third of admissions to the top dozen universities and half of all places at Oxford and Cambridge. The remaining 3,500 schools and colleges account for the other half. It is neither fair nor sensible.

While others are tempted to pin the blame on biased universities, I believe there is something more deep-rooted at work - a culture of low aspirations shared not just by students, but in many cases by their parents and teachers, too. There are many excellent teachers doing their best for the students, but it is a disturbing fact that some bright pupils are actively discouraged from reaching for the top.

I have long taken a personal interest in this question. Last week's university research was carried out by the Sutton Trust, the educational charity that I founded and chair, in an attempt to widen the circle of opportunity. I know first-hand how important aiming high can be. I grew up on a council estate in Yorkshire where I was lucky enough to pass the 11-plus [Grammar School admission]. Until this point nobody had suggested I might go to university. My parents encouraged me to work hard, but university was a world away from their own experiences. My father found a better job and we moved to a detached house in Surrey and I went to Reigate grammar school where, if you did well, you were encouraged to go on to university. Then, in another upwardly mobile shift, we moved again and I ended up at Cheltenham grammar, where bright boys were encouraged to aim for Oxbridge.

If my family had stayed in Yorkshire I would almost certainly not have gone to university. If we had stayed in Surrey I would not have gone to Oxford. Higher aspirations changed my life. Oxford led on to the London Business School, to a career in consulting and private equity. I never looked back. That was decades ago; I would have hoped that things had improved. But they have got worse. Sadly, in Britain today, aspirations are rooted in class. According to our research, parents in professional and managerial occupations believe that their children will go on to take A-levels, to attend good universities and end up in high-paying careers. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Those in lower-paid jobs, by contrast, are likely to think that their children will leave school at 16 and go into routine employment.

You might think the classroom would act as a corrective. But all too often low expectations are reinforced by our socially selective school system. The Sutton Trust has surveyed 20% of the teachers in state schools who advise students on university - and more than 80% of them said they thought their pupils would find it difficult to fit into the top universities, particularly Oxbridge. Hard-pressed teachers face many other pressures and in some cases lack the confidence and know-how. Parents, meanwhile, are frustrated. Some even tell of instances where their children have been told not to bother applying to Oxford or Cambridge, despite being qualified.

That is why the Sutton Trust has announced that, together with its partners, it will spend 10 million pounds over the next five years to expand its sponsorship of outreach programmes such as summer schools to dispel the myths around the top universities. Even then it can be an uphill struggle. There is a shortage of applications from boys (less than a third). Many of those who do come hide it from their peers for fear of being branded a "swot".

This could not be more different from the attitudes of young people from independent schools. Their classmates are aiming to be bankers, lawyers and doctors. These children are articulate and confident. They have every reason to be. They have spent summers travelling overseas and undertaking internships at prestigious firms, not stacking shelves. Going to Oxford or Bristol or Durham is the natural next step.

It is no wonder that social mobility has declined in Britain and we languish at the bottom of the international league table. Also, the relationship between children's educational performance and their family background is stronger here than anywhere else in the developed world. If you are born poor, your qualifications will reflect the fact and you will remain poor.

Raising the aspirations of young people - as well as parents and teachers - is half the battle. The Sutton Trust is trying. We work with children in the early years, through school and into further and higher education, to provide the sort of support and encouragement to nonprivileged youngsters that better-off families and high-achieving schools provide as a matter of course. More is needed. Why not open up leading private and state schools to those from nonprivileged backgrounds, as has been done successfully at the Belvedere school in Liverpool and Pate's in Cheltenham? We should learn from successful schools and extend the opportunities they offer to all.

Children's futures should not be down to luck: we must ensure that all young people have access to real educational opportunities. That is a very modest ambition for a country that prides itself on fair play.


Catholic School Board calls Pro-Family Group "Extremist Hate Group", Board Defends Pro-Gay Manual

Board's family life committee said to have approved homosexual-activist counselor who is raising male child with his homosexual partner

In an attempt to divert attention from a controversial pro-homosexuality resource that the Waterloo Catholic District School Board (WCDSB) has approved, the Board has taken to calling into question the motive and character of the Defend Traditional Marriage and Family (DTMF) group that brought the issue to light earlier this year.

