Saturday, September 06, 2008

CAIR Gets Failing Grades at Running Ohio Charter Schools

The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) released their annual school report cards this week, and the results show that two taxpayer-financed Islamic charter schools operated by officials of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) have failed miserably yet again. But protected by powerful political connections, including Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, and apparently indifferent to their exploitation of the Somali children that comprise the vast majority of their students, the Islamic extremists running the operation appear to have no fear of losing their cash cows. In fact, Ohio educrats have renewed one school’s contract after five years of complete academic failure.

The two schools, International Academy and Westside Academy, are run by a group of local Islamic leaders, including CAIR national board vice chairman Ahmad Al-Akhras, CAIR-Columbus president and CAIR-Ohio board member Abukar Arman, and Islamic Society of Greater Columbus president and imam Mouhamed Tarazi (who serves as principal of one of the schools). At one time or another, all have served on the board of the local private Islamic school in Central Ohio, Sunrise Academy.

Beginning operations in 2002, International Academy has a long track record of failure. According to the school’s most recent state report card, the school only meets two of the 19 indicators measured (one of the two indicators it met was attendance). The performance index score of 73.9 fell well short of the 100 points required (of 120 total; the state median is 96.6), but since that was slightly more than the 72.2 scored the previous school year (2006-2007) the school received a “continuous improvement” designation. Only in the Orwellian world of union-controlled, taxpayer-financed public education does this performance rate a grade of C-, thanks to some grade inflation in this year’s report cards courtesy of the ODE.

That “continuous improvement” designation notwithstanding, since International Academy opened, it has never met the state’s required “adequate yearly progress” standard and has never met more than two of the state indicators. Looking at the past three years of academic performance data, we find in four of the seven tested areas, test scores declined last year from the previous year.

The second school, Westside Academy, appears to be following in its older brother’s failing footsteps. Their state report card shows that they met state standards in one area — attendance. Across all grade levels and subjects, less than 20 percent of their students rated proficient or better. In one subject area, 3rd grade math, the school achieved zero percent proficiency. Their performance index also dropped to 56.9 last school year (again, 100 of 120 points being the state requirement), putting them in the “academic watch” category.

No doubt, officials for both schools will place the blame on their students, claiming that since many of them speak English as a second language they are at a disadvantage. But in fact, ODE excluded testing results from students who had limited English proficiency. And the school curriculum itself continues to academically disadvantage the children. Instead of focusing their efforts on helping them improve their English skills, the language emphasis at these two schools is not on English, but instead, Arabic — a foreign language to Somalis. If there is one subject that both schools excel in, it is Islamic extremism.

More here

Is it Really 'Public' Education If Voters Get No Say?

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, the state Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that will shape the future of education in Florida. At issue are two constitutional amendment questions slated to go before voters in November. A lawyer for Florida's teachers union will argue that they should be removed from the ballot; the secretary of state's lawyer will ask the court to leave them in place, allowing voters to decide these questions. The court should let Floridians have their say.

The first question, Amendment 7, deals with religious discrimination. This amendment would make it illegal to exclude any person or organization from participating in a public program because of religion. It also would allow the state to continue operating programs under which religious organizations can receive funding as long as the purposes and primary effects of those programs are secular (as required by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution).

The second question, Amendment 9, would require at least 65 percent of school-district operating expenditures to be spent in the classroom rather than on administration. It also would allow legislators to create alternative education programs in addition to the constitutionally required public-school system (though it wouldn't create any new programs).

Judge John Cooper of Tallahassee's Circuit Court already approved both questions for inclusion on the November ballot, and opponents have asked the state Supreme Court to reverse his decision. It would be a surprise if the court were to oblige them. Cooper's written opinion was short and simple, demonstrating that the questions were legally added to the ballot, and that their wording is not misleading as plaintiffs claimed.

But although the legal details of the case seem almost trivial, the principles at stake, especially on Amendment 9, are momentous. This question would decide whether Florida children have access to the best system of education legislators can devise, or if they will be forced to make do with the status quo. And the status quo is nothing to cheer about.

In the early grades, Florida students have made some promising academic headway in recent years, but SAT scores are down from a decade ago -- a decline that can't be fully explained by changes in the number of students taking the test. Florida's graduation rate places it 42nd in the nation, even though it is in the middle of the pack when it comes to total spending per pupil ($12,000 last year).

But, ever since the Florida Supreme Court's 2006 decision in Bush v. Holmes, legislators have been forbidden to offer families any new alternatives to the traditional public-school system. If Amendment 9 does make it onto the ballot, and voters approve it, lawmakers would once again be free to design new educational options to serve Florida families. The amendment wouldn't create a single new program; it would just permit legislators to create such programs if they wished to do so.

And that's what's so remarkable about the case before the court on Wednesday. The Florida Education Association, the union representing the state's public-school employees, has sued to prevent Floridians from even having a say on the future of public education. Would it even make sense to keep calling it a "public" school system if voters are given no voice in the matter?

