Saturday, December 08, 2007

'Indoctrinate U': What Really Happened

Post below lifted from Taranto. See the original for links

A few weeks ago, a colleague passed along a Nov. 15 blog entry by Tom Smith sounding the alarm about a possible case of censorship:
Apparently some major state university has threatened a lawsuit against the movie "Indoctrinate U," and the websites about the movie have been temporarily (one hopes) frozen. What is going on here? Which university has threatened them? And what with? This should be exactly the sort of thing one should be able to find out about in the blogosphere, but I see nothing on Instapundit, Volokh or the usual suspects (I may have missed it though; if so, sorry. Maybe I am the only one who doesn't know. It wouldn't be the first time.)

This is news, oh fellow bloggers. [Evan Maloney, director of "Indoctrinate U"] is understandably reluctant to comment. I suspect he has gotten a cease and desist letter, and he and his lawyers are deciding whether to push on and risk suit or perhaps seek a declaratory judgment in some court or other. I am not First Amendment scholar, but I use the First Amendment nearly every day. Surely the sort of political commentary that the movie is, would have a wide latitude under the Constitution, reviled post-colonial document enforced by hegemonic white males though it may be. So what gives? Minorities in the academy want to know.

Smith linked to a post on Maloney's blog:
Due to a threatened lawsuit from a major taxpayer-funded university, the Indoctrinate U homepage has been taken down temporarily. On The Fence Films LLC is deciding how best to proceed, and we will not be commenting on anything until after our final response has been executed. Don't worry, though, this will not derail the film. Indoctrinate U will be back.

Soon enough, it was. "Darren," a blogger who describes himself as "a conservative teacher," wrote on Dec. 4 that "in what I can only assume is a victory for free speech and yet another loss for fascist lefties, the Indoctrinate U web site is back up."

We contacted Maloney as soon as we got word of the shutdown of his Web site. He told us he wasn't yet able to discuss the matter, but promised to fill us in when he was. Having had our own brush with political censorship as a college student lo those many years ago, we too assumed this was a case of "fascist lefties" trying to protect themselves from exposure.

The reality is more ambiguous. Maloney sent us a statement explaining the situation, which we've posted here. This is, at least ostensibly, an intellectual-property dispute that has nothing to do with the content of the movie. In brief, a lawyer representing Indiana University wrote to Maloney's company early last month claiming that the "Indoctrinate U" logo was similar to IU's. Maloney does not concede the claim of infringement, arguing that differences between the two logos are "readily apparent" and that in any case his movie does not compete with IU's educational offerings. But he decided to stop using the logo anyway, figuring it was cheaper than fighting.

"In an act of good faith, we voluntarily took the site offline while we reviewed our options," he writes. He didn't publicly name the university because that "would have caused needless controversy and made it harder to reach a mutually agreeable resolution to the dispute." The Web site returned once the logo had been stripped from it, from the promotional videos and from the movie itself. That's that, right? Well, not quite. According to Maloney:
The university is now demanding we hand over a sum of money that would essentially bankrupt On The Fence Films. I have to say, I'm a bit stunned. I understand that some academics might have a problem with our film; it covers academia's dirty little secrets. Nobody likes to be criticized. But Indiana University is not mentioned in the film at all! So their heavy-handedness seems a bit extreme.

Rather than ascribe negative motives to Indiana University, I'd rather assume it's just a matter of ignorance about our film: "Indoctrinate U" hasn't been screened within a six-hour drive of Indiana University, so perhaps their legal team is just unaware of its content. Maybe they're worried that we snuck our cameras onto campus once or twice. If that's the case, then I hope everything can be resolved by my personal assurance to the Trustees of Indiana University: You can breathe easy. Your school isn't in the film. So please--call off the dogs.

We've seen "Indoctrinate U," and the university officials who are featured in it come across looking both thuggish and incompetent, to very entertaining effect. If we were running a university, we would be at pains to stay off Evan Maloney's radar screen. But then maybe the guys at IU have decided the best defense is a good offense.

Britain: National test scores are annulled after cheating by teachers is exposed

Five schools caught cheating in national tests were stripped of their results yesterday. Investigators found evidence of malpractice in the Key Stage 2 Sats tests taken by 11-year-olds. Four of the schools lost all their marks in English, maths and science, and a fifth had its results removed for English. Two of them were among the best primaries in England in previous years, but will now be at the bottom of the league tables.

Teachers' unions said that the excessive pressure of targets and league tables was driving some teachers to cheat. Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "It is deeply sad to see some schools fall into the trap of malpractice. This demonstrates the extreme pressure that some schools and some teachers feel to perform to targets which may not reflect the ability of the children in their midst. "We need an assessment system that promotes professional integrity and this one does not."

Mr Brookes criticised ministers for failing to listen to schools' concerns over the tests. Figures show that the number of schools accused of amending their pupils' results rose from 101 in 2005 to 115 last year. A report into maladministration said that examples of this included teachers who had previous knowledge of the questions coaching children for the test. They were also alleged to have given pupils too much help during the test or to have made changes to their papers after the exam.

About 500 schools are investigated by the National Assessment Agency each year, after parents, teachers or test-markers raise concerns. The five found guilty of malpractice included St Charles's Catholic Primary School, in Liverpool. The teacher at the centre of that incident is thought to have buckled under pressure and subsequently left the school.

