Saturday, August 30, 2008

Harvard's "racist" police

Sounds like paranoia

Harvard University will launch an examination of the campus Police Department following long-running complaints that officers have unfairly treated black students and professors and, in an incident this month, a black high school student working at Harvard. President Drew Gilpin Faust announced yesterday that she has appointed an independent, six-member committee to review the diversity training, community outreach, and recruitment efforts of Harvard police, the first review of its kind in more than a decade. In recent weeks, black student and faculty leaders have been pressing the university to address what they view as racial profiling by the predominantly white campus police force, which Harvard oversees.

Ralph Martin, former Suffolk district attorney and managing partner of the Boston office of the Bingham McCutchen law firm, will lead the committee, which will start work next week. "All of us share an interest in sustaining constructive relations between our campus police and the broader Harvard community, in order to provide a safe and welcoming environment for all faculty, students, staff, and visitors," Faust wrote in an e-mail to senior university administrators and faculty. ". . . I am confident that this group's efforts will help the university address this important set of issues in a constructive spirit and forthright manner."

Black faculty members praised Faust's initiative, saying it signaled that she will address the issue thoroughly and effectively. Some said the university should go further and establish a permanent police community board to ease tension on both sides.

Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree said black students arrive on campus aiming for academic success but instead find themselves under suspicion. "I've been hosting, moderating, and mediating meetings between Harvard's black students and university police for much of the last 20 years, and it always stems from an individual incident when African-Americans appear to be the subject of racial profiling by the police department," Ogletree said yesterday. "The problem is a persistent one, because there's still this unfortunate assumption that equates the color of a person's skin with involvement in criminality."

Harvard police officials would not respond to questions about specific incidents, but issued a statement yesterday saying they hope the review will help the private force better serve Harvard's diverse population. "We look forward to any recommendations generated by the process that will help ensure the HUPD remains as effective as possible," the statement said.

Faust was unavailable for comment yesterday. In her memo, she wrote that the review is being launched "partly in response to concerns expressed internally." Earlier this month, she noted, officers confronted a person using tools to remove a lock from a locked bicycle. The person, whom others familiar with the case have identified as a black Boston high school student working on the Harvard campus this summer, owned the bicycle, and was trying to cut the lock because the key had broken off in the lock. The two officers involved have been placed on administrative leave, pending a separate investigation into the matter, said a source familiar with the case.

Faculty and students say previous incidents have fanned tension with police. In spring 2007, officers interrupted a field day on the Radcliffe Quad sponsored by two black student groups. Police asked whether the young men and women were Harvard students and whether they had permission to be there, even though they had a permit. And in 2004, police stopped S. Allen Counter, a prominent neuroscience professor, as he was walking to his office across Harvard Yard because they mistook him for a black robbery suspect.

Earlier this month, in response to inquiries from the Globe, Police Chief Francis Riley said through a spokesman that the department has begun conversations with the black student organizations to address "bias incidents" but would not respond to a request for statistics on how often black students and faculty are stopped.

Alneada Biggers, president of the Association of Black Harvard Women, said the review shows Faust is aware of black students' concerns about police. "It's much needed," Biggers said. "If you talk to any student in the black community, they'll talk about being targeted." J. Lorand Matory - who co-chairs the Association of Black Faculty, Administrators and Fellows - called the police review a "thoughtful response." "I hope this committee will be able to initiate a thoughtful conversation that we have not been able to accomplish to date," said Matory, a professor of anthropology and African and African-American studies.

Martin said he hopes the committee will present its findings and recommendations by December. "Any great institution is never afraid to be introspective," Martin said. "This is really an effort to identify what the university police do well, as well as what the areas of improvement potentially are. We're going to go at it as objectively as possible."

In addition to Martin, members of the committee are William Lee, a former Harvard overseer; Mark Moore, a professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government; Nancy Rosenblum, Harvard professor of ethics in politics and government; Matthew Sundquist, president of the Harvard Undergraduate Council; and David Wilkins, a Harvard law professor.


University not always the path to good money

Young Australians are turning their backs on a university education to take advantage of the huge salaries flowing from the resources boom and skills shortage. Heading straight into the workforce and getting on-the-job training is an attractive proposition in boom towns where newcomers can walk into huge money. "Particularly in Queensland and Western Australia we're seeing many school leavers heading straight out to the mines and putting university and tertiary education on the back burner," says Peter Carey, National President of the Career Development Association of Australia.

Recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows the average mining salary tops $100,000 a year - that's $1939 gross a week, or $800 a week more than the average worker. Trades are no different with the skills shortage meaning big bucks are available sooner rather than later. Construction workers' wages jumped almost 8 per cent last year to an average of $1140 a week. These pay rates compare to graduate earnings which range from as low as $35,000 for pharmacy graduates up to $51,887 for engineers.

Traineeships and "earn while you learn" apprenticeships is one way to get ahead. "With the way of the world today people need to work to survive and TAFE and traineeships often provide more work-ready skills than universities," Mr Carey said. "Student debt and poor workforce planning is influencing a move towards more practical learning," he said.

Eddie Dobosz from Apprenticeships Australia believes traineeships are no longer only an option for those who can't get into university. "A lot of people want to do training that gets them to the top quickly and furthering your skills later on in your career, via a degree is always an option," he said. The latest ABS data indicates enrolments in TAFE courses have increased by 4 per cent over recent years with practical learning undergoing a revival.

The average university graduate is $8500 in debt when they leave university. According to ABS data, over 1.2 million people pay for university via FEE-HELP or HECS with 6 per cent owing more than $20,000.

So where does a degree matter? If it's law, accounting or engineering you're looking into then you've got no choice but to hit the books, says Andrew Williams, general manager at LINK Recruitment. "However sales, commerce and business are professions more competitive driven than reliant upon an employee's tertiary education," he said Assessing what's important to you and where you want your career to go is the most important thing when it comes to choosing where to study, says Mr Williams. "Depending on where you want to be, a university degree may not be necessary," he said.


Friday, August 29, 2008

Georgia: County School System Loses Accreditation

(Clayton County, Georgia) The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) has revoked the accreditation of Clayton County Schools, the first in the country since 1969, for repeated citations of micromanaging, abuses of power, conflicts of interest, plus other lapses in ethics.

Officials in Clayton County, just south of Atlanta, had been warned. The district was placed on probation five years ago and, last March, SACS voted to revoke Clayton schools accreditation unless they met improvement benchmarks. The first was to establish a school board to define roles and responsibilities. Apparently, there was no progress.

Without accreditation, diplomas granted may not be recognized as representative of a quality education. Typically, students flee school systems that are not accredited. It's estimated that 2,000 students have already left the 50,000-enrollment Clayton Schools system.

The significance of the revocation action cannot be overstated. Although there are school systems in the U.S. that regularly admit to graduation rates in the 50 percent range, not one has lost its accreditation in nearly four decades.

That is, until now.
Britain's education rat-race

Are you a pushy parent? Am I a pushy parent? Once upon a time we all knew what the term stood for. It was Violet Elizabeth Bott's father in a Roller demanding his spoilt darling got the best of everything. [Violet Elizabeth Bott is a character in the "Just William" stories]. In classic children's literature you can tell a good parent by their desire, above all else, that their offspring should not become "big-headed". It was all so deliciously unambiguous back then.

Cut to 2008 and being pushy is an arch crime in some quarters and a supreme virtue in others. Earlier this year, aggressively ambitious parents were blamed for the cancelling of Hickstead's junior show-jumping events. But few accusations come as loaded with bile as the suspected crime of shoving your angel to the top of the educational pile. Middle-class parents who "play the system" are so frequently blamed for the failings of the state system you'd think teachers and the Government played no part at all.

In 1996, a Labour politico called Andrew Adonis protested that, "securing places in popular church schools is an art form for the professional classes". What a difference a decade makes. On Sunday Lord Adonis, schools minister, said: "I want every parent to be a pushy parent. It is a jolly good thing." Is it, by Jove? Even if few things make you reach for an axe quicker than an acquaintance citing their child's IQ or violin grade?

My little boy starts school next month and I'm already daunted by the middle-class angst that surrounds all educational decisions. Most trips to the playground now involve a lengthy discussion - or justification - about our choice.

Some parents seem mystified that we chose our local state primary (good to average Ofsted report), others tell me with pinched expressions that our son is in the "better" reception class, with smarter parents "where fewer languages" are spoken. (How on earth do they know? Term hasn't even started.)

