Saturday, June 28, 2008

Is Prestige Worth It?

by Thomas Sowell

The obsession of many high school students and their parents about getting into a prestige college or university is part of the social scene of our time. So is the experience of parents going deep into hock to finance sending a son or daughter off to Ivy U. or the flagship campus of the state university system. Sometimes both the student and the parent end up with big debts from financing a degree from some prestige institution. Yet these are the kinds of institutions that many have their hearts set on.

Media hype adds to the pressure to go where the prestige is. A key role is often played by the various annual rankings of colleges and universities, especially the rankings by U.S. News & World Report. These rankings typically measure all sorts of inputs-- but not outputs. The official academic accrediting agencies do the same thing. They measure how much money is spent on this or that, how many professors have tenure and other kinds of inputs. What they don't measure is the output-- what kind of education the students end up with.

A new think tank in Washington is trying to shift the emphasis from inputs to outputs. The Center for College Affordability and Productivity is headed by Professor Richard Vedder, who gives the U.S. News rankings a grade of D. Measuring the inputs, he says, is "roughly equivalent to evaluating a chef based on the ingredients he or she uses." His approach is to "review the meal"-- that is, the outcome of the education itself.

The CCAP study uses several measures of educational output, including the proportion of a college's graduates who win awards like the Rhodes Scholarships or who end up listed in "Who's Who in America," as well as the ratings that students give the professors who teach them. Professor Vedder admits that these are "imperfect" measures of a college's educational output, but at least they are measures of output instead of input.

Some academic institutions come out at or near the top by either input or output criteria but there were some large changes in rankings as well. Among national universities, the top three are the same-- but in different order-- whether ranked by U.S. News or by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. They are Harvard, Yale and Princeton, according to Professor Vedder's think tank, and Princeton, Harvard and Yale in the U.S. News rankings.

Among the liberal arts colleges, however, there were some big changes. Although Williams and Amherst were the top two in both rankings, Washington & Lee moved up from 15th to 6th when ranked by Professor Vedder's group and Barnard climbed from 30th to 8th. Whitman College, which was ranked 37th by U.S. News on the basis of the college's inputs, jumped to 9th when evaluated on its output by Vedder and company. Wabash College jumped from 52nd to 10th. West Point rose from 22nd to 7th.

One of my own favorite measures of output-- the percentage of a college's graduates who go on to get Ph.D.s-- was not used by either set of evaluations. Small colleges dominate the top ten in sending their alumni on to get doctorates. Grinnell College, which was not among the top ten on either the U.S. News list or on Professor Vedder's list, sends a higher percentage of its graduates on to get Ph.D.s than does either Harvard or Yale.

No given criterion tells the whole story. In fact, the whole idea of ranking colleges and universities is open to question. To someone who is making a decision where to apply, what matters is what is the best institution for that particular individual, which may not be best-- or even advisable-- for that applicant's brother or sister.

"Choosing the Right College" is by far the best of the college guides, partly because it does not give rankings, but more because it goes into the many factors that matter-- and which matter differently for different people.

What Professor Vedder's study does is provide yet another reason for parents and students not to obsess over big-name schools or their rankings-- or to go deep into hock over them.


A third of British secondary schools have a sex clinic

Nearly 1,000 secondary schools are providing `sexual health services' for their pupils. It means a million youngsters can get contraception, morning-after pills, pregnancy tests and tests for sexually transmitted diseases without any possibility that their parents will be told. A high proportion of secondary pupils are under 16 - the legal age of consent.

The rapid spread of sex services through schools with pupils as young as 11 has been hailed by campaigners who want sex education made compulsory and extended to primaries. Parents can find, however, that their children have not just been given contraception without their family's knowledge. In 2004 there was an outcry after it was revealed that 14-year-old Melissa Smith was given abortion pills without her mother being told. She was encouraged to have the termination by a 28-year-old health worker at her school sex clinic.

The survey of schools was carried out by the Sex Education Forum, an organisation run by the National Children's Bureau, a œ12million-a-year campaign group largely funded by taxpayers. Researcher Lucy Emmerson said: `We are encouraged to find that so many schools are providing sexual health services on-site. This is key to reducing teenage pregnancy rates and improving sexual health.' The survey was made public after a week which saw abortion hit record levels, with a 21 per cent rise among girls of 13 and a 10 per cent increase among under-16s.

Critics say giving out contraception in schools increases pregnancy and abortion by signalling that it is all right for young teenagers to have sex. Jill Kirby, of the centre-right think tank Centre for Policy Studies, said: `This is the normalisation of sex for pupils without the consent of parents.'

The survey was carried out among 2,185 schools, two-thirds of the secondaries in England. It found that 29 per cent had an `on-site sexual health service' - defined as distributing condoms and testing for pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. One in six of these schools gave pupils the morning-after pill, while one school in 20 offered contraceptive options, with prescriptions available for the Pill, injections or implants.

Sexual advice and the distribution of condoms by schools is a key plank of the Government's 138 million pound Teenage Pregnancy Strategy, which was intended to halve the number of pregnancies among under-18s between 1998 and 2010 but is acknowledged to be failing.

Miss Emmerson said parents should not worry about what their children might be offered at school. She said: `Parents with children in those schools will know that the support services will involve sexual health advice and what the range of services on offer are. Also, health professionals always encourage the young person to talk to their parents about any problems.'

Patricia Morgan, a researcher and author on family matters, said: `There is no evidence that giving out condoms works. Children have sex, you get pregnancies and abortions and the spread of infections. If you want progress you should start by telling children not to have sex.'

Government guidelines say that where children under 13 are thought to be having sex, police should be brought in. But opponents say that breaches the children's privacy and makes them less likely to seek help.


Top students' gains found mediocre

Teachers pay more attention to low achievers, report says

The nation's gifted and talented students have not made the notable academic gains the lowest-performing students have made in recent years, and teachers are pay more attention to struggling students than high achievers, a new report has found. The report, made public Wednesday by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, examined test scores and teacher opinion before and after the implementation of the 2002 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, which requires states to bring students, including the lowest-performers, to grade-level proficiency in reading and math.

The study found that while the bottom 10 percent of students made notable gains in reading and math over several years, gains made by the top 10 percent have been less impressive - a pattern that bodes poorly for global competitiveness, some experts said. "If we want to compete with the rest of the world, we need our best and brightest to be making progress also," said Mike Petrilli, vice president for national programs and policy at the Fordham Institute.

Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Assocation, said NCLB is "particularly problematic" for high achievers because it forces teachers to focus on lower performers to avoid law's penalties. Mr. Weaver, whose group is a lead critic of NCLB, said it is "time to usher in a new era" in which schools have enough resources to be able to focus equally on education of all children.

But NCLB is not to blame for the slower improvement of the top students, since the study found the students were essentially making the same minimal gains before NCLB as they were making during it, said Tom Loveless, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who conducted research. And while low-achieving students made bigger strides during the NCLB era than they did before the law , he said, the study couldn't determine whether NCLB played a role. Teacher training, textbooks or other state initiatives could have been involved in the improvement.

His study found the lowest-performing fourth-grade students gained an average of 16 points in reading from 2000 to 2007, while those in the 90th percentile gained an average of only three points, according to an analysis of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. In eighth-grade math, the bottom 10 percent of students gained an average of 13 points over that time, while the highest-performers improved by an average of five points. Both groups made notable gains in fourth-grade math while neither improved in eighth-grade reading, the study found.

It also found states with school testing and accountability in place in the 1990s showed a similar pattern of narrowing achievement gaps between high and low performers, with low performers making stronger gains. Mr. Loveless suggested lawmakers should add incentives to NCLB that encourage teachers to raise high-performers' scores, too.

The report also included a survey of 900 public school teachers who were asked about academic gains and their students. Researchers at the Farkas Duffett Research Group , which conducted the poll, found that 60 percent said struggling students are a top priority at their school and 23 percent said the same of academically advanced students.

The survey also found that 81 percent said low performers are more likely to get one-on-one attention while five percent said the more advanced students were more likely. The survey also found 86 percent said all students deserve equal attention, and 77 percent said the recent focus on getting low performers to proficiency has crowded out high performers.


Friday, June 27, 2008

A Choice for D.C. Children

How would punishing 1,900 scholarship students improve the public schools?

AMONG THE most maddening arguments used against the D.C. school voucher program is that it hurts the public schools. Any money set aside for vouchers comes on top of a generous federal allocation for the city's public and charter schools. Any effect of the vouchers on public education has yet to be established or studied. Most of all, which members of Congress would accept an argument that they should be forced to send their children to a failing school for the good of the school?