Examiners contacted the NAA after noticing that tests at Brockswood Primary School, in Hemel Hempstead, and St Bernadette's Roman Catholic School, in St Albans. The schools are in Hertfordshire and a county council spokeswoman said: "The NAA found that test papers had been altered. Investigators were called in but it was not possible to identify how alterations had been made in either case. However, it was felt that lax administrative procedures had contributed." The test results were also annulled for Springfield Community Primary School in Hackney, East London. William Cowper Primary School, in Birmingham, was stripped of its English results.

Teachers who falsify results run the risk of ruining their careers. In the past six years the General Teaching Council has heard 30 such cases.


Friday, December 07, 2007

Missouri Taxpayers Defeat Billion-Dollar School Lawsuit

Three members of the board of directors of the Show-Me Institute, a free-market think tank, helped make Missouri the latest state to strike down a lawsuit claiming inadequate funding for education. The Committee for Educational Equity (CEE)--a group of 236 public school districts--had claimed in a lawsuit filed in January 2004 that the state's funding levels failed to meet the constitutional requirement for all students to receive an adequate education. The group's experts testified the state would need to spend an additional $1 billion annually to fulfill their interpretation of its constitutional spending requirements.

In August 2007, Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan ruled the plaintiffs failed to prove the state's current funding formula was unconstitutional. He refused to impose on the legislature a funding formula higher than required by the state's constitution. Importantly, the judge ruled individual taxpayers could assist defendants in constitutional battles over school spending.

By the time Callahan rendered his decision, CEE had spent $3.2 million on the case and had forced defendants to spend $1 million. About $800,000 of the latter sum was contributed by Show-Me Institute President Rex Sinquefield, who--along with Institute Secretary Bevis Schock and Treasurer Menlo Smith--were allowed by Callahan to become "defendant intervenors." Sinquefield believes it's been worth the investment. "Judge Callahan's ruling saves Missouri taxpayers more than a billion dollars," Sinquefield said. "This proves that the plaintiffs tried to get something out of the state legislature, and when they failed they went to the courts. Hopefully, this ruling will discourage the use of taxpayer dollars to sue the state."

While it's not unusual for plaintiffs to include intervenors--in this case, CEE was joined by the St. Louis school board, which is performing so badly it has been taken over by the state--legal experts believe this is the first time individuals have been allowed to "intervene" to work with a state attorney general to defend a case. "We decided to try it in this case because we didn't think the attorney general was adequately representing the taxpayers of Missouri," said Joshua M. Schindler, lead attorney for Sinquefield and his colleagues.

Schindler said Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon took only two depositions since the lawsuit was filed almost four years ago. After Sinquefield got involved, 52 depositions were filed, including that of Michael Podgursky, an economics professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia and a member of the Show-Me Institute's board. Several calls to Nixon's office were unreturned.

Podgursky testified about the relationship between school funding and student performance. "We put on a very vigorous defense," Podgursky said. "Having these individual intervenors allowed us to bring up issues about a lack of competition and single-salary schedules for teachers, and to show the non-relationship between the spending and student achievement--to get a lot of information out in the open." Podgursky was able to counter claims that teachers are underpaid by noting Missouri has decided to lower its student-teacher ratio to 13.8:1. The national average is 15.8:1. He testified the state could give every teacher a 14 percent raise by moving to the national student-teacher ratio. "Many common misconceptions about school performance, accountability, and per-pupil spending were brought to light because of this case," Sinquefield said.

Even without individual intervenors, the Missouri decision is part of a national trend of school districts unsuccessfully suing based on claims current funding formulas don't produce enough revenue to ensure each student receives an "adequate" education. While adequacy lawsuits have been filed in 21 states, they are not having the success of those filed during the 1990s. Those earlier actions challenged the constitutionality of school funding systems relying primarily on property taxes, reasoning that districts with lower property values have less to spend on their students. Adequacy lawsuits also have failed in Alaska, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and South Carolina over the past five years, Podgursky said.

The Council for Better Education in Kentucky set the tone for the rest of the nation with its successful equity lawsuit in the early 1990s. But earlier this year, a Kentucky judge ruled--in a decision similar to Callahan's--that the legislature, not the courts, should decide how to dole out school funds, in a second case filed by the group, this one an adequacy lawsuit. Taxpayers were not involved in resolving either Kentucky case.

In Missouri the outcome would likely have been different without taxpayers' personal involvement, Schindler said. "The dynamics of the defense changed rather dramatically after the intervenors were allowed," Schindler noted. "When a taxpayer is involved at the table in the courtroom, they're more likely to see it as a defense of tax dollars."


Australian conservatives slam Leftists for education buckpassing

The Opposition yesterday accused Education Minister Julia Gillard of taking the lazy option of blaming Howard government neglect for Australia's fall in international reading and maths tests, instead of holding state Labor governments accountable. Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop, the former education minister, said Ms Gillard had to recognise state governments ran schools and set curriculums and as a result were responsible for educational standards. "If Ms Gillard continues to refuse to recognise that state governments are responsible for standards in their schools, then standards will go backwards," she said. "If this is her best response, it's a warning sign that Ms Gillard is not up to the task of managing her own super portfolio."

Ms Gillard said on Tuesday that the decline in Australia's international standing in reading and maths tests reflected the decade of neglect by the Coalition government. Her comments were in response to the OECD's latest Program for International Student Assessment of 15-year-olds in 57 countries, which showed reading and maths skills among Australia's top students were falling.

