Saturday, December 13, 2008

Nasty British teacher tells little kids that Father Christmas isn't real

A primary school teacher left a class of 25 pupils in tears when she told them Father Christmas does not exist.

The supply teacher blurted out: "it's your parents who leave out presents on Chrsitmas Day" when excited youngsters got rowdy as they talked about Christmas. The class of seven-year-olds at Blackshaw Lane Primary School, Royton, near Oldham, Greater Manchester burst into tears and told their parents when they got home. The parents then complained about the incident and were sent a letter by the school saying the teacher has been disciplined over the gaffe.

One father said: "My son came home and said that his substitute teacher had told the class that Santa doesn't exist and it's your mum and dad that put out presents for them. "Apparently, they were all talking about Christmas and being a bit rowdy. She just came straight out with it. "My lad was nearly in tears and so was everyone else in the class - especially as it was so close to Christmas. I thought it was wrong. "He was distraught about it. He's only seven-years-old and it's part of the magic of Christmas to him. "We told him that she did not believe in Father Christmas because of her religion and he's fine now. "I found it shocking. She has done it maliciously. "A lot of parents were disgusted and complained to the school. If she was a regular teacher then I think a lot more would have been done."

Angela McCormick, the headteacher, refused to comment on the incident. Oldham Council's service director for children, young people and families, Janet Doherty, said: "This is a matter for the individual school to resolve. "We have every confidence that the head will deal with it sensitively and appropriately."


Australia: Poor teachers to blame for kids' bad marks says Education Minister

He's partly right. But how come teaching is no longer an attractive profession? Would largely non-existent discipline be something to do with it? And what does it say about the 4-year courses aspiring teachers have to do before getting a teaching job? Does the word "useless" spring to mind?

Education minister Rod Welford says Queensland's ailing school system is linked to the incapacity of our universities to attract quality teachers. Mr Welford has signalled trainee teacher standards need urgent attention. Mr Welford yesterday compared Queensland teaching qualifications with those of the world leader Finland, which demands teachers have a Masters of Education. "In Finland it's very high competition to get into teaching and here we don't attract, for some reason, our best and brightest," Mr Welford said.

His comments come a day after Premier Anna Bligh announced an independent review of the school system, triggered by Queensland's latest poor showing in international exams. The Courier-Mail can confirm the Minister this week wrote to Melbourne education consultant Professor Brian Caldwell, inviting him to present his 10-point plan to turn around the dimming prospects of the state's languishing students.

Professor Caldwell and Brisbane's Dr Jessica Harris, who co-wrote Why Not The Best Schools, after five years' research into what makes the world's top schools tick, will present their conclusions to the heads of the department. The book and its 10-year plan draws heavily from Finland.

Professor Caldwell and Dr Harris yesterday said the Finnish move to raise standards and prestige of teaching through a compulsory Masters of Education, was critical to their success. Dr Harris said only the top 10 per cent of applicants were accepted to teaching; the most sought-after course. Such a cut-off in Queensland would equate to an Overall Position (OP) score of 3 or 4, and is in sharp contrast to the generous standards of Queensland universities. Scores needed to enter a Bachelor of Education in this state over the past two years ranged from Overall Position 12 to 19.

Queensland Teachers Union president Steve Ryan said such standards were far too low. He said OPs were generally nothing more than a measure of supply and demand in a particular year, and a method to fund university courses. "It doesn't solve the problem by changing them (entrance marks)," he said. "We've got to create a scenario that teachers with top OP scores compete for positions."

The union chief said he interpreted Mr Welford's comments about Queensland not attracting high-calibre teaching candidates as a discussion about raising the status of the profession.

The academic performances of Finland's schools are never published, with the state trusting school leaders to implement the curriculum effectively and provide equity of access to every child. Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg said Mr Welford's move to blame teachers for the poor school results was typical of the Labor Government, which never accepted any responsibility for its actions or lack of action.


This idolization of Finland has some merit but comparability between Finland and Australia is low. As just one example, the foreign-born population in Finland is just 2.5 percent, and most of those are people who fit into Finnish society with relative ease: Russians, Estonians and Swedes. Australia, by contrast, is one of the most multi-cultural and multi-racial countries on earth. So picking out the fact that Finnish teachers have Master's degrees as the crucial difference shows that we are listening to propaganda, not any serious attempt at analysis

University experience is all the better if you leave home

I generally agree with James Allan but I fail to see that he makes his case below. In my observation kids in residential colleges seem mainly characterized by very juvenile behaviour and heavy drinking. Developing a feeling of fellowship with others of a similar age is however an advantage -- though more of an emotional one than anything else

A little under four years ago, I arrived to take up a professorship at the University of Queensland. Before that, I worked in or visited universities in New Zealand, Canada, Hong Kong, the United States and Britain. The first thing that hit me - and it still staggers me - is the pervasive managerialism of Australian universities. I have never encountered anything like it, anywhere (though a few people with experience of the ex-Soviet bloc may have).

A close second was the wasteful and ridiculous obsession with applying for grants in the humanities and law. No one would judge a car company by how many government grants it got, but by the quality and sales of the cars it produced. (Maybe that's not the best example at the moment with this government.) In the university sector here though, success at getting grants (an input) is treated as a sign of excellence (an output) in its own right. That's moronic.

But from the point of view of students, perhaps the most striking difference I've noticed between Australian universities and those in the other countries in which I've worked, is the relative dearth of residence or college places in the older, and best, universities. My personal experience and professional observations make me think students are better off leaving home and going into residence when they start university. This is a highly chosen option, if not the norm, in my native Canada, as well as in the US and Britain. New Zealand's oldest university, and one of its two best, is situated in a small university town, and relies on the bulk of its students coming from all over the country, including almost a third who come down from Auckland.

