Saturday, May 03, 2008

A Professor Sues His Students

He objects to being called a racist by black students because he criticizes affirmative action

On bad days, there are no doubt plenty of professors who have joked about suing students. But it is pretty rare that somebody actually does so. A law professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock has - and the ramifications could extend well beyond his dispute. Richard J. Peltz is suing two students who are involved in the university's chapter of the Black Law Student Association, the association itself, and another individual who is affiliated with a black lawyers' group. Peltz charges them with defamation, saying that his comments about affirmative action were used unfairly to accuse him of racism in a way that tarnished his reputation.

Suing students for what they have said about you is rare if not unheard of, but the topic has suddenly come up not only at Little Rock's law school, but at Dartmouth College. There, a former instructor recently sent several former students e-mail indicating that she was planning a suit. Robert B. Donin, general counsel of the college, issued a statement in which he said: "We have determined that there is no basis for such action, and we have advised the students and faculty members of this."

Since the suit that has been filed in Arkansas and has been reported by The Arkansas Democrat Gazette, students and faculty there have considered the ramifications - but mostly among themselves. There is considerable concern at the university - and some elsewhere - about what it means to open exchange of ideas to have a professor sue his students.

The dispute over Peltz concerns his opposition to affirmative action - and how he expressed it. Complicating matters is that no one who was present when the statements were actually made is discussing them. Those Peltz sued did not respond to messages, and he was willing to e-mail only a very general discussion of what happened. In examples of the defamatory material that were submitted with his suit, however, the view of the black student organization about his actions becomes clear.

In a memo sent to Charles Goldner, dean of the law school, the students accuse Peltz of engaging in a "rant" about affirmative action, of saying that affirmative action helps "unqualified black people," of displaying a satirical article from The Onion about the death of Rosa Parks, of allowing a student to give "incorrect facts" about a key affirmative action case, of passing out a form on which he asked for students' name and race and linking this form to grades, and of denigrating black students in a debate about affirmative action, among other charges. The student memo said that the organization had "no problem with the difference of opinion about affirmative action," but that Peltz's actions were "hateful and inciting speech" and were used "to attack and demean the black students in class."

The black student group demanded that Peltz be "openly reprimanded," that he be barred from teaching constitutional law "or any other required course where black students would be forced to have him as a professor," that the university mention in his personnel file that he is unable "to deal fairly with black students," and that he be required to attend diversity training.

While Peltz in an e-mail said he could not discuss the case in detail, he suggested - as have his supporters - that the accusations that he was unfair to black students were a misrepresentation of his criticism of affirmative action. For example, he said that he was invited by the Black Law Students Association to debate affirmative action and to take the anti- position.

And while not relating this action directly to what is described in the suit, he wrote the following by e-mail about what may be the form asking for students' race. "Unrelated to the debate and in the ordinary course of my Constitutional Law class in the fall of 2005, I taught the usual and scheduled material on affirmative action. To stimulate discussion, I presented students with an exercise by handing out a adapted version of the form that the Arkansas state government uses to hire personnel. All students were offered credit to participate. Responding to skeptical student questions, I argued in favor of affirmative action. My teaching method spurred a productive class discussion."

After Peltz filed the suit, he was removed from teaching all required courses - a fact that the university confirmed but declined to explain, saying that it related both to personnel issues and litigation. Goldner, the dean, sent students and professors an e-mail in which he said that "we recognize that an individual is within his or her rights to file claims in our courts. We also take seriously our obligation to provide our students the environment they need in order to receive the best possible education. Part of that obligation includes working to be an institution in which all members - faculty, students, and staff - are free to openly voice opinions and concerns." Goldner pledged to continue to work to create a "diverse and inclusive community."

Jonathan Knight, who handles academic freedom and governance issues for the American Association of University Professors, said he was concerned about the suit - regardless of whether Peltz was unfairly maligned by his students. "A suit like this, as I'm sure the professor knows, can have troubling implications for academic freedom," Knight said. "When you ask a court to become involved in making judgments about the metes and bounds of free expression on campus, it can be dangerous." He noted, for example, that legal standards about the free exchange of ideas - some of them unpleasant - "are not co-equal with the standards of the academic community."

Generally, Knight said that the worries about courts settling such matters are such that professors need to be "thickly armored" when it comes to comments from colleagues or students. If a professor is being unfairly criticized, it is far better for fellow faculty members or a dean to come to his or her defense than for the scholar to go to court, Knight said.

Noting that professors "typically do not restrain themselves" when talking about other professors' research, Knight said that "when one enters the academic community, it's with the understanding that lots of things might well be said which cast one in a very unpleasant light."


French primary schools return to tables

French primary school children will be learning multiplication tables by rote and conjugating verbs in the pluperfect tense under a back-to-basics programme to be introduced after the summer holidays.

Critics denouced Xavier Darcos, the Education Minister who developed the plan, as old-fashioned, out-of-touch and reactionary, and unions called for a strike over the reform. He responded by saying: “It's not by listening to a great pianist for hours on end that you become one, it's by doing your scales.”

The programme is an attempt to prioritise French and mathematics on a primary school curriculum that has been loaded with subjects such as the history of cinema and discovery of the world. Teachers have been told to provide ten hours of French lessons a week to six and seven-year-olds and eight hours to eight to ten-year-olds. All primary school children will be taught five hours of mathematics a week.


Row over British plans to recycle 24,000 failing teachers

Up to 24,000 incompetent teachers should be removed from their classrooms and put to work in neighbouring schools, according to the body responsible for upholding teaching standards. Keith Bartley, the chief executive of the General Teaching Council for England, said that urgent action was needed to retrain teachers who had “more bad days than good”. He said that it was unacceptable that only 46 teachers, from a workforce of half a million, had been judged incompetent since 2001.

In an interview with The Times, Mr Bartley said that he had drawn up draft proposals to tackle the problem in response to a call by Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, in his ten-year Children’s Plan, for the GTCE to root out teachers whose “competence falls to unacceptably low levels”. Mr Bartley’s comments provoked immediate criticism from teachers’ leaders and parents, who said that it was unfair to expect pupils and schools to take on teachers judged to have failed elsewhere.

At present one of the best-kept secrets of the teaching profession is that head teachers routinely encourage sub-standard teachers to resign, allowing them to transfer, often with a passable job reference, to another school. This is easier than embarking on lengthy and stressful incompetence procedures, but it shifts the problem elsewhere.

Mr Bartley said that it was impossible to say for sure how many incompetent teachers there were, although some estimates put the number as high as 24,000 — roughly one per school. Mr Bartley said that on his visits to schools he often came across teachers who felt “oppressed” by continually changing educational policy and everyday tasks, having lost the bigger vision of what teaching was about. “We know we have the best-qualified teachers we have ever had,” he said. “We are not talking about a system in crisis. But there’s a band of teachers who have more bad days than good. The issue is how do we energise people in the profession so that they don’t drop into the routine.”

Under draft proposals drawn up by Mr Bartley, head teachers would be able to refer incompetent teachers to an independent agency that would in turn place the teacher in a nearby school. There, the teacher would be given intensive retraining and support and the chance to prove themselves. He said that evidence from cases heard by the GTCE suggested that incompetence was often a matter of context. “A teacher may be incompetent in one area, but not in all areas.” He added that it should be a given that all competent teachers sought constantly to improve and developtheir and practice. It was part of a wider move to improve the overall standards of teaching and went hand in hand with plans to encourage all teachers to study for masters degrees.

John Dunford, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that heads would want to help teachers to find a school that suited them. “But they can’t just go from school to school, because heads would be reluctant to take the risk that a teacher found incompetent in one setting might be less competent in another.”

Margaret Morrissey, of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said: “If these teachers are incompetent, parents will immediately say: what effect has this had on my child’s education?”

