Saturday, October 04, 2008

NYC Teachers for Obama

The teachers union has been handing out thousands of Barack Obama campaign buttons to its members, sparking a clampdown by education brass. The Department of Education - which has a long-standing policy barring teachers from wearing campaign buttons in schools - is set to send out an e-mail this week from Schools Chancellor Joel Klein laying down the law. "Schools are not a place for politics and not a place for staff to wear political buttons," said department spokeswoman Ann Forte. "We don't want a school or school staff advocating for any political position or candidate to students and we don't want students feeling intimidated because they might hold a different belief or support a different candidate than their teachers."

United Federation of Teachers official LeRoy Barr told his members in a recent e-mail that union chief Randi Weingarten is fighting the DOE decision. Officials of the union - which has endorsed Obama - said they didn't know of any schools where button-wearing teachers were told to zip it, but they said they were exploring the matter "to ensure members' rights to free speech and expression."

While department officials said the courts are on their side in the matter, many city teachers say their right to wear partisan buttons is a matter of free speech. Several cited a landmark 1969 Supreme Court ruling involving students who planned to wear black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War. It affirmed that constitutional rights don't get dropped "at the schoolhouse gate." "It's not teaching kids to vote for Obama; rather, it's showing them the democratic process in action," said Patrick Compton, a social-studies teacher at Lafayette HS in Brooklyn, who said he has been wearing an Obama button handed out by the union. "It is shocking to me, truly, that in this day and age, the school system wants to diminish, rather than increase, participation in our democratic system."

Other teachers said they were extremely careful not to let free speech morph into any kind of partisan preaching. "As long as you don't preach to the children about who you should vote for, I don't see anything wrong with it," said Ellen Eisenger, a teacher at PS 35 in Queens. "It's still America."

Last week, employees at the University of Illinois received an e-mail forbidding them to wear partisan political buttons on campus, while teachers at a high school near Santa Cruz, Calif., agreed to remove their "Educators for Obama" buttons in class after complaints from a parent who supports John McCain.


Cane is needed again to give children a lesson say a fifth of British teachers

A fifth of teachers would like to see the cane re-introduced in Britain's schools, research has found. They said children's behaviour had deteriorated to the point that caning would be an effective punishment. The survey of more than 6,000 teachers by the Times Educational Supplement found that a fifth supported the right to use corporal punishment in extreme cases.

Judith Cookson, a supply teacher, said: “Children's behaviour is absolutely outrageous in the majority of schools. I am a supply teacher, so I see many schools, and there are no sanctions. There are too many anger management people and their ilk who give children the idea that it is their right to flounce out of lessons for time out because they have problems with their temper. They should be caned instead.”

Ravi Kasinathan, a primary teacher who also “strongly” supported the idea, said: “There is justification, or an argument, for bringing back corporal punishment, if only as a deterrent. I believe some children just don't respond to the current sanctions.”

The survey suggests that support for corporal punishment is strongest among secondary teachers: 22 per cent back the idea, compared with 16 per cent of primary teachers. It also uncovers much lower support among heads and deputy and assistant heads: 12 per cent, compared with 22 per cent of teachers.

John Dunford, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Thankfully, corporal punishment is no longer on the agenda, except in the most uncivilised countries. I am sure that this barbaric punishment has disappeared for ever.”

An official at the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: “Violence against children is clearly unacceptable and illegal.”


Soviet mentality lives on in Australian teachers' unions

HASN'T the belief that private equals evil and public equals good long passed its use-by date? Apparently not for the troglodytes in the teachers unions who are still entrenched in a class war that no longer interests the rest of thecommunity. At the September 12 meeting of the TAFE Teachers Association council, some union warriors requested "as a matter of urgency" that an important issue be resolved. Is it acceptable, they asked, for a union representative to send their children to a private school or to a private provider competing with TAFE? Is it acceptable for a union representative to have once taught in a private school or worked for a private provider that competes with TAFE? You get the gist. If you have come in contact with private education, you have been tainted with evil.

Fortunately, the general-secretary of the NSW Teachers Federation, John Irving, is not interested in these archaic union battles. The point man for policy in the NSW Teachers Federation told The Australian on Friday that he is "not interested in vetting people" on the basis of which school their children attend.

Instead of drafting a policy precluding people who send their children to private schools, Irving is thinking about asking those who seek positions within the NSW teachers union to sign a declaration that they have actively demonstrated a commitment to public education. If that comes to pass, many of those who sign such a declaration will be committing perjury if they sign. Why? Because many within the teachers unions have worked tirelessly to obstruct reform and improvement within public education. And the irony is that the obstinacy of these white-collar educational diehards against reform of public education will lead only to a greater exodus of students from public schools to private schools.

Consider the union reaction to the Rudd Government's education revolution outlined last month by the Prime Minister and his deputy, Education Minister Julia Gillard. Reforms to make education more transparent by mandatory reporting of student results, allowing parents to compare school performance? Opposed by unions. Transparency and accountability reforms that will enable the most disadvantaged schools to be identified and receive extra funding of $500,000 for your average school so that they may improve? Opposed by unions. Moves to give greater autonomy and flexibility for principals to hire staff? Opposed by unions. Moves to introduce performance-based pay for teachers to encourage better teachers? Opposed by unions. Moves to introduce a national curriculum so that students moving between states and territories can access a seamless education system? Opposed by unions. Queensland Teachers Union boss Steve Ryan summed up the reforms as "beyond insulting".

It's not news that teachers unions remain the single biggest hurdle to improving public education in Australia. They are wedded to an archaic public system that has long protected teachers, not promoted the interests of students. What is news is a federal Labor government is apparently willing to tackle the union influence that has long infected state and federal politics. The Howard government talked about reforming public education but achieved very little.