Australian universities, and especially the older, elite ones, are overwhelmingly big-city commuter universities. They take a small percentage of students into residence, mainly from the country. On top of that, there is next to no tradition of large numbers of students travelling out of state to another university. If you are from Sydney you go to a Sydney university; if from Melbourne to one in Melbourne. University students stay at home. They commute to, and home from, the campus. The overall learning experience - in both a narrow academic sense and in a wider life-changing (including having fun) sense - is far inferior to going to a residence university. Given any two universities even remotely comparable in their academic excellence, if one is residence and the other commuter, students should do whatever they possibly can to attend the residence one.

What about the cost? Well, the differential costs argument really isn't all that powerful once you factor in the cost of running a car to go back and forth at the commuter university and then recall that adding, say, $20,000-odd to your final loan is not much at all in the greater scheme of getting a first-class all-round university experience you will always remember, and a big leg up in likely lifetime earnings. What's the difference, really, between a $300,000 mortgage on your first home and a $320,000 one?

I have two children, one 15 and one 13. The sad truth is should either ask my opinion, I would not advise attending an Australian university. I think both would be better off attending a Canadian or (one in particular) NZ university. You just cannot beat the life-changing experience of living away from home at a residence university. Whether anything can now be done about the lack of top residence universities in Australia is dubious. No doubt it is a failing that in large part is a function of historical contingency. But it's still a shame.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Oh Come All Ye Tasteless

'Chav' is a derogatory British term most frequently used to describe white working class teenagers or young people who misbehave. The burberry cap on the figure below is a chav hallmark

A British school has asked kids to learn a "chav" nativity play - where Jesus turns water into lager instead of wine.

Mary and Joseph break into a garage instead of finding shelter in a stable. She is told she will get extra benefits for having Jesus - and the Wise Men are asked for gifts of Adidas and Burberry. When a character says Mary is a virgin, another replies: "Wossat then? A train?" The script was thought to have been found on the internet.

Michelle Taylor, 35, has a relative at Oakwood School for 11to-16 year olds with emotional and behavioural difficulties in Bexley, Kent. She said: "I couldn't believe it. You encourage children to speak properly, then they get this at school." Bexley Council said the script was used in a drama lesson for kids of 14, but the school would still stage a traditional nativity.

Source. Fuller details here

Obama's Good Students

Last week the excellent David Brooks, in one of his columns in the New York Times, exulted over the high quality of people President-elect Barack Obama was enlisting in his new cabinet and onto his staff. The chief evidence for these people being so impressive, it turns out, is they all went to what the world--"that ignorant ninny," as Henry James called it--thinks superior schools. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, the London School of Economics; like dead flies on flypaper, the names of the schools Obama's new appointees attended dotted Brooks's column. Here is the column's first paragraph:
Jan. 20, 2009, will be a historic day. Barack Obama (Columbia, Harvard Law) will take the oath of office as his wife, Michelle (Princeton, Harvard Law), looks on proudly. Nearby, his foreign policy advisers will stand beaming, including perhaps Hillary Clinton (Wellesley, Yale Law), Jim Steinberg (Harvard, Yale Law) and Susan Rice (Stanford, Oxford D. Phil.).

This administration will be, as Brooks writes, "a valedictocracy." The assumption here is that having all these good students--many of them possibly "toll-frees," as high-school students who get 800s on their SATs used to be known in admissions offices--running the country is obviously a pretty good thing. Brooks's one jokey line in the column has it that "if a foreign enemy attacks the United States during the Harvard-Yale game any time over the next four years, we're screwed." Since my appreciation of David Brooks is considerable, and since I agree with him on so many things, why don't I agree with him here?

The reason is that, after teaching at a university for 30 years, I have come to distrust the type I think of as "the good student"--that is, the student who sails through school and is easily admitted into the top colleges and professional schools. The good student is the kid who works hard in high school, piles up lots of activities, and scores high on his SATs, and for his efforts gets into one of the 20 or so schools in the country that ring the gong of success. While there he gets a preponderance of A's. This allows him to move on to the next good, or even slightly better, graduate, business, or professional school, where he will get more A's still, and move onward and ever upward. His perfect r,sum, in hand, he runs only one risk--that of catching cold from the draft created by all the doors opening for him wherever he goes, as he piles up scads of money, honors, and finally ends up being offered a job at a high level of government. He has, in a sense Spike Lee never intended, done the right thing.

What's wrong with this? Am I describing anything worse than effort and virtue richly rewarded? I believe I am. My sense of the good student is that, while in class, he really has only one pertinent question, which is, What does this guy, his professor at the moment, want? Whatever it is--a good dose of liberalism, libertarianism, feminism, conservatism--he gives it to him, in exchange for another A to slip into his backpack alongside all the others on his long trudge to the Harvard, Yale, Stanford law or business schools, and thence into the empyrean.

Murray Kempton once wrote that intellectual contentment in America consists in not giving a damn about Harvard. Harvard--and Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and the -others--has over the past three or four decades made this contentment easy to achieve. All these schools have done so by becoming, at least in their humanities and social sciences sides, more and more mired in the mediocre. The reason for this is the politicization of the subjects that these academics, who have only the blurriest notion of how academic freedom is supposed to work, have allowed to take over the universities.

Harvard, I remember hearing some years ago, is looking for a strong feminist. One should have thought it would be the other way round: feminism trying to establish a beachhead at Harvard. Not so. Like Gadarene swine, the putatively best of American colleges have rushed to take on the worst of intellectual freight. Behind the much-vaunted notion of diversity in contemporary universities is the attempt to make sure that no corpus of bad ideas isn't amply represented. In this attempt, the top universities have succeeded admirably.

