Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Campus Rape Myth

The reality: bogus statistics, feminist victimology, and university-approved sex toys

It's a lonely job, working the phones at a college rape crisis center. Day after day, you wait for the casualties to show up from the alleged campus rape epidemic-but no one calls. Could this mean that the crisis is overblown? No: it means, according to the campus sexual-assault industry, that the abuse of coeds is worse than anyone had ever imagined. It means that consultants and counselors need more funding to persuade student rape victims to break the silence of their suffering.

The campus rape movement highlights the current condition of radical feminism, from its self-indulgent bathos to its embrace of ever more vulnerable female victimhood. But the movement is an even more important barometer of academia itself. In a delicious historical irony, the baby boomers who dismantled the university's intellectual architecture in favor of unbridled sex and protest have now bureaucratized both. While women's studies professors bang pots and blow whistles at antirape rallies, in the dorm next door, freshman counselors and deans pass out tips for better orgasms and the use of sex toys. The academic bureaucracy is roomy enough to sponsor both the dour antimale feminism of the college rape movement and the promiscuous hookup culture of student life. The only thing that doesn't fit into the university's new commitments is serious scholarly purpose.

The campus rape industry's central tenet is that one-quarter of all college girls will be raped or be the targets of attempted rape by the end of their college years (completed rapes outnumbering attempted rapes by a ratio of about three to two). The girls' assailants are not terrifying strangers grabbing them in dark alleys but the guys sitting next to them in class or at the cafeteria.

This claim, first published in Ms. magazine in 1987, took the universities by storm. By the early 1990s, campus rape centers and 24-hour hotlines were opening across the country, aided by tens of millions of dollars of federal funding. Victimhood rituals sprang up: first the Take Back the Night rallies, in which alleged rape victims reveal their stories to gathered crowds of candle-holding supporters; then the Clothesline Project, in which T-shirts made by self-proclaimed rape survivors are strung on campus, while recorded sounds of gongs and drums mark minute-by-minute casualties of the "rape culture." A special rhetoric emerged: victims' family and friends were "co-survivors"; "survivors" existed in a larger "community of survivors."

An army of salesmen took to the road, selling advice to administrators on how to structure sexual-assault procedures, and lecturing freshmen on the "undetected rapists" in their midst. Rape bureaucrats exchanged notes at such gatherings as the Inter Ivy Sexual Assault Conferences and the New England College Sexual Assault Network. Organizations like One in Four and Men Can Stop Rape tried to persuade college boys to redefine their masculinity away from the "rape culture." The college rape infrastructure shows no signs of a slowdown. In 2006, for example, Yale created a new Sexual Harassment and Assault Resources and Education Center, despite numerous resources for rape victims already on campus.

If the one-in-four statistic is correct-it is sometimes modified to "one-in-five to one-in-four"-campus rape represents a crime wave of unprecedented proportions. No crime, much less one as serious as rape, has a victimization rate remotely approaching 20 or 25 percent, even over many years. The 2006 violent crime rate in Detroit, one of the most violent cities in America, was 2,400 murders, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults per 100,000 inhabitants-a rate of 2.4 percent. The one-in-four statistic would mean that every year, millions of young women graduate who have suffered the most terrifying assault, short of murder, that a woman can experience. Such a crime wave would require nothing less than a state of emergency-Take Back the Night rallies and 24-hour hotlines would hardly be adequate to counter this tsunami of sexual violence. Admissions policies letting in tens of thousands of vicious criminals would require a complete revision, perhaps banning boys entirely. The nation's nearly 10 million female undergrads would need to take the most stringent safety precautions. Certainly, they would have to alter their sexual behavior radically to avoid falling prey to the rape epidemic.

None of this crisis response occurs, of course-because the crisis doesn't exist. During the 1980s, feminist researchers committed to the rape-culture theory had discovered that asking women directly if they had been raped yielded disappointing results-very few women said that they had been. So Ms. commissioned University of Arizona public health professor Mary Koss to develop a different way of measuring the prevalence of rape. Rather than asking female students about rape per se, Koss asked them if they had experienced actions that she then classified as rape. Koss's method produced the 25 percent rate, which Ms. then published.

Koss's study had serious flaws. Her survey instrument was highly ambiguous, as University of California at Berkeley social-welfare professor Neil Gilbert has pointed out. But the most powerful refutation of Koss's research came from her own subjects: 73 percent of the women whom she characterized as rape victims said that they hadn't been raped. Further-though it is inconceivable that a raped woman would voluntarily have sex again with the fiend who attacked her-42 percent of Koss's supposed victims had intercourse again with their alleged assailants.

All subsequent feminist rape studies have resulted in this discrepancy between the researchers' conclusions and the subjects' own views. A survey of sorority girls at the University of Virginia found that only 23 percent of the subjects whom the survey characterized as rape victims felt that they had been raped-a result that the university's director of Sexual and Domestic Violence Services calls "discouraging." Equally damning was a 2000 campus rape study conducted under the aegis of the Department of Justice. Sixty-five percent of what the feminist researchers called "completed rape" victims and three-quarters of "attempted rape" victims said that they did not think that their experiences were "serious enough to report." The "victims" in the study, moreover, "generally did not state that their victimization resulted in physical or emotional injuries," report the researchers.

Just as a reality check, consider an actual student-related rape: in 2006, Labrente Robinson and Jacoby Robinson broke into the Philadelphia home of a Temple University student and a Temple graduate, and anally, vaginally, and orally penetrated the women, including with a gun. The chance that the victims would not consider this event "serious enough to report," or physically and emotionally injurious, is exactly nil. In short, believing in the campus rape epidemic depends on ignoring women's own interpretations of their experiences-supposedly the most grievous sin in the feminist political code.

None of the obvious weaknesses in the research has had the slightest drag on the campus rape movement, because the movement is political, not empirical. In a rape culture, which "condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as a norm," sexual assault will wind up underreported, argued the director of Yale's Sexual Harassment and Assault Resources and Education Center in a March 2007 newsletter. You don't need evidence for the rape culture; you simply know that it exists. But if you do need evidence, the underreporting of rape is the best proof there is.

Campus rape researchers may feel that they know better than female students themselves about the students' sexual experiences, but the students are voting with their feet and staying away in droves from the massive rape apparatus built up since the Ms. article. Referring to rape hotlines, rape consultant Brett Sokolow laments: "The problem is, on so many of our campuses, very few people ever call. And mostly, we've resigned ourselves to the under-utilization of these resources."

Federal law requires colleges to publish reported crimes affecting their students. The numbers of reported sexual assaults-the law does not require their confirmation-usually run under half a dozen a year on private campuses and maybe two to three times that at large public universities. You might think that having so few reports of sexual assault a year would be a point of pride; in fact, it's a source of gall for students and administrators alike. Yale's associate general counsel and vice president were clearly on the defensive when asked by the Yale alumni magazine in 2004 about Harvard's higher numbers of reported assaults; the reporter might as well have been needling them about a Harvard-Yale football rout. "Harvard must have double-counted or included incidents not required by federal law," groused the officials. The University of Virginia does not publish the number of its sexual-assault hearings because it is so low. "We're reticent to publicize it when we have such a small `n' number," says Nicole Eramu, Virginia's associate dean of students.

More here

Blacks bypassing law school

Law firms, especially large ones, are feeling pressure to become more diverse in terms of minority hires, though they're finding it easier said than done. Bigger firms, particularly, are finding it in their best interest to recruit more minorities. Those firms tend to service extremely large clients-the Chevrons, the Dow Chemicals, even the Shaw Groups-and these corporate jumbos have super-sized diversity as a priority. They've already taken the diversity pledge, so to speak, and insist firms they hire do the same. More and more, these large clients are demanding proof of results.

It's hard to argue that making the professional work force more closely resemble the face of society is anything but positive, and progress is being made. All the same, local law firms serious about raising the ranks of minority hires face tough recruiting competition from legal leviathans in big markets like Atlanta, Dallas and Houston, not to mention Chicago and New York. "We have a burning desire to be diverse," says Linda Perez Clark, a partner with Kean, Miller, Hawthorne, D'Armond, McCowan & Jarman. "The problem is we struggle to find the candidates. There is such competition to recruit minority graduates out of law school." Kean Miller is Baton Rouge's largest firm, with competitive pay packages and a tradition of luring the best and brightest. Still, the firm is "struggling to get as diverse as we'd like to be," Clark says.

She researched the problem and found minority enrollment in law schools is declining across the United States. One reason is a minority student with a bachelor's degree has no shortage of employment opportunities. Diversity, meanwhile, has become a front-burner issue for so many companies. A minority graduate with a business degree and several job offers might think twice about spending three more years in law school, especially if it's not necessary to get a good job.

