Saturday, October 13, 2007

Britain fails to repeal the influence of IQ

Policies based on incorrect theories are bound to fail. Blaming the low ability of kids from poor families on what the poor families do rather than on the low IQ that they transmit genetically to their children will always lead to policies that fail. The proof of the pudding ....

Forty per cent of children struggle to write their own name or to sound out letters to form simple words such as “dog” or “red” by the age of 5, government figures show. The annual assessments of children’s progress during their first year in school also show that more than a fifth of youngsters have problems stringing a coherent sentence together by the time that they enter their reception year. A quarter fail to reach the expected levels of emotional development for their age.

The findings raise serious questions about the effectiveness of flagship government schemes such as Sure Start to boost the development of the under-5s, although some critics point out that in many countries children are not expected to start to read or write until they are 7. Around 21 billion pounds [What's a waste of a measly 21 billion between friends?] has been invested in a series of initiatives but the latest results for schools in England show little improvement in children’s language and literacy and personal, social and emotional development.

Sure Start was also supposed to help to narrow the attainment gap between children from poor backgrounds and the rest, but only 35 per cent of children from poor areas reached the expected level of attainment across all measures, compared with 51 per cent of children from other areas. The achievement gap has not moved since last year and the overall levels of achievement, at 45 per cent, are well short of the target of 53 per cent by next year.

David Laws, the Liberal Democrat spokesman for children and families, said that the “yawning gulf” between rich and poor was deeply disturbing. Maria Miller, the Conservative families spokeswoman, said that the data, released by the Office for National Statistics, showed that Sure Start was not working. Beverley Hughes, the Children and Families Minister, conceded that more improvement was needed. She was disappointed that the gap between poor and middle-class children had not narrowed. She added: “Both we and local authorities must focus our efforts on improving the life chances of children who are the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.”

The foundation profile targets require five-year-olds to score at least six out of nine points in each of seven areas of learning covering language and literacy and personal, social and emotional development. Girls outstripped boys in every one of them – by 17 percentage points in the case of writing. Only 58 per cent of five-year-olds were reaching a “good level of development” in writing. One in three children (35 per cent) did not reach a good level of development in linking sounds and letters, for example through recognising and saying words such as “red” and “dog” or “pen”. Fifteen per cent could not write “mum”, “dad” or their own first name from memory, while a further 25 per cent struggled to do so.

But the assessments, which are known as the Foundation Stage Profile, were criticised by teaching unions last night. Mick Brookes, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, called them “unreliable and unhelpful” because they are based on subjective teacher observations, not tests.


Australian PM to revive real history teaching

JOHN Howard has gone above the heads of state education ministers and bureaucrats and set out a detailed course on the nation's history that he says should be taught to every student in every Australian school. The Prime Minister's guide to the teaching of Australian history, which will be released today, organises the nation's story into 10 chapters, stretching from indigenous settlement 60,000 years ago to the effect of globalisation on Australian life between 1976 and 2000.

The document is aimed at parents and teachers, but The Australian understands that the Government will use its four-year education funding agreement with the states, due for re-negotiation next year, to force them to teach a version of Mr Howard's course. Students in the program, which the Prime Minister says should be compulsory across Year 9 and Year 10, will be expected to be familiar with more than 70 "milestone events", along with the biographies of hundreds of characters from 18th century botanist Joseph Banks to former prime minister Bob Hawke.

The 10 periods are: First peoples; Early encounters; British colonies (1788-1850); Emerging nation (1851-1900); The new Commonwealth (1901-19); The Roaring Twenties and the Lean Thirties (1920-38); World War II and post-war reconstruction (1939-49); Building Modern Australia: Times of Prosperity and Social Change (1950-75); and Australia and the Shrinking Globe (1976-2000). In addition, students will be expected to analyse the material through nine "perspectives": Aboriginal; regional and global; biographical; beliefs and values; economic; everyday life; gender; environmental; and local.

Each period has explanatory notes, with the 1950-75 segment, for example, including the dismissal of the Whitlam government and urging students to "reflect on the emergence of new social and protest movements, reflecting changes in gender relations and family structures, in attitudes to race and ethnicity, and to human rights and morality".

The course is the latest step in the "root and branch renewal" in the teaching of Australian history for which Mr Howard called last year, and follows last year's History Summit, convened by Education Minister Julie Bishop, which delegated a working group to develop an ideal history course based on dates and narrative, rather than abstract themes.

The fact Mr Howard has chosen to release the model syllabus now, and brand it with his own authority, suggests he plans to give the so-called "culture wars" a prominent role in his campaign for a fifth term in office. At the moment, with the exception of NSW and Victoria, the states teach Australian history within a larger subject, Studies of Society and its Environment, along with geography, environmental studies and political and other social studies. However, since the summit, Western Australia, Queensland and Tasmania have all shown a willingness to return to a more traditional approach believed to be popular with voters.

And Opposition education spokesman Stephen Smith last night made Labor's support for the push clear. "I strongly believe that history, particularly Australian history, is a very important part of the curriculum," he said.

Earlier this year, Mr Howard said Australian history, which he insists should be a stand-alone subject, was being taught "as some kind of fragmented stew of moods and events, rather than some kind of proper narrative". Importantly, a suggestion from the summit that the new subject should be taught via "open-ended questions", which was criticised by some conservative scholars, has disappeared from the final draft, which was overseen by a committee that included social commentator Gerard Henderson and historian Geoffrey Blainey. The Government plans eventually to follow the document with specific guidelines on outcomes and assessment and detailed curriculum resources for schools.

One of Australia's leading conservative historians, University of Wollongong scholar Gregory Melleuish, last night described Mr Howard's course as "the ultimate camel" because it had been shaped by so many committees. Dr Melleuish, who participated in the summit but criticised its outcomes, said: "The problem with this sort of document is that it tells one very little about how things will actually work in the classroom." He was particularly critical of the "nationalist" drift of the course, which he said did not include enough international context and would not equip students for understanding Australia's role in a globalised world.

Anna Clark, grand-daughter of the late Manning Clark and a historian at Monash University, said she was pleased Mr Howard's course "requires not only knowledge of what happened, but how we relate to it". But her Monash colleague Tony Taylor, whose draft version of the course was the basis for the Henderson-Blainey panel, said the final version was too crowded.


Friday, October 12, 2007

An experience of an inner-city black school

An impossible learning environment due to negligible discipline. Permissiveness is the deadly enemy of black kids

Teach for America conducts an intensive five-week training program for its inductees during the summer before they start teaching. My year, this "teacher boot camp" took place in Houston. It was there that I quickly figured out that enthusiasm and creativity alone wouldn't suffice in an inner-city classroom. I was part of a tag team of four recruits teaching a summer-school class of low-income fourth-graders. Even in one- to two-hour blocks of teaching, I quickly realized that my best-planned, most imaginative lessons fell apart if I didn't have control of my students.