The problem set for the good student, then, is to negotiate his way through this bramble of bad ideas. My son, who went to Stanford, told me at the time that a not uncommon opening session in some of his classes was for a professor to announce that he was going to teach his course from the Marxist (or feminist or new historicist or Foucauldian) point of view, but he wanted the students to know that everyone in class was entirely free to disagree with him, and indeed he encouraged strong disagreement. My son was the boy who, from the back of the room, could be heard faintly muttering, "Yeah, sure, for a B-."

I did my teaching at Northwestern University, where most of the students had what I came to regard as "the habits of achievement." They did the reading, most of them could write a respectable paper, many of them talked decently in response to my questions. They made it difficult for me to give them less than a B for the course. But the only students who genuinely interested me went beyond being good students to become passionate ones. Their minds, I could tell, were engaged upon more than merely getting another high grade. The number of such students was remarkably small; if I had to pin it down, I should say they comprised well under 3 percent, and not all of them received A's from me.

Meanwhile our good student, resembling no one so much as that Italian character in Catch-22 who claimed to have flourished under the fascists, then flourished under the Communists, and was confident he would also flourish under the Americans, treks on his merry way. From Yale to Harvard Law School, or Harvard to Yale Law School, or to one of the highly regarded (and content empty) business schools, he goes, as the Victorians had it, from strength to strength.

In recent years I have come to think that some of the worst people in the United States have gone to the Harvard or Yale Law Schools: Mr. and Mrs. Eliot Spitzer, Mr. and Mrs. William Clinton, and countless -others. And why not, since these institutions serve as the grandest receptacles in the land for our good students: those clever, sometimes brilliant, but rarely deep young men and women who, joining furious drive to burning if ultimately empty ambition, will do anything to get ahead.

Universities are of course the last bastion of snobbery in America. The problem is that the snobbery works. Nor is this snobbery likely to be seriously eroded in our lifetime. No parent whose child has the choice of going to Princeton or Arizona State is likely to advise the kid to become a Sun Devil. Go to one of the supposedly better schools and your chances for success in the great world increase, flat-out, no doubt about it. To have been accepted at one of the top schools means that a child has done what he was told, followed instructions, kept his eye on the prize, played the game, and won. But does it mean much more?

Harry S. Truman and Ronald Reagan were two of the greatest presidents of the twentieth century. Truman didn't go to college at all, and Reagan, one strains to remember, went to Eureka College in Eureka, Illinois. Each was his own man, each, in his different way, without the least trace of conformity or hostage to received opinion or conventional wisdom. Schooling, even what passes for the best schooling, would, one feels, have made either man less himself and thereby probably worse.

The presence and continued flourishing of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and the rest do perform a genuine service. They allow America to believe it has a meritocracy, even though there is no genuine known merit about it. Perhaps one has to have taught at or otherwise had a closer look at these institutions to realize how thin they are. I myself feel their thinness so keenly that, on more than one occasion, I have, by way of informing one friend or acquaintance about another, said, "He went to Princeton and then to the Harvard Law School, but, really, he is much better than that."


Britain: School results are a poor predictor of future success

John Lennon left school without any qualifications, Damien Hirst did marginally better and was awarded an E for his art A-Level whilst Bill Gates dropped out of college on his way to becoming the world's richest man. They are hardly shining examples of those who achieved all they did because of success in the classroom.

But according to intriguing new research, school tests are by no means a measure of true ability - nor can they be used as a tool to predict future success or abject failure. The study, by the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors (CIEA), found that as many as 77 per cent of people believe that formal examinations fail to reflect their true intelligence.

Sour grapes? Perhaps, but there are those who have successfully bucked the trend. They include Gordon Ramsay, Ralph Lauren (who quit college to sell ties in a New York men's store) and degree-less business knights, Richard Branson, Philip Green and Alan Sugar. Then there's fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, Radio Four's interrogator-in-chief John Humphrys, the BBC's Terry Wogan, chat show legend Michael Parkinson and finally the X-Factor's Simon Cowell. Not one of them made it to university.

Not surprisingly then, just three out of 10 people associate exams with 'a sense of pride', according to the CIEA study which was based on the responses from 2,000 adults. The research also found that 62 per cent spoke of feeling 'butterflies in the stomach' moments before they were due to sit an exam. Other reactions included headaches, insomnia and vomiting.

Pupils in England currently sit an average of 70 formal examinations, whilst primary school children are now subjected to more tests than their international counterparts. Yet, 60 per cent of teachers who responded to a separate online poll for the CIEA said they did not think exams were necessarily the best indicators of a pupil's ability and were not reflective of their future success in a job.

'Exams don't suit everybody,' said Graham Herbert, deputy head of the CIEA, which aims to improve senior examiners, moderators and markers. 'They don't tell the full picture. Most adults agree that their performance in exams does not reflect their true abilities. 'That is not to say we should get rid of exams. What we need is a supplement to the exam system, a supplement that can be relied upon. And that supplement could be teacher assessment.' The CIEA is training qualified assessors through its Chartered Educational Assessor (CEA) initiative and aims to place 3,000 of them in schools across England by 2011. Already 33 are in place, with a further 70 in training.

Mr Herbert said the reliance on exams meant that many schools were now focusing on teaching for tests. 'If you say the purpose is to put a school in a rank order, then it becomes a high-stakes test,' he added. 'People get really nervous about it because their reputation is at risk, so they tend to teach to the test. 'That means that their learners jump through the hoops put there by the exam, rather than testing their ability and their knowledge.