That leaves law firms' diversity pipelines with merely a trickle. Clark discovered a pre-law program for minorities at St. John's University in New York. Kean Miller used it as a model for the Kean Miller Connection, a two-day law school prep course for minority college students. The first one was held in May, with 17 student participants. It will be an annual event, says Clark, who runs the show. It's about showing college kids what a career in law entails and assuring them that it is something they can do. "If they do go to law school, we have a very good chance of landing them as summer clerks," Clark says. And who knows? That summer clerk could wind up at Kean Miller as a seasoned practicing attorney one day.

Maureen Harbourt, a partner with Kean Miller who chairs the firm's Diversity Council, which promotes diversity from inside the organization, says Kean Miller also recruits aggressively from Louisiana's four law schools: LSU, Southern, Tulane and Loyola. Kean Miller also attends minority job fairs in Dallas and Atlanta, including the important Sun Belt Minority Recruitment Program held each fall in Dallas. For years, Kean Miller has tried to emphasize diversity at all levels-staff and paralegals as well as attorneys, Harbourt says. "We've always had our hearts in right place, but it hasn't always been as organized an effort," she says.

David Miceli, a managing partner with Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, says it's been about eight years since he got his first diversity request from a large client. "It was not a common thing," he says. "But every single request for proposals we've participated in since has included requests for statistics about diversity." It's especially prevalent "at the very top of the food chain," Miceli says. Not only do big clients want to know about things like depth, experience and financial plan, now every RFP asks for details about diversity-not just how many minorities does the firm employ but how many are in leadership positions? How many are partners? How many minorities will be working on our particular matter?

Miceli suspects those companies have come to the conclusion that a diversity of perspective serves their own organizations well, thus they demand it from the firms they hire. And it's not easy-especially in Louisiana, where it can be tough to attract and retain the right people regardless of race or gender, Miceli says. Add to that the fact law, as a profession, doesn't have quite the cachet it once did. "Our profession is not necessarily as attractive as it may have been perceived in the past," he says. "It's a lot of hard work, with a lot of high expectations." ....

Freddie Pitcher, chancellor of the Southern University Law Center, agrees that fewer minority students are applying to law schools around the country in large part because they can get good jobs with just a bachelor's degree. Southern's law school applicant pool peaked at 1,400 right before Hurricane Katrina, which knocked it through the floor. It's back up to around 900. Pitcher says he doesn't know if it'll ever reach pre-storm levels. It's also true that Louisiana's pool of law school applicants-Caucasian as well as African-American-is pretty thin. Still, there's plenty of interest in the law as a career among minority students, says Pitcher, a retired judge who spent six years as a partner at Phelps Dunbar before becoming law chancellor at Southern. The law center just held its annual pre-law program, which attracts students from across the state and even Texas.

Pitcher guesses about half his top 20 grads take jobs out of state each year and the other half stay in Louisiana. Three of his grads were just hired by Sidley Austin in New York, starting at $160,000 a year. The Chicago office employs several more. All told, about 15 Southern law grads work for Sidley Austin, which has more than 1,800 lawyers worldwide....


Charter School Enrollment Higher in States and Districts With Large black and Hispanic Populations

States with large Hispanic populations and high numbers of college-educated adults are more likely to pass supportive charter school legislation, as are states with weak academic performance as measured by students' SAT scores, find economists Christiana Stoddard of Montana State University and Sean Corcoran of New York University in the new issue of Education Next (spring 2008). They also find that the size of a state's African-American population and high school dropout rates are strongly associated with increased enrollment in charter schools.

According to Stoddard and Corcoran's research, states with an Hispanic population that is 14 percent higher than the average are about 10 percent more likely to pass a strong charter law (as measured by the Center for Education Reform's charter school law strength index). In addition, they found that a 12.1 percent increase in a state's African American population is associated with roughly a 2 percent increase in charter school enrollment, in effect, double the charter school enrollment in the average state. Strong charter laws also appear earlier in those states in which the percentage of adults with at least a college education is higher than average.

Stoddard and Corcoran looked at legislation and patterns in the presence of charter schools and in their enrollments at both the state and local levels using demographic, financial, political, and school performance data from 1990 to 2004, including the most recent information from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Common Core of Data.

In examining changes in demographic characteristics between 1980 and 1990, Stoddard and Corcoran found that districts with a rising fraction of black or college-educated individuals saw greater participation in charter schools. In addition, they found that districts in which income inequality was rising saw greater participation in charter schools in the 1990s.

Stoddard and Corcoran find a positive relationship between the fraction of students enrolled in private schools before the passage of charter laws and law passage and strength. The researchers suggest that this may be due to private school parents supporting public charter schools as a substitute for private schools or that it may be related to broad dissatisfaction with public schools and a generally higher demand for alternatives.

Interestingly, the authors also find that teachers' unions, leading opponents of charter schools, appear to contribute indirectly to their expansion. In states that have both strong unions and strong charter laws, more families seek out charter schools as an educational alternative for their children. [How surprising! (NOT)]


Friday, February 29, 2008

San Francisco's New College Loses Accreditation

(San Francisco, California) New College, a liberal honeypot of higher education in the nation's most liberal city, has lost its accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
The association said accreditation would be terminated in 30 days because of problems that included financial questions; irregularities in admissions, enrollment and awarding of credit and grades; and poor documentation of student records and financial aid.

"New College's failure to meet so many basic tenets of accreditation requires that accreditation be terminated," Ralph Wolff, a top association executive, wrote Tuesday in notifying the school.

"WASC can no longer validate to the public and the community of higher education that New College is a financially sustainable institution and has a basic infrastructure of academic, operational, financial and governance systems, structures and policies."

Such a revocation is rare, but with the issues of integrity involved, the association believed it had to act, Wolff said Wednesday.
New College's 400 students are angry and confused, not knowing whether the school will be reinstated or closed. Also, the value of students' education acquired thus far is questionable.

Frankly, I'm not surprised. Some while ago, New College was in the news regarding a degree program in "activism" taught by an "ecofeminist witch" and a "tree-sitting environmentalist." I immediately questioned the school's merit as an institution of higher education. Distilled, activism is simply making noise, putting flies in ointments and opening cans of worms. Sure, some people want to do it but I honestly don't think it takes four years of college to learn.
No existing U.S. program approximates a free market in education

In a new City Journal essay, prominent school voucher advocate Sol Stern declares that competition and choice "may not be a panacea," and recommends that choice supporters shift emphasis to standardizing the curriculum. He's not alone.

Conservatives have long championed central planning in addition to parental choice, but in recent years centralization has been ascendant. Department of Education alumni William Bennett, Chester Finn, and Diane Ravitch, all appointed under Republican administrations, now place greater emphasis on national standards than on choice. Last month, Mr. Finn faulted Ohio's charter school system for placing "too much trust in market forces."

Their faltering support stems from disappointment with the impact of existing U.S. charter school and voucher programs, and what they think it says about market reform in general. Stern, for instance, laments that while Milwaukee's voucher program has benefitted the low income students who gained access to private schools, it has not dramatically improved the city's public schools.

But criticisms such as those of Finn and Stern don't reveal any failure of market education, because existing U.S. "school choice" programs do not constitute, or even closely approximate, free markets. That anyone imagines otherwise shows how poorly markets are understood, even among conservative education reformers.

Do charter schools really rely too heavily on "market forces"? Consider some key elements of free markets: prices determined by supply and demand, private ownership of businesses, low or no barriers to the creation of new businesses, few or no barriers to workers entering the profession, minimal regulation, the ability of owners and investors to profit from their efforts, and payment by consumers rather than a third party. With charter schools, these features are either grossly hobbled or absent. Yes, charter schools produce some attenuated competition and parental choice, but to imagine that those two diluted ingredients are sufficient by themselves (or even excessive!) suggests a badly mistaken notion of what a market is.

Milwaukee's voucher program has indeed helped many children, but it also falls far short of a market. First, it is capped at 22,500 students. That's too little to justify large-scale R&D investment by education entrepreneurs. If the market for computers were limited to 22,500 customers, Microsoft, Apple, and Dell would cease to exist. Private schools must also accept the voucher as full payment, but such price controls are almost universally derided by economists as counterproductive. If it were not for the fact that electronics manufacturers could once charge $1,000 for a DVD player, it would never have become possible for the units to sell for $30 today.

The initially high prices of innovative new products and services are what encourage the R&D that eventually brings down their cost.

