Saturday, July 26, 2008

Deprived white boys inspired by action stories, British regulator says

Goody-goody feminist pap useless

White boys from deprived backgrounds need action-packed stories about danger or sport to inspire them in lessons, Ofsted, the education regulator, said yesterday. They do worse at school than any other group, which has increased concerns that white, working-class boys are becoming an educational underclass.

Advice on how schools should engage with such pupils was published yesterday by Ofsted after it looked at 20 schools where white boys from low income families had done comparatively well. It recommended rigorous monitoring but also teaching boys how to communicate and express emotions. They needed active involvement in lessons, explicit targets to work towards and approachable teachers, the report said. "In the most successful literacy activities, teachers took care to choose texts that interested the boys," Ofsted said. "These tended to focus on action-packed narratives which emphasised sporting prowess, courageous activities in the face of danger and situations where characters had to overcome challenges."

The report said schools that successfully raised the attainment of white boys from poor backgrounds shared features including developing boys' organisational skills, emphasising the importance of perseverance, a curriculum structured around individual needs and listening to pupils' views.

Emotional support was also important, with one school appointing teaching assistants who kept a "mood watch" on the most vulnerable pupils. Another school had success with boys after asking a group that was being rewarded with cakes for doing well why it was predominantly made up of girls. One girl said: "It's not that boys are not clever. They mostly are, but they need quick results. You just have to be showing them the cakes."


Australia: Men too afraid to teach

WHERE have all the male school teachers gone? Figures obtained by The Bulletin reveal there has been a consistent decline in male teachers across the Gold Coast region, with females outnumbering males by almost four to one in the classroom. Poor salary and a negative perception of the industry has been blamed for the drop in the number of males taking up teaching.

Since 2003, there has been nearly a 2 per cent decrease in the number of full-time male state school teachers -- from 29.1 per cent to 27.2 per cent. But figures reveal males still dominate the hierarchy in teaching with just 53 female state school principals in the south coast region compared with 80 males.

Queensland Teachers Union President Steve Ryan highlighted two main reasons for the dearth of male teachers. "The level of salary to attract particularly males to the teaching workforce is very low," he said. "Males tend to look at engineering and computer work because there is more money." Mr Ryan said the salary for a beginner teacher was about $48,000 and ranged up to $72,000 for senior teachers.

"Then you've got a principal of large school of about 1000 kids who would be on something like $100,000 with probably more than 150 staff. "The thing is, if you were running a company of that size you'd be on much more."

Mr Ryan said the other issue was that male teachers felt 'very vulnerable'. "The ongoing negative reports and emphasis on pedophiles and sexual assaults gives the job a bad name," he said. "For males there's a problem if a little Grade 1 kid comes up and grabs them on the leg. "It's got to be about changing the attractiveness of the profession and the perception, because right now people think you can't be a male in the teaching profession because allegations can be made against you."

Mr Ryan said increases in the quality of people entering the teaching profession was an essential step to changing the industry's image. "We'd like to see more of the higher OP people going through because it's important to have good quality teachers," he said. "We need to have this perception that this is a rewarding career."

An Education Queensland spokeswoman said the department actively promoted teaching, particularly for primary schools where there were fewer male teachers. "Positive male teacher role models are very important, both in terms of educational and social impacts and in demonstrating to our students that teaching is a vital and rewarding profession," she said. "The issue of male teachers requires particular attention and is one of the challenges facing the department."

Education Queensland said the proportion of male primary school teachers was about 18 per cent, about 40 per cent at secondary schools and 19 per cent in special education. The gender breakdown of staff in all of the classified teaching positions in the south coast region including principals, deputy principals, heads of department, heads of special education services and heads of curriculum is 440 female compared to 267 male.

In a bid to increase male teacher numbers, the department instigated a Male Teachers' Strategy which it conducted between 2002 and 2005. The department said Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre data indicated an improvement in the number of males seeking teaching qualifications. "Since 2002, the number of males enrolling in an education course has increased significantly by 365 (49.8 per cent)," said the spokeswoman. But local universities enrolments do not reflect this figure. Bond University reported nine males and 31 females were currently enrolled in education courses. At Griffith University there are 1082 males out of 4205 students studying education this year.


Friday, July 25, 2008

British State schools join the revolt against 'too easy' High School exams

Fifteen schools yesterday became the first state schools to ditch A-levels for a more traditional rival. A total of 50 schools – including 15 state-maintained schools and colleges – will offer pupils the new Cambridge Pre-U, designed along the lines of the pre-coursework A-levels with tougher essay-style questions, when it becomes available for the first time in September.

The new exam poses a threat to the Government's A-level reforms, which will see the introduction of an A* grade for the first time for students starting their course in September. Supporters of Pre-U claim the reforms are "too little, too late".

One school, King Edward VI grammar in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, a 500-pupil boys' school, will abandon A-level English on the ground that it no longer prepares pupils for university study, according to its headteacher, Tim Moore-Bridger. The school may also switch pupils to Pre-U in German and French. "I have for a long time been dissatisfied with the present structure of A-levels," he said. "I am sure what we're giving pupils at the moment [with A-levels] is not good preparation for university success – in particular the fact that they can go up without having written an essay to speak of." He said that the new modern languages syllabus for A-levels – also to be introduced in September – had cut out the study of literature to concentrate on speaking and listening skills. "New A-levels have pretty well removed literature totally from modern languages," he added.

