Saturday, May 10, 2008

Underhand racism at work in Kentucky

Sounds like lots of busing again

Last June, the eulogizing came quickly after the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to strike down the race-based integration plans at two public school districts. "Bye-bye, Brown," was University of Louisville education professor Skip Kifer's succinct response in the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader.

But in Jefferson County, Ky. - one of the school districts whose policies the court declared unconstitutional - school officials have come up with an integration strategy that uses household income, adult education levels and race to determine a school's student body composition. If the Board of Education adopts the plan when it votes in early May, Jefferson County will join the vanguard of school districts that looks at integration along socioeconomic lines as the best way to diversify their schools.

National scrutiny of school integration in Jefferson County is nothing new. The county first made headlines in 1974, when a U.S. district court judge ruled that the county's schools had not been desegregated. A 1975 Time cover-story, "Busing Battle," reporting on the resulting court-ordered busing, described black students passing through rows of armed state troopers into their new schools.

Jefferson County achieved integration with a policy requiring that no less than 15 percent and no more than 50 percent of the student body be black. That was the plan the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional last summer in Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education. Jefferson County's new plan uses Census data to divide the county into two geographic areas. "Area A" is below the district average in median household income and educational achievement, and above the district average in its percentage of minority students. "Area B" is the opposite.

Schools are then grouped into clusters and students are assigned to schools within those clusters, based primarily on parents' choice. Schools would now have to include no less than 15 percent and no more than 50 percent of students from geographic Area A.

Only the district's elementary schools will be affected by the plan. Depending on how the clusters are drawn, as few as 1,700 elementary students would have to shift schools. (Enrollment at middle schools and high schools currently meets the new standards.)

"There's a reason to want to [integrate schools along socioeconomic lines], even if it didn't produce racial diversity," says Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a nonprofit public policy institute. "It's that low-income kids do better in a middle-class environment." He points to the 1966 Coleman Report on educational integration, which showed that the socioeconomic makeup of schools is second only to family influence in its effect on student achievement. It's a finding that has been repeatedly upheld.

Kahlenberg says that in schools integrated along socioeconomic lines, students tend to be more academically engaged and are less likely to create discipline problems; parents tend to be more involved; and the schools attract better teachers and administrators.

Kahlenberg says that if the purpose of school assignment is to increase academic learning, "then the primary issue is class. If the issue is how do we create tolerant adults, then I think we want to continue to focus, in part, on race." The model in Jefferson County attempts to do both.


Charter School Students in Chicago Enjoy Better Graduation, College Entry Rates

Chicago's multi-grade charter high schools (those serving students in grades 7-12, 6-12 or K-12) appear to improve their students' chances of graduating and attending college, as compared with the city's traditional public high schools, according to a RAND Corporation study issued today. The study is the first to rigorously examine the impacts of charter schools on the critical measures of high school graduation and college entry.

The study finds evidence that Chicago's charter high schools may produce positive effects on ACT scores, the probability of graduating, and the probability of enrolling in college-but these positive effects are solidly evident only in the charter high schools that also included middle school grades. For the average eighth-grade charter student in Chicago, continuing in a charter high school is estimated to lead to

* an advantage of approximately half a point in composite ACT score (for which the median score for the students included in the analysis is 16)

* an advantage of 7 percentage points in the probability of graduating from high school

* an advantage of 11 percentage points in the likelihood of enrolling in college.

"The results for the charter high schools are encouraging and raise questions as to why students attending these schools exhibit higher graduation and college attendance rates," said Ron Zimmer, co-author of the study and a senior policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "If the educational community is to learn from charter schools, we need to explore further the factors that lead to these results."

Charter schools are publicly funded schools that operate outside direct school district control and are intended to provide educational choice to families, reduce bureaucratic constraints on educators and provide competitive pressure to conventional public schools. Forty states and the District of Columbia have charter-school laws, and more than 4,000 charter schools operate in the United States, enrolling more than 1 million students.

"The strongly positive attainment results for Chicago's multi-grade charter high schools suggest that test scores alone may not fully measure the benefits of charter schools for their students," said Brian Gill, a study co-author and a senior social scientist at Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. The authors contend that additional research is needed before it can be determined how charter high schools produced these results and whether district-run schools can produce positive effects by incorporating middle school and, perhaps, elementary grades onto the same campus.

The study also found that in grades K-8, Chicago charter schools are doing about as well as the city's traditional public schools in raising student achievement as measured by test score, but that charters do not do well in test score achievement during their first year of operation. On average, the prior achievement levels of students transferring to charter schools differ only slightly from the citywide average and from the achievement levels of peers in the district-managed Chicago public schools they departed. In addition, charter schools in Chicago are not having major effects on the sorting of students by race, ethnicity or achievement and while charter schools have been criticized for "skimming the cream" by attracting the top public school students, this was not the case in Chicago.

The study includes data from the 1997-98 through 2006-07 school years, except for graduation and college attainment data, which included 1997-98 through 2005-06. The full report, "Achievement and Attainment in Chicago Charter Schools," and a report summary are available at


Friday, May 09, 2008

The age of educational romanticism

by Charles Murray

On requiring every child to be above average

This is the story of educational romanticism in elementary and secondary schools —its rise, its etiology, and, we have reason to hope, its approaching demise.

Educational romanticism consists of the belief that just about all children who are not doing well in school have the potential to do much better. Correlatively, educational romantics believe that the academic achievement of children is determined mainly by the opportunities they receive; that innate intellectual limits (if they exist at all) play a minor role; and that the current K-12 schools have huge room for improvement.

Educational romanticism characterizes reformers of both Left and Right, though in different ways. Educational romantics of the Left focus on race, class, and gender. It is children of color, children of poor parents, and girls whose performance is artificially depressed, and their academic achievement will blossom as soon as they are liberated from the racism, classism, and sexism embedded in American education. Those of the Right see public education as an ineffectual monopoly, and think that educational achievement will blossom when school choice liberates children from politically correct curricula and obdurate teachers’ unions.

In public discourse, the leading symptom of educational romanticism is silence on the role of intellectual limits even when the topic screams for their discussion. Try to think of the last time you encountered a news story that mentioned low intellectual ability as the reason why some students do not perform at grade level. I doubt if you can. Whether analyzed by the news media, school superintendents, or politicians, the problems facing low-performing students are always that they have come from disadvantaged backgrounds, or have gone to bad schools, or grown up in peer cultures that do not value educational achievement. The problem is never that they just aren’t smart enough.

The apotheosis of educational romanticism occurred on January 8, 2002, when a Republican president of the United States, surrounded by approving legislators from both parties, signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act, which had this as the Statement of Purpose for its key title:
The purpose of this title is to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards and state academic assessments.

I added the italics. All means exactly that: everybody, right down to the bottom level of ability. The language of the 2002 law made no provision for any exclusions. The Act requires that this goal be met “not later than 12 years after the end of the 2001–2002 school year.”

We are not talking about a political speech or a campaign promise. The United States Congress, acting with large bipartisan majorities, at the urging of the President, enacted as the law of the land that all children are to be above average. I do not exaggerate. When No Child Left Behind began in 2002, the nation already possessed operational definitions of proficient in the math and reading tests administered under the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, pronounced “nape”). NAEP is seen as the gold standard in educational testing. Only about 30 percent of American students were proficient in either reading or math by NAEP’s definitions when No Child Left Behind began. In other words, by NAEP’s standard, all students are not just to be brought to the average that existed when No Child Left Behind was enacted. All of them are to reach the level of students at the seventieth percentile.

Many laws are too optimistic, but the No Child Left Behind Act transcended optimism. It set a goal that was devoid of any contact with reality. How did we get to that point?

I begin by briefly making the case that educational romanticism is in fact out of touch with reality. I will call on some specific bodies of scholarly evidence, but nothing I say will come as a surprise to parents of children who are more than a few years into elementary school. Exceptions exist, but the overwhelmingly common parental experience is that even in preschool our children began to exhibit profiles of abilities. When we observed a strength we tried to build on it, and when we observed a weakness we tried to remediate it or find someone who could. But whatever profiles we observed when our children were still quite young could only be tweaked. Our children with dyslexia, for example, could be taught strategies for coping, but reading never became easy for them. If specific learning disabilities were not involved, then nothing much changed no matter how hard we tried. School performance might have risen or fallen because of other things going on in their lives—emotional problems, peer pressures in either direction, or distractions because of a family crisis, for example—but the underlying profiles of abilities that our children took into elementary school didn’t look much different when they got to middle school and high school.