Yet critics repeatedly return to this canard. That's why it's important that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) reiterate to Congress that his school reform efforts will not be helped by depriving 1,900 poor children of an opportunity to choose their schools.

This week, the House Appropriations Committee is set to consider whether to include funds in next year's federal budget for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. The program, which allows the participating children to attend private schools, dodged a bullet last week when the Appropriations subcommittee headed by Rep. Jose E. Serrano (D-N.Y.) wouldn't go along with efforts to dismantle the program. Even though the committee recommended less money than proposed by President Bush, the subcommittee's action, if sustained by Congress, would allow continuation of the program for another crucial year.

While Mr. Serrano voiced doubts about vouchers, he wisely deferred to the District's leaders and their "right . . . to make these choices." Members of the full committee, including a number of Washington area representatives who well understand the importance of D.C. home rule, should follow Mr. Serrano's lead in abiding by the city's intent. Joining Mr. Fenty in his support of the vouchers are leaders as disparate as D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and former mayor Anthony A. Williams. Notwithstanding the objections of Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), there is widespread local support for the vouchers. Indeed, demand is reflected in the number of children who are on waiting lists. Continuation of this very limited, local program hurts no one. But its elimination would profoundly affect poor and minority children. Is that a choice Congress really wants to make?


Homeschool is a constitutional right for parents

Can California force parents to send their children outside the home for their education, regardless of the quality of instruction they receive at home? Today, the California Court of Appeal in Los Angeles will hear arguments in a case raising this issue - the constitutional rights of parents to direct the education of their children. The case arises out of a dependency hearing in which court-appointed attorneys for Jonathan and Mary Grace, two minor children who had been receiving instruction at home, asked the trial judge to order them to attend public school. The judge refused on the grounds that the parents have a constitutional right to homeschool their children. But the Court of Appeal reversed the ruling and interpreted California law as requiring homeschooling parents to have teaching credentials.

Understandably, the appellate court's decision in February created an immediate controversy with homeschooling and parental rights' advocates across the nation. Subsequently the Court of Appeal, in an unusual move, decided to withdraw its first decision, request additional briefing, and hear the case again.

But - should the court ultimately rule the same way - a mandate against homeschooling, rather than a focus on the merits of this individual case, makes no sense. For one, the court can resolve the appeal without addressing the constitutional issue by interpreting state law not to require credentialing for homeschool instructors.

Further, experience shows that homeschooling works and that public schools don't always provide quality instruction. Consider that California's educational system is consistently in the bottom 10 percent as compared to the rest of the states, while homeschoolers are winning the national history and spelling bees on a regular basis. What's more, the California Department of Education's most recent data shows that the high school graduation rate for students who attended from 2002 - 2006 was 67.1 percent. That's 1-in-3 students not getting a diploma.

But perhaps more important than any of the quality-of-education issues raised by this case is whether the state has the power to require parents who wish to instruct their children at home to obtain a teaching credential. The U.S. Supreme Court has long interpreted the Constitution as protecting parents' rights to direct and oversee the education of their children. More than 80 years ago, the Supreme Court noted, in a case challenging an Oregon law requiring all children to attend public schools, that "The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations."

And the court has continued to emphasize since then that the state must defer to parental decision-making. As Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in a case from the Supreme Court's 2000 term, "[T]he Due Process Clause does not permit a State to infringe on the fundamental right of parents to make child-rearing decisions simply because a state judge believes a 'better' decision could be made.' "

Of course, the state has the power to ensure that children receive a quality education. But the truth is that competent instruction can be received just as well at home as it can in public or private schools, and that parents should be the ones to decide where their children will be educated. The court would therefore do well to respect the constitutional rights of parents by sticking to the merits of the individual case being argued today and not make any pronouncement on homeschooling generally.


So now Britain will have degrees in quackery

It's hard to grade nonsense on a scale, but of all forms of medical quackery, psychic surgery must be judged one of the least scrupulous. You might recall the odd television expose of its practitioners - so-called 'surgeons' who appear to be operating on patients with their bare hands, and who seem to be able to remove allegedly diseased tissue without making any incisions. Despite being exposed as hoaxers, 'psychic surgeons' continue to cast their spell over the gullible and desperate – mostly in Brazil and the Philippines. The odd case still crops up in the supposedly less superstitious United Kingdom.

About a year ago the Conservative MP Robert Key wrote to the Department of Health following a complaint by one of his constituents, who had been a victim of such fraudulent "healing." I have the full ministerial reply in front of me. Lord Hunt of Kings Heath told Mr Key: "We are currently working towards extending the scope of statutory regulation by introducing regulation of herbal medicine, acupuncture practitioners and Chinese medicine. However, there are no plans to extend statutory regulation to other professions such as psychic surgery. "We expect these professions to develop their own unified systems of voluntary self-regulation. If they then wish to pursue statutory regulation, they will need to demonstrate that there are risks to patients and the public that voluntary regulation cannot address. I hope this clarifies the current position."

Indeed, it does. It makes it clear that the lunatics have taken over the asylum. For a start, how could Philip Hunt, previously director of the National Association of Health Authorities and Trusts, possibly have thought that "psychic healing" constituted a "profession" – let alone one which would "develop its own system of voluntary self-regulation? What might this involve? A code which declares that members must never perform genuine surgery, lest it brings the "profession" into disrepute?

Last week, in fact, the Department of Health published the report which outlines the regulation hinted at by Lord Hunt. It is called the Report to Ministers from the Department of Health Steering Group on the Statutory Regulation of Acupuncture, Herbal Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine and other Traditional Medicine Systems Practiced in the United Kingdom.

It is a scary document, and not just because many of its recommendations stem from something called the "Acupuncture Stakeholder Group". You thought they just used needles, didn't you?

Acupuncture is at the most respectable end of the alternative health spectrum – its practitioners would be affronted to be lumped in with psychic surgeons. Yet what, really, is the difference? There are many "patients" in the Philippines and Brazil who will insist that psychic surgery has cured chronic ailments which conventional medicine failed to alleviate. Such is the power of placebo – the driving force of all unconventional medical treatments, including acupuncture.

A few months ago an investigation into acupuncture, involving 1,162 patients with lower back pain, made a splash in newspapers across the world. The researchers at Regensburg University declared that just 27.4 per cent of those who had only conventional treatments such as physiotherapy felt able to report an improvement in their condition. However, of those who also underwent acupuncture, 47.6 per cent reported an improvement. So all that stuff about "different levels of Qi", "meridians", "major acupuncture points" and "extraordinary fu" is scientifically validated, then? Well, not quite, despite what some of the news reports said.

You see, the cunning researchers of Regensburg had one control group of back-pain sufferers who were told that they were undergoing traditional acupuncture – whereas in fact the needles were inserted entirely at random; and instead being put in to a depth of up to 40mm (as required by the acupuncture textbooks) were merely inserted just below the skin. This was sham acupuncture. And guess what? It worked – within the statistical margin of error – just as well as the "real" acupuncture: 44.2 per cent of the recipients of the sham treatment said that their back pain had been alleviated in a way which they had not experienced through conventional medicine.

Now here's another remarkable thing: the main body of the report produced for the Government last week does not contain the word "placebo" – and it crops up only twice in the appendices. One can understand why the various "stakeholders" who were consulted might have wanted to steer away from this fundamental question, but it's surprising that the chairman of the report, Professor Michael Pittilo, principal of Robert Gordon University, didn't insist upon it.

After all, Professor Pittilo claims that his report was an "echo" of the House of Lords' Science and Technology Committee report on the same subject – which had declared that the single most important question that any such investigation must address is: "Does the treatment offer therapeutic benefits greater than placebo?"

That indefatigable quackbuster, Professor David Colquhoun of University College London is on the case, however. His indispensable blog points out that Professor Pittilo is a trustee of the Prince of Wales's Foundation for Integrated Health, which advocates exactly the sort of therapies that this committee is supposed to be regulating.

Pittilo and his band of "stakeholders" have come up with their own way of "regulating" the alternative health industry – which the Government has welcomed. It is to suggest that practitioners gain university degrees in complementary or alternative medicine. Pittilo's own university just happens to offer such courses, which Professor Colquhoun has long campaigned against as "science degrees without the science."

It will be a particular boon to the University of Westminster, whose "Department of Complementary Therapies", teaches students all about such practices as homeopathy, McTimoney chiropractic, crystals, and 'vibrational medicine'.

