Saturday, December 29, 2007

More Accidents After Driver Education

(Toronto, Ontario) According to an audit by the Transportation Ministry, driver education courses and instructors are substandard in Ontario. Apparently, people completing driver education programs are less capable drivers than those who never attend a course.

One problem identified is that driver education instructors are statistically worse drivers than the general public.
Auditor General Jim McCarter found that 360 of Ontario's 5,500 instructors have demerit points for driving infractions.

That's a rate of 6.5 per cent, well above the 1.4 per cent rate for the motoring public.
Actions are planned to assure better-qualified instructors are employed. Details were not disclosed.
The ministry will also regulate all beginner driver education courses in the wake of an alarming auditor's finding that new drivers who took the courses were more likely to be involved in collisions than those who did not.
This is the first study I've heard of regarding the effectiveness of driver education programs. Since licensing and insurance rates are often tied to completion of such courses, it would seem prudent to verify by some measure that all programs are effective.

Maybe there's a need for No Driver Left Accident-Prone legislation. Of course, it would be comical to have instances of drivers asking their insurance companies for a discount because they didn't complete driver education.
Elementary Mathematics being made more demanding

If the teachers can teach it

Joanne Tegethoff teaches algebra. Never mind that her students carry Disney princess and Thomas the Tank Engine backpacks and have the alphabet taped on their desks. The Montgomery County first-graders one recent afternoon were learning to write "number sentences" to help Lucy Ladybug. "Lucy wakes up and puts five spots on her back," Tegethoff told the class. "Then she gets confused. She wants 10 spots. What's missing?" Tegethoff used to teach what she called "very boring math," using worksheets of addition and subtraction problems. Now her lessons delve into algebraic thinking. By the third grade, Viers Mill Elementary students are solving equations with letter variables.

Long considered a high school staple, introductory algebra is fast becoming a standard course in middle school for college-bound students. That trend is putting new pressure on such schools as Viers Mill to insert the building blocks of algebra into math lessons in the earliest grades. Disappointing U.S. scores on international math tests have added to the urgency of a movement that is rippling into kindergarten. At stake, some politicians say, is the country's ability to produce enough scientists and engineers to compete in the global economy.

But education experts say students aren't the only ones who need more rigorous instruction. Too many elementary school teachers, they say, lack the know-how to teach math effectively. "You can't teach what you don't know, and your students won't love the subject unless you love the subject," Kenneth I. Gross, a University of Vermont mathematics and education professor, recently told a group of college mathematicians at a conference hosted by the U.S. Education Department and the National Science Foundation. "All of mathematics depends on what kids do in the elementary grades. If you don't do it right, you're doing remedial work all the way up to college. Arithmetic, algebra and geometry are intertwined."

Gross and others say many elementary and middle school teachers -- generalists relied on to teach reading, science and social studies and even to make sure a child's coat is zipped -- are drawn to teaching by a love of children and literacy. Most had little exposure to high-level math in college and are more at home with words than numbers. "Many of them fear math," said Vickie Inge, math outreach director with the University of Virginia's School of Continuing and Professional Studies. "Many of them had trouble with math themselves."

Educators, mathematicians and business leaders are working to bridge the knowledge gap. At an increasing number of schools, including Viers Mill, teachers work with a coach who helps boost their math knowledge, plan lessons and examine student work. The National Math & Science Initiative, funded by ExxonMobil, and the National Science Foundation are granting universities and school systems millions of dollars for programs to produce better math and science teachers.

In February, a panel of educators and mathematicians appointed by President Bush is slated to recommend ways schools can produce more algebra-savvy students. The panel will lay out skills students need to have starting in third grade to master algebra down the road. It will also recommend ways to improve teacher preparation.

Test scores released this month reignited concerns about math education in the United States. The Program for International Student Assessment found that 15-year-olds in the United States trailed peers from 23 industrialized countries in math. What's more, Michigan State University professor William Schmidt found that U.S. teachers scored at the bottom of the pack on an algebra test in a recent study of middle school math teachers from six countries. Teachers in Korea and Taiwan, where students earn high marks on international tests, had the best scores. "The U.S. performance was weak," Schmidt said. He found that U.S. and Mexican teachers had taken far less advanced undergraduate math courses than peers in Taiwan and Korea. He also found math knowledge isn't enough. Teachers also need strong training in instructional techniques.

In Virginia, George Mason University, the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and three other universities have teamed with local K-12 systems to improve math teaching through a master's degree program in math and educational leadership for elementary and middle school teachers. The program, begun in 2002, has about 60 graduates, who have returned to their schools and become a resource for colleagues.

Virginia Commonwealth University math professor William E. Haver, who is involved in the partnership, said elementary teachers need to know far more than the standard curriculum. With a depth of knowledge, teachers can help children understand relationships between numbers and solve problems in different ways. Without it, teachers often rely on memorization and aren't well-equipped to help struggling students. "Elementary math isn't elementary," Haver said. "There are a lot of deep ideas there. Usually, if a child doesn't get the right answer, there's a fair amount of good thinking along the way, but it got astray at some point. If you can pinpoint that problem, you're better off."

Gross runs the Vermont Mathematics Initiative, a graduate program that has trained more than 160 elementary teachers in math leadership. He drew an analogy to elementary reading instruction. "Would you want a teacher who has read 'Dick and Jane'?" he asked. "Or would you want a teacher who has read Shakespeare and the masters and has a fondness for reading?" Results in Vermont are promising. In schools with the math leaders, students are earning better math test scores than peers in similar schools. Achievement of students from poor families has also risen.

Judy Schneider, a 25-year teacher who is a math specialist at Widewater Elementary School in Stafford County, is midway through the Virginia program. She helps teachers understand math and reach students through dynamic lessons. Recently, she helped a fifth-grade teacher who was preparing to teach a lesson on fractions but didn't understand the material. Math wasn't always Schneider's strong suit, but after taking courses in algebra, geometry and statistics, she is able to help colleagues improve. "I was such a bad math student as a child, all the way through high school and even into college," she said. "Math was something I struggled with, and all of a sudden algebra makes sense to me. I want it to make sense for the kids."


Grading Disparities Peeve Parents

With No Baseline Among Districts, Some Say Students Suffer

Marcy Newberger grew up in Montgomery County and attended Churchill High School. Then she moved to Fairfax County and had children, who attended McLean High School. Both were fine schools in good systems, with one irritating difference. Simply put, Fairfax high schools set a higher bar for grades than those in Montgomery. To earn an A in Fairfax, it takes a score of 94 to 100. In Montgomery, it takes a score of 90 or higher. Standards for grading in the two counties, including bonus point calculations, are so out of sync that it appears possible for a Fairfax student to earn a 3.5 grade-point average for the same work that gets a Montgomery student a 4.6 GPA.

Parents nationwide are increasingly frustrated with wild variations in grading systems that, they say, are costing their children thousands of dollars in merit-based scholarships and leaving them disadvantaged in college admissions.

Sensitivity to grading is particularly acute in Fairfax and Montgomery -- large, affluent counties that send more students to college each year than other local school systems. But grading disparities also have enraged students and parents elsewhere. In Simsbury, Conn., parents stumbled onto SAT survey data that showed that teachers in their state were unusually tough graders. Just 29 percent of SAT test takers in Connecticut reported A averages, compared with 40 percent in California, 42 percent in Florida and 49 percent in Texas. "There are no effective standards," said Robert Hartranft, a retired nuclear engineer from Simsbury who has scrutinized the issue. "Local grades and local GPAs are a crazy quilt of numerical values and systems."

Fairfax and Montgomery school officials reject the idea that grading discrepancies hurt students. Betsy Brown, Montgomery's director of curriculum and instruction, said colleges know grading systems vary and "work to even out what may be uneven across school systems and differences between private and public schools." Fairfax schools spokesman Paul Regnier said the county's students have done well in college admissions. He said people who want to change grading rules assume that college admissions officials "are inept and can be fooled. We believe it is a bad assumption."

Robert J. Massa, vice president for enrollment at Dickinson College, said his school and others do not depend only on GPAs in awarding merit scholarships. "Parents need to chill out about grades," he said.