That common experience of parents conforms to everything that is known scientifically about the nature of intellectual ability. A lively debate continues about the malleability of intellectual ability in infants and toddlers, but few make ambitious claims for the malleability of intellectual ability after children enter elementary school. There are no examples of intensive in-school programs that permanently raise intellectual ability during the K-12 years (minor and temporary practice effects are the most that have been demonstrated).

No one disputes the empirical predictiveness of tests of intellectual ability—IQ tests—for large groups. If a classroom of first-graders is given a full-scale IQ test that requires no literacy and no mathematics, the correlation of those scores with scores on reading and math tests at age seventeen is going to be high. Such correlations will be equally high whether the class consists of rich children or poor, black or white, male or female. They will be high no matter how hard the teachers have worked. Scores on tests of reading and math track with intellectual ability, no matter what.

That brings us to an indispensable tenet of educational romanticism: The public schools are so bad that large gains in student performance are possible even within the constraints of intellectual ability. A large and unrefuted body of evidence says that this indispensable tenet is incorrect. Differences among schools do not have much effect on test scores in reading and mathematics. This finding is not well known by the general public (parents could spend less time fretting over their children’s school if it were), and needs some explanation.

When Congress passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, it included a mandate for a nationwide study to assess the effects of inequality of educational opportunity on student achievement. The study, led by the sociologist James Coleman, was one of the most ambitious in the history of social science. The sample consisted of 645,000 students. Data were collected not only about the students’ personal school histories, but also about their parents’ socioeconomic backgrounds, their neighborhoods, the curricula and facilities of their schools, and the qualifications of the teachers within those schools.

Before Coleman’s team set to work, everybody expected that the study would document a relationship between the quality of schools and the academic achievement of the students in those schools. To everyone’s shock, the Coleman Report instead found that the quality of schools explains almost nothing about differences in academic achievement. Family background was by far the most important factor in determining student achievement. The Coleman Report came under intense fire, but re- analyses of the Coleman data and the collection of new data in the decades since it appeared support its finding that the quality of public schools doesn’t make much difference in student achievement.

In thinking about the explanation for this counter-intuitive result, it is important not to confuse your idea of a bad public school with the worst-of-the-worst inner-city schools that are the subject of horror stories. When schools are as bad as they are in the inner-city neighborhoods of Detroit, Washington, and a few other large cities, they certainly have a depressing effect on student achievement. Getting students out of those schools should be a top policy priority. But only a few percent of the nation’s students attend such schools. In what might be called a “normally bad” public school, a lot of the slack has been taken out of the room for improvement. The normally bad school maintains a reasonably orderly learning environment and offers a standard range of courses taught with standard textbooks. Most of the teachers aren’t terrible; they’re just mediocre. Those raw materials give students most of the education they are going to absorb regardless of where they go to school. Excellent schools with excellent teachers will augment their learning, and are a better experience for children in many other ways as well. But an excellent school’s effects on mean test scores for the student body as a whole will not be dramatic. Readers who attended normally bad K-12 schools and then went to selective colleges are likely to understand why: Your classmates who had gone to Phillips Exeter had taken much better courses than your school offered, and you may have envied their good luck, but you had read a lot on your own, you weren’t that far behind, and you caught up quickly.

To sum up, a massive body of evidence says that reading and mathematics achievement have strong ties to underlying intellectual ability, that we do not know how to change intellectual ability after children reach school, and that the quality of schooling within the normal range of schools does not have much effect on student achievement. To put it another way, we have every reason to think—and already did when the No Child Left Behind Act was passed—that the notion of making all children proficient in math and reading is ridiculous. Such a feat is not possible even for an experimental school with unlimited funding, let alone for public schools operating in the real world. By NAEP’s definition of proficiency, we probably cannot make even half of the students proficient.

More here

Texas demands faith in Darwinism

Regulators reject teaching from team of Ph.Ds

The state of Texas has decided that a graduate school with a faculty sporting Ph.Ds from UCLA, Penn State, the University of Montana, Colorado State, Case Western and Indiana University, with a few lowly Ed.D. degrees thrown it, isn't qualified to grant master's degrees because it teaches students to evaluate thoroughly the pluses - and minuses - of evolution and creation.

The verdict came just a week ago from the Texas Higher Education Consulting Board, which rejected an application from the Institute for Creation Research Graduate School for a Certificate of Authority to grant degrees.

The rejection came on the recommendation of Commissioner Raymund Paredes despite earlier approval recommendations from a site team dispatched by the state agency to evaluate the education offerings as well as the agency's advisory committee. In a case that appears to be an example of the academic censoring described in Ben Stein's movie "Expelled," state officials even read into the record for the agency's hearing a state statute regarding "fraudulent" education programs without giving supporters of the ICR program an opportunity to explain or respond. "Expelled" covers the following key questions:
Were we designed or are we simply products of random chance, mutations and evolution occurring without any plan over billions of years?

Is the debate over origins settled?

How should science deal with what appears to be evidence of design?

What should be taught to children and college students about our origins?

Is there any room for dissent from the evolutionary point of view?

Is it appropriate for eminent scientists who depart from strict evolutionary dogma to be fired and blacklisted, as is occurring in academia today?

Should government schools and other institutions be engaged in promoting the secular, materialistic worldview to the total exclusion of differing points of view?

Is science so advanced and so certain that it should be exempt from the societal norms of open dialogue and free debate?

Why is it simply inconceivable and unacceptable for some evolutionists to consider the possibility - no matter how remote - that our world might actually have a Creator?

"This is the second time in 18 years that a state's top educational authority has attempted to thwart the Institute for Creation Research's ability to offer master's degrees in science and science education," said a statement from the Answers in Genesis organization. "Such a setback for a school - which has several qualified Ph.D. scientists on its faculty - merely confirms what the just-released film 'Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed' has been exposing: academia will not tolerate any challenge to evolutionist orthodoxy and will suppress the liberties of Darwin-doubters," AIG said.

ICR has been issuing master's degrees in California since 1981. In 1990 it overcame a challenge from state educational officials who tried to deny the school the opportunity to offer degrees. "ICR eventually won approval in a federal court," Answers in Genesis said. "Due to its recent move to Texas, ICR had to apply to the THECB for similar authorization . and once again found itself running another educational gauntlet."

According to the Dallas Morning News, Henry Morris III, the chief executive officer for the ICRGS, said the school prepares students to "understand both sides of the scientific perspective, although we do favor the creationist view." After being rejected, he said the institute may revise its application or pursue a court action. "We will pursue due process," he told the board. "We will no doubt see you in the future." Under state procedures, the ICRGS now would have 45 days to file an appeal, or 180 days to begin a new application.

According to Answers in Genesis: "ICR has argued that its quality faculty and rigorous program - presented in a creationist framework - students to become effective science teachers. . Paredes has claimed that what ICR teaches is contrary to what is required in Texas's public schools, and that because ICR's program insists on accepting the biblical account of creation, it inadequately covers science. ICR counters with the observation that its students learn all about evolution, the scientific method, etc. - but that they are also exposed to the scientific problems with evolution." It was Joe Stafford, assistant commissioner for academic affairs in Texas, who during the hearing read into the record a Texas Education Code statute about prevent "fraudulent" colleges, but ICRGS officials were denied any opportunity to respond to that allegation.

Among the 13 faculty members listed by the ICRGS, 10 have earned Ph.Ds in their fields of expertise, another is a doctor of veterinary medicine and two more have doctorates in education.

Going into the hearing, officials from ICRGS said they had revamped their offerings "to meet, and in some areas to exceed, virtually all of the AAAS Project 2061 Benchmarks (in science, mathematics, technology, etc.) and the National Science Education Standards." However, it had a level of concern "about whether its public viewpoints have or will become the subject of unequal (or otherwise improper) discriminatory treatment in conjunction with the processing of ICRGS's application." "The ICRGS is concerned that educational politics may unduly influence the processing of ICRGS's application in a manner that chills free speech, and thus dampens postsecondary education diversity, perhaps facilitating the promotion of a postsecondary education market 'monopoly,'" the organization said.

On the Dallas newspaper's forum, opinions were divided: "They rightly rejected the attempt by the Institute of Creation Research to inject religion into scientific teaching," wrote David Alkek. But Daniel DeVelde said, "Good educators should want to give a complete education, including both evolution and intelligent design. Many scientists and educators should want to put both on the table for examination. Good education should explore all theories, not just the one someone happens to like."