'Take Richard Branson and Winston Churchill. They are two very famous, highly skilled individuals who were both poor exam performers. So exams don't necessarily on their own bring out the best in individuals. 'And they become stigmatised by that. A lot of adults feel that. From our survey, the majority, it seems.'


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas Wins In North Carolina School

Nice try, bub/bubbette
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeerwas almost grounded at Murrayville Elementary School this week after a parent complained about the classic Christmas song's inclusion in her daughter's upcoming kindergarten concert. The objecting parent was upset about the words "Christmas" and "Santa" in the song, feeling that they carried religious overtones. That prompted the song to be pulled from the upcoming holiday concert, which in turn upset more parents.

But Rudolph will be shining bright next Tuesday after New Hanover County school administrators and lawyers determined the song was just, well, a secular song about a make-believe reindeer. "They've determined that it signifies just a day in time, Dec. 25, not the promotion of a religious symbol," said Ed Higgins, chairman of the county Board of Education. "So Rudolph is back in."

By all appearances, it looks like the school reacted - it is hard to say "overreacted," considering the hyper sensitive nature of schools and the Christian religion nowadays - then someone in the adult category said "what the hell is the matter with you people? Put the song back in. The children do not care, they just want to have fun doing a freaking Christmas play, not a holiday concert. Sheesh!" Then Ed Higgins made some shat up to placate the Christmas haters. However, the complaining parent does have a slight point
The mother, who is Jewish, said she was trying to have a Hanukkah song added to the musical lineup but had not received a return phone call about it from school officials by mid-afternoon Friday.

If it is a holiday concert, yeah, maybe it should be included.
The objecting parent said that she spoke to Duclos about keeping the program about education and having fun, without any religious references. She sees the beauty in the Christmas celebration, she said, but believes religious holidays have no place in a secular public school setting.

Despite having done it for decades and decades, heck, probably since the school was founded. BTW, I hope the parent is not pulling her child out of school for HER religious holidays. That is not meant as a knock at Judaism, I grew up around plenty of people of the Jewish faith, who would often have days off that I wasn't getting. I simply mean that if the parent doesn't want others to combine religion and school, then she shouldn't let her religious holidays interfere.
"I don't mind Christmas or anything Christmas-related at all, so long as you're not imposing it on my child," the objecting parent said Friday morning.

So, don't have your kid participate. But, sure looks like you do mind.


Australian school in clear over teaching creation

A CHRISTIAN school that teaches a biblical view of creation in science classes has been cleared of breaching state curriculum requirements for the teaching of evolution. The NSW Board of Studies has found that Pacific Hills Christian School at Dural has met its requirements for teaching the science syllabus, including evolution, to years 7 to 10. The board said it had not substantiated a complaint about how science was taught at the school. Its investigation involved an assessment by the school's overseeing body, Christian Schools Australia, and its own inspection of curriculum and teaching materials.

The board's curriculum director was given access to the school's intranet to review the school's curriculum documents. The director also observed several science classes and class work on evolution. The board's science inspector reviewed the school's educational programs for science, including student work samples and assessment tasks. A board spokeswoman said the reports found the school was meeting its science curriculum requirements and this was endorsed by the board's registration committee.

An inquiry by Christian Schools Australia also cleared the school of failing its duty to teach evolution theory appropriately. The head of Christian Schools Australia, Stephen O'Doherty, said: "It was a very thorough process in which the Board of Studies conducted its own inquiries and came to its own conclusions based on empirical evidence, and it is very pleasing that they confirmed the findings that our registration system made."

The original complaint was made by the former president of the Secondary Principals Council, Chris Bonnor. He raised his concerns after he viewed a sample of how science was taught at Pacific Hills on an SBS television program. He said he was not satisfied with the outcome of the board inquiry. "Notwithstanding the extent to which that lesson may or may not be typical of science teaching at the school, I remain concerned that the Board of Studies has not commented on the appropriateness of advice given to students by the teacher in that science lesson. I still want to know whether it is appropriate for a science teacher to exhort his or her students to consider what God's revelation through his scripture shows you, so that you can come to some clear understanding about your view of evolution."

The NSW Greens MP John Kaye said the board's ruling set a dangerous precedent that had "opened the floodgates to a religious invasion of the curriculum". The board had failed in its duty to protect the integrity of the science curriculum, he said. "Every fundamentalist private school in NSW will be emboldened by this decision."

In response, the board said its position on teaching evolution as evidence-based science had not changed and it was satisfied Pacific Hills had complied with its curriculum requirement. The board spokeswoman said: "Parents are entitled to choose schools for their children that support their own beliefs. However, it has been repeatedly made clear to faith-based and other schools that creationism is not part of the mandatory science curriculum, cannot take the place of any part of the mandatory science curriculum, and will not be assessed in the mandatory School Certificate science test."

Mr O'Doherty said Mr Bonnor had misquoted the Pacific Hills science teacher, and Dr Kaye's comments amounted to vilification.


Australia: Private school enrolments rise despite tough times

Strong testimony to what parents think of government schools

DESPITE tough times, Queensland parents are digging deep to send their kids to private schools, with enrolments to rise by up to 4 per cent next year. The public sector is expected to experience only a half per cent rise.

Brisbane mother and doctor Jane Collins says she is fortunate to afford the near-$10,000 fee to send daughter Stephanie to Prep at Somerville House [a Brisbane Presbyterian girls' school] next year. "It's the cost of having the best possible education," she said. The single mother viewed the hefty fees as a critical investment, not a cost. She has set up a fund to bankroll Stephanie's schooling career, believing annual fees will hit $20,000 when the four-year-old reaches Year 12.