But demographer Sara Pacque-Margolis, a Fairfax parent who with Newberger is surveying 60 colleges on this issue, said policies at Indiana University, Purdue University and the University of Miami show that Fairfax penalizes its students by failing to give the same grade-point bonuses as Montgomery for high-level courses. For example, Montgomery awards a bonus point for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate grades; Fairfax gives an extra half-point for AP and IB. Pacqu‚-Margolis said guidelines for merit scholarships at the three universities are based on a minimum SAT or ACT score and GPAs taken from high school transcripts, often inflated by bonus points. She said her son, an Indiana undergraduate, would have received thousands of dollars more in merit-based scholarships over four years if Fairfax had used Montgomery's bonus-point system.

While suburban parents suggest more reliance on the SAT and other national tests, advocates for low-income urban and rural students are calling for the opposite -- more emphasis on classroom grades, in which students from poor families are at less of a disadvantage.

The issue is complex and confusing, with little research to back either side. Governments are spending millions of dollars on analysis of standardized tests, but officials rarely provide much detailed information on grades, even though grades have more of an effect on students' lives. A failing grade on a report card can force a student to repeat a class and jeopardize college admissions, whereas a bad state test score usually has no effect.

In recent years, it has often been parents, not school officials, who have researched grading policies and called for changes. Newberger, a former teacher, and Pacqu‚-Margolis are gathering information they hope will convince Fairfax school officials that county students are hurt by rules that say 94 to 100 percent is an A (90 to 100 is an A in the Maryland suburbs, the District, Arlington and Falls Church). They also complain of bewildering differences in the way local schools award extra points for honors and college-level courses.

Often, teachers find ways to give as many A's as they like, no matter what their school's grading policy is. "Any teacher can make up an assessment on which many students or none will get 90 or 94," grading expert Ken O'Connor said. He has written a book for the Educational Testing Service that says grading standards should be made clearer and that practices such as grading on the curve or on attendance should be eliminated.

Hartranft said he has detected grade variations by year, by region (with New England tougher than the rest of the country) and by subject (with good math and science grades hardest to get). Scholars Philip M. Sadler of Harvard University and Robert H. Tai of the University of Virginia say their data show that high school science grades would be fairer and more consistent if schools added half a grade point for an honors course and one point for AP courses.

According to Hartranft's research, teachers in the Washington area grade harder on average than teachers in the Sunbelt, but are somewhat more generous than those in Connecticut. Among SAT test takers in the Class of 2007 asked about their grades, 38 percent in Maryland, 37 percent in Virginia and 30 percent in the District said they had A-plus, A or A-minus averages. The survey included students from public and private schools. D.C. students who reported A-minus averages had an average combined score of 1127 on the SAT math and reading sections. Maryland's A-minus students had a 1098 combined score and Virginia's a 1095. Connecticut's A-minus students had an 1146, while those in Texas had a 1039. Such data suggest that an A-minus is worth more in some places than others.

A College Board spokeswoman cautioned that the data need more analysis because Hartranft is comparing states with different SAT test-taking rates. Experts also note that the data rely on student recollections of grades, not transcripts.

Some scholars and college officials recommend giving more consideration to grades, despite variations. Researchers Saul Geiser and Maria Veronica Santelices, in a June report for the Center for Studies in Higher Education at the University of California at Berkeley, concluded that high school grades -- like all measures of student achievement -- have flaws but are better predictors of performance in college than standardized test scores. The researchers, looking at the academic records of almost 80,000 U.C. students, said grades have another advantage: They are "much less closely correlated with student socioeconomic characteristics than standardized tests." A college that emphasized grades in admissions would be more likely to find low-income minorities who would do well in college, they said.

"High-school grades provide a fairer, more equitable and ultimately more meaningful basis for admissions decision-making and, despite their reputation for 'unreliability,' remain the best available indicator with which to hazard predictions of student success in college," Geiser and Santelices wrote.


Friday, December 28, 2007

Flunking Free Speech

Post below lifted from Reason. See the original for links

In 1995, the liberal New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis advised his young readers-a constituency he mistakenly assumed existed-that if they felt wounded, were abnormally thin-skinned, or desirous of professorial protection against a delicate sensibility, they might consider enrolling at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, an institution possessing rigorous safeguards against various forms of "harassment." This was all rather surprising to Lewis because, as he noted, "Speech codes at universities had seemed to be on the decline. Several were held unconstitutional. So it is of more than parochial interest that an extraordinarily sweeping code should be proposed in this supposedly liberal-minded state."

It is distressing then that, 12 years hence, these Stakhanovite commissars of sensitivity are still laboring against nature. The virus of teenage insensitivity has proven stubbornly resistant to social engineering schemes. According to a new report from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), an indefatigable organization devoted to protecting free speech on campus, Lewis's decade-old advice has sadly gone unheeded.

FIRE's "Spotlight on Speech Codes 2007" (PDF) found that a full 75 percent of the 346 colleges surveyed "continue to explicitly prohibit various forms of expression that are protected by the First Amendment." To qualify as a "red light" violator-the worst of three designated classifications-a school must have "at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech." These include overly restrictive anti-harassment policies and broadly worded prohibitions against "degrading comments" and "hostile" learning environments. It found further that only 4 percent-yes, 4 percent-of schools surveyed had "no policies that seriously imperil speech."

As reason contributing editor Cathy Young observed in 2004, and as both critical observers and wounded veterans of the previous decade's campus culture wars clearly misunderstood, political correctness, despite a concerted campaign to counter it, has proved surprisingly resilient. And it is doubtless true that FIRE's findings will be all too familiar to those currently enrolled in an American university.

After a period of sustained news coverage in the early 1990s, P.C. outrages went from shocking to de rigueur, with only the truly bizarre, the shocking and outrageous, escaping from the pages of student newspapers into the national-or even regional-press. Thanks to the intercession of FIRE, a recent case at the University of Delaware is a rare exception.

According to a dossier compiled by FIRE, incoming freshman were required to undergo "treatment" (the university's word) by residence hall apparatchiks, and forced "to adopt highly specific university-approved views on issues ranging from politics to race, sexuality, sociology, moral philosophy, and environmentalism." These young scholar-scamps in Wilmington are told solemnly that they are, according to the precepts of the university, carriers of racist original sin: "[A] racist is one who is both privileged and socialized on the basis of race by a white supremacist (racist) system. The term applies to all white people (i.e., people of European descent) living in the United States, regardless of class, gender, religion, culture or sexuality." After pressure from FIRE, the university dumped the program, reluctantly releasing the little Ivan Denisovichs, still tainted by white skin privilege, into a vulnerable academic community.

That university administrators persist in their attempts to indoctrinate students is mystifying, says University of Massachusetts at Amherst professor and FIRE board member Daphne Patai. "What's amazing is that the universities aren't smart enough-and don't care enough about the liberal American tradition and respect for free speech-to, on their own, wise up and not put students through" these programs, she observes.

It should be noted that FIRE isn't, as some of its partisan critics contend, a conservative organization or a legal cudgel for the political right. Indeed, a look through its recent case load shows that while the attempted silencing of conservative viewpoints are overrepresented on campus, the group has defended protesters and political activists on both sides of the ideological divide.

When the University of Central Florida (UCF) prevented members of the (apparently reconstituted) Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) from assembling, FIRE leapt to their defense. According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, when a group of activists donning Burger King masks and wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase "exploitation king" organized a protest against working conditions at the fast food giant, the campus police intervened. "[I]nstead of bringing awareness to their cause," the News-Journal noted, the students "drew the attention of the university police, who told them they had to move into a free-assembly zone or face arrest." Confining free speech to a particular area on campus requires, one presumes, a verbal waiver, absolving the administration from any hurt feelings sustained during debate. At the SDS's behest, FIRE petitioned the university president, calling the establishment of free speech "zones" not only unconstitutional, but "vague, contradictory, and confusing."

According to FIRE, the University of Massachusetts too has made little progress since Lewis's 1995 column. The school still ranks amongst the worst offenders in the 2007 report. Its "red light" status has provoked few, if any, protests on campus, with speech restrictions having apparently long been internalized and accepted by most students. (Indeed, a recent editorial in the UMass campus daily warned against "abusing the right" to free speech-a right, the author contended, constrained by the sensitivities of various ethnic groups.)

This is a hangover from the "speech wars" of the 1990s, during which former UMass chancellor David Scott argued that it was the job of the administration to balance two concepts that "the university holds dear: protection of free expression and the creation of a multicultural community free of harassment and intimidation." To many college administrators and activists, ensuring that the "multicultural community" was "free of harassment" requires that the weapon of free expression be curtailed (just what counts as harassment, after all?). During a meeting with faculty members, a participant in the meeting contemporaneously told me that Scott declared that speech codes weren't an abridgement but an improvement on First Amendment protections.