So it was powerful symbolism and pragmatic politics for Gillard, from Labor's left faction, to pose the killer question to union critics: "I cannot understand why public institutions such as schools should not be accountable to the community that funds their salaries and running costs." If any other group, drawing on the public purse, were exempt from disclosure and accountability, union activists would be the first to cry foul, demanding to know what was being hidden from the taxpaying public.

But reason cannot compete with union ideology. Neither can evidence that Australia ranks 23rd among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development industrialised countries for students who finish Year 12 or a trade equivalent and talking about the consequences of this long-tail educational underachievement for 25 per cent of Australian students. Nor will union diehards such as Ryan or his friends at the Australian Education Union be swayed by Gillard's laudable interest in school accountability reforms undertaken by New York's schools chancellor Joel Klein that have lifted student performance. If student achievement mattered, unions would have sided with these sorts of reforms long ago.

Left-wing union types like to wear their commitment to compassion and disadvantage on their sleeves. But it is fraudulent rhetoric when used by teachers unions that are patently not fighting for disadvantaged students. Opposing Rudd's reform condemns those who cannot afford to escape the worst aspects of public education to disadvantage for life.

In truth, the unions are fighting for their own vested interests. They oppose transparency and accountability because it would weed out the substandard schools and second-rate teachers. They oppose greater flexibility for principals because it would remove union leaders from teacher selection processes. They oppose private education because the competition it brings challenges the public school system to lift its performance.

It's no surprise that teachers unions would protect their interests. That's what the more militant unions do. The challenge is for Rudd to prove the Labor Government is serious about its education revolution by exposing the anti-reform union agenda. Archaic union leaders who refuse to budge on these reforms need to named and shamed as obstructionists who care little about students and more about ancient class warfare. They then can be replaced by more sensible union leaders genuinely committed to student achievement within the public education system.

The real challenge is for the PM's new federalism. The Rudd Government failed to garner agreement on plastic bags from state governments. How will it wangle agreement on education reform from state Labor governments beholden to teachers unions? When the West Australian teachers union won pay increases of 21.7 per cent earlier this year, union boss Anne Gisborne boasted that "one of the strongest elements behind this has been the political campaigning that our members have had on track for eight to 10 weeks". With an election looming, union influence prevailed. Outside education, it's the same in other states. Unions rolled attempts by the NSW Iemma government to reform the electricity industry.

Keen to stand apart from union influence, the Prime Minister will have many chances to prove his mettle. On three critical fronts - industrial relations, the Australian Building and Construction Commission and education - the hostility to Rudd's reforms will come less from the federal Opposition and more from Labor's traditional brother in arms: the unions. Aggressive union campaigns and behind-the-scenes union powerbroking aimed at derailing Rudd's reforms are already under way. If Rudd and Gillard fail to stand up to unions early on, they will suffer the same ignoble fate as craven state governments where brute union power has snuffed out critical reforms.


Friday, October 03, 2008

Colleges calling sleep a success prerequisite

It's an age-old predicament: Caffeine-fueled college students cramming for exams and writing papers until the crack of dawn, then skipping or snoozing through classes. Sleep deprivation has long been considered a rite of passage, a point of pride even.

But now, alarmed by recent studies tying lack of sleep to poor academic performance, college officials are urging students just to go to bed. More than a dozen Massachusetts schools have begun waging campaigns touting the benefits of sleep through dorm seminars, posters, and catchy slogans like, "Want A's? Get Z's."

Wellesley College spreads the message by throwing dorm pajama parties with tea and popcorn. Tufts University passes out sleep masks, ear plugs, and a CD of relaxation tracks. Bentley College holds a weeklong contest called the Biggest Snoozer, and gives away memory foam pillows and white noise machines to students who log the most hours of shut-eye. And Massachusetts Institute of Technology has enlisted the help of far-flung parents, alerting them to watch for warning signs such as e-mails sent at 4 a.m.

"For college students, sleep is the most dispensable thing," said Dr. Vanessa Britto, director of health services at Wellesley. "Most people feel it's a badge of honor. 'I didn't sleep. Parentheses, aren't I great?' Until you point out to them that pulling an all-nighter is the equivalent of driving drunk and is detrimental to their reaction time and memory."

Universities, though, have their work cut out for them to change such a culturally ingrained habit on campus. With 24 hours of online entertainment available, students today are tempted by myriad diversions other than school books. They're gambling, catching up on their favorite television shows, playing video games, or chatting with virtual friends - then trying to study into the wee hours of the morning. "It's like, well, I could do my calculus homework or it sounds like the girls next door are doing something fun so I'll just walk over there," said Kelsey Barton, a freshman at Tufts, who said she has been averaging about three hours of sleep a night since starting college this month. "I don't want to miss out."

With so many distractions, Barton often doesn't start on schoolwork until midnight, when she's so tired that it takes her even longer to finish. She downs coffee and Mountain Dew to make it through classes and cross-country practice. "It's a cycle that I'm now kind of stuck in, and I get more and more tired," she lamented.

College officials say more students seem to be getting stuck on the sleep-deficit treadmill. Skimping on shut-eye has become such a concern that the American College Health Association revamped its annual health survey this fall to include six questions focused on sleep instead of one, said Mary Hoban, director of the Baltimore-based National College Health Assessment.

More here

Australia: A plague of student suspensions hits Queensland schools

The fruit of negligible discipline

An alarming spike in student suspensions for being aggressive, disobedient, taking drugs and wagging school is plaguing the state's classrooms. Education Queensland statistics show suspensions were up 25 per cent at Gold Coast and Ipswich region public schools in the past three years and 22 per cent at Townsville schools. Other public school region reports, including Brisbane, are expected this week.