It's no surprise that the union opposes this amendment, because it opposes any education program that would provide families with an alternative to the schools employing its members. That's only natural. And it's no surprise that school-choice supporters are in favor of the amendment, because many of their proposals will be impossible without it. But, in the end, it is the people's education system, and the people should have a right to decide whether or not they want alternatives to it.


Friday, September 05, 2008

More indoctrination for British kids

New pupils enrolling in secondary schools this week will be required by law to stay in education until the age of 17, the government said on Wednesday. Raising the minimum leaving age from 16 to 17 is just one of several initiatives taking place in schools this term. Teenagers heading back to school after the summer holidays will also be among the first to study new diplomas in engineering, construction, IT, media and health. The syllabus for 11 to 14-year-olds will also see significant changes, as will well as changes to GCSE and A level exams, with the latter getting a new A* grade for the top achieving pupils.

The steps are part of the government's drive to keep youngsters in education or training till the age of 18 -- a move which will become enforceable in 2015. Ministers estimate around 200,000 youngsters between 16 and 18 are not in education or training.

"Education is all about opportunities -- a good education opens doors. It is the single best way for anyone, regardless of background, to do well and to gain the skills they need to succeed at whatever they want to do," said Schools Secretary Ed Balls. "I want to see a situation where every single young person has a range of interesting, exciting and challenging options ahead of them at every stage of their education, so that they never feel tempted to drop out or give up," he said. "This year will see some of the biggest steps towards this goal yet."

Meanwhile, a slew of computer glitches has caused more embarrassment for ministers after it emerged that around 150,000 17-year-old pupils will not receive their maintenance grants. The allowances, worth up to 30 pounds a week, were held up when the company responsible for processing applications, developed software problems.


Sociology and political science have fouled their nests

Lots of opinion but little content

Key philanthropic and government programs offering grants for Ph.D. students appear to be excluding proposals for graduate students in sociology and political science, while favoring proposals from those in history, anthropology and a range of relatively small disciplines, such as art history and ethnomusicology, according to data released Friday.

The analysis was presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association and focused on programs to support field research or international research. The issue is particularly important because the analysis comes at a time that many political scientists are urging the discipline to push those who focus on American government and politics to take a broader view, and to study other parts of the world as well. According to those who discussed the issue at the APSA meeting, a variety of factors - including biases and habits within disciplines - are hurting the "explanatory social sciences," in ways that are damaging to those fields and their graduate students.

Ronald Herring, a professor of government at Cornell University who focuses on South Asia, said that he first became concerned about the issue when he was on a board looking at fellowships for the American Institute of Indian Studies, which is the largest funder of support for graduate work in India. The year he looked at the situation, the success rates for political scientists and sociologists seeking grants were both zero. Nearly three-quarters of proposals in art history were accepted, two-thirds for history, and nearly half for anthropology. While the situation has since improved, Herring said he wondered why "some social sciences were being weeded out of area studies."

Asked Herring: "Are we entering a C.P. Snow world of `two cultures'?" While Snow lamented the lack of understanding between those in the humanities and the sciences, the two cultures seen as divided in the research presented Friday are the social sciences that are perhaps closer to the hard sciences and those that closer to the humanities. (Definitions are a bit mushy here, as some fields, such as history, were described at the session as a humanities-leaning social science while many historians view themselves as in the humanities.)

Whatever the causes, data presented suggest that political scientists and sociologists are at a distinct disadvantage in seeking certain kinds of graduate support. The data were presented by Rina Agarwala, assistant professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University, and Emmanuel Teitelbaum, assistant professor of political science at George Washington University. In terms of raw numbers, they left little doubt that some social science fields get more than others. For the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad program, for example, 31 percent of grants went to those doing work in history, 30 percent to anthropology, and 16 percent to regional studies, languages and literature. Political scientists gained only 5 percent of the awards - less than the 6 percent awarded to arts and ethnomusicology.

Relatively similar breakdowns were found in grants awarded by the National Science Foundation and the Social Science Research Council for similar programs supporting dissertation work abroad. Some of the data suggest that the trends are getting worse. For example, the Social Science Research Council's International Dissertation Research Fellowships, 10 years ago, were supporting 15 political scientists and 5 sociologists a year. Now each field gets two or three, a fraction of those going to anthropology and history.

The drops don't reflect a lack of applications, but lower success rates. Over the last 10 years of data for the SSRC program, anthropology's success rate had one year at 4 percent, but was otherwise between 5 and 8 percent. Since 2000, political science has been between 2 and 4 percent. Sociology, which used to be close to anthropology in success rates, has fallen to the 2 and 4 percent levels in recent years.

Notably, these shifts took place at a time that the composition of the selection committees for the fellowships was also changing, the Agarwala-Teitelbaum study found. In recent years, the committee has had one or two each from political science and sociology, while three or four each from history and anthropology. While history has been consistently high, political science used to be its equal, and anthropology's numbers have been growing on the panel as political science's have been shrinking.