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said that it was keen to ensure that such teachers were helped to improve as quickly as possible. “We are clear that simply moving poor-quality teachers around is unacceptable and those who do not quickly improve will be helped to leave the profession.”


Friday, May 02, 2008

This is how bad some British schools are

A father threw himself under a train because he wrongly thought that he had failed to enrol his daughter into her chosen secondary school, an inquest was told yesterday. Steve Don, 43, believed that he was an "unfit parent" because he had been unsuccessful in getting his 11-year-old daughter into a secondary school near their Brighton home.

The surveyor, who had no history of depression, had complained to his family that repeated attempts to contact the local education authority had been met with silence. He handed his daughter over to social services hours before jumping into the path of a train at a level crossing in East Sussex.

On the day of his suicide Mr Don told his wife: "They would not listen to me alive, perhaps they will if I was dead." But it emerged that Brighton & Hove City Council had backed down and awarded his daughter, Bethany, a place at a school a few minutes' walk from her home only hours before Mr Don died. His wife, Lorraine Wilson, 44, told him the news over the telephone but he refused to believe it. Two hours later he was dead.

In a statement read to the court, Mrs Wilson, an office manager, said: "He did take his life and this was due to the local education authority not agreeing to meet him." The family had wanted their daughter to go to the Dorothy Stringer School but in 2005 she was placed at Falmer School, five miles away. The couple appealed but this was rejected by an independent panel. They applied again for Varndean School, which is within walking distance of their ground-floor flat. Hours before Mr Don killed himself in September 2005, the council called his wife to say that it had found their daughter a place at the Varndean School.

Concluding that Mr Don committed suicide, Alan Craze, the East Sussex Coroner, said "I have made a decision not to hold an inquiry into matters relating to the decision as to which secondary school this particular child should go to." A council spokesman said: "The reason Mr Don's original preferences were turned down was because he'd sent his form in after our published deadline. Our rules clearly say we have to consider all applications that come in by deadline before late ones."


Queer perspective

This story from Saturday could have been a Bottom Story of the Day, but it's so amusing it's worth giving a longer treatment: "School officials said Friday was uneventful for Tampa Bay area students observing a 'Day of Silence' protest organized by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network," reports the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.

Participants "moved quietly between classes, undisturbed by teachers or classmates." A spokesman for the Hillsborough School District (Tampa) said, "I haven't had any parent calls, teacher calls or non-parent calls. It's just been really quiet.'' A spokesman for the Pinellas (St. Petersburg) district "was unaware of any incidents related to the Day of Silence." If that's not nothing enough, the paper reports that "at Palm Harbor University High School, dozens of students wore purple ribbons--and were largely ignored":
Brittany Moore, the 17-year-old president of the school's Gay-Straight Alliance, said she wished there had been more of a response. Still, Moore said, it was better than the past two years, when students verbally assaulted those who participated in the event.

Hmm, she "wished there had been more of a response," but in previous years, when people talked to her, she complained of being "verbally assaulted." Maybe this idea needs a bit of a rethink.


Homosexuals lose one in Australia

THE DECISION to ban students from escorting gay partners to the Anglican Church Grammar School formal next month has been fully endorsed by the school council. Up to eight students had wanted to take boyfriends and raised the issue with a senior staff member, who passed the request to Churchie headmaster Jonathan Hensman. At the time Mr Hensman said it was not appropriate for students to take a same-sex partner because escorting a young woman to a formal was part of the boys' education. But after reports in The Courier-Mail Mr Hensman referred the matter to the school council.

A brief statement posted on the Churchie website yesterday said the council "strongly supported the headmaster's position on the school's education programs in social settings". Council members also "thanked the headmaster for his leadership and his ongoing commitment to the highest standards of education for Churchie boys". The nine-member council is chaired by company director Barry Kelly and includes Mr Hensman. Anglican Archbishop Phillip Aspinall is the council president but a spokesman said he took no part in the discussions.


Thursday, May 01, 2008


Lots of news from the education scene in Australia at the moment so I am concentrating on articles in that realm today


Two current articles belolw:

An incompetent but hungry university boss

A recent comment from "The Australian" below. Disclosure: I have personal knowledge that many who knew O'Connor as a mediocre but ambitious academic at the University of Queensland were amazed when he was appointed VC by Griffith. I am myself a graduate of the University of Queensland

Would Ian O'Connor pass an undergraduate course? Compare and contrast these two paragraphs: "The primary doctrine of Unitarianism is Tawhid, or the uniqueness and unity of God. Wahhab also preached against a perceived moral decline and political weakness in the Arabian peninsula and condemned idolatry, the popular cult of saints, and shrine and tomb visitation." And: "The primary doctrine of Wahhabism is Tawhid, or the uniqueness and unity of God ... He preached against a 'perceived moral decline and political weakness' in the Arabian peninsula and condemned idolatry, the popular cult of saints, and shrine and tomb visitation."

The first appeared in The Australian on Thursday under the byline of Professor Ian O'Connor, vice-chancellor of Griffith University. The second is from Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia blocked by some secondary schools to discourage students from sloppy research.

A former social worker who climbed the academic ladder rapidly, Professor O'Connor has admitted lifting the information and confusing strands of Islam. His stumbles came in attempting to defend his university's imprudent decision to ask for more than a million dollars from the repressive Saudi Arabian Government.

Professor O'Connor also appears to have breached his university's standards on plagiarism. If sprung, a student doing the same thing would surely be reprimanded. Many a career, including that of former Monash University vice-chancellor, Professor David Robinson, has been cut short through more serious allegations of the same behaviour. In 2002, Professor Robinson stood down after claims he plagiarised material for a book published 20 years earlier.

On the Griffith website, Professor O'Connor says the slip-up was not intentional and that his article "was not as a piece of academic scholarship" and "therefore did not follow normal citation methods used in academic publications". Not good enough for a vice-chancellor. The fully referenced version of the article also appears on the Griffith website. Three of the seven references are to Wikipedia, which in most institutions, including secondary schools, would earn a "D" for effort.

Professor O'Connor should heed the advice of his underling, Griffith University Council member Dr Dwight Zakus -- a senior lecturer in the Department of Tourism, Leisure, Hotel and Sports Management. He said he "strongly discouraged" his students from using Wikipedia because it is "a blog site, you can add and change (the information) and you're not sure of the veracity of the information there".

Professor O'Connor has yet to justify his taking the begging bowl to a repressive regime that punishes by stoning, beheading and amputation, and bars women from driving and most forms of normal life. Worse still, his university offered the Saudis a say in how the money would be spent then offered to keep it all secret. Academic freedom, like most basic freedoms, is anathema to the Saudis, who have no place influencing Islamic studies in Australia.


Saudi funds not a secret deal: Abdalla

The Griffith University academic at the heart of a funding controversy has defended the decision to accept $100,000 from the repressive Saudi Arabian Government to help finance Islamic studies. Mohamad Abdalla told the HES the money for the Griffith Islamic research unit he leads had come with no strings attached, had been acquired openly and without secrecy and there was nothing wrong with it. But he conceded the furore over a separate tranche of funding he sought - $1.37 million - had given him pause for thought. Were the Saudis to approve the money, he would recommend the university not accept it. "I would say no, don't take the money," Dr Abdalla said.

Dismissing as farcical the idea that accepting money from the Saudi Government could compromise the unit, he would not rule out accepting further funds from the same source at a later time, when the furore had died down. "If they offer it I will consider it," Dr Abdalla said.

Debate rose over the funding when The Australian's Richard Kerbaj revealed the Saudis had been offered some discretion in how the money would be spent and had also been offered anonymity over the donation. When vice-chancellor Ian O'Connor defended the university's pursuit of Saudi funding in an opinion article, he came under fire for using Wikipedia as a main source and for his confused interpretation of Islam.