Mr Moore-Bridger said other subjects could follow suit, with maths next in line: "Who knows? If it is successful, we could be all Pre-U in five to 10 years." He said he disliked the A-levels' "retake mentality" whereby pupils could sit a module again if they failed to make their required grade the first time.

Coloma Convent Girls' School in Croydon, south London – a 1,050-pupil Catholic school, is to become the first comprehensive to switch from A-level to Pre U, offering a Pre-U in business management. Andrew Corish, its headteacher, believes the new exam will offer pupils a better opportunity to develop a business plan than the A-level. He said A-levels did not allow pupils to develop thinking skills.

The Pre-U, devised by University of Cambridge International Examinations, includes three-hour essay-style questions. A-level questions tend to give pupils 15 minutes to develop an answer. The Pre-U will have nine different grades – including three distinctions (D1, D2 and D3) which would roughly be the equivalent of an A-grade pass in A-level – now awarded to one in four scripts. Even with the introduction of the A* grade, it would still offer university admissions tutors a better way to distinguish between high-flying candidates.

It has already won accreditation from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the Government's exams watchdog, which means schools can receive government funding to offer it, and the University and College Admissions Service is expected to rank it alongside A-levels.

This autumn the Government is launching specialist diplomas in five subjects, and some schools are offering the International Baccalaureate. The Government announced yesterday that it is drawing up proposals to rank schools on their pupils' well-being. In evidence to the Commons Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families, it agreed that too much emphasis was being placed on test or exam results in ranking schools. The ranking for pupil well-being will take account of how much sport is played and whether children are healthy or overweight.


Report: US behind in doubling science grads

A high-profile push by business groups to double the number of U.S. bachelor's degrees awarded in the United States in science, math, and engineering by 2015 is falling way behind target, a new report says. In 2005, 15 prominent business groups warned that a lack of expert workers and teachers posed a threat to U.S. competitiveness and said the country would need 400,000 new graduates in the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields by 2015.

In an update published July 15, the group reports the number of degrees in those fields rose slightly earlier in the decade, citing figures from the years after 2001 that have become available since the first report was published. But the number of degrees has since flattened out at around 225,000 per year.

The coalition, representing groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Defense Industrial Association, said there has been substantial bipartisan support in Washington for boosting science training, including passage last year of the "America Competes Act," which promotes math and science.

But Susan Traiman, director of education and work force policy for the Business Roundtable, an organization of corporate CEOs, said there's been insufficient follow-through with funding to support the programs. Other countries, she said, are doing more to shift incentives toward science training. "The concern that CEOs have is if we wait for a Sputnik-like event, it's very hard to turn around and get moving on the kind of timeline we would need," said Traiman, referring to the Soviet Union's launch of the first artificial satellite in 1957, which prompted a massive U.S. commitment to science investment. "It still takes a minimum of 17 years to produce an engineer, if you consider K-12 plus four years of colleges," she said.

Some critics have called concerns from business about the number of science graduates overblown and self-serving. They have argued that if there really were a pent-up demand for scientists, more students would naturally move toward those fields without massive incentives from taxpayers. But William Green, CEO and chairman of Accenture, a giant global consulting company, called such criticisms "nonsense," adding the whole country benefits from competitive companies. "This is on the top three CEO agendas of every company I know," Green told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Green said Accenture, which will hire about 58,000 people worldwide this year, will spend $780 million on training. "I feel like I can step up to the table and say I'm doing my part. Other companies are doing the same thing," Green said. "What I'm suggesting is I really could use more raw material. That's about having federal leadership." Elsewhere in the world, he sees "a laser focus," both in the public and private sectors, on developing work forces for competitive companies.

The report, by the group Tapping America's Potential, which has grown to represent 16 business groups, also argues that the failure of Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform has hurt U.S. competitiveness by making it difficult to retain high-skill workers who study at American universities.

Although there appears to be, if anything, a surplus in the job market of scientists with doctoral degrees, the case for boosting bachelor's degrees is stronger--especially for people who go into teaching, where teachers who have college-level subject training are generally more effective.

Last week, the National Research Council--a group that provides policy advice under a congressional charter--issued a report calling for more support for professional master's degrees programs. The idea would be to provide advanced training to more people in fields such as chemistry and biology, which require less time and money than doctoral degrees.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

New York Law Revokes Teacher Certs for Sex Crimes

(Albany, New York) New York Gov. David Paterson signed into law measures which automatically revoke the certification of a teacher or other school employee who is convicted of a sex crime involving a student.

Previously, school systems were saddled with a long process costing as much as $150,000 to revoke the credentials of convicted teachers. Some proceedings even had to be held inside prisons.

Thus far, the teachers' unions haven't weighed in but I think it's about time. The process of firing a teacher, when warranted, is way too cumbersome and expensive.
Why do we allow a school for scoundrels?

Despite a report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom that the Islamic Saudi Academy in Alexandria, Va., has continued to use textbooks that teach hatred of everyone not of their specific brand of faith, the U.S. State Department has yet to act to close down the school. Officials of the academy, which has about 1,000 students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12, promised to excise passages in the textbooks that disparage Jews and Christians, but according to an examination by the Washington Post for the 2006-07 school year, though "much of the controversial material had been removed, at least one book still contained passages that extolled jihad and martyrdom, called for victory over one's enemies and said the killing of adulterers and apostates was 'justified.' " Once again, Islamic Saudi Academy officials have promised to clean up the text.

