Thursday, January 17, 2008

Stupid attack on home-schoolers by the NYT

Post below lifted from Taranto. See the original for links. Note further that even if the circumstances were as the NYT would have us believe, one would have to compare the death-rate among homeschooled children with the death-rate among government-schooled children. I don't think there is any doubt about how THAT would pan out!

Four girls in the District of Columbia were allegedly murdered last year, and a New York Times news story suggests the root cause is . . . home schooling? Here's how the report begins:
Ten states and the District of Columbia, where Banita M. Jacks was charged on Thursday with four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of her four daughters, have no regulations regarding home schooling, not even the requirement that families notify the authorities that they are educating their children at home.

The lack of supervision of the home-schooling process, some experts say, may have made it easier last year for Ms. Jacks to withdraw her children from school and the prying eyes of teachers, social workers and other professionals who otherwise might have detected signs of abuse and neglect of the girls. Instead, the children, ages 5 to 17, slipped through the cracks in multiple systems, including social services, education and law enforcement. Their decomposed bodies were discovered earlier this week by United States marshals serving eviction papers on the troubled family.

The absence of any home-schooling regulations in Washington is largely the result of advocacy and litigation by the Home School Legal Defense Association.

The report goes on to concede that "for sure, the fact that Ms. Jacks's children last attended school in March in no way accounts for their deaths." The home-schooling link looks even more tenuous when you look at the Washington Post account of the case. On Sunday, the Post reports, Mayor Adrian Fenty fired six child-welfare workers, saying they "just didn't do their job." It turns out that the girls' absence from school was noted at the time:
The girls were killed sometime in late spring or summer, authorities believe. But they were alive when a school social worker, with growing alarm, tried to get child welfare workers to look in on the family. . . . "From what I could see, the home did not appear clean," the social worker, Kathy Lopes, said in a call to police April 30. "The children did not appear clean, and it seems that the mother is suffering from some mental illness and she is holding all of the children in the home hostage."

Lopes first visited the Jacks home April 27, after Brittany Jacks, 16, missed 33 days of school and no one answered a phone at the house. "The parent was home. She wouldn't open the door, but we saw young children inside the house," Lopes said to a hotline worker at the city's Child and Family Services Agency. "Her oldest daughter, who is our student, was at home. She wouldn't let us see her." The operator took the information and reminded Lopes, who was clearly distraught that she could not talk to Brittany, that Jacks did not have to let her inside the home. . . .

Although a social worker made at least two visits to Jacks's home, in the 4200 block of Sixth Street SE, no one answered the door to the rowhouse either time. Less than three weeks later, Child and Family Services staff members closed the case after receiving an unconfirmed report that the family had moved to Maryland.

The Post also has a timeline of Jacks's contacts with various city agencies--five of them in all. It does appear as if Lopes, the school social worker, was the only bureaucrat who took any real interest in the girls' well-being. But this was true even under the district's laissez-faire regime for home schooling, and it's hard to see how the sort of regulations the Times reporter implicitly advocates would have helped.

For the sake of argument, though, let's assume that stricter home-schooling regulations would have some beneficial impact in terms of protecting children from abuse. This would come at the cost of burdening thousands of legitimate home-schooling families, the overwhelming majority of which are not abusive, by intruding into their very homes.

Whether this trade-off would be worth it is a legitimate topic for debate. But it's worth noting that the Times usually has little patience for those who value safety over privacy, as, for example, in the case of wiretapping terrorists. Are home schoolers more of a menace than al Qaeda?

Britain trying to discourage academic education

Probably a good thing on the whole. A British academic education these days is mostly Leftist indoctrination

Teachers are to be banned from encouraging their pupils to study A levels rather than the Government's controversial new vocational diploma qualifications under legislation that is going through Parliament. A clause in the Education and Skills Bill, to be debated in Parliament today, says that schools will be forbidden from "unduly promoting any particular options" to teenagers seeking advice on courses.

The move has been criticised by academics, who say that the Government is desperate for the diplomas to succeed at all costs. Others fear that the new and "impartial" mortgage-style advice will not be in the best interests of pupils as teachers unconvinced of the worth of the diplomas will be unable to pass on their concerns to either them or their parents.

The qualifications are designed to end the divide between vocational and academic learning and will be offered at some schools from September and across England and Wales by 2013. Ministers are promoting diplomas as the "jewel in the crown" of the education system. Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, recently said that they would become the "qualification of choice" and refused to confirm that A levels would survive beyond a review in 2013.

However, the diplomas programme has been met with concern and caution by many employers and universities, with some yet to declare that they will accept them. Teachers are equally uncertain how they will work in practice. Academics, union leaders and educational experts said last night that the clause in the Bill puts schools and teachers in an impossible position.

Alan Smithers, Professor of Education at the University of Buckingham, said that it undermined teachers, who were in the best position to give advice to pupils. He said: "It seems this is inhibiting teachers in their professional practice, [and it] could be connected with a drive to push diplomas at all costs. They will be valuable ladders from school to work - but not an attractive option for all pupils."

Steve Sinnott, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "If there is a major educational reform, then the professional judgment of teachers has to be trusted. You can't put a set of restrictions in there about their judgment."

The first 14 diplomas covered subjects such as hair and beauty, travel and tourism. But the latest wave, announced in October, includes languages, humanities and science - apparently to appeal to middle-class parents and traditional universities. Some subjects, such as engineering, appear destined to succeed, with at least seven universities saying that they will accept it as an entry qualification for relevant degree courses.