One can see how this might fit in with the Government's "never mind the quality, feel the width" approach to university education. One can also see how established practitioners of such therapies might see this as a future source of income – how pleasant it might be to become Visiting Professor of Vibrational Medicine at the University of Westminster.

Thus garlanded with the laurels of academic pseudo-science, the newly professionalised practitioners of "alternative medicine" can look down on such riff-raff as the "psychic surgeons". Yet in one way those charlatans are less objectionable than Harley Street homeopaths: they openly admit that they are faith-healers, rather than pretend to academic status; and while they have made fools of their patients they haven't-yet-made a fool of the Government.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Moaning Academic Women

They want to be looked after -- but it is sexist to treat them differently!

Interviews with 80 female faculty members at a research university - the largest qualitative study of its kind - have found that many women in careers are deeply frustrated by a system that they believe undervalues their work and denies them opportunities for a balanced life. While the study found some overt discrimination in the form of harassment or explicitly sexist remarks, many of the concerns involved more subtle "deeply entrenched inequities."

While the study was conducted, with support from the National Science Foundation, at the University of California at Irvine, the report's authors and most of those who were interviewed for the research state that they don't believe the problems discussed are unique to Irvine. The women interviewed who had worked elsewhere or discussed such issues with colleagues elsewhere portrayed their concerns as entirely typical of what goes on at research universities. And the authors - also at Irvine - stress that they don't view the campus as exceptional.

While some issues in the report mirror concerns raised in other venues (such as the difficulty for women in particular of balancing work and family responsibilities), others receive more attention here than elsewhere. For example, service responsibilities are seen as a significant source of both sexism (women receive more of the assignments) and career roadblocks (the service work doesn't count for tenure).

Those interviewed in the report even go so far as to criticize the NSF program that sponsored the research because it also urged Irvine to create "equity" positions in which faculty members - typically women - helped to review searches to be sure that diverse pools and perspectives were being sought. "To paraphrase one participant who wished anonymity: `They'll not get the next promotion, or the next raise. And it also made them lightening rods for all the frustration on campus that women are getting special treatment. So it was a perfect example of service that helps the institution but really hurts the individual.'"

The article, "Gender Equity in Academia: Bad News From the Trenches, and Some Possible Solutions," appears in the new issue of /Perspectives on Politics/ (abstract available here ). The authors are Kristen Monroe, a professor of political science and philosophy at Irvine and director of its Interdisciplinary Center for the Scientific Study of Ethics and Morality, along with three graduate students in political science at Irvine: Saba Ozyurt, Ted Wrigley and Amy Alexander.

The analysis opens with a review of the national statistics in which women's gains in the graduate student population are gradually diminished as academics advance to first jobs, to tenure, and to senior positions. Most of the analysis focuses on summaries of the in-depth interviews conducts with the women at Irvine, who came from a range of disciplines and seniority levels. Here are some of the highlights:

*Unintended bias and outdated attitudes:* Many of the women in the study described a steady stream of comments, some of them ostensibly offering support, that suggested that the older men who made them didn't really understand how to interact with women in a professional manner. These men generally had no clue that their attitudes were either patronizing, sexist or both, the report says. One woman is quoted as describing a job interview in a top department in which an African American scholar took her aside and said, "This is a great place for people like you and me, if you know what I mean, honey." The report quoted the woman as noting the irony that "he simply did not realize that it might be as inappropriate to call a 26-year-old woman `honey' as it would be to jovially slap a black man on the back and call him `boy.' "

*Devaluing positions once women hold them:* At Irvine, as at most research universities, the last decade has seen a significant change in the number of women serving as committee chairs, department chairs, deans and administrators in a variety of capacities. And the women interviewed for the study praised this development, crediting women in various senior positions for being mentors or going to bat for their younger counterparts. But the women - across disciplines - described a pattern in which once a woman was named to a more senior position, others treated it as more service-oriented and less substantive. The paper dubs this trend "gender devaluation," saying: "When a man is department chair, the position confers status, respect and power. When a woman becomes department chair, the power and status seems diminished."

*Service and gender: *Those interviewed reported some protection for junior faculty women, but said that among the senior faculty ranks, women were picked disproportionately for service assignments, especially those that are time-consuming. Then those same women are criticized for not doing more research, and the theoretical credit awarded service is never to be found.

*Family vs. career:* As in similar reports, women reported intense pressure - well beyond that faced by their male colleagues - with regard to having children, raising them, and also caring for aging parents. Many women reported strong reluctance to take advantage of policy options that might be helpful, fearful of how they would appear to male colleagues, and women reported regret and some dismay over choices they made to avoid confronting colleagues with their needs for more flexibility. One woman interviewed described having a child this way: "I was determined that I would drop that baby on Friday, teach on Monday, and nobody would ever know. That's what I had to do. That was just how I felt like life had to be. Indeed, my first child was born ten days after I submitted my final grades. I did have the summer off. I went back to teach in the fall, but by that September my first book was due at the publisher, and it all got done. That's what one had to do. That's what I felt. I was a competitive bitch, and that was what I felt I had to do in order to make as statement about who I was." (She added that she took a different attitude with her second child's arrival four years later.)

*Activism vs. making it work:* Generally, the women interviewed described the offices and services designed to help them as places that were focused on legal and technical issues, and given that many of their frustrations weren't legal, they didn't rely on these services. In addition, the women interviewed - citing in part a desire not to have their careers hurt - tended to focus on figuring out informal ways to deal with problems, rather than seeking policy changes. Women are "extremely adept at detecting the academy's cues," the study says. "Many feared backlash and retribution if they agitated openly for change."

While these women themselves focused on individual solutions, the overall theme of the report - in considering how to improve the situation of women at research universities - is a call for much more flexibility. Career paths are needed, the report says, that do not presume that the quality of work is based on hours in the lab or office, or time to tenure, or time finishing various projects. In addition, the report calls on universities to assign tasks in a more gender-neutral way, so that service activities aren't presumed female, and to credit work performed equally - even if women are more likely than men to do that work.

Asked for a reaction to the study, Irvine released a statement criticizing it. "Professor Monroe's article draws attention to the persistence and toll of sex discrimination on women faculty. Unfortunately, the article cannot to be said to offer original insight into the promise and challenge of gender equity in higher education. The formulation of the problem overlooks research in a host of related issues, such as gender schemas, work-life balance, and leadership development among others," the statement said.

The Irvine statement went on to cite progress for women on a number of fronts, noting that women on the campus hold such positions as vice chancellor of research and deans of the graduate division and of undergraduate education. Women account for 43 percent of assistant professors, 37 percent of associate professors, and 22 percent of full professors. Those figures are going up in science and technology fields too, Irvine noted, and women now are 37 percent of assistant professors, 31 percent of associate professors and 18 percent of full professors in those disciplines.

The statement added that "Professor Monroe does not appear to be informed about campus and university engagement with gender equity or for that matter family-friendly accommodation policies and procedures."

In an interview (prior to when Irvine released its statement), Monroe said that she would be interested to see how the university responded and that she hoped it would be positive. She noted - as the reported noted - that many of the concerns expressed in the study didn't have to do with official policies or programs, but with more subtle questions.

In her career she was helped by good advice she received early on from mentors. She was urged to agree to serve on one universitywide committee and one departmental committee and never more. She was also urged to work from home in the mornings, so she couldn't be drafted into other meetings, and would always have focused time for research. Monroe said that as a political scientist, she had that option in a way that a lab scientist would not. While Monroe said she was able to have a family while succeeding in academe (in part because of choices her husband made), she said that talking to women about their choices was in many cases "heartbreaking."


Textbook council accuses publisher of being politically correct on Islam

A new report issued by the American Textbook Council says books approved for use in local school districts for teaching middle and high school students about Islam caved in to political correctness and dumbed down the topic at a critical moment in its history. "Textbook editors try to avoid any subject that could turn into a political grenade," wrote Gilbert Sewall, director of the council, who railed against five popular history texts for "adjust[ing] the definition of jihad or sharia or remov[ing] these words from lessons to avoid inconvenient truths."

Sewall complains the word jihad has gone through an "amazing cultural reorchestration" in textbooks, losing any connotation of violence. He cites Houghton Mifflin's popular middle school text, "Across the Centuries," which has been approved for use in Montgomery County Schools. It defines "jihad" as a struggle "to do one's best to resist temptation and overcome evil."