Under fire for the propriety of his actions, Dr Abdalla was also forced to deny he was the Brisbane leader of the contentious Tablighi Jamaat movement, as had been reported. Although sympathetic to its ideals and acknowledging the group was represented at the Kuraby mosque, where he was a leader, he was not one of its leaders, he said.

Commentators who bought into the debate included Stephen Crittenden of the ABC's The Religion Report, who wrote: "What the Saudi Government really wants is the legitimacy that comes from being associated with a Western university. There is not a shred of evidence that it has any interest in progressive reform." The Australian Strategic Policy Institute's National Security Project director Carl Ungerer was also among those incredulous that any donation from Saudi Arabia would be considered acceptable. "It is naive to think that Saudi Arabian funding is not going to be problematic given we know the Saudi Government and its agencies have funded Wahhabist educational institutions around the world," Dr Ungerer said. "It's one of the major problems we have in the ongoing 'hearts and minds' campaign in the Muslim world."

Another Muslim academic, the University of Melbourne's Sultan of Oman professor of Arab and Islamic studies Abdullah Saeed, is an associate of Dr Abdalla through their joint involvement in the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies and agreed funding was a sensitive area. "In the current climate one has to be very careful," Professor Saeed, the centre's lead director, said.

The Australian also reported last week that the Higher Education Funding Council for England was concerned about Saudi funding and the US Congress was examining Saudi donations to colleges. MI5 had also reportedly warned Prime Minister Gordon Brown that funding from Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries had caused a "dangerous increase in the spread of extremism in leading university campuses". At the same time The Guardian newspaper reported that HEFCE was considering a virtual centre of excellence networking academics, faith and community Islamic groups to boost Islamic studies.

The controversy has also drawn out defenders of Dr Abdalla. The Queensland Forum for Christians, Jews and Muslims praised his "ability to build bridges between the Muslim community and people of other faiths" and said it was "greatly saddened to see Dr Abdalla's integrity questioned". Uniting Church of Queensland moderator David Pitman said DrAbdalla was "an outstanding scholar and a person of great integrity" making a significant contribution to the life of the nation.

Islamic Council of Queensland president Suliman Sabdia, on behalf of 13 other signatories,wrote a letter to The Australian warning a repercussion of the reporting of the issue "could be increasing Islamophobia and a consequent decline in thousands of Muslim students coming to Australia, not only to study but also to experience our way of life".


Political correctness betrays migrant students

Migrant graduates are failing to get jobs because they can't speak much English -- but they have enough English to get an Australian university degree! How come? Because it would be "discriminatory" for the university to notice how well they speak English! In one recent case my alma mater hired a Chinese lecturer to teach law despite the fact that the students he was allegedly teaching could not understand a word of his version of English! How stupid can you get?

Another problem is that an unofficial "affirmative action" policy prevails -- less is asked of students from Asia -- which, as always, just devalues their qualifications

Fewer than a quarter of young, degree-educated migrants are finding skilled or professional jobs in their areas of study, and graduates are leaving university with poor academic standards and minimal English. A study by Monash University academics Bob Birrell and Ernest Healy found the problem was particularly acute among students from non-English-speaking backgrounds who had studied at Australian universities. Only 22 per cent of Australian-trained graduates aged between 20 and 29 who were migrants from non-English speaking countries were in professional roles in 2006. The figure compared with 57 per cent for English-speaking migrants and 64 per cent for Australian-born graduates.

The study suggests skilled migrants are satisfying immigration and university officials about the usefulness of their qualifications, but are failing to convince employers.

Overall, 38 per cent of skilled migrants were in professional roles in 2006, Professor Birrell said. But just 29 per cent of migrants from non-English-speaking countries found professional work. This compared with 63 per cent of skilled migrants from English-speaking countries.

Professor Birrell said the figures, which are based on census data, showed the skilled migration program was failing in its fundamental objective of combating the skills crisis. He said the students' poor English skills and the application of diminished academic standards were the main reasons universities were producing overseas graduates with skills and qualifications that were of little interest to employers. "The biggest problem is poor English and the lack of occupational experience," Professor Birrell said. "It also raises questions about courses that are being reduced in demand or complexity to cater for overseas-trained students."

The study, to be published in the Monash journal People and Place, looked at 212,812 degree-qualified migrants who arrived in Australia between 2001 and 2006. Of those, 90,416 were aged 20 to 29, most of them former overseas students who had studied in Australia. The remaining 122,396 migrants were aged 30 to 64. In both categories, most came from non-English speaking backgrounds. Young Chinese students fared the worst, with only 16 per cent working in professional roles.

Professor Birrell said many of the young, Australian-educated migrants took degrees in accounting, one of the professions most in demand, but only a minority ended up working as accountants. He called for a review of the way the skilled migration program was administered.


Taunts at Chinese Australian kids centre of complaint

PLAYGROUND taunts against Chinese Australian children are at the centre of a major court battle over complaints of school racism. A family has taken its case to the Supreme Court after three brothers were allegedly derided with comments including "ching chong Chinaman" at their Sydney primary school. The trio, aged 7, 9 and 10 at the time and who cannot be identified, claim the playground "bullies" teased them repeatedly, saying they hated Asians and Asian restaurants should be bombed to make way for "McDonald's and Kentucky Fried outlets".' The oldest was also allegedly threatened with a pair of scissors by a boy who said: "I'm going to kill you."

The Education Department has been fighting the case since the allegations were first made to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board in 2000. The family is taking Supreme Court action in a bid to have the case reopened in the Administrative Decisions Tribunal - and the outcome could have serious ramifications for schools across the state. It follows the landmark $1 million award to bullying victim Benjamin Cox after it was found the department had failed to protect him in the '60s.

After an ADT hearing two years ago the family of Chinese descent was awarded $6000 in damages and the school - Excelsior Public at Castle Hill - was ordered to apologise. But the decision was overturned on appeal last year when it was ruled teachers could not be held liable if they failed to respond to racist insults in the playground. Teachers said they did not believe the gibes were racist because they were "silly talk" between children.

The department said the boys responsible had been disciplined but the school was accused of failing to provide a safe learning environment. Staff said the case put teachers under extreme stress, raising complex issues around the context in which playground comments become racist. A departmental spokesman said discrimination of any kind against students or staff in public schools and TAFEs was not tolerated [Except when it is]. "Comprehensive policies, including tough disciplinary measures, have been developed to handle such cases. The ADT appeal panel found the department appropriately handled events occurring almost 10 years ago," he said.

Teachers' Federation president Maree O'Halloran said a Supreme Court decision could change department guidelines.


High quality education for all?

That's what Leftists will tell you government schools are for -- but it is not so, never has been and never will be. Reality is not like that

Proximity to sought-after primary schools in Brisbane's dress circle suburbs has become the latest must-have selling point in the tough property market.

Just being in the catchment area for the most popular schools can add up to $70,000 to the value of your house, say agents - and buyers are lining up.

At both Wilston and Ascot state schools - and others such as Eagle Junction - the desperation to get their children on the rolls has been so great parents have been known to lie and cheat to succeed. "They fight fiercely to get in," one agent said. Fake addresses were one ploy, or getting a lease and breaking it after a month; using friends' houses as a mailing address, or even granny flats, guest cottages, business offices and investment properties have been used in a bid to get proof-of-residence documents.

Some parents said, apart from the schools' reputations, there was a social benefit in getting their children on the roll at blue-chip state schools. Not only is it good for the kids but parents get to rub shoulders with Brisbane's business and social elite. One mother of an Ascot child said: "It's one of the only private schools you don't pay fees for."

Education Minister Rod Welford said it was "extreme" for people to buy into a particular area simply because of the name of the primary school. "Most schools are within range of each other in terms of the quality of education," Mr Welford said.