Even if Milwaukee's voucher program were big enough and free enough to create a vigorous marketplace, the public schools still might not improve dramatically. The most significant advances in market economies generally occur when better products or methods replace old ones. The loom did not improve hand-weaving, it supplanted it. Even in the highly regulated and not especially market-like school choice programs of Chile and the Netherlands, private schools already enroll most students.

Though markets have been marginalized by "free" public schooling, they still thrive in niches such as tutoring, where programs like Kumon and Sylvan Learning show their effectiveness and responsiveness to consumer demands.

In many slums and villages across the developing world, where state-run school systems are particularly dysfunctional, majorities of poor parents are currently paying for their children to attend ultra-low-cost private schools - though free government schools are available. These education markets, as researchers such as Orient Global Education Fund president James Tooley and Oxford professor Geeta Gandhi Kingdon have shown, outperform state-run schools at a fraction of the cost, and they teach what families want. The vast international research literature on school governance and funding systems strongly favors competition, minimal regulation, private ownership of schools, parental choice, and some level of direct payment of tuition by parents.

It is possible to give all families access to a free education marketplace - by dramatically expanding and liberalizing existing choice programs, or adopting new ones, like Cato's public education tax credit proposal. But you can't expect current programs to produce free-market results in the absence of free markets.


Detroit schools

Expensive and terrible. It’s time to offer vouchers

A new report shows that less than 1 in 3 ninth-graders in the Detroit city schools will graduate from a Detroit school in 4 years, a federally funded study by Michigan State University found. The official state figure is a graduation rate of 66.8%.

Poor underfunded Detroit city schoo … Wait. Detroit spends $11,112 per student. The statewide average in Michigan is $9,340. Inefficient and expensive.

Board President Carla Scott does not believe the results of the Michigan State study. “It doesn’t seem credible to me,” Scott said. “You can make data for anything you want it to say, but (they) should have factored in the reasons why they left. “If you look at children moving out of the city, of course you’re going to see a decrease. There are all kinds of reasons why children leave the city, that doesn’t mean they’re dropouts.”

That’s a good point. But it underscores how terrible — and expensive — Detroit schools are. Kids are moving out to graduate. They give up on Detroit schools. If that indeed is the explanation. The answer? The Detroit News reported:
Gov. Jennifer Granholm has proposed increasing the dropout age to 18 and creating smaller high schools to boost graduation rates. “Governor Granholm recognizes that we must provide a quality education for every child and provide them with the tools they need to be successful in the 21st century,” Liz Boyd, Granholm’s press secretary, said in a statement. “She has called on education leaders and lawmakers from both parties to join her in solving the dropout problem.”

More money. How trite. Hmm, if this were health care, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would be decrying those “greedy” teachers and bureaucrats and would be calling to slash spending and use more technology.

The simpler solution is to give them vouchers for $5,000 a year each and let them attend parochial schools.


Australia: Better teacher selection needed

Elements in the NSW Teachers Federation have strongly resisted the mild proposals put forward by the NSW Director-General of Education, Michael Coutts-Trotter, to improve the processes of selecting teachers for our public schools. Principals of NSW secondary public schools have for years been seeking a more effective system of staffing their schools, and see the latest proposals as a small step in the right direction. A balance between local selection by school-based panels and statewide staffing processes would bring NSW into the 21st century, as well as ensuring students were being taught by teachers who really wanted to be in their school.

The NSW Secondary Principals' Council, the professional association that represents the vast majority of principals in the government sector, has developed a position paper that calls for just that: a balance. The SPC would like to have 50 per cent of staff chosen through local selection, with the remainder determined by state needs. Principals are rightly held more accountable than they used to be for the educational outcomes of students in their schools, but have very little say over the selection of their teachers. Greater authority to do this would lead to a better match of teachers for every school, and teachers would be able to make more informed decisions about where they might like to teach.

Schools in all parts of NSW would benefit from the adoption of the principals' position paper, as it calls for improved incentives to attract and retain teachers in rural and remote areas. Salary increases and termination bonuses after five years' service might well attract more teachers to these schools. Students in isolated areas deserve experienced teachers just as much as students in coastal and metropolitan schools do, and genuine incentives would make this possible.

The current transfer system works against the interests of many teachers who don't attract enough points to be able to move to a school that they would like to be in and to which they could make a great contribution. Some of our really great young teachers resign after a few years and either travel or work in the private sector once they realise that the present selection process is an impediment to them. More Generation Y teachers are teaching in our schools and they have a much more flexible approach to work. They don't want to be locked into a system that sees them as points on a scale rather than as a teacher who wants to work in a variety of locations. A young teacher told me a couple of weeks ago that this would be one issue he wouldn't take industrial action on. He wants the option of seeing what is available in a school before applying. He is not alone in thinking like this.

Parents want the best for their children. Knowing that the teachers of their children want to be in their school, have been selected through proper, fair processes to be there, and will be professionally developing themselves to enhance their future prospects should give parents much more confidence in their local public school.

Let's hope that NSW schools can move into the 21st century, and that the proposal by our school leaders for an improved staffing process will influence both the department and the Teachers Federation.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Crazy U.S. science education

Amazingly inflated credentialism. A REDUCTION in government funding is needed

Recently, the CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) wrote an editorial titled "'Global' Science Advocacy." He calls for scientists to be advocates not only on Capitol Hill through their professional societies, but also by recruiting friends, neighbors, city council members, etc., to the cause of science advocacy. This is written in response to the proposed FY2009 budget request Bush made to Congress in which some agencies "such as the NIH, are slated for flat funding or worse." After reading this, I decided I must heed the call and do a little science advocacy.

Before I go on, there is an interesting aside. Mr. Leshner (the CEO of AAAS) states that "US research will see its fifth consecutive year of decreased support (in inflation-adjusted constant dollars)." Basically, US research hasn't received a cost-of-living raise in 4 years: it's feeling the inflation tax, and it hurts!

From 1998-2003, the NIH budget was doubled. I started graduate school during this time period, and things were booming. The way I heard it, Bill Clinton doubled the budget, but Mr. Leshner writes that John Porter, Arlen Specter, and Tom Harkin led the effort. Regardless, a lot of this doubling actually went to Big Science - large budget, long-term projects usually requiring a lot of infrastructure. This is as opposed to individual scientists (called Primary Investigators, or PI's) at universities receiving the money through research grants. In fact, the fraction of money going to PI's fell during this period.

Since 2003, however, the funding has remained stagnant in terms of actual dollars, and has decreased in terms of what those dollars can buy. But the Big Science research centers haven't been closed, of course, so PI's and universities have had their funding cut. Actually cut. Not just "not increased at a fast enough rate." Grants are not getting renewed, or are getting renewed at a lower level than before.

It makes things tough. Stress is high and scientists are pessimistic. To add to the woes, this large influx of money between 1998-2003 had to be spent. So universities built new buildings, hired new faculty, and recruited more students. The buildings will require continuing revenue to maintain and the new faculty are applying for their own grants (in competition with the existing faculty). So it's been a typical Boom-and-Bust (the bust is still forthcoming...I'd say we're in a science-recession).

My incoming class to the Berkeley biology program was the largest class to date. And all of the ones that followed my class were even bigger. In my view, this was incredibly irresponsible, although unavoidable when grants are inflated. Thousands of biologists are graduating with PhD's every year and they need jobs. But, we've all just been kicked out of the nest and told "Good luck. You'll need it."

Over the course of the last 30 years, a PhD has become essential to climbing the ladder at a pharmaceutical company. And now, one or two postdoctoral fellowships (2-4 years each) are needed to land almost any job in biology. This is inflation of education. Try getting a job doing completely mindless work at your neighborhood biotech with a high school diploma. Those jobs are reserved for people with Bachelor's degrees from good universities. Do you want to actually apply the knowledge you learned in your senior-level lab course and develop an experimental plan? You'll need a Masters or PhD for that. From Harvard.

At the AAAS national meeting last week, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama sent representatives to address the scientists that had gathered. Not surprisingly, they call for "big boosts to research funding." This sounds a lot like a stimulus package, and it's typical pandering to a special interest group by promising more money and everything will be free. Of course, this is welcomed by many scientists: the outgoing President of the AAAS reportedly stated that Congress has passed "a budget that does not meet the needs of American Science." An NIH budget that is 100% higher than the one ten years ago does not meet our needs. Whoops! I mean: A budget that is 0% higher than last year does not meet our needs.

If you watched the MTV presidential candidate forum last month, you'll recall that students are all going to get a lot of federal money from Hill-bama to pay for college (you'll also recall that the entire studio audience was college students, but I'm sure that was just a coincidence).