At the National Science Foundation, the success rate for dissertation grant proposals for political science (20 percent) lags those for other fields, such as economics (37 percent), law and social sciences (53 percent) and cultural anthropology (27 percent, but with a larger grant total and many more grants given out than in other disciplines). But as Brian Humes, a program officer for the NSF who stressed he was sharing his opinions and not official agency policy, explained, separate panels are used to evaluate proposals, so the judges have plenty of knowledge of the various fields.

Humes said that certain problems tend to hold back political science proposals. He said that many of the proposals "don't provide a justification" for the funds. For instance, grad students will talk about their dissertation as a whole and not relate the grant's proposed trip to that work. Many other proposals, he said, don't suggest sufficient familiarity with the research challenges. In one case, an applicant had an interesting project for which he wanted to conduct research in French military archives, but the applicant admitted that he didn't know French. "When you add that you don't know French, you're cooked," said Humes.

Stathis Kalyvas, a professor of political science at Yale University, said that he sees the data pointing in part to ambivalence in political science about the value of field work. Many political scientists, he said, don't trust it at all and don't include it in their work. Others see "field work as an afterthought," and don't build it into their research agenda, but do field work to add "local color" to their work. This kind of approach isn't worth funding, he said.

More here

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Mixed-ability teaching fails to make the grade in Britain

The 750,000 teenagers who collected their GCSE results yesterday are the first cohort of pupils whose entire schooling has taken place under Labour. They have plenty to be proud of. The number of top grades has risen more sharply than at any time in the past 20 years.

Inevitably, this will prompt complaints about grade inflation (so demoralising for pupils who have worked hard for their As) and the growing tendency for target-driven schools to steer children towards "easier" subjects to punch the right buttons for their Whitehall masters. In fact, it is not quite as simple as that.

Entries in Physics, Chemistry and Biology, for example, increased significantly this summer, although the numbers taking other "hard" subjects such as French, German and History fell.

There remains a worrying tendency for too many subjects to be taken - 10 appearing to be a sort of informal minimum - adding weight to the calls for a smaller number of core GCSEs including English, Maths, a science and a language to become the norm, allowing more time in the curriculum for wider-ranging, less exam-driven study.

But it is at the other end of the ability range that Labour's education policies have proved such a crushing disappointment. A quarter of pupils left secondary school this year without a single decent GCSE - that is, a Grade C or above.

Over the Labour decade, two million pupils have been let down in this way, with many of them emerging from 11 years of education unable even to read or write properly. This is Labour's core constituency; most of those being failed by the system are from poorer homes.

And Labour's spiteful decision to scrap the assisted places scheme kicked away the ladder of opportunity for bright working class children once provided by grammar schools; too many state comprehensives are showing themselves incapable of filling the gap.

This exposes weaknesses in teaching methods that go far beyond the mechanics of testing and examinations. The teaching establishment, shaped by a training structure that remains in thrall to clapped out liberal orthodoxies - to such an extent that most jobs are still advertised in The Guardian - refused to oblige.

Eleven years on, fewer than half of classes are set. In the remainder, mixed-ability teaching - which proceeds at the pace of the slowest - reigns. It is this enervating educational mindset that an incoming Conservative government will have to change.

Tory policies to give schools real control of their affairs - including admissions and staff recruitment - will in time break this ruinous consensus. But it will require immense political will. Just ask Tony Blair.


Four-day week for French schools

Ten million French children returned to the classroom yesterday to find their lessons crammed into a four-day week — a revolution that delighted families but drew criticism from experts. In a scheme decreed by President Sarkozy, all primary and junior secondary children are being spared the unpopular tradition of Saturday morning classes. Since most schools are closed on Wednesdays, the majority will enjoy three days off school every week.

No other Europeans, except for a small minority in Germany and Luxembourg, follow a four-day week. French Lycee (senior secondary) pupils continue with Saturday classes. Children will still spend as much time in the classroom as the European average, but educators say that their learning faces disruption by being squeezed into two blocks of two days. “They took no account of scientific research,” said Francois Testu, a lecturer at Tours university and the author of Life Rhythms and School Rhythms. “Children need a rhythm and the four-day week creates breaks. It is doubtless a decision that pleases parents but they do not realise the damaging consequences,” he said.

The new system was cheered by parents and teachers when it was announced a year ago in fulfilment of an electoral promise by Mr Sarkozy. Saturday school had long been cursed by families who have to rise early to escort children and forgo weekend trips. It meant that divorced parents with weekend visits spent less time with their offspring. Teachers also disliked the two-hour Saturday session, which ate into weekends: quite a few played truant themselves.

Xavier Darcos, the Education Minister, originally wanted schools to make up time with classes on Wednesday mornings but most local councils strongly resisted the idea, which would have required them to spend more on transport and catering. Wednesdays are traditionally for sports and recreation. The fractured routine, unique in Europe, dates back to the days when Thursdays were devoted to Catholic instruction and children attended school all day on Saturday.