The initial snapshot has prompted child psychologists to call for family and community strategies to improve the behaviour of disrespectful students. The state Opposition has called for teachers to be equipped with more comprehensive behaviour management resources. [Like "the cane"]

Last financial year, 16,036 suspensions and 274 expulsions were slapped on students in the Gold Coast and Ipswich regions. In the Townsville region over the same period, there were 4068 suspensions and 48 expulsions. The information was contained in an answer to a parliamentary question on notice by LNP Member for Robina Ray Stevens.

Education Minister Rod Welford refused yesterday to comment on the reports or the implications. However, he did preface the reports by linking the rise to a stricter disciplinary approach from schools when the Code of School Behaviour was introduced in 2006.

Opposition education spokesman John-Paul Langbroek said the results indicated a larger behavioural problem both in and out of the classroom. "The Government will say they're being tougher (on students) but I think it reflects kids are more aggressive and we have to focus on behaviour management," Mr Langbroek said. "Just suspending them doesn't fix the problem." [It's a holiday for them, in fact]

Pathways Health and Research Centre's Professor Paula Barrett, a child psychologist, said the Government should consider making suspended students do community service, such as visiting nursing homes, hospitals or the RSPCA. She said most of the children suspended probably suffered from learning, emotional or social difficulties, in part because families now spent less time guiding and having fun with their young . "It's a two-way street. You give them quality time, you get respect," she said.


Thursday, October 02, 2008

Oxford 'is not a social security office'

Chancellor of university rejects government plan to attract more state pupils

Oxford University should not be treated by the Government as "a social security office" to widen participation in higher education among disadvantaged pupils from state schools, its chancellor said yesterday. Oxford had "no chance" of increasing state school admissions to meet targets so long as the gap in exam performance existed, Lord Patten of Barnes told the annual meeting of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC).

Research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development showed the gap in performance between Britain's private and state schools was the widest in the Western world, he said, adding: "The sense that many universities have is that they are being asked to make up for the deficiencies of secondary education. If this were the aim, it would be a fool's mission."Latest figures show that 53 per cent of Oxford's student intake is from state schools. The target is to raise this to 62 per cent by the end of the decade.

Lord Patten's comments were coupled with a plea to charge middle-class parents more for a child's university tuition by lifting the current fees cap of 3,140 pounds per annum. "It is surely a mad world in which parents or grandparents are prepared to shell out tens of thousands to put their children through private schools to get them into universities and then to object to them paying a tuition fee of more than 3,000," he said. His long-term preference would be for no cap at all, which could lead to universities charging up to 20,000 for some courses.

The chancellor's remarks coincided with a study for the HMC, carried out by Buckingham University's Centre for Education and Employment, which showed that independent schools were concentrating on "hard" A-level subjects such as further maths, rather than "soft" ones like media studies and psychology - which are more popular in comprehensive schools. The study's authors said: "Independent schools have above-average A-level entries in further maths, physics, French, economics and classics, while comprehensives have above average entries in sports studies, media studies, law, psychology and sociology."

The Schools minister, Lord Adonis, also addressed the conference, insisting there was plenty of teaching of the "harder" subjects at state schools.


Most Australian university students now need to be taught grade-school English

MONASH University will teach its first-year students grammar and punctuation after discovering that most arrive without basic English skills. Baden Eunson, lecturer at the university's School of English, Communications and Performance Studies, and convenor of the new course, said about 90 per cent of his first-year students could not identify a noun. "If you ask them to identify adjectives and other parts of a sentence, only about 1 per cent can manage," he said, according to The Australian. "It is not really a surprise as only about 20 per cent of English teachers understand basic grammar."

Mr Eunson described his remedial program as a US-style "freshman composition course, mainly covering material that should have been covered in school but wasn't". He pointed to a 2003 study by the Economic Society of Australia which found school leavers "are functionally illiterate because standards in Australian high schools have collapsed".

Mr Eunson said students' inadequacies emerged when they were asked to hand-write answers to test questions and without the aid of spell-checkers. "I think we'll see more and more of these university-level courses springing up to do the schools' work for them," he said.

His comments come after Monash colleague Caron Dann said the majority of her 500 students in communication were strangers to English grammar. "Marking essays, I discovered the majority had no idea how to use apostrophes, or any other punctuation for that matter; that random spelling was in and sentence construction out. About half thought plurals were formed by adding an apostrophe-s, as in apple's and banana's. "Marking the final exam, it emerged that few could write neatly: From bold childlike printing to spidery scribblings in upper case, it is obvious that handwriting is a dying art," she said.

Swinburne University has said it will test the literacy skills of domestic and international students next year because of concern about standards.


Wednesday, October 01, 2008


Too many schools are failing to provide children with a good maths education, inspectors have warned. An Ofsted review of maths in primary and secondary schools in England found many lessons do not teach children how to apply maths to other subjects and in their every day lives. It said that too often, pupils were expected to remember mathematical formulas, methods and rules, without actually understanding their subject. This is in large part due to schools focusing on preparing pupils to pass exams, inspectors said.

The report noted that: "For many pupils, mathematics consists of a regular diet of broadly satisfactory lessons." It added: "In many cases, pupils simply completed exercises in textbooks or worksheets, replicating the steps necessary to answer questions in national curriculum tests or external examinations. Success too often depended on pupils remembering what to do rather than having a secure understanding underpinning their thinking and application of techniques."

It adds that steady improvements in national tests and GCSE results in maths are "generally not being matched by identifiable improvements in pupils' understanding of mathematics or in the quality of teaching".