There are at least two questions that should be asked. One: Are they telling us the truth this time? Probably not. Two: Why do we allow such schools in our country when nothing close to a Christian, Jewish or even secular school would be permitted in Saudi Arabia, whose government specifically treats as contraband any religious text other than the Koran and prohibits even private worship of any God but Allah? Unfortunately, such schools and hate material are not limited to the United States. According to Andrew Cochran, writing on the blog, "it appears to be more of a systemic effort by numerous Muslim educators worldwide to brainwash their children.

Textbooks used in Iran refer to the United States as the "Great Satan" and to Israel as "the regime that occupies Jerusalem," according to a study released in February by the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace. In a separate statement, the co-authors write, "The books reveal an uncompromisingly hostile attitude towards the West, especially the United States and Israel. In fact, the curriculum's declared goal is to prepare the students for a global struggle against the West which bears alarming Messianic-like features to the point of self-destruction."

This isn't the first time the Saudis have been discovered brainwashing Muslim youth, writes Cochran: "Last year, Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom released a report analyzing Saudi Ministry of Education textbooks in use for elementary and secondary students. The authors found that the books "(c)ommand Muslims to 'hate' Christians, Jews, 'polytheists' and other 'unbelievers,' including non-Wahhabi Muslims, though, incongruously, not to treat them 'unjustly' ... teach that 'Jews and the Christians are enemies of the (Muslim) believers' and that 'the clash' between the two realms is perpetual" and "instruct that 'fighting between Muslims and Jews will continue until Judgment Day, and that the Muslims are promised victory over the Jews in the end.' "

The Center for Islamic Pluralism (, a Web site that bills itself as a voice of moderate Islam, quotes David D. Aufhauser, a former Treasury Department general counsel, who told a Senate committee four years ago that estimates of Saudi spending on these schools worldwide are "north of $75 billion." The Center says that the money financed construction of thousands of mosques, schools and Islamic centers, the employment of at least 9,000 proselytizers and the printing of millions of books of religious instruction. In 2006, the noted Islamic scholar, Bernard Lewis, called Wahhabism, the Saudi brand of Islam, "the most radical, the most violent, the most extreme and fanatical version of Islam."

Why should a school funded and controlled by the Saudi government be expected to modify its beliefs to accommodate Western, Jewish and Christian sensibilities, unless it might make us lower our guard? The Center for Islamic Pluralism says Saudi Arabia has a "pervasive influence on Islamic education in the United States (that) has led to the development of a new breed of American: the jihadist."

The $2.2 million lease with Fairfax County, Va., which allows the school to operate, at least through June 2009, permits county officials to terminate the lease if the county board of supervisors determine it necessary for public "health, safety and welfare." One would be hard-pressed to find a greater threat to public health, safety and welfare than this training ground for a new generation of jihadists. The State Department isn't known for having a spine in such things. Does Fairfax County, or will it pretend it can take Saudi money without suffering consequences?


Lessons from Britain's Primary school marking meltdown

Hopelessly inaccurate marking of final grade-school exams has further undermined confidence in a British State school education

And so, a week after finding out that private school fees have rocketed, we continue with the SATs debacle. Is it really any any surprise at all that so many parents would be keen to leave the state sector if only they could afford it? Private schools, after all, can choose not to send their national curriculum tests to be externally marked and have largely escaped the whole depressing experience. The rest of us can only worry that our children are being marked wrongly, and that it will be difficult to properly measure their progression. If we care about the bigger picture (which hopefully many of us do), then our children's schools may also be wrongly penalised in league tables.

Just to add to the whole experience, we're now told that millions of 11-year-olds may end up sitting new tests when they start secondary school. Many headteachers are apparently so unwilling to trust the current system of testing, they think they have to find out for themselves.

Where does this leave us? Firstly - and most straightforwardly - it shows us that ETS (the firm marking the tests) should be removed. Secondly it leaves a huge, huge mess, with so many re-marks inevitably demanded, that an already shaky system can only collapse further. Thirdly, it seems to leave us, after all that stress and pressure, with tests that are of little use. But there are other knock-on effects too, and in some ways they are more serious.

They affect us, the parents and our children. Once in secondary school, children take exam after exam. Surely this fiasco can't have helped their confidence and faith in the examination system? Think about what they've learnt from this unhappy experience - that despite you putting in the work, results don't come when expected, and that when they do, they may be completely wrong.

But above all, I think this leaves parents depressed, disappointed and lacking in confidence. At the end of another school year, it's not just SATs that are at stake - it's the whole state school system.

People talk about going back to basics. Why don't we? Let's work out what tests we need and why. Then perhaps the Government should try to figure out whether the current system is working - if it's helping or hindering teachers and parents in their quest to give millions of children the best education possible. This whole saga is not just about some tests being marked late. It may have seemed that way at the beginning, but now that's definitely not true. State school education should not be seen as second rate, but it's increasingly looking that way. And all this from a government who seemed to genuinely want to make education a real priority.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Good Scholarship Is Worth Honoring

The University of Chicago recently announced it will create a new institute to add to its outsized reputation in economics, business and law. This became controversial because of the name: the Milton Friedman Institute. Some 100 members of the faculty last month wrote the university president to object that this would imply that the Chicago faculty "lacks intellectual and ideological diversity."

Any implication that Chicago is staffed mostly by conservatives and libertarians is amusing -- after all, one Barack Obama taught law there until he became otherwise engaged. But the larger point is that what Friedman stood for, more than any particular idea, was the importance of doing the hard work of research. This sounds like a useful thing for academia in a world with hard policy problems to address, especially in this information-focused era when we expect right answers and wrong answers and to know which is which, preferably ahead of time.