The latest estimates from Education Queensland revealed 38,600 youngsters will start Prep in 2009 at a state school. State primary and secondary enrolments will make up about 68 per cent of Queensland's student body, with 306,000 and 174,000 respectively.

A Brisbane academic said the continued growth of private schools was indicative of Queensland's population growth and healthy economy. "(A recession) hasn't hit yet," QUT lecturer and head of economics and finance Tim Robinson said. "In a year's time when the economy slows you may find the drift to private has slowed down." The Catholic sector expected enrolments to rise about 2.6 per cent next year, with the independent sector preparing for rises of up to 4 per cent.

Brisbane Catholic Education spokesman John Phelan said many parents in his sector made huge sacrifices to keep a child in a private school. "(A private education) is often the last thing to go ... it's one of those things parents struggle to keep affording," he said. Mr Phelan said the trend to go private had been gathering pace in Queensland for about 20 years. And while some of the most expensive schools had recently been asked by parents for financial concessions, it was still extremely rare.

Professor Robinson cited 2007 data showing Queensland's 90,000 newcomers were split evenly between international, interstate and newborns. He said southeast Queensland benefited from a particularly strong intake of educated and cashed-up international immigrants.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

America Needs "Change Parents Can Believe In"

Let's not kid ourselves. Barack Obama isn't the first (and he certainly won't be the last) Washington politician to send his children to exclusive private schools. In fact, Sidwell Friends - the elite private academy chosen by the Obamas for their two young daughters - was also selected by Bill and Hillary Clinton for their daughter, Chelsea, while they lived in the White House.

But you won't hear me - or any other true educational choice advocate - condemning either family for selecting the educational environment that best fits the needs of their children. That's their right as parents. In fact, in selecting this $29,000-a-year school, Michelle Obama specifically described it as "the best fit for what (our) daughters need now."

Meanwhile in South Carolina (which includes eight counties with a median household income below what the Obamas will pay per child in tuition costs this coming year) one of the state's top gubernatorial prospects, James E. Smith, also chooses to send his children to a prestigious private academy. Again, that's his choice - and based on South Carolina's worst-in-the-nation graduation rate, it's hard to fault him for it.

In Oregon, where the graduation rate is much higher, House Speaker Jeff Merkley and his wife recently attempted to enroll two of their children in a newly-formed charter school. In this case, it wasn't that their public schools were all that bad, they simply wanted something better. Yet when reporters first asked Speaker Merkley about his children's applications, he denied having ever submitted them. How come? Well, as it turned out, Merkley had voted against Oregon's charter school legislation just a few years earlier.

Likewise, South Carolina's Rep. Smith has been one of the most vocal opponents of parental choice in South Carolina - including choice for those eight counties with household incomes below what the Obamas will pay to send just one of their children to private school this coming year.

And then there's Obama himself, who is following in the footsteps of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy and his Illinois colleague Jesse Jackson, Jr., in ardently opposing academic scholarships and tuition tax credits which in most cases add up to less than half what public schools are spending. "We need to focus on fixing and improving our public schools; not throwing our hands up and walking away from them," Obama says, a clever sound bite that ignores the billions in new taxpayer dollars we pour into public education year after year in an unsuccessful effort to do just that.

Sadly, politicians like Obama, the Clintons, Kennedy, Jackson, Smith and Merkley are hardly unique in availing themselves of the very choices they refuse to make more accessible to the vast majority of American parents. According to a 2007 report by the Heritage Foundation, 37 percent of U.S. Representatives and 45 percent of U.S. Senators enroll their children in private schools - a rate four times higher than that of the general population. Simply put, choice is a good thing - but only for those rich or powerful enough to enjoy it.

So what is Obama's solution for the rest of America's parents? For all his talk of "change we need," and "change we can believe in," Obama's plan is all too familiar - keep throwing more money into the same old failed bureaucracies while branding anyone who wants to empower parents as being "anti-public education."

Yet as our nation falls further behind its industrialized peers in standardized test scores, we desperately need an education system focused on achieving results, not accommodating a status quo that has proven utterly incapable at adapting to a changing world. More money and expensive new "accountability" measures have clearly failed to move us forward. We must now provide change that parents can believe in, a process which begins, ironically, with providing them the same choices currently enjoyed by their leaders.


Britain: New ‘Report cards’ on schools to help parents to choose

Parents choosing a state school for their child are to get help in the form of a report card that will award schools a grade from A to F, based on factors such as pupil satisfaction and exam scores. Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, said that the report cards, modelled on a system used in New York, aimed to cut the “detective work” that parents have to do, by bringing together information on academic achievement as well as other criteria. These may include ratings of pupil and parental satisfaction, child well-being and a measure of how the school is doing in narrowing the achievement gap between children from rich and poor households.

Mr Balls said: “There is lots of useful information out there for parents on how schools are performing – like performance tables and Ofsted reports - but the volume of data can be confusing and difficult to navigate.”

Report cards will grade primary and secondary schools in England on an annual basis, although individual measures could be updated through the year. They will also provide “signposts” to other information, such as Ofsted reports. If successful, the cards are likely to prove a useful alternative to league tables based only on exam results, which have been criticised heavily for providing a crude and partial measure.

Teaching unions gave the report cards a cautious welcome. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said they represented an “interesting opportunity”, but that the measures used to compile the reports needed to be robust.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The balanced report card has the potential to reflect better the performance of the school than any single set of examination statistics, but it must replace league tables, not be in addition to them.”


