Saturday, March 29, 2008

Virtual High School at work in Nevada

When 18-year-old Matt Sosa graduates this spring, he will do so without having attended even one class at a bricks-and-mortar high school. Instead, he's spent the past four years downloading his teachers' lectures onto his home computer, participating in group discussions via live chat rooms and e-mailing his homework. Sosa will be the first graduate of the Clark County School District's Virtual High School to complete grades 9-12 through the program.

Virtual learning isn't for every student, Sosa said. "You may spend less time in class, but it takes a lot more dedication," Sosa said. "You can fall behind so quickly. You don't have a teacher there every day telling you to get stuff done. It takes a certain level of self-discipline."

The School District has offered "distance education" classes since 1998. For some students, it's a way to take a specialized class that isn't offered at their home high school, such as Advanced Placement German. For others, the program gives them a chance to catch up on missing academic credits to graduate on time. The district launched its Virtual High School in 2004, offering students a chance to enroll full time rather than for just a class or two. The first diplomas were handed out the following spring.

When Sosa signed up, he figured it would be a short-term solution, a way to keep up with his classes while recovering from leg surgery. When he was a sixth grade honor student at Sig Rogich Middle School, he had to have a tumor the size of his fist removed from his leg. Surgeons inserted metal pins and plates to hold his femur in place while it healed and grew. Sosa was told he would need another operation in about two years to remove the metal. His mother worried about him attending an overcrowded high school, where jostling crowds could have caused a disastrous injury.

When they discovered the Virtual High School had just "opened its doors," Sosa "was just in awe" that the option was available, he said. "I thought I would have to go to a regular high school and tough it out." He ended up staying in the program because he concluded it was the best fit for his learning style. "If you're a morning person, you can get your work done then," he said. "If you're a night owl like me, you can do it late. It's all up to you."

Virtual High School has about 650 part-time students and 150 full-time students, including the 30 seniors expected to graduate this year. The program is popular with students for whom the traditional high school schedule is problematic, including elite athletes, professional actors and teen parents. "Our students can travel anywhere and keep up with their studies," said Essington Wade, Virtual High School's principal. "We are open 24/7."

Although Virtual High may not be well-known, it's not without competition. Odyssey Charter School, sponsored by the Clark County School Board in 1999, currently has about 1,400 students enrolled in grades K-12. Teachers visit Odyssey's K-7 students at home once a week, while students in grades 8-12 are required to attend weekly classes on campus.

Two state-sponsored virtual charter schools, Nevada Connections Academy and Nevada Virtual Academy, opened in August. Both have contracted with out-of-state commercial education companies for online curricula and services. Buoyed by aggressive marketing campaigns, enrollment at both schools quickly reached capacity. Students are provided with most supplies, including home computers and microscopes for science projects.

Virtual High lacks the funds to compete with the newcomers when it comes to promotion. But Wade said he's doing what he can to raise the program's profile. He points to Virtual High students' strong academic performance on standardized tests and the solid pass rate on the high school proficiency exam. He's hoping to see more applicants for the fall semester. Students interested in enrolling full time are interviewed and their academic records are reviewed. Poor attendance histories are considered red flags, but even those students may be admitted for a probationary period because the school was intended to help students who haven't flourished in the traditional environment...

Sosa knows about a dozen of his virtual classmates, but talks regularly with only a few of them. Virtual High students are eligible to participate in activities at their home high schools, and Sosa plays cello in Sierra Vista's orchestra. That's been an important social network for Sosa, who admits that virtual learning can get a little lonely. The isolation "is one of the main issues facing Virtual High School," Sosa said. "The Student Council is working on it." Is he on the Student Council? "I am the Student Council," Sosa says, then laughs.

His academic course load is ambitious this year. He's taking honors American literature as well as Advanced Placement biology, and has already passed the Advanced Placement exams for English composition and economics. Perhaps most important, Virtual High School has prepared him well for college, he said. Sosa scored a 33 out of a possible 36 on his college entrance exam, has been accepted by UNLV and is planning on a career in medicine.

He says he doesn't have any regrets about skipping the traditional high school experience. The glimpse he gets attending orchestra practice is enough for him. Sometimes when he passes a classroom, he sees students slumped in their seats, passing notes and goofing off. "You're there to learn," Sosa said. "Why waste your time and the teacher's time like that?"


Higher Education in Minnesota

We learned yesterday that veterans of the United States Army and Marine Corps who have fought for their country and have been awarded the Bronze Star, the Silver Star, the Navy Cross and other decorations are too controversial to be allowed inside a public high school in Minnesota. Some of those high school students, whose tender sensibilities needed to be protected from America's vets, will go on to attend Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, Minnesota.

SMSU is a public, taxpayer-funded institution, just like Forest Lake High School. Forest Lake students who go there will be safe, no doubt, from whatever dangers are posed by touring veterans who want to talk about their experiences in America's armed forces. But they will be able to participate in programs like this one:
The 15th annual Indigenous Nations and Dakota Studies Spring Conference will be held April 2-4 on the campus of Southwest Minnesota State University. This year's conference is entitled "Dakota People, Minnesota History and the Sesquicentennial: 150 years of Lies" and kicks off April 2 with a 7 p.m. address by Waziyata Win (Dr. Angela Cavender Wilson), a member of the Upper Sioux Community in Granite Falls and a historian from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

The Sesquicentennial, if you missed the reference, is the 150th anniversary of Minnesota's statehood. Minnesota joined the union in 1858, just in time for its young men to participate, with rarely equalled heroism, in the Civil War. It appears, though, that the Sesquicentennial "celebration" will be hijacked by the Left, and won't be a celebration at all. Rather, it will be an opportunity to teach Minnesota's young people about the alleged "crimes" of their ancestors, chief among which was defending themselves against a series of spree killings unleashed by violent elements of the Dakota population in 1862. The SMSU program is just one of many instances of this hijacking:
Thursday, April 3 (SMSU Conference Center and Bellows Academic Commons)

8:30 a.m.: Gaby Tateyuskanskan, Dakota, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate

10:30 a.m.: David Larsen, Jr., Bdewakantunwan Dakota, Lower Sioux Community, Morton, Minn., "The History of U.S. Racism."

Here is the piece de resistance:
7 p.m.: Dr. Ward Churchill, genocide scholar, "Genocide and the Dakota People"

So Ward Churchill--fake Indian, fake academic, two-bit leftist hate peddler fired by the University of Colorado for academic fraud--is now calling himself a "genocide scholar!" I'm guessing, though, that he won't be talking about the genocide that the Dakota carried out, pretty successfully, against the Pawnee.