Thursday, May 08, 2008

Dartmouth's 'Hostile' Environment

An academic nutcase with no concept of academic values -- or much else

Often it seems as though American higher education exists only to provide gag material for the outside world. The latest spectacle is an Ivy League professor threatening to sue her students because, she claims, their "anti-intellectualism" violated her civil rights. Priya Venkatesan taught English at Dartmouth College. She maintains that some of her students were so unreceptive of "French narrative theory" that it amounted to a hostile working environment. She is also readying lawsuits against her superiors, who she says papered over the harassment, as well as a confessional expose, which she promises will "name names."

The trauma was so intense that in March Ms. Venkatesan quit Dartmouth and decamped for Northwestern. She declined to comment for this piece, pointing instead to the multiple interviews she conducted with the campus press.

Ms. Venkatesan lectured in freshman composition, intended to introduce undergraduates to the rigors of expository argument. "My students were very bully-ish, very aggressive, and very disrespectful," she told Tyler Brace of the Dartmouth Review. "They'd argue with your ideas." [How awful!!] This caused "subversiveness," a principle English professors usually favor.

Ms. Venkatesan's scholarly specialty is "science studies," which, as she wrote in a journal article last year, "teaches that scientific knowledge has suspect access to truth." She continues: "Scientific facts do not correspond to a natural reality but conform to a social construct."

The agenda of Ms. Venkatesan's seminar, then, was to "problematize" technology and the life sciences. Students told me that most of the "problems" owed to her impenetrable lectures and various eruptions when students indicated skepticism of literary theory. She counters that such skepticism was "intolerant of ideas" and "questioned my knowledge in very inappropriate ways." Ms. Venkatesan, who is of South Asian descent, also alleges that critics were motivated by racism, though it is unclear why.

After a winter of discontent, the snapping point came while Ms. Venkatesan was lecturing on "ecofeminism," which holds, in part, that scientific advancements benefit the patriarchy but leave women out. One student took issue, and reasonably so - actually, empirically so. But "these weren't thoughtful statements," Ms. Venkatesan protests. "They were irrational." The class thought otherwise. Following what she calls the student's "diatribe," several of his classmates applauded. Ms. Venkatesan informed her pupils that their behavior was "fascist demagoguery." Then, after consulting a physician about "intellectual distress," she cancelled classes for a week. Thus the pending litigation.

Such conduct is hardly representative of the professoriate at Dartmouth, my alma mater. Faculty members tend to be professional. They also tend to be sane. That said, even at - or especially at - putatively superior schools, students are spoiled for choice when it comes to professors who share ideologies like Ms. Venkatesan's. The main result is to make coursework pathetically easy. Like filling in a Mad Libs, just patch something together about "interrogating heteronormativity," or whatever, and wait for the returns to start rolling in. I once wrote a term paper for a lit-crit course where I "deconstructed" the MTV program "Pimp My Ride." A typical passage: "Each episode is a text of inescapable complexity . . . Our received notions of what constitutes a ride are constantly subverted and undermined." It received an A.

Where the standards are always minimum, most kids simply float along with the academic drafts, avoid as much work as possible and accept the inflated grade. Why not? It's effortless, and there are better ways to spend time than thinking deeply about ecofeminism.

The remarkable thing about the Venkatesan affair, to me, is that her students cared enough to argue. Normally they would express their boredom with the material by answering emails on their laptops or falling asleep. But here they staged a rebellion, a French Counter-Revolution against Professor Defarge. Maybe, despite the professor's best efforts, there's life in American colleges yet.


Homosexual propaganda disallowed

A rather amazing foray into theology by a university is ruled unconstitutional

A federal judge has ruled that the Georgia Institute of Technology had materials in its office to support gay students that amounted to unconstitutional support for some religious groups over others. The case may have no practical impact at Georgia Tech as the materials in question are already gone. But the legal group that brought the suit and other analysts agree that such materials may well exist at other public colleges and may now become the focus of more scrutiny or legal battles. The Georgia Tech ruling is believed to be the first of its kind.

The ruling came in a case involving a range of issues over speech codes and support for religious groups at Georgia Tech - issues that mirror those being raised at other public colleges and many of which were resolved in earlier rulings or agreements between the parties in the case. The new part of the ruling, however, focused on a set of materials used in the "Safe Space" program at Georgia Tech, a part of the institute's diversity office designed to support gay and lesbian students.

The case was filed on behalf of two Georgia Tech students, assisted by the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal group that has sued many public colleges accusing them of violating the rights of religious students. The portion of the suit about Safe Space argued that materials at the public university were effectively religious in that they endorsed some faiths over others - and that these materials were as a result unconstitutional. Judge J. Owen Forrester agreed.

The materials in question dealt with issues that may be faced by religious gay students, or by gay students challenged about the sexuality by people from different faiths. One passage cited in the ruling says that "historically, Biblical passages taken out of context have been used to justify such things as slavery, the inferior status of women, and the persecution of religious minorities." Such attitudes have led some religious groups to declare "that homosexuality is immoral," the group's materials state, while others "have begun to look at sexual relationships in terms of the love, mutual support, commitments and the responsibility of the partners rather than the sex of the individuals involved."

In another section, the materials discuss specific faiths, noting which faiths recognize same-sex unions, and the conditions under which some faiths will ordain gay clergy. While the Episcopal Church is praised as "more receptive to gay worshipers than many other Christian denominations," the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is described as having "the most anti-gay policies of any religion widely practiced in the United States." The section on Roman Catholic belief also notes that some theologians have argued, "much to the embarrassment of the Vatican," that the medieval church recognized unions for same-sex couples.

In his ruling, Judge Forrester noted that Safe Space is not just one among many student groups, but one with close ties - financial and staffing - to the university. In this context, he said, it is irrelevant that officials involved in the program stressed that the materials in question had no religious purpose, and were simply motivated by a desire to help students understand the views of different religious groups on questions of sexuality.

Because of the close ties to the university, Judge Forrester said, the issue is the "clear preference of one religion over another contained" in the Safe Space materials, which he said was clearly unconstitutional. The decision ordered Georgia Tech to remove the materials in question. A statement from the university said that it "disagrees" with the decision, but that it is "moot" because the materials are no longer used by the Safe Space program.

Nate Kellum, a lawyer at the Alliance Defense Fund, said that the issues are not moot elsewhere. While the exact names of programs and the materials they use may vary, "these kinds of things are all over the place," he said, and other public colleges would be well advised to note this week's decision. Even in other parts of the country, where a ruling by a single federal judge would not be binding, he said, "I think the logic and reasoning would support the idea that this practice is unconstitutional."

A professor making comments in a classroom similar to those in the Safe Space materials would not be unconstitutional, Kellum said, because such statements would not carry the same weight as coming from the institution. He added that his group was not opposed to all services public colleges offer for gay students. "The problem with this was that the university was denigrating firmly held religious beliefs," he said. The Safe Space materials "held in high regard certain denominations that found no moral implications in homosexual relations, but denigrated those that did find moral implications."

Brian Moulton, a lawyer for the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group, agreed that the Safe Space materials were problematic. He noted that nothing in the decision makes it impossible for a public college to offer programs for gay students, and that the only limitations concern discussion of religion. The language used in the materials about religions "did very much sound like taking sides," which is "very problematic with public funds."

Others were more critical of the decision. Steve Sanders, a Chicago appellate lawyer and former public university administrator, said that some of the materials at issue "might strike some readers as rather shallow and tendentious," but he added that "I think you have to squint awfully hard to conclude that, as a First Amendment matter, they either denigrate or proselytize on behalf of any particular religious perspective. While the materials may betray a certain political or cultural point of view and we can debate the extent to which universities should be in that business, I think it was something of a stretch for the court to say they amounted to government favoritism toward one set of religious beliefs at the expense of another."

Sanders also noted that "religious activist groups" like those frequently supported by the Alliance Defense Fund "have properly sought to contribute their perspective on homosexuality to the larger market place of ideas" and that these groups "understandably employ religious texts and religious concepts," when they do so. He added that "I read the Georgia Tech Safe Space materials not as a foray into theology for its own sake, but rather as an effort to engage and critique the claims made by anti-gay religious groups."

Sanders said that "some might see it as a bit hypocritical for a religiously partisan group like the Alliance Defense Fund," which says it wants to promote "robust public debate," to "show this sort of hypersensitivity and file a lawsuit when a group like Safe Space criticizes those perspectives." The suit, he added, "raises the suspicion that this isn't so much about having an open and robust debate as it is about using the tools of law to shut down the other side."