Carols canned as Australian Primary School opts for multicultural event

A primary school has dumped its traditional Christmas carols concert in favour of a musical event for multicultural families. Pinewood Primary School, in Mt Waverley, Victoria, has been accused of acting like the Grinch who stole Christmas, despite Premier John Brumby's warning that schools should not play down the Christmas spirit for the sake of political correctness.

Angry parents and Liberal MPs slammed the decision. Parents Victoria executive officer Gail McHardy said it appeared the school community was not consulted about the change. "I'd like to think that tradition is not thrown out the window like this. It's bah, humbug," she said.

Liberal education spokesman Martin Dixon said the majority of Australians, whether from Anglo-Saxon or ethnic backgrounds, celebrated the Christmas tradition. "And it's obviously been part of that school's tradition, and there's no need to change that," he said.

Principal Maurice Baker said it was decided to replace Thursday's carols event with an entertainer. "We thought we'd like to present this sort of thing to our parents, and we thought the only way we could do it was in place of our carols night this year," he said. "And we thought that was probably not a bad idea either because it gave people from other cultures the chance to celebrate with us." Asked if non-Christian students and parents usually attended the carols night, Mr Baker said: "They can, but they choose not to because it's not their religion."

Last month, Mr Brumby urged schools and kindergartens to let children enjoy Christmas no matter what their religion. "Christmas holds a significant place in Australian society and it is important schoolchildren . . . gain an understanding of its historical and cultural importance to our country," he said.

Mr Baker said Pinewood still celebrated Christmas in different ways and the carols might be back next year. "It's not as if the Grinch has come here and stolen Christmas," he said.

At Canterbury Primary School, students and teachers are getting into the yuletide spirit in a big way. Principal Anne Tonkin said students had taken part in various community Christmas functions, including carol singing and helping out with a Christmas stall. "It provides an opportunity for students to showcase their talents," she said. Canterbury parent Vicki Vrazas said her children looked forward to Christmas events. "They love it, it's part of tradition and respecting Christmas values," she said.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

UNC libraries ban Christmas trees

Chapel Hill library chief says staffers complained about the display

For as long as anyone can remember, Christmas trees adorned with lights and ornaments have greeted holiday season visitors to UNC Chapel Hill's two main libraries. Not this year. The trees, which have stood in the lobby areas of Wilson and Davis libraries each December, were kept in storage this year at the behest of Sarah Michalak, the associate provost for university libraries. Michalak's decision followed several years of queries and complaints from library employees and patrons bothered by the Christian display, Michalak said this week.

Michalak said that banishing the Christmas displays was not an easy decision but that she asked around to library colleagues at Duke, N.C. State and elsewhere and found no other one where Christmas trees were displayed.

Aside from the fact that a UNC Chapel Hill library is a public facility, Michalak said, libraries are places where information from all corners of the world and all belief systems is offered without judgment. Displaying one particular religion's symbols is antithetical to that philosophy, she said. "We strive in our collection to have a wide variety of ideas," she said. "It doesn't seem right to celebrate one particular set of customs."

Michalak, chief librarian for four years, said at least a dozen library employees have complained over the last few years about the display. She hasn't heard similar criticism from students, though they may have voiced concerns to other library staff.

Public libraries generally shy away from creating displays promoting any single religion, said Catherine Mau, deputy director of the Durham County library system, where poinsettias provided by a library booster group provide holiday cheer.


Women Abroad and Men at Home -- a big puzzle with a simple answer

The simple answer is that study is more recreational for women than for men. That's why women so often take useless humanities courses. Men have less time to go swanning around the word because travel is not important for their career development. But that explanation is avoided below

Truett Cates was scanning a wall of study abroad brochures across from his desk. "Let me put on my bifocals here - just a quick impression - I see one brochure for Australia and New Zealand, which has one guy on the cover of it," said Cates, the director of study abroad and January term, and a professor of German, at Austin College. "Of course, if you're a guy who doesn't do languages, Australia and New Zealand are attractive and you can do guy things like kayaking and bungee jumping and so forth, pub crawling."

"Some of them do have groups of students which are like, five girls and one guy, or three girls - or I guess also pictures of girls that attract guys. Maybe that's part of it," Cates continued.

"What I've done is look at all the brochures that the providers, the third-party providers, put out, and in the brochures and the nice color photographs they use to sell their programs, it's almost all women and I ask them, `Why do they do that?' They say it's just a marketing decision; that's who our customers are."

It's truth in advertising. Take Austin, for example, which, at about 80 percent, sends one of the highest proportions of its students abroad. But even with that critical mass, out of 390 total in 2006-7, 248 were women and 142 were men (like at many liberal arts colleges, Austin's overall undergraduate population skews somewhat female, but not to the same degree).

In recent years, as study abroad has ballooned across the nation, fueled by growth in short-term programs and increasing diversity in participating students' majors and destinations, a 2-to-1 female-to-male ratio has stayed remarkably stagnant. In 2006-7, the most recent year for which data are available, 65.1 percent of Americans studying abroad were women, and 34.9 percent men. A decade earlier - when the total number of study abroad students was less than half its current total - the breakdown was 64.9 percent female, 35.1 percent male, according to Institute of International Education Open Doors statistics.

"I wouldn't put it up there among the top issues or problems in the field, but I think it's a puzzlement, to use an old term, and it's sort of a persistent consideration, a persistent sort of annoying feeling that there's something not right about it," said William Hoffa, an independent practitioner in study abroad, retired from Amherst College, who wrote a history of study abroad and is now editing a second volume.