At the heart of the issue is a teacher resource book called "Open Minds" that DTMF claims is misleading regarding issues of homosexuality. Also of concern to DTMF are decisions made by the WCDSB regarding numerous recommended resources and workshops being given to school administrators, many of which contradict Catholic teaching on human sexuality.

Statements made by Board spokespersons were published in today's main local area newspaper, The Record, that constitute ad hominem attacks on the DTMF and its members. Board spokesperson John Shewchuk called DTMF "an extremist hate group" as well as "a hate group with their own agenda that's making stuff up and lying." The article went on to state that "The group has an agenda that goes beyond the book to trying to discredit the school board, he charged."

In response to the allegations made by the board spokesperson, the DTMF's spokesperson, Jack Fonseca, told LifeSiteNews that, "Unable to defend his position on this inappropriate teacher resource, the Catholic School Board spokesperson has resorted to character assassination and a drive-by smear campaign against DTMF and the Catholic parents who are concerned about this inappropriate resource."

The assertions of the WCDSB spokesperson seem to be at odds with the published statements of DTMF. On a related issue regarding a Board approved counselor, a Sept. 24, 2007 press release by DTMF stated that: "we agree with the Board that students who experience same-sex attractions indeed deserve support and counselling. In fact, we believe that in this day and age where sex and sexuality have become so confused, that the Catholic community has an obligation to provide support services to affected students. Where we disagree with the Board is in who should deliver the counseling." The Board's family life committee approved of a homosexual-activist counselor who is raising a male child with his homosexual partner.

According to The Record "committee members discussed the book but won't make their decision until their next meeting on Nov. 1." The Board vehemently refused to discuss the other matters of concern to DTMF at the meeting.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Britain: Israel boycott collapses

UCU announced today that, after seeking legal advice, an academic boycott of Israel would be unlawful and cannot be implemented. Members of the union's strategy and finance committee unanimously accepted a recommendation from UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, that the union should immediately inform branches and members that:

* A boycott call would be unlawful and cannot be implemented

* UCU members' opinions cannot be tested at local meetings

* The proposed regional tour cannot go ahead under current arrangements and is therefore suspended.

The union had passed a motion at its congress in May calling for the circulation and debate of a call to boycott. Since then UCU has sought extensive legal advice in order to try to implement congress policy while protecting the position of members and of the union itself. The legal advice makes it clear that making a call to boycott Israeli institutions would run a serious risk of infringing discrimination legislation. The call to boycott is also considered to be outside the aims and objects of the UCU.

The union has been told that while UCU is at liberty to debate the pros and cons of Israeli policies, it cannot spend members' resources on seeking to test opinion on something which is in itself unlawful and cannot be implemented. The union will now explore the best ways to implement the non-boycott elements of the motion passed at congress.

The legal advice states: 'It would be beyond the union's powers and unlawful for the union, directly or indirectly, to call for, or to implement, a boycott by the union and its members of any kind of Israeli universities and other academic institutions; and that the use of union funds directly or indirectly to further such a boycott would also be unlawful.' The advice also says that 'to ensure that the union acts lawfully, meetings should not be used to ascertain the level of support for such a boycott.'

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Since congress our first priority has always been to keep the union, and its members, safe during what has been a very difficult time. I hope this decision will allow all to move forwards and focus on what is our primary objective, the representation of our members. 'I believe if we do this we may also, where possible, play a positive role in supporting Palestinian and Israeli educators and in promoting a just peace in the Middle East.'


Illinois school district considers banning traditions seen as offensive to Muslims

So long, Halloween parade. Farewell, Santa's gift shop. The holiday traditions are facing elimination in some Oak Lawn schools this year after complaints that the activities are offensive, particularly to Muslim students. Final decisions on which of the festivities will be axed will fall to the principals at each of Ridgeland School District 122's five schools, Supt. Tom Smyth said.

Parents expect that the announcement is going to add to the tension that has been building since officials agreed earlier this month to change the lunch menu to exclude items containing pork to accommodate Muslim students. News that Jell-O was struck from the menu caused such a stir that officials have agreed to bring it back. Gelatin is often made with tissue or bones of pigs or other animals.