In the seminars we attended when we weren't teaching, I learned the basics of lesson planning and teaching theory. I also internalized the TFA philosophy of high expectations, the idea that if you set a rigorous academic course, all students will rise to meet the challenge. But the training program skimped on actual teaching and classroom-management techniques, instead overwhelming us with sensitivity training. My group spent hours on an activity where everyone stood in a line and then took steps forward or backward based on whether we were the oppressor or the oppressed in the categories of race, income, and religion. The program had a college bull session, rather than professional, atmosphere. And it had a college-style party line: I heard of two or three trainees being threatened with expulsion for expressing in their discussion groups politically incorrect views about inner-city poverty-for example, that families and culture, not economics, may be the root cause of the achievement gap.

Nothing in the program simulated what I soon learned to be the life of a teacher. Though I didn't know it, I was completely ill equipped when I stepped into my own fifth-grade classroom at Emery Elementary in September 2000.

The year before I taught, a popular veteran principal had been dismissed without explanation. Mr. Bledsoe finished out the rest of the year on an interim basis, hired me and four other Teach for America teachers, and then turned over the reins to a woman named V. Lisa Savoy. Ms. Savoy had been an assistant principal at the District's infamous Anacostia High School, in Washington's equivalent of the South Bronx. Before the start of school, she met with her four first-year TFA teachers to assure us that we would be well supported, and that if we needed anything we should just ask. Most of my veteran colleagues, 90 percent of them black, also seemed helpful, though a few showed flickers of disdain for us eager, young white teachers. By the time school opened, I was thrilled to start molding the brains of my children.

My optimism and naivet‚ evaporated within hours. I tried my best to be strict and set limits with my new students; but I wore my inexperience on my sleeve, and several of the kids jumped at the opportunity to misbehave. I could see clearly enough that the vast majority of my fifth-graders genuinely wanted to learn-but all it took to subvert the whole enterprise were a few cutups.

On a typical day, DeAngelo (a pseudonym, as are the other children's names in this and the next paragraph) would throw a wad of paper in the middle of a lesson. Whether I disciplined him or ignored him, his actions would cause Kanisha to scream like an air-raid siren. In response, Lamond would get up, walk across the room, and try to slap Kanisha. Within one minute, the whole class was lost in a sea of noise and fists. I felt profoundly sorry for the majority of my students, whose education was being hijacked. Their plaintive cries punctuated the din: "Quiet everyone! Mr. Kaplowitz is trying to teach!"

Ayisha was my most gifted student. The daughter of Senegalese immigrants, she would tolerantly roll her eyes as Darnetta cut up for the ninth time in one hour, patiently waiting for the day when my class would settle down. Joseph was a brilliant writer who struggled mightily in math. When he needed help with a division problem, I tried to give him as much attention as I could, before three students wandering around the room inevitably distracted me. Eventually, I settled on tutoring him after school. Twenty more students' educations were sabotaged, each kid with specific needs that I couldn't attend to, because I was too busy putting out fires. Though I poured my heart into inventive lessons and activities throughout the entire year, they almost always fell apart in the face of my students' disrespect and indifference.

To gain control, I tried imposing the kinds of consequences that the classroom-management handbooks recommend. None worked. My classroom was too small to give my students "time out." I tried to take away their recess, but depriving them of their one sanctioned time to blow off steam just increased their penchant to use my classroom as a playground. When I called parents, they were often mistrustful and tended to question or even disbelieve outright what I told them about their children. It was sometimes worse when they believed me, though; the tenth time I heard a mother swear that her child was going to "get a beating for this one," I almost decided not to call parents. By contrast, I saw immediate behavioral and academic improvement in students whose parents had come to trust me.

I quickly learned from such experiences how essential parental support is in determining whether a school succeeds in educating a child. And of course, parental support not just of the teachers but of the kids: as I came to know my students better, I saw that those who had seen violence, neglect, or drug abuse at home were usually the uncontrollable ones, while my best-behaved, hardest-working kids were typically those with the most nurturing home environments.

Being a white teacher in a mostly black school unquestionably hindered my ability to teach. Certain students hurled racial slurs with impunity; several of their parents intimated to my colleagues that they didn't think a white teacher had any business teaching their children-and a number of my colleagues agreed. One parent who was also a teacher's aide threatened to "kick my white ass" in front of my class and received no punishment from the principal, beyond being told to stay out of my classroom. The failure of the principal, parents, and teachers to react more decisively to racist disrespect emboldened students to behave worse. Such poisonous bigotry directed at a black teacher at a mostly white school would of course have created a federal case.

Still, other colleagues, friendly and supportive, helped me with my discipline problems. They let me send unruly students to their classrooms for brief periods of time to cool off, allowing me to teach the rest of my class effectively. But when I turned to my school administration for similar help, I was much less fortunate. I had read that successful schools have chief executives who immerse themselves in the everyday operations of the institution, set clear expectations for the student body, recognize and support energetic and creative teachers, and foster constructive relationships with parents. Successful principals usually are mavericks, too, who skirt stupid bureaucracy to do what is best for the children. Emery's Principal Savoy sure didn't fit this model.

To start with, from all that I could see, she seemed mostly to stay in her office, instead of mingling with students and observing classes, most of which were up at least one flight of stairs, perhaps a disincentive for so heavy a woman. Furthermore, I saw from the first month that she generally gave delinquents no more than a stern talking-to, followed by a pat on the back, rather than suspensions, detentions, or any other meaningful punishment. The threat of sending a student to the office was thus rendered toothless.

Worse, Ms. Savoy effectively undermined my classroom-management efforts. She forbade me from sending students to other teachers-the one tactic that had any noticeable effect. Exiling my four worst students had produced a vast improvement in the conduct of the remainder of my class. But Ms. Savoy was adamant, insisting that the school district required me to teach all my children, all the time, in the "least restrictive" environment. This was just the first instance of Ms. Savoy blocking me with a litany of D.C. Public Schools regulations, as she regularly frustrated my colleagues on disciplinary issues.

Some of Ms. Savoy's actions defied explanation. She more than once called me to her office in the middle of my lessons to lecture me on how bad a teacher I was-well before her single visit to observe me in my classroom. She filled my personnel file with lengthy memos articulating her criticisms. I eventually concluded that Ms. Savoy tended similarly to trouble any teacher, experienced or novice, who rocked the boat.

And in November I really rocked it. By then, despite mounting tension with Ms. Savoy, and despite the pandemonium that continued to ravage my teaching efforts, I had managed-painstakingly-to build a rapport with my fifth-graders. I felt I was turning a corner. I thought that my students (and their parents) would completely shape up once they saw their abysmal first report cards. D.C. Public Schools grade kids on a highly subjective 1 to 4 scale, 4 being the highest. Most of my students entered fifth grade with grave academic deficiencies, yet their cumulative records revealed fair to excellent grades, making clear that social promotion was standard practice at Emery. I wasn't playing along. I had given regular tests and quizzes that first semester, and most of my students had earned straight 1s by any rational measure. True to the credo of high expectations, I would give them the grades they earned.