Lord Adonis now believes that parents who abandon deficient schools and fight to get their children into the best establishments boost the whole system. Yet this is nearly as fatuous an argument as the old one that blamed pushy parents for dismal state schooling. What has happened under this Government is that when ambitious parents have bolted for enclaves of academic excellence, children from less motivated backgrounds have been left ever further behind.

And for all the vote-winning exhortations to parents to enjoy a guilt-free sprint for the golden prizes, nobody's found a convincing rescue package for the illiterate stragglers in our educational ghettoes.

A good old-fashioned race is now, of course, an approved activity. Gordon Brown used the Olympics to admit that old Labour got things badly wrong when it waged a war on competitive school sports. With luck this means an end to the sports day cited by a friend that consisted of children in circles chucking beanbags through hoops. But Brown's new-found enthusiasm for hearty sporting competition raises a bigger question.

Will he admit that the loony Left did an even greater disservice when it tried to smother academic competition? Boys in particular have failed to thrive in an educational arena that stifles naturally combative tendencies. Of course, where there are winners there will also be losers; but can't we return to the days when dunces found compensation in sporting glory and weeds found consolation in A-grade Algebra?

As term starts, parents face an additional hurdle - how to keep children nit-free. Head-lice have become resistant to most chemicals, which at least means your children can evade the night-time ritual of a head coated in vile Prioderm. My cousin's wife, a mother of five, offers a top tip - she swears by Clairol hair dye. Choose the shade closest to your child's natural tone and this coats the hair shafts, which deters lice and prevents eggs sticking. Stylish, cool, and they won't stink of nit shampoo.


Australian centre/Left government determined to push through school accountability

The agenda of the conservative Howard government lives on! Curriculum reform seems to have dropped off the agenda but we must be thankful for small mercies, I guess

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is preparing for an all-in brawl with the states and unions over his plan to test schools and sack underperforming teachers. Mr Rudd has outlined his policy to rank schools across the country to give parents the ability to compare the performance of different public schools. Under the scheme, schools continuing to underperform after an injection of funds would be expected to take radical steps to lift their game - such as sacking the principal and teachers, or merging with another school. "There may be a bit of argy bargy on the way through but I think it's time to do this," Mr Rudd told Fairfax radio today. "We're prepared to have an argument if that's necessary ... you can't simply allow our kids to be in schools which are consistently underperforming."

Education Minister Julia Gillard has defended the plan to sack underperforming principals and teachers, saying it would be worse to do nothing. Asked if it was a smart move to sack teachers when they were in such high demand, Ms Gillard told ABC radio: "What's not smart is having underperforming schools year after year, decade after decade, not even measuring it, not even recognising it's happening and not even doing anything about it." The Government wanted transparency in school performances and was prepared to bring new resources to make a difference to disadvantaged schools, she said.

Under the plan schools would only be compared with other schools with a similar student population and if there were differences in performance outcomes between comparable schools, then they could be addressed. "What you should measure is if you've got like student populations ... and you can see one school that's rocketing up the attainment level and the other school that's falling behind, then you can go into this school and say; `What's happening here? What are the teachers doing? What's the principal doing? What are the parents doing that's making a difference?," Ms Gillard said. "You can take that best practice to the school that's falling behind."

Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson, a former education minister, said the laws minced legislation introduced by the Coalition government. The test for Mr Rudd was to use the laws to withhold funding from schools that did not provide information on student and school performance, he said. "The real challenge for Mr Rudd is ... will he now withhold funding from those state government and non-government schools that do not comply?" Dr Nelson said. "Mr Rudd has the power now to withhold money from states that have not complied with this, and the challenge for him is will he do so."


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Another Cohort of Kids Failed by Government Schools

Public schooling in too much of America has run down to mediocrity and worse. It's almost inevitable, and worse in some places than others.

At a Greenwich, Conn. elementary school recently the principal was suspended for a little juggle-ology with the school student handbook. Seems that he told a parent that birthday cupcakes needed to be left at the office. See, he said a little later, it's right here in the rules. Only it turned out that the principal had doctored the handbook, to provide, as Pooh-Bah, Lord High Everything Else, once said, a little "corroborative detail intended to provide artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative."

It's good that the schools in Greenwich are so good that parents only need to worry about the cupcake rules. In the rest of America things are not so good. Twelve to fourteen percent of adults rate "below basic" in literacy, and only 13 percent are rated "proficient" in the National Assessment of Adult Literacy.

Now, it's in the nature of the beast that government programs gradually run down. They have a life cycle just like everything else. They start in a fury of indignation, a lust for change, and a millennial hope.

It was that over 200 years ago the Enlightenment philosophe Condorcet submitted a plan to the French Legislative Assembly that called for universal state education to educate the people out of their prejudice and superstition. Although a government program the system would, of course, be free of political control.

It was that over 160 years ago Horace Mann, the father of US public education, urged a rationalization and centralization of the disorganized schools in Massachusetts under a State Board of Education. Apart from anything else, he confidently predicted just before the crime wave of the 1840s, his program would cut the crime rate by 90 percent. Then he went off to Prussia to see its universal state education system for himself.

It was that over 80 years ago John Dewey, the father of progressive education, proposed a system to teach children problem solving and critical thinking skills rather than training and drilling in basic skills. Of course, there is nothing quite like entrusting a project of flexible, progressive education to a bureaucracy of state employees privileged with lifetime job tenure.

Today, 215 years after Condorcet, 160 years after Horace Mann, and 80 years after John Dewey the schools have run down. Today about half the students entering college are unprepared, according to the New York Times.

Yet 180 years ago when the economist J.S. Mill, father of John Stuart Mill, traveled around Britain making an anecdotal survey of education -- at a time when the government actively discouraged education for its revolutionary potential -- he found a rage for education:
"We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school."

You can see why those nineteenth century parents sacrificed so much for their children. It didn't take a rocket scientist back then to see that a basic education in literacy and numeracy was the best way to avoid sending a child "down the pit" or into the textile mill.

Of course, that was in the bad old days, before the age of universal government education. Yet even today, as James Tooley has written, there remain unmet needs in the education sector. How else could it be that unregulated private schools thrive in the slums of Hyderabad and outperform the government schools, and low-cost for-profit schools for the poor are growing in Lima, Peru?

Here in the United States you can't listen to the radio for an hour without hearing an ad for franchised educational tutoring from Sylvan Learning Center or Mathnasium. It's pretty odd, all things considered, that parents elect to pay for such extra tutoring when the governments at all levels in 2008 are expected to spend $837.7 billion, according to Using the US Census 2000 number of 80 million Americans between 5 and 24, that's about $10,500 per young American.

It's good to know that the rich can get what they want out of the public schools in Greenwich. We wouldn't want them to go without. But the reason for government education is not to regulate the handling of birthday cupcakes. The purpose is to lift up the poor. And that is exactly what the current system too often fails to do in a nation with 14 percent of adults testing "below basic" in literacy.

As our children return to school this fall, most of them will do just fine. But many poor and inner-city children will not. Yet we know how to fix the inner-city schools. We have known for decades.

And now in Sweden, of all places, school choice is transforming the education system. Some day the American mothers are going to have the right that Swedish mothers enjoy. It is the right to wave farewell to the local government school and say: You just don't care about kids.


Britain: Education in life skills missing

Two years ago I was driving home from work when I swerved to avoid a low-flying pigeon, veered into a hedge and punctured a tyre. Having pulled over, I jumped out and opened the boot with purpose, all the time trying to ignore the fact that I hadn't a clue how to change a car tyre. There I stood, jack pointlessly in hand, sporting a half-ironed shirt, poorly tied tie and shaving rash. To cap things off, a burly man in a four-wheel drive drove past and shook his head. My manliness wasn't just dented; it was battered with a sledgehammer.

I had no alternative but to call Dad, who came out and rescued me. I was a 24-year-old male damsel in distress. "You're useless," said Dad as he effortlessly manoeuvred my spare tyre into place, and I had to agree.

The experience got me thinking. I realised that it wasn't only practical, traditionally manly things like how to change a tyre (or tie a tie properly, iron my shirt and shave like a pro) that I didn't know how to do. I was clueless about pretty much every skill I perceived to be key to coming of age as a modern man. Sophisticated stuff, such as how to hold a baby, give a speech, speed-date successfully, end a relationship without being a git, or grapple with the idea of regular visits to the sexually-transmitted-diseases clinic.