The teachers' unions, which are at war with the Government over staff cuts and other reforms, are predicting chaos because they must now also give new classes to underperforming children.

Mr Darcos, whose ministry employs more than a million people, ordered the extra classes to remedy the failure of about 20 per cent of primary school leavers to meet minimum literacy standards.

The unions, which are heavily left wing, and the Socialist opposition say that the end of Saturday classes will hurt poorer children because they will be left to their own devices rather than engaging in constructive recreation. “This free time will enable the children of the privileged to perfect their education, but what about the others?” asked Jack Lang, a veteran Socialist Education Minister. “One of the effects will be to widen the social and cultural gulf between children.”


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Teachers Union: Decriminalize Teacher-Student Sex

(Tacoma, Washington) The Washington Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, has filed a friend of the court brief in a case before the state Court of Appeals asserting that teachers who have sex with 18-year-old students shouldn't be prosecuted for felonies.

The specific case involved Hoquiam High School choir teacher Matthew Hirschfelder, 33, who is accused of doing the nasty with an 18-year-old student. Hirschfelder's attorney, Rob Hill, says the case should be dismissed because the student was not a minor. The teachers' union supports the position.

It appears that the union doesn't recognize risks to students. Even at 18 years old, a student is subservient to the authority of the teacher.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Britain: `Boring and mindless' GCSEs scrapped by independent schools for tougher courses

The GCSE [Middle school exam] is no longer considered tough enough by leading independent schools, which release their results today. Nine of the top ten in The Times independent schools league table offer the International GCSE (IGCSE), which is considered more rigorous, partly because it does not include coursework. Many other independent schools use the IGCSE in at least one subject. The qualification is not recognised by the Government, so such schools fare badly in official statistics, arguably making them less accurate than those in The Times.

One in five independent schools offers some subjects in IGCSE. They include Wycombe Abbey, a girls' school in Buckinghamshire, which came top with more than 98 per cent of examinations marked at A* to B grades. It uses the IGCSE for science and mathematics.

Cynthia Hall, the headmistress, said: "There was a feeling that, with GCSE maths, the coursework was really quite a waste of time. A lot of the material was not very stimulating - it was really rather dull for bright girls."

Mrs Hall said that the IGCSE in science was factually more rigorous but needed to be balanced with the larger amount of laboratory work offered in the GCSE. Andrew Halls, Head Master of King's College School in Wimbledon, southwest London, said that GCSEs were "no longer good enough" as they offered boring syllabuses and mindless coursework. He said: "We are increasingly moving away from standard GCSEs, with a sense of sadness. Frankly, they are no longer good enough. There are so many top grades that they're not proving fit for purpose."

The school for boys uses the IGCSE in maths and the three sciences and is likely to introduce it for more subjects. Guildford High School introduced the IGCSE this year for maths. Fiona Bolton, headmistress of the girls' school in Surrey, said: "It's the first year we've done the IGCSE and we chose it because it is significantly more challenging than GCSE. "It's a better preparation for A level. The girls weren't being challenged enough by the normal GCSE."

Girls dominated the league table of this year's independent school GCSE results, making up three quarters of the top 20. More boys' schools would have come higher were it not for a boycott of tables by 56 head teachers, who refused to release results. They included Eton, Radley and Winchester colleges and St Paul's School, southwest London.

St Paul's published some GCSE results on its website, saying that this year's pupils had broken all records. It used IGCSEs in four subjects and achieved 100 per cent A*s in chemistry and Italian and 98 per cent A*s in maths, but did not provide results for any other subjects.

Boys at Manchester Grammar School, which also declined to publish its results, attained 85 per cent A* and A grades at GCSE, according to the school's website. At Eastbourne College, which takes girls and boys, 64 per cent of exams were marked A* or A. Results from 552 schools were released through the Independent Schools Council.

They showed that 28.5 per cent of GCSE entries were marked A*, nearly two percentage points higher than last year and the fourth consecutive annual rise. Almost three fifths of independent schools' GCSE papers were graded A or A*, compared with one fifth of pupils nationally.

Dame Judith Mayhew Jonas, the chairwoman of the council, said: "These results show that ISC schools continue to deliver high quality teaching and learning. This is a time to focus on celebrating the success of all the individuals concerned." Candidates took an average 9.6 subjects each. More than 95 per cent achieved grades A* to C, compared with two thirds of pupils nationally.

This year almost half the 585 independent schools had at least one entrant for an IGCSE, compared with a third last year. Three schools offered it exclusively.


Harold Ford says Obama Should Focus On Education Reform

Barack Obama made history this week by becoming the first black man to claim the presidential nomination of a major American political party. He almost certainly won't be the last. Another rising -- and arguably more substantive -- star is former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr. Mr. Ford is just 38 years old. But he's been thinking deeply about politics for a long time. In 2002, when he was a mere 32, the Tennessee congressman challenged his party in the House of Representatives to elect him leader, saying that Democrats were "O and five" in congressional elections because they needed to move to the political center.