I submitted my report cards to Ms. Savoy, who insisted that my grades were "too low" and demanded that I raise them immediately. I offered to show her all of my students' work portfolios; but she demurred, informing me that the law obliged me to pass a certain percentage of my students. I paid no attention, gave my students the grades they deserved, and patiently explained to every parent that their child's grades would improve once he or she started behaving in class and doing the assigned lessons. For this, Ms. Savoy cited me for insubordination.

Just after the New Year, Ms. Savoy informed me that she was switching me from fifth grade to second grade; the veteran second-grade teacher would then take over my fifth-graders. Her justification was that I would be able to control younger students more effectively-though I assumed she thought that I could wreak less disruption with the younger kids, who were relatively flunk-proof.

From the start, I tried my best to combat understandable parental resentment that their experienced teacher was being yanked out and replaced by me, a first-year teacher with notoriously poor classroom-management skills. I wrote letters home describing my ambitious plans, called parents with enthusiastic words about their children, and walked my students home after school to increase my visibility in the neighborhood.

Unfortunately, I never got a chance to show that I was in control. Unbelievable as it sounds, my second-graders were even wilder than my fifth-graders. Just as before, a majority of kids genuinely wanted to learn, but the antics of a few spun my entire class into chaos. This time, though, my troublemakers were even more immature and disruptive, ranging from a boy who roamed around the room punching his classmates and threatening to kill himself to a borderline-mentally retarded student, who would throw crumpled wads of paper all day. I was so busy trying to quell anarchy that I never had the chance to get to know my new students, let alone teach them anything.

Ms. Savoy had abandoned all pretense of administrative support by this point. Nearly every student I sent to the office returned within minutes. This lack of consequences encouraged a level of violence I never could have imagined among any students, let alone second-graders. Fights broke out daily-not just during recess or bathroom breaks but also in the middle of lessons. And this wasn't just playful shoving: we're talking fists flying, hair yanked, heads slammed against lockers.

When I asked other teachers to come help me stop a fight, they shook their heads and reminded me that D.C. Public Schools banned teachers from laying hands on students for any reason, even to protect other children. When a fight brewed, I was faced with a Catch-22. I could call the office and wait ten minutes for the security guard to arrive, by which point blood could have been shed and students injured. Or I could intervene physically, in violation of school policy.

Believe me, you have to be made of iron, or something other than flesh and blood, to stand by passively while some enraged child is trying to inflict real harm on another eight-year-old. I couldn't do it. And each time I let normal human instinct get the best of me and broke up a fight, one of the combatants would go home and fabricate a story about how I had hurt him or her. The parent, already suspicious of me, would report this accusation to Ms. Savoy, who would in turn call in a private investigative firm employed by D.C. Public Schools. Investigators would come to Emery and interview me, as well as several students whom the security guard thought might tell the truth about the alleged incident of corporal punishment.

I had previously heard of three other teachers at Emery that year who were being investigated for corporal punishment. When I talked to them-they were all experienced male teachers-they heatedly protested their innocence and bitterly complained about Ms. Savoy's handling of the situation. Now that I had joined the club, I began to understand their fears and frustrations.

To define as "corporal punishment" the mere physical separation of two combatants not only puts students at risk but also gives children unconscionable power over teachers who choose to intervene. False allegations against me and other teachers snowballed, as certain students realized that they had the perfect tool for getting their teacher in deep trouble. As I began to be investigated on almost a weekly basis, parents came to school to berate and threaten me-naturally, without reprisals from the administration. One day, a rather large father came up to me after school and told me he was going to "get me" if he heard that I put my hands on his daughter one more time. Forget the fact that I had pulled her off of a boy whom she was clobbering at the time.

With such a weak disciplinary tone set by the administration, by late February the whole school atmosphere had devolved into chaos. Gangs of students roamed the halls at will. You could hear screaming from every classroom-from students and teachers alike. Including me, four teachers (or 20 percent of the faculty) were under investigation on bogus corporal-punishment charges, including a fourth-grade instructor whose skills I greatly respected. The veteran teachers constantly lamented that things were better the previous year, when the principal ran a tight disciplinary ship, and the many good instructors were able to do their job.

It was nearly March, and the Stanford-9 standardized tests, the results of which determine a principal's success in D.C. Public Schools, were imminent. Ms. Savoy unexpectedly instituted a policy allowing teachers to ship their two or three most disruptive students to the computer lab to be warehoused and supervised by teachers' aides. My classroom's behavior and attentiveness improved dramatically for two weeks. Unfortunately, Ms. Savoy abandoned this plan the instant the standardized tests had passed.

After that, my classroom became more of a gladiatorial venue than a place of learning. Fights erupted hourly; no student was immune. The last three months were a blur of violence, but several incidents particularly stand out. One week, two of my emotionally disturbed boys went on a binge of sexual harassment, making lewd gestures and grabbing girls' buttocks-yes, seven- and eight-year-olds. On another occasion, three students piled on top of one of their peers and were punching him with their fists before I intervened. My students were not even afraid to try to hurt me: two boys spent a month throwing pencils at me in the middle of lessons; another child slugged me in the gut.

But for Ms. Savoy, apparently I was the problem. It seemed to me that she was readier to launch investigations when a student or parent made an accusation against me than to help me out when my students were acting up. Faced with a series of corporal-punishment charges, no administrative support, and no hope of controlling my second-grade class in the foreseeable future, I should have packed up and left midyear. Surely there were other schools, even inner-city ones, where I could have developed and succeeded as a teacher.

Why did I stay on? Part of the answer lay in my own desperate desire not to fail. I felt that if I just worked harder, I could turn my children around and get them to learn. Another part of the answer was Teach for America's having instilled in each corps member the idea that you have made a commitment to the children and that you must stick with them at all costs, no matter how much your school is falling apart. Because of this mentality, my TFA friends and I put up with nonsense from our schools and our students that few regular teachers would have tolerated.....

I've learned that an epidemic of violence is raging in elementary schools nationwide, not just in D.C. A recent Philadelphia Inquirer article details a familiar pattern-kindergartners punching pregnant teachers, third-graders hitting their instructors with rulers. Pennsylvania and New Jersey have reported nearly 30 percent increases in elementary school violence since 1999, and many school districts have established special disciplinary K-6 schools. In New York City, according to the New York Post, some 60 teachers recently demonstrated against out-of-control pupil mayhem, chanting, "Hey, hey, ho, ho; violent students must go." Kids who stab each other, use teachers as shields in fights, bang on doors to disrupt classes, and threaten to "kick out that baby" from a pregnant teacher have created a "climate of terror," the Post reports.