While girls share magazines with dog-eared problem pages, men are offered the choice of perusing breasts or salivating over gadgetry even NASA doesn't need. Don't get me wrong, I love girls and gadgets, but such magazines don't show you how to put up shelves, let alone help you through a divorce. There's no manual, no instruction leaflet to modern manhood. I wasn't even sure what being a 21st-century man meant. So I decided to make my own manual, in the form of a website called 21st Century Boy.

But before I could start, I needed to find out what state 21st-century man was in. So I questioned my male friends and sent out emails asking people to send me lists of things they'd felt expected to know how to do, but had never been taught.

Times have changed a lot since my dad's generation was in its prime - but quite how much was something I'd never really considered. Dad's role was charted out for him: "Be the main breadwinner and leave the wife to look after the kids. Be strong and silent, with biceps the size of your girlfriend's beehive." Clear-cut. Simple. Then things got confusing. Men started growing their hair long and singing about flowers and San Francisco. Then we had "new men" reasserting their masculinity with phallic-shaped car-phones; ladettes chasing lads; and metrosexuals who moisturised more than their missus. Forty years on from my dad's youth, manhood is more confusing than ever. Despite his dismay at my tyre-changing ineptitude, my dad acknowledged that life was a maze for my generation.

My research began to highlight just some of the advanced life skills that today's young man is expected, but frequently ill-equipped, to navigate. A friend of mine trying to impress a new girl, for example, was doing his best to be neither patronising nor sexist by taking his date to see the horror film Hostel - and was surprised when it failed to work as an aphrodisiac.

Then there was the emailer keen to learn some massage skills for the bedroom, but clueless as to where or how to start. A university friend asked my mum how to fry an egg.

Along the way I discovered we're also meant to know how to hold our baby nephews when our sisters nip to the loo; be our mothers' iTunes, eBay and email advisers; sort out our dads' diets and training regimes because we're scared that if we don't, his ticker won't tick for much longer; be agony uncles to our female friends when their boyfriends dump them; book a restaurant but split the bill whenever we take our girlfriends out, not to mention cook them a gourmet meal every Saturday night; and last but not least, pop into the pub and down a pint in less than 30 seconds.

To help my fellow man via my website, I then had to get the inside track on how to do all this stuff. So I asked all the men in my family to share their old-fashioned man skills, I talked to my mum for the first time about girlfriends, talked to ex-girlfriends about how I could have been a better boyfriend, Googled late into the night and braved a clinic to find out what a sexual health check-up involved.

My uncle told me that shaving with cold water cured razor rash. After studying tie fan sites - yes, tie fan sites - I mastered the vicious "V" of the perfectly tied Windsor knot. I endured speed-dating, swiftly followed by internet dating, swiftly followed by a mini-breakdown after I went on a date with a woman old enough to be my mum.

My brother-in-law taught me that the secret of sturdy shelves is to use the right Rawlplugs.

I've succeeded in making testicular cancer a non-taboo topic, and now know how to control aggression in a relationship (tell your girlfriend when she's hurt you rather than bottling it up), as well as mastering mundane tasks such as ironing a shirt in a hurry (start while it's damp and hang it up while still warm) and cleaning a bathroom properly (it's all about the right tools). Along the way I learnt that, while it's not easy dealing with the things you don't necessarily want to deal with, you become more of a man by doing so.

And I'm pleased to say others have followed in my wake. The response to my two-month-old website has been brilliant. It has more than 70 tried-and-tested life skill tips posted so far. The "how to check for testicular cancer" video has resulted in at least two men finding a lump, and the forum has answered delicate questions on penis size and chat-up lines.

When I started this journey I set out to prove to myself that I could get to grips with a world that was passing me by. I took control of my life and I hope my website will encourage other young men to do the same - or at least change a tyre or two.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The private sector could save British schools

I wouldn't want to frighten the horses this early in the day, or cause you to choke on your All-Bran, but I have to admit to always having had a sneaking regard for Lord Adonis, the education minister. This is partly based on my belief that he is not stupid, and is genuinely motivated to improve our schools system. Also, I have had surprisingly good reports of him from several headmasters at our leading public schools.

How my heart sank, therefore, when, in trying to divert attention from the fact that a large proportion of our youth leaves school without anything approaching a qualification in either maths or English, he came up with the traditional, and very unclever, PR line: that any criticism of the GCSE results was an insult to those students who had worked so hard to get "good grades". This mantra was designed some years ago - I first heard it when our would-be prime minister David Miliband was a schools minister - to stop people like me from being rude about these increasingly devalued qualifications. Sadly, we won't be stopped.

If a grade A at A-level these days is the same as a grade C 20 years ago, then heaven knows what a GCSE pass represents in terms of the old O-level. The ability to turn up and write your name without too many mistakes in it seems nearly enough in several subjects: this year's pass rate is an otherwise improbable 98.4 per cent.

I do not insult children who have just piled up GCSE passes, for they are the victims of the system. But it is important that they and their parents realise that having a clutch of A* results does not make the holder the next Einstein. And having a pile of less exalted passes means that, in the days when their parents were taking O levels, they probably wouldn't have passed any.

As I mentioned last week when writing about A-levels, the reasons for this - and for Lord Adonis's embarrassment - are clear. The pass rate is set so low because in many cases the teaching these children get, and the schools in which they attempt to learn, are awful. This is the Government's fault. It has devalued teaching systematically over the years with the result that only the most saintly and vocational of high-quality people now wish to enter it. Many that do find the experience of teaching in one of our comprehensive schools so demoralising that they soon clear off and do something else. Teachers are routinely assaulted and abused by pupils and by their parents.

Not only is there barely any discipline, there are not the means to enforce discipline. The children, meanwhile are left to the attentions of a series of supply teachers, with whom they can never form the relationship needed for successful learning, or to the products of our Marxist-inspired teacher training colleges. God help them, for no one else will.

When the whining starts about the "inequality" between private and state schools, it is not said often enough that it is hardly about money. It is about the quality of teachers in the private sector, many of whom have not been soiled by the state teacher training system, and who are given the means to do their jobs properly. It is also about supportive parents - supportive both of the child and of the teacher. Above all, it is about an attitude towards learning that seems not to exist in much of the public sector, where teachers are forced to be a combination of child minders and social workers.

If Lord Adonis wants to put this right, the route appears simple. He should ask the private schools to use their expertise to set up schools to replace those that are failing. He should pay them to run them and give them carte blanche to manage them.

More here

Algebra trouble in CA

Something is terribly wrong with California math education if 13-year-olds aren't ready to tackle Algebra I. Kids from Asia to Europe to Africa take algebra and geometry in the middle school years, and they do just fine. There's no reason why California kids can't match them. Since 1998, California has had the goal that all eighth-graders should take Algebra I. And the state has made progress. Of 491,000 eighth-graders, 248,000 (50.5 percent) take Algebra I. Another 38,000 (7.8 percent) take geometry or Algebra II.

But that leaves 205,000 eighth-graders who are spending their time repeating the same low-level arithmetic over and over. They're dumped into "general math," never moving beyond the fifth- or sixth-grade level. And the curriculum is deadly boring: Here's a type of problem; here's how you solve it; here is a set of problems to solve. Next topic. All sense of discovery, excitement and challenge is lost. And the learning is shallow. No wonder kids zone out.

So to get the state to the next level, the State Board of Education, following a recommendation by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, has changed the Algebra I goal to a mandate. All of today's fifth-graders will have to take Algebra I in eighth grade. That puts the focus in the right place: Fifth, sixth and seventh grade. If kids get the right thinking and reasoning skills in the earlier grades, they'll do just fine in eighth grade.

Algebra, contrary to popular belief, is not a set of rules for solving equations. It's about discovering patterns, and that is its power in teaching thinking skills that go far beyond mathematics. To see the difference, here's one elementary example:

289 + 847 = ___ + 848. The arithmetic way of solving this would be to add 289 and 847, getting a total of 1,136. You can then get the answer by subtracting 848 from 1,136. But another way is to look for patterns, "algebrafying" the problem. On one side, 848 is one more than 847 on the other side. So the answer has to be one less than 289.

The state needs to do a better job of integrating algebraic reasoning long before eighth grade. Let's do what it takes, starting with fifth grade, to retool what's happening in math classes. That means working with teachers to build new confidence and competence in math.

To be sure, the state also will have to increase the pool of teachers qualified to teach Algebra I. Many who are teaching eighth-grade general math will have to return to school and take a certain number of units to get their math single-subject credential. (Alternatively, they can get a supplemental credential by passing either the foundational or advanced math California Subject Examination for Teachers.)