When Lewis warned of speech codes and the Zamyatin-like atmosphere on campuses like UMass, my erstwhile comrades harrumphed that fiddling with the Constitution was a necessary evil, one that civil libertarians need accept in favor of a more tolerant society. Alas, both predictions were correct. Lewis's fears proved prescient, as the FIRE report demonstrates. The radical activists have, in the short term, been largely successful, presiding over a deeply unfortunate shift in campus values.

Thankfully there exist organizations such as FIRE who have assumed the role of protector of the First Amendment on campus, forcing universities, however incrementally, to roll back policies that violate student's rights.

Britain: Mainstreaming of backward and disabled children not working

Teachers' leaders and opposition MPs have raised the alarm over increasing numbers of special needs children being excluded from schools. Figures unearthed by the Liberal Democrats show that for the first time in years more than half the children being excluded from school have some special need. They place a question mark over the success of the policy of integrating children with disabilities into mainstream schools.

The figures show 55 per cent of all exclusions involved pupils with special needs - up from 45 per cent four years ago. This amounts to 23,300 pupils with a statement outlining their special needs and 164,450 children considered to have special needs but without a statement.

The figures, included in an answer by the Children's minister Kevin Brennan to a parliamentary question by David Laws, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on children, schools and families, has prompted demands for a review of government policy towards "inclusion" - which aims to provide places for children with special needs in mainstream schools.

"Despite only making up a fifth of the school population, more than half of those children excluded have special educational needs," said Mr Laws. He said they risked falling behind in their education as a result of exclusion, adding: "Despite recent warnings from Ofsted and the Parliamentary Select Committee, government policy is continuing to fail children who require extra individual support - not exclusion from school. "I am concerned that ministers are not providing schools with the necessary support to integrate pupils with special needs into mainstream schools. This is likely to create behavioural problems which many headteachers simply don't have the resources to tackle."

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, which has campaigned against disruptive behaviour in school, said it was "concerned" that the drive for inclusion "can lead to these pupils and their teachers being deprived of the specialist support and advice to which they are entitled".

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said that the figures for permanent exclusions of special needs youngsters with statements had fallen since 1997 from 2,250 to 880. The parliamentary figures cover both fixed-term and permanent exclusion and include all children who need special help - regardless of whether they have a statement or not.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Harvard's deep pockets lure bright Brits

A record number of talented British teenagers are snubbing Oxbridge and applying to Ivy League universities, lured by more substantial American bursaries. Students from families whose household income is 90,000 pounds qualify for financial assistance at Harvard. It also recently raised its threshold for free tuition and board for the poorest students.

Leading British schools say that some of their highest-achieving pupils no longer see Oxford and Cambridge as the pinnacle. Instead they are attracted by the broader curriculum and supposedly superior facilities at Ivy League universities - an elite group of eight in the northeast of the United States. It raises fears that the cream of British students will increasingly look abroad, potentially undermining the global standing of our top universities.

The number of British students applying to Harvard was 197 five years ago. By last year it had risen to 290. Applications to Yale from British teenagers have more than trebled from 74 in 1997 to 234 last year. Harvard students whose parents' income is less than 30,000 pounds have all tuition fees, accommodation, living expenses and flights home paid by the university - a package worth almost 25,000. Those with household earnings of between 30,000 and 90,000 pounds have to contribute only between 4 and 10 per cent of their income. Even families earning more than 100,000 can be entitled to assistance if they have dependants such as elderly relatives, or more than one child at university. William Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard, said: "We just take the best people wherever they apply from, and we fly to the UK every year to talk to schools about it."

Leading independent schools said that an increasing number of pupils had set their sights on the Ivy League. Clarissa Farr, High Mistress of St Paul's Girls' School in London, said that about 15 sixth-formers were applying to American universities this year, a big increase on previous years. She said: "They see themselves operating on a worldwide stage. Our students still see Oxbridge as very desirable, but other pinnacles are appearing beyond those mountains." For many, she said, the attraction was that students did not need to choose their specialist subject until their second year. Ms Farr added: "The American universities are very well resourced and their facilities are much bigger. There is also a huge range of scholarships and bursary programmes."

Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College in Berkshire, said that about 10 per cent of his pupils were applying to American universities this year. He said: "I think British universities have had it too easy for too long, with students queueing up to join them. It's a stimulus to British universities and good for them to have some com-petitition. US univerities offer a great deal that UK universities don't: far broader courses, much greater recognition of all-round achievement and richer extracurricular life. They have a more generous student/teacher ratio."

Vicky Tuck, Principal of Cheltenham Ladies' College, said that more than a dozen of her pupils had applied for American universities this year. "There has certainly been an increase over the past two or three years," she said. "Some of the girls see their life prospects being enhanced by going to a good US university. "American universities are so well funded through philanthropic donations, it's just astonishing. I had one pupil from Poland who was offered places at Cambridge and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT had a huge bursary and she couldn't afford to go to Cambridge, so she went to America instead." Mrs Tuck said that in such a competitive markent Oxbridge could start to lose some of its best candidates. "People who want the best will go overseas if they think they're not getting it here."

Students at British universities are now an average of 30,000 pounds in debt when they graduate. But the brightest applicants can emerge debt-free from an American education because at some Ivy League universities admissions tutors have no idea whether applicants can afford their fees and are determined to attract elite students from around the world, regardless of cost. They can easily afford to do so with alumni donations creating huge endowments. Harvard's is worth $35 billion which is more than the combined annual funding for all English universities.


Israel: Knesset panels vote to extend mandatory schooling to age 18

The Knesset's Finance and Education Committees decided Monday morning at a joint meeting to exclude a clause from the Economic Arrangements Law which cancels a law calling for mandatory schooling until the 12th grade. The law was initially filed by the Education Committee's chair, MK Michael Melchior (Labor Meimad).

The Economic Arrangements Law is a hodgepodge of treasury proposals that accompanies the budget every year. It is designed to bypass the regular legislative process to implement reforms and other changes that the Finance Ministry wants to push through quickly and usually without much debate.

In recent days, Melchior held long hearings with the Finance Ministry, concluding with the ministry agreeing to implement the law in exchange for a longer time period for its implementation.

Following Monday's meeting, Melchior said, "The law is underway, with the government committed to its implementation. This is a law that will save thousands of children, including new immigrants and children from rural areas, who will not be able to be expelled from their studies."

The new law, which was passed earlier this year, requires mandatory schooling until the age of 18, instead of the current age 16, enforcing that every child in Israel would have 12 years of schooling. At the time, Education Minister Yuli Tamir opposed the law, as did the coalition, out of concern it would take away from other factors in the ministry's general budget.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Large-scale high school failure in Florida

Kids need to go to community colleges to learn what they should have learnt in High school

Marcus Brown writes sentences the way he text messages. Mike Cote passed the FCAT in high school on the first try, but doesn't always know the difference between its and it's or that "should of" should be "should have." Simone Ashman's words get all jumbled up when she types and sentences come out like this: "The eating disorders is very dangerous because it can cause the person to die from less weight."

The three are recent high school graduates, yet standardized tests show they need remedial - now called "preparation" - classes before they'll be ready for college-level work. About 55 percent of students entering Florida's public colleges and universities find themselves in the same educational purgatory, learning fundamental reading, writing and math skills in college prep classes that they didn't get in high school. Those classes cost taxpayers $70 million in 2005, according to a state report released this year.

This year, more than 29,000 community college students are enrolled in courses to prepare them for college-level classes. Of those, just 52 percent are expected to complete those classes. That means of the 15 or so students sitting with Brown, Cote and Ashman in Palm Beach Community College Professor Valerie Lazzara's English preparation class, about seven are expected to pass their prep courses. "These kids are learning things for the first time in this class," Lazzara said in October, the beginning of a second-level writing class. "Sometimes I wonder if they have undiagnosed learning disabilities. It's like in high school, if they showed up, that was a great thing. That was enough."

A task force charged with reducing the number of students needing college preparation classes made recommendations this month that include requiring all high school students to take more academically rigorous classes and adopting a state definition of "college and career readiness." Colleges have taken the lead in improving remedial pass rates, scheduling courses back-to-back to immerse students in a subject. Also, students are not allowed to take other classes while completing remedial work.