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Value of college tuition is called into question

As college tuitions continue to climb, a study released today fuels concerns about whether the investment in higher education by families and taxpayers translates into better results. Students are a growing source of revenue for colleges, but little of that money is going into classroom instruction, says the report by the Delta Cost Project, a Washington-based non-profit. The study also finds that the percentage of students who complete a degree hasn't kept pace with increases in enrollments, revenue and total spending.

Leaders in higher education typically argue that spending increases are necessary to maintain educational quality, but "what we see across a broad range of indicators is that states and institutions are spending money in areas that may not be in line with the public priority of preparing more graduates," report author Jane Wellman says. The report is based on Department of Education data across 18 years from nearly 2,000 institutions representing 90% of students.

The study examined only operating expenses, which include instructional costs - primarily faculty salaries and benefits. The fastest-growing operating expenses are related to research, public outreach and financial aid, the report says. Other examples are student services, maintenance and academic support. Bill Troutt, president of Rhodes College in Memphis and chairman of a congressional college cost commission a decade ago, suggests classroom instruction shouldn't be the only focus. "We are making a very significant investment here in affordability," he says. Troutt also says the study should have included capital costs, such as construction and technology - factors he says influence student learning. "I think it's fair to calculate those in giving families a picture of what the true cost of education is," he says.

For the current school year, sticker price increases ranged from 4.2% at community colleges to 6.6% at public four-year institutions, College Board data show.

The report does not address the quality of the education a student receives, but completion rates are drawing more attention in a competitive global economy. The United States spends more per student than any other industrialized nation, yet it ranks at the bottom in degree completion (54%), says a 2007 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The organization average is 71%; the high is 91% in Japan. "We absolutely must talk about productivity - the linkage between resources and results - if our country is serious about competing globally and maintaining our quality of life," says Travis Reindl of Jobs for the Future, a Boston-based non-profit group.

Richard Vedder of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity says findings support calls by a federally appointed commission on which he sat to hold colleges more accountable for student achievement. "I'm hoping the policymaking public will say we've got to do something about this," such as making funding contingent on academic performance.


Ivy Leaguers are bright - but nice?

For my family, the college application process this year was a happy one - my younger sister was accepted at an Ivy League school. I was thrilled for her and excited to answer questions about my own university experience. But when she asked me what students at the "top" colleges were like, I realized I was disturbed by my answer.

During four years at Princeton University and nearly a year at Yale Law School, I have been surrounded by students who dazzle. These are the students for whom application processes were made. They include published novelists, acclaimed musicians, and Olympic medalists. They include entrepreneurs, founders of human rights groups, and political activists. If they have hobbies such as stamp collecting and belly dancing, by golly, they are the best stamp collectors and belly dancers in America!

These youths live a life of superlatives, a life in which being No. 1 is not just an aspiration but the status quo. They can be inspirational, but they are not always nice people. You know what I mean. I mean the kind of "nice" that involves showing compassion not merely because membership in community service groups demands it. The kind of "nice" that involves lending a textbook to a friend who doesn't have one. The kind of selfless, genuine "nice" that makes this world a better place - but won't get you accepted to college.

Of course, top universities accept hundreds of individuals who have demonstrated the highest levels of citizenship. These teenagers have volunteered in more food banks, sponsored more fund-raisers, and lobbied more officials than any previous generation. They earn, rightfully, the gratitude of their communities and the plethora of honors that come with it. Colleges at the top of US News and World Report's rankings would balk at the notion that these students are anything but the best and the brightest.

I'm not saying different [An adjective as a predicate?? This girl is among the brightest but has not been taught elementary grammar]. I'm saying that sometimes some of these students will denounce world hunger but be unfriendly to the homeless. They will debate environmental policy but never offer to take out the trash. They will believe vehemently in many causes but roll their eyes when reminded to be humble, to be generous, and to "do what is right."

It is these people, though, who often climb America's ladder of success. They rise to the top, partly on their own merits yet also partly on the backs of equally deserving but "nicer" people who let them steal the spotlight. Before they, or we, know it, they are the politicians and corporate executives subverting the very moral positions they espouse. They are the many figureheads who purport to be leaders even as they embarrass our country.

Watching the race for the presidency, I cannot help but wonder whether our candidates, with their prestigious degrees and impressive credentials, are nice people. I wonder if, in their trek to the top, they have pushed aside the kind of quietly brilliant altruists who mean what they say and say what they mean. I wonder if our society is crippling itself by subjecting its youths to an almost Darwinian college selection process.


An Australian university lurches Left -- in the usual simplistic Leftist way

Macquarie University students will be forced to "do good" and "change the world" -- but what has that got to do with academic ability or achievement? And what if I think that I "do good" simply by entering one of the professions? The definition of "doing good" is unclear but seems to be very unsophisticated for a university. I am glad that I was able to concentrate on my studies when I was there. And what about all the students who have to work their way through university? How are they going to fit in all this crap?

All students at a leading university will have to undertake volunteer work and study subjects from the arts and sciences under an overhaul of its curriculum designed to provide a broader education and more socially aware graduates. In a first for an Australian university, Macquarie University Vice Chancellor Steven Schwartz today will announce a partnership with Australia Volunteers International that will create a mini peace corps, giving undergraduate students the opportunity to do volunteer work overseas.

Called the Global Futures Program, it will develop programs with local communities throughout Australia, the South Pacific and Southeast Asia. Some form of community work will be compulsory for all undergraduate students at Macquarie under the new curriculum, to start in 2010. In addition, the university will require all undergraduate students to study subjects from the humanities, social sciences and sciences so that arts students must take science subjects and science students must take arts subjects.

The university, in northern Sydney, had also considered making the learning of a foreign language compulsory but it was not feasible at this stage. Professor Schwartz told The Australian that the new curriculum was based on three themes of place, planet and participation, and was designed to provide students with a broader education than one geared solely to a vocation and getting a job. "Universities are more than just narrow vocational schools; they have the opportunity to change the world, to shape society and shape democracy [Is that what the taxpayer is paying for? And what if the student is content with the world as it is and does not WANT to change it -- preferring to concentrate on more personal things? Is there no place for such a person in a university? It would seem gross political bigotry to say so!]," he said. "It's about education for life not just for a job. We're trying to infuse the institution with more than just a utilitarian vocational mission as one that also makes difference to a more democratic and inclusive society."

Professor Schwartz said the new curriculum developed the university's commitment to social inclusion and equity, and fitted in with programs already in place at the university, such as MULTILIT, a remedial literacy program being used in Queensland's Cape York, and the Teach for Australia scheme. Macquarie University, in partnership with Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson's Cape York Institute, is developing the Teach for Australia program. It is based on similar schemes in the US and Britain to recruit the brightest graduates to teach for a short time in disadvantaged schools before they start their professional careers.

Macquarie's focus on a broader education follows the restructure at Melbourne University, called the Melbourne Model and based on US college degrees, which offers six broad undergraduate degrees followed by a graduate professional degree in specialist areas such as law or medicine.

Professor Schwartz said providing an education based purely on skills was inadequate. "I used to be a dean of medicine and I believe probably a lot of skills we taught students were obsolete before they graduated," he said. "Our students graduating this year will retire about 2050. We don't know what the world will look like in 2015, let alone 2050. "At Macquarie, we want to give students the right skills to get ahead in the community and we want to give them employable skills but we also want to make them open to equity issues, to social progress and social justice in terms of equal opportunity."


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

McCain's School Choice Opportunity

If only Jeremiah Wright had got the right conspiracy. When Barack Obama's pastor was caught on tape accusing the government of inventing HIV for "genocide against people of color," it was dismissed as another crazy conspiracy theory - which of course it was. But what if the Rev. Wright had used his pulpit to direct a little fire-and-brimstone against a very real outrage: a public-school system that's depriving millions of children of the education they need to compete in the 21st century economy?

Scarcely half of American children in our 50 largest cities will leave their public schools with a high-school diploma in hand, according to a study released by America's Promise Alliance. These children are disproportionately African-American. Their homes are disproportionately located in our largest public school districts. And the failure is a scar on this great land of opportunity.

Alma and Colin Powell, leaders in the alliance that produced this report, spoke about the human blight that can follow the lack of a basic education in an op-ed in the Washington Times. "Students who drop out," they wrote, "are more likely to be incarcerated, to rely on public programs and social services and to go without health insurance than their fellow students who graduate."

That isn't the intent of those who administer this system. But that is the result. And only a latter-day Bull Connor could be happy with the way our inner-city public schools are consigning millions of African Americans to the margins of American opportunity and prosperity.