And the state will certainly have to find new ways to draw more young people to math teaching. It will also have to make it easier for midcareer professionals and retirees to get a math teaching credential.

The new Algebra I mandate is getting conversations going on all those topics. Schools and districts are crafting solutions. The University of California and California State University systems have teams working on the issue. Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell has put out his recommendations. Schwarzenegger is about to release his ideas. This isn't just about eighth grade. It's about increasing the richness of the experience in the fifth, sixth and seventh grades, where math education is standing still for far too many kids.


Don't blame parents for `cotton-wool kids'

Comment from Britain

Today is Playday, a celebration of children's `right to play' - and an ideal time to have a kickabout with the culture of fear that imprisons our kids

An ICM survey commissioned by Play England for Playday - the annual celebration of children's right to play, which takes place today, 6 August - reportedly shows that over-cautious parents are `spoiling' children's playtime. `Children are being denied adventurous play because their parents are nervous about exposing them to risk', warns BBC News (1).

The Playday poll shows that half of children aged 7 to 12 years (51 per cent) are not allowed to climb a tree without adult supervision, and 42 per cent are not allowed to play in their local park without an adult present.

`Constantly wrapping children in cotton wool can leave them ill-equipped to deal with stressful or challenging situations they might encounter later in life', said Adrian Voce, director of Play England, a charity that promotes `free play opportunities'. `Adventurous play both challenges and excites children and helps instil critical life skills,' he said.

According to Play England, this year's Playday theme - `Give us a go!' - highlights children's need to `experience risky and challenging play' in order to ensure they are able to `manage risk in their daily lives' (2). Playday is supported by Persil, the washing powder manufacturer, whose website says the aim is `to shake off the "cotton wool" culture that can limit children's play' (3).

These are commendable aims. There is a real danger that by cocooning, over-protecting and over-supervising children, society might be denying the next generation the opportunity to grow up and become capable, confident adults. This is one of the reasons I decided to write Reclaiming Childhood: Freedom and Play in an Age of Fear, which will be published early next year in the UK and the US (4). I feel strongly that children are losing out on many childhood experiences that my generation took for granted.

Children need space away from adults' watchful eyes - in order to play, experiment, take risks (within a sensible framework provided by adults), test boundaries, have arguments, fight, and learn how to resolve conflicts. Today, they are increasingly denied these opportunities.

But I also feel that in pinning the blame on individual parents and their `over-cautious' anxieties, as Play England is doing today, those who decry the decline of outdoor play are being unfair - and naive. The cause of the cotton-wool kids phenomenon is a broader cultural obsession with risk, which has had a major impact upon policymakers, public institutions and media debate, as well as upon teachers and parents. And in challenging this culture, it is important to be clear about where the real problem lies, and to resist pat explanations for its cause.

In his book Paranoid Parenting, spiked writer and sociologist Professor Frank Furedi described the culture of fear that has led parents to restrict their children's freedom to roam. He showed that parental fears must be understood in the context of a generalised sense of anxiety and risk-aversion, which is particularly strong when it comes to the lives and futures of children.

The fact is that parents are continually told to be `better safe than sorry', and it is far from easy for parents to go against the grain and give their children more freedom than society currently deems acceptable. In April 2008, the New York Sun columnist Lenore Skenazy wrote an article entitled `Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride The Subway Alone'. She gave her son a subway map, a MetroCard, a $20 bill, and several quarters, `just in case he had to make a call', waved him goodbye, and told him she'd see him at home.

She wrote: `I trusted him to figure out that he should take the Lexington Avenue subway, and the 34th Street crosstown bus home. If he couldn't do that, I trusted him to ask a stranger. And then I even trusted that stranger not to think, "Gee, I was about to catch my train home, but now I think I'll abduct this adorable child instead."' (5)

Skenazy later described how she suddenly became `a lightning rod in the parenting wars': `Mention my story and millions of people not only know about it, they have a very strong opinion about it, and me, and my parenting skills - or utter, shameful lack thereof.' In an interview with spiked in April, she described how she became branded `America's worst mom' simply for allowing her child to do what most people her age had done routinely when they were young.

But there were also many parents who applauded her decision to let her son travel alone. In her spiked interview, Skenazy stressed that many people reacted positively to her column. She has now set up a blog - Free Range Kids - which is filled with stories from parents who give their children the freedom to do things on their own, and with the concerns of parents who would like to give their kids more freedom, but don't (see `I've been labelled the world's worst mom', by Nancy McDermott).

The root of the problem is not parental fears but the fact that parents are continually discouraged from entrusting their children to other adults. In the UK, it is a crime to work with children without first being vetted by the authorities. The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act, which was passed into law in England and Wales in 2006, requires that millions of adults whose work involves coming into contact with children must undergo Criminal Records Bureau checks. The message this gives to parents and children is to be suspicious of any adult who comes into contact with young people.

Also, it is almost impossible in Britain today to take photos of one's children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews in public places if they are surrounded by other children. The rules governing the use of cameras and camera-phones in swimming pools, parks, at children's parties, pantomimes, school sports days and any other place where children might be present are ubiquitous, and strictly enforced. The kind of photos that have traditionally appeared in many a family album are now treated as being akin to potential child pornography.

In this climate of institutionalised fear and suspicion, it is little wonder that parents do not feel confident about letting their children play unsupervised in the streets or in local parks - especially when it is assumed by many that any parent who does let their child run around is a Bad Parent, and possibly the `worst mom in the world'.

Ultimately parents will only give children the independence they need if they have sufficient trust in other adults - trust in them not to harm their children, but to look out for them. When we grew up our parents assumed that if we got into trouble, other adults - often strangers - would help out. Today that trust does not exist - or, at least, it has been seriously damaged by government policy, media debate and a rising culture of suspicion towards adults' motives.

Only by challenging the safety-obsessed culture that depicts every adult as a potential threat can we start to build a better future - and present - for our children and ourselves. Today's Playday should involve a lot of fun and freedom for children, which is great; let us now build on it by standing up to the paralysing climate of fear and make every day a Playday for youngsters.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Most U.S. private schools aren't elitist, just independent

Four years ago, my wife and I toured W.W. King Academy near Batesburg. As we walked the hall with the headmaster, an oddity caught my eye. "Honey," I said, "do you notice something different?" She was stumped. "There aren't any locks on the lockers," I told her. "We don't need them," the headmaster said. That sold me.

I can't remember any of the sales pitch we got - just the lockers. Two of my sons and my daughter now attend this unique school, and we couldn't be happier. Like many independent schools in South Carolina, W.W. King Academy does things a little differently.

Sadly, independent schools are often lumped into one big group by the media and politicians. They call them "private" schools. "Private" as in elitist. "Private" as in doctors and lawyers only. "Private" as in if you aren't just like us, don't apply.

The reality of the typical independent school experience is far different. Most of the schools in the S.C. Independent Schools Association have a K-12 enrollment of less than 300 students. The families of middle-class working folks far outnumber the rich folks. King Academy has a current enrollment of 250 students and could comfortably handle 300. This hardly presents a threat to replace even the smallest public school. So why are independent schools pummeled in the press during the big debate on school choice?

Parents of independent school children choose these venues to educate their children for a variety of reasons. Many parents who have enrolled their children in independent schools make significant financial sacrifices to make this experience possible. For many families, an independent school education means choosing between a vacation and an education. Is it worth the sacrifice to know that your children will start the day with a group devotion led by a caring member of the staff? How about smaller classrooms with curriculums free from bureaucratic restraints? Is it comforting to know that practically every adult at a school can call your child by name? How about giving your child the opportunity to be a part of whatever sports team he or she wants to try?

Is it reassuring to know that the possibility of exposure to drugs and alcohol is greatly diminished? Is it nice to have all of your children on one campus? Is it inspiring to know that your child is surrounded by other children who have been sent to the same place with the same goals? I spoke with a teacher at our school last year who had just joined the staff after working at a public school. She said the behavior of the students was so different she felt like she was on a vacation. Doesn't everyone desire this kind of environment for his or her child? The problem is that in many cases, the government can no longer provide the alternative that parents seek.

The current tussle over vouchers will play out eventually. Independent schools will continue to grow and prosper regardless, because they provide something that people want and need. Would it help independent schools if parents were given control of their tax dollars and empowered to choose a school that can fit their goals for their children's education? Sure it would. The failures of public schools, especially in disadvantaged areas, are well documented. Clearly, given the opportunity, parents would choose another option.