Friedman, the onetime Keynesian whose research turned him into a monetarist, defined the Chicago School of Economics as "an approach that insists on the empirical testing of theoretical generalizations and that rejects alike facts without theory and theory without facts." What had been a softer social science could be transformed to more useful knowledge, whatever ideology might be supported by the outcome. "Chicago has regarded economics as a serious subject that has something to do with the real world," he wrote. "It has considered economics a positive science, a method of analysis which has broad applications to many topics."

The work of serious economics is hardly done, two years after Friedman's death. At the Chicago business school hangs a long row of framed photographs of the 25 Nobel Prize winners in economics with affiliations to the university -- with wall space ostentatiously left to make room for many more. Yet there's also the occasional humble nod that theory, such as the idea of man as rational economic actor, can overstate reality. A favorite campus joke describes an economics student running up to Friedman and fellow economist George Stigler to ask why they had stepped over a $100 bill lying on the sidewalk. Their reply: "Don't be foolish. If there had been a $100 bill, someone would have picked it up."

One result of more than 50 years of the Chicago School is that we no longer believe there's any such thing as a free lunch, even though policy makers sometimes pretend there is. Indeed, wishful thinking upended from just this past week's headlines: Federal programs to subsidize homeownership do indeed eventually cause problems. Bailing out banks does create moral hazard and the likelihood of more bailouts. And as Friedman might have written on these pages were he still alive, going after short sellers or oil traders may be politically cathartic, but it also makes information more scarce and markets less efficient.

In other words, the Friedman approach is still needed. Despite this tempest on the Midway, U of C President Robert Zimmer shows no sign of slowing down the plan to fund the $200 million institute. It will focus on interdisciplinary analysis, with the topics to be studied including the Friedman favorite of monetary and tax policy ("This research features both the construction of dynamic stochastic equilibrium models rich enough to pose interesting macroeconomic policy problems and a formal statement of how the private sector interacts with a government"); the relationship between decentralized markets for credit and insurance; and "how the quality of government institutions influences economic growth." Note to well-heeled Wall Street Journal readers: Donors at the $1 million mark can join the Milton Friedman Society and attend workshops and seminars.

Perhaps because of its focus on empirical research, Chicago is unusual among campuses in trying to keep itself apolitical, preferring nonpartisan scholarship. When I was an undergraduate there in the late 1970s, there was a big to-do when a faculty award was given to Robert McNamara for his work on world peace. Liberals were outraged because of his role in the Vietnam War, and conservatives objected because of his work at the World Bank. The result was a consensus that nonscholars shouldn't get awards in the name of the university.

Even royals. The mayor of Chicago once asked the president of the university to give the visiting queen of England an honorary degree. "We're happy to consider it," was the reputed reply. "Please send copies of her scholarly work."

The lesson of the Friedman Institute, even before it opens, is that we could use more forceful theories from academia, so long as these are backed up by real research and not by posturing. This is how good scholarship is done by people of all political stripes and how useful information is created. More than 90% of the Chicago faculty did not sign the letter objecting to the institute, perhaps a broad recognition that everyone on campus, Friedman followers or not, should be free to choose.


Catholic University of San Diego Changes Mind - Rejects Radical Non-Christian Feminist For Theology Chair

In a stunning reversal, the University of San Diego has informed LifeSiteNews that it has rejected the selection of a radical eco-feminist theologian to an honorary chair in its Catholic theology department. Just last week LifeSiteNews had reported that Professor Rosemary Radford Ruether, who calls God "Gaia," supports abortion and contraception, and a host of other views that put her in conflict with essential Catholic and Christian beliefs was going to assume USD's honorary Monsignor John R. Portman Chair in Roman Catholic Theology for the 2009-10 academic year. See here.

LifeSiteNews had contacted USD for comment about the reasons for Ruether's selection. Today USD Assistant Vice President for Public Affairs Pamela Gray Payton contacted LifeSiteNews via e-mail and stated that Ruether will not assume the honor. "Upon review of the specific purpose of the Monsignor John R. Portman Chair in Roman Catholic Theology, the University of San Diego is no longer considering the appointment of Dr. Rosemary Radford Ruether as the 2009-2010 Chair holder," Payton informed LifeSiteNews. "The appointment of a chair for the 2009-2010 academic year will be announced in the future."

Ruether's selection to the Theology chair came just months after the Benedict XVI's April visit to the United States in which the pontiff told Catholic educators to be faithful to Church teachings and not to use academic freedom in a way that "would obstruct or even betray the university's identity and mission."

A USD press release had said Ruether is a "leading Church historian and pioneering figure in Christian feminist theology" and would be teaching one undergraduate course in the fall semester of 2009 and also deliver the annual Portman Lecture. LifeSiteNews reported the selection was an oddity since Ruether has a rather undisguised rejection of and antipathy toward Christianity, especially the Catholic Faith.

Ruether is also a member of the pro-abortion dissident group, Catholics for Choice, which has been condemned by the US Catholic bishops as "not a Catholic organization" and "an arm of the abortion lobby in the United States and throughout the world."

The removal of Ruether allows the USD to select a candidate that actually embraces the Catholic mission of the university - besides the core tenets of Christianity - and embodies the principles behind the establishment of the theology chair. When USD created the Portman Chair for its theology department in 2000, then-president Alice Hayes had stated, "It will be a strong and palpable symbol of the depth of the university's commitment to Catholic theology as an academic discipline and another sign of the Catholic character of the university."