And it gets worse. One of the few hopeful alternatives in these cities are the Catholic schools, which take the very same students and show that they can learn if given the chance. One University of Chicago researcher found that minority students at Catholic schools are 42% likelier to complete high school than their public school counterparts - and 2 1/2 times more likely to earn a college degree. In difficult circumstances, and for an increasingly non-Catholic student body, these schools are doing heroic work. Unfortunately, another study released this month, by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, reports that Catholic schools are closing at an alarming rate: More than 1,300 since 1990. Most are located in our cities.

These numbers were behind the special White House summit on Inner-City Schoolchildren and Faith-Based Schools convened last Thursday. The emphasis on faith-based schools is a reflection of practicality, because turning around a failing public school or starting up a new one is difficult, costly and takes time that these children can't afford. "Many of the parents I know in D.C. are looking for a safe place for their children," says Virginia Walden-Ford, a summit participant and leader with the Black Alliance for Educational Options. "Their children can't afford to wait - they need a place now."

That's the education problem. The political problem has three parts. First, though polls show that African Americans generally favor school choice, they tend not to vote for pro-school-choice candidates who are mainly Republican. Second, suburban voters of both parties are not enthusiastic about school choice. Many of these voters see increasing options for inner city kids as enabling blacks and Latinos to find their way into their children's schools. And of course, the teachers unions devote their considerable resources to fighting any measure that increases accountability or gives parents more options.

So when politicians have to choose between a teachers union and some African-American mom who would like to take her son out of a failing public school, guess who usually wins?

This system has had remarkable staying power; but the cracks are appearing. In cities like Washington, D.C., and Newark, N.J., African-American mayors like Anthony Williams and Cory Booker - Democrats both - have taken courageous stands to offer children more and better school options. And these brave souls are being joined by a growing number of parents, pastors and advocates who recognize that the status quo is cheating their children out of a chance at the American Dream.

There's a good opening here for John McCain. As a senator, he has been a forceful voice for giving lower-income moms and dads the same options for their children that wealthier parents already enjoy. What if he took this campaign into the heart of our cities - and gave a little straight talk about the scandal that their public-school systems represent in this great land of opportunity?

Hillary Clinton can't do it for the same reason that Barack Obama can't: They cannot offend the teachers unions that are arguably the most powerful constituents in their party. John McCain can. Will he?


Can schools teach kids to think?

The introduction of `thinking skills' in British schools treats educational thought as a learned behaviour. But children are not dogs to be trained.

From September 2008, pupils starting secondary school in England are going to be taught to think. This begs the question, what have schools been doing up until now? Nevertheless, from now on young people are to be explicitly taught thinking skills. It is tempting to believe that this will result in the opening up of a new world of intellectual possibilities for young minds. but paradoxically, it is more likely to convince teachers and pupils alike that thinking is a conditioned reflex that just needs to be trained.

The promotion of the teaching of thinking skills is not new to education. The UK government has been encouraging the uptake of these ideas in secondary schools, as part of its attempt to drive up standards, for the past five years (1). But now the skills-based approach to learning has taken centre stage with the launch of the new national curriculum for 11- to 14-year-olds. The UK Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) published a `framework of personal, learning and thinking skills'. As the QCA says, this will give young people the skills `to enter work and adult life as confident and capable individuals'. According to the framework, pupils are to be encouraged to become `reflective learners', `creative thinkers', `team workers', `self-managers', `independent enquirers' and `effective participators'. This is the language of management training, not education. Deriving from the government's obsession with making education relevant to the perceived needs of business and society, the introduction of the explicit teaching of `thinking skills' is a political project.

The new national curriculum presents school education as a series of outcomes (2). Each outcome is explicitly a vision of the type of young people the QCA thinks society needs and wants. The actual subject matter of education only comes as an afterthought, hidden as a set of abbreviations in a minor strap line under `statutory expectations'. Clearly, according to the QCA, education is not about the transmission of knowledge. In fact, knowledge either gets in the way of learning transferable skills, or subjects are included only because they allow skills to be developed.

But surely introducing the teaching of thinking skills in the curriculum will improve pupils' chances of a good education? I beg to differ - for two reasons. First, the attempt to train pupils to think is based on a cognitive model of the human being as a biological machine. The attempt to teach thinking skills implies that thought is a learned behaviour, like a dog learning a trick. Once the trick is learned, apparently it happens automatically and, by definition, needs no further thought. The promotion of thinking skills is an attack on intellectual life, on thought itself.

Secondly, the promise of thinking skills is a hollow one. Even in its own terms, the development of thinking skills is about conditioning individual behaviour. It reduces the scope for creativity, the very thing it aspires to promote. We can't conjure up good ideas just by sitting down for half an hour and thinking about creating new ideas. The best that the thinking-skills approach has to offer is the illusion that good ideas are already there, just waiting for us to find them. This traps thought in our own heads. Creativity, like thought, is the result of an active engagement with society and with ideas themselves, not the action of a single mind trained inside a classroom environment.

During a recent training day for schoolteachers, I was asked to take part in an exercise based on (3) the approach to problem-solving developed in the book Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono, a well-known British physician, author, inventor and consultant. For this exercise we were given a problem and a card with one of the six hats explained on it. Each hat involves taking a different perspective (not necessarily your own) when discussing the problem at hand. The perspectives ranged from emotional, critical, objective, positive, creative to organisational. By discussing a problem from all these different perspectives, we are meant to arrive at `the answer', if it exists, in a faster, more systematic fashion.

The exercise was trivial, but what struck me was the introduction of de Bono into the classroom. Again, this is explicitly the language of management training rather than education. From this management perspective, knowledge is not considered to be very important. After all, business and management decisions are not made in the pursuit of knowledge - rather they are made in order to develop a position that can be defended and acted on. In the business world, once a decision is taken it must be transparent and accountable. Above all, decisions must be taken positively and leave no room for criticism. That is fine for management circles - but it is the very antithesis of the intellectual pursuit of knowledge, which must be more open-ended, more falsifiable, more open to continuing debate and development. De Bono made his name in the field of management consultancy - and what does that have to do with education?

De Bono himself is explicit about his suspicion of intellectualism. He says: `A true intellectual has as deep a fear of simplicity as a farmer has of droughts.' (4) His approach is the solution of problems in simple terms in the here and now. His approach is completely divorced from the intellectual tradition of human thought. In fact, argument and criticism - the tools of philosophers and thinkers in any serious field of knowledge - are to be dispensed with in the de Bono outlook, since they apparently lead to a `dangerous arrogance'. Instead, de Bono wants us to focus on positive, creative thinking and, as he calls it, `operacy'. By `operacy', he means `the skills of doing'. He warns us: `On a personal level, youngsters who do not acquire the skills of operacy will need to remain in an academic setting.'

It is no surprise, then, that de Bono is a fervent critic of school-based education. His books on education stress that his methods and not formal academic education are the real key to success. As he says in Teach Your Child How To Think, `Do not wait for school to do it. Where is "thinking" in the curriculum?' (5) He will be pleased to see that thinking is now included in the new national curriculum, and it's the kind of thinking he will approve of - a pared-down, simplistic view of thinking as a means to solving problems and `being creative'. In other words: anti-intellectual thinking.

Why are explicitly anti-intellectual thinkers like de Bono being included in school-training exercises and the development of the new curriculum? Why is thinking being taught as a skill separate and distinct from the pursuit of knowledge and education more broadly? These are worrying developments indeed, which are likely further to corrode excellence and ambition in British schools, and churn out children who are `skilled' but not very thoughtful or truly reflective. The paradox is that now, when we have all become obsessed with education, formal education is being torn down brick by brick. Learning about the intellectual tradition from which this society emerged is the best way to give young people a sense of where and who they are. This in turn will give them the basis upon which to struggle for a better society. No amount of empty-headed `brainstorming' sessions is going to bring about those kinds of ideas.


Homeschoolers in court: We're constitutional

'Parents have a protected liberty interest to direct the education of their children'

An amicus brief has been filed in a California court case that at one point threatened homeschooling by hundreds of thousands of people statewide, and it argues the U.S. and California Constitutions both recognize the fundamental rights of parents to direct the education of their children. WND broke the story at the end of February when a ruling concluded parents in the state held neither a statutory right nor a constitutional right to provide homeschooling to their own children.

That ruling from the California Court of Appeal for the 2nd Appellate District was vacated when the court granted a petition to rehear the case, and the new filing is from the Pacific Justice Institute on behalf of Sunland Christian Academy, the private school that offers the independent program in which the family's children were enrolled. The father in the case is represented separately by the United States Justice Foundation and the Alliance Defense Fund, which have been working on the case's main arguments to the court.

