Saturday, June 21, 2008

Islamic School Director Arrested

Al-Shabnan Charged With Failure To Report Child Abuse

The director of a Saudi government-funded Islamic school has been arrested and charged with failing to report a child abuse allegation, adding to scrutiny of the northern Virginia academy as protesters came out Tuesday to call for a federal investigation of its teachings.

Abdalla I. Al-Shabnan, director of the Islamic Saudi Academy, was also charged with obstruction of justice, according to a police report about the June 9 arrest. The misdemeanor counts come at a time when the private school is under heavy criticism from a federal commission and others over textbooks that allegedly teach violence and hate. More than a dozen protesters lined up outside the school Tuesday, waving signs that read "Saudi hate is not an American family value" and "Islamic Shariah teaches violence and hate."

The protesters, including the conservative Traditional Values Coalition, want the Justice and State departments to investigate the school. The State Department last year obtained copies of the school's textbooks but has so far refused to make them public. Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, said the arrest of al-Shabnan is just further evidence of problems at the school. "The academy is a virtual one-stop shopping center for law enforcement," she said, citing the case of a former school valedictorian, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, who was convicted of joining al-Qaida after leaving the school and plotting to assassinate President Bush.

Al-Shabnan's arrest came after police alleged he covered up an incident in which a 5-year-old girl attending the school reported that she was being sexually abused by her father. According to court papers, Al-Shabnan, 52, of McLean, told police that he didn't believe the girl, and advised the girl's parents to put her into counseling. But state law requires school authorities to report alleged child abuse within 72 hours of learning of the allegation. Al-Shabnan is free pending trial. Police said in court papers that Al-Shabnan ordered a written report about the girl's complaint, which had been prepared by other school officials, to be deleted from a school computer.

Al-Shabnan has not returned repeated phone calls and e-mails from The Associated Press seeking comment over the last week. Last week, a federal commission issued a report detailing numerous troubling passages from school textbooks. A 12th-grade text on Quranic interpretation teaches students that it is permissible for Muslims to kill adulterers and converts from Islam, according to the investigation by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a panel created by Congress that monitors religious freedom rights around the world.

Other passages in the school's textbooks state that "the Jews conspired against Islam and its people" and that Muslims are permitted to take the lives and property of those deemed "polytheists."

The school issued a statement saying the textbooks had been mistranslated and misinterpreted and that some of the textbooks studied by the commission are no longer in use. But the statement offered no detailed explanation of the specific passages cited by the commission, and school officials have not returned calls seeking comment.

Generally, the school has said in the past that some of the textbooks it uses come from Saudi Arabia and contain harsh language inappropriate for use in the United States. The school has said it revises the textbooks as needed. Indeed, the commission found evidence that individual passages were removed from individual textbooks, sometimes covered up with correction fluid.

But John Cosgrove of Springfield, Va., one of the protesters outside the school, said the revisions are even more troubling given the passages cited in the commission's report that were not deleted. "It stands to reason that the material they left in is material they think is acceptable," Cosgrove said.

The commission and other critics of the school say the State Department ought to take a more assertive role in regulating the school because it functions as an arm of the Saudi embassy. Also, the school's lease with Fairfax County specifically gives the State Department the right to intervene if it has concerns about the academy.

Protesters also criticized the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for voting unanimously last month to extend the school's lease. The lease was extended after county officials conducted their own review of the textbooks and said they didn't find any serious problems.

The board's chairman -- Gerry Connolly, who is the Democratic nominee for Congress in Virginia's 11th District -- offered a strong defense of the school and accused the school's critics of slander during the meeting in which the lease was approved. Connolly did not return calls seeking comment.


Choice for the Children

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program gives disadvantaged children a chance at a private education.

If Marion Barry can change his mind on school vouchers, there's hope that others can as well. For more than a quarter century, the former D.C. mayor and current City Council member has been an outspoken opponent of school vouchers. But he recently shocked the District by writing in support of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program in an article for the Washington Post

What changed his mind? Talking to parents and families who know that their child's scholarship is a lifeline that has rescued them from low-performing schools."Moms, dads, aunts, uncles, and other guardians in my community tell me that these programs are making a difference in their children's lives and giving them hope they have never had," Barry wrote.

He specifically pointed to one mother, Wanda Gaddis, who told him: "The schools in D.C. were not educating my child. At first I did not have a choice, but I am so thankful that I and so many other parents did get choice with the Opportunity Scholarship Program. I can't begin to tell you how much my child's education has improved since starting with this program."

I understand how Ms. Gaddis feels. In the 1990s, I was in her position. My son was struggling in D.C. public schools. Back then, we had no choice but to send him to the local public school. One day, a caring neighbor gave me a private school scholarship for William. He enrolled in Archbishop Carroll High School, where he would go on in thrive in school. Instead of becoming another student lost in the D.C. public school system, my son earned his diploma and went on to join the Marines, where he has served in Iraq. Unfortunately, not all families are so fortunate.

In 2003, when President Bush proposed bringing a school voucher program to Washington, D.C., many DC parents walked the halls of Congress to let lawmakers know that they were desperate to find better schools for their children. Despite strong opposition from teachers unions and other interest groups, some prominent Democrats, like former Mayor Tony Williams, former DC Council Member Kevin Chavous, and Senator Joe Lieberman, stood up in favor of the voucher program. In the end, Congress enacted the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program.

Today, that program is helping 1,900 disadvantaged children to attend private schools, funded by these scholarships. The program is changing lives. Participating children are thriving, gaining confidence in the classroom, and becoming eager to learn.

Unfortunately, this success hasn't changed everyone's mind. And with Congress debating whether to continue this program, some lawmakers who reflexively oppose vouchers are working to end the program and send these 1,900 children back to low-performing public schools.

But I think if people had the opportunity to actually hear from parents themselves, they'd put their ideological differences aside and understand why we need to give families the power to choose their children's schools. Our new website offers just that opportunity, giving parents and students participating in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program a chance to make their story heard.

Listening to these parents and students - as Joe Kelly, father of four, explains how the voucher program has changed his family for the better, or students Carlos and Calvin Battle explain how happy they are in their new private schools - demonstrates how school choice offers these children an enriching academic experience. To remove these 1,900 children from their private schools would benefit no one, and would indeed hurt many.


Rebellion against empty-headed British "science" curriculum

A leading grammar school has become the first state school to drop GCSEs in favour of a tougher exam based on the old O-level. Pupils at Bexley Grammar School in south-east London are to start studying for the International GCSE in science from this September.

More than 250 independent schools have already started teaching the new qualification because they believe it is more challenging. But state schools had previously held off, fearing the move would lose them funding because the International GCSE is not recognised by the Government's exam authority.

Bexley Grammar, where every pupil got at least five A* to C passes at GCSE level last year, says it will not lose money because its pupils will still be studying normal GCSEs in other subjects and schools are funded per child not per exam. It is dropping science GCSE following changes to the curriculum which mean pupils debate the ethics of science at the expense of traditional experiments. The International GCSE is seen as more rigorous as it relies less on coursework and retains more difficult material.

Rod Mackinnon, the school's headteacher, said: "We have concerns about the challenge of the new curriculum. "It would be the same with the top sets in comprehensive schools; we do not think it stretches our pupils enough. "We were clear it just wasn't going to stimulate our pupils enough." The change will affect Bexley Grammar's standing in league tables, as a new measure is to be introduced next year which will show how many pupils in each school get top marks at science GCSE.

But Mr Mackinnon said he was not worried if the school slipped in league tables if it meant his pupils were learning more about science. He said: "We will register a big fat zero there. However, I am happy to argue why we've done it. It is in the pupils' interests."

The Department of Children, Schools and Families has confirmed that Bexley Grammar will not lose any funding for ditching science GCSE. However it is believed other state schools may be put off from following its lead because of the effect on their standing in league tables. It comes just days after the think tank Civitas warned that pupils who do not attend independent schools will be "left behind" as they have less opportunity to study the tougher International GCSE.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Declining university standards in Britain

Academic standards are in decline in many British universities. Students who would once have been failed their degrees pass, and students who would once have been awarded respectable lower seconds are now awarded upper seconds and even firsts. Students - British as well as those from overseas - commence their studies with levels of English so poor that universities run remedial English courses to ensure at least basic literacy. Cheating is rampant, encouraged partly by lenient penalties.

How do I know all this? Part of the evidence is statistical. Over the past decade the number of firsts has more than doubled, while the undergraduate population has increased by less than a half. The standard leaving qualification for most students is now an upper second - the lower second is an endangered species and the third on the verge of extinction.

A recent survey by the Higher Education Academy suggested that, of 9,000 or so cases of plagiarism recorded last year, only 143 resulted in expulsion. The survey pointed to an alarming variation in penalties. In many mainly post-1992 "new" universities, lecturers must take national, ethnic and even social background into account when punishing cheaters.

But statistical evidence is no more than a signpost. In recent years I have become alarmed and depressed at the number of inquiries I receive from usually young scholars just embarking on their careers and coming under intolerable managerial pressure to pass students who should fail and to "massage" students into higher qualifications.