I think we already have too many college graduates in this country, but soon there will be more. Then they, too, will get PhD's when they find out that their B.S. is just that. At some point, 15 years as a postdoctoral fellow will be the norm, which means scientists will start their first job at age 42 (as opposed to 30 currently: diploma at 18 + 4 years for college + 5 years for grad school + 3 years for postdoc).

This is a terrible system, and inflating it with evermore funding is not going to fix it. Last year, the NIH funding was not increased (3.8% cut accounting for official inflation). We need more of this, and by "this," I mean NIH budget cuts. That means universities will have to train fewer PhD's, and they will be hiring fewer research professors. Private industry as well as academia will have to start giving people with less education more responsibility. It will be painful, but healthy. Who knows: maybe the next biotech innovation will be that they will start promoting people with good college educations (but no additional letters behind their name) to managerial positions, allowing them to increase expenditures on capital (instead of letters) and really take medicine into the future.

So call your city council member and get them to resolve that this madness must stop. Write your representative in DC and tell them that private industry and charities will best be able to fund the future of medicine. Advocate for the future of science in America!


Dumb students "out" themselves

The controversy over electives in the Albuquerque Public Schools curriculum heats up. Should students who do poorly on state tests be forced to take remedial classes and not allowed to take electives? Wednesday, students themselves responded in the Albuquerque Journal newspaper -- but may not have proved the point they intended. The Journal said the letters are from students at Jefferson Middle School. Of eight letters published, seven of them are full of grammar and spelling mistakes:

"I know I wont wont my eletive tooken away. wht about the sped kibs? Hae you thought about that!"

The students are responding to the possibility of APS taking electives away from students who fail state tests for math and reading.

Another student writes, "I dissagree with your oppion. If students dont have there electives we will have no reason to come to school. And if kids start not coming to school it will be your fault."

Melissa Armijo has a child at Jefferson. She agrees with the statement, but said the mistakes in the letter are scary. I think that they should have a medium of being able to still give a child an elective and also having that child learn how to read and write correctly,"Armijo said.

The Albuquerque Journal is a partner with KOAT. The Journal said the letters that were published were representative of the letters they received. Many of the letters came from an e-mail sent by their teacher and then a few from the students themselves. The Journal said they confirmed every letter that ran in the paper but chose not to run the students' names. There were several letters the Journal did not run that had even more serious grammatical and spelling errors.

Jefferson students did well on last year's math and reading tests but the school did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP. More than half the APS high school students tested last year did not pass the math or reading sections of the standard tests. APS said those students may soon have to replace electives with remedial classes in those subjects. The district is waiting for guidelines from the state before implementing any new policy.


Australia: Literacy taught by illiterates

By Christopher Bantick

It is not just this newspaper that is questioned by Ilana Snyder over its position on literacy. In her book The Literacy Wars: Why Teaching Children to Read and Write is a Battleground in Australia, I am cited several times, and not because I have written on this page. I do hold the view that literacy can be taught with rigour and tested for performance. Snyder suggests: "It was the Murdoch paper's crusade against contemporary approaches to literacy education that motivated me to write the book. In recent years, The Australian's in-house opinion shapers have been accorded astonishing privilege and power. Their goal has been to dictate a reactionary model for the secondary-school curriculum. It is time to hold them to account." But while Snyder can attempt to marginalise The Australian's role in the literacy debate, this is misleading.

It is not my intention to examine and dismiss Snyder's often fatuous, niggardly arguments in her intemperate book. The point here about Snyder and fellow travellers who endorse the view that literacy is an experience rather than a learned discipline is that opposition of any kind - call it conservatism - is ridiculed. It is a neat ploy to say that the so-called Right, for which this newspaper is supposedly a mouthpiece, is narrow and prescriptive in its appreciation of literacy. The enemy has been identified. Meanwhile, those on the Left are expansive, welcome new ideas, are progressive and embrace theory. But this is a deceptive argument.

Literacy transcends the Right or Left positions. It is critics such as Snyder who wish to reduce it to the old Left-Right debate. Moreover, if opinion is even marginally conservative, it is immediately treated as suspect. The problem with Snyder's reductive argument is that she denies the reality that literacy education in Australia is in serious trouble. There are many children who cannot read, write, spell, understand grammar, construct a clear sentence and punctuate with meaning. The reason is palpably obvious.

The students accepted into university teaching courses are often simply the leavings, the lees if you like, after the better students have opted to undertake more prestigious and ambitious degrees. One has only to look at the entrance scores for teaching, some as low as 56, to see that high-flyers are not entering the classroom. The result is teachers who are not proficient in literacy are teaching children. Is it any wonder that Australia is producing illiterate children when they are taught by illiterates? It is for this reason that the NSW Government has introduced tests for five-year-olds in literacy and numeracy from this year in an attempt to head off early learning difficulties. It makes sense.

The reality is that literacy instruction in Australia has been of questionable quality for decades. It is also easy to trace the decline in proficiency to the introduction of progressive, child-centred, jargon-based theory that took over many Australian classrooms during the 1970s. What Snyder and the strident voices of the Left do not grasp, or seem to care about, is that if children are not taught literacy, then they are effectively disenfranchised for life.

Recent research by Australian National University economists Andrew Leigh and Chris Ryan, entitled How Has School Productivity Changed in Australia, points out that today's teenagers are less literate than those of the '60s. The reason is simple: poor teaching.

While Kevin Rudd makes much of his so-called education revolution, which is supposedly going to leap off a laptop keyboard, he has been noticeably silent on the much harder question: will the federal Government be insistent that schools lift their literacy standards? Before the election, Rudd promised to publish primary and secondary school results in reading and writing and numeracy in years three, five and nine. Earlier this month Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Julia Gillard, when referring to the national action plan for literacy and numeracy, said: "The Rudd Government understands that literacy and numeracy are the building blocks of a good education." Well, prove it.

The Rudd Government needs the will and preparedness to take on the entrenched interests in university education departments that work against structured, phonetically based language instruction. It should expose where literacy instruction is deficient and take necessary remedial action. This can be measured by a published state-by-state, school-by-school comparison. But these results should not ossify hidden in some departmental journal but be published in newspapers, much as the Year 12 results and school rankings are done in Victoria. It will soon become evident why it is that some schools in the same socioeconomic band, with the same cohort of children, are doing better than others. This does two things: expose the schools and expose deficient teachers.

While Snyder's book will be welcomed by the literacy luvvies as a justification for their failure to instruct children properly, the truth is that the Left resists accountability. Do parents really care about the literacy wars? Hardly. They just want their children to learn to read and write.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"Moderates" and conservatives in college

Post below lifted from Newsbusters. See the original for links. Reporting on endeavours to deny that it is Leftist bigotry that chases conservatives away from higher ed.

Rush Limbaugh fans have often heard the conservative talk radio host suggest that people who consider themselves politically moderate just can't make up their minds on important issues of the day. A recent study about ideological differences which drive more liberals to seek Ph.D.'s than conservatives might offer some answers as to why that is. Published by the American Enterprise Institute, "Left Pipeline: Why Conservatives Don't Get Doctorates" presented some pretty compelling ideas about what's causing the liberal bias problem at America's colleges and universities:
Every year, self-identified liberals apply to Ph.D. programs in far greater numbers than do conservatives. However, the reasons for this ideological imbalance are far from clear. Those on the political right tend to regard academia's liberal slant as evidence of discrimination against conservatives. By contrast, those on the political left may conclude that their overrepresentation in the academy is due to superior intelligence and abilities....

The ideological imbalance among college students is evident immediately in figure 1. The graph reveals that self-identified liberals outnumber conservatives by a substantial margin. Additionally, the figure shows that those on the political left are more likely to express an interest in pursuing a Ph.D.

Interestingly, the authors of the piece, Dr. Matthew Woessner and Dr. April Kelly-Woessner, are a married couple with disparate political views themselves. As the Chronicle of Higher Education wrote on Friday:
During a recent Thursday-morning get-together over scrambled eggs and toast, the conversation at Kuppy's [diner in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania] focused on the U.S. presidential election. As usual, Mr. Woessner's colleagues were taking shots at him. Why did he originally favor Rudy Giuliani? one [sic] of his colleagues wanted to know. "I really want to make sure I have a president who is going to bomb more countries," Mr. Woessner quipped.

It is the kind of over-the-top statement Mr. Woessner is famous for. The young professor relishes the role of conservative contrarian inside the liberal academy, a role that puts him in a distinct minority not only here but in higher education generally.....