"The Fifth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as Article 1, [paragraphs] 1 and 7, of the California Constitution, protect the fundamental due process and privacy liberties of Californians," according to the Pacific Justice brief which cited court cases addressing the right to marry, establish a home and bring up children, the right for parents to educate children as they choose, the "private realm of family life," and others. "The areas represent 'a realm of personal liberty' which the government may not enter," said the filing.

"Our legal team has put in many long hours to ensure that the voice of homeschooling families is heard clearly and persuasively in the Court of Appeal," said Brad Dacus, president of PJI. "It is absolutely essential that our judicial system continues to recognize parents' age-old rights to determine how best to raise and educate their own children."

The original opinion, written by Appeals Court Judge H. Walt Croskey, said: "We find no reason to strike down the Legislature's evaluation of what constitutes an adequate education scheme sufficient to promote the 'general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence. . We agree . 'the educational program of the State of California was designed to promote the general welfare of all the people and was not designed to accommodate the personal ideas of any individual in the field of education.'" The appeals ruling said California law requires "persons between the ages of six and 18" to be in school, "the public full-time day school," with exemptions being allowed for those in a "private full-time day school" or those "instructed by a tutor who holds a valid state teaching credential for the grade being taught."

Homeschool advocates immediately expressed concern the original ruling would leave parents who educate their children at home liable criminally as well as open to civil charges for child neglect that could create the potential for fines, court-ordered parenting classes or even the loss of custody under extreme circumstances. But the appeals court vacated the opinion, ordering a new hearing. Sunland had asked for permission to participate formally in the case, since the children involved were registered in its program, but the court declined. It did grant Sunland, which is represented by Pacific Justice, permission to file an amicus brief on the issues.

The Pacific Justice brief notes the state already recognizes private schools including those with independent study programs, and Sunland has been approved by the formal regulatory procedures in the state. "Parents have a constitutionally protected liberty interest to direct the upbringing and education of their children," the brief said. "Thus to avoid finding the compulsory education laws unconstitutional, the courts should seek to interpret the statutory scheme in a manner that does not intrude upon this fundamental right."

The argument continued, "The Supreme Court of the United States has long held that the interest of parents to direct and manage the education and upbringing of their children is a fundamental right protected by the due process clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. ... California courts have also invoked the principles ... that personal liberty is a fundamental interest, second only to life itself, as an interest protected under both the California and United States Constitutions."

The appeals court also, in its order for a rehearing, expanded the case far beyond the original family situation involved to include an evaluation of whether the state laws regarding homeschooling allow that activity, and whether the state is in conflict with any U.S. Constitution provisions regrading homeschooling. Additionally, the court asked the state's superintendent of public instruction, the California State Board of Education, the Los Angeles school district, the California Teachers Association and the Los Angeles teachers' union for their opinions on homeschooling. Other homeschooling interests were told they could file briefs, and the court said they would be considered. Oral arguments are scheduled in June.

The original opinion arose from a dependency case brought in juvenile court. In the process, attorneys assigned by the court to the family's two younger children sought a court order for them to be enrolled in a public or qualifying private school. The district court denied the request citing parental rights, but the appellate court overturned the decision and granted the attorneys' request. The appeals court concluded the parents held neither a statutory right nor a constitutional right to provide homeschooling to their own children in the opinion that later was vacated. "Parents have a fundamental right to make educational choices for their children," said Gary McCaleb, a senior counsel for the ADF. "Because this ruling impacts all of Californians, we believe the case deserves a second look." "Another look at this case will help ensure that the fundamental rights of parents are fully protected," Kreep added.

Also involved in the case on behalf of the parents is the Home School Legal Defense Association, which said it would seek permission to file amicus briefs on the issues. A long list of homeschool groups working in the state previously released a statement on the issue that could affect 200,000 students. Joining were the California Homeschool Network, Christian Home Educators Association of California, Private and Home Educators of California and HomeSchool Association of California. "We are united in the goal of protecting the right of parents to teach their children private at home without additional governmental interference," the statement said. "We believe that children deserve to learn in the environment that best meets their individual needs. We support the right of parents to direct their children's education including, if they desire, teaching their children privately at home apart from any public school program and without a teaching credential."

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the president has supported homeschoolers in the past.


Monday, May 05, 2008

Candidates stump for school choice

If Barack Obama wins the Democratic nomination, Americans will have two presidential candidates who are open to school choice measures. Barack Obama went on Fox News Sunday this week and said, “We should be experimenting with charter schools” and “different ways of compensating teachers” — beliefs he’s long held but not always trumpeted, The New Republic’s Josh Patashnik says. Obama advocated charter schools and performance-pay for teachers in Illinois, and has even hinted that he wouldn’t rule out the idea of school vouchers.

John McCain visited New Orleans Thursday on his “It’s Time for Action” tour, stopping in cities the campaign said the federal government has forgotten, but where local solutions are working.

New Orleans has become a proving ground for charter schools in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. According to the campaign, it has the highest percentage of students in charter schools among U.S. Cities. Most of the city’s students now attend charter schools. Last year, students in New Orleans charter schools out-scored their peers in traditional public schools on a standardized test.

A president friendly to charter schools could spur the already-growing charter school movement. The number of charter schools nationwide grew by 11 percent in 2006, serving a student body that is on average 53 percent minority and 54 percent low-income, according a survey from the Center for Education Reform.

In Grand Rapids, Mich., J.C. Huizenga, the founder of National Heritage Academies, a national chain of 55 K-8 charter schools located in six states, recently announced plans to started a college prep high school to go head-to head with a new public college prep school.

Chicago school teacher Will Okun recently described his frustrations with traditional city schools in an blog post entitled “The Mire.” The Chicago Public Schools have 27 charter schools on 48 campuses. Hundreds are on the waiting lists, and the city plans for more by 2010.

Okun, while cautioning parents and policy-makers to remember the students left behind in the public schools, describes parents desperate to pull their children from traditional schools:
Charter-school parents speak of higher graduation rates, better facilities, more extracurricular opportunities, caring teachers, and stricter discipline. Most importantly, these parents speak of charter schools with a sense of hope and purpose that no longer exists in most public high schools on the West Side. … I do not blame parents for wanting to surround their children with other children and parents who give education top priority.”


Corrupt university professors still on the payroll

This is not how West Virginia University wanted to build its national reputation. Six months after his inauguration, President Mike Garrison is struggling to hold his administration together - and keep his job - amid a scandal that erupted after the school granted Gov. Joe Manchin's daughter a master's degree she didn't earn.

Two top university officials resigned last weekend over their part in the episode. Major donors have canceled plans to donate millions. Members of the Faculty Senate are planning a no-confidence vote on Garrison next week. And critics inside and outside the university have demanded the president resign over what appears to be an instance in which political pull influenced the awarding of a degree. "If you have smart officials, they know this would be one of the quickest ways to ruin the reputation of the university," said Thomas Morawetz, a professor and authority on ethics at the University of Connecticut law school. "It is a serious violation of norms."

With more than 27,000 students, West Virginia is the pride of a state where people say they "bleed blue and gold." Mountaineer alumni include the governor and NBA Hall of Famer Jerry West. The university has helped generations of West Virginians - many of them the sons and daughters of coal miners and steelworkers - lift themselves up in a poor state. But it also perennially ranks among the nation's top party schools.

Now some fear the scandal threatens the university's effort to improve its academic reputation and turn itself into a national research powerhouse. Garrison himself has made high-tech research a priority, successfully lobbying the state Legislature for a multimillion-dollar "bucks for brains" program. An editorial in the student newspaper, The Daily Athenaeum, said the administration has "trivialized all degrees this university has awarded and will award." "I suppose this is the price paid for attending a university with such an intimate connection to its state, a final reminder of how dirty West Virginia can be, and not just from the coal dust of economic fallout," student columnist Chad Wilcox wrote separately.

The scandal cracked wide open last week after an investigative panel issued a report saying the university showed "seriously flawed" judgment last fall in retroactively awarding an executive master's of business administration degree to Heather Bresch, who attended the school in 1998 but did not earn enough credits. The panel said the business school gave Bresch credit for classes she didn't take, and assigned grades "simply pulled from thin air," giving her special treatment because of who she is. The degree has since been rescinded. The governor, a Democrat, has denied exerting any pressure and said he first learned of the dispute only after it became a news story. Bresch told The Associated Press that she believes she did nothing wrong.

