Sunday, October 05, 2008

CA: San Francisco schools trying to boot Junior ROTC

In this city long associated with the peace movement, some teens are taking an unlikely stance - campaigning to keep the armed forces' Junior ROTC program in public schools. If a school board decision stands, San Francisco would become the first city to remove a Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps program. But supporters, including many college-bound Asian-American students who make up the majority of cadets here, initiated an advisory measure on the November ballot. They hope it will persuade a new school board to save JROTC.

Board members who decided to kick JROTC out of town see it as arm of the military that reaches into schools, discriminating against gays by enforcing the "don't ask, don't tell" mandate, and recruiting teenagers for an unpopular war. "It's a broader issue about the Bush administration and military recruiting through JROTC," said board member Eric Mar. "It's clear with the military, if you're gay and out, you don't get the same opportunities," he added. He was among board members who voted two years ago to phase out JROTC and replace it with programs not linked to the military. The deadline was set for 2008, but the board later extended JROTC until next June because an alternative was not developed in time.

Participants, called cadets, wear uniforms, study military history, practice marching and drilling and can win awards for things like marksmanship. Armed forces retirees serve as instructors, and cadets can get academic credit in fields such as physical education.

If the aim is recruitment, however, JROTC in San Francisco is a failure. Only two of the 1,465 cadets there signed up for the armed forces after graduation in 2006-2007, the latest year for which numbers are available.

Supporters view the elective course as valuable self-improvement - teaching them discipline, responsibility and leadership skills they say they do not get in other classes. JROTC rules prevent instructors from trying to recruit participants. "It's helped me stand up for myself, have more confidence, and to fight for what I want," said Trina Mao, 16, standing on a corner in Union Square passing out fliers about the program.

They also say the arguments about the war in Iraq and the Pentagon's policy toward gays miss the point: The program in San Francisco is inclusive, with 90 percent minorities and 40 percent women, they say.

Some gay and lesbian student groups have come out in support of JROTC and the ballot measure, saying some of their members have found a home in the program.

Even as the debate went on and board members held their ground, students and their parents gathered enough signatures to put an advisory measure on the ballot asking voters to show their support for keeping JROTC. "It's become a 'Bonfire of the Vanities,' San Francisco-style - a lot of people want to use JROTC for their own purposes," said Mike Bernick, co-chair of a campaign to keep JROTC here and father of an ROTC graduate.

With confusion over the future of the program, enrollment in San Francisco's JROTC has declined by about two-thirds in the past year. But participation in JROTC has climbed steadily around the country, with additional funding approved by Congress. The program reached 3,351 schools and 503,306 cadets in 2006 - the latest numbers available from the Pentagon - and there is a waiting list of more than 700 schools that have requested JROTC. "We're watching the San Francisco situation very closely," said Curtis Gilroy, an official in the Defense Department's office for personnel and readiness.

The U.S. Department of Defense does not keep track of how many cadets later enlist in the military, but ROTC critic Mar said that, no matter the numbers, "14- and 15-year-olds are too young to be susceptible to their recruitment."'

The American Civil Liberties Union and the American Friends Service Committee agree that military-backed programs are not appropriate for public schools. The ACLU intervened in cases where entire classes were enrolled in JROTC without giving students a choice, or where cash-strapped schools used JROTC to substitute for physical education, said Jennifer Turner, a researcher with the group's Human Rights Program. "The United States is unique in the world in having this type of program that targets kids as young as 14 operating in public school, where students sometimes don't even have a choice," she said. "It is apparent that the JROTC program is a recruiting tool."


British teacher junket cancelled

It could not stand the light of publicity

Teachers who planned to hold a training conference at a Costa del Sol resort will instead attend sessions in classrooms at their school in Staffordshire after complaints from parents. The trip to Marbella by staff at Edensor Technology College in Longton, planned for today and tomorrow, was cancelled yesterday morning. The school could be liable for costs of up to $40,000 because of the short notice, according to Stoke-on-Trent council. Mark Meredith, the mayor, said that it was unclear whether money spent in advance could be reclaimed. "There are guesstimates going around - it could be $40,000 or more," he said in a radio interview. ""The school is investigating this. But these are the questions that the governors will be putting to the head teacher."

Richard Mercer, the headmaster, said in a statement: "Following the publicity concerning the proposed visit to Marbella for training purposes by staff, it has been decided to cancel the trip. The training programme will now take place at the school. It was felt that due to the pressure from media interest in the trip it would be unfair to the staff, the pupils and parents." About 80 members of the teaching staff were to have stayed at the hotel until Sunday, the Stoke Sentinel had disclosed on Wednesday.

The trip angered parents, whose children would have been off school while the teachers were away at the beachside resort. Andy Sales, 34, said: "Why isn't this money being spent on our kids? Parents are having to take time off work or are paying for extra childcare while the staff are enjoying the sun at the school's expense."

Mr Mercer said that it was "more cost-effective" to go abroad as it is the end of Marbella's peak season. "If parents think this is a `jolly', they should join us and find out how hard the staff work." [Give us a break!] In a further statement, released through the council yesterday, Mr Mercer said that the school budget allowed for an annual staff conference. Governors considered nine quotes for Britain and abroad and the Marbella hotel was "the best value for money".

Mr Meredith said: "My personal view is that it was a barmy decision to hold the session in Spain. I'm pleased that they have come to their senses."


Australian literacy, numeracy standards stuck at '70s levels

And much worse than the '50s, I'll warrant

TODAY'S students are no better at English or maths than those of the 1970s, despite the billions of dollars annually pumped into schools. Australian Council for Educational Research findings, presented in Brisbane recently, showed no improvement in young people's literacy and numeracy skills from 1975 to 1998. The most instructive study asked identical and similar questions of 14-year-olds across the country over the 23-year period. There was no increase in averaged scores. Boys' literacy dropped and girls' rose slightly.

Other, more recent, findings collated by the Australian National University confirmed the trend in classrooms around the country has continued since 2000, in particular a decline in reading skills. The results make Queensland's second last placing among the states and territories at this year's first national tests even more alarming.

Education agitator Kevin Donnelly, who wrote Dumbing Down and Why Our Schools Are Failing, slammed Queensland's education establishment for its lack of progress. Dr Donnelly said the Queensland Studies Authority, and successive education ministers and departments, had failed for 20 years by adopting "pretty new-age" methods. "Kids just aren't being taught formal grammar," he said. "Ministers come and go, governments come and go but bureaucrats don't change. The minister jumps up and down for a week but the people given the job to fix it are the same people who created the mess."

Dr Andrew Leigh, an ANU economist and author of the report, said Australian governments proved it was easy to waste money on education. A report by Dr Leigh and Chris Ryan showed government spending per student in Australia had more than doubled between 1964 and 2003. "The real question is why we've increased school funding so dramatically yet seen no improvement in literacy and numeracy," Dr Leigh said.

Education Minister Rod Welford refused to comment yesterday, two weeks after admitting his department's entrenched funding practices had failed to improve results in low socio-economic areas.


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