It is not only probationer lecturers who are victims. Last year Paul Buckland, Professor of Environmental Archaeology at Bournemouth University, resigned in protest at the decision of university authorities that 13 students whom he - and a formal examinations board - judged to have failed a course should be passed. In so doing, the authorities appear to have endorsed the view of a senior official - an official, mind you, not an academic - that students should have been able to pass merely on the basis of lecture notes, without doing the required reading. Universities UK should have issued a formal public rebuke. Its silence on this and similar cases is a scandal. Faced with criticism that academic standards are being dumbed down, British vice-chancellors customarily point to the external examiner system as a guarantee that it cannot happen.

It can and does. In the typically modularised degree system run by the now typical university, external examiners - academic specialists from other institutions - no longer oversee the entire assessment process, and are not permitted to review individual grades. Their job, at most, is simply to ensure as best they can that correct procedures are applied. To quote from an e-mail I received yesterday from an external examiner, "the externals are not permitted to alter marks or comment on individual scripts in any way. Their function is to comment merely on adherence to procedures. I complained about this repeatedly, to no avail."

How has higher education got itself into this mess? An insidious managerial culture obsessed with league tables and newspaper rankings is partly to blame. The more firsts and upper seconds a university awards, the higher its ranking is likely to be. So each university looks closely at the grading criteria used by its near rivals in the league tables, and if they are using more lenient schemes, the argument is put about that "peer" institutions must do the same. The upholding of academic standards is replaced by a grotesque "bidding" game, in which standards are sacrificed on the altar of public image, as reflected in the rankings.

This is only part of the problem. League tables are here to stay. A robust university management, however jealous for its own reputation, will never let them dictate the terms upon which its guards its academic standards. Part of the problem stems from gross underfunding. Non-EU students attract full fees, and have become a lucrative source of cash. Failing or expelling a non-EU student can have serious implications. Was this, I wonder, why at one university last year, a lecturer was criticised for neglecting to give "token credits" to failures? In the modern, mass higher education system, there must be prizes for all, because the student is the customer and the customer must have something for his money.

What can be done about these evils? British universities are self-regulating, and I would not want it any other way. But with self-regulation comes responsibility. The representative bodies, and the Quality Assurance Agency to which all their members subscribe, should summon the courage to name and shame miscreant institutions, and perhaps even to suspend them.

Ultimately, the buck stops in the vice-chancellor's office and with the governing body that is legally responsible for the general character of the education at the university. Quality in higher education cannot be reduced to a simplistic rankings list, however appealing rankings may be to newspapers and their readers, not to mention university governors whose attention span (it seems) cannot extend beyond a set of numerical performance indicators.

When a professor says that a student should fail, the wise vice-chancellor will support that decision, and the governors will publicly congratulate both for putting first standards rather than student retention and "customer satisfaction".


A moronic government school system in Canada

All involved should be seriously disciplined for their foolish and destructive behaviour -- but they won't be. That they have greatly harmed a mother and her disabled child is no worry to them -- all in the name of "protecting" the child, of course

The mother of an autistic girl says the public school board was "completely unprofessional" to formulate a theory that her daughter was being sexually abused based on a psychic's perception. Barrie [Ontario] resident Colleen Leduc wants an apology from the Simcoe County District School Board, which called in the Children's Aid Society (CAS) to investigate. According to the board, the case is still under investigation, although Leduc says it was closed.

Leduc immediately pulled her 11-year-old daughter, Victoria Nolet, out of Terry Fox Elementary School in north-end Barrie. "I have trust issues now," Leduc said. "What are they going to concoct next week?"

Dr. Lindy Zaretsky, a school board superintendent whose portfolio includes special education, said the school was just following protocol, adding the board is bound by the same legislation (Child and Family Services Act) as the CAS when it comes to suspected neglect or sexual abuse. "It is clear in all cases that this (information) must be reported," Zaretsky said.

The local CAS won't comment on specific investigations, but said the legislation stipulates that all cases of suspected abuse be reported "if there are reasonable grounds." "The schools are our eyes and ears in the community," said Mary Ballantyne, executive director of the Simcoe County chapter. "They are with children more than anyone else in the community and are the first to spot a child who may be in need of our protection." About 80% of the CAS's calls reporting abuse and neglect come from schools, she added.

But Leduc said information gleaned from a psychic shouldn't be the impetus for the board to launch a CAS investigation. "First of all, what were they doing taking a psychic's word? Then they correlated that with (Victoria's) behaviour to design a theory," Leduc said.

The board stands by its decision, despite where the initial information came from. "It has not been board practice to use psychic readings," Zaretsky said.

On May 30, Leduc picked Victoria up from school, where she's enrolled in an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) class with several boys around the same age. When Leduc returned home, there was an urgent call asking her to return to the Livingstone Street East school. Frightened, Leduc rushed back to the school. She and Victoria entered a room where they were met by the principal, the vice-principal and the teacher.

Leduc said they advised her that Victoria's educational assistant (EA) had visited a psychic, who said a youngster whose name started with "V" was being sexually abused by a man between 23 and 26 years old. Leduc was also handed a list of recent behaviours exhibited by her daughter. School principal Brian Tremain -- who referred phone calls seeking comment to the board -- advised Leduc that the CAS had been contacted. "That's when I got sick to my stomach," she said. "I was shocked the whole meeting."

Source. More detail here and here

Dan Rather's education distortions

Some might have thought that the 2004 election scandal would have ruined the career of Dan Rather. Instead, he was given his own show at HDNet.

Now, four years later, Rather's show, Dan Rather Reports, offers viewers a glimpse into what the former CBS news anchor considers good reporting: not citing sources, overlooking conflicts of interest, and sensationalizing material to promote marxist class-warfare perspectives. All this is touted as news, even when Rather relies solely on anecdotes and ignores publicly-available statistics.

"And college admissions also strike at some of the most controversial issues facing the country-questions of race, wealth, privilege, and economic class," said Rather in a recent episode of his show, Stress Test. "Fact, fiction, or hard to tell that the current system clearly favors wealthier students?," he asks his star guest, Lloyd Thacker. Thacker answered yes.

Lloyd Thacker is the President of the Education Conservancy, a non-profit which opposes the growing commercialization of higher education. Aware of Thacker's activist agenda, Rather describes him as an activist who "leads a movement to change the status quo," starting with the ranking system.

Like Thacker, Rather is intent on demonstrating that the system of higher education is broken and governed by elitist, wealthy interests. Rather claims that these views are widely shared among the educational community. "The process of applying to college has become so tortured and demanding that many people-students, teachers, and experts-say the system is broken," he asserts.

But Rather's "analysis" amounts to little more than the repackaging of quotes and the careful casting of Thacker's supporters as independent sources. The mother he interviews is reacting to one of Thacker's speeches. Rather doesn't deign to show the question she's actually answering, however.

Other sources promoted by Rather have given large sums of money to Thacker's organization. Three of the four college presidents invited to Rather's roundtable discussion preside over schools which donated between $2,500 and $5,000 dollars to the Education Conservancy. Two of these four colleges, Earlham College and Kenyon College, have staff on the Education Conservancy's advisory board.

Did Rather know this beforehand? "Thacker is supported by contributions from over a dozen universities and foundations and one recent success was this May 2007 letter labeling the current ranking system misleading...," he said during the show. Clearly, Rather had some prior knowledge of Thacker's financial backing.

Ironically, the Educational Conservancy-which strongly opposes the rankings system-has received high-profile donations connected to 5 of the top 11 schools (U.S. News and World Report ranking) including:

Yale University ($5,000+)
Harvard University
Dartmouth College
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
University of Chicago

Besides promoting Thacker's rhetoric, Rather seems intent on proving that our educational system perpetuates pervasive class and racial inequities. To do this, he takes the viewers first to upscale Great Neck South High School (Long Island) and then to the impoverished Central High (Providence, Rhode Island). According to Rather, Great Neck sends 99% of its seniors on to college. "Wealthy students are not what you'll find in Central High School...Here only about 20% of seniors will attend a four-year college, well below the national average," says Rather.

This is an unfair comparison. Rather fails to mention that Great Neck is listed by U.S. News and World Report as one of the 50 best high schools in the nation. Central High, on the other hand, is failing in virtually every measure.

According to the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), Central High has

9% Math Proficiency
21% English Proficiency
SAT scores 127 to 138 points lower than the state average.

According to a National Center on Public Education and Prevention survey, 86% of Central High students receive free, federally-funded school lunches. Nearly half (48%) of student respondents reported speaking Spanish, not English, as their primary language at home.

But poverty is not Central High's problem. According to RIDE, students at Central High living above the poverty level do worse in school. "Non-poverty" students have 4% Math and 18% English proficiency, a 4%-7% gap, RIDE reports.

While Great Neck still has a significant achievement gap, its "disadvantaged students" achieve 82% proficiency, reports the U.S. News and World Report. Great Neck South High is, quite simply, a better school.

Facts like these do not seem to persuade Dan Rather, who focuses more on anecdotes and rhetorical arguments than actual data. In some cases, Rather's comments are just plain wrong. He said, for example,

"But this [financial aid] money isn't just earmarked for students from low-income families. They have to compete for it with students from middle and upper-income families. That's because an education at a private, four-year college can cost up to $50,000 a year...It's numbers like these that make students at Central High think college is an impossibility."