Bresch, 38, is not only the governor's daughter. She is chief operating officer of generic drug maker Mylan Inc., a major West Virginia benefactor with a lab in Morgantown that employs about 2,000 people. Mylan was one of the companies that raised the money to create the Executive MBA program, which is for full-time executives. Mylan's chairman, Milan "Mike" Puskar, is a Manchin supporter and one of West Virginia's biggest contributors. The business school deanship is endowed in Puskar's name, and the football stadium was named for him after he donated $20 million in 2003.

Bresch is also a friend and former high school and West Virginia classmate of Garrison. He, in turn, worked for Democratic former Gov. Bob Wise and was once a Mylan lobbyist. Now, Garrison - who was a 38-year-old lawyer with much stronger political credentials than academic ones when he was tapped for the presidency - finds himself the target of critics among the faculty, alumni and the state Republican Party. Garrison should resign, and "he needs to take all his cronies with him," said GOP chairman Dr. Doug McKinney. "They've shown there's entirely too much connection between the statehouse and the president's office."

One philanthropic group, the McGee Foundation, has dropped plans to donate $1 million in cash and an additional $1 million worth of art, and other, smaller donors have threatened similar action, officials said.

Garrison said this week that he will not resign. "I was not involved in any way in the decision," he said. And the university Board of Governors - which hired him and has the power to fire him - issued a statement affirming its "full support" of Garrison. The governor also said he believes Garrison should not step down.

The resignations of Provost Gerald Lang and R. Stephen Sears, dean of the business school, have not satisfied the most vocal of the critics, particularly since Lang and Sears will remain as tenured professors, with Lang earning nearly $200,000 a year and Sears almost $160,000. Lang presided over the meeting last October during which Sears made the final decision to grant the governor's daughter a degree. "It's nice that the dean and provost were offered up as sacrificial lambs, but the cancer is still there," said Peter Kalis, a lawyer and 1972 graduate. He said Garrison and the chairman of the Board of Governors must go, too, if the university is to "reclaim its independence and integrity."

The scandal is not the first major crisis of Garrison's young administration: Football coach Rich Rodriguez abruptly left in December for a job at Michigan, complaining that the university broke a promise to give him greater control over the football program. Rodriguez and West Virginia are now locked in bitter public feud and a lawsuit over a penalty clause in his contract that says he owes the university $4 million for leaving early. Rodriguez claims Garrison had assured him privately that he would not enforce the clause; Garrison denies that.

On Thursday morning, protesters showed up for a speech on campus by former President Clinton. "Mountaineers always free; Mountaineers earn degrees; Garrison must go," read one sign. Another sign bore a drawing of a diploma and the words: "Free while they last."


The Left's grip on learning

Comment from Australia by Imre Salusinszky

When I abandoned university teaching at the beginning of 2003, after 20 years, I was careful not to construct a "God that failed" narrative around my reasons for going. You know what I mean: how the university system let me down, by its surrender to political correctness, or managerialism, or economic rationalism, or whatever.

In fact, while all those forces had some impact on the working lives of academics between 1983 and 2003, universities remained outstanding places to work. There are few jobs, possibly none, that allow their employees as much freedom to pursue their own interests. And within the constraints of increased demands for accountability -- demands that have affected every sector of the workforce, not just tertiary education -- universities in Australia continue to provide supportive environments for teaching and research.

I left for largely personal reasons and without a trace of bitterness or resentment. That said, there were irritating, almost daily incidents on campus that confirmed the takeover of universities by the world view of the green Left. For example, there was the exchange student from the US who, close to tears, told me of how, during a role-playing exercise in a drama class, his tutor had instructed him, in front of the other students: "You're an American, so you play thebully."

Then there was the honorary degree proffered to anti-nuclear messiah Helen Caldicott. Modern universities are creatures of the Enlightenment and should advance its aims. If there is a more potent counter-Enlightenment figure in Australia today than Caldicott, I can't think of him or her. At the time she was honoured, I mused on the confused response I would surely have elicited from the relevant committee if I had nominated a true Enlightenment figure and a genuine intellectual, such as Paddy McGuinness, for a doctorate.

And speaking of the counter-Enlightenment, every election would see the doors of some of my colleagues in the humanities faculty plastered with Greens propaganda, with several standing as candidates.

All of this was harmless, up to a point. One of the lessons life has taught me is that the inherent qualities of human beings -- their decency or mendacity, goodwill or nastiness -- cannot easily be read from their political opinions. I got on well with my colleagues and, even after I "came out" as a supporter of microeconomic reform and started moonlighting as a columnist who specialised in sending up the cultural Left, most of them seemed well disposed towards me.

Along with much else, the situation in universities, and my own situation, shifted ground after 9/11. Following the terror attacks, the cultural Left (as distinct from the mainstream political Left) made the classic misjudgment it has made whenever democracy and fascism have come into conflict in the past century: it refused to pick sides on the principle that anybody who attacks the US and its allies cannot be all bad.

My colleagues' expressions of horror at the loss of life on 9/11 were heartfelt, but were almost always followed by a subordinate clause beginning -- like this one -- with but. Exactly a week after the attacks, I received an email from the academics' union representative on campus inviting me to a candlelight "vigil for justice and peace" in support of the victims of 9/11: not the 3000 victims of the terror attacks, but the arbitrary and so far hypothetical victims the Great Satan was about to unleash his fury upon.

"We have all been saddened, horrified, at the events in the US last week," the email began. "Many of us are now extremely worried about the talk of war and vengeance on the yet unidentified enemy, and the escalation of violence that may occur if bombing of towns and cities in targeted countries occurs." The email went on to encourage union members to attend the vigil, "if you would like to stand up and be counted and send a message to our civic leaders and fellow Australians that indiscriminate violence against 'suspects' will not be OK, that the targeting of Muslims, Arabs, Afghanis or other people of a certain ethnicity, as undesirable, is not OK, or if you just want to be with others who are sad, worried and concerned about war and justice." I didn't. Events such as this, while they did not cause me to leave the university, certainly did not incline me to linger.

So what has prompted these autobiographical meanderings? It is that the Young Liberals have launched a campaign, under the banner Make Education Fair, in which they are asking university students to report examples of political bias by their lecturers, with a view to holding a Senate inquiry into the issue. The Young Libs have already been accused of a sinister exercise in McCarthyism, but that tends to be the response whenever the question of bias in public institutions -- schools, universities, public broadcasting, museums and galleries -- is raised. Those for whom diversity is a key buzzword appear to flee the concept when it is applied to them.

I don't think there is anything wrong with left-leaning academics or ABC broadcasters. I don't think they need to be disciplined, far less sacked. But the dangers of allowing the political spectrum in these institutions to begin at Bob Brown and veer left from there are manifold. It leads to a bifurcated culture in which intellectuals lose contact with the mainstream and frequently develop a sense of hostility and embattlement towards it. Second, it means students are not being introduced to some of the most exciting intellectual ideas of our time, those associated with free-market economics and contemporaryliberalism.

And in the longer term, the effect of an undiluted green gospel, presented as a curriculum in schools and universities, could be devastating. If the idea is allowed to take hold unchallenged that, rather than wealth creation, it is the effort to limit and regulate wealth creation that underwrites our wellbeing, future generations will have a much lower standard of living than we enjoy.

Rather than sinister, I regard the Young Libs' campaign as quixotic. You won't, and shouldn't, change the beliefs of people who work in universities or other public institutions; rather, you should try and make sure there are a range of beliefs represented. Diversity really is the point. But when it is those already in place who control recruitment, courtesy of staff capture, the possibilities of cultural change quickly recede.


Sunday, May 04, 2008

Do you want underqualified people designing the bridges you drive over?

That in essence is what is proposed by the reality-defiant author below. The standard way of getting more "minorities" (blacks) into a given field is to give them meaningless bits of paper which say they are qualified when they are not. Why? Because no-one yet has found any other way of doing it. Such nonsense is not always very harmful but in this case it could be. Note that there are already plenty of "minorities" (Asians) in the professions

In confronting the "gathering storm" of declining competitiveness in the global marketplace, policy makers and business leaders often point to the importance of foreign students and international education in boosting both research and the American work force. A new report released on Thursday argues instead that the solution lies at home, "untapped," waiting for the nation to wake up to the "quiet crisis" of minority underrepresentation in engineering-related fields.

"We find ourselves at this moment in history with the number of engineering graduates at one of its lowest levels of the past 20 years, and yet a time when the demand for young people prepared to work in America's high-technology industries has never been higher," wrote John Brooks Slaughter, president and CEO of the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, which sponsored the report through a grant from the Motorola Foundation.