Several of my new acquaintances in the Washington schools told me of facing completely fabricated corporal-punishment allegations, as I did. Some even faced criminal charges. Washington teachers' union officials won't give me hard numbers, but they intimate that each year they are flooded with corporal-punishment or related charges against teachers, most of which get settled without the media ever learning of this disturbing new trend. It is a state of affairs that Philip K. Howard vividly describes in his recent The Collapse of the Common Good: parents sue teachers and principals for suspending their children, for allegedly meting out corporal punishment, and for giving failing marks. As a result, educators are afraid to penalize misbehaving students or give students grades that reflect the work they do. The real victims are the majority of children whose education is being commandeered by their out-of-control classmates.

I've come to believe that the most unruly and violent children should go to alternative schools designed to handle students with chronic behavior problems. A school with a more military structure can do no worse for those children than a permissive mainstream school, and it spares the majority of kids the injustice of having their education fall victim to the chaos wreaked by a small minority.

I know for sure that inner-city schools don't have to be hellholes like Emery and its District of Columbia brethren, with their poor administration and lack of parental support, their misguided focus on children's rights, their anti-white racism, and their lawsuit-crazed culture. Some of my closest TFA friends, thrilled to be liberated from the D.C. system, went on to teach at D.C. charter schools, where they really can make a difference in underprivileged children's lives. For example, at Paul Junior High School, which serves students with the same economic and cultural background as those at Emery, the principal's tough approach to discipline fosters a serious atmosphere of scholarship, and parents are held accountable, because the principal can kick their children back to the public school system if they refuse to cooperate. A friend who works at the Hyde School, which emphasizes character education (and sits directly across a field from Emery), tells me that this charter school is quiet and orderly, the teachers are happy, and the children are achieving at a much higher level-so much higher that several of the best students at Emery who transferred to Hyde nearly flunked out of their new school.

It should come as no surprise that students are leaving Emery in droves, in hopes of enrolling in this and other alternative schools. Enrollment, 411 when I was there, now is about 350. If things don't change, it will soon be-and should be-zero.

Much more here

Jagger has more sense than the historians

SCHOOLS should teach proper history, not pop music, Mick Jagger has suggested, after discovering that the Rolling Stones are a topic on the British high school syllabus. Still rolling at 64, Jagger was responding to a Bristol teacher who asked how best to present the cultural importance of the Rolling Stones to a class of eager history students. Despite being the subject of numerous academic works, Jagger said it was only rock 'n' roll and the Stones' importance in the grand scheme of things may have been overstated.

In a BBC News website question-and-answer session, Alison McClean wrote: "I am currently teaching my Year 11 students about the impact of the Rolling Stones in preparation for their GCSE history coursework on Britain in the 1960s. How does Mick feel about being part of the history curriculum and, if he was sitting the exam himself, how would he describe the Stones' impact on Britain?"

Jagger, who passed O-level history at Dartford Grammar School in 1959, was less than impressed. "I suppose pop music was very important in the 1960s, it became perhaps too important. It was one of the things in popular culture," he said. "Alison, I'm sure you're teaching it as part of the whole popular culture movement. I'm sure it's brilliantly accurate - or perhaps not because if you look up a lot of it, it's nonsense."

He was speaking as a concerned parent. "I have a daughter who's doing GCSEs at the moment," he said. "She hasn't got me in her syllabus. She's much more traditional. It's more the cause of World War I, that sort of thing." The best he could say for lessons in dad's role in the 60s cultural revolution was that "it was an interesting historical tipping point".

Jagger benefited from a traditional schooling at Dartford, where Latin was obligatory, masters donned gowns and pupils wore a cap at all times with a regulation blazer with gold trim. His first report in June 1955 placed him 15th out of 30 pupils. His form master, Dick Allen, wrote that he had made "a good start". His academic performance went into steep decline after he discovered "music and girls". Contemporaries recall a lecture young Jagger gave to the school's historical society on the blues.

The high-point of his Dartford career came when the emerging rebel led a protest against the quality of school dinners, which resulted in the dismissal of a kitchen supervisor. "It was probably the greatest contribution to the school I ever made," Jagger said in 2000, before returning to open a performing arts centre in his name. He gained seven O levels and two A levels in June 1961, and won a place at the London School of Economics.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Boortz on American schools

I want you to focus your attention for a moment on a quote by C.S. Lewis that someone sent to me over the weekend. Read it .. perhaps a few times .. and then try to tell me with a straight face that C.S. Lewis, who took the eternal celestial dirt nap 44 years ago, wasn't talking about government education in 21st Century America:
"What I want to fix your attention on is the vast overall movement towards the discrediting, and finally the elimination, of every kind of human excellence -- moral, cultural, social or intellectual. And is it not pretty to notice how 'democracy' (in the incantatory sense) is now doing for us the work that was once done by the most ancient dictatorships, and by the same methods? The basic proposal of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers must not be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils. That would be 'undemocratic.' Children who are fit to proceed may be artificially kept back, because the others would get a trauma by being left behind. The bright pupil thus remains democratically fettered to his own age group throughout his school career, and a boy who would be capable of tackling Aeschylus or Dante sits listening to his coeval's [of the same age] attempts to spell out A CAT SAT ON A MAT. We may reasonably hope for the virtual abolition of education when 'I'm as good as you' has fully had its way. All incentives to learn and all penalties for not learning will vanish. The few who might want to learn will be prevented; who are they to overtop their fellows? And anyway, the teachers -- or should I say nurses? -- will be far too busy reassuring the dunces and patting them on the back to waste any time on real teaching. We shall no longer have to plan and toil to spread imperturbable conceit and incurable ignorance among men." C. S. Lewis

Now don't you want to go back and read that again? I guess I read it 20 times over the weekend ... just amazed at how well a man who has been dead for so long has perfectly nailed our current system of government education and what it is doing to our children. And referring to government school teachers as nurses? Brilliant! Absolutely effing brilliant! (Excuse me, I got carried away there for a bit.)

This country is in trouble. No, I'm not talking about the threat from outside – the biggest element of which would be Islamic radicalism. I'm talking about the threat from inside. The men who marched in bare feet wrapped in rags over frozen ground in 1776 – leaving a trail of blood for the British to follow – would scarcely recognize us. They put their lives on the line for independence, far too many of us strive for dependence. They embraced freedom. We embrace security. The men of 1776 were extraordinary. We reject the extraordinary for the mundane.

Our schools are turning out perfect little government subjects who have been taught that, somehow, it is bad to excel, but virtuous to simply fit in. Do you think the men and women of just two generations ago could ever imagine a school system where children aren't allowed to play tag because it involves chasing and unwanted touching? Of course you don't want to be touched! That makes you "it!" How about a school system that won't honor a valedictorian because other students might feel slighted or left out? Read again that sentence from C.S. Lewis where he says that the "nurses" are "far too busy reassuring the dunces and patting them on the back to waste any time on real teaching." We have schools now that grade with shapes instead of letters. "What did you get on your math test today dear?" "I got a square, mom!" In some schools teachers won't use a red pen to grade papers because red denotes errors or a bad grade, and they don't want the precious little students to get upset.