In fact, Mr. Woessner gets along so well with Democrats that he married one. Ms. Kelly-Woessner teaches a course on women and politics, among others, at Elizabethtown College. She and Mr. Woessner didn't like each other at all when they first met at Ohio State. She even once told her future husband that she could never date a conservative. So when the couple announced their engagement, the director of their graduate program at Ohio State was stunned. "They really were opposites," says Herbert F. Weisberg, chairman of the political-science department at Ohio State. "They were always debating each other."

Regardless of their political differences, the couple produced excellent work in this paper:
There is reason to assume that liberals and conservatives have different experiences in college. If critics of the academy are correct, the liberal enclave provides a chilly environment for conservatives. This may not even be the result of intentional discrimination. Rather, conservatives may simply find themselves to be in the minority and disconnected from the rest of the campus. This minority status may affect their assessments of the educational experience and their overall satisfaction with college. According to previous research, satisfaction with the college experience does help to predict whether a student will complete an advanced degree.

And here's the part Rush Limbaugh and his fans will love:
Variations in reported grades do not vary as a function of conservatism, but rather as a function of moderation. Moderates consistently report lower grades than do their liberal and conservative counterparts. Concerned that less intelligent students might have self-identified as moderates, simply because they did not comprehend the ideological classifications used in the survey question, we reclassified the respondents based on their answers to a battery of political questions included near the end of the student survey. We found that students who take objectively moderate positions on important political issues do earn lower grades than their ideological classmates do.

Interesting, wouldn't you agree? Maybe this suggests an errancy in the debate concerning intellect and ideology always centering on liberals and conservatives whilst typically ignoring moderates. As this election might be decided by folks not committed to one of the major political parties, maybe greater focus should be given to what makes a moderate tick rather than the inner-psychological workings of liberals and conservatives. Of course, that wasn't the point of this paper:
Whatever the basis of ideological identification, however, the differences between liberals and conservatives translate into differences in policy attitudes, behaviors, and dispositions, not all of which have direct political implications. For example, liberals and conservatives tend to differ on measures of the widely-used NEO Personality Inventory. Liberals tend to score higher in creativity and excitement seeking, while conservatives outperform in orderliness and striving for achievement.

It is reasonable to assume that these differences in personalities and values translate into differences in career goals. For example, if liberals and conservatives have different notions of authority, this would theoretically translate into liberals selecting careers that are less hierarchical and that allow greater personal autonomy. In fact, Lindholm argues that the need for autonomy, independence, and intellectual freedom is the most cited reason college professors give for choosing academic careers.13 These career goals would appear to be more commonly associated with liberal ideologies. Similarly, if liberals are more likely to value creativity, as Carney et al. suggests, they may be more likely to self-select into the arts and humanities, with the more practical conservatives opting for professional fields. ...

Only 9 percent of the far left and 18 percent of liberals major in professional fields, as compared to 33 percent of conservatives and 37 percent of the far right. Since liberals already outnumber conservatives among college students, this tendency for conservatives to congregate in professional degree programs means that liberals outnumber conservatives two to one in the humanities and social sciences - fields most associated with doctoral degrees.

The professors offered some suggestions for academia:
First, in light of our prior research, which shows that students react negatively to overt partisanship, professors within the social sciences and the humanities should make a special effort to depoliticize their classroom.18 This does not suggest that political science or history courses should be bland or noncontroversial. Rather, striving to present both ideological perspectives on contemporary issues and debates would likely reduce the conservatives' relative dissatisfaction with their social science and humanities classes. If conservatives enjoyed these courses more, we might see a rise in conservative majors and in Ph.D. candidates.

Second, since conservatives place an especially high priority on financial security and raising a family, the academy needs to make efforts to adopt more family-friendly policies....

While a host of concrete indicators (overall satisfaction with college experience, grade point average, contact with faculty, etc.) do not tend to support the assertion that conservatives are frequently the victims of discrimination, academia may create an environment that appears hostile to young conservatives. Just as academic institutions have, in the pursuit of racial and ethnic diversity, taken great care to foster a climate of tolerance, so too, academic programs might consider how their doctoral programs might be made more inviting to ideological conservatives. Ultimately, the academy's relevance is dependent on its ability to recruit and retain scholars from every intellectual tradition.

Great points all. Unfortunately, not everybody agreed with the Woessner's conclusions. Ilya Somin over at the Volokh Conspiracy blog wrote Friday:
I am somewhat skeptical about the particular variables emphasized by the Woessners. If interest in making money were a crucial variable in steering conservatives away from academia, one would expect their representation to be much higher in high-paying academic disciplines such as law, where faculty members routinely make six figure salaries and often have extensive consulting opportunities. Yet the ideological imbalance in legal academia is very large and fairly similar to that in other academic fields.

In my view, a focus on raising a family should make academia more attractive to conservatives rather than less. Relative to other professional jobs, academic careers are actually quite family-friendly. Unlike most other professionals, professors have a high degree of control over their schedules. They can also do a much higher proportion of their work at home, which makes it easier to spend time with kids. Universities also tend to have extremely generous family leave policies for faculty. Moreover, universities often give substantial tuition discounts to children of their faculty - an important benefit for social conservatives with large families. Some schools even subsidize private secondary school tuition for faculty children.

Somin raised another issue that might be particularly relevant to libertarian readers:
Like other studies of academic ideology, the Woessner and Kelly-Woessner paper also suffers from the failure to consider libertarians separately from conservatives. As I discuss in this post, libertarians are about 10-15 percent of the general population and are likely to be disproportionately represented among non-liberals likely to be interested in pursuing academic careers. Relative to conservatives, libertarians are about 20% more likely to be college graduates (see Table 10 in the linked paper) and threfore more likely to be potential candidates for academic jobs.

Although I'm not aware of survey evidence on this point, I strongly suspect that libertarians are closer to liberals than to conservatives in their interests in doing research, developing a philosophy of life, and raising families. Yet libertarians are almost as underrepresented in academia as conservatives are. Certainly, they are nowhere close to constituting 10 percent of faculty in any field other than economics. It is possible that libertarians are more interested in making money than liberals are; the claim is often made, though I have yet to see any systematic study that proves or disproves it. But even if this stereotype is true, it doesn't explain why they aren't better represented in law and other high-paying academic fields.

Maybe after they read this piece the Woessner's will comment on how libertarians impact this equation. Stay tuned.

Australia: Faddish educational experimentation condemned

It is time to stop introducing change in the nation's classrooms without discovering whether students' learning improved as a result. In an interview with The Australian just before stepping down as president of the NSW Board of Studies, Gordon Stanley also questioned whether school curriculums contained too many subjects, making it difficult to sustain quality across the board.

He said school systems had placed a premium on innovation for its own sake, without evaluating what worked. "The people most opposed to the collection of evidence hold a strong philosophical position, and they're not interested in any challenges to that position," he said. "But one needs to support those belief positions. It's unfortunate if you just want to have debates about philosophical positions without coming down to an analysis of what the implications of these are for learning. "When you're focused on evidence-based practice, you keep focus on the question of what really works instead of having a debate about the philosophy you hold."

Professor Stanley is stepping down after 10 years to become the Pearson professor of educational assessment at Oxford University, and the founding director of the Oxford University Centre for Educational Assessment. During his tenure, the NSW Higher School Certificate has been held up as the gold standard for the nation and is recognised internationally.

While Professor Stanley nominates the integration of vocational courses in the HSC as one of his biggest successes, he questioned the range of subject choices facing students. "I suspect we have too much choice, and too much choice can be confusing for students," he said. "It's worth asking the question whether we've gone too far in differentiating the curriculum. "The more offerings you have, the harder it is to provide well-trained teachers in all these areas. At an individual school level, it's hard to provide all those options for students. And the more differentiated the curriculum, the more expensive it is to deliver."

NSW has also been more successful than other states and territories in withstanding the fads that pass through education, such as integrating history and geography into Studies of Society and the Environment, as occurred elsewhere in the nation. Professor Stanley said NSW "connects with (educational fads) but we don't yield to them without trying to get an understanding of whether in balance they're the appropriate direction to go".


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

US School Districts Cover Up Teacher Sex Abuse with Confidential Agreements and Payouts

An expose by the Oregonian daily newspaper shows that US teachers who sexually abuse their students are often given a pass into other teaching jobs as a cost-saving measure. A search for the phrase "sex abuse cover-up" in the Google internet search engine produces news reports almost exclusively focused on the Catholic Church. But advocates for sex-abuse victims have long known that the problem of persons placed in authority abusing minors is far from being restricted to clergy.

The Oregonian reported yesterday that in some US school districts teachers found to be abusing students are being paid off with letters of recommendation, cash settlements and health insurance in confidential agreements, in return for a quiet immediate resignation. In the agreements, district officials promise not to tell potential employers of the teacher's past misconduct.