"But that is, literally, the translation of jihad," said Reza Aslan, a religion scholar and acclaimed author of "No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam." Aslan explained that the definition does not preclude a militant interpretation. "How you interpret [jihad] is based on whatever your particular ideology, or world viewpoint, or even prejudice is," Aslan said. "But how you define jihad is set in stone." A statement from Montgomery County Public Schools said that all text used by teachers had been properly vetted and were appropriate for classroom uses.

Aslan said groups like Sewall's are often more concerned about advancing their own interpretation of Islam than they are about defining its parts and then allowing interpretation to happen at the classroom level.

Sewall's report blames publishing companies for allowing the influence of groups like the California-based Council on Islamic Education to serve throughout the editorial process as "screeners" for textbooks, softening or deleting potentially unflattering topics within the faith. "Fundamentally I'm worried about dumbing down textbooks," he said, "by groups that come to state education officials saying we want this and that - and publishers need to find a happy medium."

Maryland state delegate Saqib Ali refrained from joining the fray. "The job of assigning curriculum is best left to educators and the school board, and I trust their judgment," he said.


Corrupt New York's Novel Way to Kill Charter Schools

Ten years ago, New York joined the charter school revolution by passing a law to allow these innovative public schools to open. Today there are nearly 100 charters in the state and dozens more in the pipeline. But now, thanks to the state's Department of Labor and a labor-friendly state judge, building a new charter school just got a lot harder and a lot more expensive.

Charter schools are built on a simple idea. In exchange for less state funding and a mandate on performance, charters are exempt from many high-cost regulations that hamstring traditional public schools. Tapestry Charter School in central Buffalo has accepted that bargain and has excelled. It has served lower- and middle-income students since it opened its doors in 2001. Today it has about 350 students and, like most charters, outperforms district public schools on state tests.

With smaller class sizes, more individual attention, longer school days and a longer academic calendar, students at Tapestry receive nearly two years more of instruction by the time they enter high school than students in other schools.

Recently, Tapestry won approval to add high school grades, and this is where the trouble started. To accommodate these new grades as well as serve the other students, the school decided to build a new building. It expected to pay about $8.5 million.

But last autumn, as a sop to labor unions, Labor Commissioner M. Patricia Smith ordered charter schools to adhere to state "prevailing wage" requirements, which mandate paying union wages for construction projects and which typically add 30% or more to the cost of a project. In Tapestry's case, it would add more than $1.5 million, putting the school's building expansion plans on hold.

Since their inception, charter schools had been exempt from this state law which, like its federal counterpart, the Davis-Bacon Act, applies to most public-works projects. Last month, however, state trial judge Michael Lynch upheld the new mandate, erroneously applying labor law to charter schools beyond anything intended by the legislature or precedent. The case is on appeal and will likely be overturned, but that could take years.

"Critics say there aren't enough charter high schools, but this latest hit makes it near impossible to afford to build one," Joy Pepper, Tapestry's co-founder and director, said. "How can it be good public policy for the state to raise the cost of school buildings when we get no capital money to begin with? It's the students they're hurting."

This ruling is an egregious example of the withering autonomy of charter schools. Charters successfully educate students on 70% of the funding spent by district school competitors. But the state's education bureaucracy, legislature and now the courts are all piling on regulatory burdens.

Before prevailing wages were imposed, Elmwood Village Charter School, a few blocks from Tapestry in the Allentown section of Buffalo, was able to renovate a long-abandoned building, helping to revitalize the neighborhood. "There is no way we could afford this state-of-the-art building and serve our students if we were forced to pay another 25% [because of] prevailing wage," John Sheffield, the school's director, said. "There wouldn't be a charter school here, and our kids would remain in district schools at an academic disadvantage, frankly."

In Albany, the Brighter Choice Foundation built a KIPP charter middle school -- absent prevailing wage -- for less than $7 million. It took only nine months and won praise from Albany Mayor Gerald Jennings, who said, "It's a beautiful facility, one that anyone would be proud to send a child to." By contrast, the Albany school district spent about $40 million to build a new middle school, thanks to prevailing-wage and other mandates.

The Brighter Choice Foundation wants to build other charter schools, including Albany's first public all-girls high school. That will be much more difficult if it has to adhere to prevailing-wage mandates. "If they don't fix this, artificially higher costs will guarantee that fewer students in needy urban districts will be ready for college," said Chris Bender, the foundation's director.

The charter school movement in New York, after thriving for nearly a decade, faces an uncertain future if the state continues pushing charters to be more like the failed bureaucratic schools from which charter students fled. Prevailing wage is one way to stop the charter revolution in its tracks -- which may be the point, sadly.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Britain: Social mobility disappeared along with selective schools

"Comprehensives" were supposed to bring equality. They did the opposite

It's a puzzle how Gordon Brown manages to maintain the aura of a serious intellectual. He clearly reads widely. But so, too, do my nephews, albeit books with shorter words. The problem lies not with his ability to read but to draw the correct conclusions. His speech yesterday on social mobility is a case in point - a weird mix of platitudes and outright nonsense. Parents should want their children to do better than they did themselves. Wow. What an insight. And this "cannot be achieved without people themselves adopting the work ethic, the learning ethic and aiming high... We must set a national priority to aggressively and relentlessly develop the potential of the British people." It's difficult to imagine a priority aggressively and relentlessly to hold back the potential of the British people.

The difficulties start when he talks in more than platitudes. Yesterday's speech was predicated on the notion that, while he had been fortunate to be "a child of the first great wave of postwar social mobility", there was then a "lost generation" of "Thatcher's children" who were denied the chance to progress. Mr Brown is right to talk about the reversal in social mobility that took place in the last century. But he is about as far from the truth as it is possible to imagine in describing its cause. Margaret Thatcher did not create the problem; she inherited it.

A 1996 study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies confirmed what strikes most people instinctively: education is the great engine of social mobility. "There is a clear correlation between high mobility up the income distribution and a high level of educational attainment. Non-movers are almost five times as likely to have no qualifications as big movers; at the other end of the scale, big movers are more than seven times as likely to have A levels or better than non-movers are." And with the educational opportunities laid out in Rab Butler's 1944 Education Act, which enshrined the tripartite system of grammar, technical and secondary modern schools, increasingly it was no longer true that where you were born on the social scale determined where you ended up.

As Churchill said to the boys of his alma mater, Harrow School, in 1940: "When this war is won... it must be one of our aims to establish a state of society when the advantages and privileges which have hitherto been enjoyed by the few shall be more widely shared by the many, and by the youth of the nation as a whole."

And this started to happen: the proportion of public-school-educated undergraduates at Oxford was, for instance, on a steady downward path after the Second World War. In 1946 65 per cent of male students were from independent schools. By 1967 only 53 per cent of male students were from public schools. The pattern was even clearer with women, the share falling from 57 per cent of arts undergraduates in 1946 to 39 per cent in 1967. For all the problems with technical and secondary modern schools, grammar schools did a fine job of lifting children out of poverty and into opportunity. Yet today, our comprehensive system has one of the worst rankings in the developed world.

Education was seen by the advocates of comprehensive schools "as a serious alternative to nationalisation in promoting a more just and efficient society" (as Tony Crosland, who would not rest until he had "destroyed every f***ing grammar school", put it). But this was Grade A drivel. Class divisions were made worse, not better. Now those who can afford to do so leave the state system for private education or move to a middle-class catchment area. The rest are stuck with what they are served up. As A.H.Halsey, an adviser to Crosland and one of the leading egalitarian theorists of the 1960s, put it: "The essential fact of 20th-century educational history is that egalitarian policies have failed."

The speed of the process was astonishing. In the late 1960s the state grammar schools and quasi-state direct grant schools easily outclassed the independent sector in terms of academic output. The next decade saw both these meritocratic pillars of the state school system collapse. In 1971 35 per cent of all state schools were comprehensive; in 1981 the figure was 90 per cent, and almost all the direct grant schools had joined the private sector. In destroying the direct grant schools on the altar of equal opportunity, the 1974-79 Labour Government succeeded only in denying opportunity to many poor children.

Mr Brown is right to emphasise the imperative of social mobility. But until he stops speaking in platitudes and starts understanding what has gone wrong, he will never be able to put anything right.


Many states watch - and like - Florida's education policy

Florida is No. 1 in the nation in vouchers. It's No. 2 in charter school enrollment. It's No. 4 in the percentage of high school students passing college-level exams. Numbers like these have made Florida the nation's most-watched laboratory for education policy. But now former Gov. Jeb Bush is holding up Florida as not just a lab, but a model.