But residential research director at RP Data Tim Lawless said it was clear the demand for properties within well regarded public school zones had a profound influence on property prices. "Take the example of Wilston where the local state school enjoys an enviable reputation. Median house prices within the suburb of Wilston have risen by 18.7 per cent over the last year and by 13.5 per cent per annum (on average) over the last five years," Mr Lawless he said. Agent and the mother of an Ascot student, Kim Josephson said the catchment was a primary motivator for many buyers. "If they have $2 million to spend they may buy a lesser house in the Ascot catchment rather than a better one outside," she said. "There is a nice sense of community. It would be easy to paint it as shallow and cliquey, but that has not been my experience at all. My little boy is getting a lovely education there."

Wilston State School principal Leann Griffith-Baker said she saw the school being used to market properties within its catchment every week and put it down to academic excellence and a sense of community. She said parents made a huge financial commitment to buy in the area and some had moved a few streets just to get into the catchment. "But people do invest for schools in the private ranks as well. When they apply to Gregory Terrace of St whatever they pay $1000 just to get on the waiting list," she said.

According to agent Liz Fell there's a huge demand for Wilston's catchment. "I've got two buyers who have been on my books for six to eight months. They won't compromise on being in the catchment even though Windsor, down the road, is a good school. "If you're in walking distance it's an even hotter prospect."


The reliable high standards of government schools (NOT)

The Torres Stait and Cape York areas are primarily inhabited by blacks (Sorry: "Indigenous people"). The Leftist Queensland government is big on talk about black welfare but deeds speak louder than words -- revealing once again what Leftists REALLY think about blacks

TEACHERS in the Torres Strait will be the first to strike this week over "untenable living conditions" in far north Queensland. Some teachers on Cape York have been without hot water since the beginning of the year while many throughout north Queensland face security issues. Broken locks, security doors and airconditioners, mouldy furniture and collapsed water-damaged walls and floors are all common teacher complaints, according to the Queensland Teachers' Union.

QTU state secretary Steve Ryan said an extra $5 million for maintenance and housing stock was needed to lift living standards to an acceptable level. Stop work meetings will be held from 2pm to 3pm tomorrow in the Torres Strait. Teachers around Cape York and the Gulf of Carpentaria will stop work on Wednesday between 2pm and 3pm. Mr Ryan said they will call on the State Government to guarantee sufficient, secure and regularly maintained accommodation backed by a significant funding increase in the state budget. Rolling 24-hour stoppages will be considered if that funding is not increased.


Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The ABA's 'Diversity' Diktat

If you have ever wondered why colleges and universities seem to march in lockstep on controversial issues like affirmative action, here is one reason: Overly politicized accrediting agencies often demand it. Given that federal funding hinges on accreditation, schools are not in a position to argue. That is precisely why the U.S. Department of Education, which gives accreditors their authority, must sometimes take corrective action. George Mason University's law school in northern Virginia is an example of why corrective action is needed now.

GMU's problems began in early 2000, when the American Bar Association visited the law school, which has a somewhat conservative reputation, for its routine reaccreditation inspection. The site evaluation team was unhappy that only 6.5% of entering students were minorities.

Outreach was not the problem; even the site evaluation report (obtained as a result of Freedom of Information Act requests) conceded that GMU had a "very active effort to recruit minorities." But the school, the report noted, had been "unwilling to engage in any significant preferential affirmative action admissions program." Since most law schools were willing to admit minority students with dramatically lower entering academic credentials, GMU was at a recruitment disadvantage. The site evaluation report noted its "serious concerns" with the school's policy.

Over the next few years, the ABA repeatedly refused to renew GMU's accreditation, citing its lack of a "significant preferential affirmative action program" and supposed lack of diversity. The school stepped up its already-extensive recruitment efforts, but was forced to back away from its opposition to significant preferential treatment. It was thus able to raise the proportion of minorities in its entering class to 10.98% in 2001 and 16.16% in 2002. Not good enough. In 2003, the ABA summoned the university's president and law school dean to appear before it personally, threatening to revoke the institution's accreditation.

GMU responded by further lowering minority admissions standards. It also increased spending on outreach, appointed an assistant dean to serve as minority coordinator, and established an outside "Minority Recruitment Council." As a result, 17.3% of its entering students were minority members in 2003 and 19% in 2004. Not good enough. "Of the 99 minority students in 2003," the ABA complained, "only 23 were African American; of 111 minority students in 2004, the number of African Americans held at 23." It didn't seem to matter that 63 African Americans had been offered admission, or that many students admitted with lower academic credentials would end up incurring heavy debt but never graduate and pass the bar.

GMU's case is not unique. In a study conducted several years ago, 31% of law school respondents admitted to political scientists Susan Welch and John Gruhl that they "felt pressure" "to take race into account in making admissions decisions" from "accreditation agencies." Several schools, like GMU, have been put through the diversity wringer.

The GMU law school was finally notified of its reaccreditation in 2006, after six long and unnecessary years of abuse – just in time for the next round in the seven-year reaccreditation process. Even then, the ABA could not resist an ominous warning that it would pay "particular attention" to GMU's diversity efforts in the upcoming cycle.

Perhaps the ABA believes that the Supreme Court's 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger allows it to force law schools into affirmative action orthodoxy. If so, it is mistaken. In Grutter, a razor-thin majority held that the Constitution permitted the University of Michigan Law School to discriminate against whites and Asians to obtain a racially diverse class. That decision, however, was rooted in the notion that "universities occupy a special niche in our constitutional tradition." In the majority's view, universities are not subject to the same equal-protection standards as other governmental entities; they are instead entitled to deference in their academic judgments. As Justice Sandra Day O'Connor put it, "'[t]he freedom of a university to make its own judgments . . . includes the selection of its student body.'"

Whatever the merit of this reasoning, the ABA is not a university, and its Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is not entitled to academic deference. As the Education Department's designated law school accreditor, the council decides whether a law school's students will be eligible for federal loans. As state accreditor, it decides which schools' graduates may sit for the bar examination. It is thus part of the governing bureaucracy – the kind of institution academic freedom is supposed to protect universities from.

That's why the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights recommended that the ABA leave issues of diversity to individual law schools. If academic freedom confers upon law schools the right to discriminate, it must also confer a right not to discriminate. Unfortunately, the ABA has instead put into effect more stringent diversity standards.

So now it is up to the Education Department to bring the ABA to heel. In 2006, when the ABA's status as accreditor was itself up for renewal, opposition came from many quarters on many grounds. Surprised, the Education Department put the ABA on a short leash, giving it only 18 months before its next renewal, and requiring it to submit its official correspondence for inspection.

It is now time to find permanent solutions to the problems of ABA abuse. Foremost on the Education Department's list should be to get the ABA out of the diversity business. It is one thing for a law school to adopt its own discriminatory admissions policies; it is quite another to force it to do so on pain of losing federal funding.


Clueless in America

We don’t hear a great deal about education in the presidential campaign. It’s much too serious a topic to compete with such fun stuff as Hillary tossing back a shot of whiskey, or Barack rolling a gutter ball. The nation’s future may depend on how well we educate the current and future generations, but (like the renovation of the nation’s infrastructure, or a serious search for better sources of energy) that can wait. At the moment, no one seems to have the will to engage any of the most serious challenges facing the U.S.

An American kid drops out of high school every 26 seconds. That’s more than a million every year, a sign of big trouble for these largely clueless youngsters in an era in which a college education is crucial to maintaining a middle-class quality of life — and for the country as a whole in a world that is becoming more hotly competitive every day.

Ignorance in the United States is not just bliss, it’s widespread. A recent survey of teenagers by the education advocacy group Common Core found that a quarter could not identify Adolf Hitler, a third did not know that the Bill of Rights guaranteed freedom of speech and religion, and fewer than half knew that the Civil War took place between 1850 and 1900. “We have one of the highest dropout rates in the industrialized world,” said Allan Golston, the president of U.S. programs for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In a discussion over lunch recently he described the situation as “actually pretty scary, alarming.”