College is out of reach for many Central High students because only 9% of them achieve math proficiency and they have terrible SAT scores, not because college costs too much.

Rather has apparently never heard of the "expected family contribution" or Federal Pell Grants-or the Federal Application for Student Aid, for that matter. Each heavily favors low-income families. Pell Grants are exclusively for low-income families.

Rather says that Central High students don't know they can receive financial aid and that "they just think college is not for them." To exemplify the problems facing first-generation college applicants, Hannah Lewis, a College Advising Corp member, tells Rather she had helped students who didn't know that the SATs were necessary "to get started with the application process."

RIDE reports that just below half (46%) of Central High seniors take the SAT, another statistic Rather does not mention.

Getting into a high-ranked school can often cost low-income students very little, especially at high ranking ones. Take Princeton and Harvard-the nation's two highest-ranked schools-for example. Harvard prides itself on its need-blind applications. "Harvard is one of the few remaining colleges in the country to maintain a true need-blind admissions policy. Need-blind admissions means that freshmen are accepted on the basis of their scholastic achievements and other talents, not their ability to pay tuition," states its website.

The College Board estimates the expected family contribution (EFC) for a family of four earning $20,000 as, well, nothing. Many colleges calculate their financial aid based on the EFC.

The Princeton financial aid estimator places the expected family contribution, including student earnings, at about $2,000 a year for a family earning $20,000. This remains the same even at a more comfortable salary, such as $40,000. Because Princeton gives all its financial aid as grants, not loans, the low-income student could likely graduate debt free. Can many middle class students say the same?


Thursday, June 19, 2008

LA Times lies to readers -- with the help of an omission

Below this is a glowing article by Todd Gitlin on the 1960's student rebellion -- saying nothing of its nihilism and destructiveness

Todd Gitlin is what the university has become: A "well educated" man, with lots of credentials. He writes well and knows about history. What is left out is his prejudices: In 1963-64 he was the president of the Tom Hayden founded Students for a Democratic Society. The infamous SDS.

This is the group that promoted bomb-throwing radicals, supporting closing of schools and institutions. It broke the law and laughed at society. It opposed free speech, and demanded to control society through terror instead of the ballot box.

So the LA Times does not mention that the author is one of those promoting the fights and terror of 1968. It is as if he is just a historian. Instead he was a participant, closing the schools that he now speaks at.

Why did the LA Times refuse to give his background to the readers? Could it be that readers would see this as a propaganda piece if they knew the truth? How can we trust anything else the Times publishes? I seldom do.


From 1968 to eternity

From the U.S., to Mexico, to Europe, revolutionaries and reformers forged our world

By Todd Gitlin

Rare are the times when the world seems to rise up in unison, energized, electrified, in outrage and solidarity, as millions of people put aside their everyday routines to obstruct business as usual, to yell and argue about a new way of life, to break rules, to conjure new ones -- to barge into history.

Only three modern periods saw such a spirit of revolt roll through much of the immense and variegated world. Between 1776 and 1789, the United States and France rose up against superpower monarchies and their "long trains of abuses," tore down existing states and established republics of very different sorts, but united on the principle that the representatives of the people deserved to rule. In 1848, Europe was swept with upheaval as liberal nationalists and democrats rebelled against the Habsburg, French, Prussian and other autocracies, and the movement spread as far as Brazil.

And then 1968, when, in the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Mexico, the young denounced the institutions of their elders, declared that some sort of a different world would be vastly better, tried to jam the old ways and press a huge restart button.

Start with the patterns. The singular noun "it" has its uses: It was freedom's revolt against a fossilized culture that stifled the young, the female, the gay, the rambunctious or the just plain different. It was an uneasy amalgam of radicals who wanted a more intense, communal, argumentative way of life and reformers who wanted a more equitable, even meritocratic, order. It tended to relish sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. It cherished the virtue of youth against the fossilized ideologies of the parental generation -- not least its obsolete attachments to war and the heavy-handed state. And in the end, its affirmations of a freer way of life prevailed, for the most part, even as its explicitly political demands were mainly rebuffed.

Danny Cohn-Bendit -- "Danny the Red," once the young German leader of the French revolt in May 1968 (in those days, a German Jewish student could lead a French revolt) and now a member of the European Parliament -- recently pointed out that before the cultural watershed of 1968, a man such as Nicolas Sarkozy, with a Hungarian immigrant for a father and a Greek Jewish rabbi for a great-great-grandfather, with two marriages (and a subsequent third), could scarcely have been elected president of France. As a conservative! In a race against a woman!

It seemed to many observers 40 years ago that the rebels everywhere were virtually fused in their ideals -- and, according to naysayers, in their excess. It was as if some unheard-of conspiracy were at work. As if.

And yet, the upheavals were linked. The world was thick with reciprocal influences. Television was a bully amplification system; so was the rebels' own underground press: inspiring rebels here with images of rebellion there. But the closer you look, the more the apparently unified picture dissolves. The animating spirit played very differently depending on the local landscape and what it was up against.

The American movement marched against the war in Vietnam; "black liberation" reached a boil. The German movement demonstrated against elders who refused to come to grips with their Nazi past; the Czechs against the Soviet overthrow of reform communists; Polish students in behalf of freedom of speech, whereupon an anti-Semitic communist ruling class cracked down. In France, radical students hurled themselves against a stodgy Gaullist state and old-fashioned education; in Italy too the rebels demanded government and university reforms (and sometimes a Maoist revolution); in both nations, students were joined by workers striking not only against a conservative establishment but a stodgy Communist Party. In Mexico, the movement's target was an encrusted one-party state.

Such moments of liberation, madness and recoil have to be rare, because human beings are not infinitely adaptable, even for freedom's sake or the sake of justice, and the collective nervous system can only take so much. If upheaval took place everywhere for weeks and months on end, the everyday world would grind to a halt.

As we've seen during the 2008 presidential campaign, it takes generations to work through cultural changes -- from a pre-'68 world where, in supposedly modern post-Enlightenment nations, interracial marriage and homosexuality were illegal, and women could not open bank accounts without their husbands' permission, to a world in which the mayors of Paris, Berlin and Portland, Ore., are publicly gay, and an African American narrowly defeats a woman for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States.

For grizzled veterans, international conferences abound on the "legacies" of 1968. So do nostalgia, wonderment, incomprehension and all sorts of criticism of those times, much of it warranted, much of it beside the point. Some celebrants still brandish abstracted slogans not so different from the ones they shouted at the time. Some embittered conservatives still smolder with unrelieved resentment, though even they mainly do not dare propose to repeal the human rights that were secured amid the 1960s upheavals.

"Forget '68, because we live in a different world," said Danny Cohn-Bendit recently. His point was not that we have passed the millennium. His point was that a prime reason why we live in a different world is that '68 happened.

The changes, on balance, were more good than bad. The history, and the wounds, are still raw because the conflicts that exploded in 1968 and the years immediately preceding and following went to the core of modern identity. Ideas about how to live in the world collided -- sometimes in the same hearts and minds -- and sometimes they mixed together, and the terms changed, but the forces unleashed four decades ago are still rumbling down through the decades.


British teachers bad at mathematics

Most just barely scraped through middle-school math

Teachers would be paid 1,000 pounds to attend week-long summer schools in maths under proposals to improve teaching of the subject in England's 17,000 primary schools. The recommendation is outlined today in a major review of maths teaching in primary schools by Sir Peter Williams, a distinguished academic and businessman who chairs the Government's Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education. Sir Peter's report, seen by The Times, exposes how poorly equipped primary schools are to teach maths, noting that the highest qualification in the subject held by most primary teachers is grade C GCSE, often gained a decade or more before they embarked on teacher-training.

Only 227 of the 10,000 trainee primary teachers recruited on to PGCE (Post Graduate Certificate in Education) courses, or 2.3 per cent, have previously studied maths, science, technology or engineering to degree level.

The review, commissioned personally by Gordon Brown amid concerns that almost a quarter of 11-year-olds are failing to meet the expected standards in numeracy, calls for every primary school to appoint a maths specialist. These would be required to develop a deep "mathematical subject and pedagogical knowledge" to masters degree level so they could coach colleagues in the subject. "We have good reason to believe that the last maths training for the average primary teacher is their GCSE maths. That does not constitute a basis for pedagogical understanding," Sir Peter said.

The review rejects the idea of raising the minimum entry requirement for a teaching degree from grade C GCSE to either A level or AS level maths. Even raising it to a grade B GCSE would prevent large numbers of candidates from applying. Instead the review says that a nominated maths specialist from each primary school should be required to attend a week-long summer school at a university or other training institution for three consecutive years. They would be paid œ1,000 each time.

During their three summer school courses, teachers would build up credits towards a masters level qualification, which they could complete after two further years of part-time study. Maths specialists attaining a masters level qualification qualify for a one-off payment of 2,500 pounds.