But teachers and students confront more than academic barricades. There are social hurdles, too. In Lazzara's PBCC classroom, the phone number for campus security is written in green on the whiteboard behind her. Early in the semester, the instructor had one student who slept through class. Another turned around in his chair to chat incessantly with the student behind him. Both cursed her out in front of other students when she tried to discipline them, and three weeks into class, she threw them out for good. After one charged menacingly back into the classroom, she began wearing a vial of pepper spray on a cord with keys around her neck.

"There are a lot of them who don't want to be here," said Lazzara, 42, who, after ridding the class of the troublemakers, grew to adore her students. She stopped wearing the pepper spray midway through the semester. "I had to take my class back. There were students who were dedicated from day one." And in the end, after the grueling, make-or-break, 75-minute final essay, one student had perfect attendance, another wrote a story so good it neared a perfect score and a third already was planning her classes at Florida Atlantic University.

In general, Florida has seen little change in the percentage of students needing remedial education. Over the past several years, it has fluctuated between 47 percent and 55 percent... Only Florida's 28 community colleges and Florida A&M University are allowed by law to offer remedial classes.

Some students end up in remedial classes because they are bad test takers, said Judith Klinek, supplemental services director and former principal for the Palm Beach County School District. Others may be adults going to college for the first time, she said. The longer people are out of school, the more likely they'll forget the fundamentals needed to score well on standardized tests. "Overwhelmingly, our students are prepared for college-level work," Klinek said of Palm Beach County graduates. Yet the state has recognized there is a problem of students entering college unprepared.

That's part of the reason then-Gov. Jeb Bush introduced the FCAT in 2000 as a measure of student competence. But the test ends in the 10th grade, meaning it doesn't evaluate what a student needs to know as a high school senior preparing for college. If students take few high-level courses in their junior and senior years, they may graduate but might not be able to pass college-level placement tests.

In 2006, legislators passed bills to increase academic rigor in middle and high school, requiring high school students to take an extra year of math and choose a major field of study. "Just recognizing we need to do something is important," said Judith Bilsky, executive vice chancellor for Florida's community colleges...

Community colleges, however, aren't waiting on the state. Palm Beach Community College is requiring remedial students to take a college skills class that teaches them note-taking and study skills, as well as how to use the campus computer lab and library. This semester, PBCC also changed its scheduling so students take a yearlong course in one semester by taking classes four days a week instead of two....


The facts: Education expansion unlikely to do much good

Comment from Australia

IMAGINE you are Julia Gillard. As the new federal Education and Employment and Workplace Relations Minister, it's your job to reform the Coalition's Work Choices legislation and to implement Labor's election promises on education. You are itching to get started, but wading through the paperwork on your desk you discover two other pressing problems demanding your attention. First, employers are complaining about a skills shortage. After 15 years of sustained economic growth, we are running out of skilled workers. Forecasters predict a shortfall of 250,000 by 2016.

Second, unskilled workers are finding it difficult to get jobs. Official unemployment is at its lowest for 30 years, but many jobless people have been transferring to the Parenting Payment or Disability Support Pension. Many of these people could work but relatively few of them have formal qualifications and most of the new jobs created today are for graduates.

As you ponder how you may solve these two problems, there is a knock at the door and in come representatives of the business community, the education profession and welfare organisations. Speaking with one voice, they demand that you expand education and training. The business groups want an increase in the number of youngsters completing high school. In 1980, one-third of Australian pupils completed Year 12. Today, three-quarters do. But this upward trend has stalled in recent years. The Australia Industry Group says the Year 12 retention rate should be raised to 90 per cent. The educationists agree with this and add that you should expand the universities, too. The number of university places has doubled since 1980 and 40 per cent of young people are in higher education, but the delegation tells you we need more if we want to be a smart country.

The welfare organisations want more training for the unemployed. The Coalition emphasised getting people off welfare and into work. The thinking was that any job was better than no job. But the welfare lobby says jobless people should not be required to take dead-end jobs. They should be trained and given new skills so they can compete for well-paid jobs in the new skills economy.

Relaxing in the bath later, you mull over what you've heard, then: Eureka! You realise you can solve both your problems with the same bundle of policies. Increase Year 12 retention rates, expand university numbers and boost training for jobless adults, and the result will be an increase in the supply of skilled labour and a fall in the number of unskilled, jobless people on welfare. What's more, expanding education and training will be popular. The pressure groups will love you and the voters will get a warm glow. Nobody will criticise you for increasing education spending.

Next morning, you summon your bureaucrats and set out your plans. "First," you tell them, "I want Year 12 retention rates raised to 90per cent." There is some coughing and shuffling of feet before one brave soul outlines the evidence. Pupils doing vocational courses beyond Year 10 receive no benefit when it comes to getting jobs. And while bright students who remain at school improve their earnings and their employability, this is not true for low-ability students. Their risk of unemployment increases with two additional years of schooling and their earnings fall. If you push retention rates beyond their present level, a lot of children will end up taking courses for which they are not suited and that may even damage their prospects.

"Well," you respond, "we can still expand the universities. This country needs more graduates." Another awkward silence. It turns out that 500,000 graduates (more than 20 per cent) are unemployed or doing jobs for which a degree is not required. There are shortages in some specialist areas, but the country is drowning in arts graduates.

You throw your final dice. "Surely," you say, "it makes sense to train jobless people on welfare. Employers report skills shortages, let's train the unemployed to fill these jobs." The same deathly hush. Someone pushes an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report across the desk that shows training jobless adults rarely does any good. Middle-aged women returning to the labour market after rearing families do benefit from training; they are motivated and they have skills that just need brushing up. Few others get anything out of it.

"If you want to solve the skills shortage," one adviser tells you, "it makes more sense to delay early retirements, increase skilled immigration and attract more women back into work. All these people already have skills. "Training unskilled welfare recipients doesn't work."

You send the bureaucrats away. It seems this government lark is more complicated than it appears. Policies that sound attractive don't necessarily work. But how do you break this to the PM? You take a deep breath and pick up the phone. "Hi Kevin, it's Julia."


Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Government schools thrive on Orwellian terms like Separate but Equal [now Different but Equal], More is Less, Education Lottery, Classroom Management and Child [or Student]-Centered Learning. One of my favorites is Classroom Management. Before I try to explain it, let me first show you the results of modern strategies for managing classroom behavior. Recall these tragedies:

Moses Lake, WA (1996) - 3 dead, including teacher; 1 wounded. Shooter opened fire during algebra class.

Pearl, MS (1997) - 3 dead, including shooter's mother; 7 wounded. Shooter said to be Satan worshiper.

West Paducha, KY (1997) - 3 dead; 5 wounded. Shooter shot fellow students as they participated in a prayer circle.

Jonesboro, AR (1998) - 5 dead, including teacher; 10 wounded. Shooters shot fellow students when they rushed outside in response to a false fire alarm.

Edinboro, PA (1998) - 1 dead, a teacher; 2 wounded. Shooting took place at a middle school dance.

Springfield, OR (1998) - 6 dead, including shooter's parents; 22 wounded. Students shot in school cafeteria.

Littleton, CO (1999) - 15 dead, including a teacher and both shooters; 23 wounded. Shooters, who were said to be "Goths," had planned to kill more than 500 students at Columbine High School.

Savannah, GA (2000) - 2 dead. Shooting took place following high school sponsored dance.

Santee, CA (2001) - 2 dead; 13 wounded. Shooter hidden in bathroom as he shot fellow students.

New Orleans, LA (2003) - 1 dead; 3 wounded. Gang-related shooting by four teenagers who were not students at the same high school of their victims.

Red Lake, MN (2005) - 10 dead, including shooter's grandfather and family friend, a school security guard, a teacher and shooter.

("A Timeline of Worldwide School Shootings")

Violence has become commonplace in public schools, but violence isn't the whole story. About a year ago, 12 first and second grade boys were suspended from a St. Louis elementary school after they sexually assaulted an 8-year old girl during recess. Forget about tag being too rough. What about rape?! Who would have imagined boys as young as 6 years old would be so perverted to participate in gang rape? Who'd suspect such beastly behavior from mere babies? And where did these boys get their moral training? The sad truth is most kids learn how to be violent and/or sexual predators at home, but public schools take advantage of this moral depravity in order to turn undisciplined punks into sociopaths.