All you have to do is look around you to see what a miserable failure our government schools are. A huge percentage of entering freshmen at state colleges and universities have to enroll in remedial courses in order to bring them up to college speed. In Georgia we have students who, thanks to rampant grade inflation, graduate from their high schools with better than a B average who can't handle freshman-level courses in college without first going through a remedial program.

Our kids are being taught by the worst of the worst in their government schools. Check out the education school at most major universities. The freshmen who chose to pursue a degree in education come from the lowest level of the entering class; and those who go on to pursue a graduate degree in education come from the lowest ranks of their undergraduate class. This is how you get teachers sending home report cards that read "Johnny are learning to spell good."

If we don't do something to break the grip of these government schools, and the teacher's unions that run them, we are going to lose this entire country to mediocrity. We are going to continue to churn out generations of mind-numbed government subjects who can readily identify the faces of the current pop culture, but who couldn't tell the vice-president from the speaker of the house if their iPods depended on it.

The answer is competition. We need school choice. If you want to continue with taxing the stuffing out of the people to pay for education, fine. Just let the money follow the children, as they do in much of Europe. Let the parent investigate the choices and then make a decision as to where their child will go to school, public or private. Then send the money chasing after the child. Only competition will drive these schools to strive for excellence. The security of government mandated attendance will only foster laziness and complacency.

Several weeks ago Hillary the Hideous loudly proclaimed that "privatization isn't the answer to anything." As I said at the time, this means that Hillary Rodham must think that government is the answer to everything ... including education. The teacher's unions heard her loud and clear. Last week the American Federation of Teachers endorsed Hillary. No surprise. Look for the National Education Association to fall in line.

If we are to save our Republic we must create a generation or two of independent-thinking young adults who value freedom over security and who know the truth of what it was that made this country great. We will never get this from our government schools. Putting it bluntly, government schools and the teacher's unions that control them, and our politicians, are killing this country.


Australia's universities of Leftism

WHEN federal Treasurer Peter Costello and Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey attacked the credibility of two researchers over a report that found workers worse off under Australian Workplace Agreements, it looked like a classic case of blaming the messenger. That impression was heightened when one of the researchers, John Buchanan from the University of Sydney's Workplace Research Centre, threatened legal action against the ministers over their descriptions of his work as contaminated by trade union connections. But Buchanan's howls of protest regarding his academic impartiality sound a wee bit precious now after revelations in The Weekend Australian that, in a 2005 speech, he described himself as a socialist and counselled his comrades to "strike the enemy (that is, the Howard Government) hard."

Perhaps more disturbing than the firebrand rhetoric, however, is that Buchanan appeared to have already made up his mind in February 2005 on the key issues that he would be reporting on 30 months later: "We are going to see wages get more and more unequal," he said. "We are going to see hours become more fragmented and we are going to see more casualisation and contractors." So why do research?

I was prepared for the Australia@ Work report and the kerfuffle that followed by some other research on the Howard Government's workplace laws released in August. Down and Out with Work Choices, by three academics from the Women and Work Research Group, also at the University of Sydney, concluded that the changes brought about by the new regime "have been negative and deleterious, reducing decency and democracy at work and in society".

Never mind that this was a conclusion based on interviews with just 25 low-paid female workers. More extraordinary was that two of the researchers, Rae Cooper and Marian Baird, chose to launch their report at NSW Parliament, sitting alongside NSW Industrial Relations Minister John Della Bosca, the man identified, more than any other, with the political campaign to use the workplace changes to bring about the downfall of the Howard Government. This was politicisation on a new level and suggested some of our publicly employed intellectuals have decided the game is up for John Howard, so what the hell?

None of the above should come as a surprise. A quick scan, using the internet, of research centres at universities reveals that many are structured around the "softie Left" world view that former Media Watch host David Marr memorably nominated as the primary qualification for entry into Australian journalism.

The University of NSW, for example, boasts a Centre for Corporate Change, a Centre for Primary Health Care and Equity, and a Co-operative Research Centre for Sustainable Tourism. Indeed, sustainable is the buzzword in university research: we have a Centre for Sustainable Technology at the University of Newcastle, a Foundation for Sustainable Economic Development at the University of Melbourne, a Centre for Sustainable Regional Communities at La Trobe, an Institute for Sustainable Systems and Technologies, along with a Centre for Research into Sustainable Health Care at the University of South Australia, a Centre for Research in International Education and Sustainability at the University of New England and, in an apparent attempt to establish a sustainable monopoly, a Sustainability Institute at Monash.

Other highlights of my search included the Centre of Full Employment and Equity at Newcastle, the Centre for Research on Social Inclusion at Macquarie, the Centre for Equity and Innovation in Early Childhood at Melbourne, the Centre for Colonialism and its Aftermath at the University of Tasmania, the Social Justice and Social Change Research Centre at the University of Western Sydney and the Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining at the University of Queensland.

What's in a name, you ask, and you could be right. Scholars in all of these centres could be pursuing good work. And perhaps there is no reason to be concerned that, in the era during which the mainstream political class has come to accept the logic of the market, an academic paid to conduct research into the Australian labour market still describes himself as a socialist. For me, however, it confirms a point made by Paul Kelly in last week's Australian Literary Review: "A healthy democracy will see a healthy gulf between its politicians and its intellectuals. But this gulf in Australia is a chasm that demands serious attention."


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Racial achievement gap widens as school discipline declines -- such a "puzzle"

That blacks might be more in need of discipline to get them to learn is of course unthinkable. All men are equal, aren't they? As far as I know only God and Leftists think so

A generation ago, Bloomfield [Connecticut] was heralded as the all-American community. Blacks and whites lived side by side, chasing the American dream of middle-class stability without regard to skin color. There were trimmed lawns and good schools. Now, Bloomfield operates one of the most racially segregated school systems in the state. Minority students, mainly black children, account for 95 percent of public school enrollment. And when results were released recently on the state's annual 10th-grade achievement test, this quiet, middle-class suburb found itself confronting a question more often associated with the nation's poorest urban school systems: Why do black and Hispanic students lag so far behind their white counterparts?

Bloomfield's 10th-graders posted some of the worst results in the state on the annual test of reading, writing, mathematics and science. In a district that had made modest gains in recent years, students this year missed state goals in startling numbers. The results sparked one question after another: Is it a one-time anomaly? Is it the exodus of top students to private schools? Is it a growing number of poor children in the public schools? Or - in a school system that consists almost entirely of minority students - is it somehow rooted in more profound racial and cultural differences?