Sir Peter is also proposing that an incentive payment of 5,000 pounds be made to trainee teachers who undertake a maths-focused PGCE course, with half the money paid up front and the remainder when the teacher achieves maths specialist status. Similar payments already exist for those training to teach maths at secondary school. Sir Peter estimates that the programme will cost less than 20 million a year. "It should be seen as an investment in the nation's future, not as a cost," he said.

Training for childminders and nursery workers should include appropriate mathematical content so that children could start learning their numbers through play from an early age. The review also says that schools should actively engage parents in maths workshops or with maths home-work that the whole family can join in. It was essential, if children were to grow up feeling confident about their maths abilities, that schools and parents combat the pervasive "can't do" attitude to maths, that appeared to be unique to Britain, Sir Peter said.

The review concludes that the current primary curriculum should remain, although it recommends a greater emphasis on the use of maths in everyday life. Mark Siswick, joint head teacher of Chesterton Primary School in Battersea, South London, which already has a maths specialist teacher, said: "Her role is to skill up other teachers. Once you do that, if teachers are strong, confident and enthusiastic, they will transmit that to the children."


Red tape choking Australian childcare industry

And it all adds to the costs that parents pay

New government reporting requirements for childcare centres are eroding the amount of attention that can be given to the children, workers in the industry say. And staff numbers are dwindling as workers leave jobs where every move is monitored, judged and reported.

Registered childcare centres now have to independently report on 708 indicators which Federal Government inspectors use when conducting compulsory inspections every two years, Childcare Queensland president (Glynn Bridge said. If a childcare centre fails to get a tick for any of the 708 boxes under the Government's Quality Improvement and Accreditation system, it could lose accreditation. "The red tape is killing us," Ms Bridge said. Fear of losing accreditation has prompted some centres to introduce monthly checklists, which include directors reporting on more than 40 workplace practices, ranging from nappy-changing and hand-washing to childcare philosophy.

The industry fears more regulations are looming under a Rudd Government proposal to introduce a grading system for childcare centres. Centre owners say they are not opposed to inspections or health and safety requirements for their businesses, but fear losing experienced staff as a result of "unreasonable processes".

Kerrie Lada, the director of Hardy's Road childcare centre at Mudgeeraba on the Gold Coast, is among those trying to juggle childcare and government paperwork. She said that would prefer to "get down on the ground" with children rather than sit in the office with piles of paperwork. "My job as director has changed over 20 years," Ms Lada said. "I'm basically doing paperwork rather than supporting staff and children and families. It's basically ticking boxes to say we have done it".

Another childcare centre director contacted by The Sunday Mail , who asked not to be named, said she had recently lost a senior employee and others had complained of stress because they feared letting down colleagues and the centre if they failed to get a "tick" on any of the criteria. "The stress levels are definitely high. What's confusing is the criteria changes every time. And you feel like you're being judged and watched," she said.

More than 900,000 children from about 700,000 families Australia-wide use childcare each year. About 10 per cent of centres in Australia failed to receive accreditation last year.

Ms Bridge said she had recently briefed Queensland Minister for Communities Lindy Nelson-Carr on industry issues and had requested a meeting with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to discuss the complex regulation of centres.

The article above is by Paul Weston and appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on June 15, 2008.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Amazing Teacher Facts

Those four-year teacher qualifications are a crock. It's subject knowledge and motivation that counts

This month 3,700 recent college grads will begin Teach for America's five-week boot camp, before heading off for two-year stints at the nation's worst public schools. These young men and women were chosen from almost 25,000 applicants, hailing from our most selective colleges. Eleven per cent of Yale's senior class, 9% of Harvard's and 10% of Georgetown's applied for a job whose salary ranges from $25,000 (in rural South Dakota) to $44,000 (in New York City).

Hang on a second. Unions keep saying the best people won't go into teaching unless we pay them what doctors and lawyers and CEOs make. Not only are Teach for America salaries significantly lower than what J.P. Morgan might offer, but these individuals go to some very rough classrooms. What's going on?

It seems that Teach for America offers smart young people something even better than money - the chance to avoid the vast education bureaucracy. Participants need only pass academic muster and attend the summer training before entering a classroom. If they took the traditional route into teaching, they would have to endure years of "education" courses to be certified.

The American Federation of Teachers commonly derides Teach for America as a "band-aid." One of its arguments is that the program only lasts two years, barely enough time, they say, to get a handle on managing a classroom. However, it turns out that two-thirds of its grads stay in the education field, sometimes as teachers, but also as principals or policy makers.

More importantly, it doesn't matter that they are only in the classroom a short time, at least according to a recent Urban Institute study. Here's the gist: "On average, high school students taught by TFA corps members performed significantly better on state-required end-of-course exams, especially in math and science, than peers taught by far more experienced instructors. The TFA teachers' effect on student achievement in core classroom subjects was nearly three times the effect of teachers with three or more years of experience."

Jane Hannaway, one of the study's co-authors, says Teach for America participants may be more motivated than their traditional teacher peers. Second, they may receive better support during their experience. But, above all, Teach for America volunteers tend to have much better academic qualifications. They come from more competitive schools and they know more about the subjects they teach. Ms. Hannaway notes, "Students are better off being exposed to teachers with a high level of skill."

The strong performance in math and science seems to confirm that the more specialized the knowledge, the more important it is that teachers be well versed in it. (Imagine that.) No amount of time in front of a classroom will make you understand advanced algebra better.

Teach for America was pleased, but not exactly shocked, by these results. "We have always been a data-driven organization," says spokesman Amy Rabinowitz. "We have a selection model we've refined over the years." The organization figures out which teachers have been most successful in improving student performance and then seeks applicants with similar qualities. "It's mostly a record of high academic achievement and leadership in extracurricular activities." Sounds like the way the private sector hires. Don't tell the teachers unions.


What schools need most is a motivated principal who is left alone by the bureaucrats

The item hardly made the morning news. [British] Government inspectors had discovered 14 "failed" schools that had suddenly become successes. Some bright spark thought it worth asking why. The answer came as a bolt of lightning: that all had benefited from something called leadership. It was the one common thread.

When stuck for an answer to a problem, I turn to the maxim known as Ockham's razor. It states: "Frustra fit per plura quod potest fieri per pauciora," or do not apply many things to a task that can be done with few. It was brilliantly "razored" by the American marines to KISS, "keep it simple, stupid".

In modern state education, Ockham's razor is tantamount to knife crime. It lacks bureaucratic complexity. Its application demands no expertise, no grand staff, no research budget, no office blocks with atriums. Its mere mention endangers thousands of nonjobs, threatening to send former teachers now screwing up the school system back where they belong, in the schools.

Not a week passes without these people inventing for ministers a new and expensive quick fix for bad schools, an academy, a foundation, a trust, a "please look at me, I'm a minister" initiative. There is not a shred of evidence that any of these upheavals work, but each has its dedicated bureaucracy, its budget and its spin doctor.

Now along comes Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, and lets the cat out of the bag. If you want a good school, get the right head. Sack bad heads and appoint good ones. Give them the money and leave them alone. If they do not work, sack them again. Good heads are not made, except in the forge of experience. Mostly they are born.

In his charming novel Mister Pip, Lloyd Jones tells of an educated man living on a Polynesian island from which civil war has driven all public servants. The islanders plead with him to teach their children, for which he has no skills, books or equipment. All he has is an old copy of Great Expectations, which becomes his sole teaching aid. He requires nothing but his own personality, and that of Dickens.

The answers to most institutional problems are that simple. Ofsted approached 14 schools that were so dysfunctional as to be under "special measures". Each had shown dramatic improvement in 2003-7, in both exam performance and pupil behaviour. There had been a calculated programme of discipline, school uniform and subdivision into houses, and a promoting of school pride and identity.

While the report's jargon was close to gibberish, the message was clear: only a highly motivated staff would deliver "a whole-school identity and sense of belonging . . . an evident pride in recognising collective achievement". Then came the sting. The inspectors found that all depended on the courage, risk-taking and autonomy of one person, the head teacher, and on that person being left alone. Indeed, "outside help can actually make things worse . . . with a potential to create more problems and slow the pace of improvement". Local councils do best to disengage or, as the report put it, "manage robust exit strategies".

This finding echoes a 2006 report that found one in five English schools did not have a permanent head at all, and one in three vacancies had to be readvertised. The reason was that targetry and crushing paperwork had greatly reduced the appeal of running a modern state school and teachers were just not interested. The chief task of an English school head is to man the battlements to fight off marauding bands of ministers and officials. As one said to me: "They make the hoodies at the school gate look like a bunch of patsies."

Hansard reported that in one year under Labour the schools ministry sent out 3,840 pages of instructions to head teachers. Back in 2005 the "head teacher of the year" publicly attributed her success to "ignoring all government strategies". In March 2006 the chief examiner, Ken Boston, confessed that at British schools the "assessment load is huge . . . far greater than in other countries and not necessary for the purpose".

The centralisation of school administration has clearly not worked. The schools secretary, Ed Balls, admitted recently that we have "gone backwards" compared with the rest of Europe. He seemed bereft of any solution, other than yet more central initiatives.