Bush, 55, has been out of office 18 months, but his controversial policies continue to roll. And today, a who's who of education super wonks will gather in Orlando to turn a national spotlight on the changes he championed - from vouchers to school grades to merit pay for teachers. They already know what many in Florida don't - that many states are watching Florida. And a number of them like what they see.

"Florida's system has been held in pretty high regard," said Kathy Christie, chief of staff for the non-partisan Education Commission of the States, which assists policymakers nationwide. "I can't tell you how many times I've highlighted policies in Florida."

Bush's vision isn't popular in Florida. But he and his supporters insist that evidence is on their side. "Florida's education reforms have caught the attention of policymakers across the country because our students are making progress," Bush said in an e-mail to the Times. "My hope is that other states working to improve their quality of education can replicate some of the successes we have achieved." Bush's critics groan at the possibility.

The state's graduation rate remains one of the nation's worst. And critics say Bush's agenda is fueled by a right-wing ideology that has produced more spin than miracle. "There are good things going on in Florida and not good things going on," said Sherman Dorn, a University of South Florida professor whose 2007 book title, Accountability Frankenstein, riffs on the lab analogy. "Unless you're willing to see both sides, I don't think you are being realistic."

The two-day summit is sponsored by the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which Bush formed last year to "improve the quality of education in classrooms across Florida and the nation." Bush will be the keynote speaker today. Other speakers and panelists will trumpet the same brand of reform, which is heavy on school choice and high-stakes testing. Among them: Frederick Hess (director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute) and Checker Finn (president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation)

Many tend to be classified as conservative. But guests also include New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, and his schools chancellor, Joel Klein, a lifelong Democrat. All of them know the Florida story.

For better or worse, Bush pushed the envelope during eight years as governor. Florida did not have a voucher program when he was elected in 1998 and had only a handful of charter schools. Now it has nearly 40,000 students on vouchers and more than 100,000 in charters.

Bush made the FCAT the keystone of an accountability system that included school grades, and retention and intervention for struggling third-graders. More quietly, Bush and his loyalists pushed literacy in early grades and the use of test data to help teachers pinpoint where students were falling short.

Did it work? Florida's graduation rate hovers around 60 to 70 percent (though some calculations show it rising sharply). Per-pupil spending ranks in the bottom tier. Teachers are paid below the national average.

On the other hand, Florida elementary students have made the most dramatic gains in the nation on well-respected reading and math tests. The state leads the nation in the percentage of high school seniors taking advanced placement exams. And it's no longer just right-wing think tanks giving Florida credit. "I'm a big fan," said Janet Hannaway, an education researcher at the nonpartisan Urban Institute in Washington, D.C. Florida "is a very smart policymaking state, at least in education."

She and a handful of other highly regarded researchers recently looked at how Florida's accountability system affected schools with F grades. Their conclusion: Schools ended up focusing more on struggling students and devoting more time to teaching. And their students improved faster than students at schools with higher grades.

Then again, researchers also said it's too early to tell whether Florida's approach is the best one, a line other observers use about Bush's broader changes. Some ask: Will Florida students continue to make gains on national tests? Will higher scores result in higher grad rates? "The results (in Florida) so far are promising. But there's no long-term trends yet," said Alan Richard, spokesman for the nonpartisan Southern Regional Education Board.

Bush said Florida shouldn't wait on them. He described the past decade as just the beginning. "I hope we never stop trying to implement bigger, better and more audacious reforms."


Jeb Bush Supports Return Of School Vouchers

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said he will fight for two controversial amendments. One of the amendments would restore Bush's private school voucher program; the other would give lawmakers the power to send public school money to religion-based schools. Bush said he believes that one of the best ways to help needy students in struggling public schools is to give them a choice between public school and vouchers to pay for private school. In 2006, the state Supreme Court ruled the vouchers unconstitutional.

Bush launched the voucher program, and now he has joined the fight to reinstate it. He wants voters to pass Amendment Seven, called "Religious Freedom," which would eliminate the ban on using revenues from the public treasury or indirectly in aid of any church. Bush is also supporting Amendment Nine, which would reverse the Florida Supreme Court decision to prohibit funding of private school alternatives, such as vouchers. "The simple fact is the Florida Legislature should have the say, the policy at the state level as it applies to education policy, not an unaccountable Supreme Court," Bush said. "I think Floridians will support that. What role I'll play is yet to be determined."

Gay Parker of the Seminole County Education Association is part of a teacher's union movement suing to eject the amendments from the ballot. "Experimental programs are not the answer," Parker said. He said with plummeting state revenues and teacher layoffs, it does not make sense to give money to private schools. "It's not fair, it's not proper, I don't believe that it is legal and FEA (Florida Education Association) is going to argue that position," Parker said.

Amendment Five is another controversial amendment that will be on the ballot in November. It would eliminate local school property taxes, forcing state and local lawmakers to come up with new money, possibly through new sales or service taxes.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Britain: Kids should learn to be tough

"Happiness lessons" that are used in many schools to teach children to be sensitive, empathetic and caring are under threat from a new hardline approach that advocates mental toughness. Academics say that instilling a robust attitude among pupils can improve their exam performance, behaviour and aspirations dramatically. Mentally tough children are less likely to regard themselves as victims of bullying and will not be deterred by initial failure. Having this outlook can be learnt, according to Peter Clough, head of psychology at the University of Hull.

Along with AQR, a psychometric-testing company, he is conducting a long-term study of children and evaluating their mental toughness. His ideas - based on sports psychology - have been used in industry. Dr Clough claims that a simple test and follow-up techniques can transform performance. He said: "We know that students with higher levels of mental toughness perform better in exams. They are also less likely to perceive themselves as being bullied and are more likely to behave more positively. "We also know that by using a variety of techniques - many of them very simple - we can increase an individual's level of mental toughness."

Dr Clough is working with 181 pupils aged 11 and 12 at All Saints Catholic High School in Knowsley, Merseyside. He will help to make them mentally tough and hopes this will "open doors of opportunities that they would not previously have considered". Parents and teachers are also being shown the intervention techniques.

Dr Clough said: "There is no point in working with pupils who then go into a classroom environment where nobody understands the process, and home to parents who have no interest. Showing the teachers how the techniques work means that the benefits that pupils are getting from this study can be repeated year after year."

Dr Clough and his team measured the levels of resilience and emotional sensitivity of pupils using a questionnaire. They then picked almost 40 pupils with low scores. They are now using techniques to improve their rating, such as visualisation, anxiety control and relaxation, improving their attention span and setting goals.

It comes a week after two academics said the emphasis on Seal (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning) was "infantilising" students. Dennis Hayes and Kathryn Ecclestone, of Oxford Brookes University, said that teenagers were encouraged to talk about their emotions at the expense of acquiring knowledge. This left them unable to cope on their own. They pointed to the increased presence of parents on campus, and of counsellors and support officers, saying that "everyone was looking for a disability to declare".

Dr Clough said that he helped children to set realistic goals and used techniques that worked rapidly. These include imagining scenarios and random-number tests that forced them to concentrate. He said: "Really concentrating is a skill a lot of them have never had. We try to get them to realise they are in control of their lives and need to stick a foot in the door when they get the opportunity. No one else is going to make that decision. "They don't recognise that people who are successful sometimes have less ability but more drive. They are drawn to a 'shortcut culture' of instant success and dream of winning The X Factor, but don't see that you need to practise before auditions."

Of happiness lessons, which aim to boost self-esteem, Dr Clough said: "All the positive thinking in the world isn't going to make a third look like a 2:1."


To Curb Truancy, Dallas Tries Electronic Monitoring

Jaime Pacheco rolled out of bed at dawn last week to the blaring chorus of two alarms. Then Jaime, a 15-year-old high school freshman, smoothed his striped comforter, dumped two scoops of kibble for the dogs out back and strapped a G.P.S. monitor to his belt.

By 7:15, Jaime was in the passenger seat of his grandmother's sport-utility vehicle, holding the little black monitor out the window for the satellite to register. A few miles down the road, at Bryan Adams High School in East Dallas, he got out of the car, said goodbye to his grandmother and paused to press a button on the unit three times. A green light flashed, and then Jaime headed for the cafeteria with plenty of time before the morning bell.