"Instead the evidence suggests that much is due to the increased level of intervention with underachieving pupils and those on key borderlines of performance, coupled with teaching that focuses on the skills required by examination questions and extensive use of revision."

Of the 192 primary schools and secondary schools visited for the review, the teaching and learning was good or better in 60% of them. In primary schools the teaching and learning was satisfactory or worse in 33% and in secondary schools that figure was 46%.

Schools Minister Jim Knight said he acknowledged that more needs to be done to improve maths teaching for the long term, with a range of measures due to be implemented to achieve this.


Jose, Can You See?

by Mike S. Adams

UNC-Wilmington decided recently that the way to bolster its failing diversity program is to dump more money into it. Without any help from the Bush administration's financial advisors, they have decided that rewarding failure is a good way to ensure success. That's why they created a new Associate Provost of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion position. And that's why they paid big bucks to Jose Hernandez to fill the slot. According to a university press release, the new tolerance czar will focus on four areas of "diversity and inclusion" including the following: Centro Hispano, the Multicultural Center, the African-American Cultural Center, and a new Women's Studies unit.

Before the university starts to construct separate (but equal) bathrooms for "colored" people, I'm interested in speaking to Jose about a group that already has separate bathroom status. I'm talking, of course, about women - an historical "minority" of close to 70% on our almost entirely white campus.

As a first order of business, I would encourage Jose Hernandez to take a look at the lack of "diversity and inclusion" in the Women's Studies Minor (WSM). Recently, I went to their web page and started looking at the faculty who teach in that program. Then, I did a search of the voter registration data base in North Carolina. The results were quite interesting. Below, I've cut and pasted the names of the women teaching in the WSM followed by the Women's Resource Center's descriptions of their contributions to the program. I've changed just one thing. In the place of their departmental affiliation, I've superimposed their political party affiliation, if any.

Kathleen Berkeley (Democrat): Teaches the history of women in America from the era of pre-contact to the present, with a special emphasis on the interactions among gender, race, class, and ethnicity, and the influence these variables have on expressions of power and sexuality in American society.

Maria Cami-Vela (Not registered to vote): Teaches literature and film courses focusing on gender, class, and sexuality. Her current research explores the representation of desire and sexuality in films directed by women.

Cara Cilano (Democrat): Teaches courses in women's literature from around the globe, with a particular emphasis on third world women's literature. Her research focuses on issues of nationhood, cultural production and reception of texts, and globalization.

Eleanor Krassen Covan (Democrat): Teaches courses on women and aging. A sociologist by discipline, she is editor of the journal Health Care for Women International.

Andrea Deagon (Democrat): Teaches classical studies. Her research interests include women's dance and women's experience of the sacred.

Janet Ellerby (Democrat): Teaches courses that focus on women writers, issues of gender, and the memoir. She is currently working on a cultural analysis of adoption practices in literature and history.

Elizabeth Ervin (Democrat): Teaches courses in education, professional writing, and feminist theory. Her research explores connections between public discourse, feminism, and activism.

Jennifer Horan (Democrat): Teaches courses focusing on the status of women in the American political system. Her current research interests include environmental policy and policymaking in Latin America and the impact of environmental degradation on women in the developing world.

Leslie Hossfeld (Democrat): Teaches sociology courses focusing on gender and society. Her current research interests include worker displacement and gender and job loss.

Donna King (Unaffiliated Marxist): Teaches sociology courses focusing on gender, race, and class. Her current research interests include eco-feminism and feminist critiques of consumer culture.

Patricia Lerch (Democrat): Teaches courses on women in such diverse cultural settings as Brazil, Barbados, and North America. Her research focuses on women and religion, tourism, and economic development.

Diane Levy (Democrat): Teaches courses in the sociology of the family, gender and society, and the sociology of work and occupations. She is interested in gender and globalization, tourism, and women's travel accounts.

Katherine Montwieler (Democrat): Teaches courses related to gender and literature. Her current research interests are eighteenth- and nineteenth-century women writers and constructions of gender and sexuality.

Diana Pasulka (Not Registered to Vote): Teaches courses on women and religion. Her research focuses on gender representations in world religions as well as religion and popular culture.

Lisa Pollard (Not Registered to Vote): Teaches courses on Muslim, Jewish, and Christian women in the modern Middle East, and courses on gender. Her research interests focus on gender and nation building in 19th and 20th century Egypt.

Colleen Reilly (Democrat): Teaches courses in professional writing and computers and writing, including a course in gender and technology. Her current research explores how gender and sexuality help to construct and are constructed by technologies.

Karen Sandell (Unaffiliated): Teaches social work courses focusing on issues relating to women, children, and society. Her current research interests include teaching innovations in social work education, technology and social work education, and feminist practice.

Kindra Steenerson (Democrat): Teaches a wide variety of topics including the construction of gender, institutional sources of oppression, and feminist scrutiny of the media.

Anita Veit (Democrat): Teaches courses in the sociology of gender, children, family, sport, and birth and death.

Barbara Waxman (Democrat): Teaches literature by and about women, multicultural autobiography, fiction, and autobiography about aging and Victorian literature. Her research examines memoirs of the bilingual/trans-cultural experience.

For those not counting, the party affiliation tally of the 20 professors (now 19, as one recently passed away) teaching in the WSM is as follows:

Democrats 15
Not Registered 3
Unaffiliated 2
Republican 0

This all reminds me of the time when the aptly named Dick Veit (English Department) falsely accused the College Republicans of trying to exclude blacks and Jews from their club. At the very time of his accusation, the English Department had thirty-three professors, none of whom were Republicans. Veit insisted that his department was always professional and never tried to exclude anyone.