He lost that race to California's Nancy Pelosi. But Mr. Ford continued to push his party to embrace a more muscular foreign policy (he voted for the Iraq war in 2003) and not shy away from entitlement reform (he was willing to talk to President George W. Bush about Social Security reform in 2005). In 2006, after losing a bid for the Senate, he was tapped to be chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council. This was a post Bill Clinton once used to credential himself as a "Third Way," moderate Democrat on his way to the White House.

Mr. Ford is optimistic about the party's chances to control the House, Senate and presidency come January. But he says the stakes for Democrats will only be higher if they're in charge: "If we don't produce, it is likely we won't hold the majorities in both places, and it could hurt our president's chances at re-election."

When I sat down with Mr. Ford at The Wall Street Journal's offices recently, I looked forward to hearing what he would say about the direction of his party and its liberal presidential nominee. I wanted to know what he thought of the party's leftward tilt on taxes, trade, energy and education. Mr. Ford's answer: that his party was able to win control of Congress two years ago by running moderate Democratic candidates in Republican districts. That, he says, is what it needs to do to stay in power.

"If you look at the congressmen who won in 2006, the 'red to blue' as they call them as a group, not those who may have succeeded Democrats and are holding safe Democratic seats," Mr. Ford said, "and you consider the special election races this year, in the last couple of months in Mississippi, Louisiana and Illinois, what you will see clearly in the ascendancy in the party is a moderate, mainstream, Democratic approach to taxes, to fiscal policy, to spending as a whole, to national security, foreign policy. "I would contend that the Democratic majority is due to a moderate, mainstream, conservative philosophy -- conservative, a lot of people interpret that the wrong way, but just a moderate mainstream philosophy in the party being on the ascendancy, as opposed to [a philosophy that is] sometimes further to the left, some may call liberal."

On the numbers, I couldn't disagree. House Speaker Pelosi owes her gavel today to Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina, and about a score of other conservative or moderate Democrats who won by promising voters a certain level of independence from the Democratic Party's liberal wing. (Mr. Shuler won his seat in 2006 by telling voters he wouldn't "automatically" vote for Mrs. Pelosi to be speaker if elected.) But I'm skeptical of a conservative ascendancy in a party that promises tax hikes for the "wealthy," balks at expanding domestic oil drilling, and opposes nearly every form of school choice that would give poor children a way out of failing public schools. So I press Mr. Ford on the apparent divergence between the DLC's moderate agenda and that of Mr. Obama and the Democratic Party.

"I don't think there are as many differences as people may think," he said pointing to Mr. Obama's recent proposal, sketched out on these pages, to return the top capital gains tax rate to 20% -- a rate almost a third lower than the rate set by Ronald Reagan in the 1986 tax reform. He also cites Mr. Obama's support for teacher merit pay. "How we build an innovative agenda is what I am most concerned about," Mr. Ford said. "There are some slight differences . . . There is a real difference on trade. I want to be clear, we don't make ourselves more competitive by closing our borders."

But, he said of Mr. Obama on education, "I think he is open-minded. Let me put it this way, he hasn't come out in opposition [to school choice]. He is a pragmatist. . . . He's not looking to antagonize anyone. But he's not afraid to stir things up." Education is one of Mr. Ford's top priorities. That's because be sees fixing the public-school system as something that is essential for a dynamic, competitive economy -- and as the means for creating opportunities for millions of kids. Education is also an issue he is passionate about because, in part, he launched his political career from inside a kindergarten classroom.

In 1996, Mr. Ford ran for a seat in Congress that his father was vacating. But he soon found that being a 26-year-old scion of a political family had its disadvantages. He was attacked on talk radio for his lack of experience, and he had trouble lining up speaking engagements until finally two women lined up graduations for him at which to speak. "I spoke to 32 kindergarten graduations. True story," he says now with a laugh. "It was a weird thing, because these kids couldn't vote. I didn't know how I was helping myself. But I didn't have anywhere else to be, so I spoke at the graduations. . . ."

"Whatever works, in various communities, is what I support," Mr. Ford told me. "On the education front, if we are unwilling to take head on the issues that are facing our schools, meaning teacher quality, meaning classroom size, meaning accountability, then we kid ourselves if we think we're going to solve these problems. "We adopt a one-size-fits-all [model] in education, and it doesn't work. . . . I love charters, the charter school idea. Why? Because in some areas it actually works and it works well."

In Congress, Mr. Ford supported creating a school-voucher program in Washington, D.C., that is now being used by hundreds of students to get a better education. It enjoys the support of the city's Democratic Mayor Adrian Fenty. But Democrats in Congress threatened to kill the program this year by starving it of federal funds. So I asked Mr. Ford if the program will be crushed by Democrats in the near future. "It probably won't be," he said. "Don't get me wrong, they've had to fight to keep it alive. They had to go up against their own member of Congress, their own delegate, who is opposed to it. The mayor wants it, and I view the mayor of D.C. almost like a governor because it is essentially a state."