That controversy now appears to have been been dwarfed by the holiday debate, which became so acrimonious Wednesday that police were called to Columbus Manor School to intervene in a shouting match among parents. "It's difficult when you change the school's culture," said Columbus Manor Principal Sandy Robertson. Elizabeth Zahdan, a mother of three District 122 students, says she took her concerns to the school board this month, not because she wanted to do away with the traditions, but rather to make them more inclusive. "I only wanted them modified to represent everyone," she said. Nixing them isn't the response she was looking for. "Now the kids are not being educated about other people," she said.

There's just not time in the six-hour school day to celebrate every holiday, said Smyth, who sent the message to principals that they need to "tone down" the activities that he sees as eating too much into instructional time. "We have to think about our purpose," Smyth said. "Are we about teaching reading, writing and math or for parties or fund-raising during the day?"

Robertson is hoping to strike compromises that will keep traditions alive and be culturally acceptable to all students -- nearly half of whom are of Arab descent at Columbus Manor, she says. Fewer than a third of students districtwide are of Arab descent, according to Smyth.

Following the example of Lieb Elementary School, Columbus Manor School will exchange the annual Halloween parade for a fall festival next month. The holiday gift bazaars at both schools also will remain, but they'll likely be moved to the PTA-sponsored after-school winter festival. And Santa's annual visit probably will be on a Saturday.


Stupid University Tricks: How Columbia Routinely Chills Speech It Doesn't Like

Post below lifted from Ace. See the original for links

John Leo counts the ways.

Several people, myself included, suggested that if Bollinger is as interested in free speech as he keeps saying he is, then he should reschedule the Minutemen and introduce them himself, with enough security around to discourage the reappearance of last year's stormtroopers in training.

A few weeks ago, it looked as though Columbia was about to make a rare lurch in the direction of free speech. Students re-invited the two Minutemen, but after these proposed speakers bought plane tickets, Columbia's pro-censorship DNA re-asserted itself and the two men were once again disinvited. Not a peep out of Bollinger.

One of Columbia's favorite tricks is to cancel a speaker, or reduce the size of the audience, on grounds that violence might break out. Last fall most of a large crowd that gathered to hear former PLO terrorist-turned-anti-Jihadist Walid Shoebat was turned away over securities worries. Only Columbia students and 20 guests got in. The same thing happened to Dinesh D'Souza, myself and several other speakers in 1999. A large crowd, including many from other New York campuses, had tickets, but the administration (this was a pre-Bollinger year) ruled that only Columbia students could attend. This was not the deal that had been agreed on, but Columbia was adamant. Rather than speak to a tiny remnant on campus, the speakers withdrew to a park nearby. As I spoke, one student shouted "Ha-ha. We're inside. You're out here," an excellent six-word explanation of how Columbia's robust free-speech tradition actually works.

Instapudit piths:

Yes, and this hypocrisy is a problem with higher education more generally, alas. It's why people don't take claims that "we're just opening up a debate" seriously -- because, you know, they're basically lies.

I've said this before, but add another trick to their arsenal: Claims of an absolutist commitment to hearing from speakers of all sorts, no matter how repulsive, in the interest of free speech for free speech's sake. Whenever these bastards are asked to defend their decisions, they claim they made no decisions at all, because their commitment to free exchange of ideas is so perfectly absolute as to admit of no decision-making, and no boundary-drawing, and no judgment calls, whatsoever.

So they avoid the question. Ask them to defend inviting a terrorist thug like Ahmadinejad on moral or national-interest grounds and they claim such grounds are wholly irrelevant.

Of course this is all a lie and a dodge. They are not free-speech absolutists; far from it. They exercise their judgment and own sense of propriety in these matters all the time; they just don't want to admit they do, because that would then invite questions about precisely what their judgment and sense of propriety, are, precisely, and they wish to lie to the public on such matters.

A commitment to free speech would begin nicely be actually speaking the truth and admitting one's true criteria for such invitations and permissions to speak at the university. Then there could actually be robust debate -- debate! what they always claim to be in favor of! -- of those criteria.

But they don't want debate over their criteria, because they don't want any chance they might have to abandon them. So they continue making their decisions and exercising their bias in the darkness of lies.

Commitment to debate and free speech? Uh-huh. Just like Joe Stalin was. Big fan of fair debate and vigorous dissent was Uncle Joe.