It was not always like this. Jaime used to snooze until 2 p.m. before strolling into school. He fell so far behind that he is failing most of his classes and school officials sent him to truancy court. Instead of juvenile detention, Jaime was selected by a judge to be enrolled in a pilot program at Bryan Adams in which chronically truant students are monitored electronically. Since Jaime started carrying the Global Positioning System unit April 1, he has had perfect attendance.

"I'm just glad they didn't take him to jail," said Jaime's grandmother Diana Mendez, who raised him. "He's a good kid. He was just on a crooked path."

Educators are struggling to meet stricter state and federal mandates, including those of the No Child Left Behind Act, on attendance and graduation rates. The Dallas school system, which, like other large districts, has found it difficult to manage the large numbers of truant students, is among the first in the nation to experiment with the electronic monitoring. "Ten years ago the issue of truancy just slid by," said Jay Smink, executive director of the National Dropout Prevention Center. "Now the regulations are forcing them to adhere to the policies."

Nearly one-third of American students drop out of school, and Dallas has the seventh-worst graduation rate among large school districts, according to a study released in April by America's Promise Alliance, founded by Colin L. Powell, the former secretary of state.

At Bryan Adams, 9 of the more than 300 students sent to truancy court this year are enrolled in the six-week pilot program. The effort is financed by a $26,000 grant from Bruce Leadbetter, an equity investor who supports the program's goals. The bulk of the money pays the salary of a full-time case manager, who monitors the students and works with parents and teachers. "I can't do anything with them if they don't come to school," said Cynthia Goodsell, the principal at Bryan Adams.

Kyle Ross, who runs the in-school suspension program at Bryan Adams, was skeptical of the electronic monitoring until he saw that it worked. "We're always yearning for something tangible to use as tools to teach self-efficacy," Mr. Ross said. "Everyone's so overwhelmed. We'll try anything."

Dallas's experiments in tracking truancy started three years ago. Last year, case managers used a G.P.S. system to locate a truant student on the verge of overdosing on drugs, and they discovered that a student had skipped school because he was contemplating suicide.

Ricardo Pacheco, 18, who is no relation to Jaime, said electronic monitoring had helped him get on track last year, despite advice from his friends to "just yank it off." "It was easier to come to school each day, stay out of the streets and be home every night," said Mr. Pacheco, a father of two young children and a former gang leader. Now he is about to become the first male from his father's side of the family to graduate. "They all dropped out or are in jail," Mr. Pacheco said.


Australia: Stupid woman revives failed Leftist idea

The heavy diversion of teacher attention to problem students required in "integrated" schools deprives normal students of needed attention

QUEENSLAND Liberal Senator Sue Boyce has called for special schools to be scrapped and disabled children sent into mainstream education. Senator Boyce, who has a daughter with Down syndrome, said it was time someone was "brave" and "crazy" enough to push for total integration of students. "We won't fix education until we abolish special schools," Senator Boyce told a Down Syndrome Association of Queensland fundraiser last week. "If mainstream schools had no option but to accept children with disabilities, they would concentrate on how to make it work, not how to avoid getting involved. "And if all the human and funding resources currently tied up in special schools were handed over to the mainstream system, it would be so much easier to make it work."

Senator Boyce said her 24-year-old daughter had always gone to mainstream schools and is now a bakery assistant. "In the 60s and 70s, no one believed a child with Down syndrome could be educated," she said. "Special anything is a way of excluding them from the community."

She said she had yet to express her opinion to her Liberal Party counterparts because it was her "personal view". But Education Minister Julia Gillard said special schools had an important role in educating many Australian students. "The Rudd Labor Government has promised an education revolution to ensure no Australian kids miss out on a quality education," Ms Gillard said last week. "Unfortunately, it seems the Liberal Party's only plan for education is to shut down schools."


Monday, June 23, 2008

The Groves of Academe Contain Vast Petrified Forests

It is to laugh. The Chicago Tribune reports Naming U. of C. research center after Nobel Prize winner [Milton Friedman] has faculty split --
Critics says proposed Milton Friedman Institute would be a right-wing think tank In a letter to U. of C. President Robert Zimmer, 101 professors-about 8 percent of the university's full-time faculty-said they feared that having a center named after the conservative, free-market economist could "reinforce among the public a perception that the university's faculty lacks intellectual and ideological diversity."

In the article the go-to guy for the potent quote is frequent Chicago Tribune contributor and U of C divinity professor Bruce Lincoln, a man whose claim to "diversity of thought" is the course he teaches on "The Theology of George W. Bush" (Hint: He's agin' it. )
"It is a right-wing think tank being put in place," said Bruce Lincoln, a professor of the history of religions and one of the faculty members who met with the administration Tuesday. "The long-term consequences will be very severe. This will be a flagship entity and it will attract a lot of money and a lot of attention, and I think work at the university and the university's reputation will take a serious rightward turn to the detriment of all."

A center named after one of the towering intellects of the age is a "detriment to all?" Lets take a look at Bruce Lincoln's less than distinguished CV at the U of C :
"[Lincoln's] research tends to focus on the religions of pre-Christian Europe and pre-Islamic Iran, but he has a notoriously short attention span and has also written on a wide variety of topics, including Guatemalan curanderismo, Lakota sun dances, Melanesian funerary rituals, Swazi kingship, the Saint Bartholomew's Day massacre, Marco Polo, professional wrestling, and the theology of George W. Bush. - Bruce Lincoln @ The University of Chicago Divinity School

When not busy with ADD, Lincoln evidently labors over his patented George Bush Decoder ring ( Code for Vote for Me: Speaking in the Tongue of Evangelicals) as his excuse for an original contribution to knowledge. Oh yes, he also believes that Christian fundamentalists are very bad and was shocked, shocked at Abu Ghraib:
Only when Seymour Hersh, our modern Ctesias, secured publication of these photos were the signs of hero and villain inverted, so that a broad audience could read the story as one of moral depravity. FROM ARTAXERXES TO ABU GHRAIB: ON RELIGION AND THE PORNOGRAPHY OF IMPERIAL VIOLENCE
You've gotta love a mind so colonized by lock-step thinking and swollen with self-importance that it could toss off the phrase "Seymour Hersh, our modern Ctesias." I can just hear the deep internal chortle when that one rolled out of the keyboard. He probably sipped sherry over it for months at the faculty club.

You've gotta love a mind so colonized by lock-step thinking and swollen with self-importance that it could toss off the phrase "Seymour Hersh, our modern Ctesias." I can just hear the deep internal chortle when that one rolled out of the keyboard. He probably sipped sherry over it for months at the faculty club.

Having a drudge like Lincoln call to reject a real intellect such as Friedman only underscore the leading affliction in the Groves of Academe today: Intellectual Insanity, a dread disease that cripples and kills minds that might otherwise have been used to ask the universe: "Do you want fries with that?"


Academic Hokey Pokey

Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs points to the rather sophomoric rantings of a San Francisco `academic.' He points to an article by one George Bisharat a professor of law at Hastings College of Law. Bisharat takes issue with Israel as a `Jewish' state. He does not seem to recall that most of the middle east claim to be Muslim states- and given the barbarous track record of those broken, failed and dysfunctional states, he is in no position to take umbrage at Israel. Bisharat is not the first Arab academic with no clothes.

The LA Times published an Op-Ed piece, Why Does The Times Recognize Israel's `Right To Exist'?, by Saree Makdisi. The piece is a toast to drivel,absurdity and deceit, masquerading as `informed thought.' Mr Makdisi provides a textbook look at malignant narcissism and the consequences of that behavior (an accurate, if unflattering review by his peers can be found here). In the Op-Ed piece, Makdisi begins his remarks with outright and characteristic deceit:
First, the formal diplomatic language of "recognition" is traditionally used by one state with respect to another state. It is literally meaningless for a non-state to "recognize" a state. Moreover, in diplomacy, such recognition is supposed to be mutual. In order to earn its own recognition, Israel would have to simultaneously recognize the state of Palestine. This it steadfastly refuses to do (and for some reason, there are no high-minded newspaper editorials demanding that it do so).

It is not "meaningless" when a `non-state' not only refuses to `recognize' a state, but also insists on destroying that state, her inhabitants and publicly promises a new genocide (Mr Makdisi cannot make those pesky audio tapes, video tapes, newspapers, school curricula and `religious' broadcasts go away). In addition, Mr Makdisi also cannot make the opposite true- if the Palestinians are a non-state, they are not automatically entitled to any kind of special recognition or support by Israel or the international community any more than are the more deserving Kurds or a thousand and one other indigenous groups.