Most educators agree that poverty is a powerful underlying cause of the achievement gap. But as experts look at places like Bloomfield, some say that race and culture - apart from income - appear to influence achievement in ways that are not always easily understood. "The gap is as large among children of the highly educated as it is among the children of the poor," said Harvard University Professor Ronald F. Ferguson, who has conducted extensive studies on the achievement gap.

Poverty is without argument a key factor in academic problems plaguing black and Hispanic children in tough urban centers such as Hartford and Bridgeport. But the achievement gap also occurs among minority students in middle-class and wealthy suburbs. On a 2005 nationwide reading test, the gap between black and white high school seniors whose parents were college graduates actually was larger than the gap between blacks and whites whose parents had not finished high school.

Why? It is one of the most confounding questions confronting America's schools, and Bloomfield is hardly alone. Sometimes the problem is obscured. At upscale Hall High School in nearby West Hartford, for example, overall test results appeared good this year, but a closer look shows that only 16 percent of black sophomores met the state math goal, compared with 74 percent of white sophomores.

Some experts believe the problem is largely one of expectations - that schools demand less from minority students and channel them into less rigorous courses.

More here

Australian Labor party to keep private schools funding

Careful hewing to the (conservative) status quo again

KEVIN Rudd will retain the Howard Government's controversial private schools funding system until 2012 if elected, in a major pre-election pitch to parents. Abandoning plans to introduce a "needs-based" funding model that takes into account private school fees and income in his first term, the Opposition Leader will guarantee parents the existing framework will remain for five years. The policy shift, which was welcomed by private schools, delivers a blow to the Coalition's attempts to run a fear campaign over Labor's education policy.

Although Mr Rudd has previously promised to abandon the "schools hit list" policy promoted by former Labor leader Mark Latham, the ALP has until now retained the needs-based formula that underpinned the hit list. The change follows years of Labor criticism that the socio-economic-status model was "dysfunctional and unsustainable" and did not take into account the individual wealth of private schools. It follows similar reversals over the Medicare Safety Net, which Mr Rudd recently announced would be retained if he is elected. The major shift in ALP schools policy also ensures Catholic schools will not lose funding.

The strategy, designed to shift attention to the ALP's plans to boost funding to primary schools, was hailed by private schools last night as a breakthrough. Independent Schools Council executive director Bill Daniels said: "It's a huge shift from the past and a clear acknowledgement that the policy they took to the last election was a mistake. We would support that because it provides stability and certainty."

The ALP's move angered unions, prompting Australian Education Union deputy president Angelo Gavrielatos to describe the policy shift as "indefensible". "It is indefensible in this nation that we continue to deliver such large increases to the wealthiest schools," Mr Gavrielatos said. "To maintain that indefensible model until 2012 makes a mockery of everything the ALP has said about introducing a needs-based funding model. "It ensures private schools will maintain a position of privilege."

The federal Government's funding model - known as the socio-economic-status model - does not take private school fees and income into account when determining funding. Instead, it links enrolment details of where students live with census data on average income and education levels. Under current SES arrangements, 60per cent of Catholic schools are guaranteed more funding than they would be allocated if the SES model were strictly applied.

The ALP's decision follows lengthy negotiations with the Catholic sector. At Labor's national conference in April, references to the Howard Government's funding arrangements as "unfair and divisive" were removed from the party's new education platform. Opposition education spokesman Stephen Smith also sought to dump a reference that criticised the SES formula as having "delivered the largest increases in commonwealth funding to some of the best resourced schools in Australia". However, at the time he did not indicate any plans to retain the SES funding model, instead maintaining that a Rudd government would pursue a needs-based funding model. Labor's new policy platform pledges that public funding should be subject to non-government schools meeting quality standards for curriculum and teaching.

Currently, the basic entitlement to commonwealth assistance under the SES model ranges from a minimum of just $989 a student to $5052. For secondary students attending a private school, it ranges from a minimum taxpayer grant of $1277 a student to $6524.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Hooray for the Clark Doctrine!

General Wesley Clark waded into the controversy involving Rush Limbaugh with a now-notorious appearance on Tucker Carlson's show on MSNBC last week. Carlson and Clark had a feisty exchange, and the General actually advocated the jaw-dropping notion of the government rating political discourse. Missed in all the hubbub over the government speech-rating proposal was an enticing implicit poltical deal, something one might call the "Clark Doctrine." The good General summarized his battle plan:

"There‘s no reason for the American taxpayer to pay for Rush to assault the character of men and women who serve in the armed forces for their political views."

Apparently, the General wants Limbaugh's show dropped from being broadcast over Armed Forces Radio and Rush dropped into a live volcano. That last part may not be an accurate transcription of the conversation as things got heated between Tucker and our soldier-scholar.

Granted, the Reagan and Truman Doctrines had more substance to them, but this, one must admit, has interesting possibilities. If the good General wants no taxpayer money used by people (I assume not just Rush) to "assault the character of the men and women who serve in the armed forces", then one must presume we may apply this doctrine to American academia, our valued public institutions of higher learning. If citizens employed in our public colleges -- and compensated with public dollars for their work -- are discovered to have "assaulted the character" of our military, may tax money be pulled from them as well?

No fooling? Hmm, I'm liking this doctrine General. You get Rush, we get to empty out about 40% of the faculty lounges across the country. It's a deal. Heck, Rush might even go for it too.


Failure of the PhD

A comment from another skeptical Australian

THE PhD is a dinosaur from a previous age of elite education.  It has failed at least one generation of research scholars and continues to fail the overwhelming majority of currently enrolled candidates. A radical rethink would be justified.

I’d like to stir the possum [be provocative] and canvass two options: enrolments could be slashed by at least 50 per cent with a doubling of scholarship and research support funding; alternatively, the degree could head in the opposite direction with an overhaul to take into account the employment prospects of those two thirds of students who will never find full-time employment within the university sector.

There is endless corridor chatter about shady practices surrounding the offering of higher degree research at Australian universities, but very few seem to want to speak out about the degraded state of the PhD itself. There is good reason for this.  It is called self-interest. 

At the top of the pile is an allocation system where universities receive competitive funding for PhD enrolments and successful completions.  Witness the trend in recent years towards advertising campaigns for research degree places around scholarship times, as universities attempt to trump and outbid one another for precious enrolments. This is reckless stuff and a possible breach of trust.  The ads do not mention that around 70 per cent of all enrolling PhDs will never secure research-related jobs in their fields of specialisation.

Down at the coalface, Gollum-like supervisors are endlessly suspicious of their colleagues’ intentions as they rake off workload points for the advice they offer to their students.  Such is the obsession with enrolments and candidacy that extra financial incentives are being offered for supervisions at a number of Australian universities. Given the circumstances, few would blame PhD supervisors for working the system in the manner they do.  Competitiveness is the name of the game and, like the bulk of Australian academics, PhD supervisors are afflicted by endemic workplace insecurity. 

The contemporary PhD suffers from a split personality.  The major and historic functions of the degree were to credential aspiring academics.  The problem is that only around a third of all successful contemporary PhD candidates will end up working in their specialist fields.