I guess the questions for Jose Hernandez are really quite simple: What happens when you flip a peso 20 times and it never comes up heads? Can Jose see that the system has been rigged? And, will he have the courage and integrity to create real diversity and inclusion in Women's Studies?


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

California: School Journalism Advisor Shield Law

(Sacramento, California) Gov. Schwarzenegger signed into law Senate Bill 1370 which protects high school and college teachers and other employees from retaliation by administrators as a result of student speech.

Authored by Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo), the legislation is considered necessary since school administrators customarily retaliate against journalism advisors when controversial content is published in student newspapers.
“Since administrators are unable by law to exercise prior restraint with regard to a student publication, they lean on advisers to do what they legally cannot,” said Jim Ewert, Legal Counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA).

“When advisers refuse, they are punished because administrators know they will face no legal consequences. SB 1370 was necessary to close this gaping loophole in the law.”
The new law goes into effect on January 1, 2009.

It's interesting that school administrators can easily obstruct or harm a teacher's career when there is a difference of opinion while the same administrators claim they are powerless to take action when parents seek dismissal of an incompetent teacher.
UK's biggest school scraps homework

The dumbing down never stops in Britain. And these kids are backward already! It's just lazy teachers who don't want the hassle

A new school that will be the biggest in the country is to abandon homework because the head teacher believes it does not justify the detentions and family rows it causes. Nottingham East academy, which will have 3,570 pupils, claims it will be the first school to scrap homework. It will instead have an extra lesson and after-school activities such as sport, model aircraft-building and sari-making.

Government guidelines suggest primary schools should set pupils between one and 2 1/2 hours per week, while those at secondaries receive up to 2 1/2 hours a day. Many of the most academically successful schools in the private and state sectors prescribe three or four hours of homework a night for older children. Barry Day, who will be principal of the new academy, believes much of this time is wasted. "If you ask most heads what most detentions are for, they will tell you for non-completion of homework," he said. "Homework causes an enormous amount of home conflict and parents and the community certainly won't mind children coming home later. "It is often set simply because there is an expectation it should be set. It does not help with education at all."

Day's move follows news last week that Tiffin boys' school in Kingston, Surrey, one of the country's most successful selective schools, had slashed homework from two or three hours a day to just 40 minutes for the oldest pupils. [What you can get away with among bright kids can be very different from what works with average or backward kids]

Day believes his changes will be fairer particularly for children from poorer or illiterate families or those whose parents do not speak English. Nottingham East will retain some homework for exam revision and coursework, but otherwise will simply encourage parents to read books in a relaxed way with their children and ask the pupils to report twice a term what they have read.

Signs of moves away from homework were welcomed by Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, which is campaigning for an end to the practice at all primary schools. "A lot of the time, state schools are just competing with the independent sector in setting lots of homework as they think that is what the parents want," Bousted said. "It is perfectly possible to teach independent learning properly within the school day."

However, Professor Dylan Wiliam, deputy director of the Institute of Education at London University, said Day was going too far. "Research shows homework does not make much of a difference, but that is because it is not properly planned and is too often, for example, just finishing off what you did during the day. "Properly designed, it can help pupils develop their autonomy in learning."

Geoff Lucas, general secretary of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference of independent schools, warned that, if widely adopted, the policy would result in lagging comprehensives falling even further behind. "Private study and independent learning are vital skills for university and employment," Lucas said. "It seems a terrible shame to have a blanket decision like this. It will inevitably widen the gap between schools like this and our members and the best-performing state schools."

Kenneth Durham, headmaster of University College school, London, said he was an enthusiast for homework. GCSE pupils at his school were given about two hours a night. "It is an education in its own right," Durham said. "Well-managed homework programmes leave students better able to cope with independent learning and give them time management skills."

The new academy has been given the go-ahead by Ed Balls, the schools secretary, and will open next year, educating children from nursery age to 19. It will cost about $100m and will start life in former school buildings next September before moving into new buildings in 2011, when homework will be scrapped.

Nottingham East will make its vast size manageable by sharing children around three mini-schools on different sites. Balls approved it after a confidential review backed the plan in June, finding that education at one of the schools to be replaced, Elliott Durham, was "parlous". The school's head was quoted in the review as declaring: "The attendance rate is very low . . . swearing and shouting is [sic] common . . . students flout the rules openly."


Texas education board members back Bible curriculum

Only a small minority of Australians are religious to any degree but when I was in Grade school we had a religion lesson every week given by a clergyman. It was seen as just another thing that kids should know about

Four State Board of Education members have recommended to school districts a Bible course curriculum that was at the center of a lawsuit filed by parents against a West Texas school district. In a letter sent to superintendents and school boards, the four board members said while they were not trying to prescribe the curriculum to be used in an elective Bible course authorized this summer, they wanted to recommend course materials sold by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools. "It makes logical sense to select a curriculum that has already been tested and proven within the field," the letter said. It was signed by Republican board members Barbara Cargill of The Woodlands, Cynthia Dunbar of Richmond, Terri Leo of Spring and Gail Lowe of Lampasas.

The materials were not recommended by the Texas Education Agency.

The National Council curriculum was the basis for a lawsuit filed by parents in the Ector County School District last year alleging that a Bible course in two Odessa high schools using the study plan violated the religious freedom rights of some students. The curriculum uses the King James version of the Bible as its main text. Ector County school officials settled the lawsuit in March by agreeing to quit using the National Council class materials and switch to a curriculum developed by seven local educators.