It would be interesting to know how much Churchill is being paid for his appearance, and whether Minnesotans' tax dollars are paying the tab. As a Minnesota taxpayer, I have a personal interest in the question. Be that as it may, the contrast couldn't be starker: in Minnesota, our decorated veterans are unwelcome in public educational institutions, whereas demonstrably fraudulent charlatans like Ward Churchill are welcomed with open arms. As long as they are anti-American.


Britain's socialists make "1984" look libertartian

A new national [British] curriculum for all under-fives risks producing a "tick-box" culture in nursery schools that relies too heavily on formal learning and not enough on play, teachers' leaders will claim today.

The new Early Years Foundation Stage Framework (EYFS), which becomes law in the autumn, lays down up to 500 developmental milestones between birth and primary school and requires under-fives to be assessed on writing, problem solving and numeracy skills. It will apply to about 25,000 nurseries, plus registered childminders in England.

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said that it was not yet clear how the early years curriculum would be evaluated by the schools inspectorate Ofsted. He said, however, that there was a danger that teachers could allow compliance with the new framework to become more important than creativity. "The curriculum itself is not the danger," he said. "The danger is that external examiners will develop a tick-box attitude to every aspect of the curriculum to see if staff have done it." He added that the worst thing for the early years curriculum would be for it to be a "compliance curriculum".


Friday, March 28, 2008

Peacenik public school principal in Minnesota

The principal has had no difficulty propagating Leftist political views in the past. See here

A national tour featuring decorated veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan won't be stopping at Forest Lake Area High School today as planned, after school leaders abruptly canceled the visit. Steve Massey, the school principal, said the decision to cancel was prompted by concerns that the event was becoming political rather than educational and therefore was not suitable for a public school. He said the school had received several phone calls from parents and others, some of whom indicated that they may stage a protest if the event took place.

"The event was structured to be an academic classroom discussion around military service. We thought we'd provide an opportunity for kids to learn about service in the context of our history classes," Massey said. "As the day progressed, it became clear that this was becoming a political event ... which would be inappropriate in a public setting.

"We decided to cancel," Massey said. Organizers of the National Heroes Tour then scrambled to relocate the event to the American Legion building in Forest Lake. The visit, which U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Stillwater, had been scheduled to attend, is sponsored by Vets for Freedom, a national organization run by Pete Hegseth, a 1999 graduate of Forest Lake Area High School who served with the 101st Airborne in Iraq in 2005-06. "I think it's extremely unfortunate that a school would bow to the political pressure of outside groups and not bring in a veterans organization," Hegseth said. "Are we saying that patriotism and duty and honor have no place in our public schools?" So far, the tour has visited one school, albeit a private school.

The stop in Forest Lake was supposed to involve about 150 social studies students and was going to be closed to the public but open to the media. But the last-minute venue change left Hegseth wondering how many people would actually show up today. "I don't know if we'll have a crowd," he said. "We changed venues, but we don't have the ability to publicize it." He said he had talked with school officials ahead of time and assured them that the presenters would not make any political statements. "We had a number of conversations at the beginning of this to make sure our message was in keeping with the traditions of a public school," Hegseth said.

"We have not endorsed a presidential candidate. We're not in the business of doing that." According to the Veterans for Freedom website, the national tour "is about supporting our troops, honoring their commitment and rallying the country to complete the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. At this critical juncture in our country, we need Americans, lawmakers and the media to fully recognize -- and appreciate -- the sacrifice of our brave military and the dramatic success they have achieved, especially in Iraq with the new counterinsurgency strategy."

When asked whether the part about "rallying the country to complete the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan" could indeed be construed as political, Hegseth said that the group agreed not to advocate about the "progress made in Iraq and Afghanistan." "It's Iraq and Afghan veterans talking about what they saw and what they did there, and about what it means to put on the uniform of your country," he said. The veterans started their bus tour in San Diego on March 14 and will end April 9 in New York City.


Another colossal British absurdity

Schools to be forced to keep quota of problem pupils. Discipline be damned!

Successful schools will be forced to take a share of disruptive pupils to prevent them from monopolising the best-behaved children, the Government announced yesterday. Ed Balls, the Children's Secretary, said that schools which excluded pupils would have to accept the same number that had been expelled by another school. This "one out, one in" policy would prevent oversubscribed schools from dumping badly behaved children on to their less successful neighbours.

Speaking at the NASUWT teaching union's annual conference, Mr Balls said that he accepted the recommendations of a behaviour review published yesterday, which said: "A school that permanently excludes a child should expect to receive a permanently excluded child on the principle of one out, one in."

Sir Alan Steer, the head teacher of a specialist school and author of the report, said: "I didn't feel we should have a situation where a school has a perverse incentive to exclude, knowing it would not have to accept a child with difficulties. We didn't want a situation where schools were exporting without accepting their responsibility to import where they could." Sir Alan said that the rules should also apply to oversubscribed and faith schools, otherwise they could use exclusion as a way of creating a space for a child on a waiting list. He said that head teachers had a social responsibility to neighbouring schools to take on challenging pupils.

New legislation requiring all secondary schools to form behaviour partnerships with neighbouring schools would be passed, Mr Balls said. More than 90 per cent of schools already belonged to one, he added. He had taken into consideration an earlier report by Sir Alan, which recommended that clusters of secondary schools pool their resources and expertise to deal with problem pupils.

In his latest report, Sir Alan questioned whether some schools were paying lip service to the partnerships. It said: "Informal soundings make me sceptical that all these schools are actually engaged in meaningful partnership working . . . Credible evidence is lacking on the impact partnerships are making where they do exist."

Mr Balls said that there would be an overhaul of "alternative provision" for children excluded from mainstream education, with a White Paper setting out his department's plans. The overall quality of pupil referral units was not good enough, the minister said, adding that he wanted more voluntary and private sector provision. This will include "studio schools", already successful in the United States, which offer vocational training for expelled pupils.

Mr Balls said: "We will launch pilots to develop new and more effective forms of alternative provision, including high-quality vocational training with a clear pathway to qualifications and a job." He added that he wanted to "shine a light" on the sector; data on the performance of excluded pupils, educated in alternative settings, would be published for the first time.