The Palestinians are a recent political construct and no more, who came into being after Egypt and Jordan washed their hands of them. Makdisi would predictably argue that Israel too, is a recent political construct, and to some extent, he would be correct. The reality of course is that the Palestinian political entity came to the show later on and as such, are a day late and a dollar short. Mr Makdisi is free to adopt an Orwellian dance of historical revisionisim and deny Jewish history and ties to the Holy land as do some of his colleagues, but it seems clear he wants to maintain the facade of intellectual credibility. Makdisi continues:
Second, which Israel, precisely, are the Palestinians being asked to "recognize?" Israel has stubbornly refused to declare its own borders. So, territorially speaking, "Israel" is an open-ended concept. Are the Palestinians to recognize the Israel that ends at the lines proposed by the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan? Or the one that extends to the 1949 Armistice Line (the de facto border that resulted from the 1948 war)? Or does Israel include the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which it has occupied in violation of international law for 40 years - and which maps in its school textbooks show as part of "Israel"?

For that matter, why should the Palestinians recognize an Israel that refuses to accept international law, submit to U.N. resolutions or readmit the Palestinians wrongfully expelled from their homes in 1948 and barred from returning ever since?

What mindless drivel! Makdisi is attempting, in his own words, `recycle meaningless phrases than to ask - let alone to answer - difficult questions.' Israel's borders were absolutely defined until the Arab world insisted that they would redefine them, permanently, in 1967.
In 1967, Egypt kicked out UN peace keepers from the Sinai Peninsula. They massed troops on Israel's borders and threatened her destruction. Radio broadcasts at the time, monitored and recorded, exhorted Arab troops to an orgy of destruction, rivers of blood and rape- literally, saying these was Islamic destiny. Syria followed suit, massing borders on Israels northern flank. The Gulf of Aqaba was blockaded (an act of war in itself) and despite pleas from Israel to Jordan's King Hussein, he too was to enter the fray.

In response, Israel called up it's armed forces and reserves and on June 5, 1967, launched a preemptive strike against Egypt, Syria and Jordan. It was over in 6 days. By then, Israel has crossed the Suez Canal and had taken Gaza (Dayan said, "Give me 12 hours and I can be in Cairo."

Israel offered the land back, for peace, secure borders and mutual recognition. The Arab countries said no and ratified that `No' in The Khartoum Declaration of 1968. There it was decided that violence would not cease until Israel and her inhabitants were destroyed.

Makdisi seems oblivious to the reality of realpolitick. Virtually every nation in the world came into existence by way of conflict of one kind or another. Further, Makdisi makes no mention of Palestinian and Arab world textbooks that make no recognition of Israel at all. Nor does he deal with the reality that the Palestinian curricula and media have made the physical destruction of Israel- and Jews- a reality. Makdisi also does not address the perverted religious component of that reality.

Makdisi's concern for the Palestinians is touching. That said, his concern for the equal number of Jews booted out of Arab nations at the time is non existent. He seems to conveniently forget that UN Resolution 194 was intended to address the rights of all refugees in the region. Saree Makdisi and UC Berkeley's Sandy Tolan (we wrote about Tolan here) share a similar ideological platform. They differ in a few significant ways, however.

Tolan is self serving- that is, Sandy Tolan has found a niche to exploit and does so with great solemnity and with an all knowing, didactic approach ("let me explain what is really happening"). That is ideal for the NPR pablum that allows Tolan a showcase for his shallowness. That he needs to break with reality is a necessary trompe L'oeil, much like that of the Three Card Monte huckster that needs to deceive to make a living. He knows he's deceiving everyone watching, but hey, it's a living and besides, he means well.

Saree Makdisi is another story. His kind of deceit is much more significant, because his deceit is predicated on defending and then promulgating an agenda of hate. Makdisi wants you to believe he 'speaks our language' and shares `our cultural values,' his ideas are meritorious and his interpretation of events in the Middle East are correct. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.

He says say the Palestinians are `just like us,' only misunderstood, because of the Israel, AIPAC, and the conspiracy theory du jour. They have kids, go to work, come home and have dinner, and they want the exact same thing we do. Sounds reasonable, right. The Palestinians are just like the Israelis, right? They are the same, right?

Well, there are a few differences Saree Makdisi neglects to mention. He would have you believe that just because Palestinians agree that hamburgers, fried chicken and pizza are terrific, we are all the same. The same Palestinians who come home and have dinner and worry about report cards are also teaching their children to hate and sometimes, even to kill some people of different races or religions. They believe in the racist and bigoted rhetoric of their society and swell with pride as their children march to the latest Hamas marching ditty, `Hamas! Hamas! Jews to the Gas!` and they listen attentively as Palestinian media reinforce racism, bigotry and hate as `honorable' expressions of Palestinian `dignity.'

That is like saying the Ku Klux Klan is a fine and upstanding organization because they have bake sales and sponsor Little League baseball teams. Truth be told, there is very little, if any, difference between what is taught in Palestinian schools and what is KKK ideology. Makdisi and his ilk blur the the lines in the Middle East out of contempt for democracy and freedom and to further a racist agenda. His claim to be motivated by `justice' or `peace' is laughable. In supporting causes whose fundamental underpinnings are hate, intolerance and for the denial of participation by those who are different from themselves, he is exposed for who and what he is and who and what he believes in. Saree Makdisi is no more concerned about `justice' or `peace' than is the Ku Klux Klan- and he knows it.

From a political standpoint, Israel has every right to demand recognition and renunciation of violence from the Palestinians. For decades, the `occupation' of the West Bank and Gaza, brought on by the Arab world and their subsequent refusal to negotiate for peace, has been the most benign occupation in history.

That said, Israel does not need recognition from the Palestinians or even the Arab world. They are among the most backward, corrupt and dysfunctional regimes in history. Israel stands to gain absolutely nothing from diplomatic ties with the Arab world.

Outside the Arab world, Israel has relations with almost every single nation on earth. Even nations that do not have formal relations maintain a not so discreet `open door policy.' Israel and the rest of the civilized world maintain world class exchanges of scientific, educational, technological and cultural programs.

According to the UN Human Development Report, the Arab world is at the bottom of the education barrel. If Saree Makdisi really cared about the welfare of the Palestinians or the Arab world, he would be demanding that the Palestinians and Arab world forge ties with a nation that could offer them so much- and would, despite their mistreatment. That alone speaks volumes about the differences between western democracies and democratic values and the dysfunctional Arab world.

Instead, Makdisi and his ilk are only to happy to see the Palestinians rot. He's quite the Arab champion. He displays the characteristics of a malignant narcissist: "The malignant narcissist is presented as pathologically grandiose, lacking in conscience and behavioral regulation with characteristic demonstrations of joyful cruelty and sadism." He may like burgers and pizza, but he is nothing like us at all.


Australia: Senior High School students opting out of bullsh*t courses in English

ALMOST a quarter of Queensland's senior students are studying an easier communications subject rather than mainstream English, according to latest research. Some students admit they are dropping out of English because they regard the course as too hard, and too big a risk in terms of getting a pass to ensure a Senior Certificate. Of the 44,000 senior students studying English subjects last year, 10,500 students chose English Communication, an increase of 300 on the previous year. The course had 209 students when introduced in 1995.

Education Minister Rod Welford is not concerned about the numbers, arguing English Communication with its emphasis on practical assignments rather than poetry, suits students headed on vocational pathways. However respected principals and English academics believe an investigation is needed into the teaching of mainstream English at both state and independent schools. They fear the English curriculum, with its emphasis on "deconstructing" texts and poetry, is creating a generation of students "burnt out" and capable of only writing "gibberish" at university.

Dr Tim Wright, headmaster of Sydney Church of England Grammar School, believes English should no longer be looked upon as a compulsory subject after Year 10 and students could be given more input into the curriculum. "I think in education, the voices that we often least listen to are the voices of the kids," he said.

English Teachers Association of Queensland president Garry Collins said he could see the value in a system which was voluntary, but believes students also needed to study English through to Year 12. "The vast majority of students should do some English throughout school. It is an important part of managing teenagers to allow them to make their own informed choices," he said.

The English Teachers Association of Queensland has prepared a submission on the English curriculum, but Mr Collins declined to comment until it was reviewed by the Queensland Studies Authority. Mr Welford is confident on the outcome of the current review of the English curriculum after concerns students were learning "mumbo jumbo" due to the emphasis on critical literacy theory.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

German Homeschooling Parents Sentenced to Three Months in Prison

Sieg heil to Germany's modern-day Fascists!