Finding good leaders and then leaving them alone runs counter to Balls's entire outlook and Treasury upbringing. As he and his schools minister, Andrew Adonis, showed last week in yet another reorganisation of secondary education, their preferred route to improvement is through targets, regulations, inspections and the humiliating threat of closure. Balls publicly listed 638 schools on his hitlist, an act of mass demoralisation worthy of the Inquisition.

Towards the end of his career as a management pundit, the late C Northcote Parkinson retreated into what many saw as his least original phase. His famous "laws" had passed into the language, but none had had any effect. Paperwork still proliferated, work expanded to fill the time available and staff hired to do half-jobs still needed assistants. The one common trait that Parkinson could detect in all management success was that will-o'-the-wisp, leadership. An inspirational and determined leader defied his laws and moved bureaucratic mountains. Nothing else could do the trick. Parkinson's fans were contemptuous. How banal, they said. The genius had met old age.

The same response was given by the BBC to the Ofsted report on failing schools. Informed that the key lay in leadership, the interviewer remarked coldly: "But isn't that a statement of the blindingly obvious?" and turned to the next item. The BBC worships at the shrine of management consultancy and gorges on complexity. It cannot handle Ockham's razor. It loathes the simple answer.

Ofsted's discovery is of wider application than just to schools. As we watch the agony that Alan Johnson and his predecessors have inflicted on the National Health Service, we see the same syndrome. When anything is wrong with a hospital or health centre, the cure lies in reorganisation. There must, to use the prime minister's motto, be "solution through change". I think not. Public services are supplied by humans led by humans.

Whenever a hospital has in some sense failed, the cry is heard, "Bring back the matron", and some eager minister promises it. He then appoints 10 administrators over her head. These administrators have to be paid "incentive bonuses" just to do their jobs, defined as not to lead but to meet an external target. Nothing works.

We eulogise the simplistic managerial skills of an Alan Sugar, yet refuse to apply the lesson to the public sector. Top-down public administration in Britain is now obsessively complex. Last week it was announced that "popular schools will be allowed to take up to 26 extra pupils a year above their official limit, ministers propose". What on earth has such a detail to do with ministers? Such meddling reflects a lack of confidence in people to do good work. It ranks with the bonus fixation and targetry as a sure way of destroying professional self-esteem.

The cult of leadership was derided in the last century by the countervailing cult of management as shrouded in ugly connotations of superiority. The managerialists implied that running a human institution was a matter of technical skill, one that could be quantified, incentivised and taught. This appealed to the control tendencies of Whitehall. It reflected a lack of faith in the ability of democrats to hold institutions to account, be they schools, hospitals, care homes, police forces or even prisons - despite such accountability operating across the rest of Europe to general public satisfaction. Not a single cabinet minister to my knowledge has ever run an institution and thus known what it is like to deal with a cabinet minister on the rampage.

Leadership is notoriously indefinable and therefore hard to ordain from above. It lies in unexpected and untutored places, possessed for instance by Tony Blair but sadly not by Gordon Brown. It is unpredictable but essential to the running of institutions, often revealed only by trial and error. Ofsted has detected it in 14 lucky schools. Will the rest get the message?


Mass. governor plans new kind of public school

Charter-type program upsetting unions so it must be good

Governor Deval Patrick, in a potential break with the teachers unions that helped elect him, is set to propose a new form of public school that would assume unprecedented control over matters ranging from curriculum and hiring decisions to policies on school uniforms and the length of the school year.

The governor's proposal for "readiness schools," a key element of his sweeping 10-year education plan to be unveiled later this month, aims to combine features of the state's charter schools and Boston's experimental pilot schools. Governed by local boards and freed from many constraints imposed by unions, school districts, and the state, the readiness schools would adapt to community needs and offer new alternatives in school systems across the state, administration officials said yesterday. "We need to radically transform the existing system," said one official briefed on the plan who talked on condition of anonymity.

The plan is likely to be embraced by suburban parents, who have clamored for more choices, and several education groups yesterday signaled their approval. But it could meet stiff resistance from teachers unions that have fiercely protected their influence over issues such as hiring policies and could represent a significant roadblock as Patrick tries to win political support. Additionally, school districts in the past have argued against charter-type schools, saying that they suck money from regular public schools and steal the best students from the systems.

"I told the governor I thought it was a breakthrough to put this on the table," said Paul Grogan, president of the Boston Foundation, which has advocated for pilot schools in Boston. "But there's got to be a receptivity on all parties."

Patrick plans to file legislation on the readiness schools in January. If approved by the Legislature, the state could have its first such schools by the start of the 2009-2010 school year. Administration officials have an initial goal of 40 readiness schools within four years, but hope to create more after that. There are currently 1,870 public schools statewide.

Like charter schools, which have been operating in Massachusetts since 1993, readiness schools would be allowed to deviate from state curriculum guidelines and experiment with teaching practices. Unlike most charter schools, which are governed by the state, they would report to local school committees. Also unlike charter schools, readiness schools could be created from existing public schools, according to the plan. The readiness schools would be similar to Boston's pilot schools, created in 1993 when the city struck a deal with the teachers' union to create the charter-type schools that are free from School Department and collective bargaining rules.

Both pilots and charters have been hailed by advocates for offering more innovative teaching styles and curriculum. The schools typically admit students through a lottery system, and many have long waiting lists. Administration officials said readiness schools would be open to all students in a district and would have no admissions criteria.

Teachers unions have long criticized charter and pilot schools, which typically hire nonunion teachers. Union officials, who wield influence in the Legislature and with local school districts, said yesterday that they like the governor's program as a concept but want more assurances that their members' contracts are protected. "We are open to other ways of doing things," said Anne Wass, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, which has nearly 108,000 members. "Certainly we're not negative. We're willing to work with the administration on this."

One area that may prove controversial is an aspect of the plan that would limit collective bargaining to salary and benefits and due-process dismissals. "We're open to new ideas, but we're interested in protecting collective bargaining rights," said Thomas Gosnell, president of the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, which has 27,000 members. He declined to comment further until the administration puts out more details.

Under the plan, there are four ways a readiness school could open: A group of educators could form a collaborative and present the local school committee with a plan to operate a school; a district could convert a school with teacher consent; a School Committee could contract with outside operators, such as charter school management companies; or the state Board of Education could convert a school deemed chronically underperforming. The schools would be held accountable through performance contracts; if student achievement lagged, the School Committee could vote to take the school back.

"As a concept, we're really intrigued," said Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, a state advocacy group. "After years of not being included in discussions on education reform, we now feel there is going to be a really healthy dialogue."


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

British State schools consider a return to the higher standards of the past

A new rival to the [middle school] GCSE exam designed along the lines of the traditional O-level may soon win backing from exam watchdogs and be taken up by hundreds of state schools.

Ofqual, the agency set up by the Government to regulate and accredit examinations, is studying plans for a new Cambridge International Certificate (CIC) which could be offered to high-performing pupils as an alternative to GCSEs. Pupils could start studying for the CIC, which would reduce coursework content and rely more heavily on end-of-course examinations, from September 2009, it was predicted yesterday.

Figures indicate that about 250 of the top fee-paying schools have dropped the GCSE. Martin Stephen, headmaster of St Paul's in London and a former chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, which represents elite private schools including Eton and Winchester, has described the exam as "in crisis". Private schools have opted for the International GCSE - designed by Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), which is linked to the Oxford, Cambridge and Royal Society of Art exam board - for use overseas in countries wanting to retain an old-style O-level exam. But it cannot be used in state schools as it does not have national accreditation so ministers will not fund its use by any institution in the state sector.

Privately, CIE officials have been told they will never be given the green light for the International GCSE to be used in state schools, because it does not meet the published GCSE criteria to be based on the requirements of the national curriculum. However, the CIE was told that if it came up with another name which distinguished it from the GCSE, it could obtain accreditation, leading to ministers funding its use in the state sector. CIE said it had submitted "several syllabuses" to Ofqual.

A spokeswoman for Ofqual said that it would take at least two months for it to consider whether to approve the examination. If it did, ministers would then decide if state schools that wanted to use it would receive government funding.


Failing Schools and Local Districts Undermining Families' NCLB Options

One of the major promises of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has been that kids in chronically bad schools will be able to reach beyond those institutions for help. According to a U.S. Department of Education report released in April, however, few kids have been using those options, and it's not due only to disinterest.

The report--Volume IV in the department's "State and Local Implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act" series--examines implementation of NCLB's school choice and supplemental educational services (SES) provisions through the 2004-05 school year.

Under the law, parents with children in schools that receive federal Title I funds and fail for two consecutive years to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) on state assessments--schools deemed "in need of improvement"--are entitled to choose for their child a school in a district not deemed as needing improvement. In schools that miss AYP for another year, students must be offered free tutoring as well as choice.

The good news in the report is that more students used choice and supplemental services in the 2003-04 and 2004-05 school years than in NCLB's first year. In 2002-03, only 18,000 students nationwide used the school choice option provided by the law, and 42,000 used SES. By contrast, in 2003-04, 38,000 students nationwide took advantage of school choice and 233,000 used SES. Data were unavailable on SES for 2004-05, but 45,000 students nationwide used school choice.