Ms Bishop said the Coalition government had provided $1.8billion to the states and territories since 2005 to improve literacy and numeracy standards. "It's critical Ms Gillard ask state governments to account for how they have invested that $1.8 billion," she said. Ms Bishop said teacher unions and professional associations had some responsibility for falling educational standards. "Over the past 20 years, the influence of the education unions on school curriculum has led to the embrace of fads and political agendas rather than on the core skills of literacy and numeracy," she said.

But teachers' organisations blamed the falling standards on the Coalition government, accusing it of a decade of underfunding public schools compared with private schools. The Australian Association for the Teaching of English said the PISA results should be welcomed by parents and teachers because Australia's overall position remained high. AATE president Karren Philp said: "Care needs to be exercised in how the PISA test data is interpreted. It is wrong to immediately assert the results indicate declining standards of literacy in this country."

Ms Philp said the test results backed Australia's approach in the teaching of literacy rather than the "back to basics" initiatives adopted in Britain and the US, which rank well below Australia. She told The Australian the fall in performance among top students was of concern, but she was not sure if it represented a drop in standards. "I'm not sure yet. We're going to look very closely at the report," she said.

But the Australian Education Union, representing government school teachers, and the Independent Education Union, representing teachers in the private sector, agreed the results suggested a decline among top students. AEU acting federal president Angelo Gavrielatos said yesterday: "Based on the results released by the OECD, we have been overtaken, and we are at risk of seeing our international education ranking decline." Asked if he stood by earlier comments on standards made by AEU president Pat Byrne, Mr Gavrielatos said: "Teachers have always been and will always remain concerned about standards in our schools. We don't get into hysterical and deceitful debates advanced by the previous government wanting to divest its funding responsibilities."


Thursday, December 06, 2007

U.S. students do worse in science and math

The PISA tests are not exactly demanding, either. More demanding tests would almost certainly show up bigger differences

U.S. students are lagging behind their peers in other countries in science and math, test results out Tuesday show. The test, the Program for International Student Assessment, was given to 15-year-olds in 30 industrialized countries last year. It focused on science but also included a math portion. The 30 countries, including the United States, make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which runs the international test. The average scores for U.S. students were lower than the average scores for the group as a whole.

U.S. students also had an average science score that was lower than the average score in 16 other OECD countries. In math, U.S. students did even worse - posting an average score that was lower than the average in 23 of the other leading industrialized countries.

The test also was administered to students in about two dozen countries or jurisdictions that are not part of the industrialized group. When compared with the broader group, the U.S. students fell in the middle of the pack in science and did somewhat worse in math. There was no change in U.S. math scores since 2003, the last time the test was given. The science scores aren't comparable between 2003 to 2006, because the tests aren't the same. U.S. girls and boys did about the same on the science and math portions of the test.

Finland's 15-year-olds did the best on the science test, followed by students in Hong Kong and Canada. Students in Finland, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong were the top performers in math.


Canadian universities say no to affirmative action for men

Females outnumber men by 60-40 split

Despite a growing gender gap on Canadian campuses, universities are balking at a fledgling movement in the United States to make special efforts to attract more men, such as adopting affirmative action initiatives that favour male applicants over female ones. Campus recruiters and admissions managers from Memorial University of Newfoundland to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver say they are taking no extra steps to target male students. Nor do they consider it a problem -- at least not yet -- that female university students outnumber men by about 60-40 on average nationwide.

"It hasn't really come up as a flag," said Andrew Arida, associate director of enrolment at University of British Columbia, summing up the sentiment of several recruitment specialists. "As public universities that take public funds, we have to respond to what the public wants and if more female members of the public want it than male, I can't see us wanting to do something like affirmative action. "That only makes sense if you believe the group for which you are putting the affirmative action in place has experienced some sort of systemic barriers to progressing."

Statistics Canada, in a recent report on future post-secondary enrolment trends, suggested universities and colleges could offset a potential slump that may surface in about 10 years, when the last of the echo baby boomers graduate, by tapping into a "reservoir" of young men who are passing up higher education.

Herb O'Heron, senior adviser for the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, said that campus recruiters are well aware of the gender imbalance on campus, but that "we're not at the point of affirmative action" to fill the gap. "I would say if you talk to any university enrolment manager across the country they would be aware of the higher levels of female participation and be considering things that would help to attract young men across the country."

For the last 20 years, women have outnumbered men on campus. There are several theories behind the change, including assertions that the grade school system is tailored to girls, there are higher expectations from educators and parents that females will pursue post-secondary education, and that men have less motivation to pursue degrees and diplomas because they can earn good money straight out of high school.

A U.S. study published two years ago in the journal Economics of Education Review revealed many American universities appear to favour men in university admissions as applicant pools become more female. There also have been numerous news story in the United States in which universities and colleges have conceded they give male applicants an easier ride than female applicants in an effort to equalize the gender ratio.

One reason cited by registrars for rejecting special recruitment efforts is enrolment is exploding in most provinces and universities have not had to cast wider nets to attract more students. But even schools that are suffering an enrolment drop, including St. Francis Xavier in Antigonish, N.S., and the University of Regina, say they haven't tried to make up the shortfall by trying to recruit men in particular. "I would say that the University of Regina is more focused on general recruitment," said Barb Pollock, vice president of external relations. "I think universities have to be careful to be as accessible as possible to all people.