Mr. Ford stresses that education is among "the types of things Democrats are going to have to focus on . . . Not because we want to win elections, but because the country needs it. "Without a serious, broad-based competitiveness plan for the country that organizes around energy and education, the country will continue to falter. The next 10 to 15 years, we'll be fine. But if you look past that 15 year horizon, we cannot expect to be the No. 1 center for innovation, for technology, for job creation, the No. 1 economic center, indefinitely."

What Mr. Ford sees in Mr. Obama is the potential to break the logjam on education and other issues that has prevented fundamental reforms from passing in Washington. "I think the country could invest in him and may be willing to align itself with his vision, if he has a broad enough vision to change the country 10, 20, 30 years down the road. "And those changes will obviously have to involve education, energy . . . entitlement reform, and will involve, frankly, thinking about these things outside of a Democrat/Republican box. . . . I think he may have the 12-to-18 month window [to pass real reforms]. He's gotta put some runs up on the board for people to say, 'I'm going to stick with him. I'm staying with him.'"

What's his advice for Mr. Obama? "Be bold, be daring and be big. Be realistic. . . . Lay out where you want to take us and say 'Here's why I believe we need to do this.'" Moving forward, he said, "We got the majority, the question now is can we govern. And to govern, we're going to have to realize that that mainstream, moderate, ascendancy in the party has got to be reflected in the kind of priorities that we set."


Monday, September 01, 2008

Britain: Value of gaining a degree plummets

One-third of graduates are receiving no financial benefit from their degree as young people drawn in by Labour's mass expansion of universities see the value of studying decline for the first time. A study has identified a widening gulf between the highest-paid graduates, whose degrees have brought them soaring returns over the past decade, and those at the lower end.

Among male graduates, 33.2% end up in nongraduate jobs five years after leaving university, from 21.7% in 1992. The proportions for women are similar. These graduates now earn 40% less than if they had found a job where a degree was necessary. In 2001, before the market was swamped by university-educated applicants, those who had to settle for lower-paid jobs were only 32% worse off. The worst affected were from the former polytechnics and other new universities which had been encouraged to expand under Labour.

"This is the first real sign the tide is turning," said Francis Green, professor of economics at Kent University, who led the research. "If you are coming into university with not very good qualifications and do an arts degree at a low-ranked university, you are not really doing yourself any favours."

Official data, to be published in next month's Sunday Times University Guide, show there are many institutions where more than 40% of those leaving do not find degree-level jobs. The lowest-ranked include the Welsh universities Aberystwyth, Swansea and Lampeter as well as the former polytechnics Derby, Plymouth and Thames Valley. Lancaster, where 42.7% of graduates are in jobs below degree level six months after university, is the lowest ranked of the longer established institutions.

Many are now questioning whether it was worth going to university. They include Vanessa and Olivia Flaxman from west London, unemployed graduates of the University of the West of England in Bristol. "I was never interested in going to uni," said Vanessa, 25, who graduated this year with a 2.1 degree in business studies and a debt of about $40,000. "But you are under the impression that if you have a degree you're really employable."

Olivia, 27, added: "I didn't see it [university] could be massively useful, but my tutor said, `You've kind of got to go, so you may as well pick something that vaguely interests you'." Labour has expanded university education from 32% of school leavers in 1997 to about 43% now. It justifies tuition fees of more than œ3,000 a year by claiming that an average graduate could expect to earn œ120,000 extra in a career.

Some employers are now recognising that potential high-flyers may decide not to study for a degree because they are worried about running up debts. The management academy programme set up by HSBC, Britain's biggest bank, is targeted at school leavers with A-levels and management potential. Its first 38 trainees are about to move into junior executive jobs, complementing the bank's 230 graduate trainees. "The programme is targeted mainly at those who made a decision not to go to university because of the debts they would incur," said John Morewood, senior graduate recruitment manager.

Signs have also emerged that the job market for graduates is slowing. Allied Irish Bank has told its recruits who were offered jobs before they left university this summer, that the vacancies are no longer available, while Citigroup is cutting its graduate recruitment programme by 5%.

Vacancies for students graduating this year grew by 11.7% over 2007, but this is set to stall. Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, said he did not expect a fall in the jobs on offer at this autumn's "milk round" recruitment fair, but added: "I suspect the boom is over."

Defenders of university expansion point out that despite the worries over debt and the financial payback to be expected from a degree, applications from students are still growing strongly. Bill Rammell, the universities minister, said there were strong advantages to expanding higher education. "Having a workforce with graduate level skills has never been more important to economic success," he said. "There are also nonfinancial benefits for graduates, who tend to have better jobs and healthier lifestyles, be more involved in their children's education and be more tolerant and active citizens."