Kenneth John Cushing was a recipient of one of these pacts, and left Claggett Creek Middle School in 2004 after allegedly molesting some of his female students. The Oregonian obtained a copy of the deal in which school officials promised not to reveal Cushing's behaviour to prospective future employers.

The paper says it has obtained 47 similar confidential settlement agreements between district officials and teachers. The document said school officials would mention "personal reasons" for Cushing's resignation and make "no reference to this agreement". Cushing's license was eventually revoked in 2005 by the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission.

Another teacher, Stephen John Koller, who left his job at Illinois Valley High School, was found to be living with a 17 year-old student. Three Rivers School District offered Koller $10,000 in severance, six months of health insurance and a letter that said, "He is personally committed to his work and will work extra hours to be successful."

The paper reports that in the past five years, "nearly half" of Oregon teachers disciplined for sexual misconduct left their schools with such pacts. The practice is well known throughout the country, with officials nicknaming it "passing the trash". Out of 767 cases of teacher misconduct over the past ten years 165 cases were sex-related offences, making them the most common.

The Oregonian writes that confidential agreements came into use because of economic pressure, and officials admit that the agreements are the cheapest and fastest way of getting a problem teacher out of a particular school. One of the deterrents to firing teachers who are caught molesting students outright is expensive court battles with the unions. Keeping a teacher on paid leave while the teacher is under investigation can also be costly. Hillsboro Superintendent Jeremy Lyon told the paper, "The whole world of reference checks has become a legal arena. You are in a precarious place if you say anything positive or negative about a past employee."

The paper cites several systemic reasons for the problem of teachers abusing students, including enormous backlogs of investigations that can extend up to a year, inconsistent reporting methods, inadequate background checks on potential teachers, and the fact that older teens are not protected under state laws.

But victims' rights advocates say that such agreements undermine the ability of victims to come to terms with abuse, and perpetuate the problem. The Oregonian quotes Mary Jo McGrath, a school law attorney and sexual abuse expert in Santa Barbara, California, who said, "The secret deals are one of the main things that keep the wheels greased on the machinery that keeps passing around the molesters."

The secret deal solution may be short lived, however, as victims sue. Similar deals in California were dropped by school boards when the state Supreme Court ruled that districts can be sued for having them. In the 1997 case of a 13-year-old student who was sexually molested by a middle school vice principal in Livingston Union School District, the Court ruled that the girl could sue the three districts who had previously employed the man for fraud and negligent misrepresentation after all three districts had offered him confidential agreements.

In 2004, a report from the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights revealed that teachers are more likely than priests to sexually abuse minors. The report said that previous studies from the early 1980's to 1991 showed that one in four girls and one in six boys is sexually abused by a teacher by age 18. Another revealed that 17.7 per cent of males who graduated from high school and 82.2 per cent of females reported sexual harassment by faculty or staff during their years in school.


Australia: Muslims want university classes to fit prayer times

They will push and push for more and more special treatment until someone says No

MUSLIM university students want lectures to be rescheduledto fit in with prayer timetables and separate male and female eating and recreational areas established on Australian campuses. International Muslim students, predominantly from Saudi Arabia, have asked universities in Melbourne to change class times so they can attend congregational prayers. They also want a female-only area for Muslim students to eat and relax. But at least one institution has rejected their demands, arguing that the university is secular and it does not want to set a precedent for requests granted in the name of religious beliefs.

La Trobe University International chief executive director John Molony said several students had approached the Bundoora institution about rearranging class times to fit in with daily prayers. Mr Molony said the university was attempting to "meet the needs" of an increasing number of Muslim international students, including doubling the size of the prayer room on campus.

La Trobe University International College director Martin Van Run said that although it was involved in discussions with the Muslim students who had made the requests, the university was not planning to change any timetables. "That would seriously inconvenience other people at the college and it is not institutionally viable," he told The Australian. "We are a secular institution ... and we need to have a structured timetable." Mr Van Run said that Saudi students were fully aware that the university was secular before coming to study there. "They know well in advance the class times," he said.

A spokesman for RMIT University would neither confirm nor deny reports that Muslim students had requested timetable changes.

One university source told The Australian that the requests by Muslim international students for timetable changes included a petition. "Some of the students would prefer that lecture times were organised so it would be easy for them to attend prayers," he said. "But it wouldn't be a good precedent to set."

Islamic leaders yesterday backed the push by Muslim students to have their lectures arranged to accommodate prayer sessions, but said such a move would be essential only for congregational Friday prayers. Female Muslim leader Aziza Abdel-Halim said yesterday it was a religious duty for those who followed Islam to preach with their fellow believers on Fridays. But the former senior member of John Howard's Muslim reference board said there was nothing in Islam that indicated men and women be segregated when it came to educational activities. "There's nothing in Islam that says there should be complete segregation, especially in educational institutions," said Sister Abdel-Halim.

She said afternoon prayers for Muslims - Zhohor, at 1.10pm, and Asr, at 4.50pm - could be performed until 10 minutes before the following daily prayer, so it was more appropriate to alter prayer times than lecture schedules. "It's reasonable to ask for the lectures to be shifted around on Friday," Sister Abdel-Halim said. "But if it's going to cause havoc with the timetable, I don't think it's really feasible to ask for every single prayer to be catered for


Monday, February 25, 2008

The dumbing down of America

The article below highlights disturbing social trends but fails to lay the blame where it overwhelmingly lies: In dumbed-down education. Blaming computer games is a cop-out in my view -- blaming a symptom rather than the cause

"The mind of this country, taught to aim at low objects, eats upon itself." Ralph Waldo Emerson offered that observation in 1837, but his words echo with painful prescience in today's very different United States. Americans are in serious intellectual trouble -- in danger of losing our hard-won cultural capital to a virulent mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism and low expectations.

This is the last subject that any candidate would dare raise on the long and winding road to the White House. It is almost impossible to talk about the manner in which public ignorance contributes to grave national problems without being labeled an "elitist," one of the most powerful pejoratives that can be applied to anyone aspiring to high office. Instead, our politicians repeatedly assure Americans that they are just "folks," a patronizing term that you will search for in vain in important presidential speeches before 1980. (Just imagine: "We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain . . . and that government of the folks, by the folks, for the folks, shall not perish from the earth.") Such exaltations of ordinariness are among the distinguishing traits of anti-intellectualism in any era.

The classic work on this subject by Columbia University historian Richard Hofstadter, "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life," was published in early 1963, between the anti-communist crusades of the McCarthy era and the social convulsions of the late 1960s. Hofstadter saw American anti-intellectualism as a basically cyclical phenomenon that often manifested itself as the dark side of the country's democratic impulses in religion and education. But today's brand of anti-intellectualism is less a cycle than a flood. If Hofstadter (who died of leukemia in 1970 at age 54) had lived long enough to write a modern-day sequel, he would have found that our era of 24/7 infotainment has outstripped his most apocalyptic predictions about the future of American culture.

Dumbness, to paraphrase the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, has been steadily defined downward for several decades, by a combination of heretofore irresistible forces. These include the triumph of video culture over print culture (and by video, I mean every form of digital media, as well as older electronic ones); a disjunction between Americans' rising level of formal education and their shaky grasp of basic geography, science and history; and the fusion of anti-rationalism with anti-intellectualism.

First and foremost among the vectors of the new anti-intellectualism is video. The decline of book, newspaper and magazine reading is by now an old story. The drop-off is most pronounced among the young, but it continues to accelerate and afflict Americans of all ages and education levels.

Reading has declined not only among the poorly educated, according to a report last year by the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1982, 82 percent of college graduates read novels or poems for pleasure; two decades later, only 67 percent did. And more than 40 percent of Americans under 44 did not read a single book -- fiction or nonfiction -- over the course of a year. The proportion of 17-year-olds who read nothing (unless required to do so for school) more than doubled between 1984 and 2004. This time period, of course, encompasses the rise of personal computers, Web surfing and video games.

Does all this matter? Technophiles pooh-pooh jeremiads about the end of print culture as the navel-gazing of (what else?) elitists. In his book "Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter," the science writer Steven Johnson assures us that we have nothing to worry about. Sure, parents may see their "vibrant and active children gazing silently, mouths agape, at the screen." But these zombie-like characteristics "are not signs of mental atrophy. They're signs of focus." Balderdash. The real question is what toddlers are screening out, not what they are focusing on, while they sit mesmerized by videos they have seen dozens of times.