As for the argument that public money shouldn't be given to independent schools because the government could not monitor their progress - that's just laughable. Quite simply, independent schools have to perform. If they don't, their customers leave. Independent schools could do twice the job with half the money. They are already doing it.

My oldest son graduated from a terrific public high school, Lexington High School. It's really like a small college. Frankly, I think some small colleges would be jealous. We drive right past Lexington High School these days, though. It's too big for us. We drive by to join the other 170 families who comprise our independent school family. It is a journey rooted in faith, commitment and teamwork. Funds are always tight.

If we need to build something, we raise the money and likely do the work ourselves. If it breaks, we fix it. If the students need something, we find a way. It's hard work sometimes. Independent school families take full ownership and provide all of the time and money to make our schools successful. So spare us the elitist tag. It's a labor of love to send a child to an independent school. Lots of labor, and lots of love, but it's worth it. I wish more people who don't currently have the money could have the opportunity. One good thing so far though: We haven't had to buy any locks.


The British government is too embarrassed to admit its own absurd preschool rules

Ministers are producing misleading "propaganda" which skirts around new targets for the under-5s in an attempt to head off a revolt by parents of nursery children, campaigners claim today. Under the new Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework which comes into force next week, all preschool children in private, voluntary or state childcare in England will be expected to meet 69 literacy, numeracy and problem-solving targets based on, and even using, computers and other technology.

But a booklet for parents on the framework contains no mention of any of the statutory literacy or numeracy targets, emphasising only that children will be expected to "learn through play" and "develop at their own pace".

Two of the most contentious targets are that children should "write their own names . . . and begin to form simple sentences, sometimes using punctuation" and "use phonic knowledge to write simple regular words and make phonetically plausible attempts at more complex words". The booklet states: "It's not about introducing a curriculum for young children. Or making them read or write before they're ready. Quite the reverse." This is despite the guidance for nurseries and childcarers referring to the targets as "learning and development requirements that all early years providers must by law deliver".

The guidance also refers to "the early learning goals which young children should have acquired by the end of the academic year in which they reach five" and "the matters, skills and processes which are required to be taught to young children".

Kim Simpson of the Open Eye campaign which has been set up with the backing of child-development experts, parents and leading children's authors to campaign for improvement to the EYFS, claims that the booklet is misleading. "It makes a point of mentioning the welfare requirements but the statutory learning requirements, which have caused so much disagreement and dissent, are noticeable by their absence," she told The Times. Ms Simpson, who has run a Montessori centre for preschool children in Richmond, West London, for more than 30 years, added that the booklet would confuse parents.

In July the Government bowed to pressure from critics and said that nurseries would be able to opt out of the two most contentious literacy targets if parents agreed to it. Ms Simpson said that anyone reading the booklet would not see anything in it that would justify a nursery seeking an exemption. "There is plenty in the statutory framework that both parents and practitioners have taken strong and principled issue with because of its developmental inappropriateness," she said. "But, in stark contrast, there is pretty much nothing that any parent or practitioner would take issue with in this parents' booklet. "[The booklet] seems to amount to little more than a propaganda exercise specially launched by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, and designed to head off any `parents' revolt' about the EYFS," she said.

Leading authors and child development experts have criticised some of the statutory targets in the EYFS, claiming that they are unrealistic and risk harming preschool children by setting back their development. They also accuse Beverley Hughes, the Children's Minister, of ignoring her advisers and shelving research commissioned by her department that found that tutoring children to read using basic phonics and simple sentences does not improve their success once they start school.


The Central Fallacy of Public Schooling

When World War II ended, Congress authorized a tax cut to take effect January 1, 1946. Young America, a publication distributed through public schools, ran an article in its December 13, 1945, issue discussing the measure and presenting a brief history of American taxation. The article concluded with a section titled "Then & Now: Taxes Serve Us." "One hundred years ago," the writer stated, "our government helped the citizens by maintaining order. It did little else. Its expenses were low, and so taxes were low." He then quoted Benjamin Franklin's observation in Poor Richard's Almanack in 1758: "It would be a hard government that should tax its people one-tenth part of their income." The Young America writer continued, "In 1940, our Federal, State and local governments taxed us one-fifth of our incomes. But Franklin could not have guessed the tremendous growth of this country."

The writer then offered justification for such high taxes: "As students, our young citizens are given school buildings. Our government does hundreds of things for us in our everyday life." He finished with a quotation from Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.: "I like to pay taxes. It is purchasing civilization." The article vividly illustrates the overriding intent of public schooling, which has always been indoctrination of the young.

Indoctrination itself is not illegitimate. In fact, it is an intrinsic part of child rearing. Out of love and concern, parents explicitly or implicitly formulate desired outcomes for the young lives they have created. Parents generally hope their children will adhere to their own traditions and belief systems, which they attempt to inculcate.

The question parents must face is, "Who will do the indoctrinating?" Schooling is an adjunct to child rearing. The schooling options available force parents to make decisions regarding the level of autonomy they wish to exercise. They retain the greatest control over their children's developing beliefs by schooling them at home. An alternative is to enroll their children in an institution where they are certain the indoctrination conforms to their own values, such as a religious school.

When parents send a child to a tax-funded school, they sacrifice their autonomy to alien interests. The state has goals of its own that are distinct from those of parents. Parents are able to economize by availing themselves of a "free" school, but the bargain is Faustian. The child is subjected to indoctrination outside parental control. The price of tax-funded schooling is that parents give up their children to become instruments of the state. Under totalitarian regimes, the subjugation of parental belief systems to those of the state is blatant. Schoolchildren are propagandized into the doctrines of the leadership, their thoughts molded to the state's purposes.

But even under a "democratic" regime the state operates manipulatively for its own ends. Those who govern generally like to continue governing. Their governance is more easily maintained when the governed are passive and docile. The state propaganda machine must convince the citizenry of government's benevolence. Schoolchildren are taught, as in the Young America article, that government "gives" them things and "does" things for them.

Government schools inevitably become battlegrounds for control by ideological adversaries. The nature of the indoctrination changes as advocates of particular ideologies wax and wane in their power to influence curricula. The constant is that parents have relinquished direct control over what their children are taught to believe. This battle has been going on ever since the modern public school emerged in the first half of the 1800s. Education historian Joel Spring stated, "In the Western world of the nineteenth century, various political and economic groups believed that government-operated schools could be a mechanism for assuring the distribution of their particular ideology to the population. In this sense, public schools were the first mass medium designed to reach an entire generation."[1]

Indoctrination through compulsory schooling originated early in the nation's history. Massachusetts Bay Colony was organized unabashedly as a theocratic government that required citizens to adhere to stipulated religious beliefs. In 1642 the Massachusetts General Court passed an act requiring compulsory education of children and giving town selectmen the authority to maintain orthodox teaching and punish recalcitrant parents. The civil government was in charge of the schools, which were supported by taxes. R. Freeman Butts and Lawrence A. Cremin wrote, "Here was the principle that government had authority to control schools, and it was well enunciated in the New England colonies early in their histories. It was a principle of great importance, for it set a precedent in American life establishing the authority of the state to promote education as a public and civil matter."[2]

However, private schoolmasters were in business in Boston by the mid-1660s, according to records examined by Robert Francis Seybolt. The number of private teachers gradually enlarged to the end of the seventeenth century, partly in response to market demand. He wrote, "The two public schools [in Boston] . . . admitted only boys who were at least seven years of age and had learned to read. Girls as well as boys were welcome, at any age, in the private schools."[3] In the 1700s in New England, Butts and Cremin noted, private schools flourished as "colonial legislatures showed a slackening of effort to require compulsory education and gave greater freedom to private groups to educate children in schools of their own preference."[4]

A wide variety of curricula was offered in eighteenth-century Boston private schools, Seybolt found. "Unhampered by the control of the town meeting, and little influenced by traditional modes of procedure, these institutions were free to grow with the town. This they did as conditions suggested it. The result was a remarkably comprehensive program of instruction which appears to have met every contemporary educational need."[5]

Seybolt articulated the benefits of private-sector schooling. "The private schools were free to originate, and to adapt their courses of instruction to the interests of the students. The masters sought always to keep strictly abreast of the time, for their livelihood depended on the success with which they met these needs. No such freedom or incentive was offered the masters of the public schools."[6]

This principle was overwhelmed by the swelling tide of nationalism of the early 1800s. Proponents of common schools, or tax-funded elementary schools requiring compulsory attendance, viewed them as crucial vehicles for indoctrinating young people in Americanism. The movement intensified as immigration increased from continental European cultures that lacked democratic traditions. Benjamin Labaree, president of Middlebury College in Vermont, expressed popular fears in an 1849 lecture before the American Institute of Instruction. He asked, "Shall these adopted citizens become a part of the body politic, and firm supporters of liberal institutions, or will they prove to our republic what the Goths and Huns were to the Roman Empire?"[7]

Wartime Indoctrination

Chauvinistic indoctrination becomes a useful tool of the state in wartime, as when President Woodrow Wilson created the Committee on Public Information (CPI) to build support for American participation in World War I and to blunt opposition by constituencies with European roots. The nation's high schools were prime propaganda targets and received hundreds of thousands of copies of a CPI-produced pamphlet designed to stir anti-German sentiment. "Germany does not really wage war," the pamphlet stated.