Australian mathematics and science teachers to get university tuition fee relief

A move in the right direction but it does nothing to deal with the major problem that is keeping men out of primary teaching: Fear of false child abuse accusations

Mathematics and science graduates who choose careers in primary teaching will have their HECS repayments halved under new government initiatives to raise numeracy standards in schools. Graduates who take up primary school teaching positions, bringing their specialist expertise, will now be eligible for a 50 per cent refund on their HECS-HELP repayments for up to five years, Education Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced yesterday. This would amount to an individual benefit of up to $1500 a year for five years.

The HECS exemption marks an extension of the Government's existing $625.8 million package of incentives to lift the number of maths and science students and graduates entering teaching at primary schools. The initiative is in response to alarming figures revealed in the preliminary National Report on Schooling in Australia for 2007, which indicated that while 93.2 per cent of year 3 students achieve numeracy benchmarks, this declines over the ensuing primary years. By Year 5 the percentage of students meeting numeracy benchmarks falls to 89 per cent and by Year 7 it is 80.2 per cent.

The National Numeracy Review, released in July, concluded that systematic teaching of numeracy in the early years of schooling, in maths lessons and across the wider curriculum, was essential if these trends were to be reversed. The measure builds on the Government's investment of $40.2 million in 29 literacy and numeracy pilot projects in schools across Australia. "We must act urgently to improve our children's performance in maths and encourage those with aptitude to go on to study it," Ms Gillard said. "Literacy and numeracy in the primary years are crucially important to ensuring all students participate in education and make a positive transition to work and learning in adult life. "Students who do not achieve the minimum standards in literacy and numeracy are least likely to stay on through secondary school or to end up in further study and employment."

Already from January 1 next year, new students in maths and science will have their HECS contributions reduced. For a new full-time student, this could mean a reduction from $7412 to $4162 in 2009, at a Government cost of about $562.2 million over four years.


Sunday, August 31, 2008


This sort of thing has been a subject of debate worldwide for some time and is now getting a good airing in Australia. Three articles below

School may backflip on cartwheel ban

An Australian school which recently banned its students from doing cartwheels, somersaults and other gymnastics during recess is reviewing the decision after parents and students got all bent out of shape.

The school, in the coastal town of Townsville in Queensland state, told students they could not perform any acrobatics such as handstands outside class because they were a safety hazard.

"The school is actually reviewing this," a spokesman for the Queensland state's education department said Wednesday. A statement by Education Queensland released Wednesday said the decision had been taken "in the interests of the safety of all students as well as in recognition of the school's physical environment."

But it added: "The school will work with its parents and citizens' committee and the school community to ensure an appropriate balance between student safety and their right to engage in gymnastic activities."

The school had classified gymnastic activities a "medium risk level 2" danger to children when performed in class. But Australian media said parents shocked by the ban also discovered that other popular sports such as cricket, tennis and soccer also had the same risk classification but were not banned.


School sued over tiggy

CHILDREN are suing schools for hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages for injuries caused while playing games such as tiggy [tag]. Nearly 100 lawsuits were filed against the State of Queensland for injuries suffered by schoolchildren in the last financial year. One child is asking the court to award her $280,000 plus interest after she hurt herself playing tiggy (chase) in the schoolyard when she was six. Another launched a lawsuit last month claiming more than $136,000 for an injury she says she suffered while high jumping during a Sunshine Coast school carnival.

The revelation that schoolyards are becoming fertile ground for litigation follows public outcry over the banning of cartwheels, handstands and somersaults at a north Queensland school and admissions by Education Minister Rod Welford that fear of legal action was partly behind the decision.

The case involving tiggy centres around an incident at the Bribie Island State School in 2004. Documents filed in the District Court of Queensland say the now 10-year-old girl tripped on a metal bar "comprising part of the playground equipment" during her lunchbreak. It is alleged she suffered a shortening of her right leg, disuse osteoporosis and a deformity at the neck of the right femur as a result of the fall and then inadequate medical treatment by Queensland Health.

The girl claims through her legal representative that she was not supervised adequately and the playground equipment was not safe. A notice to defend filed by the State of Queensland denies many of the allegations.

A claim for more than $136,000 was filed in the District Court last month on behalf of a girl who was eight when she allegedly injured her lower left leg and ankle during an athletics carnival at the Kuluin State School on the Sunshine Coast. The girl's foot allegedly landed between two cushioning mats during the high jump, striking the ground. The claim states the now 12-year-old has an altered gait as a result of her injury and "has since undergone hospital, surgical, medical and para-medical treatment".

The State of Queensland filed a notice of intention to defend on August 11, denying that the consequences of the incident were caused by a breach of common law duty or negligence.

State schools are not the only ones subject to claims. The St Margaret's Anglican Girls School trust is being sued over an alleged injury suffered by a Year 8 student on July 20, 2005, while skipping on concrete during a physical education class. Kerin and Co Lawyers solicitor Stuart Wright said a settlement had already been reached in the case, filed in the District Court of Queensland last month. The amount was confidential. St Margaret's Anglican School deputy principal Cynthia May said it was compulsory for all staff to be trained in first aid and there was a full-time nurse on duty at the school. "We make every effort to minimise risk for the girls," she said yesterday.