Mr Balls said that standards of behaviour continued to concern parents, teachers and children. He also announced a "root and branch" review of the school governing body system. Sir Alan said that the responsibilities of parents - as well as their rights - should be set out in the Children's Plan, published last year by Mr Balls's department. A pilot scheme that provided parent support advisers in schools was successful, he said, and should be extended across most, if not all, schools. However, the 100 million pound funding provided for the programme over the next three years was insufficient, he added.


Australia: The wonders of government schooling

Angry students have walked out of their classrooms in protest at the run down state of their primary school. More than 50 pupils holding placards, including one which read "My wet socks suck"', gathered outside Trinity Beach State School, Cairns, in far north Queensland on Wednesday to draw attention to what they call sub-standard facilities. Parents also joined the protest.

Students and parents claim the school's classrooms are run down, cramped and mouldy, there is nowhere to play when it rains, the oval is a boggy mess, the demountables need replacing and the toilets smell. Parent Neils Munksgaard held up a tattered school library book to illustrate the point. "This is out of the school library and you can see it's all patched up with tape and it doesn't look good,"' he said. "And that's pretty much the state of the buildings."

The strike went ahead despite the state government yesterday promising $40,000 in additional funding. Local MP Steve Wettenhall said Trinity Beach State School was "a great school", but organised a petition for parents to sign. "I heard what they said and I'll be taking that message back to Brisbane, and I'll be talking with the education minister (Rod Welford) about the issues at Trinity Beach State School," Mr Wettenhall said.

P&C president Ian Stone said the school was in such a state of decay that some parents had removed their children. "Due to lack of maintenance in the school's general appearance, some parents have chosen to take their kids elsewhere, and that's a crying shame," Mr Stone said.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Britain's anti-military teachers are depriving their pupils

What is the moral distinction between allowing an accountant or a lawyer into a school to talk about career prospects to a class of 12-year-olds, and giving a military officer the same freedom to tell them about the Army? According to the National Union of Teachers, one is useful advice, the other is propaganda. Yesterday the NUT debated a motion that stated that: "Teachers and schools should not be conduits for either the dissemination of MoD propaganda or the recruitment of military personnel." The motion, not surprisingly, was passed. One should never underestimate the vacuous posturing of the NUT.

Strip away all the concern about "glamorising war" and it is clear from the debate that the very presence of military personnel in schools is anathema to the NUT. One delegate in a speech said: "Let's just try and imagine what that recruitment material would have to say were it not to be misleading. We would have material from the MoD saying, ?Join the Army and we will send you to carry out the imperialist occupation of other people's countries'."

If teachers cannot understand the difference between political opposition to the war in Iraq and the role of the Army in the defence of the realm, then pity the pupils they claim to teach. It is one thing to grandstand at an NUT conference about the so-called iniquity of an illegal invasion. It is quite another to undermine a profession, which is an essential pillar of the State, in front of a class of impressionable youngsters.

The timing is spectacularly inept. Barely a fortnight ago RAF servicemen in Peterborough were being advised to shed their uniforms before they went out on the streets, for fear of being exposed to insults and attacks. Recruitment is at a record low despite British troops in Afghanistan facing military action as intense as any since the Korean War. A recent poll suggested that only 23 per cent of the population is well informed about the Army and its role. One might have thought that, in these circumstances, teachers had a responsibility to redress the balance - to explain that the Army is there for society's protection, rather than as the unacceptable face of armed aggression, and to condemn the thugs who assault or insult young squaddies.

But if the teachers' role is questionable, what about political leaders? In Scotland last week, Alex Salmond chose the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq to send out an egregious message that suggested that British troops stationed in Basra do not believe they should be there at all. "Their views about the rights and wrongs of conflict are very similar to the rest of us," he claimed. There is a breathtaking arrogance about this - not only the assumption that his own views about the war are shared by the majority of the population, but that soldiers, whom he has never visited, have lost confidence in their role. It is also irresponsible. For the First Minister of Scotland to undermine the commitment of the UK's Armed Forces abroad does little to suggest that he has made the transition from left-wing gadfly to national leader.

This kind of view is, in truth, far closer to propaganda than anything that the earnest military officers who go into schools - always at the invitation of head teachers - seek to convey. They are there to explain the role of the Armed Forces, and these days, all too conscious of the delicacy of their position, they lay emphasis on issues such as citizenship and training for the future. They draw attention to the army values of courage, discipline, respect for order, loyalty and integrity; their motto is "inspire to achieve". You can see why the NUT wants to eject them.

What the Army is offering is precisely the kind of structure that is so often lacking in the lives of today's generation of young people. Just over a year ago, I spoke to a 22-year-old who had returned with the Black Watch from Basra. He had seen one of his comrades killed by a roadside bomb; he had been in a tank that had narrowly escaped being blown up after a sustained attack from insurgents; he had lived through the blazing heat of an Iraqi summer. He was about as far removed from the Salmond caricature as one can imagine - he was proud of what his regiment was doing, defended the presence of British troops in Iraq and talked convincingly about the dangerous vacuum that would be created if they were pulled out.

But it was what he told me about his personal circumstances that struck me most forcibly. I asked him whether he regretted the years he had been away from home and his friends in Fife. Certainly not, he said - his only regret was that his time in the Army would, inevitably, be limited. "What might you have done if you had not joined up?" I asked. "I'd be in jail, nae doubt," he said matter of factly. Among the kids he had grown up with, at least half, he reckoned, had dropped out of school early and taken to a life of crime. He had been saved by the Army, he said - it had given him not just an alternative, but also a way of rethinking his life.

Curiously, he was echoing a man who will certainly not be quoted by the NUT this week. The Duke of Wellington once explained how the Army introduced order into the chaos of young lives. "All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavour to find out what you don't know by what you do," he said. "That's what I call guessing what is on the other side of the hill'."

Most head teachers, who welcome service personnel into their schools, will know what he meant. They should make it clear that teachers have a duty of care towards their pupils, and that includes presenting them with an even-handed picture of the relationship between a society and its Armed Forces. In previous times the Army has saved the nation from destruction. It may be called upon to do so again. Guessing what is on the other side of the hill is part of our history and should be part of our education


Britain: Government schools should be forced to open their doors to Islamic preachers teaching the Koran

This shows clearly what nuts the NUT are: They say that members of Britain's own armed forces should be kept out of schools but preachers of Jihad should be given privileged access. This shows vividly what deliberate wreckers the far-Left are. They are so filled with hatred of the world around them that they just want to smash things in any way they can. Tearing down, not building up is their thinly camouflaged aim

State schools should be forced to open their doors to Islamic preachers teaching the Koran, the largest classroom union demanded yesterday. The National Union of Teachers' conference also said existing religious schools - almost all of them Christian - should have to admit pupils from other faiths. The union's general secretary Steve Sinnott said that allowing Muslim imams to preach in schools would be a way to reunite divided communities.