The PhD has been caught up in the movement towards mass education, but the degree itself has remained elitist and virtually unchanged for around fifty years.  Training in research methods is the exception and most universities provide a high standard here.  There is little evidence to suggest that other forms of training are being implemented.

Four years ago, DEST released a report into what it euphemistically called “generic capabilities”. The phrase was catchy corporate-speak, and there the debate seemed to end: “When workplace-related skills are discussed, a variety of terms is applied (such as generic skills, transferable skills, and graduate attributes, to select but a few). This report uses the term generic capabilities to mark off the skills and attributes that have a direct link to postgraduate research students’ employability, whatever their research topic and/or discipline base.”

The substantive matter was lost: “The past decade in Australia has seen increased debate and scrutiny by government, employers and universities themselves on the readiness of graduates to enter the workplace. This report is concerned with strategies and practices Australian universities have developed to address the issue of employability in relation to postgraduate research students. In the domain of research graduates, employability is conceived as including entry to the workplace and also career enhancement and change.”

Four years on, the PhD continues to fail its most important people: the best new research minds in the country.


Monday, October 08, 2007

DC idiots still shovelling in more money

D.C. public schools would receive $81 million in additional revenue to fund a sweeping restructuring of the central office and help cover a projected budget shortfall, under a plan announced yesterday by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. Fenty (D) and School Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee characterized the funding proposal as a one-time cost that would allow them to streamline the system, improve programs, including food service, and maintain surplus school building space.

The additional spending comes in concert with a proposal Rhee is drafting that would ask the D.C. Council to suspend the city's personnel law so that she could terminate staff members. The chancellor said yesterday that she intends to cut about 200 of the central office's 914 positions and would use some of the additional dollars to offer severance packages to employees. She declined to elaborate.

The money for Fenty's plan would come primarily from a pot of $100 million in unexpected tax revenue identified last month by Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi, the mayor said. At the time, Gandhi said the windfall came from continued growth in the city's residential and commercial property markets, and Fenty quickly pledged to use much of the tax money for schools.

The plan marks a sharp shift for Fenty. When he campaigned for mayor last year, Fenty said repeatedly that the school system did not need more money. In the spring, he took direct control of the struggling 50,000-student school system and set its budget for fiscal 2008 at about $800 million in local funds, approximately the same level as last year. "We still believe the current budget is what is needed for the day-to-day operations," Fenty said at a news conference on the steps of the John A. Wilson Building. "But there are issues, including layoffs and other emergencies, that need to be taken care of right away."

The funding plan requires approval from the D.C. Council, and Fenty appeared to have support of a solid majority of the 13-member body. Seven members stood with him at the news conference and two others sent letters of support. "I have confidence the mayor and chancellor will use this money wisely," said Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue. Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) did not attend the news conference, but Fenty said he had been briefed. Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) sent Fenty a letter chastising him for announcing the plan publicly before fully briefing him. "This is disrespectful and politically damaging," Barry wrote.

Mary Levy, a longtime D.C. schools advocate for the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, had said that Fenty would probably find he needs to spend more before being able to fix systemic problems in areas such as human resources and financial systems. Yesterday, she said she wanted to know more details about how the new money will be spent. "I'm waiting for more precision," Levy said.

More here

Australian Leftist leader to raise the bar for schools

He sounds good but the teachers' unions will nobble him

KEVIN Rudd has attacked the nation's schools as unacceptably patchy in quality, expressing sympathy for parents struggling to find schools that provide a decent education. And the Labor leader has promised to impose on schools a level of rigour not yet seen in Australia by linking funding to improved standards rather than handing state governments or private schools "a blank cheque".

In an interview with The Weekend Australian yesterday, Mr Rudd also called for four-year fixed electoral terms "entrenched in stone" and said John Howard had created a whole new class of "forgotten people" marooned by his rejection of traditional liberalism. He also posed his alternative to Mr Howard's vision statement, delivered in the 1996 election campaign, that if elected, he wanted Australians to feel "relaxed and comfortable". Mr Rudd said he wanted Australians to be "confident in their kids' future, confident in Australia's future".

Mr Rudd made the comments in Sydney after a hectic week of campaigning on public hospital standards and amid increasing tension over when the Prime Minister will name a date for the federal election. Asked whether parents could be confident that any government school would provide an adequate education, Mr Rudd said one of the education system's worst problems was its variability. He said he felt sympathy for parents who faced a "vexed choice" on schooling, admitting he had seen excellence in public and private schools as well as inadequacy. "What you'll find us doing increasingly is lifting the bar nationally on performance measures for schools," he said. "When we talk about a new national curriculum, let me tellyou, its core hallmark when it comes to English, maths, science, history, languages, will be absolute rigour."

In an indication that the Opposition Leader is likely to take on the powerful teachers' unions if he wins office, Mr Rudd said Labor would negotiate a national curriculum with states and tie funding increases to improvements in educational outcomes. "We are doing kids an absolute disservice by a lack of rigour in schools' curricula, an absolute disservice by not testing them forrigour all the way through," he said. "And we are doing an absolute disservice to our kids if we don'thave intervention strategies properly resourced to deal with literacy and numeracy non-performance." A Labor government would deliver to the education system "a rigour that I don't believe any federal government has embraced before".

While he agreed he had no magic wand, Mr Rudd said a carrot-and-stick approach would deliver change, with schools measured against tough standards that would be regularly lifted. "Unless school performance continues to improve against robust measures of learning outcomes for kids, whether it's in trades or it's in academic subjects or their primary school equivalents, then we are not in the business of signing blank cheques," he said.

Mr Rudd is a product of the Queensland state school system and sent his three children to state primary schools and private secondary schools. Having ruled out a return to Labor's 2004 election policy, which included funding cuts affecting a "hit list" of exclusive private schools, Mr Rudd said his ambition was for the standard of Australian public and private schools to be the best in the world.....

Mr Rudd said he wanted Australians to feel proud of their country and confident it had the the best-educated and most highly skilled workforce in the Western world. He said he wanted "a country which celebrates enterprise, initiative and success, but which doesn't throw the fair go out the back door".

He said Mr Howard had spent his 11 years in office trying to shift the national character towards one opposed to concern for others and accused him of attempting to "terminate the fair go with extreme prejudice". ....


Sunday, October 07, 2007

CATS scores expose learning gaps

The old, old story: Black, low-income students fall behind. Only high-discipline schooling would do much to solve the problem but that of course is the No. 1 super-big No-no. Intellectual fashions trump reality every time. But if you can't get a kid to sit down, shut up and listen, you've got Buckley's chance of teaching him anything

Kentucky still has a long way to go to close academic achievement gaps among its black, low-income and learning-disabled students, the state's newest test results show. The percentages of white and Asian students statewide who reached proficiency in reading and math were 10 to 20 points higher than for Hispanic and black students, no matter the grade level, according to results released yesterday by the Kentucky Department of Education.