Dr. Bruce Shortt, The Harsh Truth About Public Schools, Marlin Maddoux, Public Education Against America, and Joel Turtel, Public Schools, Public Menace, tell us that kids are indoctrinated with moral relativism, starting as young as kindergarten. But it's easier to brainwash some kids than others, particularly those that haven't been taught any moral standards at home. If you're a parent who cares about the moral values your child develops, you need to understand who opposes you - other parents and the government school system.

Brainwashing is a multi-step process. Kids want to be accepted by their peers, so they tend to conform to the social pressures of their group. This susceptibility is manipulated by public schools. Those kids left in a moral vacuum at home where the TV does the parenting are easier to brainwash. They have no imprinted values to wash away. Your Christian kids may require some work.

They begin by removing your Christian kids from your Christian home at age 5 and shoving them into an intensely anti-Christian environment. For at least six hours a day, your kids will be taught that the values they learned at home and church don't apply at school. They'll have to "leave it at the door" if they've been taught absolute moral standards. Don't you feel better knowing your 5-year old is learning about safe sex and how homomania is perfectly normal and acceptable, and those who believe otherwise - like you - are homophobic bigots who must have their 1st Amendment rights annulled for the good of the nation?

The government says it's okay for its schools to tell your child he or she is wrong to mention the name of Jesus or Moses but not Mohammed or Buddha. Your child should feel ashamed for believing in Jesus. That guilt will eventually beguile your child into agreeing with the majority, denying your value system and conforming to State-supported Humanist's doctrines like socialism, moral relativism and Darwinism. As children grow older, their lack of fixed moral standards results in confrontations, usually with other students but quite often with The System that manufactured them. But that's okay. They've been brainwashed to believe they evolved from animals, so it's only natural that they act like beasts.

Back in the Stone Age of public schooling, or roughly 40 years ago, kids were still expected to respect each other and especially the teacher. Failure to do so prompted a visit from the original Board of Education, whose wisdom was universally recognized. I recall my 8th grade English teacher explaining her point of view to me personally. When Mrs. Hobbs finished explaining her concept of acceptable behavior, there was no ambiguity on her part or confusion on my part. She got her point across, and I resolved not to displease my teacher - the authority in the classroom in those days.

But a series of court decisions starting in the 1980's put Mrs. Hobbs' attention getter out of business and took her authority with it. All infractions, no matter how severe, must receive due process. The ACLU has taken over the classroom. From now on, no matter what the infraction, authority to enforce the rules is denied. Rules are nominal and discipline has gone the way of literacy. In fact, discipline has been re-defined - reformed. Now we have Classroom Management.

The experts talk in circles and never really define what they mean by classroom management. They'll say that effective teachers manage their classroom while ineffective teachers discipline their classroom. They fail to explain who manages the discipline when discipline is what's needed most to get certain students to sit down, be quiet, be respectful and do their assigned work. One thing is certain; the teacher has no authority to do anything! His or her classroom does not belong to him anymore. Besides, he is not a teacher anymore but a facilitator - one who facilitates endless classroom discussions, occasionally discussions that appertain to the information that used to be taught back when teachers were allowed to teach.

I'm not saying the teacher can't do a lot to set up his classroom in an orderly way to alleviate possible disruptions in the daily routine. And I agree with the concept of displaying a list of academic and behavioral expectations - call them rules - so that students understand what is expected of them. But what do you do with those students who defy the rules? They know from kindergarten, no rule is absolute. Lying, cheating, stealing, adultery, even murder are justifiable, depending on the situation. [See situation ethics.] Here's what the experts will advise you to do if a student breaks a nominal rule:

Verbally warn that student not to break the rule again. [Try not to shake your finger as you issue this verbal reprimand.]

If student persists, give the student a written warning not to break the rule again. [Please use recycled paper but save a copy for your records. You'll need it in court.]

If student persists, call mom and/or dad. [This is more fun than plucking nose hairs.]

If student persists, refer student to an administrator. [First update your resume.]

Usually, the administrator will respond to your referral form in two or three days. Meanwhile, the student brags there is no consequence for violating rules. If the administrator decides in the teacher's favor, the student may get a written warning from the administrator, be assigned to ISS [In-school Suspension] or OSS [Out-of-School Suspension]. The latter is used sparingly for doing so makes the student absent from school, causing the school system to lose funding, which is based on the average number of students present for school each day. Yet another option is to send serious offenders to an Alternative School, sort of a mini-prison for students who've committed violence or found in possession of illegal drugs. The school system keeps its funding, and these students get hands-on experience at the prison life many of them will come to know before they reach 18.

Quite often the administrator does not decide in favor of the teacher. Teachers who refuse to follow modern, multicultural teacher strategies [The Seven Deadly Sins of Public Education] will not get cooperation from administrators, parents or school boards. These teachers are targeted for elimination for not being "team players."

One afternoon as I was monitoring the hallway between classes, a wanna-be gang member stepped in front of me. He asked me what I'd do if he spit in my face. Without hesitation, I told him I'd rip his lips off. He tried to smile and look tough. His buds laughed at him as he stepped back, turned and slumped away. Since we were having an English department meeting with the principal that afternoon, I relayed the almost-incident. My principal took a deep breath, shook his head and stared across the room. I was one of those teachers he and his assistant wanted to make unpersons, so I suspected he was going to vaporize me. Instead, he said he couldn't blame me if I reacted that way, but if it ever really happened, please report to his office immediately and bring the punk's lips with me.

I was glad his assistant principal wasn't there. She'd have had me shot. She was the reason the aforementioned young man thought he could be so disrespectful in the first place. When I referred him and a few of his buds for disrupting my class one day, she went after me, not them. She claimed their behavior was my fault, that because I was expecting them to actually read their literature assignment, something diverse learners are never required to do, I was "frustrating them" and "they were simply acting out their frustrations" in my class. Classroom management skills - that's what I needed, not the authority to deal with undisciplined punks before they hurt someone. That dear lady is the reason I decided to quit teaching and a major motivation behind my writing Legally STUPiD. Thanks, Brookie.

Christian parent, you love your kids and try to teach them right from wrong. Please understand though that most parents only teach their kids wrong, and so their children are going to be the perfect bad example for your kids to follow or be injured by. Please understand too that public schools are going to go beyond bad examples and brainwash your children to believe what the State wants them to believe. Finally, please understand that when you turn your kids over to government schools, you forfeit your parental rights. Maybe you shouldn't put them in public schools in the first place.



This last year I can hardly take a breath as I hear of assault after assault on parents, marriage, our children and our most basic traditions! You may recall the wonderful and glowing news of some schools now handing out birth control to our 11 year old girls! Us pesky parents should know that our 5th graders will be sleeping around and they have to have protection from pregnancy. You know as I do with the economy stretched in a time of war, abortions are expensive for a little girl. Lets try and keep her from them.

Of course, what am I thinking...some schools in California will get your girl to an abortion clinic without even telling us parents. After all, it is confidential information. Why should a concerned parent know if their 13 or14 year old is doing something silly and small like MURDER and possibly hemorrhaging on a mystery-operating table? It is their right. WE HAVE NONE! Especially if you are a nasty Christian and actually think sleeping around and getting pregnant before marriage is wrong!!

Then there was good old Arnold and friends in California cleaning house of nasty, evil and racist words in school books like...Mommy and Daddy...Husband and Wife..Just think of the hatred behind those words. I have made the hideous mistake of saying them a few times, LIVE, on my national radio show. I am hoping the FCC doesn't fine my socks off!

They had to start purging the textbooks because a few gays, tries, flies, bies, trands and SHAMS might feel left out. Its just plain homophobe, racist and mentally ill to not include everyone in textbooks so lets wipe out the VAST MAJORITY OF FAMILIES in the USA!

Ok, what are the new books from hell going to define family as??? "Suzie loves her parents...4 lesbians, 2 gay guys, 1 transgender, 3 undecideds, 2 dogs, a lizard, the ACLU, and an atheist Judge?"

So, this Christmas season I pause to reflect that I am a fossilized parent who wants to apparently deny the sexual rights of my children and actually guide them morally. How evil and short sighted of me. Oh yeah..mental also. Lets ad up the list of syndromes I have..Islamaphobe, homophobe, illegal alienaphobe.just to name a few. There is not enough medication for me!