Roughly a third of all American high school students drop out. Another third graduate but are not prepared for the next stage of life — either productive work or some form of post-secondary education. When two-thirds of all teenagers old enough to graduate from high school are incapable of mastering college-level work, the nation is doing something awfully wrong.

Mr. Golston noted that the performance of American students, when compared with their peers in other countries, tends to grow increasingly dismal as they move through the higher grades: “In math and science, for example, our fourth graders are among the top students globally. By roughly eighth grade, they’re in the middle of the pack. And by the 12th grade, U.S. students are scoring generally near the bottom of all industrialized countries.”

Many students get a first-rate education in the public schools, but they represent too small a fraction of the whole. Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, offered a brutal critique of the nation’s high schools a few years ago, describing them as “obsolete” and saying, “When I compare our high schools with what I see when I’m traveling abroad, I am terrified for our work force of tomorrow.” Said Mr. Gates: “By obsolete, I don’t just mean that they are broken, flawed or underfunded, though a case could be made for every one of those points. By obsolete, I mean our high schools — even when they’re working as designed — cannot teach all our students what they need to know today.”

The Educational Testing Service, in a report titled “America’s Perfect Storm,” cited three powerful forces that are affecting the quality of life for millions of Americans and already shaping the nation’s future. They are:

* The wide disparity in the literacy and math skills of both the school-age and adult populations. These skills, which play such a tremendous role in the lives of individuals and families, vary widely across racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups.

* The “seismic changes” in the U.S. economy that have resulted from globalization, technological advances, shifts in the relationship of labor and capital, and other developments.

* Sweeping demographic changes. By 2030, the U.S. population is expected to reach 360 million. That population will be older and substantially more diverse, with immigration having a big impact on both the population as a whole and the work force.

[No mention of Leftist teachers' unions or failed educational strategies coming out of Left-dominated teacher training colleges -- including the virtual abolition of effective discipline?]

These and so many other issues of crucial national importance require an educated populace if they are to be dealt with effectively. At the moment we are not even coming close to equipping the population with the intellectual tools that are needed. While we’re effectively standing in place, other nations are catching up and passing us when it comes to educational achievement. You have to be pretty dopey not to see the implications of that.

But, then, some of us are pretty dopey. In the Common Core survey, nearly 20 percent of respondents did not know who the U.S. fought in World War II. Eleven percent thought that Dwight Eisenhower was the president forced from office by the Watergate scandal. Another 11 percent thought it was Harry Truman. We’ve got work to do.



Two articles below:

Labor Party appointee defends Muslim-loving academic incompetent

Her nomination to the governorship was part of an entrenched determination by the Queensland Labor party to appoint women to high office. I don't know much about her political background but old Commos did on occasions name their daughters "Leneen" or "Lenine" -- after V.I. Lenin

The guy she is defending has some reputation for getting to the top through sycophancy rather than through any other talent. He has certainly shown no talent lately.

Note that Queensland District Court judge Clive Wall has said the Saudi connection is turning the university into a "madrassa"

Griffith University Chancellor Leneen Forde strongly defended the university's Vice-Chancellor Ian O'Connor yesterday after he admitted material he used to counter an attack on Griffith's Islamic Research Unit was lifted from the internet. The former Queensland governor said she had complete confidence in Mr O'Connor, who has vigorously backed a decision to accept a $100,000 donation from the Saudi Arabian Government to support the centre.

However an article defending the donation, written under Mr O'Connor's name, included two sentences lifted from Wikipedia without attribution. He said in a statement that the article was "based on material provided by senior staff" and "in pulling it together a small number of sentences were not directly attributed". "This was not intentional."

Ms Forde said he had acknowledged the action was inappropriate and in a statement to university staff said the article was "drafted in haste" in response to a "highly slanted version of events" published by The Australian newspaper. As a result it was not checked "as thoroughly" as desired.


Jihad body linked to begging university

THE Muslim cleric at the centre of Griffith University's Saudi embassy donation affair - Mohamad Abdalla - is regarded as the Brisbane leader of an Islamic group whose overseas members have been linked to al-Qaeda and the 2005 London bombings. Dr Abdalla, who has refused to be drawn on the Tablighi Jamaat group, has been identified as its Brisbane head by Muslim community figures, including prominent Islamic leader Fadi Rahman. "He's the head of Tablighi in Brisbane," said Mr Rahman, who attended the 2020 Summit as a delegate with Dr Abdalla. "I know Mohamad Abdalla very well," he said.

While Griffith University denied Dr Abdalla was a Tablighi leader, it praised the group - which has been investigated and cleared by ASIO - as a "peaceful movement" that provided spiritual support to disadvantaged community members. The university also said some Tablighi members attended Dr Abdalla's Brisbane mosque.

"Based on advice we have received from a number of Queensland Muslim organisations, the group Tablighi Jamaat is not a sect, is not secretive, is not political, is not violent," the university said in a statement issued last night. "It is in fact a peaceful movement with the social justice aim of helping Muslims become better Muslims. "Dr Mohamad Abdalla is not ... the leader of Tablighi Jamaat in Brisbane. "Dr Abdalla, as a leading imam in the Brisbane community, is associated with a number of groups openly involved with Brisbane's mosques. "This group is among more than 20 ethnic groups openly associated with Dr Abdalla's own mosque."

The Australian revealed last week that Dr Abdalla, director of Griffith's Islamic Research Unit, helped the university apply for a $1.37 million grant from the Saudi embassy - of which the institution received only $100,000 - and offered the Saudi ambassador a chance to keep elements of the donation a secret. The university said Dr Abdalla had in the past week received strong support from Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson, Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Susan Booth and "leaders from both the Jewish and Christian communities of Brisbane".

The Tablighi's non-violent teachings about the importance of the afterlife had left some young followers susceptible to recruitment by terrorist outfits as suicide-bombers, said former Howard government adviser Ameer Ali. "They are not violent, they don't preach violence. But their mind is set - they've prepared the minds of the youngsters who can be trapped by the jihadis and terrorists," he said. "So when the jihadis say are you prepared to go to heaven ... it carries with their thinking because they are not interested in this world, they believe (their) future is in the next world."

Dr Abdalla refused to answer questions about his connection with the Tablighi when interviewed by The Australian, except to say membership of the group was not controversial. Muslim leaders have urged Griffith University to return the Saudi grant.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008


... Give him an audio book! Studies have shown a steady decline in reading. A new study released last fall found that less than a third of 13-year-olds read every day. By the time they get to high school, 20% are considered non-readers. So now teachers are turning to audio books, passing them off as an easier way to "read," particularly for children with learning disabilities like dyslexia. Audio books will become to reading what calculators have become to math.

Now here's my question ... what office environment is going to say "Oh Billy, I see you are dyslexic. Here is the report in audio form." Yeah ...What good is this going to do for students who are truly struggling to read, or those that flat out don't want to? The answer is that it is not going to do a darn thing. It is just a wussified way to make students feel good, without giving them the proper tools they need to succeed in society. Maybe I'm wrong, but reading is a pretty necessary tool. What about newspapers ... what about novels ... these are the students that have never read a real newspaper in their lives. These are the students that will grow up to vote for the Hillary Clintons of the world "because she's a woman" and her commercials during American Idol said she would give me free healthcare.

Here's another priceless anecdote. Librarians are concerned that an increase in audio books will create a "digital divide" between those that can afford the technology to listen and those that cannot. So to prove this theory wrong, an audio book company decided to go to a school in New Jersey where 90% of students receive free or reduced lunches ... I guess this is their way of calculating "poor students" in government schools. In their research on this school filled with 90% poor students, more than half of third graders already had their own MP3 players. In other words ... their parents can't afford to make them a lunch, but they are more than willing to go and buy their kids an MP3 player. That, my friends, is the "poor" in this country.


Britain: Immigration undermines education

And it is the leader of Britain's wishy washy party that says so!