Monday, October 01, 2007

British "Education"

Inspired by Dr. Joseph Goebbels

A reader has sent me deeply disturbing evidence of the indoctrination into hatred and lies being perpetrated in at least one of our schools. This is a questionnaire that was distributed to pupils at a large mixed comprehensive school in Britain (the reader has asked me not to identify the school for personal reasons). The seven questions included litter, racism, refugees, a petition against `British attacks on Iraq', dolphin friendly tuna, racism again and then the last question:
`You know that Israel's actions against Palestinian civilians go against international law. Which of the following do you decide?

a) People like us in Britain should stop buying goods made in Israel, to help put pressure on Israel to stop attacking Palestinians (3)

b) This conflict has nothing to do with us and there is nothing we can do (1)

c) Our government should put pressure on Israel to do what international law says, and cut down its occupation of Palestine (2)

d) We need to find out more about the conflict between Israel and Palestine before we say what we do (3)'

The numbers in brackets indicate the score a student would receive for their answer - the higher the better. The week before they had a number of photos they had to group together - one was an Israeli tank and a Palestinian boy that was put under `Oppression.'

This travesty is being perpetrated in `citizenship' lessons. The teacher who devised this question clearly is completely ignorant of international law, within which Israel acts, and is merely recycling the ideological equivalent of saloon-bar bigotry that passes for discourse about the Middle East in Britain. Thus the calibre of those entrusted to pass on to the next generation a sense of national identity grounded in the values of this country. Once, these values included truthfulness, integrity and academic rigour. No more. We are now a country where the uninformed are instructed by the bigoted. From the Olympian heights of Britain's once unsurpassed education system, which produced the fairest, gentlest and most rational society on earth, Britain's children are now being equipped instead to inhabit Planet Virulence, where ignorance, irrationality and injustice rule.

I warned from the very introduction of these `citizenship' lessons that they would become a vehicle for crude propaganda. So it has proved. The irony is that the government introduced them in the first place because it was so alarmed that British identity and values were being eroded from within in the face of the threat to the nation from without. Now we can see the result. British citizenship includes hatred of Israel by way of the propaganda of one of the Big Lies of history - the very same Big Lie that is fuelling the murderous onslaught on the western world.


Newfoundland University Denies Club Status to Pro-Life Group

On Wednesday, September 26, the Memorial University of Newfoundland Students' Union Board of Directors (MUNSU) voted to deny official club status to Memorial University of Newfoundland Students for Life (MUN for LIFE). MUN for LIFE President Patrick Hanlon informed that when the proposal to grant club status to the pro-life group came up, the chair asked for a motion to approve and none present volunteered. A motion to deny status was proposed and quickly made, seconded and passed nearly with only two abstentions.

Hanlon indicated that the main arguments used to deny club status were that MUNSU is a member of the officially "pro-choice" Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). Further since most of the MUSNU officers had identified themselves at the meeting as "pro-choice" they felt they could not approve a group in opposition to their beliefs.

Hanlon commented on the ruling saying that it "signaled the death of free speech on a university campus." He pointed out in comments to that the MUSNU supports other groups with opposing viewpoints such as pagan, Christian groups as well as opposing political groups. The University also recognizes as an official club the pro-abortion "Women's Resource Centre". Hanlon also pointed out that affiliation with the 'pro-choice' CFS has not stopped other Canadian university student unions from granting club status to pro-life groups.

Hanlon is encouraging his fellow union members and all concerned individuals, regardless of their position on life issues, to demand MUNSU immediately reverse the decision made at the September 26 meeting. "If this decision is not reversed, a dangerous precedent is set in place for MUNSU, and other Student Unions in Canada, which would allow the silencing of any other group that a union wishes not to have democratic and university rights," warned Hanlon.

University spokesman Ivan Muzychka told that it was an issue between the Student Union and pro-life students. "This is an issue between the student union and the students," he said. Asked if the administration was concerned about the the fact that the decision has produced an atmosphere where those who believe in the right to life are unwelcome, Mazychka said he'd respond later if possible.


Discipline forbidden so instead thousands of unruly kids are expelled from Western Australian schools

How are these kids ever going to learn good behaviour?