But the proposals prompted immediate outrage. Conservative Party backbencher Mark Pritchard said: "This is just further appeasement for Muslim militants. "We should just follow the existing laws on religious education, which state that it should be of a predominantly Christian character. All this will do is further divide many communities that are already split on religious lines."

Speaking as delegates met at the hard-Left-dominated union's annual conference, Mr Sinnott admitted that his plan would amount to religious indoctrination inside taxpayer-backed schools rather than simple teaching of what different religions believe. He said: "This is more than simple religious education, it's religious instruction."

The proposals include providing private Muslim prayer facilities in schools. But Mr Sinnott stressed that no pupils would be forced to have any religious instruction. The union, however, also called for all daily religious assemblies, which by law are supposed to have a Christian character, to be abandoned. It also said local authorities should take control of all state school admissions, removing the right of faith schools to choose which pupils they take.


University of the Absurd

This is like some kind of PC nightmare dreamed up by diversity fanatics who were given permission to experiment at the student's expense:

Recently I sat down with a young woman who shared with me the experience of her first year at Thurgood Marshall College, one of the six colleges of the University of California at San Diego. She explained to me that regardless of her major field of study and in order to graduate she was required to take certain "general education" courses, the centerpiece of which is a three-quarter, 16-unit creation called "Dimensions of Culture." What she had to tell me is a warning to both parents and students.

The Dimensions of Culture program (DOC) is an introductory three-quarter social science sequence that is required of all first year students at Thurgood Marshall College, UCSD. Successful completion of the DOC sequence satisfies the University of California writing requirement. The course is a study in the social construction of individual identity and it surveys a range of social differences and stratifications that shape the nature of human attachment to self, work, community, and a sense of nation. Central to the course objective is the question of how scholars move from knowledge to action. - UCSD Course Description

There follows one of the most incredibly revealing interviews about one student's experience in this PC nightmare. A sample:

Edgar B. Anderson: So let's talk about Dimensions of Culture. That's vague. What's that mean?

Student: I don't know. Each quarter, the first quarter is called Diversity, the second quarter is called Justice, and the third quarter is called Imagination. So Diversity is we studied everything about minorities - like women, homosexuals, and then Asians, blacks, Latinos.

Q. So what's left out - white males?

A. Yeah, pretty much if you're a white male you're bad, that's kind of the joke among all the students.

Q. Women are not even a minority, they're a majority.

A. But it's more about the workforce.

Q. Power.

A. Yeah, that's kind of how they presented it. We didn't really focus on women that much. It was mainly how Asians have been oppressed in history and how Latinos continue to be oppressed and how blacks continue to be oppressed, all of that.

Q. Is there any mention of how successful Asians are in the culture?

A. They say that it's a stereotype because whites have labeled Asians as smart in order to put down black people.

Q. And how about Latin Americans now?

A. That we also put them down...

Q. So this is your Diversity class.

A. Yeah, that was Diversity.

Can you imagine being a parent paying thousands of dollars for the education of your child only to have the student attend these attempted brainwashing sessions?


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Amazing: Mentally ill teachers asked back to school in Britain

Is there no end to socialist "caring"?

Teachers who have been declared unfit to work in the classroom are being approached in a "desperate" recruitment drive to fill vacancies in key subject areas, the National Union of Teachers said yesterday.

Letters from the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA), the main schools recruitment body, have been sent to teachers who have left the profession, including those who have retired on the ground of ill health. Describing teaching as "great fun"[In British schools? What a laugh!], the letters boast that teachers now earn more and work less hard.

One letter was sent last week to John Illingworth, a former primary school head who made news headlines two years ago when he broke down in tears at the NUT annual conference and said that he was leaving the profession because of mental illness brought on by workplace stress. Mr Illingworth, a former NUT president, said that he found the letter outrageous in its lack of sensitivity towards mentally ill colleagues and in its misleading claims over teacher pay and workload. "I was forced to leave teaching two years ago because of mental illness," he told the union's annual conference in Manchester yesterday, adding that he had been declared "unfit to teach".

"I take that letter as a joke. But there are some very ill people out there who have left teaching and are still very ill. "This letter could be extremely damaging to their health. It is outrageous that a government agency is sending out such letters to ill teachers." He questioned why the agency had not found out which teachers had left the profession owing to mental health problems, adding that he would not be surprised if the letters had been sent to teachers who had died.

Mr Illingworth, originally a maths teacher, suggested that the agency could be writing to retired teachers of shortage subjects. Although there is no overall teacher recruitment crisis, there are shortages of maths, science and modern language teachers. He read delegates extracts of the letter that he had received from Graham Holley, chief executive of the agency, claiming that a lot had changed over the past two years. "Salaries are much better. Teachers are on average earning 10,000 a year more now than they did 10 years ago. "The number of teachers working part-time has increased and the workload has improved, with teachers saying they spend significantly less time working at home," the letter said.

But Mr Illingworth contested these claims. "This isn't a half-truth. It isn't even a quarter-truth: it's damned lies," he said to applause. Starting salaries for graduate teachers had increased by about 6,000 since 1997, and, in real terms, teacher salaries were less than two years ago, he said. The latest survey on primary teacher workload, published last week by Cambridge University, showed an increase in average weekly working hours by two hours to 56 hours.

"We shouldn't be trying to encourage people into teaching on the basis of lies because, if we do, half of them will leave in the first three years of teaching. I know there's a crisis among teachers. That's why desperate measures like this are being taken. But the answer to that is to reduce teacher workload, improve our pay and keep us all in the job," he said.

A number of delegates approached him after his speech to say that they knew of similar letters being sent to NUT members, including those with mental ill health. It appeared that the Teachers Pensions Agency had passed to the TDA the names and addresses of teachers who had left the profession - something that the NUT said it would investigate. About 12,000 teachers return to the profession every year, joining a workforce of approximately 440,000 in England. But between a third and a half of teachers leave within five years of starting work.