Diplomas will come in three levels. The Government has said that top marks in the advanced diploma will be worth more than three A levels. However, a survey suggested that fewer than four in ten university admissions officers saw them as a "good alternative" to A levels. In November, the Nuffield review said the introduction of diplomas had been rushed and that middle-class families would continue to favour traditional courses. A report published yesterday by the Policy Exchange think-tank said they were being launched with an ambitious, complex and expensive design, and an uncertain future.

Julia Neal, the president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "What we don't know is exactly how universities are going to approach diplomas. Technically, they will have the same currency as A levels, but only time will tell." Ann Hodgson, of the University of London Institute of Education, served on the Tomlinson committee, whose report led to the latest reform. "I think teachers will be put in a difficult position," she said. "It's very important that they give full information about the diplomas, and what they are likely to lead to."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said the Government wanted pupils to have advice on the range of available options: "It is not about promoting one option over another, since it is up to individual pupils to decide the best route for themselves, in discussion with their parents and teachers."


Australian teachers back merit-based pay

Overwhelming support has emerged among the nation's teachers for merit-based pay, with a majority believing wages should be pegged to competence and qualifications. A national survey of 13,000 teachers, almost a third of the profession, found that two in three believe schools have difficulty retaining staff. Of that group, 70 per cent believe paying more to the most competent and those with extra qualifications would help stem the exodus.

While teacher unions have argued strenuously against the idea of linking pay to students' results, the survey reveals one in four supports higher pay for teachers whose students achieve specified goals. The study, commissioned by the federal Education Department, comes before the national conference of the Australian Education Union in Sydney today, which is expected to criticise the Rudd Government's education revolution for focusing too narrowly on technology.

The union's incoming federal president, Angelo Gavrielatos, in his opening address today is expected to call for literacy and numeracy to be the foundation of the Government's education policy. Mr Gavrielatos will call on the Government to invest $2.9 billion to develop a comprehensive literacy and numeracy strategy that covers students from early childhood throughout the school years.

The $2.9 billion identified by Mr Gavrielatos was nominated in a report last year commissioned by the federal, state and territory education ministers as the annual amount in additional funds required for government schools to meet national standards. Mr Gavrielatos will outline key factors that must underpin a national literacy and numeracy strategy, including a "curriculum guarantee" that every student will have access to a rich, rigorous and rewarding curriculum.

Other factors are smaller classes to allow more individual attention to student needs; competitive salaries to attract and retain teachers; a large investment in indigenous education; and expanded early childhood services, with an increase in the number of hours of preschool from the 15 hours a week for every four-year-old promised by the Government to 20 hours a week.

Mr Gavrielatos's speech echoes the findings of a survey conducted for the AEU which found that more than four in five people believe an education revolution can happen only if the federal Government invests substantially more in public education. The survey of 600 people across the nation, conducted last week by Essential Media Communications, a research and communication company that handles public relations for the AEU, also found that education was an important factor in winning votes from the Howard government at the election. About 60 per cent of people who switched their vote from the Coalition to Labor said the Howard government's neglect of public education was an important factor in determining their vote. About 70 per cent said investing more to recruit and retain the best teachers, and increasing national literacy and numeracy standards, was very important for improving education, while 63 per cent nominated investing more in public schools to lower class sizes and deliver more individual attention to students.

Mr Gavrielatos, the national president-elect of the AEU, starts his term at the end of the month, replacing Pat Byrne, who has been on leave since November. Mr Gavrielatos is a former languages teacher, is fluent in Indonesian and was previously the deputy president of the NSW Teachers Federation and deputy national president of the AEU.

The federal survey, conducted by the Australian Council for Educational Research and the Australian College of Educators, identifies chronic teaching shortages across the nation, and in a broader range of specialist areas than previously reported. Despite a glut of primary school teachers graduating from universities, about one in 10 primary school principals had at least one unfilled vacancy throughout 2006, equating to about 1300 jobs. In high schools, the biggest shortage is among maths teachers, with 10 per cent of schools unable to fill a job at the beginning of 2006, rising to 13 per cent by the end of the year. Almost one in five schools readvertised the same job throughout that year. About 11 per cent of high schools couldn't find a science teacher, 6 per cent couldn't find an English teacher and 5 per cent struggled to get a languages teacher. To cope with shortages, the most common action by principals is to have a teacher from outside the speciality teach the class but many schools tend to drop the subject.

The survey underlines the lack of a competitive pay structure for the teaching profession, with three-quarters of principals reporting the majority of teachers are paid according to an incremental pay scale with progression largely based on years of service. The most common strategies nominated to retain teachers are smaller class sizes, fewer student management issues, a more positive public image of teachers and more support staff.

In a statement released yesterday, Education Minister Julia Gillard said the report highlighted the urgent need to implement the Rudd Government's education revolution and ensure every high school student could participate effectively in a digital world. She said the findings highlighted that teachers and principals saw computer technology as a vital learning tool, and the need for more professional learning for teachers, especially in the use of computers in school learning. Two-thirds of teachers nominated making more effective use of computers in student learning as the area of greatest need for professional learning.

Mr Gavrielatos said Ms Gillard's statements had overemphasised some aspects of the report to skim over other matters of "deeper significance and deeper concern". These included measures nominated to attract and retain teachers, such as more support staff, smaller class sizes, higher pay and fewer changes imposed on schools.


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