The latest news I heard this week was about Judge Scott Johansen in Utah threatening to cease a Mom's children if she dared to home school them. She had been doing home schooling for 9 years and of course that was her right...but then again...the BIG and GRUMPY parent, the Judge and the public school had different definitions of rights. After all, if she continued to home school her children, they might not experience the joys of "gay silence day in school to honor gay kids," or get the much needed birth control pills, or hear the communist and atheistic roots of our country in history class. Christian roots be dammed. Truth of our history and support for our country be dammed.

In horror from the threat of losing her children, the Utah Mom enrolled her kids in public school. She has obviously rethought this and has since abandoned her very home, furniture and and fled to an undisclosed house in another state. She has no beds, no furniture, must be absolutely exhausted with this stupid fight from hell, but at least she is exercising her parental rights and caring the best she can for her kids.

Its absurd with all the fights put in our face these days that we must now work hard to protect our rights as parents and kids against rogue judges, many public schools, the ACLU and other pervert, anti American groups who want to indoctrinate and pollute the minds and bodies of our precious children.

Stand up and fight for your parental rights and protect your children!!! If you stand it may be easy. It may get ugly. It may be expensive and IT MIGHT SAVE THE HEART AND SOUL OF YOUR CHILD! Guide them with real morals, not politically correct bull rot! Here are a few tips for those of you who might be confused. This is what I have told my 11 year old girl. "It is physically dangerous and morally dead wrong for you to sleep around and have sex before marriage. Lets talk about those feelings, temptations and societal messages you hear in school and on the TV. I will support you as you grow, develop and struggle with sexuality but you will not have sex and I won't allow it even if you want it...I love you and I will not turn you over to a trend, a physical temptation..and Satan.

If your kids are in a public school, stand up and be heard. Find out what is actually being taught to your children. Demand real history is taught in the school your kids go to and find out what "special" sex group is being crammed down their throat. If you find your public school is a nightmare of indoctrination, pull your kids out and find another alternative, like home schooling. Merry Christmas! Keep fighting the good fight and pray for our country.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Surprise! Seattle's gifted program has mostly white kids in it

And I'm guessing that a lot of the others are Asian

An outside review of gifted education in Seattle Public Schools said the district should act aggressively to diversify its program. Almost three-quarters of the students enrolled in the Accelerated Progress Program (APP) are white, compared to about 40 percent districtwide. Concerns about APP were noted by a group of consultants from the University of Virginia who were hired by the district to review the program. Their report was released today.

About 1,500 students in APP are admitted after testing in the 98th or 99th percentile nationally in cognitive ability and reading and math skills. They can spend almost their entire public-school experience together, starting at Lowell Elementary School, on to Washington Middle and finishing at Garfield High. But according to the report, APP is perceived to be "elitist, exclusionary and even racist," and that some of its African-American students are bullied and isolated. Administrators are committed to addressing issues of racial and socio-economic diversity, the report added.

The report also raised concern about student selection, saying admission to the program relies too much on a single test and is unfair to low-income students and students without parental support. "I think that we are going to work really hard to bring [up] the representation of all the different students in our advanced learning programs," said Bob Vaughan, director of advanced learning for the district. "The process we have now for selection is not sufficient."

The program's curriculum lacks vision, the report said, and rigor in classes is inconsistent. "The philosophy and definition of giftedness in Seattle do not reflect current developments in the field of gifted education," it said. The review is one of several the district has launched, including evaluations of curriculum, special education and alternative programs.


D.C. education chief says school choice shouldn't be reserved for the rich

"I see it as a social justice issue--I want them all to be in excellent schools. The kids in Tenleytown are getting a wildly different educational experience than the kids in Anacostia, so our schools are not serving their purpose." So says D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who has brought an unusual sense of urgency to her new job. One of her first decisions was to get rid of the furniture. When she arrived last summer, she says, there was a whole area, complete with couch and chair and TV for lounging in her sprawling, pink-carpeted office. Wasted space, she thought, "When am I ever going to have time to sit?"

That was a pretty good prediction for a woman whose first five months on the job have been a whirlwind of jousting with the dinosaurs in the city's education bureaucracy. So far, in her quest to turn around the public school system, she's taken on the unions, the city council and, most recently, hundreds of angry central-office workers.

This week, the city council gave preliminary approval to Chancellor Rhee's request for authority to fire nonunion employees in the central office. She knew it was going to be a political firestorm, but she's worked hard to convince her skeptics that protecting an ossified bureaucracy isn't in anyone's best interests. "I think it's a critical piece of this equation," she says of the personnel legislation, "and if someone like me can come in, guns blazing, and make all the hard calls . . . we can actually see how much progress we can make for the kids."

In a chic gray suit, with her black hair long and loose, the 37-year-old Korean-American does not fit the profile of the usual urban school superintendent. Nor does she have the most first-hand experience with the education bureaucracy she is trying to wrangle. After teaching for three years in a tough school in Baltimore, she spent the majority of her career running The New Teacher Project, a group that studies best practices in school systems nationwide. She figured her value was as an external player, poking and prodding from the outside, and her first thought about the chancellor job was "absolutely not." The reason she changed her mind was Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Her name first came to Mayor Fenty's attention through Joel Klein, the chancellor of the New York City School system. She was known as an out-of-the-box thinker, a relentless advocate of reform. And that made her just what the young mayor was looking for. The alliance she and the mayor formed that day is now one of the strongest cards in the chancellor's hand. Their agreement was that as long as she acted in the best interests of the kids, he would back her up no matter how loud the screaming of the unions and community groups. "And since then, he has been unwavering," Ms. Rhee says with a note of awe in her voice. "He has never ever said to me, well, we need to think of the political ramifications."

That commitment is facing one of its toughest public tests, with the chancellor's plan to close 23 schools citywide--18 more than any other chancellor in the city's history dared propose. Parents and community groups are screaming bloody murder. The night before our interview, Ms. Rhee and her staff held their first local meeting to hear from her constituents directly. When several hundred irritable residents showed up, her staff was mapping the exits. "I came out of it and I was like, 'That wasn't that bad" the chancellor laughs now. "My staff looks at me like, 'You are crazy.'"

Yes, she understands the grieving process. "People have to have the opportunity to vent, to be angry, and they want to do that at me specifically," she says. Less tolerable is the politics that always seems to run against real reform. "I sat in a meeting where one of the City Council members said, you can close down as many schools as you need to, just not in my ward."

When she's not closing schools with low enrollment, she's building on those that are succeeding--with expanded campuses and courses, from music classes to gifted programs. One she looks to as a model is Langdon Elementary, where the percentage of poor minority students is very high and so are achievement levels. Why? The answer begins with a committed principal communicating her priorities and standards to her staff.

Another is Peabody, a small school on Capitol Hill that's pre-kindergarten through second grade, and running a program for three- and four-year-olds that has a long wait list. "People cry when they don't get in and that sort of thing," she says. With Ms. Rhee's help, the school's leadership and faculty are expanding to four more sites. "Why wouldn't we?"

To be effective, Ms. Rhee believes, reforms must begin with the people closest to the children. When she first took the job, she made time to meet individually with all 159 principals in the school system. "People thought I was crazy, and it was very time consuming," she says, "but it was the best use of time . . . it was very telling." Telling of what? Ms. Rhee quickly came to the conclusion that principals who were succeeding in their schools were her best resource. They were the ones who could tell her what she needed to do. She called in a group of top-tier principals and asked them for their wish lists: "I called them together and told them, 'You're the unsung heroes. This place creates such a bureaucracy that you can't get stuff done efficiently. Be creative, tell me what you want to do.'"

At first, the principals looked at her blankly. "They were like, what? And then when they got it, they were so excited." One principal asked for permission to run her school as a STEM school--focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. And she said that she wanted to keep her kids all the way through 8th grade. She explained that if parents had a school they believed in, they'd be less likely to take them out of the public system.

Those are important strides being made on the ground level. But reform also means, inevitably, taking an axe to dead wood elsewhere in the system. In the case of the plan to reclassify the 545 central-office workers as "at will" employees, Ms. Rhee's plan for reform is on delicate ground with the city's powerful public-sector unions. Though the administrative workers aren't union employees, her plan hasn't sat well with labor leaders, including those for bus drivers, cafeteria workers and clerical workers. Explains Ms. Rhee, they said, "We're opposed to this because our job is not just to protect our members but to protect the rights of all workers. We think you're going to start with them and then we're going to be next." She says she respects George Parker, head of the teachers union. "I believe he has the best interests of the kids at heart" and supports reform. But it's a struggle to bring along his rank and file, and the forces of inertia. "I think that somebody like me coming along has probably made his life more difficult."