The Texas Freedom Network, a progressive group that follows education issues, sharply criticized the four board members for the letter and noted they were part of a board majority that declined to set specific guidelines for the Bible course. TFN and others had argued that guidelines were needed to avoid lawsuits against school districts. "These board members are recklessly encouraging school districts to adopt a curriculum that will put those districts and their taxpayers in legal jeopardy and threaten the religious freedom of families to pass on their own faith beliefs to their children," said Dan Quinn of the TFN.

But the four board members emphasized they "have no desire or intention of prescribing a set Bible curriculum for individual school districts to use. Rather, it is our desire to see local districts maintain complete control concerning this discretionary subject matter."

In August, Attorney General Greg Abbott decided that Texas high schools are not required to offer the elective Bible course under a Bible study bill approved by the Legislature last year. While his legal opinion said schools must include some coverage of the Bible's impact on history and literature in their curriculum, they do not have to offer a separate Bible course unless a local school board chooses to do so.


Monday, September 29, 2008

British University Creates Gender-Neutral Toilets

(Manchester, England) Due to complaints by transgender students, signs on toilets in the students' union of Manchester University have been revised to be politically-correct. According to a students' union official, Jennie Killip, the new signs will make the transgender students feel more comfortable.
The traditional sign on the door of the Gents has been temporarily replaced with one that says 'toilets with urinals'.

And the sign on the Ladies now simply says 'toilets' in a move to make the lavatories more inclusive for trans-gender students.
Apparently, when a user now goes to the bathroom, there are no rules. All toilets are gender-neutral. They are simply identified as to which have urinals and which don't. Reportedly, the current temporary signs will be replaced with permanent placards soon.
How the culture wars killed free expression

Christopher Shinn, the writer of new political play Now or Later, explains how campus censorship strangles debate

In America and Britain, theatre has become a notable battleground on questions of free speech and free artistic expression. In 2004, the controversial play Behzti was cancelled in Birmingham after Sikhs protested that the play offended their community, while in America religious fundamentalists have objected to The Crucible and My Name is Rachel Corrie on similar grounds.

American playwright Christopher Shinn has followed, often in exasperation, the on-going discussions and debates on the rights and wrongs of staging controversial plays in the West. He decided to do something artistic about it: write a play called Now or Later that tackles campus censorship through the very topical lens of the American presidential elections.

Shinn's play is set on the eve of a presidential election. The Democrats are on the point of victory when news breaks out, via political blogs, that the would-be new president's homosexual son, John, has gone to a party dressed as the prophet Mohammed and his friend as the gay-baiting evangelist Pastor Bob.

As footage of the party circulates around the globe, sparking riots in the Muslim world, John is under immense pressure from presidential advisers to make a public apology. While John insists on the importance of free expression, and also that he was attending a private party, his friend Matt points out that he could be responsible for deaths around the world. Principle and pragmatism collide to fascinating effect. Staged in real-time, Now or Later carefully explores the anguish and arguments of this very contemporary concern.

When I meet the man behind Now or Later, he is dressed in casual t-shirt and jeans and overseeing the play's final rehearsals at the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square, London. The Royal Court discovered Shinn 10 years ago - when he was just 23 - meaning that most of his plays, such as Dying City and Other People, have been premiered there, too. The theatre's director, Dominic Cooke, has programmed the play to coincide with the run-up to the real American presidential elections. Now or Later couldn't be more timely.

`I think the first thing I wanted to do was give myself a formal challenge', says Shinn carefully, `which was to write a play in real time and then I started to think, what could happen in real time that is interesting and dramatic? And in politics today, with blogs and 24-hour news channels, things can happen very rapidly. So I started thinking about politics in order to find a subject that was fit for formal challenge. In my mind, I had politics, power and issues of freedom of expression and, as a dramatist, I'm always looking for conflict.'

Shinn says that in Now or Later he is exploring conflicts and clashes between the West and Islam. As he puts it: `With Islam, it is perceived that the current administration is responsible for suffering in the Muslim world', says Shinn, `and therefore there can be no criticising of that world or how Muslims might experience that. The end result is to limit the conversations that Muslims can have about that themselves.'

Nevertheless, Shinn's well-crafted central protagonist in Now or Later, John, is motivated just as much by exposing the censorious nature of Ivy League students, as attacking Muslims in and of themselves. Surely, I ask him, the problem of censorship has its roots within the liberal left rather than any external threat to `Western values'? `Yeah, I think you're right,' says Shinn. `I think in many ways American campuses are a distorted and extreme way of dealing with problems in US culture. The left-wing ideology in these campuses doesn't seem to be related to the way the world is. The antics on campus almost have a feeling of play acting, as it's so divorced from people's lives. Nevertheless, the Ivy League students are the future politicians and opinion leaders so it's worth examining how they're getting a distorted picture of how the world is working.'

As a left-wing champion of free speech, and a fan and reader of spiked, Shinn is exasperated that it is often the left who are now the loudest advocates of blue pens and artistic clampdowns. He reckons that there was a sea change in universities back in the 1990s that has now become politically mainstream.

`As a gay man, I found the left's fight for free expression very beneficial', he says, `but that crossed over into identity politics. From there it was important to privilege the subjectivity of people who had previously been oppressed and marginalised. But instead of this emphasis on a diversity of voices, there became an unspoken rule whereby only people who experienced something, whether as a gay man or black woman, were allowed to speak about it directly. This created a real fracture where these oppressed groups, rather than finding commonality, separated out. These different groups ended up in these retreats which itself created paranoia and bad blood.'

Shinn's work seems to belong to a lineage of American playwrights and artists, from Arthur Miller and Norman Mailer through to Philip Roth, who offer an unflinching examination of the gaping holes in American society. Although European liberals love to dismiss American culture as rather candy-floss and dumb, no other Western nation produces art that is not only self-aware and self-critical, but resists the temptation of self-loathing. Shinn's work is no exception.