A TDA spokesman said that it was actively encouraging qualified teachers to return to the profession. "Pay progression opportunities and flexible working arrangements have significantly improved over the last five years," he said. "Teachers are now also supported by an increased wider workforce, which frees up their time to do what they do best, which is to teach."


Root beer keg party doesn't amuse meddling school officials

What kids do out of school is no business of schools anyway. School administrations are not a branch of some police state -- though they evidently would like to be

The Zebro home in Kronenwetter showed all the signs of an underage drinking party March 1: cars blocking the road, dozens of rowdy kids and a keg. And yet, every partygoer's breath test revealed an alcohol-free gathering. Dustin Zebro, 18, and his friends said they threw the party after D.C. Everest High School administrators suspended their friends from sports. "We didn't know it would work well enough to make the cops show up," Zebro said of the plan to poke fun at the administrators by throwing a root beer kegger.

However amusing, the event -- which partygoers posted on the video Web site YouTube -- highlights serious differences in attitudes about underage drinking. Zebro and his friends said they think underage drinking is between students and police, not schools. Principal Tom Johansen disagrees. "I think we have an obligation as an educational institution," he said, explaining that schools investigate cases of underage drinking carefully. Violations at school can lead to suspension or expulsion, while those at other venues can lead to expulsions from sports. Debra Burgess, drug free communities coordinator for the Wausau School District, said the root beer party, and its motivations, downplay the consequences of underage drinking, which include harmful decisions and stalled brain development.

Zebro's mother, Ruthie, said she didn't know the motivation behind the gathering. She also said a group on the social networking Web site Facebook that suggests she supports underage drinking is easily misunderstood. Although they had no proof, Everest Metro police have spoken to Ruthie Zebro about anonymous complaints they received about her hosting an underage drinking party. "I don't promote it," she said. But a drinking age of 21, she said, isn't fair with kids going to war at 18.

Burgess said there's little room for mixed messages. "Parental approval or disapproval is often more powerful than we realize," she said.


Australia: Useless education degrees

Standards are so low anyhow that it is hard to imagine standards being too low for the authorities but so it seems

A TEACHING degree at a leading university has been refused accreditation for failing to properly prepare students in key primary school subjects, with some of its course units described as being more akin to TAFE-level study. Three other universities are also restructuring their 12-month graduate diplomas in primary education to meet new accreditation standards that emphasise content ahead of educational theory, with a year considered insufficient time to complete the mandatory subjects.

The four-year Bachelor of Early Childhood Education at the University of Wollongong is being restructured for next year after it was rejected by the NSW Institute of Teachers and a new set of standards agreed to by the states and territories. It is believed this is the first time a course has been rejected under the new system. Newcastle, Macquarie and the Australian Catholic University have also been forced to restructure their 12-month graduate diploma courses.

Wollongong's deputy dean of education Brian Ferry said the university had received "feedback" from the NSWIT that its four-year degree - which trains teachers for children aged up to eight in childcare centres, preschools and the first years of primary school - had failed to meet accreditation standards. But Professor Ferry said that was not the same as failing accreditation or the course being rejected. "The institute has just asked us to increase a bit more emphasis on the primary aspect of this program," he said. "We just have to make sure we cover the key learning areas in a little more detail."

Professor Ferry said the university had decided to recast the course from next year for teachers of children under five, to meet the demand anticipated from the federal Government's focus on the early years of life.

The Australian understands that the NSWIT panel found a large proportion of the course focused on children five years and younger, giving insufficient attention to key areas in the primary curriculum. It criticised the course for being of poor quality, saying a number of the early-childhood units were more at the level of TAFE study than university standard. But Professor Ferry denied the course had been described as TAFE-level.

It is understood the NSW Education Department, which previously approved courses, expressed strong reservations in 2006 about early primary teaching courses in general. The NSWIT accreditation standards require more content to be taught than under the previous system, and, critically, does not accept educational theory as content.

NSWIT chief executive Tom Alegounarias refused to comment on individual universities, but said it was always expected that not all courses would meet the new requirements. Mr Alegounarias said the higher standards had been negotiated in full co-operation with the universities. "We are in a difficult transition period where universities are deciding how to accommodate the new subject content requirements, and the literacy and numeracy requirements," Mr Alegounarias said.

NSW Education Minister John Della Bosca said Wollongong University's experience showed the new process was working and that universities were taking it seriously.

Macquarie University head of the school of education John Hedberg said the school's diploma of education was now a two-year course that undergraduates wrapped into their degree studies, such as arts.

Professor Ferry said the faculty was planning to extend the academic year, so that students started earlier and finished later with fewer breaks, to enable them to finish the required course content.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The British school lottery

When Pauline Patrick had to tell her daughter that she wouldn't be starting at her chosen school in Brighton in the autumn with her friends, 11-year-old Chloe's response added to the anxiety her mother was already feeling. "She came home from school the day the letter arrived and asked, `Did I get in?'," says Patrick. "I had to say no and she just broke down, crying, `Why me, Why me?' I kept saying to her that we would appeal against the decision and we would win. But what if we don't win? What will we do then?"

The Patrick family's experience was replicated all over the country on the so-called "national offer day" earlier this month. Some families logged on after midnight to discover their child's fate; others waited for the envelope to drop through the letterbox. One way or another there was a lot of bad news: one in five families - 100,000 children - had missed out on their first choice of school place. Government ministers promptly admitted that many parents would feel "let down" by the system and urged them to make a case to local appeals panels.

But the thousands of families now caught in this predicament know that the chances of persuading a panel to throw open the gates of an oversubscribed school is stacked against them: two out of three appeals fail. So parents now face weeks of worry searching for alternatives to the sink schools that many have been offered.

With one-sixth of Britain's 3,000 secondary schools turning in appalling GCSE results, it is clear that there are simply not enough good schools to go round. National offer day 2008 seems to have condemned thousands of children to scrappy qualifications and a second-class life - at the age of 11.

Patrick, however, refused to be felled by the bad news. Within hours of learning the decision, she had shot off a letter to the appeals panel. She is now waiting for a date for a hearing where she will try to persuade them why her daughter should be given a place at Hove Park, a school close to the family's home. Instead, Chloe has been offered a place at a school several miles away, which means taking two long and, her mother says, unsafe bus journeys across the city twice a day. At this school, fewer than one in four children (23%) got five good GCSEs last summer.

In Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, dozens of parents have been left out in the cold because the Tiffin girls' school, the local grammar, accepts children from all over the country who pass the tough entrance exam, leaving local families scraping around. Among them is Tamsin McNicol's 10-year-old daughter Xanthe [above]. She was turned down at her first four choices and offered a place only at her fifth - a school in the neighbouring borough of Richmond, which was until recently failing badly. "It's bonkers," says McNicol. "The grammar school is two minutes from our home, but there are children applying from Yorkshire. Some pupils travel two hours each way to go there." Her daughter was a whisker away from achieving the marks to get a place, but lost out to children with higher marks who could be living at the other end of the country.

McNicol and other parents are campaigning for a new secondary school to be built in the north of Kingston, but in the meantime she is left high and dry. "I'm worried because I don't think the school Xanthe has been offered a place at is the right school for her," says McNicol. "It is undersubscribed because it used to be a failing school." She is appealing for a place at Tiffin girls, and will be writing to Ed Balls, the schools secretary, to point out just how unfair she feels the system is. However, McNicol's situation, to quote Monty Python's four Yorkshiremen, is "luxury" compared with that of Louis Modell, who has nowhere to go in September.

Louis was a Blair baby, born in February 1997 - three months before Tony Blair was elected - with the words "education, education, education" ringing in his ears. Eleven years on, Louis doesn't know what he will do in September after he finishes at Lauriston school in east London - ironically a primary that Gordon Brown singled out for praise in his 2007 Labour conference speech. And Louis's situation is by no means unique: he is one of 14 children out of 30 in his year 6 class in the same position. His father, David Modell, a documentary film-maker, has lived in Hackney for 13 years with his girlfriend Madeleine. The couple have two younger children in local primary schools.

Louis applied for six secondary school places - the only three in Hackney that his father said "he had a cat in hell's chance" of getting into, two schools in a neighbouring borough to hedge his bets, and one last-chance saloon: a school in Ingatestone in Essex, a 40-minute train journey away. With no offers so far, Louis has as yet no hope of any - the best the trust that runs education in Hackney could come up with was a suggestion that he consider home schooling. "We did everything we were asked to do. We were not picky - so when you get that letter saying you haven't got a place anywhere, it's shocking," says

Modell. "This year it's like carnage - all these kids and parents are walking around stunned." Three families, three unhappy unsettled children. Over the next few weeks they and their parents will have their lives turned upside down as they write letters, wait by the phone, attend appeal hearings and cross their fingers. Will Chloe avoid having to catch four buses a day? Will Xanthe be allowed to go to a better school closer to home where her friends go? And will Louis have a chance to go to school at all? Questions that, 11 years on, the Blair generation feel they should not be having to ask.


Convicted Felon Abortionist is Now the Principal of a Chicago Elementary School

A convicted felon and abortionist responsible for the deaths of at least two women has been hired at a Chicago public school as the new principal. A spokesman from Mildred I. Lavizzo School in the greater Roseland area told a pro-life advocate that the Lavizzo school council were apprised of the full background of their new principal, Dr. Arnold Bickham.

Jill Stanek, a Chicago area pro-life activist and nurse posted a letter on her website from an 8th grader at the school, who said that students and teachers "aren't comfortable with being around him and we want help. If he has this kind of back ground (sic) he shouldn't be able to work in this type of organization because you'll never know what he will try to do."

Bickham's days as an abortionist were ended in 1988 when the state permanently revoked his medical license after the death of a patient, Sylvia Moore, but his criminal conviction was for defrauding government job-training funds to cover his abortion facility payroll. Bickham's license was revoked in 1970 after it was revealed he was attempting abortions on women who were not pregnant.

Two women, 26 year-old Sherry Emry and 18 year-old Sylvia Moore underwent abortions at Bickham's hands at his Water Tower Reproductive Center in Chicago; both died of complications. Emry bled to death from an undetected ectopic pregnancy and Moore with a lacerated uterus that still had a plastic surgical instrument embedded in it.

Bickham was sued by patients several times for malpractice for infection, internal injuries, perforated uterus, and hemorrhage.

Stanek said she spoke with Chicago Public Schools spokesman, Mike Vaughn, who told her, "I did confirm with the law department that the crimes he was convicted of were not enumerated offenses that state school code lists as prohibiting someone from working for the school district".


Private Colleges Proliferating, Worldwide

With the demand for higher education ever-growing and unmet internationally, the private sector continues to grow. A paper to be presented this week at the Comparative and International Education Society conference in New York explores global patterns in the growth of private higher education - how it increases access and who for, how private institutions expand, and what the worries are.

"Fewer and fewer countries disallow private higher education, whereas many did several decades back," writes Daniel C. Levy, a professor and director of the Program for Research on Private Higher Education at the State University of New York at Albany. "Furthermore, while private growth has often exploded unexpectedly and on the fringes of legislation, it has also emerged where laws have been liberalized" - in various Indian states and Chinese provinces, for instance. Whereas private education earlier developed in Latin America outside of a "state directive," it's increasingly common, Levy writes, for governments in Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East "to articulate a rationale for private access." In the context of the report and international higher education, "private" can mean nonprofit, for-profit or somewhere in between.

While Japan is the only developed nation to have a majority of its enrollment concentrated in private colleges, such is the case in many developing countries in Asia and Latin America, Levy writes - adding that there's been significant growth elsewhere, including in post-communist countries that previously had no private higher education at all. In addition to providing more seats, private education's expansion is justified in part for bringing in additional revenue to the higher education system as a whole. At a recent forum presented by Fulbright Scholars studying access and equity in higher education around the world, researchers described a need to reduce pressures on massive, often tuition-free but resource-starved public higher education systems (existing in political climates oriented around the belief that free public higher education is a public good).

While private growth sometimes is focused on creating institutions similar to public universities but for their sources of revenue, private growth also often involves differentiation, including the education of students who wouldn't otherwise participate in higher education, Levy writes. Among them are students whose academic qualifications are sub-par by public university standards.

"It involves many students from socioeconomic backgrounds lower than that in public institutions, notwithstanding tuition charges. After all, the main obstacle to access for those from poor backgrounds is not higher education tuition but rather factors that limit their chances to perform well through schooling and thus to be qualified for selective public higher education." Private education can also increase access for particular groups. In Kenya, for instance, where women don't perform as well on science-based, public university entry exams, private universities can provide alternatives.