Despite increases in absolute usage, findings about the percentage of eligible students using the NCLB options were less positive: Only 17 percent of eligible students used SES in 2003-04, and only 1 percent of eligible students took advantage of public school choice in 2003-04 and 2004-05.

The report offers several explanations for why choice and SES utilization were not greater. One is that in many districts choice options simply aren't available. The report notes 77 percent of districts have only one high school, 67 percent have only one middle school, and 53 percent have only one elementary school.

Another reason for low take-up is that parents don't feel exercising their options would be worth the effort it would require. For instance, 75 percent of eligible parents who didn't use choice said it was because their child's assigned school "is located in a place that's easy to get to." Forty-six percent of eligible parents who didn't use tutoring said it was because the times when tutoring was available were "not good for my family."

Most damning, however, is that districts themselves might be undermining NCLB's options. Researchers found in the 2004-05 school year only 29 percent of districts that were required to offer school choice notified eligible parents of their options before the first day of school. In addition, district letters notifying parents of their options were often "confusing, misleading, or biased in favor of district-provided services."

Kara Hornung, director of communications at the nonprofit Center for Education Reform in Bethesda, Maryland, said these latter findings are an indication too many district administrators are out to protect themselves instead of doing what the law requires and what is best for students. "They're trying to keep people in their districts, whether they like it or not," Hornung said.

With that as a distinct possibility, in late April the U.S. Department of Education proposed several new regulations to address the problem. These would include requiring districts to notify choice-eligible families of their options at least 14 days before the beginning of the school year and providing clear information about the availability and benefits of supplemental services.

Dan Lips, an education analyst at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC, while encouraged by the proposed regulations, did not think they'd end district evasion. "If enacted, the Department of Education's new regulations would be an improvement over existing law," Lips said. "Unfortunately, I fear many public school systems will still find a way to get around these provisions and deny parents these options--as many have successfully done since 2002."


Cold War on Campus

In order to fulfill the requirements for a major in history at Northwestern University, my daughter took a course called "The Cold War At Home." As one might imagine in the hothouse of the college system, left wing views predominate. The students read Ellen Shrecker, not Ronald Radosh. Joseph McCarthy has been transmogrified into Adolf Hitler. And victimology stands as the overarching theme of the course.

Communists in the United States are merely benign civil rights advocates and union supporters. The word espionage never once crossed the lips of the instructor.

An extraordinary amount of time and energy has been devoted to the "lavender persecution" - harm imposed on gay Americans. Presumably, this group was more adversely affected by McCarthy's allegations than others.

Despite the recent scholarship on the period such as Alan Weinstein's well researched book on Alger Hiss or Stanton Evans' biography of Senator McCarthy, views that do not fit the prevailing orthodoxy aren't entertained. Pounded into students is the view that America engaged in "totalitarian practices" not unlike the Soviet enemy we decried.

Although the course is entitled the Cold War at Home, you might think the instructor would be inclined to ask who the enemy is, why was the Soviet Union an enemy and what tactics did this nation employ against us. But these issues are not addressed.

Class session after class session was devoted to the drum beat of criticism. I asked my daughter if she read anything about Gus Hall and the American Communist Party or if she ever heard of I.F. Stone or if any time was devoted to the Venona tapes. She looked at me perplexed.

There is only one theme: the U.S. government was wrong; there wasn't any justification for harassing communists and Edward R. Murrow and Victor Navasky are the real heroes in this period.

Needless to say the historical story of that time is nuanced. McCarthy was over the top, but communists of the Alger Hiss variety did insinuate themselves into key positions in the State Department. Not every communist in the U.S. was a threat to national security, but many were and some gave military secrets to the Soviet Union.

Victor Navasky attacked Elia Kazan for naming names in Hollywood, but as Kazan saw it, he was protecting artistic freedom from communist handlers who wanted to approve every line in a film script.

Looking back, it is not so easy to describe heroes and villains, unless, of course, the instructor responds reflexively to the standard left wing agenda.

Here is the rub. I don't mind having my daughter exposed to the jejune interpretation of Navasky apologists. What I do mind is the lack of balance - the unwillingness to consider another point of view.

When I suggested that she should write her final paper on the role of anti communist liberals such as Sidney Hook, Irving Kristol, Stephen Spender, Midge Decter, among others, my daughter said "my instructor doesn't admire these people and I don't want to jeopardize a good grade by writing about them." So much for open discussion.

Of course, the condition I described is not atypical. Courses in the soft disciplines have become propagandistic exercises as instructors have arrogated to themselves the role of moral arbiters. Invariably the United States is wrong; our historical role in the Cold War malevolent and civil liberties were put at risk by demagogic politicians.

I can only wonder what historical scholarship will look like in a generation as my daughter's brainwashed cohorts enter the ranks of the professoriate.


Monday, June 16, 2008

Bigoted Muslim textbooks being used in America

Last fall, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom asked the U.S. Department of State to secure the release of all Arabic-language textbooks used at a Saudi government school in Northern Virginia, the Islamic Saudi Academy (ISA). The Commission took this action in order to ensure that the books be publicly examined to determine whether the texts used at the ISA promote violence, discrimination, or intolerance based on religion or belief. The ISA is unlike any conventional private or parochial school in the United States in that it is operated by a foreign government and uses that government's official texts. It falls under the Commission's mandate to monitor the actions of foreign governments in relation to religious freedom. The government of Saudi Arabia, as a member of the international community, is committed to upholding international standards, including the obligation not to promote violence, intolerance, or hate.

The Commission requested Saudi government textbooks repeatedly during and following its trip to Saudi Arabia in May-June 2007. Shortly after the Commission raised the issue publicly, the Saudi government turned over textbooks used at the ISA to the State Department, but as of this writing, the Department has not made them available either to the public or to the Commission, nor has it released any statement about the content of the books that it received. Nevertheless, although it was unable to obtain the entire collection, the Commission managed to acquire and review 17 ISA textbooks in use during this school year from other, independent sources, including a congressional office. While the texts represent just a small fraction of the books used in this Saudi government school, the Commission's review confirmed that these texts do, in fact, include some extremely troubling passages that do not conform to international human rights norms. The Commission calls once again for the full public release of all the Arabic-language textbooks used at the ISA.

In July 2006, the Saudi government confirmed to the U.S. government that, among other policies to improve religious freedom and tolerance, it would, within one to two years, "revise and update textbooks to remove remaining references that disparage Muslims or non-Muslims or that promote hatred toward other religions or religious groups." The Commission is releasing this statement as the two-year timeframe is coming to an end, and with particular concern over the content of textbooks used at the ISA, in order to highlight reforms that should be made before the 2008-09 school year begins at the ISA.

Examples of Problematic Passages in Current ISA Textbooks

The most problematic texts involve passages that are not directly from the Koran but rather contain the Saudi government's particular interpretation of Koranic and other Islamic texts. Some passages clearly exhort the readers to commit acts of violence, as can be seen in the following two examples:

* In a twelfth-grade Tafsir (Koranic interpretation) textbook, the authors state that it is permissible for a Muslim to kill an apostate (a convert from Islam), an adulterer, or someone who has murdered a believer intentionally: "He (praised is He) prohibits killing the soul that God has forbidden (to kill) unless for just cause." Just cause is then defined in the text as "unbelief after belief, adultery, and killing an inviolable believer intentionally." (Tafsir, Arabic/Sharia, 123)

* A twelfth-grade Tawhid (monotheism) textbook states that "[m]ajor polytheism makes blood and wealth permissible," which in Islamic legal terms means that a Muslim can take the life and property of someone believed to be guilty of this alleged transgression with impunity. (Tawhid, Arabic/Sharia, 15) Under the Saudi interpretation of Islam, "major polytheists" include Shi'a and Sufi Muslims, who visit the shrines of their saints to ask for intercession with God on their behalf, as well as Christians, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists.

The overt exhortations to violence found in these passages make other statements that promote intolerance troubling even though they do not explicitly call for violent action. These other statements vilify adherents of the Ahmadi, Baha'i, and Jewish religions, as well as of Shi'a Islam. This is despite the fact that the Saudi government is obligated as a member of the United Nations and a state party to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and other relevant treaties to guarantee the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. The statements include the following:

* "Today, Qadyanis [Ahmadis] are one of the greatest strongholds for spreading aberration, deviation, and heresy in the name of religion, even from within Islamic countries. Thus, the Qadyani [Ahmadi] movement has become a force of destruction and internal corruption today in the Islamic world." ("Aspects of Muslim Political and Cultural History," Eleventh Grade, Administrative/Social Track, Sharia/Arabic Track, 99)

* "It [Baha'ism] is one of the destructive esoteric sects in the modern age... It has become clear that Babism [the precursor to Baha'ism], Baha'ism, and Qadyanism [Ahmadism] represent wayward forces inside the Islamic world that seek to strike it from within and weaken it. They are colonial pillars in our Islamic countries and among the true obstacles to a renaissance." ("Aspects of Muslim Political and Cultural History," Eleventh Grade, 99-100)

* "The cause of the discord: The Jews conspired against Islam and its people. A sly, wicked person who sinfully and deceitfully professed Islam infiltrated (the Muslims). He was `Abd Allah b. Saba' (from the Jews of Yemen). [___]* began spewing his malice and venom against the third of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, `Uthman (may God be pleased with him), and falsely accused him." (Tawhid, Administrative/Social Sciences Track, 67)

(*The word or words here were obscured by correction fluid.)