"Initially the problem was perceived to be curricular, meaning the curriculum of study abroad was likely to be in the humanities, social sciences, with a strong language dimension. To the degree that women were more likely to study in those areas, and the curriculum of study abroad was in those areas, it meant men that were studying more in science and business and technologies didn't have the curriculum overseas," said Hoffa. He continued, however, that while there's likely still a bias toward the humanities and social sciences in study abroad, "The curriculum of study abroad is actually pretty much across the spectrum these days."

The most popular majors among study abroad participants are, according to IIE, the social sciences, then business and management, and humanities third. Participation among students in the physical and life sciences jumped 14.5 percent in 2006-7, in engineering by 13.1 percent. The overall gender breakdown, meanwhile, has basically stayed flat. "To some degree," said Hoffa, "it can't just be the curriculum."

Much more here

Traditional subjects go in British schools shake-up

Primary pupils switch to "theme-based" learning

Traditional subjects such as history, geography and religious studies will be removed from the primary school curriculum and merged into a "human, social and environmental" learning programme as part of a series of radical education reforms. Under the plans, information technology classes would be given as much prominence as literacy and numeracy, and foreign languages would be taught in tandem with English. The reforms are the most sweeping for 20 years and aim to slim down the curriculum so that younger children can be taught fewer subjects in greater depth.

Sir Jim Rose, author of the interim report to be published today by the Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, said that the changes were aimed at producing a curriculum for the 21st century. His proposals are to undergo further consultation but are understood to have the backing of the Government. Sir Jim said that combining traditional subjects in themed "learning areas" and introducing more practical and applied teaching would help pupils to make use of their knowledge in real-life situations, such as in managing their own finances.

He said that traditional subjects needed to be taught in a different way to make lessons more relevant to children. "We are certainly not getting rid of subjects such as history and geography," he told The Times. "We are trying to give primary schools flexibility to do less, but to do it better. The history they will be doing will be more in-depth."

The six learning areas defined by Sir Jim are: understanding English, communication and languages; mathematical understanding; scientific and technological understanding; human, social and environmental understanding; understanding physical health and well-being; and understanding arts and design.

While some teachers will welcome the proposals as giving them more flexibility and a chance to move away from a system first imposed in 1904, others have said that abandoning traditional subjects could lead to a dilution of specialist knowledge.

History, geography and religious studies would come under the banner of human, social and environmental understanding. The advantage of not having them as distinct subjects would allow teachers to introduce them in other parts of the curriculum, Sir Jim said. "The starting point of a lesson could be a historical point of study, but it could lead to other elements too, such as geography or citizenship," he said. Similarly, an English lesson could include French through a comparison of English and French words with common roots.

Sir Jim is particularly keen that children learn more practical skills for everyday life. "In maths, we often teach children to do sums, but then when they are faced with a problem in real life they don't know what sum to do. We should teach knowledge and skills as thoroughly as we can, and then we get in lots of applications and uses," he said.

He will also recommend that children in the last two years of primary school - years five and six - should have more lessons from teachers with specialist subjects, who could be hired from neighbouring secondary schools or the private sector.

Although his review did not cover testing, he said that he hoped that the Government would continue to explore alternatives to the key stage 2 tests for 11-year-olds.


Monday, December 08, 2008

High court hears sex-harassment lawsuit case

A Massachusetts girl's awful experience on a school bus is at the heart of a case argued in the Supreme Court Tuesday over limits on lawsuits about sex discrimination in education. The 5-year-old kindergarten student in Hyannis, Mass., told her parents that in 2000 a third-grade boy repeatedly made her lift her dress, pull down her underwear and spread her legs.

Local police and the school system investigated, but found insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges or definitively sort out the story, according to court records. The district refused to assign the boy to another bus or put a monitor on the bus, records show.

Upset with the school district's response, parents Lisa and Robert Fitzgerald sued the district in federal court under both Title IX, which bars sex discrimination at schools that receive federal money, and a provision of a Civil War era, anti-discrimination law that was designed to enforce the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause. The issue for the court is whether Title IX, enacted in 1972, rules out suits under the older provision.

A federal judge ruled that the Fitzgeralds could not sue under the older law because Congress had subsequently passed Title IX. The Fitzgeralds also lost on their Title IX claims. The Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling.

The justices appeared skeptical of the idea that Congress, in legislation expanding protection from discrimination, would cut back on the ability to sue for violations of constitutional rights. But they also wondered whether the Fitzgeralds ultimately would win their lawsuit. "But in this case, as we get down to what this case is about, we have a determination by a court that the school district acted reasonably in relation to these complaints," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said.

Justice John Paul Stevens said, "You may still lose the lawsuit even if you win here." Charles Rothfeld, representing the parents, agreed that the Fitzgeralds might lose, but said their constitutional claims should at least be heard in court.

Among the advantages of pursuing a lawsuit under both provisions is that the older one allows claims to be made against individuals, while Title IX is restricted to institutions. Plaintiffs also can be awarded punitive damages under the older law, but not under Title IX. A decision is expected by late spring. The case is Fitzgerald v. Barnstable School Committee, 07-1125.


Quiz for French state jobs is discriminatory says President Sarkozy

For would-be gendarmes, knowing one end of a truncheon from the other was never enough to get the job. To join the ranks of France's finest, one needed a solid grasp of the imperfect subjunctive. In a sign that French intellectual rigour is not what is was, however, the general knowledge test set for all members of the French civil service is to be made easier and given less weight in the application process. From next year secretaries will no longer be examined on their grasp of 17th-century literature, nor park wardens on the dates of the Jurassic Period.

President Sarkozy has decreed that the tests discriminated in favour of white young men with traditional French educations. "What is the point of a history examination for firemen or police constables with university degrees?" asked Andr‚ Santini, the Civil Service Minister, who signed a new charter against discrimination this week.