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The British Inquisition Goes Global

Recently, an American-Israeli, Asaf Romirowsky, was asked to step down from a University of Delaware panel discussion on anti-Americanism because one of the participants, the University's Muqtedar Khan, expressed an unwillingness to appear on a panel discussion with anyone who had once served in the Israel Defense Forces. Khan did not bother to assert, much less prove, that the past performance of (compulsory) military service by an Israeli was something illicit. He merely pretended that such conduct is self-evidently deserving of ostracism.

Why the pretense? Perhaps because it was a handy distraction from the discrimination increasingly deployed against Israeli Jews in the academy. Most Israeli Jews (but not Israeli Muslims) perform military service and to exclude on this basis is to impose a virtually blanket ban on them.

This occurrence at University of Delaware is part of a wider pattern which originated in Britain. In April 2002, two British academics, Steven and Hilary Rose, initiated an academic boycott campaign against Israel, calling for a moratorium on all cultural and research links with Israel until Israel pursues peace talks along the lines of the faux peace plan put forward by the Arab League in 2002.

In June 2002, Mona Baker, a professor at UMIST, sacked two Tel Aviv University academics from the editorial boards of the two journals she edits. She offered them however, the choice of retaining their positions if they sever ties with Israel and leave the country. In 2003, an Oxford pathology professor, Andrew Wilkie, rejected an Israeli research applicant, explaining that his detestation of Israel's policies impelled him to reject an Israeli citizen, irrespective of the individual's personal views or merits. Similarly, two Israelis highly critical of Israel - one Jewish and one Arab - had their submission to an English academic journal returned with an editor's note advising that it had been rejected because its authors were Israelis - though in this case, the two were offered reconsideration if they inserted some paragraphs likening Israel to apartheid South Africa.

In 2005, Britain's Association of University Teachers (AUT) voted to impose an academic boycott on two Israeli universities. The country's other major union, the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE), voted in May 2006 in favor of a boycott of Israeli lecturers and academic institutions that do not publicly dissociate themselves from Israel's "apartheid policies."

The British pattern has been replicated globally: a petition for boycotting research and cultural links with Israel was taken up quickly in the U.S. (April 2002) and Australia (May 2002), with similar initiatives following in France, Italy, Belgium and in the Scandinavian countries.

It has also spread beyond academe: In May 2006, the Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario, the Ontario wing of Canada's largest union, voted to join an international boycott campaign against Israel "until that state recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination ." This April, British journalists implicitly confirmed past complaints about anti-Israel bias (always indignantly denied) when its National Union of Journalists voted by 66 to 54 to boycott Israeli goods. This was followed in May by a group of 130 British doctors calling for a boycott of the Israel Medical Association (IMA) and its expulsion from the World Medical Association since, in their words, the IMA had "refused" to protest about Israeli "war crimes."

Injustice and discrimination aside, the results of boycotting individual Israelis occasionally have been absurd: thus, in 2003, the chief of Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital's gene-therapy institute, engaged in research to cure a blood disease prevalent among Palestinians, was refused assistance from a Norwegian colleague.

What is one to conclude? That shunning Israeli Jews takes place on the inquisitorial presumption that terrible guilt attaches to each individual Israeli Jew unless innocence is proved. In short, Israeli Jews are guilty until proven innocent. Innocence, in turn, may only be demonstrated (occasionally, at least) by explicit condemnation of the policies of its democratically elected government - in short, by Soviet-style denunciations. Nor has dissent from this position been adjudged an admissible alternative by the inquisitors. For them, political orthodoxy has become an ideal.

Academics from even truly tyrannical and vicious regimes like North Korea, Burma, Saudi Arabia or Iran face no such test or sanction, nor has it occurred to anyone that they should. It is an elementary principle that private individuals are not responsible for the actions of their governments. This principle evidently does not apply to the British Inquisition.

Others have rightly noted of this incident that Khan was wrong to avoid vigorous debate with an opponent. But that point is scarcely the most important. It was not debate alone that Khan avoided. Rather, he was repudiating Israeli Jews within the precincts of academic debate. The British Inquisition operates on a similar principle of excluding Israeli Jews from rights and privileges accorded everyone else. It is part of a wider strategy for their ostracism - and it is gaining a presence in America.


Bias against ability and the rich fading in Australian medical school admissions

A pity about students who have already been discriminated against by these evil processes though. In a rational world admission interviews would have been tested for predictive power BEFORE they were introduced. But evidence did not drive their introduction. Class-hatred did

AUSTRALIA'S biggest medical school is scrapping interviews for student selection as "useless", saying they are too prone to bias and there is no evidence interviewers can pick which applicants will perform well during the course. The decision by the University of Queensland means the 400 students accepted into its medical course next year will be assessed on their academic record alone, without having to face an interview panel. The university expects other medical schools may follow suit -- and the move seems likely at least to reopen a debate about the merits of interviews, which attracted controversy last year over allegations of bias.

There has also been unease over the growth of expensive courses that coach students what to say in interviews to maximise their chances of being accepted. Some universities have already been scaling back the emphasis on interview performance. Adelaide University last year adjusted its assessment procedures to give equal consideration to a school-leaver's tertiary entrance rank and marks at interview, instead of giving most weight to the latter. Earlier in the year the university had been accused by its former deputy chancellor of "unwritten discrimination" against applicants from private schools and medical families -- charges the university strongly denied.