"She assassinates, massacres, poisons, tortures, intrigues; she commits every crime in the calendar, such as arson, pillage, murder, and rape."[8] Joel Spring commented, "From the standpoint of the public schools, [the CPI] was the first major attempt to bring the goals of locally controlled schools into line with the policy objectives of the federal government."[9]

An influential CPI official was William Bagley, who "believed that local control of educational policy was a major hindrance in adapting the public schools to the needs of the United States as a world leader. . . . The combination of the war and the new national spirit opened the door for the federal government to exercise leadership in a national educational policy. Included in Bagley's proposals was a call for federal financing of the public school system."[10]

During the 1920s, local schools suffered for being dominated by the wrong kinds of people on their boards, according to public-school champion George S. Counts. His research showed that "for the most part, [board members] are drawn from the more favored economic and social classes. They are also persons who have enjoyed unusual educational advantages. . . . No longer is the ordinary American community homogeneous as regards interests, philosophy, and ideals. Hence the need of guarding the integrity of the various minority groups."[11] The laboring classes were expressing "lack of confidence in the public school on the ground that it is under the control of the great capitalistic and employing interests."[12] As the high school of that era evolved and expanded in curricula, he noted, "the institution offers itself as a powerful agency of propaganda to any group able to secure dominion over it."[13]

Since then the dominion of the federal government over schooling has grown to a scope of which Bagley would approve. Its power, abetted by the activism that the collectivist Counts advocated for teacher organizations, enables it to be the leading propagandist in educational policy.

But the nationalist Bagley would be disappointed in the ideology that has accompanied the federal growth. The current pre-eminent public-school propaganda indoctrinates students in an anti-nationalistic collectivist environmentalism. Meanwhile, Counts's "capitalistic and employing interests" attempt to re-establish influence because so many products of public schools need remediation before they can become employable.

Proponents of public schooling argue against the complete privatization of schooling on the grounds that the poor would not be able to afford tuition and that some parents would not provide schooling for their children, leaving them "uneducated." However, the rampant levels of ignorance, subliteracy, and hostility to learning that characterize tax-funded schools argue that the present system is itself not serving the best interests of students.

Instead it is clear whose interests are being advanced. Fifty-four years ago the writer in Young America was moved to emphasize in italics that era's apparently high tax rates. Since then the average tax burden has doubled. Yet, as one of my acquaintances has commented, "Americans today are in a stupor." In other words, the tax-supported school system has triumphed. Americans are behaving exactly the way those who govern desire them to behave.

Children who are turned over to the state become molded by the state. Most parents cannot conceive of a totally privatized alternative because they themselves have been indoctrinated by public schooling to believe in its alleged necessity. However, it is fallacious for parents to think that children can escape government schooling without having their traditions and beliefs subverted. "Free" schooling is seductively attractive in the short run, but it has long-term costs. The dismantling of tax-funded schooling will not be accomplished until more and more parents say, "My child does not belong to the state."


Monday, August 25, 2008

Congress flunks in higher education act

Colleges that take taxpayer money must be held accountable for how much students actually learn

It's fair to say that the latest college rankings from U.S. News and World Report, due out Aug. 22, will be more widely read than the Higher Education Act signed last week by President Bush. There's a good reason for that, and it's not because the act is 1,158 pages long and a foot high. College-bound students often use the magazine's annual rankings to find the best schools to apply to. As imperfect as these comparisons are, the rankings have shaken up higher education.

Unfortunately, the rankings mainly measure prestige and inputs - such as SAT scores - and fail to satisfy a demand to know which schools deliver on the quality of education achieved by graduates. As Congress sought to renew the Higher Education Act - first passed in 1965 - the Bush administration and some in Congress wanted government to hold colleges accountable for such "learning outcomes."

Billions of taxpayer dollars are spent on these institutions or are given in student loans, and yet taxpayers know next to nothing about their return on this investment.

The university lobby, however, rose up against the idea of providing an objective measure for consumers on educational quality. Professors joined in this effort, claiming government cannot withhold money from schools by using the same measuring stick for all schools. That would infringe on academic freedom, they insist.

They're right in that scholarship must be free of federal interference. But given the billions in federal aid, professors should be measured on the results of their core mission, education.

In the end, lawmakers succumbed to this lobby. They not only ditched the idea of providing data on quality, they barred the Education Department from doing so on its own. So this act is notable more for what it lacks - or prevents - than for what it does.

Fortunately, many schools are willing to be measured by private groups, such as the Collegiate Learning Assessment or the National Survey of Student Engagement. Such surveys serve as the industry's answer to the US News rankings. But it is up to each school whether to release their own survey data, so rankings are difficult. Most colleges still resist knowing how well they compare in learning outcomes.

In passing this act, Congress did not balk at one consumer demand: reining in tuition hikes. Colleges with the highest and lowest tuitions will now be ranked, while the top 5 percent with the biggest tuition increases will need to justify their increases and reveal plans to control them. And in another step to rein in tuition rises, states will be penalized if they do not maintain steady spending for state schools.

But Congress rejected two good ideas: requiring schools to reveal "merit" aid for students from wealthy families and to provide incoming freshmen with a four-year schedule of expected tuitions. This act does make an effort to improve the access and affordability of higher education but fails in delivering on the most important aspect: accountability for quality. Without that, it may be difficult to ensure America's colleges and universities remain the best in the world. Perhaps Congress won't wait years to fix this lapse.


German authorities: Children may 'visit' parents

Youth Welfare Office relents with homeschooling family

Authorities in one of Germany's regional Jugendamt, or Youth Welfare Offices, without explanation have relented and given five sisters permission to "visit" their parents, from whom they were taken by government officers earlier this year over the family's homeschooling. According to a report from the Home School Legal Defense Association, which has been involved in defending a number of homeschooling families under attack in Germany, authorities this week confirmed the Gorber sisters could return to their home to visit their parents "temporarily." The girls have been detained in "youth homes" for the last eight months with only minimal visitation with their family because of court concerns over the family's homeschooling.

The HSLDA said the permission to visit their home extends "until the beginning of September," but no word was available on what would be required of the family at that point.

Lawyers for the family have argued there is no valid reason for the government to retain custody of the girls. Even so, a court decision earlier this month ordered the five to remain in state custody. The children were taken into custody by the government in January - in a SWAT-style raid on the family home while the parents made a trip to a hospital. A recent court ruling released a 3-year-old back into his parents' custody but ordered the five sisters to be kept in state custody. The ruling also included an order for the parents to be evaluated by a psychologist.

A family friend reported to HSLDA that the "children have held up well under the circumstances and have not been susceptible to manipulation by the Jugendamt or other children in the homes. This is a real testimony of the strength of the family and the parents."

The Gorbers have homeschooled because of their religious convictions, HSLDA said. In Germany, the sexualization of school curriculum is advanced, and Christian perspectives are repressed, critics have said. The parents have promised to fight until they regain permanent custody of all their children.

A similar raid happened in 2007 when the police seized Melissa Busekros, then 15, from her home in Erlangen and kept her in foster homes for months with severe restrictions on family visits. When she turned 16 and was subject to different national laws concerning her education, she escaped from her foster home and now is back at home, pressing her case against the government for violating her civil rights.

The HSLDA said there are concerns attacks will increase, since German President Horst Kohler signed a law recently that actually makes it easier for the Jugendamt to take children from their families. The new law allows removal if authorities consider the children "endangered." The term "endangered," however, not defined in the law and courts already have ruled homeschooling is "an abuse of parental rights."