Despite an aggressive marketing campaign aimed at encouraging babies as young as 6 months to watch videos, there is no evidence that focusing on a screen is anything but bad for infants and toddlers. In a study released last August, University of Washington researchers found that babies between 8 and 16 months recognized an average of six to eight fewer words for every hour spent watching videos.

I cannot prove that reading for hours in a treehouse (which is what I was doing when I was 13) creates more informed citizens than hammering away at a Microsoft Xbox or obsessing about Facebook profiles. But the inability to concentrate for long periods of time -- as distinct from brief reading hits for information on the Web -- seems to me intimately related to the inability of the public to remember even recent news events. It is not surprising, for example, that less has been heard from the presidential candidates about the Iraq war in the later stages of the primary campaign than in the earlier ones, simply because there have been fewer video reports of violence in Iraq. Candidates, like voters, emphasize the latest news, not necessarily the most important news.

No wonder negative political ads work. "With text, it is even easy to keep track of differing levels of authority behind different pieces of information," the cultural critic Caleb Crain noted recently in the New Yorker. "A comparison of two video reports, on the other hand, is cumbersome. Forced to choose between conflicting stories on television, the viewer falls back on hunches, or on what he believed before he started watching."

As video consumers become progressively more impatient with the process of acquiring information through written language, all politicians find themselves under great pressure to deliver their messages as quickly as possible -- and quickness today is much quicker than it used to be. Harvard University's Kiku Adatto found that between 1968 and 1988, the average sound bite on the news for a presidential candidate -- featuring the candidate's own voice -- dropped from 42.3 seconds to 9.8 seconds. By 2000, according to another Harvard study, the daily candidate bite was down to just 7.8 seconds.

The shrinking public attention span fostered by video is closely tied to the second important anti-intellectual force in American culture: the erosion of general knowledge.

People accustomed to hearing their president explain complicated policy choices by snapping "I'm the decider" may find it almost impossible to imagine the pains that Franklin D. Roosevelt took, in the grim months after Pearl Harbor, to explain why U.S. armed forces were suffering one defeat after another in the Pacific. In February 1942, Roosevelt urged Americans to spread out a map during his radio "fireside chat" so that they might better understand the geography of battle. In stores throughout the country, maps sold out; about 80 percent of American adults tuned in to hear the president. FDR had told his speechwriters that he was certain that if Americans understood the immensity of the distances over which supplies had to travel to the armed forces, "they can take any kind of bad news right on the chin."

This is a portrait not only of a different presidency and president but also of a different country and citizenry, one that lacked access to satellite-enhanced Google maps but was far more receptive to learning and complexity than today's public. According to a 2006 survey by National Geographic-Roper, nearly half of Americans between ages 18 and 24 do not think it necessary to know the location of other countries in which important news is being made. More than a third consider it "not at all important" to know a foreign language, and only 14 percent consider it "very important."

That leads us to the third and final factor behind the new American dumbness: not lack of knowledge per se but arrogance about that lack of knowledge. The problem is not just the things we do not know (consider the one in five American adults who, according to the National Science Foundation, thinks the sun revolves around the Earth); it's the alarming number of Americans who have smugly concluded that they do not need to know such things in the first place. Call this anti-rationalism -- a syndrome that is particularly dangerous to our public institutions and discourse. Not knowing a foreign language or the location of an important country is a manifestation of ignorance; denying that such knowledge matters is pure anti-rationalism. The toxic brew of anti-rationalism and ignorance hurts discussions of U.S. public policy on topics from health care to taxation.

There is no quick cure for this epidemic of arrogant anti-rationalism and anti-intellectualism; rote efforts to raise standardized test scores by stuffing students with specific answers to specific questions on specific tests will not do the job. Moreover, the people who exemplify the problem are usually oblivious to it. ("Hardly anyone believes himself to be against thought and culture," Hofstadter noted.) It is past time for a serious national discussion about whether, as a nation, we truly value intellect and rationality. If this indeed turns out to be a "change election," the low level of discourse in a country with a mind taught to aim at low objects ought to be the first item on the change agenda.


A realistic solution to the British school mess

You read stories to your children every night when they were young. You racked your brains trying to understand the mysteries of modern methods of teaching maths and you did not miss a single parents’ evening. You spent hours studying inspection reports and the league tables before you decided on the secondary school you wanted them to attend. Now you learn that their names are to be put into a hat. Egged on by a government obsessed by the wickedness of pushy middle-class parents who want the best for their children, your local education authority (LEA) has decided to substitute the vagaries of a lottery for the ideal of parental choice.

Lotteries, ministers tell us, are one of the fairest ways to allocate places at oversubscribed secondary schools. They want, in other words, to spread the misery. They seem to think that if every school has equal numbers of disadvantaged and/or difficult children, every school will be equally successful. The possibility that successful schools will be dragged down to the level of the rest has not, it appears, crossed their minds.

If everyone cannot be educated in a successful school, nobody will be. Old Labour, red in tooth and claw, reeking bitterness and envy, is creeping centre stage. You care about your children’s education? You want them to have the best possible start in life? Forget it. The politicians and their bureaucrats know best, and if they have their way no parent will be able to manipulate the system in order to secure, as some see it, an unfair educational advantage for their child.

At present, grammar schools are allowed to select pupils on grounds of academic ability, city academies can admit up to 10% of their intake on the evidence of “aptitude” in a particular subject, such as music or technology, and faith schools can still take into account a family’s commitment to a particular religion.

But those freedoms are under ever fiercer attack. Changes to the admissions code that dictate what teachers can and cannot do make the exercise of individual professional judgement more and more difficult.

Many in the world of education want schools to be forced to admit certain percentages of children from different social backgrounds and I have no doubt that ministers are attracted to the idea. Parental choice now risks becoming an evil that will have to be stamped upon in the name of equality of opportunity.

The truth, of course, is that successful schools are successful because they are in control of their own destiny. Crucially, they can decide the pupils who are likely to benefit from the kind of education they offer and they can expel pupils who cannot or will not conform. They respect the aspirations and concerns of parents who have decided that this is the right school for their child. In education, as in any other market, those who deliver what the customer wants will prosper.

Northern Rock, the prime minister told us last week, is in “temporary public ownership”. Not so state schools, which, whatever the colour of the government, seem set to remain the property of the state for ever. This is why standards in so many state schools are so low. The sooner these schools are freed from state control and allowed to compete one with another for the custom of prospective parents, the better.

Would this mean that every school would immediately try to turn itself into a grammar school? Well, not if they all wanted to survive. As in any other market, the challenge is to identify and meet the needs of different customers. Some schools would certainly transform themselves into highly academic institutions; others would be equally effective, but would educate children with, say, emotional and behavioural difficulties. It happens now in the fee-paying sector. Why not in the state?

The state would continue to fund education but would abandon its hopeless attempts to micro-manage every aspect of school life. Funding would follow the child, and children who for whatever reason are more difficult and therefore more costly to educate than others would attract more funds; schools would therefore have an incentive to cater for their needs. Schools that failed to attract enough pupils would close. Their pupils would – as, again, happens now in the fee-paying sector – move to other schools, or a new operator would take over the running of the school.

There is no reason a market of this kind could not operate efficiently. Equally, there is no reason to believe that the current centrally managed system of admissions will ever deliver anything approaching equality of opportunity. Lotteries may be considered a solution by some LEAs because, nationwide, demand for good secondary education outstrips supply. In many parts of the country there are not enough credible schools and so provision has to be rationed. So much for a centralised system that tells schools and parents what they can and cannot do.

The freedom to choose the kind of education you want for your child is a fundamental democratic right. We need to liberate schools from the tyranny of social engineering, and we must allow every school to define its ethos and educational approach in response to market demand and to set an appropriate admissions policy. The only real solution to the crisis in secondary admissions is to create more good schools, and top-down reform has failed to do this. So, the way forward could not be clearer; the tragedy is that none of our politicians can see it.


Shockingly low levels of literacy in Australia

AUSTRALIANS are putting their lives at risk because they can't understand medical prescriptions or basic health information, a new study has revealed. The Adult Literacy and Life Skills survey, conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, found six in 10 people aged between 15 and 74 do not have the basic knowledge and skills to take care of their health and prevent disease. The findings reveal too many people are:

* Unable to perform basic health checks for diseases such as breast, skin or testicular cancer.

* Not aware when they need to contact a doctor.

* Unable to understand instructions on prescribed medication.

* Unable to interpret food labels in order to follow a special diet, such as low fat or low sugar.