As a graduate-entry medical school, UQ's new arrangements mean applicants will be considered if they score more than five in their grade-point average, the summary of their academic work in their previous degree course. After passing that hurdle, those considered will be ranked for entry according to their marks in the Graduate Australian Medical School Admissions Test, or GAMSAT. Previously, the interview has been the third part of UQ's selection process.

Until this year the University of Sydney also chose students solely on the basis of performance at interview, but now gives equal weight to marks in the GAMSAT. Dean of medicine Bruce Robinson said the university was now conducting a review of the admission procedures, due to report in March.

UQ's decision, recently approved by the university's Senate, came after months of research to find out to what extent the interview scores of candidates were correlating with their subsequent performance during the medical course. "The answer was not very much," said David Wilkinson, head of UQ's school of medicine. The research showed that performance at interview predicted only 10 per cent of the variation in academic performance during the course.

The grade-point average was the best predictor of performance during the course. Although the GAMSAT correlated only slightly with how well students did later on, the fact that the same test was sat by all applicants meant it remained useful for ranking applicants, Professor Wilkinson said. "All the evidence shows that the interview is useless," he said. He said the potential bias of the interviewers was also a valid concern. "Even though we have had very rigorous training programs for interviewers, there's inevitably a level of subjectivity there, and there have been some questions raised about quality control, standardisation and fairness, and defensibility," he said.

Peter Brooks, executive dean of UQ's faculty of health sciences, said the change was "a big deal" and the university now had "data that it (the interview) doesn't really do all that much".


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Myth of the Middle-Class School

As middle-class suburban homeowners cling precariously to their dwellings in the midst of the current housing slump, many comfort themselves, as they write out their high mortgage payment checks, that at least their children can attend good neighborhood public schools. Unfortunately for these parents, all too often these supposedly “good” public schools have bad records when it comes to student achievement.

In California, for example, there are hundreds of regular public schools in middle-class and more affluent neighborhoods where less than half of the students in at least one grade level fail to perform at the proficient level in English or math on state tests. These schools are located throughout the state, on the expensive coastline, in suburbs and exurbs, and in conservative inland “red” counties. Here are a few examples.

Just east of Sacramento is Placer County, the most Republican county in the state. Republicans dominate Placer’s congressional and state legislative delegations. Embattled Republican congressman John Doolittle, fighting accusations of improper campaign contributions stemming from the Abramoff fiasco, represents the area. The GOP also controls local bodies such as city councils and school boards. Big new tract homes and big box stores fill the landscape. Yet, for all this seeming suburban coziness, the performance of students at one of the supposedly top local high schools leaves a lot to be desired.

At Oakmont High School, which sits in a zip code where the median home price earlier this year was in $450,000 range, less than half of tenth graders and only four in 10 eleventh graders scored at the proficient level on the state English exam in 2007. In mathematics, the scores were even worse. Only about a quarter of students taking either the state algebra I or algebra II exams scored proficient, while less than one in five taking the geometry test scored at that level.

The city of San Mateo, just south of San Francisco, has produced such notables as entertainment legend Merv Griffin and two-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady. Like other towns along peninsula from San Francisco to San Jose, San Mateo has astronomical home prices. Hillsdale High School in San Mateo is in a zip code with a median home price of more than $800,000. Yet, in 2007, less than half of eleventh graders scored at or above the proficient level on the state English exam.

Another bad sign for many California high schools in middle-class and affluent areas is the low proportion of 11th graders who test at the college-ready level on the California State University’s Early Assessment Program (EAP) exam, which is supposed to spot students who may need remedial instruction in English or math as freshmen. Take, for instance, Newport Harbor High School in posh Newport Beach in conservative Orange County.

Newport Harbor High is now best known as the site of MTV’s reality show Newport Harbor: The Real Orange County. While the television show focuses on the usual teen rivalries and love triangles, little is said about the achievement of students at the high school. That may be just as well, at least for school officials, since in 2006 less than one in four Newport Harbor’s eleventh graders taking the EAP English exam tested at the college-ready level.

The beach community of Torrance near Los Angeles is another example. It is home to some the most famous high schools in America. Torrance High was the setting of Beverly Hills 90210 and South High, the location of the 1999 film American Beauty. But when only slightly more than half of those high-school students score proficient in English, and less than a third test college-ready, the fancy facades aren’t much consolation to parents paying mortgages on $700,000 homes.

Parents in such upscale areas as Santa Barbara, the Silicon Valley, the Northern California wine country, and San Diego enclaves like La Jolla all had similar low college-ready rates among their students. California, however, is not alone. Nationwide, an average of six out of 10 4th and 8th grade students who are not poor score below grade-level proficiency in math and reading on the Nation’s Report Card.

It is time for the broad middle class in America to realize that their “free” suburban schools are, in many cases, not as good as they have been led to believe. Once they understand that they are not getting the bang for their mortgage and tax buck, they can then wield their large political clout to demand the freedom to choose their children’s schools regardless of where they live. Strapped “house poor” middle-class parents can benefit from a school-choice voucher just as much as parents in low-income areas. Only with such choice options will middle-class homebuyers finally get what they paid for.