Ms. Rhee grew up in Toledo and went on to school at Cornell and Harvard before joining Teach for America, the program that landed in her at Harlem Park Elementary in Baltimore. She taught second grade, and the 36 kids in her class ran her ragged. "It was a life altering experience for me and the reason I'm here today." She says that she and a colleague worked day and night to prepare for their classes, and saw their group of kids go from the bottom of the heap to where 90% of them were scoring above the 90th percentile. "I don't believe you can do this work, or be engaged in it at any level, unless you believe in your core that poor minority kids can achieve at the highest level despite all the obstacles."

Ms. Rhee says that her mission is not incremental change, and she doesn't plan on making being a school superintendent a career. "This is a one-time gig for me," she laughs, "so I can make every single decision in a way in which I think is in the best interests of the kids--without the politics, without owing people, just with that in mind." And her motivation? She's a working mother with two daughters in the school system. "That gives me a different sense of urgency about my work."

Mayor Fenty is the first D.C. mayor to have direct control of the city schools (in lieu of a school board)--a set-up that's also been key to turnaround efforts in Chicago, New York and Boston. There's a powerful demand for quality education in the nation's capital that hasn't been met by the public school system, as evidenced by the 30% of the district's kids who attend charter schools. "For way too long in this country, choice in education was something that was reserved for rich people in the suburbs," Ms. Rhee says.

That same desire for innovation in the schools has been behind the success of the District's Opportunity Scholarship Program--the country's first federal voucher program. Signed by President Bush in 2004, the program gives around 1,900 students from low-income families up to $7,500 to attend private schools of their choice. The five-year pilot program is up for renewal next year, but Ms. Rhee doesn't see school choice as a threat to her mission in the public schools. She shakes her head. "I would never, as long as I am in this role, do anything to limit another parent's ability to make a choice for their child. Ever."

Instead, she sees the competition presented by school choice and charter schools as part of the process of raising standards in the public school system at large. "We have an excellent choice dynamic for parents here. . . . I'm a huge proponent of choice, but I'm also an unbelievably competitive person, and my goal is . . . to create schools within the system that I believe are the most compelling choices."

People have tried to get her to commit to a ratio of public schools to charter schools. Ms. Rhee won't play that game. "I don't enter this with defensiveness, about protecting [D.C. public schools'] share of the market. I believe we should proliferate what's working and close down what's not. Period."

She says she keeps hearing from worried city council members that some teachers and administrators are frightened of her. They are feeling pressure and that's a problem. Her answer? Get used to it. "I'm going to hold people accountable and I'm going to hold their feet to the fire. If they're feeling pressure--good! I feel pressure every day because I have the education of 49,000 kids in my hands"


Students so much more than future cogs in the great GDP machine

Comment from Australia by Kevin Donnelly

WHAT is the purpose of education? Judged by the Australian Labor Party's education policy and subsequent comments by Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Julia Gillard, the answer is straightforward. In a recent interview in this paper, Gillard, on being asked the core purpose of her portfolio, replied: 'So while my portfolio can be a mouthful, I'll be happy to be referred to simply as 'the minister for productivity'.' Such a utilitarian view of education is mirrored by Labor's policy document entitled Establishing a National Curriculum to Improve Our Children's Educational Outcomes, released last February.

The opening paragraph, in justifying the need for a nationally consistent curriculum in core areas such as mathematics, the sciences, English and history, argues: 'For Australia to succeed in a highly competitive global economy, our children need to have the best education possible. 'Better education outcomes deliver a real and tangible benefit to our nation's economy, lifting productivity and allowing people to get better jobs that pay more.' Referring to a speech by Productivity Commission head Gary Banks, Labor's national curriculum paper justifies investing more in education by linking raised standards to increased productivity and building human capital. Another paper released early this year, Federalist Paper 2: The Future of Schooling in Australia, written on behalf of state and territory governments, also justifies the needto strengthen standards by linking education to higher economic efficiency and workforce participation.

In justifying his offer to buy computers for all Australian senior school students -- ignoring the fact the overwhelming majority already have access to computers -- and to provide internet connection, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd repeats the mantra that students need to be information-rich and computer-literate to succeed in the knowledge economy of the 21st century.

For many years the cultural Left, represented by groups such as the Australian Education Union, the Australian Council for the Deans of Education and the Australian Curriculum Studies Association, has argued that a competitive, academic curriculum is elitist and guilty of reinforcing disadvantage. The solution? Force the education system to be more socially inclusive by promoting equality of outcomes and enforce a politically correct curriculum.

Gillard is also Social Inclusion Minister and it is here that one finds a second justification for Labor's so-called education revolution. Put simply, and harkening back to Gough Whitlam's wasteful disadvantaged schools program, the purpose of education is to remedy economic and social inequality. That social inclusion is central to the Rudd Government's education revolution is evident by a speech given by Gillard at an Australian Council of Social Service conference just before the federal election. Gillard said that education was critical to social inclusion and that a Rudd government would quickly establish a social inclusion board, with a social inclusion unit placed within the PM's Department.

There is an alternative to defining the value of education by its ability to increase productivity and reduce social inequality. Instead of restricting the work of schools to economic objectives and what often amounts to utopian social engineering, the true value of education lies in its cultural dimension; its ability to cultivate and enrich the moral, emotional, spiritual and intellectual aspects of individuals and the society in which they live.

David Green, an analyst at the London-based Institute of Economic Affairs, summarising an address to the Mont Pelerin Society given by English historian Max Hartwell, describes this cultural view of education as embracing 'civility, morality, objectivity, freedom and creativity. By civility he (Hartwell) means respect for other people; by morality, the elementary maxims such as honesty and fairness; by objectivity, belief in the disinterested examination of facts and arguments, without fear or favour; by freedom, the principle that children should be equipped to exercise personal responsibility; and by creativity, belief in the advance of knowledge, not the perfectibility of man, but the possibility of progress.' Music, literature, history and art may not have any immediate application or practical use, but to ignore them is to give students an impoverished, superficial and largely barren education. It should also never be forgotten that much of contemporary culture is driven by the need to make a profit and to entertain, and thus provides little of lasting or real value.

US writer and child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim and American academic Joseph Campbell argued that literature, especially those myths, fables and legends associated with the Western tradition and classic texts such as Euripides's Medea, Homer's Iliad and the works of Shakespeare, deal with human nature in a profoundly moving and illuminating way. Such works also introduce students to archetypes and emotional and existential challenges that define what it is to be human.

The purpose of studying history is not only to learn about the past to better understand the present and to predict the future; equally as important is the way history allows individuals to partake in a narrative that provides meaning and a sense of belonging to something larger and more enduring than one's day to day routine.

Music and art, especially that of the great masters, helps cultivate a sense of the spirit and the sublime and, once again, while not of immediate economic use, can enrich one's character and, to use poet William Blake's phrase, cleanse the doors of perception; allowing a richer and more nuanced understanding of the world. With schools being forced to embrace a managerial approach to education, where accountability and testing prevail, the dangers of ignoring and undervaluing a cultural view of education are plain to see. As shown by research sponsored by the Australian Scholarship Group and released last October, one-third of those students interviewed felt stressed and unable to cope with the demands of school and peer relationships.

Melbourne-based adolescent psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg also suggests all is not well, observing that many young people feel disengaged, and lack resilience and a sense of purpose in life; hence the rising tide of youth suicide, street violence and the endemic drug culture associated with city nightlife.

Although there is no guarantee that the type of liberal education associated with studying literature, history, music and art will address such concerns, it is also true that education represents a powerful humanising force and, as suggested in the Bible and epitomised by the Christian ritual of Christmas, man does not live by bread alone.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Judge investigated for homeschooling threat

A threat by a Utah judge to take away a homeschooling mom's children if she failed to enroll them in public school, and make sure they were in attendance every day, has been escalated to the level of the state Legislature, according to a homeschooling leader. "I can tell you there are several legislators working on this, including one on the judicial retention committee," John Yarrington, president of the Utah Home Education Association, said. "There's no excuse for this kind of bias and prejudice."

At issue are the threats issued by Judge Scott Johansen, who serves in the juvenile division of the state's 7th Judicial District. He said in a court hearing for the homeschooling mom, Denise Mafi, that he would order the removal of her children from her custody if she failed to enroll her children in the public school district and keep them in class every day, unless they had a physician's note excusing them. Mafi, who has homeschooled for nine years, told WND that she already had enrolled the children, for fear the judge would carry out his threat.