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Renegade parents teach old math on the sly

Math Wars rage as traditional methods give way to concept-based math

On an occasional evening at the kitchen table in Brooklyn, N.Y., Victoria Morey has been known to sit down with her 9-year-old son and do something she's not supposed to. "I am a rebel," confesses this mother of two. And just what is this subversive act in which Morey engages - with a child, yet? Long division. Yes, Morey teaches her son, who'll enter fifth grade in the fall, how to divide the old-fashioned way - you know, with descending columns of numbers, subtracting all the way down. It's a formula that works, and she finds it quick, reliable, even soothing. So, she says, does her son.

But in his fourth-grade class, long division wasn't on the agenda. As many parents across the country know, this and some other familiar formulas have been supplanted, in an increasing number of schools, by concept-based curricula aiming to teach the ideas behind mathematics rather than rote procedures. They call it the Math Wars: The debate, at times acrimonious, over which way is best to teach kids math. In its most black-and-white form, it pits schools hoping to prepare kids for a new world against reluctant parents, who feel the traditional way is best and their kids are being shortchanged.

But there are lots of parents who fall into a grayer area: They're willing to accept that their kids are learning things differently. They just want to be able to help them with their homework. And very often, they can't. "Sometimes I'll meet up with another parent, and we'll say, 'What WAS that homework last night?" says Birgitta Stone, whose daughter, Gillian, is entering third grade in Ridgefield, Conn., next month. "Sometimes I can't even understand the instructions." Funny, perhaps, but also a little sad. "It's frustrating," says Stone. "You want to help them. And sometimes I can't help her at all." Still, Stone agrees that kids should be thinking differently about math. And so she doesn't interfere by teaching her kid the old ways. "I don't want to confuse her," she says.

Morey, on the other hand, feels no guilt. She says her son was relieved to learn long division. "He wants a quick and easy way to get the right answer," she says. "Luckily he had a fabulous teacher who said long division wasn't in her plan, but we were free to do what we wanted at home."

And as for the concepts-before-procedure argument, she quips: "Would you want to go to a doctor who's learned about the concepts but never done the surgery? Would you want your doctor to say I had the right IDEA when I removed your appendix, though I took out the wrong one?"

Such reasoning is not unfamiliar to Pat Cooney. As the math coordinator for six public schools in Ridgefield, which over the last two years have implemented the Growing in Math curriculum, she's seen a lot of angry parents. "I had one parent who was probably as angry as a parent could be," Cooney says. "I've had irate phone calls. Some think we're giving the kids misinformation. They think we're not doing our jobs."

One problem, Cooney says, is that parents remember math as offering only one way to solve a problem. "We're saying that there's more than one way," Cooney says. "The outcome will be the same, but how we get there will be different." Thus, when a parent is asked to multiply 88 by 5, we'll do it with pen and paper, multiplying 8 by 5 and carrying over the 4, etc. But a child today might reason that 5 is half of 10, and 88 times 10 is 880, so 88 times 5 is half of that, 440 - poof, no pen, no paper.

More here

Correct speech rediscovered in Britain

A British school has banned its pupils from using "street slang" as part of a strict behaviour policy which is transforming its exam results.

Pupils are not allowed to use the phrase "innit" or other examples of "playground patois" when talking to teachers. Formal language must be used at all times in communications with adults and pupils have been told that street slang should be "left at the school gates".

The measure, along with a strict uniform policy, is part of a tough stance on discipline at Manchester Academy, in the city's deprived Moss Side area, has restored order. Since the school became an academy in 2003, exam results have improved from about 10 per cent of pupils achieving five good GCSEs to 33 per cent and the proportion who leave without a job or college course to go to is down from 26 to 6 per cent.

"Language is really important and we have to make sure pupils realise that," said Kathy August, the head teacher. "You can get five A* to Cs in your exams but if you go to an interview and you can't shake hands, look someone in the eye and speak in the appropriate register, you are not going to get the job or place at university. It is hugely important. We have high expectations. It makes me angry when I see… pamphlets on drug education or anti-gang material. They are appalling. The way they are written suggests that if you are black and from a particular postcode you will only understand the message if it is presented in a certain informal way, in a "street" form. It enforces the stereotype and ends up glamorising what it is supposed to be preventing.

"There are 64 languages spoken at the school and 80 per cent of pupils are from ethnic minority backgrounds," she added. "We realised very early on that children were coming into the community and picking up the lingo that young people use and that the intonation and patterns of speech of formal language were lacking."

She said that the message had been drummed into pupils that street slang was "just not academy". Children are pulled up when using colloquialisms and told directly that it is unacceptable. "You have to be consistent. We make it clear in our tone of voice and with short imperatives that we are not happy. So it's not 'excuse me, do you mind not doing that, it's not very nice'. We say 'Stop. We don't do that. Thank you.'"


Monday, July 21, 2008

The Declining Value of Your College Degree

A four-year college degree, seen for generations as a ticket to a better life, is no longer enough to guarantee a steadily rising paycheck. Just ask Bea Dewing. After she earned a bachelor's degree -- her second -- in computer science from Maryland's Frostburg State University in 1986, she enjoyed almost unbroken advances in wages, eventually earning $89,000 a year as a data modeler for Sprint Corp. in Lawrence, Kan. Then, in 2002, Sprint laid her off.

"I thought I might be looking a few weeks or months at the most," says Ms. Dewing, now 56 years old. Instead she spent the next six years in a career wilderness, starting an Internet cafe that didn't succeed, working temporary jobs and low-end positions in data processing, and fruitlessly responding to hundreds of job postings. The low point came around 2004 when a recruiter for Sprint -- now known as Sprint Nextel Corp. -- called seeking to fill a job similar to the one she lost two years earlier, but paying barely a third of her old salary.