Poor professor Matory

J. Lorand Matory is a professor at Harvard, in anthropology and African and African-American studies, and he is feeling mighty oppressed today because some people on campus disagree with him. Scott Johnson of Powerline writes today on the professor's expressed plight, and excerpts enough of his writing to demonstrate the point that the professor is sadly lacking in the logical argument department.
[W]hy does the U.S. rightly defend Jewish people's claims on European bank accounts, property, and compensation for labor expropriated during the 1930s and 1940s, while quashing the rights of millions of Palestinians refugees to lands, houses, and goods stolen as a condition of Israel's founding in the late 1940s?

Let's do a cursory glance at Matory's positions. A larger number of Jewish refugees left Arab lands than Arabs who left Israel. They left penniless, after being stripped of their assets. The Arab refugees left at the prompting of their leaders (in part) who broadcast their plans to wreak devastation on their way through Israel as they promised to push the Jews into the sea.

Let's ponder his equivalency argument over the genocide committed against European Jewry-the destruction of a people-against the displacement of Arab refugees who left of their own volition. These Arab refugees consists not only of those who left in 1948 but ALL OF THEIR DESCENDENTS-accorded this unique status by virtue of the UN which established this UN Agency just for Palestinian refugees: UNRWA-United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

Over the years billions have been sent to these refugees to aid them. UNRWA has also aided them in their terror efforts -- admitting that it has terrorists on its payroll and being forced to admit that its offices have been used as hideouts for terrorists. Its employees are exclusively Palestinians.

The Jewish refugees who were pushed from their homes in Arab lands did not have the benefit of aid flowing from the United Nations. Instead, they had to struggle to make new lives for themselves in Israel and elsewhere. This they accomplished because Israel welcomed them; in contrast, Arab nations kept Palestinian refugees locked up in camps and, with the exception of Jordan, denied them citizenship, rights to engage in various professions, and rights to own property. Arab refugees have been abused-by their own brethren and their own leaders. This does not equate them to victims of genocide.

Maybe it is time for Harvard to take some of its billions of dollars and find some better qualified professors.


Australia: Maths skills sink to a five-year low

MATHS skills among Year 7 students have fallen to their lowest level in five years. Unpublished figures to be released next month, and obtained by The Weekend Australian, show that more than one in five Year 7 students failed to acquire the necessary maths skills to progress through school. The proportion attaining minimum standards in maths has fallen below 80 per cent for the first time, to 79.7 per cent, and is down from a high of 83.5 per cent in 2002. The report looms as the first major challenge to confront incoming deputy prime minister Julia Gillard, who has been handed the role of implementing Kevin Rudd's education revolution.

In a further indictment of the national education system, an OECD report released this week shows Australia trailing Estonia and New Zealand in science skills. The OECD Program for International Student Assessment conducted last year among 15-year-olds in 57 countries focused on science skills. It ranked Australia eighth on the students' mean scores, behind Finland in first place followed by Hong Kong, Canada, Taiwan, Estonia, Japan and New Zealand. The previous PISA test, carried out in 2003, ranked Australia sixth in science, fourth in reading and 11th in maths.

The Australian Council for Educational Research, which administers PISA in Australia on behalf of the OECD, said that when statistical difference was taken into account, Australia tied in fourth place for science with a number of other countries. ACER chief executive Geoff Masters said Australia had maintained its performance from the previous PISA test, in which it ranked fourth out of 41 countries.

The 2006 years 3, 5 and 7 National Benchmark Results were sent to the state and territory education ministers this week for approval before their scheduled public release by the end of the year. The 2006 results show the general trend among Year 3 students is a stable proportion of students meeting the benchmarks with 91 per cent passing reading, 92.7 per cent passing writing and 92.6 per cent passing numeracy. The results for Year 5 students are more patchy, with an increasing proportion of students failing to meet the benchmarks. In 2006, about 12 per cent of Year 5 students failed to meet the reading benchmark, 6 per cent failed to meet the writing benchmark and 10 per cent failed to meet the numeracy standard. By Year 7, the proportion falling behind had widened further, with about 11 per cent failing the reading benchmark, 8 per cent failing the writing benchmark and about 20 per cent failing to meet the numeracy benchmark.

The report seeks to discredit the huge difference in Year 7 numeracy skills, saying the benchmark appears to be too hard. "This apparent drop in progress can in some way be attributed to a concern that the benchmark standard for Year 7 has been set at a higher level than for the other year levels," it says. The Year 7 numeracy benchmark requires students to deal in whole numbers to seven digits, and use decimals with two place values in familiar situations, such as money and measurements. The national benchmark results also highlight the gap between the indigenous community and the rest of the nation.


Monday, December 03, 2007

Just say no to `No Platform'

Britain: A student at the University of East Anglia strikes a blow for free speech against the NUS's censorious policies

Last week, the students union at the University of East Anglia passed a policy introduced by Richard Reynolds, stating that `in order to discredit illiberal, extremist or racist ideologies, it is necessary to openly confront these ideas and not merely pretend they do not exist'. This runs counter to the policy of the National Union of Students, which is to deny a platform to extremists. Here, we republish the UEA students' pro-free speech policy:

Fight Fascism, End `No Platform'

* You can't win the war against fascist ideas if you don't fight the battles. Banning things just makes us look like we are scared to take them on;

* Saying you `believe in free speech, but...' is meaningless, just as saying `I'm not racist, but...'. Either we are free to say and think what we believe or we are not;

* If fascist groups were to come to campus to debate, our representatives should be inside the room arguing with them and proving them wrong, not just protesting pointlessly outside;

* If we ban these groups, we give them the moral high ground - they can claim they are unfairly treated and accuse those who do believe in democracy of being hypocrites;

* Part of being a student is coming across new ideas, not all of these will be nice, but we learn from them all.