While growing primarily as freestanding institutions, private colleges do sometimes expand through linking or affiliating with public institutions. "The other thing is that it's fascinating how in some parts of Africa, Central and Eastern Europe, public universities, which are tough to get into, have opened private parallel programs. So, `I'm not good enough to get into the public and go for free but I am good enough maybe to get into a parallel program,'" Levy said in an interview.

On the one hand the programs expand access to students who wouldn't land a highly subsidized or even tuition-free public university spot. But they also raise questions about equity, with fee-paying, students in the private, parallel program sometimes studying right alongside the subsidized students - who generally come to the public system with better preparation and from higher socioeconomic backgrounds, he said.

Such issues are complicated, and the concerns remain. Among these is a distrust of profit motives. More common than for-profit private colleges, Levy writes, are "for-profits legally cloaked as nonprofits." Questions about quality - and whether private colleges are achieving efficiencies or operating at low levels of quality - persist, he writes. And of course there are philosophical issues at the core. "You can always make a counter-case. One counter-case would be do we need this much access? Do we need this many people in higher education? A second could be, if we do than why not pay for it on the public side?" Levy said in a phone interview Tuesday.

"Theoretically you could do it all through public education and try to save on cost by forcing people to pay, particularly if you establish good loan mechanisms. But that isn't really the reality in most places. The stark reality in most places I believe is there's huge demand, and the public sectors operate mostly on the basis of public money, and there isn't perceived to be enough public money to make great increased access possible through the public sector alone." "That doesn't mean that most people are tickled pink by all this. I think there are a lot of reservations."


Monday, March 24, 2008

Teachers Want to Nationalize Private Schools

(Manchester, England) Imagine for a moment, dear readers, that you are given a proposal to evaluate.

You are confronted with a bushel basket of rotting apples surrounded by a large number of individual, crisp and nutritious apples. Now, the proposal is to place the crisp and nutritious apples into the bushel basket with the stated reason of seeing "some urgent improvements" in the condition of all the apples.

Good idea or not? You make the call.

Okay, now change the apples to public and private schools, respectively, and I contend that the proposal is an example of unfathomably irrational thinking and it comes from, not surprisingly, a teachers union. Using their logic, we could sardine a bunch of healthy folks into a tuberculosis ward and overall health would improve.
The new head of Britain's biggest teaching union has called for the private education system to be nationalised.

Bill Greenshields, incoming president of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said such a move would improve state education and make it fairer.

The NUT, the most left-wing of the teaching unions, has long been hostile to independent education and to Labour’s programme of setting up academies with private-sector sponsors to replace failing schools.

But Greenshields's comments to the union's annual conference in Manchester yesterday went one step further.

"Let's consider our own direction of travel -- from private to public, towards bringing all schools into the state sector," he said. "Then we would soon see some urgent improvements in our state system."
And this guy was chosen as president of the organization! It's hard to picture what the more extreme members of the NUTs have on their minds. By the way, you have to give the group credit for coming up with a most apropos acronym.
Hank Brown for Harvard

The modern academy is notoriously immune from accountability, as Larry Summers so painfully learned at Harvard. So it is worth noting, and applauding, the achievements of Hank Brown, the best college president you've never heard of, who retired this month from the University of Colorado. Mr. Brown took over as interim president in April 2005 when the school of 50,000 was in turmoil. This was a couple of months after CU professor Ward Churchill had become infamous, and a year after the school's athletic department was accused of offering alcohol and sex to recruit football players. A former U.S. Senator, Mr. Brown was reappointed in 2006 in a permanent capacity.

The public was outraged over Mr. Churchill's statements -- including that the 9/11 victims were not "innocent" but a "technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire" driving the "mighty engine of profit to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved." The public anger reminded politicians, and even a few academics, that public universities should be answerable to taxpayers.

Mr. Brown proceeded to oversee a complete examination of Mr. Churchill's work, and the ethnic studies professor was eventually fired because of fraudulent scholarship, not his politics. Mr. Brown then initiated a complete review of CU's tenure policies, making it easier for his successors to get rid of deadwood. He also took on the equally sensitive subject of grade inflation, insisting that the university disclose student class rank on transcripts. If a B average puts a student at the bottom of his class, future employers will know it.

Frederick Hess, who researches higher education at the American Enterprise Institute, says there may be plenty of other people who know how to fix a university. But the reason there are so few Hank Browns goes back to Machiavelli. "When a leader tries to wrestle with these things," Mr. Hess notes, "there are influential constituencies that he upsets. It's much easier to manage the status quo than to enforce change."

Hank Brown may have upset some students and faculty, but he built support elsewhere, such as among the university's board of regents. He long ago saw the importance of active trustees to improving higher education. In 1995, he and Senator Joe Lieberman wrote in Roll Call newspaper that "campus political pressures often make it difficult for those on campus to defend academic freedom." During his CU presidency, Mr. Brown got the regents to support his policies and even to adopt a statement encouraging greater intellectual diversity on campus.

As for that athletic scandal, Mr. Brown's commitment to transparency proved the right antidote again. He settled the lawsuits, personally apologized to the victims and made all of the information about the case, both good and bad, available to the public. While predicting the behavior of college football players is risky business, it is a safe to say Mr. Brown has changed the culture of CU on and off the field.

Anne Neal, the president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, recently summarized Mr. Brown's accomplishments. "In a little more than two years, he has helped restore CU's reputation for educational excellence and accountability. Alumni and public confidence quickly followed." As Mr. Brown departed, Ms. Neal noted, "CU was enjoying a record level of public support," including record increases in alumni giving the last two years. Send that man to Harvard.


Paranoid Canadian university

There needs to be some recourse against these pocket Hitlers

A CANADIAN university threatened to expel a student for cheating because he set up an online study group on Facebook. Toronto's Ryerson University threatened to expel first-year computer engineering student Chris Avenir last week, arguing that his study group on the Facebook networking site might encourage cheating. Critics said the move instilled a culture of fear.

Ryerson has since lifted the expulsion threat, but Mr Avenir will get zero credits for the course work discussed on the Facebook forum last autumn, and the university has put a disciplinary notice on his record.

Canadian media analyst Jesse Hirsh said Ryerson's actions send the wrong message to students, most of whom spend a lot of their time on the internet. "It sends a clear signal to all the kids that innovation is not only frowned upon but will be punished and that if you use emerging technologies in innovative ways, you risk being expelled from the school," he said.