In April, Ms. Dewing finally landed a job similar to her old one in the information technology department of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., where she relocated. She earns about 20% less than she did in 2002, adjusted for inflation, but considers herself fortunate, and wiser. A degree, she says, "isn't any big guarantee of employment, it's a basic requirement, a step you have to take to even be considered for many professional jobs."

For decades, the typical college graduate's wage rose well above inflation. But no longer. In the economic expansion that began in 2001 and now appears to be ending, the inflation-adjusted wages of the majority of U.S. workers didn't grow, even among those who went to college. The government's statistical snapshots show the typical weekly salary of a worker with a bachelor's degree, adjusted for inflation, didn't rise last year from 2006 and was 1.7% below the 2001 level.

College-educated workers are more plentiful, more commoditized and more subject to the downsizings that used to be the purview of blue-collar workers only. What employers want from workers nowadays is more narrow, more abstract and less easily learned in college.

To be sure, the average American with a college diploma still earns about 75% more than a worker with a high-school diploma and is less likely to be unemployed. Yet while that so-called college premium is up from 40% in 1979, it is little changed from 2001, according to data compiled by Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal Washington think tank

Most statistics he and other economists use don't track individual workers over time, but compare annual snapshots of the work force. That said, this trend doesn't appear due to an influx of lower-paid young workers or falling starting salaries; Mr. Bernstein says when differences in age, race, marital status and place of residence are accounted for, the trend remains the same.

A variety of economic forces are at work here. Globalization and technology have altered the types of skills that earn workers a premium wage; in many cases, those skills aren't learned in college classrooms. And compared with previous generations, today's college graduates are far more likely to be competing against educated immigrants and educated workers employed overseas.

The issue isn't a lack of economic growth, which was solid for most of the 2000s. Rather, it's that the fruits of growth are flowing largely to "a relatively small group of people who have a particular set of skills and assets that lots of other people don't," says Mr. Bernstein. And that "doesn't necessarily have that much to do with your education." In short, a college degree is often necessary, but not sufficient, to get a paycheck that beats inflation.

Economists chiefly cite globalization and technology, which have prompted employers to put the highest value on abstract skills possessed by a relatively small group, for this state of affairs. Harvard University economists Lawrence Katz and Claudia Goldin argue that in the 1990s, it became easier for firms to do overseas, or with computers at home, the work once done by "lower-end college graduates in middle management and certain professional positions." This depressed these workers' wages, but made college graduates whose work was more abstract and creative more productive, driving their salaries up.

Indeed, salaries have seen extraordinary growth among a small number of highly paid individuals in the financial sector -- such as fund management, investment banking and corporate law -- which, until the credit crisis hit a year ago, had benefited both from the buoyant financial environment and the globalization of finance, in which the U.S. remains a leader.

Richard Spitzer is one of those beneficiaries. He received his undergraduate degree in East Asian studies in 1995 from the College of William and Mary and graduated from Georgetown University's law school in 2001. The New York firm for which he works, now called Dewey & LeBoeuf, has a specialty in complex legal work for insurance companies. There, Mr. Spitzer has developed an expertise in "catastrophe bonds." An insurance company sells such bonds to investors and pays them interest, unless an earthquake, a hurricane or unexpected surge in deaths occurs.

Experts in these bonds are "probably a rarefied species -- there's only a few law firms that do them," says Mr. Spitzer, 35 years old. He typically spends two to four months on a single deal, ensuring that details like timing of payments or definition of the triggering event are precise enough to avoid disputes or default.

Mr. Spitzer's salary has doubled to $265,000 since joining in 2001, in line with salaries similar firms pay. But not all law graduates are so fortunate; many, especially those from less-prestigious schools, have far lower salaries and less job security. Similarly, some computer-science graduates strike it rich. But their skills are not as rare as they were in the early 1980s, when the discipline took off, and graduates today must contend with competition from hundreds of thousands of similarly qualified foreign workers in the U.S. or overseas.

That helps explain Ms. Dewing's experience. She was raised in a family that prized education. Both her parents went to college on the G.I. Bill, which pays tuition costs for servicemen and some dependents. Four of their six children earned college degrees. In 1979, she earned a bachelor's degree in government and politics from George Mason University in Virginia. Several years later, then a single mother, she decided to get a degree in computer science.

Her first job out of college was with the federal government, earning about $35,000 in today's dollars. "For 16 years I had no trouble at all finding jobs," she said. Earlier this decade she ended up at Sprint designing databases -- a specialty called "data modeling" that isn't widely taught in schools and usually requires hands-on experience.

In 2002 Sprint, reeling from the collapse of the telecommunications industry, initiated a wave of layoffs that eventually totaled 15,000 workers in 13 months, Ms. Dewing among them. She remained in the Kansas City area, posting her r‚sum‚ on job boards. When recruiters called, she would usually put her expected salary at something close to her old salary. As time went by without an offer she lowered it steadily, to $60,000. She found herself competing for jobs with employees of outsourcing firms brought over from India on temporary visas, such as the H-1B.

A few months ago, Ms. Dewing got a call from a recruiter calling on behalf of Wal-Mart. Company officials pressed her during her interview on how she had kept up her data-modeling ability during her six years away from the specialty. She noted that while at Sprint she had revived the Kansas City chapter of a data modelers' professional association and, long after being laid off, continued to attend its seminars where invited experts would describe the latest advances. She even cited her short-lived Internet caf‚ as evidence of how she could solve diverse problems.