`Yes, it is one of the really good things about America', says Shinn cheerfully, `it thrives on that self-critique. You know, you even see it in relation to the Bush administration where a lot of extreme policy has been moderated due to the ongoing critiques and debates. The real strength of American culture is always in searching for ways of moving on from difficulties. That's something I'm proud of within America and what I want to achieve in my work as well.'

Naturally enough, Shinn has been eagerly following the US presidential election and is neither cynical nor goggle-eyed about Obama. `He has no track record so people are projecting all kinds of things onto him', says Shinn. `The Democratic Party haven't yet been in a position whereby they are explicitly running to the right in order to appeal to swing voters.' And as Now or Later deals with the question of a presidential candidate's children, the play unwittingly anticipates the furore surrounding Sarah Palin's pregnant 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, who is under pressure to conform to conventional morality. As Shinn says, `yes, all that does evoke the play in general, as it deals with children, sexuality and lies.'

At heart, though, Now or Later is a timely, not to mention, expert exploration of how censorship, and perhaps the need for self-censorship, is acting as a straitjacket within Western culture and politics. Although the play might seem a little didactic, Shinn doesn't marshal the audience into accepting any conclusive argument. Now or Later provokes thought rather than stymies it. `It is one thing to believe in freedom of expression,' he says, `but that may lead to the death of other people. So the play is asking: would you be responsible for that? And then what happens afterwards? So how badly do you believe in freedom of expression?'


Official education fraud in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Public Schools officials say they want to give struggling children a chance, but the district is raising eyebrows with a policy that sets 50 percent as the minimum score a student can receive for assignments, tests and other work. The district and teachers union last week issued a joint memo to ensure staff members' compliance with the policy, which was already on the books but enforced only at some schools. Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers President John Tarka said the policy is several years old.

While some districts use "F" as a failing grade, the city uses an "E." "The 'E' is to be recorded no lower than a 50 percent, regardless of the actual percent earned. For example, if the student earns a 20 percent on a class assignment, the grade is recorded as a 50 percent," said the memo from Jerri Lippert, the district's executive director of curriculum, instruction and professional development, and Mary VanHorn, a PFT vice president.

In each subject, a student's percentage scores on tests and other work are averaged into a grade for each of the four marking periods. Percentages for marking periods later are averaged into semester and year-end grades. A student receives an "A" for scores ranging from 100 percent to 90 percent, a "B" for scores ranging from 89 percent to 80 percent, a "C" for scores ranging from 79 percent to 70 percent, a "D" for scores ranging from 69 percent to 60 percent and an "E" for scores ranging from 59 percent to the cutoff, 50 percent.

The district and union insist the policy still holds students accountable for performance. "A failing grade is a failing grade," district spokeswoman Ebony Pugh said.

At the same time, they said, the 50 percent minimum gives children a chance to catch up and a reason to keep trying. If a student gets a 20 percent in a class for the first marking period, Ms. Pugh said, he or she would need a 100 percent during the second marking period just to squeak through the semester. "We want to create situations where students can recover and not give up," she said, adding a sense of helplessness can lead to behavior and attendance problems. "It's not grade inflation. We're not saying, 'Give people passing grades,' " Ms. Pugh said.

But the policy strikes some teachers and parents as rewarding bad work and at odds with the district's "Excellence for All" improvement campaign. "Clearly, some people will not be pleased with this policy," Mr. Tarka said. But he added, "We stand by that decision."

Judy Leonardi, a Stanton Heights resident and retired district home economics teacher, said she objected to the notion that a student could "walk in the door, breathe the air and get 50 percent for that." "I don't think it sets kids up properly for college, for competition in life," she said. To Ms. Leonardi, a 20 percent score means a student isn't trying or needs more help with the material. Automatically putting 50 percent in the grade book, she said, doesn't help the student in either case. "To me, it's morally wrong," she said. Ms. Leonardi worries that the policy could cause high-performing students to goof off from time to time, safe in the knowledge that they wouldn't have to bounce back from anything lower than a 50 percent. And she said one teacher she knows already worries about how awkward it will look when a student correctly answers three of 10 questions on a math quiz -- and gets a 50 percent.

The state Department of Education doesn't regulate grading scales, and schools and districts across the state use various models. Districts nationwide have debated use of a 50 percent minimum.

Northside Urban Pathways, a Downtown charter school, gives students zero credit for any work below a "C." Linda Clautti, chief executive officer, said that approach complements the school's college-preparatory mission. "I have not had any complaints. We do parent surveys every year," Ms. Clautti said.

In a recent article in Harvard Educational Review, Freedom Area School District Superintendent Ron Sofo recounted an experimental program that he said helped to dramatically raise the math scores of struggling sixth-graders. Among other features, the program included "A, B, Not Yet" grading, in which students were required to redo work until it merited an A or B. Some Freedom Area teachers opposed the special grading scale, calling it coddling of bad students, Dr. Sofo said.

In suburban Philadelphia, a Bensalem School District task force on testing and grading has recommended that 50 percent be the minimum score a student receive. Superintendent James Lombardo said he's in favor of implementing the idea, partly as a fairness issue. He noted that a failing grade carries far more mathematical weight than any other grade if the "E" or "F" has a range of zero to 59 percent. "I guess I laud the Pittsburgh district for recognizing some of the foibles of our numerical system," he said, adding low percentage scores sometimes are given to students because of their attitude or work ethic, rather than their level of accomplishment.