WND earlier reported the confrontation developed after the school district apparently lost an affidavit Mafi had submitted for the 2006-2007 school year. Mafi already had submitted her state-mandated affidavit for the 2007-2008 school year for her children, and had received her exemption. However, when she appeared in court with her juvenile son to have the charges dismissed (under a case held in abeyance procedure) stemming from a clash among children, she suddenly was presented with four counts against her for failing to comply with the state's compulsory education requirement. The counts each carry up to six months in jail.....

WND contacted the judge's court, but was told to call the state judiciary's office, and a spokeswoman confirmed that the situation was being reviewed, but she couldn't comment on a pending case. The district attorney's office didn't return a telephone request for comment.

Yarrington said a lawyer for the UHEA is working on the case, as are lawyers for the Home School Legal Defense Association. He said court records show the judge told the woman that she was in court with her son "because you homeschool," even though the case at hand had nothing to do with homeschooling. And the judge told the woman that homeschooling fails 100 percent of the time and he wasn't going to allow it.

"This guy's nuts. He has no clue," Yarrington said. "He's [stepped] on so many rights it's ridiculous." The lawyers were awaiting the remaining paperwork in her dispute before taking their next step, Yarrington said. He said the judge would have to be "insane" to try to get away with such actions. But he's not entirely surprised, because there have been "a quite a few of these situations," in Utah in recent years. "We're constantly in a push and shove with districts, and sometimes with the state school board," he said, even though a recent state law limits the state and district involvement in homeschoolers' lives if they file the required affidavit annually.

He also said the group constantly advises parents to send the affidavits in by registered mail or another service that provides a written confirmation of delivery. That apparently is what Mafi failed to do. "Unfortunately, people get in a hurry, and they don't know about this 'Gotcha,'" used by school districts, he said. No numbers are compiled on such situations by homeschool groups, often because homeschool parents frequently seek their own legal advice and get their situations resolved without informing the association, Yarrington said. But he said he knows of "numbers" of such situations. "Several districts have gotten cranked up and decided to show how tough they are," he said.

He said he was aware of one recent case in which a mother was charged with violating state law regarding educational neglect and truancy even though she had a doctor's note regarding her son's absences, a health situation that prompted her to move to homeschooling. "This fine principal actually called the doctor. That's way outside the bounds," Yarrington, who represents about 7,500 homeschooling families in Utah, said. "The principal gave the doctor the kid's name, and said, 'Is there any reason this kid can't come back to school?' "The doctor, without the case in front of him, said, 'It's probably okay,'" he said.

Cracking down on homeschooling is "pretty obviously" a goal of the state, he said, although state officials disagreed. Scott Peterson, of the state Department of Education, said there are more than 8,000 homeschooled students in the state, many of them who choose to continue to participate in various classes or activities at their local school districts. But he admitted comments such as Johansen's have no place in education. Asked if he thought the judge was out of line, he replied, "If that is what he said, it would be, yes."

Homeschool officials said local school districts get about $7,500 per student in tax payments, but the state said that figure was closer to $2,500, although there were additional funds that also were involved.

As WND has reported, such threats and actions are becoming more common in Germany, but that nation still makes homeschooling illegal under a law launched when Hitler expressed a desire to control the minds of youth....


Australia: National literacy exams planned for all schools

If the new Leftist Federal government doesn't overturn them. But Leftist State governments have agreed to it all so the only immediate peril is dumbing the whole thing down

SPELLING, grammar and punctuation will be assessed nationally for the first time next year with the introduction of uniform tests for students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9. The national literacy and numeracy tests, to be held over three days in May, will include an extra test on language conventions in the literacy assessment, in addition to reading and writing. The language conventions test will comprise about 50 questions, half on spelling, half on grammar and punctuation.

Sample tests show that Year 3 students will be asked to correct misspelt words in sentences such as "we jumpt on the trampoline", choose the correct tense of a verb to insert in a sentence and show where quotation marks or capital letters should go. By Year 9, students will be asked to correct misspellings such as "apreciate" and "seperate", place apostrophes and identify whether "a" in the sentence "a product" is a noun, definite article or indefinite article.

The national testing regime includes separate tests on reading, writing and numeracy, with students in years 7 and 9 to sit two for maths, one using calculators and one without. In reading, students will be given several passages of writing of different styles, varying in number from six for Year 3 students to eight in Year 9, and asked to answer mostly multiple choice questions. The writing task next year is to compose a narrative, with students in all years given the same brief. The sample question is based on discovery, and gives students half a dozen sentences about people discovering new ideas, objects or secrets, from which they are expected to write astory. Previously, states and territories set literacy and numeracy tests in years 3, 5 and 7. Results were manipulated to compare students in different jurisdictions against national benchmarks.

Under pressure from the Howard government, the states and territories agreed to replace their tests with common literacy and numeracy tests and include Year 9 students in the assessment. University of Western Australia professor Bill Louden, who has written reports on literacy education, said constructing a separate test for spelling and grammar was a better way of assessing students' skills than marking it as a part of a writing assignment. Professor Louden, head of the graduate school of education at UWA, said parents, teachers and employers tended to regard students' spelling and grammar as markers of their quality. "Students may not be aware people draw all sorts of inferences from the general ability to spell and construct grammatical sentences, so tests are important to draw students' attention to that," he said.

Australian Education Union acting federal president Angelo Gavrielatos had concerns that a national testing regime was being introduced before the development of a national curriculum. "We appear to be going at this the wrong way; we're talking about reporting first then assessment before we've had a conclusive discussion about curriculum," he said. "Curriculum must be centre stage."

Terry Aulich, executive officer of the Australian Council of State School Organisations representing government school parents, said the tests should be trialled on adults as well as on the students to ensure they were an accurate reflection of ability. Mr Aulich expressed concern about the sophisticated language skills required in the sample tests, with the use of words such as "dugong" and "habitat" in the Year 3 reading test, which he said were not part of the average eight-year-old's vocabulary



Today's posts on TT are school-relevant so I reproduce them below

Student Claims Teacher Asked Her to Cover Up Lesbian-Themed Shirt

I am inclined to see the ACLU as the good guys in this one -- though if the message had been ANTI-homosexual they would have been nowhere to be seen:

"A Virginia high school student said she was asked by a teacher to cover up a lesbian-themed shirt or face suspension.

Bethany Laccone, 17, said she was asked to cloak a logo of two interlocked female symbols while attending a class this month at I.C. Norcom High School in Portsmouth. She's a full-time senior at nearby Woodrow Wilson High School, where she has not faced a similar ultimatum.

In a letter sent Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia asked Norcom administrators to remove any mention of the incident from Laccone's records and agree not to similarly censor other students.

The school's dress code prohibits "bawdy, salacious or sexually suggestive messages." ACLU leaders want administrators to clarify that students can express political views.


Ohio Teens Sue High School over Facebook 'Parody'

We read:

"Three teenagers have sued school officials over lengthy suspensions they received for setting up a Facebook page that identifies a teacher as a pedophile. The entry on the social networking site included the face and last name of the teacher and referred to him as a member of the North American Man/Boy Love Association, which supports sex between men and boys.

"They're not saying it's true, they're saying it's just parody," the students' attorney, Marc Mezibov, said Friday. The boys were suspended from Taylor High School for the maximum 90 days for creating the entry in November. They've served 10 days and were told the rest of the punishment would begin Jan. 2, when classes resume after the holiday break.

U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott ordered school officials to let them return pending a hearing on the lawsuit Jan. 10. "Each of the boys has written an apology to the teacher and questioned whether they exercised their best judgment," their attorney, Marc Mezibov, said Friday.

The students and their parents filed the federal lawsuit Dec. 14 after the Three Rivers School District board voted to uphold the punishment. They argue that the Facebook entry should be considered protected speech because it was parody. The plaintiffs also allege the district overstepped its bounds because the Web page was created away from school with access limited to seven people, Mezibov said.....

There have similar cases across Ohio and the country, said Scott Greenwood, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney. Courts have ruled that students can't be punished by schools for such off-campus acts and that such suspensions violate free speech, he said.


The "parody" claim seems far-fetched but it sounds like a private communication to me -- so would seem to be covered by privacy protection. If all negative private communications had to withstand legal assault we would be in a huge mess.