When she landed the job, she says, "I felt, 'All right, I'm a professional again.'" Even so, Ms. Dewing has a newfound appreciation for how insecure any job can be and how little a college degree by itself stands for. "There is enough competition for entry-level positions that employers are going to ask, 'What else have you done in your life besides go to college?'" she says. "And in information technology, a portfolio of hands-on experience with programming is a really good thing to have."


British government education bungling

Could it be that, after over 11 years of the Labour Government's making a complete dog's breakfast of almost everything it touches, we just haven't the energy to complain any more? Do you, like me, notice how disasters and failures that, a couple of decades ago would have resulted in the immediate execution of a minister, and possibly even worse than that, instead pass almost without comment, because we have become so resigned to being governed in this third-rate way?

This must be the case, for I can think of no other reason why the appalling Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, still has his bottom on the Consolidated Fund this morning. Why, when one in five primary schools has not had its Sats results and the entire credibility of the testing system is in ruins, does this man remain in office? He is not the Health Secretary, or the Immigration Secretary, or the Corned Beef Secretary. He is the Schools Secretary. That means, unless somebody is keeping something rather important from us, that schools and the means of regulating them are his responsibility, and he has failed. That is not, though, the way Mr Balls sees it.

He has perfected the approach that so disgusts millions of voters, and which sets an atrocious example to our country today: he blames somebody else, and with maximum indignation. Rather than arguing, as used to be the case in high office, that the buck stopped with him, he instead proclaims that he is "angry" and "upset" with ETS, the firm which marks the papers. He says he wants "an explanation about why ETS has not delivered on its obligations". I am sure I am not the only one who would also like an explanation of why this bombastic little man has not delivered on his.

But this, of course, neglects an important consideration. Mr Balls is special and he is different. He is the anointed of Gordon Brown and he expects, God help us, to be the next prime minister. He has, as many who have met him readily testify, the sort of charm that curdles milk. His belief in himself is epic; sadly, it is a belief that recognises no scintilla of fallibility. Therefore, when something goes wrong, it cannot possibly, or feasibly, be Mr Balls's fault.

This is not an isolated incident of Mr Balls's recklessness and foolishness. How can we forget his disgraceful attack on faith schools earlier this year, where he either invented or exaggerated faults with them in order to do down establishments that by and large achieve much better results than the comprehensive system he and his sort worship so intently?

Mr Balls couldn't care less about how schools are actually run. He wants to leave as his monument, when he ceases to be Schools Secretary, the fact that he furthered the socialist, anti-elitist creed. That will help wreck the life chances of scores of thousands of children, but it will make him the hero of the most bigoted, ignorant, spiteful and narrow-minded sect within his own party.

We are so poorly governed today not least because, when ministers fail, it is now acceptable for them to blame someone further down the food chain. Their colleagues, who are all in the same boat, encourage this. For what do they do if they lose their jobs? Who would employ someone even supposedly so clever as Mr Balls, given his record of achievement? Would you want him on your board of directors, or on the board of a company in which you or your pension fund held shares?

Schools' rankings in league tables will be unfairly affected by the failure to mark the Sats papers properly. The reputations of teachers may be called into question. Bad decisions about children's futures may be made. If Mr Balls could stop playing politics and thinking about himself, he might see these matters are not trivial. Unlike him.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Obama: Beginning government education at birth?

Recently, after reading an excellent article at American Thinker, I decided to take a glimpse at Senator Obama's education plan. This plan is presented in a more detailed format in a document titled "Barack Obama's Plan for Lifetime Success Through Education." What I read there was more than a little disturbing, particularly his early childhood education plan.

Sen. Obama's plan begins with a "Zero to Five Plan". That is not a plan for pre-kindergarten students; it is a plan for infants beginning just after birth. In fact, one of his "Success Through Education" header statements is "A Pre-School Agenda That Begins At Birth". Sen. Obama would plunk $10 billion a year in federal tax dollars down to provide "high-quality child care" for children, to expand access to Early Head Start (is this redundant?), Head Start, and pre-school, and create a council to the president (himself) which would coordinate these efforts nation-wide.

While Sen. Obama's plan does appear to delegate responsibility for these programs to the various states, one comment in the document gives pause to that thought. Sen. Obama's plan calls the current state of early child education a "patchwork" that is "inadequate". So while the Senator may claim that states will have options within the plan, one might easily assume that funds received from this proposed $10 billion would come with significant strings.

This seems to me to be the policy beginnings of nationalized child care, not simply education. It only rides in the Trojan Horse of "education reform". Sen. Obama's plan dovetails seamlessly with a recent report by the National Health Institutes that the percentage of unmarried births to women age 20-24 has risen to 58%. Why should a young, single mother worry about raising her child? For that matter, why would a young woman of any background think twice about having a child that she probably can't raise without great difficulty? The government will take care of the child - an Obama administration would allow for the child's care and education (read: child rearing) from year zero. And that is the beginning of real state indoctrination.


Teacher quality getting some attention in Australia

They'll be pissing into the wind until they do something effective about the discipline problem, though

TOP university graduates would be aggressively recruited and given financial incentives to work in some of the nation's toughest classrooms, under Federal Government plans to boost teaching quality and revive interest in the profession. Education Minister Julia Gillard is also examining ways to track students and give parents unprecedented information on school performances in what she described as a "new era of transparency" for the public and private education systems.