Asked whether she agreed with the 50 percent minimum, Regina Holley, principal of Pittsburgh Lincoln K-8 and president of the Pittsburgh Administrators Association, said: "Well, that's the board's policy, and that's what we have to use." She said teachers and principals should take other steps to give parents a clearer picture of how their children are performing in class. "Our school provides that to the parents in a conference. We provide it in a letter. We give it to the parents in a phone call," Dr. Holley said.


Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bigoted university chaplain revealed -- who then spins like a top under the glare of publicity

University of Massachusetts officials on Monday quashed efforts by an Amherst campus chaplain to offer two college credits to any student willing to campaign in New Hampshire this fall for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Chaplain Kent Higgins told students in a Sept. 18 e-mail, "If you're scared about the prospects for this election, you're not alone. The most important way to make a difference in the outcome is to activate yourself. It would be just fine with (Republican candidate John) McCain if Obama supporters just think about helping, then sleep in and stay home between now and Election Day."

Higgins added that an unnamed "sponsor" in the university's history department would offer a two-credit independent study for students willing to canvass-identify supporters-or volunteer on behalf of the Democratic nominee.

University officials disavowed the effort after inquiries Monday by The Associated Press. They said it could run afoul of state ethics laws banning on-the-job political activity, as well as university policy. "We do not engage in or sponsor partisan political activity," said Audrey Alstadt, chairwoman of the history department. "We certainly do not give academic credit for participation in partisan politics."

UMass-Amherst spokesman Ed Blaguszewski said Higgins had previously arranged history department credit for students working on disaster relief efforts or other humanitarian ventures, and had raised the idea of similarly rewarding students who got involved in the political process during the 2008 election. Blaguszewski said university officials had envisioned that the efforts would involve nonpartisan work such as get-out-the vote campaigns, but changed their minds about the proposal when they saw a portion of Higgins' e-mail.

"The history department chair feels that what they were told was misleading, and then when the details of this emerged through the correspondence, they said, `Hey, this is not appropriate and it's not going to happen,'" Blaguszewski said.

A spokesman for the Massachusetts Republican Party criticized the effort. "We're disappointed, but frankly not surprised, that the liberal academic elite have once again decided to promote one candidate over another," said GOP spokesman Barney Keller. "Our tax dollars pay their salaries so they can teach our children how to make up their own minds, not to advance a partisan political agenda."

Higgins said he never intended for the program to be limited to supporters of Obama. Regardless of the opinions expressed in his e-mail, he said he would also have been open to those students who wanted to canvass for McCain. "The idea was there just to see if we could help with folks who want to be active with any of the campaigns in New Hampshire," he said during an interview with the AP. "We have to be bipartisan, multilateral."

Higgins refused to identify the history department sponsor and referred all further questions to university officials. Blaguszewski said Higgins is one of about a dozen chaplains from different faiths working in Amherst, the flagship campus among the university's five schools.


Co-ed dorms for gender-confused males?

The University of Pittsburgh is changing its anti-discrimination policy to include gender identity. The new policy means that a man who feels like he is a woman can be housed in the women's dormitory and vice versa. And that involves "showering and using the restroom and the whole shebang," explains Diane Gramley, president of American Family Association of Pennsylvania (AFA of PA).

Gramley mentally puts herself in the position of being in a women's dorm restroom, when a man walks in to use the facilities. "I think that she would be shocked and dismayed -- and I would think she would also be concerned about her safety," she contends.

The family advocate says it is conceivable that a man could convince university officials of his gender confusion and gain access to the women's dorm to search for prey. Gramley also notes the university should be concerned about potential lawsuits from "concerned parents and students."

Gramley believes school officials are pandering to a small group and ignoring the best interests of the majority. "They're bowing down. They're doing the politically correct thing and putting their entire student body at risk by doing this," she adds. "They're bowing down to the pressure from a very small group of students, and they're just not considering the full impact of the policy change. Why can't the institutions of higher education stay within their academic goals and not seek to be agents of political correctness?" she wonders.

Gramley has lodged a protest with University of Pittsburgh officials and believes parents who are paying the high tuition for their youngsters ought to do the same.


Britain's anti-citizenship education

According to a study by the National Foundation for Educational Research, children who have citizenship lessons at school - introduced in 2002 to boost pupils' civic pride and sense of social responsibility -- display less trust in authority figures and institutions and end up with a more negative attitude towards society.

Why is anyone surprised at this? I could have told them this would be the outcome. Indeed, I did tell them this would be the outcome. Repeatedly. I wrote column after column warning that the model of citizenship being adopted, drawn up by the retired politics Professor Bernard Crick, was actually a model of anti-citizenship. In 2004, for example, I wrote in the Mail that
the citizenship teaching inspired by Sir Bernard amounted to politically correct indoctrination in which multiculturalism, `globalisation' and `a shrinking planet' were all buzz phrases; and in which, far from being taught about their obligations to Britain, pupils were encouraged to develop `their own ground rules'.

The doctrinaire thinking behind this hollowing out of citizenship was clear enough in the late nineties, when Sir Bernard first produced his advice on citizenship for Mr Blunkett who was then Education Secretary. Beneath its pious invocations of `responsibility' and `community involvement', it was all about enabling young people to get more out of society. Even more strikingly, it wanted teachers to promote `active citizenship', by equipping pupils with the political skills to change the laws. Duty to obey the law - the first obligation of citizenship - wasn't even mentioned.

Now we read in the Telegraph:
The study said that pupils in their final year of school only expressed `moderate levels of agreement with laws'.

Well, there's a surprise. Let's raise our glasses once again to Antonio Gramsci, whose posthumous triumph in turning Britain's values inside out has surely been more spectacular than he could ever have dreamed.