Rising immigration is putting pressure on schools and undermining education standards, Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, warns today. Mr Clegg says an influx of children who do not speak English is hampering the work of teachers and proves that ministers failed to plan for current levels of migration. We must acknowledge that rising migration is putting pressure on schools at all levels," he will say.

Mr Clegg's comments mark his party's strongest criticism of Labour's open-door immigration policy, and may spark speculation that he is moving to the Right. In a speech to the 4Children conference in London today, Mr Clegg will reveal figures showing that nearly 800,000 pupils - 12 per cent of the total - are registered as having a first language other than English. That marks a 60 per cent rise since Labour came to power in 1997. The Daily Telegraph revealed in December that children with English as their first language were now in the minority in more than 1,300 schools.

"The latest wave of migration has brought large numbers - of Eastern Europeans in particular - to parts of the country that have little experience of dealing with speakers of other languages in schools," Mr Clegg will say. "Even a few children in a class can be a real challenge for a teacher used to strong English language skills, especially if children are arriving in the middle of a school year - and in unpredictable numbers. "It's a challenge for native English speakers, as well - because their learning suffers too when a class can't move forward together, learn together and share experiences fully."

Mr Clegg's aides say he has chosen to raise the issue of immigration and education after receiving complaints from head teachers who say their biggest challenge is coping with the number of languages spoken at their school. He will insist that his party will never support calls to end mass immigration, saying: "The problems stem from our failure to plan for population changes, not from the existence of migrants."

However, his speech could still raise suspicions among Lib Dem activists that Mr Clegg is trying to shift to the Right to counter a resurgent Conservative Party. Some analysts say the third party will be badly squeezed in Thursday's local government elections, perhaps losing as many as 200 seats as the Tories advance. Although the Lib Dems' poll ratings are steady at about 17 per cent, the party has reaped no clear benefit from Gordon Brown's recent troubles.

Mr Clegg has been testing the waters for a shift to the Right, even hinting that the Lib Dems could fight the next general election on a promise of cutting the tax burden



Two current articles below

No defence for academic ignorance

By Stephen Crittenden

Two weeks ago I had an email exchange with the principal policy adviser to the vice-chancellor of Griffith University. He denied that Australia's universities were secular institutions, on the grounds that they followed the Christian calendar, with holidays at Christmas and Easter, and he added that because we seemed to have no objection to the "Christianisation" of our universities, we could hardly object to attempts to "Islamify" them or any other aspects of Australian life.

If this is the standard of advice that Griffith vice-chancellor Ian O'Connor (above) is receiving, then it is little wonder that he has got himself into such an awful mess this week when he attempted to defend the university's decision to accept funding from the Saudi Arabian Government.

Yesterday, O'Connor was forced to clarify his unattributed use of material taken from Wikipedia in an opinion piece published earlier this week in The Australian. Attributed or not, this doesn't look good from the vice-chancellor of a university parading itself as a centre of excellence in Islamic studies.

Then there was his preposterous use of the term Unitarian to describe the official religion of Saudi Arabia. Unitarianism is a term properly used to describe a liberal Christian movement that included among its adherents some of the founding fathers of the US.

It has nothing to do with Islam, which has never had a non-Unitarian movement, and one can't help wondering whether the vice-chancellor has naively got himself caught up in some cynical Saudi re-branding exercise. This is the view of at least one commentator this week, Sir Wellington Boot of, who suggests that the term Wahhabism has become so toxic that it can no longer be used.

Far more troubling is O'Connor's apparent attempt to whitewash the Saudi Government when he says it "seeks to moderate reactionary elements in its own society by funding Islamic research centres in prominent Western universities to develop a form of progressive Islam that has credibility and legitimacy".

What the Saudi Government really wants is the legitimacy that comes from being associated with a Western university. There is not a shred of evidence that it has any interest in progressive reform and anyone who has any doubt about this should sober themselves by consulting the latest country report on human rights in Saudi Arabia published by the US State Department.

It is a plain fact that in recent decades Saudi Arabia has been using its oil wealth to export Wahhabism across the world. The results are plain to see in Malaysia, South Asia, Africa and, above all, Europe. This is why the greatest caution needs to be exercised in any decision to accept money from such a source.

The photograph on page two of The Australian yesterday - featuring two Islamic female students at Griffith University with their faces covered - gives ample evidence of precisely how Wahhabi influence is already making its presence felt.

Australian universities are the new front line in the battle with extremist Islam. The Muslim students associations are being taken over by Wahhabist and other ultra-conservative groups, such as Tablighi Jamaat and Hizb ut-Tahrir.

The ultimate goal of these groups is the radicalisation of a new generation of Muslim professionals, which would be a catastrophe for Australia. In this context, vice-chancellors proposing to take money from Wahhabist governments need to be relying on more than Wikipedia for their information about Islam.


A major Australian university gives the finger to justice -- denies natural justice to an employee

This is not the first time an Australian university has run a kangaroo court to deal with complaints about its employees. And I note that in the USA the denial of natural justice to students is well-known. See for example the notorious Plinton case -- where an arrogant university bureaucracy actually managed to kill an innocent black student.

One wonders what is behind a big fuss about a minor bureaucratic detail here. Nobody was deceived. One suspects that he found sexually transmitted disease to be more widespread among young people than is generally acknowledged. Why that is so sensitive would seem to be a matter of academic politics and turf protection

The University of Sydney has denied natural justice to one of its leading academics in adolescent health during an investigation into the collection of blood samples from Sydney school students for medical research, a review committee has found. Michael Booth, an associate professor in the university's school of public health, was accused in late 2005 of neglecting to follow the correct ethical approval process before collecting blood samples from 500 adolescents for a study on childhood obesity.

The university commissioned Helen Colbey of the NSW Internal Audit Bureau to investigate the allegations and she released her report in January last year. It found Dr Booth had engaged in six counts of serious ethical misconduct and recommended his dismissal. But a review committee, which was established on the insistence of Dr Booth's lawyers, found this month that the university had denied him natural justice and procedural fairness, because he was not given the chance to respond to the evidence against him. "It was like I was locked in a room, the evidence was presented to a judge and he said 'guilty' and I was taken away, so I didn't get my day in court," Dr Booth said last week.

The outgoing vice-chancellor, Gavin Brown, will now have to choose between ignoring the findings of the review committee - two of whose three members were appointed by the university - or accept them and expose the university to legal action by Dr Booth.

The case raises questions about academic freedom, government interference in universities and the ethics of using blood samples for controversial purposes, without specific consent, if it means the research leads to public benefit. The blood samples that were collected for the original study, known as the Schools Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey, were later tested for sexually transmitted herpes and the researchers were able to glean invaluable information for a vaccine against herpes type 2. That information has been locked up, along with the blood samples, because it was deemed to have been gathered unethically.

Collecting blood samples from the 15-year-olds at schools across Sydney required extensive consultation with NSW Health, the NSW Education Department and the university's ethics committee, particularly around the parent information sheet, which explained that the blood could be used for future tests related to physical activity and nutrition.

Dr Booth said it was only after the government departments had approved the wording that a colleague, Tony Cunningham, asked if he could also use the blood samples for the development of a herpes vaccine, which clearly fell outside the scope of physical activity and nutrition. "We realised that not only did the wording of the information sheet have to be changed to allow the [herpes] tests to be conducted, but that it would also be preferable to make the wording broader to allow the possibility of other, as yet unforeseen, tests relevant to the health of young people," Dr Booth said. He changed the information sheet to allow for broader testing, but he was later accused of doing so without formal approval, which he denies, leading to the misconduct complaint.

Dr Booth said he knew the herpes research would anger the health and education departments. "[But] I really think it would be unethical of me to protect my career at the expense of the development of a vaccine." However, Bruce Robinson, the then head of the university's school of public health, said the parents should have been told their children's blood samples would be tested for herpes. "Particularly in the context of something quite sensitive, in terms of herpes antibodies in teenagers, I would see that as bad behaviour to go ahead and do that," Professor Robinson said.