Members of the Facebook study group - Dungeons/Mastering Chemistry Solutions - said the group was set up to help each other with homework assignments and to understand class lectures, and had nothing to do with cheating. Ryerson, however, said the group offered the potential for cheating on a large scale.

University of Toronto philosophy and media studies professor Megan Boler said that all universities encourage collegiality and discussion and that meeting online was very transparent because there were traces and records of everything discussed. "Of course we want to ensure academic integrity, but I think academic freedom and civil rights are equally important, unless we expect students to study in total isolation," she said.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Schools Nationwide Hide Teacher Misconduct and Incompetence

New reports show teachers nationwide are allowed to continue teaching, or are paid not to teach, after being found guilty of misconduct. Expensive, difficult, union-mandated rules prevent them from being dismissed.

Over the course of a two-year investigation culminating in mid-December 2007, Florida's Herald Tribune newspaper uncovered what likely is the tip of an iceberg--a confidential, nationwide list of 24,500 teachers who have been punished for a wide array of offenses. The list, gathered and maintained by the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC), does not tell why the teachers were disciplined, but criminal convictions, insubordination, sexual misconduct, and student abuse are common causes for such actions. Unfortunately, where abusive and incompetent teachers are concerned, the system is rigged against victims--that is, students.

The major obstacle to obtaining a complete picture of the widespread scope of teacher incompetence and misbehavior is that such information in almost all states is considered confidential either by state regulation or local school board policy. The only exceptions are Florida, Ohio, South Carolina, and Vermont.

Any such information in NASDTEC files has come from school districts on a voluntary basis, with the promise that it will remain confidential. In almost every state, there is no practical way to find out how many unsatisfactory teachers remain in classrooms, how many of the offending teachers have been transferred to no-student-contact jobs, or how many have been allowed to resign with a clean record (to avoid prolonged, politically risky, and expensive dismissal procedures) only to be hired in other school districts.

According to the Herald Tribune investigative report, "Broken Trust," more than 750 Florida teachers have been punished for misconduct toward students over the past 10 years. At least 150 from that group are still teaching today.

Another investigation, published in late December by the Detroit Free Press, found dozens of tenured teachers in the metro area were unfit to stay in the classroom but were paid to resign and had allegations of impropriety and incompetence removed from their records. A quarter of these bought-out teachers went on to teach in other districts, likely without their new employers being aware of prior allegations.

In the fall of 2007, more than 500 New York City teachers, assistant principals, and principals had records so dismal they were deemed unfit for any school and were placed in a dozen reassignment rooms, often referred to as "rubber rooms," where they idle away their time on full salaries and benefits while waiting to enter or complete a dismissal procedure rendered endless and unworkable by union contracts.

In his award-winning series on "The Hidden Costs of Tenure," investigative reporter Scott Reeder of the Small Newspaper Group, which publishes three newspapers in Illinois, revealed just how tough it is to discover what happens to incompetent teachers in that state. Reeder told me about the frustration of obtaining information that should be easily accessible to the public. He was forced to lodge 1,500 Freedom of Information Act requests with various government agencies and interview hundreds of educators, union officials, and experts. This is not a user-friendly procedure for the average citizen.

One of Reeder's big discoveries was that procedure trumps everything when it comes to dismissing an incompetent tenured teacher. The slightest deviation from a meaningless bureaucratic procedure can lose a case--resulting in another incompetent teacher remaining in the classroom. It's also very expensive. Because of due process requirements, complicated by union contract impediments, one dismissal can cost a school district $100,000 to $400,000. That's why so many districts decide to leave incompetent teachers in the classroom or buy them off with a promise of a clean record if they resign.

Reeder found in the previous 19 years, 94 percent of the 876 school districts in Illinois have never even attempted to fire any tenured teacher. And of every 930 evaluations of tenured teachers, only one resulted in an "unsatisfactory" rating--without which there can be no dismissal.


Educate the Educators

Voices of Educators in the Sunday, March 2, 2008, The Honolulu Advertiser was headlined "Needed: Leaders to transform education." It was written by a laundry list of "educators" who are, one assumes, leaders. The 910 word article reflected the honest and accurate concerns of the authors that the government education system needs major transformation.

But the key leader was never mentioned. The leader who knows the needs, wants, habits and potential of each child is not mentioned -- not once in the entire article. What better indicator of mistaken values and priorities than to prescribe correction without even mentioning the parent -- the responsible/accountable one. The one who will suffer consequences for mistakes and rewards for correct choices for life (and for some, perpetuity). That's a fate the authors are immune from.

This reminds me of the memorable national TV interview show where then Senator Phil Gramm was faced with a devoted educator who spoke with total conviction of his unswerving dedication to each and every child. Gramm asked: "Does that include my children?" After being told "Yes, certainly" Gramm simply said "What are their names?" That made the point crystal clear.

There is no hope for government education unless we change the focus from top-down to bottom-up. For society to flourish, the top (the authors and the government bureaucracy) is expendable, the bottom (parent) is essential. The authors miss that mark. Should we send them back to school?


Prayer and meditation law challenged in Ill. schools

A federal judge favors expanding a legal challenge to a mandatory moment of silence in classrooms into a class-action lawsuit that would include all Illinois school districts. Judge Robert W. Gettleman said Wednesday that he also plans to expand the plaintiff's side of the lawsuit to include all students, instead of just the one suburban teenage girl who sued to block the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act. "A bilateral class is the only way to go here," Gettleman said.

Gettleman said he wants to hear from both sides before extending an injunction he issued in November temporarily blocking the state superintendent from enforcing the Illinois law, which requires a brief period of prayer or reflective silence at the start of every school day. He also wants the sides to plan how to inform school districts of the class action and whether districts can opt out of the case. Some districts require the daily silence, following the state act that went into effect in October. Other districts, including Chicago, have stopped enforcing the law as they wait for the court to decide on its constitutionality, said Illinois assistant attorney general Thomas Ioppolo.

Meanwhile, legislation has been introduced in Springfield to remove the words "student prayer" from the law and make it optional. "I was hoping, frankly, this was further along in the legislative process," the judge said at Wednesday's hearing. "I was hoping we'd avoid spending resources on all sides." The lawsuit was filed by talk show host Rob Sherman, an outspoken atheist, and his daughter, a freshman at Buffalo Grove High School. Sherman contends the law represents an attempt to inject religion into the public schools. Lawmakers passed the measure over Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich's veto.