GIRLS as young as five are being booted out of WA schools for assaulting or intimidating teachers. An Education Department spokesman confirmed that last year, "three girls in pre-primary were suspended for physical assault or intimidation of staff''. "Two (girls) in pre-primary were suspended for physical assault or intimidation of other students,'' he said. More than 2000 girls were suspended last year and there were 134 violent or intimidatory acts by girls against staff. There were another 950 such offences by girls against other students.

The spokesman would not reveal the schools involved, the girls' ages, or previous years' figures, but a media release conceded overall suspension rates were up from 2005.

State School Teachers Union vice-president Anne Gisborne said violence among young girls had been rising for five years and unruly students were getting younger. She said also violence in schools was significantly under-reported. Teachers who spoke to The Sunday Times said they could not stop violent students for fear of being disciplined or hurt. Ms Gisborne said: "But I think what's happening in schools reflects an increase in aggression and violence in the broader community because schools are a microcosm of the community.'' She said families' resistance to deal with out-of-control children meant behavioural problems went untreated and got worse when students left school.

Peak parent group the WA Council of State School Organisations called for more teacher powers to tackle violence. "Many times, if a child does something and a teacher does try to prevent them misbehaving -- and that could involve some sort of physical restraint -- the child will often shout `assault','' president Rob Fry said. "That puts the teacher under investigation when all they have tried to do is prevent the escalation of violent behaviour. "We have to bring back some strong rules. "I'm not advocating bringing back the cane. But the department needs to somehow put in more support behind teachers so they know that they are protected when taking appropriate action.''

He said the use of centres to deal with disruptive students at high school addressed the problem too late. "Maybe parents of disruptive students should be forced to attend school and look after their children,'' he said. Among the 9649 boys and girls suspended last year were 518 incidents where girls abused or harassed staff, 142 such incidents against other students and 628 cases in which girls violated school rules. The were 21 expulsions overall, compared with 26 in 2005.

Education Minister Mark McGowan said the Government had created three centres for badly behaved high school students. But he said the Opposition and Greens were blocking the passage of parental responsibility laws, which could force parents to control badly behaved students.


Sunday, September 30, 2007

Corrupted U.S. college admissions processes

Ability downgraded -- mainly to enable racial discrimination

On a beautiful fall day last week, I found myself on the main quadrangle of the University of Chicago, walking with the school's admissions director, Theodore O'Neill, when a freshman girl approached us. "How's it going?" Mr. O'Neill inquired of her orientation week. "This place is Mecca," she answered.

Mr. O'Neill decides who gets to go on this pilgrimage, and there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of high-school seniors who would kill for the opportunity I have today--to spend an uninterrupted hour talking with him. These eager boys and girls might try to enthrall Mr. O'Neill with their knowledge of the faculty's research, their love of community service, their expansive vocabulary, their passion for wind instruments or veterinary medicine or juggling. Anything that might make them stand out.

When Mr. O'Neill joined the admissions staff here in 1981, things were different: The acceptance rate for undergraduates was 70%. Today, it's about half that (even though the freshman class has doubled to 1,300). A quarter-century ago, the freshmen who ended up at the University of Chicago were mostly just smart kids who graduated from decent high schools, a sizable chunk in rural Midwestern towns.

Now it's a different ballgame. This fall, Mr. O'Neill will sort through several thousand applications, trying to find the perfect freshman class. What has made it so much harder for students to get into top colleges? And what is this cutthroat competition doing to kids?

To begin with, there was a baby boomlet around 1990, the year many of today's high-school seniors were born. Also, despite skyrocketing tuition, more parents can afford to send their kids to college, and higher education is more important for gaining secure employment.

Mr. O'Neill says that "students today have a better sense of what it takes to make themselves look like good candidates." They take as many AP classes as they can, prepare for the SATs, polish their essays, etc. And many parents pay tutors and coaches to help with this effort. But he tells me it is an "open question" whether the university's applicants are actually of a higher quality than those of 25 years ago. How many areas of American life are there today in which people work harder and spend more money only to see the same results they did decades before?