NSW Health and the then health minister John Hatzistergos said the matter was now in the hands of the university and declined to comment further. The University of Sydney said: "The university is firmly committed to upholding all its policies and procedures, particularly those relating to dealings with members of the public and especially involving health matters."


Monday, April 28, 2008

Validation for

You've heard the reasons why professors don't trust, the Web site to which students flock. Students who don't do the work have equal say with those who do. The best way to get good ratings is to be relatively easy on grades, good looking or both, and so forth. But what if the much derided Web site's rankings have a high correlation with markers that are more widely accepted as measures of faculty performance? Last year, a scholarly study found a high correlation between and a university's own system of student evaluations. Now, a new study is finding a high correlation between RateMyProfessors and a student evaluation system used nationally.

A new study is about to appear in the journal Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education and it will argue that there are similarities in the rankings in and IDEA, a student evaluation system used at about 275 colleges nationally and run by a nonprofit group affiliated with Kansas State University.

What is notable is that while gives power to students, IDEA gives a lot of control over the process to faculty members. Professors identify the teaching objectives that are important to the class, and those are the measures that count the most. In addition, weighting is used so that adjustments are made for factors beyond professors' control, such as class size, student work habits and so forth - all variables that RateMyProfessors doesn't really account for (or try to account for). The study looked at the rankings of 126 professors at Lander University, in South Carolina, and compared the two ratings systems. The findings:

* Student rankings on the ease of courses were consistent in both systems and correlated with grades.

* Professors' rankings for "clarity" and "helpfulness" on correlated with overall rankings for course excellence on IDEA.

* The similarities were such that, the journal article says, they offer "preliminary support for the validity of the evaluations on"

The study was conducted by Michael E. Stonntag, who formerly taught at Lander and who is now vice president for academic affairs at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, and by two psychology professors at Lander, Jonathan F. Bassett and Timothy Snyder.

Sonntag said that there are two ways to read the results: One is to say that is as good as an educationally devised system and the other would be to say that the latter is as poor as the former. But either way, he suggested, it should give pause to critics to know that the students' Web site "does correlate with a respected tool."

William H. Pallett, president of IDEA, said he was "surprised a bit" by the correlation between his organization's rankings and those of That's because much of the criticism he has heard of the student oriented site is that rankings aren't representative, while much of the effort at IDEA is based on assuring representative samples. "I am surprised, given that we do attend to issues of reliability and validity and they acknowledge that they don't," he said.

Pallett cautioned, however, that IDEA is not intended to be a sole basis for evaluating a course or professor. He said that he would always advise departments to have professors evaluate on another, and to use student evaluations as just one part of that review.

Sonntag said that his current institution uses a home-grown student evaluation system, and that he has no plans to seek a change to IDEA or - and that the evaluation system is covered by a collective bargaining contract anyway. But he said that he hoped the study might prompt some to think about the online rankings in new ways.

For his part, Sonntag acknowledged that some reviews are "so mean-spirited" that they aren't worth anyone's time. But he said that if you cast those aside, there are valuable lessons to be learned. He said that he does check what the site says about his teaching - and has found reinforcement for some innovations and reason to question whether some of his tests were too difficult.

"I've been an instructor for 10 years. I look at it," he said, adding that he has found insights "that weren't on my teaching evaluations and I have thought: `Wow. I believe what the student has said is valid and perhaps I can change the way I teach."


Twenty-Five Years Later, A Nation Still at Risk

Today marks the 25th anniversary of "A Nation at Risk," the influential Reagan-era report by a blue-ribbon panel that alerted Americans to the weak performance of our education system. The report warned of a "rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people." That dire forecast set off a quarter century of education reform that's yielded worthy changes - yet still not the achievement gains we need to turn back the tide of mediocrity.

After decades of furthering educational "equality," the 1983 commission admonished the country, it was time to attend to academic excellence and school results. Educators didn't want to hear this and a generation later many still don't. Our ponderous public-school system resists change. Teachers don't like criticism and are loath to be judged by pupil performance. In educator circles, one still encounters grumbling that "A Nation at Risk" lodged a bum rap.

Others heeded the alarm, though, and that report launched an era of forceful innovation and accountability guided by noneducators - elected officials, business leaders and philanthropists. Such "civilian" leadership has brought about two profound shifts that the professionals, left to their own devices, would never have allowed. Today, instead of judging schools by their services, resources or fairness, we track their progress against preset academic standards - and hold them to account for those results. We're also far more open to charter schools, vouchers, virtual schools, home schooling. And we no longer suppose kids must attend the campus nearest home. A majority of U.S. students now study either in bona fide "schools of choice," or in neighborhood schools their parents chose with a realtor's help.

Those are historic changes indeed - most of today's education debates deal with the complexities of carrying them out. Yet our school results haven't appreciably improved, whether one looks at test scores or graduation rates. Sure, there are up and down blips in the data, but no big and lasting changes in performance, even though we're also spending tons more money. (In constant dollars, per-pupil spending in 1983 was 56% of today's.)

And just as "A Nation at Risk" warned, other countries are beginning to eat our education lunch. While our outcomes remain flat, theirs rise. Half a dozen nations now surpass our high-school and college graduation rates. International tests find young Americans scoring in the middle of the pack.

What to do now? It's no time to ease the push for a major K-12 education make-over - or to settle (as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton apparently would) for reviving yesterday's faith in still more spending and greater trust in educators. But we can distill four key lessons:

First, don't expect Uncle Sam to manage the reform process. Not only does Washington lack the capacity to revamp thousands of schools and create alternatives for millions of kids, but viewing education reform as a federal obligation lets others off the hook. Yet some things are best done nationally - notably creating uniform standards and tests in place of today's patchwork of uneven expectations and noncomparable assessments. These we have foolishly resisted.

Second, retain civilian control but push for more continuity. Governors and mayors remain indispensable leaders on the ground - but the instant they leave office, the system tries to revert. The adult interests that rule it - teacher unions, yes, but also colleges of education, textbook publishers and more - look after themselves and fend off change. If three consecutive governors or mayors hew to the same agenda, those reforms are more apt to endure.

Third, don't bother seeking one grand innovation. Education reform is not about silver bullets. But huge gains can be made by schools that are free to run (and staff) themselves, attended by choice, expected to meet high standards, and accountable for their results.

Consider the more than 50 schools in the acclaimed Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) network. We don't have nearly enough today, but we're likelier to grow more of them outside the traditional system than by trying to alter the system itself.

Finally, content matters. Getting the structures, rules and incentives right is only half the battle. The other half is sound curriculum and effective instruction. If we can't place enough expert educators in our classrooms, we can use technology to amplify the best of them across the state or nation. Kids no longer need to sit in school to be well educated.

Far from delivering an undeserved insult to a well-functioning system, the authors of "A Nation at Risk" were clear-eyed about that system's failings, and prescient about the challenges these posed to America's future. Now that we're well into that future, we owe them a vote of thanks. But our most solemn responsibility is to keep the reform flag flying high in the wind that they created.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Right-Sizing the College Market

Let students find an investment market for their talents

By Thomas Sowell

Those who argue that the taxpayers should be forced to subsidize people who go to colleges and universities seldom bother to think beyond the notion that education is a Good Thing. Some education is not only a good thing but a great thing. But, like most good things, there are limits to how much of it is good - and how good compared to other uses of the resources required. In other words, education is not a Good Thing categorically in unlimited amounts, for people of all levels of ability, interest, and willingness to work.

Nor is there any obvious way to set an arbitrary limit. These are questions that no given individual can answer for a whole society. The most we can do is confront individuals with the costs that their choices are imposing on others who want the same resources for other purposes, and are willing to pay for those resources.