* Sunni Muslims are told to "shun those who are extreme regarding the People of the House (Muhammad's family) and who claim infallibility for them." (Tawhid, Arabic/Sharia 82; Tawhid, Administrative/Social Sciences Track, 65) This would include all Shi'a Muslims, for whom the doctrine of infallibility is a cardinal principle.

Other problematic passages employ ambiguous language, and the textbook authors do nothing to clarify the meaning.

* A ninth-grade Hadith textbook states: "It is not permissible to violate the blood, property, or honor of the unbeliever who makes a compact with the Muslims. The blood of the mu'ahid is not permissible unless for a legitimate reason.the mu'ahid is an unbeliever who contracts a treaty with a Muslim providing for the safety of his life, property, and family." (Hadith, Ninth Grade, 142-3)

The passages about the mu'ahid are most troubling for what they leave out. They address the protected status of an unbeliever in a Muslim country, but are silent on whether unbelievers living in non-Muslim countries are afforded the same protections of "blood, property, or honor." Such an omission, taken together with the outright incitement to violence and vilifying language noted above, could be interpreted as tacitly condoning violence against non-Muslims living in non-Muslim countries.

The Commission would urge the textbook authors to put more context into some sections of the textbooks to avoid any perception that they could be encouraging violence.

More here

Britain: Classroom focus on expressing emotion 'leaves pupils unable to cope'

Schools and universities are producing a generation of "can't do" students, who are encouraged to talk about their emotions at the expense of exploring ideas or acquiring knowledge, academics claimed yesterday. The strong focus on emotional expression and building up self-esteem in schools and colleges was "infantilising" students, leaving them unable to cope with life on their own, according to the authors of a new book, The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education.

Dennis Hayes and Kathryn Ecclestone, of Oxford Brookes University, argue that this "therapeutic" approach to education is at odds with the acquisition of knowledge because it views the emotional skills associated with learning as more important than subject content or criticism. "Turning teaching into therapy is destroying the minds of children, young people and adults," Dr Hayes told Times Higher Education. "Therapeutic education promotes the idea that we are emotional, vulnerable and hapless individuals. It is an attack on human potential."

They pointed to the increased presence of parents on campus, and substitute parents, such as counsellors and support officers. "Everyone looks for a difficulty to declare, like the hundreds of students who register themselves as dyslexic. Being dyslexic used to be something that people hid. Now students wear their difficulties as a badge of honour," Dr Hayes said.

Therapeutic education pervaded all levels of education. Dr Hayes cited the case of a primary school boy who was asked by an emotional learning assistant why he was so happy. When he said he was looking forward to a treat at McDonald's, she asked: "Are you sure there is nothing worrying you?"

The book follows the recent introduction into state schools of lessons in happiness and wellbeing under a programme known as Seal (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning). Ministers are convinced that teaching children to express their emotions boosts concentration and motivation. But there is growing disquiet that this attitude could undermine teaching and learning.

Frank Furedi, Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent, said: "It inflates the importance of feelings to the point where they eclipse what is supposed to be going on in the classroom." It also made teachers and lecturers overcautious. "They will give a piece of work 55 per cent and then write on it 'this essay is superb' because they daren't say it's crap."

John Foreman, dean of students at University College London, agreed that students were not as "self-sustaining and robust" as they once were. He partly blamed overprotective parents. "If young people don't start learning to solve their own problems, when will they ever?" he said.

Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College in Berkshire, a pioneer of wellbeing classes, defended the approach. "Since we started wellbeing lessons [in 2005] our A-level results have gone up from 64 to 86 per cent of students getting As and Bs."


Australia: Results falling at primary schools

The Leftist domination of education brings the expected results. Destruction is what the Left is good at. Why so? Because destruction of the society they live in is their real aim. All the rest is camouflage

LITERACY and numeracy levels have dropped alarmingly in Queensland primary schools, new figures reveal. State Budget figures show many Queensland students failed to meet national benchmarks for reading, writing and maths from Years 2 to 7. Of the 24 targets set by the State Government for 2007-08, only nine were met. Scores were down in 17 of 24 areas, compared with 2006-07. The worst results were for 11 and 12-year-olds in Year 7.

The Government set a target of 82 per cent of students achieving the national benchmark in numeracy but only 73 per cent passed. In reading, the target was 86 per cent but reached 81.7 per cent. It is the fourth year in a row they have under-performed. In 2004-05, 93.1 per cent of Year 7 students achieved the national benchmark in reading. That mark has dropped by 11.4 percentage points in three years.

For maths, it was 82.3 per cent in 2004-05. Now it is 9.2 percentage points lower. The Government hoped 54 per cent of indigenous Year 7 students would achieve the maths benchmark but only 45.9 per cent passed.

Opposition education spokesman Stuart Copeland expressed concern at the failure to meet the national benchmarks. "Every child should be taught the basics to function in today's society. They should be able to read, write and add up," he said. Former chairman of the Australian Council for Education Standards Colin Lamont said it reinforced his view that children were being "dumbed down". He said while teachers held some responsibility, he blamed bureaucrats who "experimented far too frequently" with the curriculum. "Everything has to be 'relevant' today . . . they have taken away what I call enrichment knowledge and that is a great shame."

Education Minister Rod Welford said he was not overly concerned by what were small fluctuations in the annual figures. "We are setting higher benchmarks these days than 20 years ago . . . I never panic about any one year's results through the primary years," he said. "If the changes have been more significant . . . then that is something we will need to monitor."

Queensland Teachers Union president Steve Ryan said there were "real question marks about the validity of national testing". "If the benchmarks are down, then that is something that needs to be addressed," he said.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Britain's socialists have INCREASED inequality

Attacking a major route to advancement -- the selective ("Grammar") schools did not help

Who would have thought that 11 years of a Labour government would make Britain more unequal? Yesterday's official statistics show that since 1997, the poor have - in relative terms - got poorer and the rich richer. Inequality in Britain is now at its highest level since it was first measured in 1961. And that is bound to put a dampener on Gordon Brown's attempts to make our society more mobile.

For the more unequal a nation is, the less social mobility it offers. David Cameron likes to claim that Britain is now a genuine meritocracy in which where we are going is more important than where we have come from. But that's simply not true if you look at the underlying figures. Our society is no more fluid now than it was a generation ago - and it is less fluid than it was a generation before that.

They buck you up, your mum and dad, or they muck you up. Either way, in modern Britain, what most determines where you will end up in life is your parents. If they are high-earning, ambitious professionals, the chances are you will be too. If they are poor and unemployed, you have only a small chance of improving your prospects, whatever the talents you were born with.

Britain - along with America - is one of the most socially rigid nations in the developed world. And that is not because it is uniquely difficult for a poor child to do well here. It is because there is so little downward mobility from the top. If your parents are in the top three social classes (out of the seven defined by sociologists), there is a 74 per cent chance that you will be too. It is only the fact that the middle classes have expanded, thanks to the economy generating more white-collar jobs, that some children born into the working class have been able to move up and join them.

Well-off children have an enormous head start in Britain, and the influences work on them long before they even begin school. The brightest poor children drop from the 88th percentile at the age of 3 (meaning that only 12 per cent of their contemporaries score more highly in tests) to the 65th by the age of 5. The least able rich children, meanwhile, move up from the 15th percentile at 3 to the 45th at 5. At that rate, the dim rich kids overtake the bright poor ones in test scores by the time they are just 7.

So it is not just innate ability that determines your fate. While it may - perhaps - be true that, on average, children of parents in intellectually demanding jobs have a higher IQ than those whose parents are poor and unemployed (as Bruce Charlton argued controversially in Times Higher Education), that could not on its own explain the fact that rich youngsters are more than four times more likely than poor ones to go to university.

Nurture seems to matter at least as much as nature. Children of poor parents here don't tend to be given the same intellectual stimulation or the same impetus to achieve. In a survey of 54 developed countries, England and Scotland showed the highest correlation between children's test scores and the number of books at home. Poor children are less likely to be read to, less likely to be taken to museums or the theatre and less likely to display the good behaviour and social skills that are also associated with success in later life.

They are also more likely to have parents who don't particularly value education. Attitudes to education are incredibly important - which is why disadvantaged Indian and Chinese pupils do much better at school than their white or Afro-Caribbean contemporaries from similar backgrounds.

Why are Britain and America (supposedly the land of opportunity) less mobile than other countries? Economists put it down to our high levels of inequality. The more unequal a society, the harder it is to move out of your social class. The distances are greater, for a start. It is no accident that the most socially mobile nations are Scandinavian.

How depressing, though, for Labour ministers that so much has been done to try to increase social mobility here to so little effect. There has been a huge redistribution of money from the middle classes to the poor. There has been extra investment in inner-city schools. And there has been the introduction of SureStart, a scheme aimed at improving the life chances of children from an early age. Yet all Labour has managed to do is stabilise the decline in mobility.