Lunchtime games ban turns children into wusses: experts

SOMETHING has crept under the skin of top child and adolescent psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg. An ambassador for the federal youth suicide prevention program MindMatters and a founding member of the National Centre Against Bullying, the Melbourne-based practitioner is generally unflappable despite his daily diet of teen angst and hurt. Yet a Townsville school's banning this week of a few allegedly unsafe gymnastic pleasures - handstands, cartwheels and somersaults - appears to have galled him.

"It's all part of this 'wussification' syndrome that we're seeing in contemporary Australia where schools have been forced to bow to the great god of occupational health and safety," Dr Carr-Gregg said. "We have schools in Victoria which have banned birthday cakes with candles on them because the children might burst into flames and where soccer has been banned during recess because the kids might be hit in the face by the ball. "Children are not accessories to dress up and keep behind glass. If we continue to cloak them in cotton wool and outsource their development to lawyers we will have a bunch of kids who are almost frightened of the world. This is very serious."

Deadly serious, according to Rob Pitt, director of the Queensland Injury Surveillance Unit. Like Dr Carr-Gregg, he believed adventurous play was a critical tool in teaching children how to appraise risk - with resulting injuries usually minor. "When you do something that's a little bit on the edge, the (lessons) are learnt before you get to an age when the toys you're playing with can potentially kill," he says. "If they haven't learnt appropriate risk-taking before they're in charge of a motor vehicle, the consequences are often fatal."

Not that Dr Pitt would class cartwheels among dicier high jinks. As well as running the QISU, he is director of the Mater Children's Hospital emergency department, which sees 42,000 patients a year. He said injuries from handstands and cartwheels "just don't turn up on our radar".

Townsville's Belgian Gardens State School principal Glenn Dickson continued to keep his public silence after mum Kylie Buschgens hit the headlines on Tuesday with claims that her daughter Cali, 10, was banned from performing cartwheels during breaks. But the cartwheels, handstands and somersaults ban will continue until at least October. The school's Parents and Citizens Association vice-president Jan Collins said about 40 to 50 parents and teachers attended their monthly meeting on Wednesday night and moved to set up a committee to discuss the ban.

Education Minister Rod Welford was slow to react, saying playground rules were a matter for individual schools. It is understood some Queensland public primary schools outlaw tree-climbing and contact games such as Red Rover. By the following day, Mr Welford had entered the wider debate, shifting blame to parents by contending it was their "mollycoddling" that had put schools on a defensive footing in case of lawsuits.

Education Queensland released figures showing that last financial year 93 compensation claims involving students allegedly injured at school or during school activities were brought against the State Government. They included a (now) 10-year-old girl who allegedly suffered a leg deformity and osteoporosis from tripping over play equipment in a game of tiggy at Bribie Island State School in 2004. The girl is seeking more than $280,000.

In reality, the paternalism stunting the liberties of modern children is all-pervasive: at once, cultural and institutional. It's there in the anxiety-ridden "helicopter parents". "Hovering over their children keeping the germs away and making sure that they're safe," explained Australian Council of State School Organisations president Jennifer Branch.

And it's underscored by skittish bureaucracy, the likes of which severed an incident-free, 57-year tradition by outlawing the Grand Carousel from this year's Ekka. A state workplace health and safety inspector speculated children could be crushed beneath sets of prancing timber hooves.

Dr Carr-Gregg was concerned all the fussing would usher in a generation of children who struggled to self-identify as adults "because we're pausing the DVD of their development". They would lack decision-making ability, independence and other life skills. Moreover, they would be low on that key survival ingredient - resilience. "If you extend this ludicrousness to its logical end, no child will ever learn to ride a bicycle because they might fall off," Dr Carr-Gregg said. "What's next? Are we going to ban the pencil because of the risk of RSI? "An essential part of growing up is exposure to the fact that life isn't always fair. "When things do go wrong, children can pick themselves up, start again and learn from the negative experience. "Because we're (sheltering) them from that, I'm seeing 12- and 13-year-old kids who are just normally sad because their dog's died or their parents have divorced. And they're running off to GPs looking for anti-depressants because they think they're depressed."

Educators like University of Queensland physical education professor Richard Tinning point out that scaling a tree or negotiating a climbing frame is a natural instinct and has benefits for honing motor co-ordination, building muscle and exploring boundaries. "But schools have increasingly sanitised the playing environment for kids, taking out a lot of the monkey bars in order to protect from litigation," Professor Tinning said. "As a result, if kids do any physical activity, it's usually not involving their upper body. Most kids today couldn't hang and support their weight."

Ironically, West Australian Ian Lillico, an internationally renowned expert on boys' education, strode into Townsville yesterday as part of a professional workshop tour for teachers and school administrators. He labels the cartwheel curb "rubbish" and says, especially for boys, broken limbs and various playground scrapes are often worn as a badge of honour.