The survey, the first of its kind in Australia, has alarmed health experts, who are calling for the Federal Government to introduce a national focus on "health literacy". Prof Robert Bush, director of Queensland's Health Communities Research Centre, said people were putting themselves in danger. "This information should send alarm bells ringing," he said. "Many of our health-promotion initiatives assume a basic level of literacy, such as reading a prescription label so people don't overdose, following a basic health promotion guide, or deciding when it's time to consult a doctor. "Without this basic knowledge then people are putting their lives at risk."

Prof Bush urged the Government to launch a health education program to run in schools, workplaces and aged care homes. "Achieving even a basic level of health literacy to join in ways to better health would seem a fundamental aspiration for Australia," he said. The Adult Literacy and Life Skills survey was completed by 9000 Australians living in urban and rural areas across all states and territories.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Higher Education Gap and Economic Mobility

The story below is from the NYT so it takes a bit of unspinning but, if you just look at the facts reported and ignore the pontifications, it would seem that the declining influence of affirmative action has meant that fewer blacks are going to college and more whites are. Not exactly a surprise.

It is also not a surprise to hear that the children of blacks who have got into good jobs with the help of affirmative action are falling back down the income scale -- to about where their innate ability places them -- more evidence that IQ really is hereditary. An artificially affluent environment did not help the children concerned

Economic mobility, the chance that children of the poor or middle class will climb up the income ladder, has not changed significantly over the last three decades, a study being released on Wednesday says.

The authors of the study, by scholars at the Brookings Institution in Washington and sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts, warned that widening gaps in higher education between rich and poor, whites and minorities, could soon lead to a downturn in opportunities for the poorest families.

The researchers found that Hispanic and black Americans were falling behind whites and Asians in earning college degrees, making it harder for them to enter the middle class or higher. "A growing difference in education levels between income and racial groups, especially in college degrees, implies that mobility will be lower in the future than it is today," said Ron Haskins, a former Republican official and welfare expert who wrote the education section of the report.

There is some good news. The study highlights the powerful role that college can have in helping people change their station in life. Someone born into a family in the lowest fifth of earners who graduates from college has a 19 percent chance of joining the highest fifth of earners in adulthood and a 62 percent chance of joining the middle class or better.

In recent years, 11 percent of children from the poorest families have earned college degrees, compared with 53 percent of children from the top fifth. "The American dream of opportunity is alive, but frayed," said Isabel Sawhill, another author of the report, "Getting Ahead or Losing Ground: Mobility in America." The report is at "It's still alive for immigrants but badly tattered for African-Americans," said Ms. Sawhill, an economist and a budget official in the Clinton administration. "It's more alive for people in the middle class than for people at the very bottom."

The report and planned studies constitute the most comprehensive effort to examine intergenerational mobility, said John E. Morton of the Pew Trusts, who is managing the project. It draws heavily on a federally supported survey by the University of Michigan that has followed thousands of families since the late 1960s.

A chapter of the report released last fall found startling evidence that a majority of black children born to middle-class parents grew up to have lower incomes and that nearly half of middle-class black children fell into the bottom fifth in adulthood, compared with 16 percent of middle-class white children.

The Pew-sponsored studies are continuing with the involvement of research organizations and scholars. Another report expected in the spring by the more conservative Heritage Foundation will focus on explanations for the trends described in the current report.

Stuart Butler, vice president for economic studies at the Heritage Foundation, said, "It does seem in America now that for people at very bottom it's more difficult to move up than we might have thought or might have been true in the past."

Mr. Butler said experts were likely to disagree about the reasons and, hence, on policies to improve mobility. Conservative scholars are more apt to fault cultural norms and the breakdown of families while liberals put more emphasis on the changing structure of the economy and the need for government to provide safety nets and aid for poor families.

"We may well have an economy that rewards certain traits that are typically passed on from parents to children, the importance of education, optimism, a propensity to work hard, entrepreneurship and so on," he said. To the extent that the economy rewards those traits, he added, "you'd expect the incomes of children to track more with that of their parents."

The small fraction of poor children who earn college degrees are likely to rise well above their parents' status, the study showed.

More than half the children born to upper-income parents, those in the top fifth, who finish college remain in that top group. Nearly one in four remains in the top fifth even without completing college.

Evidence from model programs shows that early childhood education can have lasting benefits, Mr. Haskins said, although the Head Start program is too uneven to produce widespread gains.

In addition, he said, studies show that many poor but bright children do not receive good advice about applying for college and scholarships, or do not receive help after starting college. "If we did more to help them complete college," Mr. Haskins said, "there's no question it would improve mobility."


Black crook keeps her teaching job at Columbia

Appoint a dummy because she is black and have low expectations ever after, I guess

Robert notes that Madonna Constantine, the Columbia professor who claimed a noose was left on her door a few months ago, has been has been found guilty of plagiarizing the work of two students and another professor - in no less than two dozen cases. Sure, college administrators say Constantine has been punished, but they delicately refuse to specify how. They also make clear that, because she is tenured, she will keep her job.

The case in question involves more than a mere gaffe or slip of the memory. Serial plagiarism is word piracy and cheating, and it should disqualify professors from the high tasks of teaching on campuses and mentoring students.

Whatever sanctions Columbia has placed on Constantine, they do not fit the crime. Neither tenure nor the cowardice of administrators should be allowed to shield academics who steal the thoughts and words of others. Constantine should be fired, and students and the public have a right to be informed that they no longer need be concerned about such untrustworthy professors. As Tracy Juliao, one of the students who cooperated in Constantine's investigation, rightly stated, "You go in as a student thinking you should be able to trust your faculty."

Source. See also here

Muslim sexual hangups on campus

Amir Mertaban vividly recalls sitting at his university's recruitment table for the Muslim Students Association a few years ago when an attractive undergraduate flounced up in a decidedly un-Islamic miniskirt, saying "Salamu aleykum," or "Peace be upon you," a standard Arabic greeting, and asked to sign up.

Mr. Mertaban also recalls that his fellow recruiter surveyed the young woman with disdain, arguing later that she should not be admitted because her skirt clearly signaled that she would corrupt the Islamic values of the other members. "I knew that brother, I knew him very well; he used to smoke weed on a regular basis," said Mr. Mertaban, now 25, who was president of the Muslim student group at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, from 2003 to 2005. Pointing out the hypocrisy, Mr. Mertaban won the argument that the group could no longer reject potential members based on rigid standards of Islamic practice.

The intense debate over whether organizations for Muslim students should be inclusive or strict is playing out on college campuses across the United States, where there are now more than 200 Muslim Students Association chapters. Gender issues, specifically the extent to which men and women should mingle, are the most fraught topic as Muslim students wrestle with the yawning gap between American college traditions and those of Islam. "There is this constant tension between becoming a mainstream student organization versus appealing to students who have a more conservative or stricter interpretation of Islam," said Hadia Mubarak, the first woman to serve as president of the national association, from 2004 to 2005.

Each chapter enjoys relative autonomy in setting its rules. Broadly, those at private colleges tend to be more liberal because they draw from a more geographically dispersed population, and the smaller numbers prompt Muslim students to play down their differences. Chapters at state colleges, on the other hand, often pull from the community, attracting students from conservative families who do not want their children too far afield.

At Yale, for example, Sunnis and Shiites mix easily and male and female students shocked parents in the audience by kissing during the annual awards ceremony. Contrast that with the University of California, Irvine, which has the reputation for being the most conservative chapter in the country, its president saying that to an outsider its ranks of bearded young men and veiled women might come across as "way Muslim" or even extremist.

But arguments erupt virtually everywhere. At the University of California, Davis, last year, in their effort to make the Muslim association more "cool," board members organized a large alcohol-free barbecue. Men and women ate separately, but mingled in a mock jail for a charity drive. The next day the chapter president, Khalida Fazel, said she fielded complaints that unmarried men and women were physically bumping into one other. Ms. Fazel now calls the event a mistake.

At George Washington University, a dodge ball game pitting men against women after Friday prayers drew such protests from Muslim alumni and a few members that the board felt compelled to seek a religious ruling stating that Islamic traditions accept such an event.

Members acknowledge that the tone of the Muslim associations often drives away students. Several presidents said that if they thought members were being too lax, guest imams would deliver prayer sermons about the evils of alcohol or premarital sex. Judgment can also come swiftly. Ghayth Adhami, a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, recalled how a young student who showed up at a university recruitment meeting in a Budweiser T-shirt faced a few comments about un-Islamic dress. The student never came back.

Some members push against the rigidity. Fatima Hassan, 22, a senior at the Davis campus, organized a coed road trip to Reno, Nev., two hours away, to play the slot machines last Halloween. In Islam, Ms. Hassan concedes, gambling is "really bad," but it was men and women sharing the same car that shocked some fellow association members.

More here