The trouble is that the countervailing forces have been so strong. The more that we move to a knowledge economy, the more employers value educational succ-ess. Jobs that used to be open to non-graduates now expect a degree, and junior employees without one can no longer hope to be promoted into them. Britain and the US have higher returns to education than most other countries, meaning that graduates can expect to earn far more than those who have not been to university.

This is something that middle-class parents understand, and all their efforts are devoted to ensuring that their children go to university - preferably one of the best ones - and end up in a good, graduate-only job. To this end, they work single-mindedly to find a place for their offspring in the best nursery school, the best primary and the best secondary. If they can't afford to go private, they may employ a tutor to top up at home what their children are taught at school. High educational achievement, for girls as well as boys, has become even more of a spur in middle-class families than it was a generation or two ago.

It is hard for poor parents to compete with these dedicated rivals. The working classes on the whole have a smaller (though often closer) network of friends. The middle classes tend to have a wider (if shallower) circle of acquaintances from whom they can get the best advice on schools, universities and jobs, and with whom they can place their children on work experience. They can afford to buy houses in better catchment areas. They have broadband internet access at home, shelves of books and quiet places for their children to study. They can even "help" with coursework.

Then there is what economists call "assortative mating". We tend to marry others from the same social class. When girls were not so well educated and mothers stayed at home, this made less difference. Now that high-achieving, high-earning men marry high-achieving, high-earning women who often carry on at work after they have children, the advantages for their offspring are greater still - and so is the polarisation of society.

And finally, of course, there is the question of private schools. Yes, state schools have improved in the past ten years. It would be a scandal if they hadn't, given the amount of money that has been poured into them. But private schools have improved at least as fast. They have upped their fees, allowing them to recruit better teachers and build more facilities. The best ones have become far more academically selective - witness the wails of Old Etonians who can no longer get their sons into the school.

We all know the odd privately educated person who ends up as a poverty-stricken failure. But that sort of downward mobility is almost perversely difficult to achieve in Britain. Private schools give children the social skills, the networks and the academic results that pretty much guarantee them the same status that their parents have enjoyed. In many private schools these days, every sixth-former goes on to higher education. After that start in life, it is pretty unlikely that they will be stacking supermarket shelves. As the Sutton Trust has shown, privately educated people still take a disproportionate share of Britain's top jobs.

There is nothing wrong with middle-class parents wanting the best for their children and going all out to achieve it. The left-wing response, led by Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, has been to penalise these parents by introducing school lotteries and banning selection by interview. Rather than dragging them down, though, would it not be better to try to equalise the chances of less privileged children?

IntoUniversity, a charity with three centres in inner-city London, is trying to do just that. It offers disadvantaged youngsters the sort of opportunities and expectations that middle-class children take for granted. From the age of 7, it not only hosts after-school study sessions with tutors, books and computers, it also introduces the idea of university and professional careers to children who might never have contemplated them. They get taken to museums and theatres, take part in debates, do workshops with bankers and lawyers and journalists, and spend a week hosted by a university discovering how learning can be enjoyable.

Many are then paired with a mentor who is already an undergraduate, often from a similar background, who not only helps them study, but also makes university seem as normal an aspiration as it would be for a middle-class child. And the charity also gives help and guidance that their parents can't always offer: on GCSE and A-Level choices, filling in a UCAS form, choosing a course and a college.

It is startlingly successful and has so far sent more than 80 students to university. Ayisha Adedeji, now 19, started with IntoUniversity at primary school. She won straight As in her A Levels and is now studying law and sociology at Warwick. She remembers being taken on a trip to Belgium, ostensibly to learn about the Second World War, but also to help her and her fellow pupils raise their ambitions. "We stuck stickers on ourselves saying `I want to be a doctor' or `I want to be a lawyer'. IntoUniversity gave me that extra push."

Andrew Chaplin, a teacher at Walnut Tree Walk Primary School in inner-city Lambeth, recently took his whole Year 6 class to a week run by IntoUniversity. "Every child in the class now talks about going to university and what course they would like to do," he says. "It is something many of them would never have even considered before."

So these are the keys: early intervention to stop bright children tailing off before they reach school; high expectations from teachers to keep them on track when they get there; and initiatives such as IntoUniversity to replicate the home environment that middle-class children enjoy.

These things can work wonders. The introduction of really good universal childcare in Denmark in the 1970s doubled the odds of children with ill-educated parents completing the equivalent of A Levels. And a US programme, aimed at disadvantaged mothers while they are still pregnant and sends a nurse to visit them for the first two years of their child's life, has been shown to give the child a larger vocabulary and a higher IQ. A similar scheme is being piloted here.

Gordon Brown and David Cameron can argue over whether the State or the voluntary sector should be helping poor children to aim high. But they both want to extend opportunity more widely. And they must agree that - while they can't buy an Eton education for everyone - the great start in life that they enjoyed as children is a boon that is still spread far too unevenly in Britain.


La. Senate OKs school vouchers for New Orleans

In a major legislative success for Gov. Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana Senate voted 25-12 Wednesday for a bill that would let up to 1,500 low- to middle-income students in New Orleans attend private schools at taxpayer expense. Already approved by the House, the school voucher bill by Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, needs one more routine vote in that body on Senate language changes before it goes to Jindal for his signature.

Backers say the bill will help at least some New Orleans children escape a struggling school system, widely known for corruption, bad management and poor student performance before and after Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005. Opponents point to recent improvements in New Orleans public schools that have been realized since the state and various charter organizations began running them after the hurricane. They say the $10 million would be better spent on public schools.

Opponents also said the cost is likely to balloon as the first-year students progress and more students enter the program. "When we get to the end how much is this program going to cost?" asked Sen. Joe McPherson, D-Woodworth.

The plan would cover children in kindergarten through third grade in the 2008-09 school year, with subsequent grades added each year thereafter. Children from families earning up to 2.5 times the current federal poverty level (or about $53,000 for a family of four) would be eligible. If there are more applicants at a school than there are available seats, the school would choose participants randomly.

Although the bill is aimed at up to 1,500 students, backers say there may be only a few hundred slots available at private schools in the city next year. "I think we all have the same goal," said Sen. Ann Duplessis, who urged support for Badon's bill in the Senate. "How do we create a process that begins to move our kids out of failing systems?"

In a state with a long history of voting down voucher plans, the Senate vote provided Jindal with a major victory on an issue dear to his conservative base at a time when his star is rising in national Republican politics and he is being mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate.

Other than an a limited pre-kindergarten program approved several years ago, Louisiana's Legislature has routinely defeated voucher programs despite the state's long history of Catholic education in the south and strong religious conservatism in the north.

Until now, influential teacher unions and public school administrators have been able to fight off voucher bills as harmful to public education. And resistance remains strong as evidenced by a proposed amendment to make the voucher plan apply statewide. It was defeated 5-29.


The immigration non-debate on campus at UCI

Conservatives encounter deeply entrenched bigotry and hostility

Allison Daley is a third-year UC Davis student, double-majoring in political science and international relations. She also spent the past year as chairwoman of Davis College Republicans. Daley says the DCR has about 30 active members and 450 "on paper." In an e-mail exchange, she described what it's like to fly a straight flag in a city known for the freaky.

Is it lonely being a College Republican in Davis? What's the climate like for you guys on campus?

Being a College Republican in Davis is lonely in a way, but maybe it is because we are in such a minority, we have a tighter group of friends. We also obviously have many friends in apolitical circles. The climate for us on campus ranges from dismissive to hateful. The more active we become, the more hostile the climate gets. It seems that many people would prefer that we not be heard at all.

What has been the most challenging protest or event you've attended?

Without a doubt, the one we put on in response to last year's May Day protests-our often-misquoted "Illegal Immigration Capture the Flag" (not "Capture the Illegal Immigrant"). Our perspective was completely misunderstood, and people's attitudes became extremely combative, borderline dangerous. I received probably a hundred e-mails, more than one of which threatened me physically. Afterwards, I realized just how hard it is to get our message heard in a place that is unaccustomed to an actual debate.

Is there anything you do differently since then?

Since our capture-the-flag game, we have learned that unfortunately, perception can be more important than reality. While we know we were not being racist, many people believed that we were, and our message was in large part lost as a result. With that in mind, this May Day for our counter-protest, we had a more nuanced Socialist Career Fair, in which we satirically promoted a number of jobs that can be had in socialist societies, such as union boss, member of the secret police and gulag commandant. And while it was much lower-key, we think the event was overall a greater success.

Name an aspect of Davis political culture that makes you roll your eyes. Why?

The political culture in Davis is supposedly diverse and inclusive, but in reality, it does not appreciate dissent. Certain political and ethnic groups are allowed to do pretty much whatever they want, which creates a breeding ground for political radicalism. Other groups, like DCR and sometimes Christian groups, get no help whatsoever from the campus bigwigs. The double standard is so blatant that frequently, we are at a loss for words.

What's one aspect of Davis political culture that you value/appreciate (it's OK if there aren't any)?

How involved people are. I tend to disagree with their activism, and I don't like how some dip into radicalism, but overall, it is nice to not live in a politically apathetic community.