The state's learning-disabled students fared worse -- the percentage who reached proficiency was as much as 40 points lower than students overall in reading and as much as 30 points lower in math, depending on the grade tested. "These are very big gaps that everyone in Kentucky ought to be very concerned about," said Daria Hall, the assistant director for K-12 policy with The Education Trust, based in Washington, D.C. Test results for Jefferson County Public Schools showed similar learning gaps, especially between black and white students.

Kentucky and the federal No Child Left Behind law expect all students to reach proficiency by 2014. State educators and officials say they are concerned and disappointed by the results. "But, unfortunately, I am not surprised," said Johnnie Grissom, associate commissioner of special instructional services with the Education Department, which has worked to help schools address achievement gaps. "Some schools in Kentucky have closed the gaps successfully and are doing the right thing for all kids, but not all." .....

Hall said there are many reasons for achievement gaps in the nation's schools. "Many poor students and students of color come to school disadvantaged to begin with," she said. "And then once they get to school, they get less than their fair share of quality teachers, they are less likely to be placed in rigorous classes, particularly at the secondary level, and there seems to be lower expectations across the board."

Grissom said she has seen each of those factors in Kentucky's schools -- particularly lower expectations. "In some of our schools, African-American students tend to be assigned to lower-level classes and when they are put up against their counterparts, they are scoring lower because they didn't have the same access to higher-level courses," she said. "They also tend to be paired with the least effective teachers."

The passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 made closing the achievement gaps a top priority. Schools that receive federal funds are held accountable for the annual progress of students in nearly every demographic group, and those who fail to meet reading and math goals can face sanctions ranging from student transfers to reorganization and state takeover.

Hall said schools across the nation have struggled for years to close achievement gaps. "We are beginning to see some narrowing of the achievement gap, particularly at the elementary level, but it is not happening fast enough," she said. Hall also said there has been a push by schools at the secondary level to get all students in rigorous courses. "However, we are finding in many cases that these courses are in name only," she said. "It may be called honors or advanced, but when you look at the course of study, it is not advanced and it will not prepare them for higher level work."

Several years ago, Grissom said the state put together a Minority Partnership Assistance Program. "We looked at the seven districts with the largest populations of black students and we worked with each one to develop plans on how they were going to address the achievement gaps," she said. "Most of those districts have made improvements, but they still have not closed the gaps."

Mernia Hill, principal at Shawnee High School, said reducing achievement gaps is not an easy challenge, especially in a district like Jefferson County, where so many students transfer from school to school. "The main thing is identifying the students who fall into the gaps and getting them the proper help," she said. "Our district tends to be very mobile, we have students transferring in and out every day, so you constantly have to stay on top and know what each child's needs are."



Weekdays in the Perry household start like those in any other. The kids brush their teeth, dress, grab a quick breakfast. Then, they make their way to school - at the dining room table. Anna, 7, tries to focus on her workbook. Bekah, 5, squirms in her chair and plays with 2-year-old Danielle, who needs a nap and starts wailing. Books are stacked on every surface. Little posters with insects and alphabets dot the walls, stand-ins for typical dining room decor. "Welcome," says their mother Kim Perry, smiling amid the disorder, "to our classroom."

The Perrys are part of a growing home-school movement. In 1999, according to federal statistics, there were 850,000 home-schooled children in the United States. In 2003, that number rose to 1.1 million. Some estimates put the figure today as high as 2.4 million. "It's certainly on the rise, there's no doubt about it," said Brad Haines, executive director for the Missouri-based Families for Home Education. "Exactly how fast is up to speculation."

Before their four children were born, Kim and her husband, David, decided they were going to home-school them. They had the most common reasons for doing so: They wanted an alternative to the sometimes violent culture of American public schools, and they wanted to educate their children with a Bible-centered focus. "People always ask me, 'Why do you want to stay home with your kids?'" Perry said. "I tell them, they're my kids. I want to have a positive impact on them. I want to raise them according to my values not someone else's."

Neither Missouri nor Illinois tracks students who are educated at home; the two states have some of the loosest regulations on home-schooling in the country. A parent doesn't have to tell authorities they're deciding to home-school their children, and home-schoolers want to keep it that way. Efforts in both states to tighten the rules have been extinguished as quickly as they flared. In both states, home-schooling support groups have flourished and multiplied. Membership in support groups suggests the number of home-schooled children in the St. Louis area is 6,000 or higher. "I get calls from people all the time, from people who want to pull their kids out of public schools," said Perry, who is on the board of an 80-member home-school group. "We've been growing by a third every year."


In both Illinois and Missouri, parents who home-school their children, in effect, set up a private school, usually with the mother as teacher and father as principal. Neither needs any particular academic qualifications. There are lesson plans they can follow, and bookstores cater to home-school families. For many families, though, the most important resource has become the Internet, which has linked even isolated households and helped support groups organize field trips, athletic events or classes. "It's certainly made it a whole lot easier," said Wayne Walker, minister of the Affton Church of Christ, who home-schools his two children. "You can find like-minded people, more information."

Walker sends a 20-plus-page weekly e-mail with a list of available classes and activities to a host of home-schoolers every week. Like many home-schooled children, his participate in many activities. "It's really provided an opportunity for our children to meet friends," Walker said.

Home-schoolers say they feel more connected to a community. "We've chosen to be at home, but if we wanted to, there are so many classes, we could be gone all day, every day," Perry said.


Education authorities say they worry that, because home-schooled students aren't required to take statewide achievement tests in many states, including Missouri and Illinois, students may not meet expectations. Science class in a home-school household, for example, might veer from teaching evolutionary theory. A science course might instead have a name like "God's Design for Heaven & Earth," as it does in the Perry household.

Home-schoolers say the diplomas they confer on their children are evidence of a solid education. So are the transcripts they submit to colleges. Increasingly colleges say they agree. "They were so used to dealing with traditional transcripts and grades," said Ian Slatter, of the Home School Legal Defense Association. "Now the overwhelming majority of colleges have home-school admissions policies or a home-school admissions officer."

The University of Missouri and the University of Illinois have learned how to evaluate home-schoolers, though they receive relatively few applications for admission. "We're trying to do more to reach out to them," said Barbara Rupp, director of admissions at the University of Missouri. "I see a big difference in the level of sophistication of transcripts. But, yeah. Mom and Dad are assigning grades."

Regina Morin, director of admissions at Columbia College, says the school is seeing more home-schoolers apply each year. "They tend to be better than their public school counterparts," she said. "They score above average on tests, they're more independent, they're often a grade ahead." "Traditionally colleges can be afraid of them," Morin added. "They don't know how to assess them."

The home-school community concedes that not all kids emerge college-ready and that some parents aren't up to the task. "This is not an escape," Haines said. "It's a choice you make and stick with."