Well, that's not quite true, according to Mr. O'Neill, who proudly points to what he thinks is one of the biggest improvements to the University of Chicago in the past few decades--diversity. The school used to be about two-thirds male and overwhelmingly white. Now the gender ratio is about even, and 7% of the student body is black, 9% is Hispanic and 1% is Native American.

How has this happened? For one thing, Mr. O'Neill tells me, he has de-emphasized the SATs in the admissions process. They're used as "corroborating evidence" for what his staff learns from teacher recommendations, high-school records and essays. Ultimately, Mr. O'Neill believes that "there are some things that are more important than test scores."

A few months ago, black presidential hopeful Barack Obama, a former U of C lecturer, told George Stephanopoulos that he didn't think his daughters should be treated differently in the college admissions process from any other "advantaged" kids. But Mr. O'Neill disagrees. He would give the Obama girls "a break" anyway: "Those children, for all their privileges, will have interesting things to say about American society based on what I'm assuming their experiences are."

On Tuesday, Mr. O'Neill participated in a meeting of the Education Conservancy, which is "committed to improving college admission processes for students, colleges and high schools." Hosted by Yale University, the meeting consisted of 100 college administrators discussing how to get "beyond rankings." College "ranksters"--as Conservancy president Lloyd Thacker refers to U.S. News and similar surveyors--can be blamed, he argues, for much of the crazy atmosphere surrounding college admissions.

At a news conference after the meeting, some of the administrators complained that rankings didn't provide enough data or tried to quantify things that aren't quantifiable. What was needed were more "descriptive" measures of colleges. (Mr. O'Neill expressed the same sentiment when I spoke to him.) The group is trying to develop a system in which high-school students would be asked to evaluate their own "learning styles," and then a Web site would "match" them with colleges providing the right sort of learning environment.

Leave aside the silliness of asking a high-school student for this level of self-knowledge or the fact that most colleges sound the same when describing themselves. The real problem is that such a system would add another fuzzy element to the admissions process. As it is, colleges already discount so many of the concrete measures. In addition to ignoring test scores (when it's convenient), admissions officers have a hard time keeping track of which high schools are rigorous and which are not. The U of C has freshmen matriculating from 900 different high schools this year. What does an "A" mean at any of them? "We don't know," Mr. O'Neill replies. What about the essays? More and more kids pay coaches to compose them. The U of C has picked some odd topics to get around this--"Write an essay somehow inspired by super-huge mustard" or "Use the power of string to explain the biggest or the smallest phenomenon"--but coaches can get creative, too.

I suspect that what bothers kids most about the process is not the cutthroat competition they face, but the arbitrary nature of the whole thing. You struggle to give schools what they want. But ultimately folks like Mr. O'Neill may simply ignore your grades or your test scores, focusing instead on whether you've had the right "experiences" or have the right skin color to be admitted to the sacred city.


Britain: Number of failing schools jumps 18 per cent in a year

The number of all schools judged to be failing rose by 18 per cent between the summer terms last year and this after changes to the inspection regime. Government figures show that 246 schools were in "special measures" by the end of last term, up from 208 at the end of the previous year. The rise was sharpest for primary schools, with 181 in special measures, up from 137 last year. The increase reflects the introduction of an inspection regime that has allowed many more schools to be inspected, to tougher new standards.Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, said that 2.7 per cent of the 6,100 schools inspected had been in special measures, compared with 2.2 per cent of the 8,300 schools inspected this year.

Lord Adonis, the Schools Minister, said schools in special measures must improve within one year or face closure, but emphasised that fewer schools were failing now than ten years ago. Separate figures showed that hundreds of primary schools were unable to appoint permanent head teachers this year. A government analysis found 520 nursery and primary schools had filled head teacher posts on a temporary basis.

Meanwhile, plans for job-related diplomas to run alongside A levels suffered a setback yesterday when nearly half of the country's leading independent schools said that they would not introduce them. The new specialist diplomas, for 14 to 19-year-olds, have been heralded by the Government as the most important education reform in 40 years. Starting from next September, they will combine practical work experience with academic study.

Ministers and officials have emphasised that the diplomas' credibility rests heavily on their acceptance by employers, universities and parents. But a survey of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference group of independent schools yesterday revealed that only two members were considering them seriously.Private schools have been deterred by widespread concerns that the diplomas will not be ready in time and by flaws in their development.