The report, whose title, "Confronting the `New' American Dilemma," refers to a landmark 1944 study on race relations by the Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal, argues that the mismatch been the demands of science and engineering fields and the graduates produced by American colleges and universities must be addressed by boosting the number of underrepresented minorities pursuing those degrees.

While the percentage and number of such minorities (defined as African Americans, Latinos/as and American Indians/Alaska Natives) earning degrees in science, technology, mathematics and engineering - or STEM - fields has generally increased over the years, the report notes the daunting obstacles that confront policy makers and educators seeking to increase the diversity of graduate students, professors and scientists in private industry who have made it through the pipeline. According to NACME, only a fraction of underrepresented minorities graduate high school "eligible" to seriously pursue engineering at the college level, a reality the report dubs "the 4 percent problem."

In 2002, according to the report, 28,000 out of about 690,000 minority students who graduated from high school that year had taken enough required math and science courses to qualify them for a college program in engineering. And of that pool, only 17,000 enrolled in engineering programs as freshmen, compared with 107,000 first-year students at such institutions. "That same year," the report states, "4,136 Latinos, 2,982 African Americans, and 308 American Indians received baccalaureate degrees in engineering out of a total of 60,639 minority graduates" - just over 12 percent combined out of the total minority graduation pool, including Asian Americans and other groups.

The report itself is part of a broader campaign by the engineering association to promote wide-ranging policy reforms in education, from K-12 to graduate school. The organization envisions a broad-based partnership between government, business and education leaders to expand access, boost funding and support diversity programs for underrepresented minorities.

Among the report's "calls to action," for example, are strengthening STEM education early on in school and improving guidance counselors' "knowledge of STEM careers and college programs and have them send the message to students that STEM careers pay in terms of salary, prestige, and challenge." It also targets financial aid and affirmative action programs, and calls for "policies to totally transform the education system to emphasize active, hands-on, project-based learning rather than lecture and rote memorization."

That might be a reference to the educational systems of some Asian countries that send students to American colleges and graduate programs in STEM fields. At a panel announcing the report's release on Capitol Hill on Thursday, several participants seemed to pit the success of underrepresented minorities against that of foreign students studying at American colleges, with the implicit suggestion that lawmakers should focus instead on the latent potential of African American, Latino and Native American students. "I think it's a smokescreen," said Lisa M. Frehill, the executive director of the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology, which conducted the research for the report, referring to the willingness of colleges to accept foreign students as compared to the educational attainment of underrepresented minorities.

Most of the data come from various government agencies, including the Census Bureau and the National Center for Education Statistics. To take a 2005 snapshot illustrating the dilemmas confronting educators, the report provides the exact number of minority graduates at each degree level. To African-American females, there were 1,074 engineering bachelor's degrees awarded that year, compared with 2,111 for males. Females were awarded 282 master's degrees in engineering compared to 592 for males, while 26 black females earned Ph.D.s in engineering, compared with 74 black males.

For Latinos, the numbers are similar: 1,155 bachelor's degrees awarded to women and 3,459 to men; 315 master's degrees to women and 837 to men; at the doctoral level, 28 women earned their degrees and 70 men. The numbers for American Indians and Alaska Natives remain in the single digits at the Ph.D. level, with degrees awarded to eight males and a single female. Those numbers are not available in the report for 2006 because of a new policy that withholds some data on minority doctorates for privacy reasons. Some other statistics uncovered in the report:
* The number of engineering degrees as a proportion of all bachelor's degrees awarded declined from 1995 to 2005 for all ethnic groups except for American Indians and Alaska Natives. For African Americans, that proportion declined to 2.5 percent from 3.3 percent of all degrees, while for Latinos it declined to 4.2 percent - about the level for non-Hispanic whites - from 5.5 percent in 1995.

* At the associate degree level, the percentage of engineering degrees earned by African Americans rose to over 10 percent from about 4 percent between 1991 and 2005. That percentage increased from 6 percent to 9 percent over the same period at the bachelor's degree level.

* The top institutions awarding engineering bachelor's degrees to African Americans are all historically black universities: North Carolina A&T State University, Tennessee State University, Prairie View A&M University, Florida A&M University and Morgan State University.

* The gap between white and black educational attainment has narrowed over the years, "but not disappeared," according to the report. In 2004, 17.6 percent of African Americans and 30.6 percent of non-Hispanic whites held a bachelor's degree or higher.

So far, the report is not available online, but supplementary materials have been posted at the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology's Web site.


British private school demand is highest for five years despite big fee rises

Brits desperate to get their kids out of dangerous, anarchic and incompetent government schools

Independent schools have had the biggest increase in pupil numbers in five years as parents dig deep to avoid the state system. Although successive above-inflation fee increases have driven the average cost of private education to more than o11,000 a year, the number of children enrolled in schools belonging to the Independent Schools Council (ISC) has risen to a record 511,677. This is despite a fall in the number of English children of school age and in the number of overseas pupils, and fears that the credit crunch could lead to recession.

The increase has been driven by a big expansion of provision in the nursery sector, as growing numbers of preparatory schools have decided to accept three-year-olds. Longer working hours, commuting and the rising costs of formal childcare have persuaded more parents to turn to independent schools for a preschool education.

Deborah Odysseas-Bailey, chairwoman of the Independent Schools Association and headmistress of Babbington House school in Kent, which has a nursery, said parents were now putting children's names down for school at birth, if not before. "Parents are buying into independent education at a much earlier age. Once they are in, they wish to remain," she said.

Figures also show a strong rise in the number of sixth formers in the independent sector. Barnard Trafford, chairman of the HMC group of elite independent schools and headmaster of Wolverhampton Grammar, said this was because such schools offered a broader education and wider range of subjects, including modern languages, classics and the sciences at A level.

The increase in demand for a private education comes against a 6.2 per cent increase in school fees, according to the ISC annual census. At the top end of the scale, there are now 14 boarding schools and one day school charging more than o27,000 a year.

Vicky Tuck, president of the Girls' Schools Association and principal of the Cheltenham Ladies' College, attributed the rise in part to the spread of new technology. "Parents are quite worried about the isolated lifestyles teenagers can grow into, stuck in their bedrooms with all their gadgets. What they love about boarding is the strength of the community. At the same time, the new technology that pupils do have in boarding school makes it easier to keep in touch."

Head teachers said that parents were willing to make huge financial sacrifices. Several, however, expressed concerns that the economic slowdown might start to affect enrolments from next year. Mrs Tuck said that Cheltenham Ladies' College had deliberately kept its fee increase to 4 per cent this year, in anticipation of harder times. At the City of London School for Boys, the headmaster, David Levin, said: "We needed to start making things easier for parents so we kept our fee increase down to 2 per cent."

Nick Dorey, chairman-elect of the Society of Headmasters and Headmis-tresses of Independent Schools and head of Bethany School in Kent, said that parents were getting help from grandparents or by remortgaging. "That can't go on for ever. If the market falls, that will affect the amount of equity in people's houses that they can convert into school fees," he said. The ISC census is based on returns from 1,271 schools that belong to the council, representing 80 per cent of privately educated pupils.


Australia: Independent Schools' call to deregulate education system

There's little chance of any of this happening but it's encouraging to see such thinking getting an airing

THE State Government should put the building and running of new schools out to open tender and release all details of individual funding, a new report on Queensland's education system urges. The report, commissioned by the Independent Schools Queensland lobby, lashes the present system, which it says ensures the Government has a conflict of interest because it delivers and regulates education services. It accuses the Government of using its regulatory and financial powers to restrict the supply and funding of private schooling at a time of severe pressure on the system, caused by population growth and the ageing of the teacher workforce.

Written by policy analyst Dr Scott Prasser, the report warns that, as with water supply, health and infrastructure, school education may be the next crisis the Government will have to tackle unless it changes the system. Calling for a more deregulated model of school education, it says that one in three of all Queensland school students attend non-government schools, but the sector is still treated as an "appendage" to the system. "There is a clear but largely unacknowledged conflict of interest between the State Government as a supplier of education services and a regulator of the public and non-government school sectors," the report says.

Dr Prasser, from the University of the Sunshine Coast, said the Government also should encourage more community involvement in the running of schools and the development of schools policy. Independent Schools Queensland executive director John Roulston said the group has commissioned the report to "promote informed debate" on school education policy issues.

Premier Anna Bligh said she would examine the report. Education Minister Rod Welford also received a copy of the report yesterday but had not read it. The report does not avoid criticising the private school system, saying all school sectors had resisted any moves to release more comprehensive school performance data to the public. "The public release of school performance data is one of the first steps needed to obtain a better appreciation of what is working in education," the report said.