Another homeschooling family, Juergen and Rosemarie Dudek, were sentenced in July to 90 days in jail each for homeschooling, and they are appealing their case.

Other families simply have fled Germany, seeking refuge in England, New Zealand, the United States, Canada and even Iran, the HSLDA said.

Michael Donnelly, a staff attorney for the homeschool organization, said Germany simply is "out of step" by choosing to clamp down on concerned parents who follow their conscience in educating their own children. "This kind of behavior by the Federal Republic of Germany is very disturbing," he said. Germany's policies are in conflict with most of the rest of the European Union, and even the U.N. has criticized its attacks on parental rights.

HSLDA officials estimate there are some 400 homeschool families in Germany, virtually all of them either forced into hiding or facing court actions.


Clash with university over beliefs strands student

Seeking resolution of master's degree work at Temple

A university student who challenged his school's "speech code" and won a ruling in federal court that it was vague, overbroad and stifled student speech, including his Christian views, is continuing his battle with Temple University because the school has - three years after he completed it - declined to provide a grade on his master's thesis, thus effectively denying him his degree.

The Alliance Defense Fund recently announced that the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had affirmed the district court victory by Christian DeJohn, who is a sergeant in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. The ADF handled DeJohn's successful request in the courts for a permanent injunction against Temple University's speech code, and after a district judge sided with DeJohn, the appeals court confirmed "speech cannot be prohibited in the absence of a tenable threat of disruption. Furthermore, the policy's use of 'hostile,' 'offensive,' and 'gender-motivated' is, on its face, sufficiently broad and subjective that they 'could conceivably be applied to cover any speech' of a 'gender-motivated' nature 'the content of which offends someone.'"

Continued the appeals court ruling, "This could include 'core' political and religious speech, such as gender politics and sexual morality. The policy provides no shelter for core protected speech."

DeJohn's career, however, is not advancing as he planned. He told WND the judge's order did not include instructions for Temple to grade his thesis, so more than three years after he completed it under school supervision, it still sits. DeJohn now is serving at Fort Meade in Maryland, and told WND how the problems developed. He said he was enrolled at Temple in Philadelphia, but left about seven months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks because he was deployed to Bosnia. While he was in Bosnia, he started getting anti-war e-mails, called "teach-ins" from Richard Immerman, chairman of Temple's history department. DeJohn responded with a request that the e-mails be stopped.

Then when he returned from active duty and tried to re-enroll in Temple as a graduate student, he was told he had been expelled because he had not asked permission to leave the university. DeJohn produced copies of his written request, with copies of his orders to deploy, and officials then attributed the situation to "computer error." He eventually was allowed back into school and worked on his master's degree in American and Military History.

However, two professors whose classes he took, Gregory Urwin's "Comparative History of Modern Warfare" and Immerman's "American Diplomatic History," included diatribes against President Bush, the military and the war, he said. During the course of those lectures, DeJohn expressed his opinion. He also finished his thesis, "The Sherman Tank in World War II: For Want of a Gun," in 2005 following payments for "thesis guidance" to the school, but he claims because of the dispute, the school simply declined to address his project.

However, Ray Betzner, a Temple spokesman, told WND the court simply did not rule in DeJohn's favor on the issues regarding the thesis. "In short, his academic performance just wasn't good enough," Temple attorney Joe H. Tucker, Jr. said. "It had nothing to do with his First Amendment rights and everything to do with Temple professor's academic freedom to grade a student's poorly written, poorly constructed . thesis."

However, the primary reader of his thesis, Dr. Jay Lockenour, was ready to sign off on it but when DeJohn needed a secondary reader, Urwin refused to approve it, DeJohn said. He said Lockenour apparently believed it would be resolved, and advised him to register to graduate in May 2005, but it didn't happen. Despite those circumstances, DeJohn said Temple reported to his student loan companies that he had obtained a diploma, causing his loans in the amount of $50,000 to default, damaging his credit.

DeJohn said he believed Temple had initiated a campaign against him, punishing him for openly discussing his opinions while he was a student. He even wrote to Temple's president, David Adamany, seeking his help regarding the obstacles he was facing. Subsequently, when asked under oath if he was aware of DeJohn's dilemma, Adamany denied being aware of allegations about violations of academic freedoms. DeJohn, also under oath, produced copies of their communication. Shortly thereafter, in a front page story in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Jan. 20, 2006, Adamany announced his resignation. Betzner insists that he "retired."

DeJohn eventually sought help from Accuracy in Academia and a Pennsylvania state representative, and later followed the discrimination complaint filed by the Alliance Defense Fund. But even today, DeJohn's academic status remains in limbo because his status of his thesis hasn't been resolved. And the campaign apparently even has gone beyond that. DeJohn reported when he applied for a job as historian at The Army Military History Institute at The Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania, Urwin apparently e-mailed one of his former students who worked there, saying that he understood that DeJohn had applied for the job. He stated that all veterans are mentally imbalanced because they have been trained to kill by the Army.

DeJohn said he never even was interviewed for the post, but under a Freedom of Information Act request, he obtained documents showing that he was rated No. 1 out of 62 candidates for that position.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

McCain Is the Pro-Choice Candidate -- in education

Obama would do the bidding of the teachers unions, and children would pay the price.


America's first charter school opened in Minnesota in 1992. Sixteen years later, there are 4,128 charter schools educating 1.24 million students in 40 states and the District of Columbia. Another 300 to 400 are expected to open in the coming school year.

Charter schools are public schools, but they are very different. The Center for Education Reform's 2008 Annual Survey reports that responding charter schools are one-third smaller than conventional public schools, with about 348 students, compared with 521. They spend less-about $7,625 per student, compared with $9,138 in public schools-and they receive only about 61% of the per pupil government funding that other public schools receive. They nevertheless offer longer school days, longer school years, often performance-based pay for teachers and more innovative curricula than conventional public schools. The majority of charter school students are classified as minority (52%), at risk (50%) or low income (54%).

Most important, charter school students often outperform other public school students. The Center for Education Reform reports that last year in Colorado, 73.3% of third- through eight-grade charter school students "performed at or above proficiency in reading, as opposed to 67.7% of conventional public school students." In California charter middle school's median Academic Performance Index was 767, compared with 726 in traditional middle schools.

Access to better schools can be aided by the availability of vouchers. Four years ago President Bush signed into law the Washington, D.C., Opportunity Scholarship Program, which made federally financed school choice available to disadvantaged children of low-income families in the capital. They can receive vouchers worth up to $7,500 a year to attend private schools of their choice. Some 1,900 students, from families with an average income of $23,000 a year, are now participating in the voucher program. They are attending better schools, they are doing better educationally (after just a few years), and their parents are more satisfied. So popular is the program that there are about four applicants for every school choice opening, meaning that 7,000 Washington families would like to have their children attend better schools of their choice. Even those families that do not benefit from the limited voucher scholarship program can benefit from attending charter schools. Some 25,000 Washington students are expected to do so this fall.

The contrast between the Washington public and charter schools is dramatic. The District of Columbia spends $13,400 per public school student, the third highest in the nation. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the district ranked last in math scores and next to last in reading scores among all urban public school systems in the U.S. The Center for Education Reform found that students in charter elemtary schools were more proficient in math than conventional students by nine percentage points, 38% to 29%, and in reading by five percentage points, 43% to 38%.

Washington is the best example of three important educational conclusions: School choice (charter schools and vouchers) is improving the education of students; it is wildly popular among parents with children in public schools; and it provokes vigorous opposition from by teachers unions and the liberal political establishment. And it is an issue that deeply divides the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, which means the November election may well determine its future.

School vouchers do not drain money from the district's public schools, for they are funded by federal government appropriations (and in any case represent only about 1.5% of its education spending). But congressional Democrats vigorously oppose the Opportunity Scholarship Program and are working to end it. The program expires at the end of the 2009-10 school year, and if it is not renewed, the 1,900 students who have been given an opportunity to get out of failed public schools would be sent back to schools that are doing much worse than the charters they attend. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's nonvoting House delegate is strongly opposed to vouchers--"I can tell you that the Democratic Congress is not about to extend this [the Opportunity Scholarship] program"--and all but four Democrats voted against the voucher bill when in 2003 it passed the House on a 205-203 vote.

Teachers unions are also opposed. The National Education Association says "there is no need to set up new threats to schools for not performing" (they have that backwards); that "vouchers were not designed to help low-income children" (but they do); and "despite desperate efforts to make the voucher debate about school choice and improving opportunities for low-income students, vouchers remain an elitist strategy." But of course there is nothing elitist about helping low-income children leave failed public schools.