Some myths about `No Platform':

* `Fascist groups will come to, or are going to be invited to, campus'

This does not mean we want them here or we are extending an invitation. They can anyway, it is beyond the power of the Union to stop them.

* `By arguing with such groups (giving them a "platform") we are giving them credibility'

The whole point of arguing with someone is to see who is right; it does not imply we think they are right, quite the reverse is true. Our arguments can always be made better and we can further understand what is wrong with their position - just like when we study outdated academic ideas on our courses.

* `Fascist/racist groups will attack people, especially ethnic minorities, LGBT students and other discriminated against groups.'

This may be true. However, if it is, this is a matter for the police as it would be a criminal offence. You cannot assume people are guilty, however unpleasant they are, before they act.

* `Ethnic minorities, LGBT students and people from other discriminated against groups will be too uncomfortable to debate with such people in the room.'

Democracy requires debate; sometimes that debate can be messy, but to sacrifice controversy for an easy life is to sacrifice democracy itself. Why should we presume that minority groups need special protection? Surely they are as capable as anyone else? To suggest otherwise is not only patronising; it is the very essence of discrimination, which we should be fighting against.

* `The NUS conference would be invaded by extremists!'

The conference was not invaded before NUS had a `no platform' policy. These `extremists' would have to be elected as delegates, like every other NUS conference delegate. And if they don't follow the rules, then, like everyone else, they can be chucked out.


School Newsletter Omits Christmas from December 'Important Dates'

A Freudian slip?

They made a list, but they should have checked it twice. In a December newsletter to the families of elementary school students, Spokane Public Schools' list of "important dates" didn't include Christmas. Hanukkah, Human Rights Day, winter break, the Islamic holy day Eid al-Adha, first day of winter and Kwanzaa all made the list. But no Christmas.

"It was absolutely an error of omission," district spokeswoman Terren Roloff said. "In our efforts to be inclusive, we missed the obvious." The omission drew complaints from some parents that Christians are being overlooked in favor of other cultures and beliefs. Greater Spokane Association of Evangelicals Executive Director John Tusant said the error surprised him. "The stores have been decorated for the last month. How do you overlook that?" Tusant asked.

Hutton School parent Jane Harper noted the absence of Christmas but didn't think the omission was meant as a message to Christians. "Christmas is so dominant in our society. I don't know that anyone should feel slighted," Harper said.

Roloff said the district would not have included Hanukkah and Eid al-Adha if it had intended to avoid religious celebrations. She said her office has been fielding calls about the newsletter from concerned parents, and that most have been understanding about the mix-up. Christmas had been added to the "important dates" section of the online version of the school district's newsletter by Thursday afternoon.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Police failure at Oxford U

No police interest in free speech. Quite to the contrary. They were there to "facilitate protest" -- i.e. to prevent it. About what we expect of Britain's politicized police. Law and order comes a distant second to political correctness

Police in Oxford were today embroiled in a row after being accused of "outrageous" failures in containing anti-fascist protests against a debate at the university last night. Evan Harris, a speaker at the event, said that officers were to blame for failing to stop protesters infiltrating into the debating hall and preventing the Oxford Union debate taking place. The demonstrators were protesting against the inclusion of Nick Griffin, leader of the far-right British National Party, and the historian David Irving, a convicted Holocaust-denier, on the list of speakers.

Despite a heavy police presence, around 30 protesters managed to storm the union and staged a sit down protest at the debating table. Police estimate up to 1,000 people joined the protest but, despite the invasion, no arrests were made.

Amid the fallout from the protests, Mr Harris, the MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, criticised police for allowing protesters to get in and said a cordon should have been in place around the premises. "The failure of the police is outrageous," he added. In response the force claimed that the Oxford Union had taken charge of its own on-the-door security and that the union was at fault for allowing protesters to get in. "It was not our responsibility to prevent protestors from entering the Union. That was the responsibility of the event organisers," a Thames Valley Police spokeswoman said. "As we have said from the beginning, our primary responsibility was to facilitate lawful protest. "The protestors who entered the debating chamber were not committing a criminal offence, but civil trespass and therefore we did not have powers to arrest them."

In a statement, Chief Inspector Dennis Evernden said most protesters had been peaceful. "A small minority seemed intent on causing problems but police intervention prevented any criminal acts or disorder," he said. Mr Evernden refused to go into detail about officers deployed on the protest today, saying it contravened the force's security procedures.

The debate eventually went ahead more than a hour late with the speakers split into two groups for safety. Mr Irving, who was jailed for three years in Austria for denying the Holocaust, spoke alongside broadcaster and author Anne Atkins and Liberal Democrat Mr Harris in the debating hall while Mr Griffin was among debaters speaking in the main Union building.

Nearly half of the students who had tickets for the event failed to get in after the crowd outside the union blocked the gates. Those who did make it in faced jeers of "shame on you". Union security officers said the protesters got into the building by jumping over the wall while others created a diversion by gathering and crushing at the front gate.