With a third of serving teachers aged over 50 and university entry scores for teaching courses as low as 60, Ms Gillard last night called for the "urgent" creation of a national scheme to recruit talented graduates - from any field of study - to work in the most challenging schools. "We need to re-establish in Australia something that the labour movement has long recognised: that there is no higher vocational calling than teaching," said Ms Gillard, speaking at a John Button lecture in Melbourne last night.

She said she wanted to examine two contentious but successful international programs: the Teach First initiative in Britain, and the Teach for America scheme in the US. Under these programs, graduates are aggressively recruited and offered financial incentives to teach in struggling schools. They get access to accelerated teacher training and intensive mentoring from business and community leaders, and sign on to work in the system for about two years.

State Education Minister Bronwyn Pike endorsed the idea last night, having signalled in December that she was considering the Teach First program for Victoria.

But teachers called for better wages to back the rhetoric. "We need to see the necessary respect and valuing of the profession . which doesn't happen with words alone," said Australian Education Union federal president Angelo Gavrielatos.

In a wide-ranging speech, Ms Gillard said she wanted more detailed school-by-school data showing the socio-economic make-up and numbers of disadvantaged children. The minister also:

* Said perceptions of teaching would improve if top teachers were rewarded, in comments interpreted by some as another example of the Government's shift towards performance pay in schools.

* Rejected suggestions that differences in student results could be explained solely by socio-economic status.

* Said it was wrong to believe the education system could be divided into two groups: disadvantaged public schools and highly resourced non-government schools. "There are schools that struggle with limited resources, trying to serve disadvantaged communities, in both groups," she said. "I specifically reject the proposition that the only way to debate differential need in our school system is through the prism of the public-private divide."

Australian Secondary Principals Association president Andrew Blair said he was "absolutely all for" collecting data on individual students to identify learning difficulties, but raised concerns about comparing schools. "We all know that you can't compare a Balwyn high school and a Broadmeadows high school because you have a completely different clientele," he said.

Shadow education minister Tony Smith said the Coalition's attempts, when in government, to reform the profession had been "consistently blocked by teachers' unions and state governments".


Schools in Australia and the USA compared

Australia and the United States have much in common--language, political institutions, the influence of British settlement, and, more recently, fighting together on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. They also have a lot in common in the field of education.

Books like Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind, Dinesh D'Souza's Illiberal Education, and Diane Ravitch's The Language Police make clear how effective America's Left has been in its long march to take control of education, especially the curriculum, in an attempt to transform society. The Left has targeted education in Australia, too. Over the last 30 years or so, professional associations, teachers' unions, and academics in teacher-training institutions have consistently attacked more traditional, competitive curricula as elitist, socially unjust, and guilty of enforcing a Eurocentric, patriarchal, and privileged view of the world.

In 1983, Joan Kirner, who eventually became the state of Victoria's education minister and then its premier, argued that education had to be reshaped as "part of the socialist struggle for equality, participation and social change, rather than an instrument for the capitalist system." More recently, the editor o! f the journal for the Australian Association for the Teaching of English argued that the John Howard-led conservative government's victory in 2004 was a result of the nation's English teachers' failure to teach young people the proper (i.e., left-wing) way to vote.

Currently, eight Australian states and territories have the power to manage what is taught in their schools, but the recently elected, left-of-center national government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is trying to develop a national curriculum. Such is the Left's control of education that the effort is cause for concern: any federally imposed curriculum will likely be ideologically driven and politically correct. During the early and mid-nineties, for example, the Commonwealth of Australia's left-leaning government developed a national curriculum so politically correct and dumbed-down that, after public outcry led by conservatives and the media, it was eventually rejected at a meeting of state, territory, and commonwealth education ministers.

Like America, Australia has both public and private schools. (As the German researcher Ludger Woessmann notes, one characteristic of stronger-performing education systems, as measured by international tests, is a muscular private-school sector.) On the whole, Australian private schools are more academically minded than their public counterparts, especially at the high school level. Private schools also have a better chance of escaping destructive curriculum initiatives like the "whole language" approach to reading instruction, as well as feel-good assessment systems that refuse to tell students that they have failed.

One striking difference between the United States and Australia, however, is that the Land Down Under doesn't need a formal school-voucher system like those in some American localities. In Australia, students attending private schools automatically receive funding from state governments and the commonwealth, with the amount of taxpayers' money received per student varying according to each school community's socioeconomic profile. While the figure never fully covers the cost of educating students (the average cost of educating a state-school student is $10,000, while the average government subsidy to private-school students is $5,000), private schools have become increasingly popular. In 1997, approximately 30 percent of students attended private schools; by 2007, the figure had grown to approximately 34 percent. Surveys suggest that parents choose private schools because they have a strong academic focus, better reflect parental values, and promote excellence.

While private schools must register with the government and conform to regulations in areas like health and safety, teacher certification, and financial probity, they enjoy flexibility when it comes to curriculum and staffing. They have been particularly effective in more affluent, middle-class areas, where they have forced government schools to promote a more disciplined and academic environment.

The curriculum debate now revolves around questions of increased testing and accountability, teacher performance, and developing a national curriculum in order to become more internationally competitive. However, since we have left-of-center governments at all levels--state, territory, and commonwealth--I fear that future education policies will be premised on statism, instead of opening schools to the type of accountability, choice, and competition represented by the market. Further, the commonwealth's minister for education, Julia Gillard, defines the purpose of education in terms of its utilitarian value, by linking it to increasing productivity. No one disputes the importance of economic growth, of course. But it's vital that we don't lose sight of the broader cultural, spiritual, and ethical value of education as well.