Those who cannot bring themselves to face the tough choices that reality presents often seek escape to some kind of fairy godmother - the government or, more realistically, the taxpayers.

When the idea of conscripting taxpayers to play the role of fairy godmother for some arbitrarily selected favorites of the intelligentsia gains currency, "the poor" are often used as human shields behind which to advance toward that redistributive goal. What will happen to the poor if there are no government subsidies for college?

If this argument is meant seriously, rather than being simply a political talking point, then there can always be some means test used to decide who qualifies as poor and then subsidize just those people - rather than the vastly larger number of other claimants for government largesse who advance toward the national treasury, using the poor as human shields.

Another option would be to allow students to sign enforceable contracts by which lenders would pay their college or university expenses in exchange for a given percentage of their future earnings. That way, students would be issuing stocks to raise capital, the way corporations do, instead of being limited to borrowing money to be paid back in fixed amounts - the latter being equivalent to issuing corporate bonds. Not only would this get the conscripted taxpayers out of the picture, it would also make it unnecessary for parents to go into hock to put their children through college.

Still, the financially poorest student in the land could get money to go to college, with a good academic record and a promising career from which to pay dividends on the lender's investment. More fundamentally, it would confront the prospective college student with the full costs of all the resources required for a college education.

Those who are not serious - which includes a remarkably large number of students, even at good colleges - would have to back off and go face the realities of the adult world in the job market. But not as many jobs would be able to require college degrees if such degrees were no longer so readily available at someone else's expense.

If individuals issuing stock in themselves sounds impossible, it has already been done. Boxers from poor families get trained and promoted at their managers' expense, in exchange for a share of their future earnings.

Even some college students have already gotten money to pay for college in exchange for a share of their future earnings. However, in the current atmosphere, where college is seen as a "right," there has been resentment at having to pay back more than was lent when the recipient's degree brings in large paychecks.

What is truly repugnant to some people about college students issuing stocks as well as bonds is that this not only takes the government out of the picture, it takes the intelligentsia out of the picture as prescribers of how other people ought to behave.

Reality can be hard to adjust to. The most we can do is see that the adjustments are made by those who get the benefits, instead of making the taxpayer the one who has to do all the adjusting.


Australia: Dumb university boss

Good grief! The clown thinks that Unitarianism is a MUSLIM sect! Unitarianism originated centuries ago among English Christians who thought that the doctrine of the Trinity is incoherent (it is) but these days they are mostly just wishy-washy Left-leaning Christians -- even more wishy-washy than the Anglicans. They are mostly found in the USA these days.

Griffith university is located in Brisbane and is widely seen there as coming a distant second to the University of Queensland in terms of academic quality. This episode certainly confirms that view

Griffith University vice-chancellor Ian O'Connor has admitted lifting information straight from online encyclopedia Wikipedia and confusing strands of Islam as he struggled to defend his institution's decision to ask the repressive Saudi Arabian Government for funding. Professor O'Connor also appears to have breached his own university's standards on plagiarism as they apply to students' academic work - a claim he denies. And he appears to have ignored his own past misgivings about Wikipedia and internet-based research.

In September, The Australian revealed that the Queensland university had accepted a grant of $100,000 from the Saudi Government. Last week, it was revealed that Griffith had asked the Saudi embassy in Australia for a $1.37million grant for its Islamic Research Unit, telling the ambassador that certain elements of the controversial deal could be kept a secret. Griffith - described by Professor O'Connor as the "university of choice" for Saudis - also offered the embassy a chance to "discuss" ways in which the money could be used.

Professor O'Connor's response to The Australian's revelations, which was published as an opinion article in the newspaper on Thursday, contained whole passages of text "cut and pasted" from Wikipedia. "The primary doctrine of Unitarianism is Tawhid, or the uniqueness and unity of God," Professor O'Connor wrote. "Wahhab also preached against a perceived moral decline and political weakness in the Arabian peninsula and condemned idolatry, the popular cult of saints, and shrine and tomb visitation." The Wikipedia entry for Wahhabism reads: "The primary doctrine of Wahhabism is Tawhid, or the uniqueness and unity of God ... He preached against a 'perceived moral decline and political weakness' in the Arabian peninsula and condemned idolatry, the popular cult of saints, and shrine and tomb visitation."

Professor O'Connor, whose academic credentials are in social work and juvenile justice, appears to have substituted the word Unitarianism for Wahhabism. He has admitted that the substitution, which came under fire from religious commentators, was not appropriate. In a statement issued yesterday, Professor O'Connor acknowledged his article "relied on several sources, and requires further clarity on Unitarianism".

"The article was based on material provided by senior staff and in pulling it together, a small number of sentences were not directly attributed; this was not intentional," he said in the statement. "It was prepared as a newspaper article for Thursday's Australian aiming to put the issue into context and communicate to the public the importance of the work of Griffith's Islamic Research Unit."

In September, Professor O'Connor expressed concern about Wikipedia and web-based research. "I am somewhat more ambivalent about Wikipedia: it and other sites in the world wide web seem to be changing social negotiation and the transfer of knowledge," he said in a paper presented with fellow academic Gavin Moodie. Wikipedia itself advises "special caution" when its material is used as a source for research projects. Professor O'Connor denies that by lifting sentences from Wikipedia he has breached his university's guidelines on plagiarism. The Griffith University council, of which Professor O'Connor is an ex-officio member, considers plagiarism an example of academic misconduct.

The policy - approved by the council on March 5 last year - defines plagiarism as "knowingly presenting the work or property of another person as if it were one's own". It gives an example of plagiarism as "word for word copying of sentences or paragraphs from one or more sources which are the work or data of other persons (including books, articles, thesis, unpublished works, working papers, seminar and conference papers, internal reports, lecture notes or tapes) without clearly identifying their origin by appropriate referencing".

Professor O'Connor yesterday tried to distance himself from the university's standards. "It was not as a piece of academic scholarship, therefore did not follow normal citation methods used in academic publications," he said. On Wednesday, Professor O'Connor published a full copy of his opinion piece on the Griffith website. Yesterday, the university added references to Wikipedia as footnotes.

Griffith University council member Dwight Zakus, senior lecturer at the university's Department of Tourism, Leisure, Hotel and Sports Management, said he "strongly discouraged" his students from using Wikipedia as an academic reference. He said it was "problematic" for Professor O'Connor not to acknowledge he used Wikipedia as a source for his piece for The Australian.

But Henry Smerdon, Griffith deputy chancellor and university council member, told The Weekend Australian Professor O'Connor had his support. "As far as I'm concerned and as far as a wide section of the university is concerned, Ian is an outstanding academic, an outstanding leader and an outstanding human being and that has been proven on many occasions," he said. Mr Smerdon - a former under-treasurer in the state Treasury Department - said Professor O'Connor told him the opinion article was researched by senior staff. "He said it was unintentional and he probably realises that in the heat of the moment he could have been a little more careful," he said. He said there needed to be "a distinction drawn" between a response to criticisms in a newspaper and academic work.

Professor O'Connor's use of the term Unitarianism has also drawn criticism from ABC religion journalists and commentators Rachael Kohn, John Cleary and Stephen Crittenden, as well as the Henry Thornton website. "Ian O'Connor's equation of Wahhabism and Salafism with Unitarianism is utter nonsense," the ABC commentators wrote. "Unitarianism emerged as a liberal Christian movement and gained ground in the early years of American democracy."

Professor O'Connor now admits the term was misused. "Responding to today's Australian article, which criticised my use of the word Unitariaism in the article, I draw on the expertise of Dr Mohamad Abdalla, director of our Islamic Research Institute, who is one of Australia's most highly regarded Islamic scholars, to clarify the issue," he said. "Dr Abdalla confirms the more correct label is Muwahiddun, rather than the popular but problematic term Wahhabism."