The Oxford Union had argued that the pair should be allowed to take part in the name of free speech. Luke Tryl, the union's President, said: "I think David Irving came out of that looking pathetic. I said in my introduction that I found his view repugnant and abhorrent because I wanted that on record."


Australian education as it was

When a newspaper columnist once suggested a contest for the best book ever written, excluding the Bible and Shakespeare's works, I was tempted to nominate the fifth book of The Victorian Readers series. This, in my distant day, was the main teaching aid (it would now be called a resource) in Year 5, other than talk, chalk and the blackboard.

It is hard to think of a better book for teaching nine and 10-year-olds about their country. The class particularly loved Henry Lawson's ballads The Fire at Ross's Farm and The Ballad of the Drover, and his short story The Drover's Wife. There was also John Shaw Neilson's poem Old Granny Sullivan, pieces about the explorer Matthew Flinders, an Adventure with the Aborigines and a poem about the pioneers.

The sixth book had the even more memorable Banjo Paterson's Clancy of the Overflow and Dorothea Mackellar's My Country ("I love a sunburnt country...").

Nor was it all parochial. The fifth book had approximately equal Australian and overseas content and included pieces on Giotto the Italian shepherd boy, Switzerland's William Tell and the apple, Robert Bruce, and the story of King Kaid of India and the spider. While World War II raged far away, about 40 pupils (a few years later it would be more like 50) would read the livelier items rhythmically as a class, sing-song like the multiplication tables of the previous lesson: "Across the stony ridges, across the rolling plain, young Harry Dale the drover. . . "

But each child also had to read aloud before the class, one by one, and few would not do their best and be found out as a weak reader, which would involve being kept in after school for further teaching. (An even worse fate, and thus spur to effort, was to be kept back to repeat a year; but it was effective remedial education if it happened.)

The teacher, Mr Dunell, would walk up and down the aisles of twin-seater desks while children read and rap on the knuckles with his wooden ruler anybody who talked, giggled or dozed off. His favourite poet - who, I was surprised on checking to find was in the sixth, not the fifth book - was William Wordsworth. He introduced us to Wordsworth's Daffodils, which we had again the following year.

The books and curriculum varied from state to state, but the spirit didn't vary much. These and similar verses and short articles were primary school favourites for generations, until the curriculum purges of the reforming 1970s led to their ouster for various reasons, including a move against rote learning and the suspicion that they were remnants of imperial history.

However, when I read now of the debates over the place of history, especially Australian history, in the secondary school curriculum, I wonder if many educators have forgotten, or not known, how much Australian and general history was once packed into the humble primary school. It was not so much taught as infused in the classroom day. The readers and also the monthly School Paper merged reading, literature, history and geography. The black-and-white sketches brought distant times and lands to life and were themselves an introduction to art. Lawson, Paterson and other ballads introduced children to the story of the grazing industries, the battle of squatter and selector, bushfires and inland geography.

Billy Bear was a memorable cartoon figure in my School Paper, a koala-like chap who toured the sources of our food and household goods: Goulburn Valley for fruit, Gippsland for milk, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) for tea, Java (Indonesia) and Malaya (Malaysia) for rubber.

History lessons proper devoted much time to the explorers. The crossing of the Blue Mountains built on Captain Cook and the First Fleet. Flinders taught us as much geography as history. The journeys of Edward John Eyre, Ludwig Leichhardt, Thomas Mitchell and Charles Sturt taught us more inland geography and a feeling for the early 19th century, with white adventurers moving into the vast plains and deserts sparsely inhabited by Aboriginal tribes.

The explorers were once heroes. When I moved on to high school, the sports houses were named for them. There is many a Flinders, Sturt or Mitchell street still and three Leichhardt postcodes.

The fairly common belief that imperial history is discreditable and must only be studied harshly, if at all, should be re-examined. In practice, avoiding it means little history is taught at all, or becomes the "fragmented stew" that John Howard complained about. For better or worse, empires were the main way of ruling the world between ancient Rome, if not earlier, and World War I. The British Empire was the biggest and, arguably, the best.

Those who feel that imperial history in Australia insults Aborigines have a point. It needs sensitive, but not evasive, treatment. To ignore pioneering history or to present it only as suffering victims of invasion is to avoid explaining how the society we live in came to be. The Aboriginal reaction to white occupation, where recorded, shows rapid and shrewd adaptation, but with lots of problems.

Though much of what has been written is contested, balanced secondary school lessons should be possible, but it seems too complicated for younger children. On looking back through all eight of the Victorian Reader books, I thought the coverage of Aborigines was not too bad: perhaps seven out of 10 marks. There could have been more, but none of the articles was demeaning or patronising, unless it is perceived as politically incorrect to depict Aborigines other than as guerilla fighters or social workers.

Schoolbooks initiated 90 years ago are unlikely to appeal today, and no doubt were losing effectiveness after 50 years of service. And of course most teachers work hard under difficulties. Nevertheless, though secondary school grabs the headlines, teachers say part of the difficulty is that primary schools today turn out too many pupils who do not know enough or read or spell well enough. Formation in reading, arithmetic, grammar, spelling, poetry, history, geography and nature study should not be too much to ask, especially as it once could be done for a fraction of the present cost and fuss.

The above article by Robert Murray appeared in "The Australian" (Review section) on November 24, 2007