The parents of a homeschooling family in the German state of Hesse have each been sentenced to three months in prison for the crime of homeschooling their seven children. According to a staff attorney for the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), the sentence was issued to Juergen and Rosemarie Dudek after the federal prosecutor, Herwig Muller, said last year that he was dissatisfied with the fines the couple had already paid for homeschooling their children.

As reported by WorldNetDaily (WND), staff attorney for the Home School Legal Defense Association, Mike Donnelly, was appalled by the decision. "Words escape me, it's unconscionable, incredible, shocking." He then affirmed, "They will appeal of course." He concluded by summarizing the actions of the prosecutor: "You guys are rebelling against the state. We're going to punish you."

Homeschooling is illegal in Germany under a law dating back to the Hitler era. Homeschooling families in the country have faced increasing persecution in recent years, with police in several cases physically transporting children to school and even removing one teenager from her parent's care. A spokesperson for the German homeschool advocacy group, Netzwork-Bildungsfreiheit, commented on the mandatory public school attendance laws, which deem homeschooling families to be in breach of the state's criminal code. "It is embarrassing the German officials put parents into jail whose children are well educated and where the family is in good order," wrote Joerg Grosseleumern. "We personally know the Dudeks as such a family."

WND also reported that Judge Peter Hobbel, who originally imposed the fines on the parents, criticized the school system for denying the requests of the parents to have their "private school" recognized.

In a previous WND article, it was noted that the Dudek's wrote a letter to the HSLDA regarding a new law that gives German authorities the right of "withdrawal of parental custody as one of the methods for punishing 'uncooperative' parents." The law is essentially enacted when "child abuse" is suspected. Conveniently, German courts have consistently deemed homeschooling a form of child abuse. "The new law is seen as a logical step in carving up family rights after a federal court had decided that homeschooling was an abuse of custody," read the letter signed by Juergen Dudek.

In a blog, Wolfgang Drautz, consul general for the Federal Republic of Germany, attempted to defend these new developments, saying the government "has a legitimate interest in countering the rise of parallel societies that are based on religion." Arno Meissner, the chief of the government's local education department, has also promulgated the government's intolerance of homeschooling families, confirming they will continually rely upon the mandatory school attendance law.


Selective schools condemn thousands to failure, says British school boss

The fact that their phasing out has coincided with fewer working class kids going to university must not be mentioned, of course. Grammar schools have long been Britain's best ladder out of poverty for bright pupils but the socialists hate them

Ed Balls, the Children's Secretary, launched his most brutal attack yet on grammar schools, accusing them of condemning thousands of pupils to educational failure. He said the existence of the 11-plus in some areas created a damaging two-tier system in which many children fell behind. In a speech to headteachers, Mr Balls insisted those who missed out on grammar school places were made to feel like they had "already failed" at the age of 11. The comments were made as he unveiled a multi-million pound package to improve standards at struggling secondary moderns - non-selective schools in grammar school areas

The National Grammar Schools Association accused Mr Balls of a "secret plan" to abolish grammars. It also came as Labour sought to reopen Conservatives splits over selective education. Michael Gove, the Tory shadow children's secretary, visited a grammar school in Trafford - a year after the party was engulfed in a damaging row over its decision not to open any more selective schools. Mr Gove insisted grammars should be "absolutely defended" where they already existed and that other secondaries could learn from top-performing academic schools. But he insisted it did not amount to a U-turn, accusing the Government of using education policy "not as a means of improving children's futures but scoring political points".

It marks the latest twist in a long-running row over the future of England's few remaining selective schools. Academic selection was abolished in the 1970s with the introduction of comprehensive education in most counties. But 170 secondary moderns and 164 grammars still exist in areas such as Kent, Lincolnshire, Birmingham and Buckinghamshire which retained the 11-plus.

Addressing a conference in Birmingham, Mr Balls said: "Let me make it clear that I don't like selection. I accept though that selection is a local decision for parents and local authorities. "But I do not accept that children in secondary moderns should be left to fall behind. Some secondary moderns are showing that it is possible to achieve really excellent results, but the fact is that selection does make it more difficult for these schools. "They still have a much more deprived intake than their neighbouring grammar schools - over six times more in fact. "And I've heard first-hand how some of the young people starting in these schools feel on day one that they have already failed."

Under a new "secondary modern strategy" being published next month, up to 1m pounds will go to the worst-performing schools over three years and new partnerships will be made with outstanding schools nearby. Mr Balls also hinted that headteachers could receive extra pay to work in secondary moderns.

Last year, the Conservatives faced a revolt by backbenchers after severing the party's long-standing ties with the 11-plus. Graham Brady, then shadow Europe minister, quit over the move. Mr Gove visited a series of comprehensives and grammars in Mr Brady's Altrincham and Sale West constituency. He said: "More broadly, the Conservative party has always said that where grammar schools exist and where they command the support of the local community, then they should be absolutely defended because we believe in not just excellence in education but also respecting local wishes. "Our policy has not changed. We are clear that there will be no return to the 11-plus nationally but we are also clear that, where good schools exist, it would be foolish not to learn from their success and see how we can apply those more widely across the state system."

Mr Brady said: "I think it ought to be possible to have elements of selection but that is a political discussion which can be had. "Michael's visit has very clearly demonstrated that there is no educational argument against selective areas and there is no social argument that we are achieving opportunities for all children in grammar schools and high schools."

But Jim Knight, the Government's schools minister, sought to exploit what he described as Tory splits over selective schools. Last year, Dominic Grieve, a Buckinghamshire MP and new shadow home secretary, said more grammars should be opened in the county if they were needed. "We do not know where David Cameron or Michael Gove really stand or what Conservative Party policy is today," said Mr Knight. "David Cameron has relied on shallow salesmanship to dodge the tough questions for over a year but it's now time for the Tories to come clean."


California: Stupid Muslim nerd who hacked his school grades faces 38 years in jail

It could be a long time before Omar Khan goes to college: as long as 38 years, according to Orange County prosecutors, who have arrested and charged the 18-year-old student with breaking into his prestigious high school and hacking into computers to change his test grades from Fs to As. If convicted on all 69 counts, including altering and stealing public records, computer fraud, burglary, identity theft, receiving stolen property and conspiracy, Mr Khan could spend almost four decades in prison. He is currently being held on $50,000 bail and is scheduled to appear in court today.

Mr Khan's defence lawyer, Carol Lavacol, described her client as "a really nice kid" and said: "There's a lot more going on than meets the eye." Prosecutors claim that between January and May, Mr Khan, who lives in Coto de Caza, one of Orange County's oldest and most expensive gated communities, repeatedly broke into Tesoro High School, which was made famous by the reality TV series Real Housewives of Orange County.

In an alleged plot that resembles the script to the 1986 high school comedy Ferris Bueller's Day Off, prosecutors claim that he then used teachers' passwords to hack into computers and change his test scores. In at least one test, an English exam, Mr Khan had been given an F grade because he was caught cheating.

Prosecutors claim that the teenager, who is alleged to have broken into the school late at night with a stolen master key, also changed the grades of 12 other students, and that he installed spyware on school hard drives that allowed him to access the computers from remote locations.

Tesoro High has 2,800 pupils and often appears in Newsweek magazine's annual list of best high schools.

Mr Khan's plan, the prosecution argues, was to get a place at one of the colleges within the University of California system. After his application was rejected, he requested copies of his student records, known as "transcripts" in the US educational system, so he could appeal. But when teachers looked at his files and noticed all the A grades that had magically appeared next to all the courses he had taken they realised something was wrong.

"School administrators alerted law enforcement after noticing a discrepancy in Mr Khan's grades," the Orange County District Attorney's office said. "Subsequent investigation revealed that Mr Khan was in possession of original tests, test questions and answers, and copies of his altered grades. Khan is accused of stealing master copies of tests, some of which were e-mailed to dozens of students."

The case has once again raised the question of whether technology, in particular mobile phones that can access the internet, has resulted in an epidemic of cheating in the high-school system. The Orange County Register, a local newspaper, asked its readers yesterday to respond to a poll asking if "technology is giving [students] an advantage", or whether it is just "the same stuff using new tools".

Another student, Tanvir Singh, also 18, is accused of conspiring with Mr Khan and faces up to three years in prison. The pair allegedly exchanged text messages last month while organising a break-in.

Jim Amormino, of the local sheriff's department, said that he was astonished by the sophistication of the scheme, especially given the age of the defendants. "I think they [now] wish they would have put their talents into studying," he said.