Barack Obama's thinking matches the NEA's. In February he said, "If there was any argument for vouchers, it was, 'Let's see if the experiment works.' And if it does, whatever my preconception, you do what is best for the kids." But when that drew public attention, his campaign reminded us "that throughout his career he has voted against voucher proposals" and his education plan "does not include vouchers, in any shape or form." Earlier this summer he spoke of his opposition to vouchers and the "tired rhetoric about vouchers and school choice"--very similar to the language the NEA president used in criticizing John McCain for embracing "the tired old rhetoric on vouchers."

Mr. Obama's 15-page education plan does not mention vouchers or charter schools, yet he, like 45% of other senators, has chosen to send his daughters to a private school. The Obamas may receive a voucher of sorts: The University of Chicago, where Michelle Obama works, offers discounts to employees who send their children to the university's Lab School.

Sen. McCain is of the opposite judgment; he is strongly for school choice. His Web site says, "Public education should be defined as one in which our public support for a child's education follows that child into the school the parent chooses," and "school choice for all who want it, and expansion of Opportunity Scholarships . . . will all be a part of a serious agenda of education reform."

School choice and charter schools are today the most important example we have of how to create better schools and improve children's education. That charter schools are less expensive and academically superior to public schools is what we need to understand about our education system.


Britain's top universities 'favouring the poor'

Leading universities have been accused of discriminating against middle class pupils by favouring less-qualified students from poorer backgrounds. An investigation by The Daily Telegraph reveals five out of 20 elite institutions in the UK make lower grade offers to sixth-formers from poor-performing schools and deprived homes. The London School of Economics, Bristol, Nottingham, Newcastle, and Edinburgh all allow staff to choose students with worse grades. Overall, almost two-thirds of the elite Russell Group - which represents research-intensive universities - attach weighting to candidates' schools, home postcodes and whether family members also attended university as a tiebreaker during the application process.

The findings will fuel allegations of "social engineering" at the most sought-after universities. It comes just days after Oxford was criticised for using postcodes to identify students from less well-off areas when interviewing candidates. Under Government rules, all higher education institutions have a duty to encourage more students from non-traditional backgrounds to apply.

But Martin Stephen, high master of St Paul's, a fee-paying school in west London, branded the move "immensely dangerous and hugely unfair". "One is in very close danger of punishing a child for coming from a good home or going to a good school," he said. Alan Smithers, professor of education at Buckingham University, said: "There would be uproar if we tried to take into account this data when selecting our Olympic team. We don't seem to be able to recognise talent and develop talent as we do in the sporting arena."

At present just a fifth of students at Russell Group universities come from deprived backgrounds, compared to almost a third at other institutions. Three-quarters are from state schools, even though they account for 93 per cent of children educated in the UK. The Telegraph analysed admissions policies at all 20 universities.

Documents reveal that students from poor homes can receive vastly differing advantages depending on where they apply. Twelve universities instructed tutors to use some form of routinely gathered data about students' socio-economic or educational background as a standard part of the admissions procedure. An admissions policy drawn up by the LSE says: "The lower the average performance of the school, the more weight may be given to the candidate whose past examination performance significantly exceeds their school's average performance." Five universities also allow staff to use flexible grade offers to take applicants' backgrounds into consideration.

Newcastle University says: "Admissions tutors have discretion to make conditional offers which differ from the typical entry requirement, if in their judgement the typical entry requirement would not be appropriate because of the particular circumstances of an applicant." A spokesman for Bristol laid out a scenario in which two candidates apply for the same place, "one of whom is predicted to achieve AAB at A-level while the other is heading for AAA".

"The first attends a school that is dealing with many educational challenges and where AAB is exceptional," he said. "The second attends a school where AAA is not unusual. He or she has an uninspiring reference and a lacklustre personal statement. We think that offering a place to the first candidate rather than the second is both fair and in tune with our desire to recruit the students with the strongest academic qualities."

All of the universities who make use of personal information defended their decision, claiming that it allows them to operate a fair policy by identifying potential and not just prior achievement. But eight Russell Group universities - including Birmingham, Cardiff, Imperial, Queen's University Belfast and Southampton - consider the use of such information to be unfair. Some also said it breached their equal opportunities policies and could trigger a decline in academic standards.

An Imperial College London spokesman said: "Admission is based on academic merit... the College will not lower its admission standards as a means of widening access."


Australia: School choice is 'guesswork' says Federal education boss

Julia Gillard says parents have no guarantee their child's school meets a minimum standard of education, acknowledging that choosing the best school is little more than guesswork. In an interview with The Weekend Australian, the Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister said parents choosing a school for their child were forced to rely on rumour and prejudice, rather than being able to make a decision based on facts. "A lot of guessing goes into the decision and there should be more objective information," she said. "Giving full information to people would mean that they can actually know what's going on and, rather than judging individual schools or school systems on the basis of myths, rumour, prejudice or perception, people would have the facts,"

Ms Gillard called on the states and territories to agree to greater transparency of school results and features. Inspired by the changes made in New York City by the education chancellor Joel Klein, Ms Gillard is proposing schools make public as much information as they can, from the qualifications of their teachers to comparing their students' performance and improvement against groups of similar schools.

One of the features of the New York system is that schools consistently failing to meet benchmarks are closed, giving parents confidence that their child's school is meeting expected standards. Asked whether parents could have the same confidence in Australian schools, Ms Gillard agreed they could not. "I'm not sure that is the case at the moment. Perhaps as worrying as that statement is, from the point of view of being the federal Education Minister, I couldn't tell because the amount of information that's available doesn't enable me to make that judgment in a meaningful way," she said. "So I think the more information that's available to parents, the better. "People will still make choices for a wide variety of reasons."

Speaking at his Manhattan office yesterday, Mr Klein said he and Ms Gillard spoke at length about the need for federal governments to set clear national standards in education. "There should be very strong national standards and national assessments so we can say what it actually means to graduate from a high school, rather than letting each state set its own benchmark," he said. "Australian children are going to have to compete with kids all over the world, so the opportunity to set really strong standards and make the information about them transparent to parents, to educators, to everybody, seems to me to be a very intelligent central government function."

He conceded that letter grading of schools, while important, was not fundamental to the transparency process. "Put it this way, if she (Ms Gillard) were to make everything transparent, showing progress, tying it to meaningful national assessments but without putting a letter grade on schools, she would have accomplished a great deal," he said. "I think the power of letter grades is that they focus the mind. But data and information will also focus the mind, and you never want the best to be the enemy of the good."

Ms Gillard envisages a system in which schools report their students' achievements and the progress they are making, which would be compared with a group of peer schools with a similar student population. She said school reports should also include the staffing numbers and qualifications, welfare indicators about the students and how it defines its mission. The Government is still determining how to report student and school achievement, whether as performance bands or levels of proficiency as in New York.

"Peer grouping methodologies are very important to enable genuine comparisons of like with like," she said. "We know that kids across the nation go to schools with a set of abilities and challenges and we know that schools that cater for disadvantaged communities tend to be working with more students who need extra assistance."

Ms Gillard said the purpose was not to shame schools and students, but to identify those in need of extra assistance, and share the methods used by the most successful schools. "What's got a negative reaction from many around the place is the sense that was pushed very strongly by the Howard government that all of this was going to be about raw scores," she said. "School leaders and schoolteachers I think would respond well to feeling there is going to be an objective measurement and understanding of the nature of the particular task they face."

The New York system is underpinned by giving schools resources, giving the principals the autonomy to spend them, and then hold the principals accountable for meeting their own goals. Schools must set goals each year and are expected to show an improvement in their students every year, so that even the top-performing schools will not receive the highest rating if their students show no improvement. Schools failing to meet benchmarks year on year are restructured or closed while those that perform well receive financial rewards.

Ms Gillard ruled out a system of rewards and penalties in Australia and said the Government was looking to direct extra resources to the areas of most need. "We're looking at a model about supplementing resources to make a difference for disadvantaged schools rather than a rewards-based model," she said. "One would be in a better position to work out which schools need extra assistance, a better position to then measure the difference that the extra assistance and implemented programs make. That evaluation would enable us to identify and spread best practice."

Ms Gillard said bringing greater transparency to school performance and characteristics would confer greater accountability in the system, and motivate schools to improve each year. "I do think transparency of information in and of itself will spur people to do better and they will all want to be seen to be doing better," she said.