The competitive quiz has long been a rite of passage into the haven of a lifetime job in the police, government ministries, the post office and other branches of la fonction publique, which employs more than 20 per cent of all French workers. Last year 65,000 people, many with degrees, sat the test for a thousand posts as junior clerks. President Sarkozy's secretary failed to win an internal contest for a promotion because she did not know the author of La Princesse de Cleves, a 17th-century novel with a long disputed origin, the newspaper Le Figaro reported.

Mr Santini, a Paris politician, said that the general knowledge tests were "being used as a form of invisible discrimination". The new guidelines are part of a campaign by Mr Sarkozy to dismantle barriers that keep applicants from immigrant backgrounds and poor families out of the state apparatus. Mr Sarkozy has also ended the guaranteed access to plum state jobs for graduates of the elite Ecole Nationale d'Administration.

Ivan Rioufol, the news editor at Le Figaro, said that a basic knowledge of history and culture was vital for civil servants. France was already illiterate enough, he wrote.


Sunday, December 07, 2008

How Obama can fix education

By Jeff Jacoby

IF MONEY were the key to great education, Sasha and Malia Obama might be getting ready to transfer next month to the Francis-Stevens Education Center, the Washington, D.C., public school assigned to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., which will be the girls' new address as of Jan. 20.

The District of Columbia, after all, boasts one of the most amply funded school systems in America. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the DC public schools spend about $13,700 per pupil. That is a level of funding more lavish than in 48 states and half again as generous as the national per-pupil expenditure of $9,150.

But bigger budgets, alas, don't guarantee educational excellence. Its abundant spending notwithstanding, DC's public school system ranks among the worst in the nation. "In reading and math, the District's public school students score at the bottom among 11 major city school systems, even when poor children are compared only with other poor children," The Washington Post reported last year. According to the authoritative National Assessment of Education Progress, only one in seven fourth-graders is ranked at grade-level ("proficient") or better in reading and math. Among eighth-graders, only one in eight is proficient in reading; only one in 12 can handle eighth-grade math.

So to no one's surprise, the Obama girls will not be attending public school in Washington. Barack and Michelle Obama have decided to enroll their daughters in Sidwell Friends, the same private school that Chelsea Clinton attended when she was First Daughter.

The president-elect has taken a bit of heat for rejecting public education for Sasha and Malia. Critics point out that Obama cast himself as a staunch supporter of public schools during the presidential campaign. "We need to fix and improve our public schools," he told the NAACP convention in July, "not throw our hands up and walk away from them." When Time magazine asked the candidates whether parents should be given vouchers to enable them to send their children to better schools, his reply was adamant: "No. I believe that public education in America should foster innovation and provide students with varied, high-quality learning opportunities."

Now in fairness to the Obamas, an ideological commitment to public schools hardly obliges them to send their kids to one - especially when the local school system is as wretched as Washington, D.C.'s. The Obamas' first and deepest responsibility is to their daughters; to have enrolled the girls in the District's failing public system just to make a political point would have been appallingly irresponsible.

But in fairness to the critics, why doesn't Obama want other parents - poorer parents - to be able to do better by their children too? Candidates have been promising to "fix and improve our public schools" for decades, and for decades the schools have remained stubbornly mediocre, hefty spending increases notwithstanding. More promises won't do anything for the parents whose kids are stuck in the public schools Sasha and Malia will be spared. Vouchers, on the other hand, would.

Not every school can be a Sidwell Friends, but every school ought to have something Sidwell Friends benefits from every day. Money isn't the root of Sidwell Friends' success. Neither is the size of its classes, or its well-appointed facilities, or its loyal alumni. Sidwell Friends thrives because it has competition - and DC's public schools stagnate because they don't. Public education is essentially a monopoly, and monopolies tend to be costly, unimaginative, and indifferent to their customers' needs. Private and parochial schools, by contrast, cannot succeed if they lose the goodwill and confidence of the parents who choose them to educate their children.

The DC school system spends $13,700 per student, and most of those students can't even read or do simple math. Imagine what would happen if that money were channeled to parents instead, through vouchers that would let them freely choose their kids' schools. Imagine the energy, innovation, and diversity such competition would beget. Imagine the accountability and excellence it would lead to. Imagine the improvement in the lives of Washington's children. Imagine - 54 years after Brown v. Board of Education - achieving educational equality at last.

Public education doesn't have to be a lethargic and mediocre monopoly. Let vouchers stimulate competition, and education would be revolutionized. If that isn't change worth believing in, Mr. Obama, what is?


Letter to a Handcuffed Feminist

by Mike S. Adams

Dear Handcuffed feminist:

I want to thank you, first of all, for taking the time to attend my recent speech at Duquesne University. I don't know how you managed to handcuff yourself, gag yourself, and then place a sign across your lap saying, "Kick the feminist." I'm just glad no one in the audience accepted your invitation.

I was concerned that you would jump up and interrupt me at some point during the speech. I was surprised that you did not. I was even more surprised that, at the end of the speech, someone came up and handed me a note saying "This is from the handcuffed chick. She wanted me to give it to you."

Your note, indicating that you had to leave the speech early because you were working the late shift, was pleasant in tone. I hope you weren't offended that I did not use the e-mail address you supplied in order to e-mail you the next day per your request. There's just something about a handcuffed feminist that kind of scares me. So I decided to discard the message and go drink a few beers with a couple of chicks who came to my speech wearing black dresses (and no handcuffs).

I received your email message the day after my speech, which indicated that you agreed with the content of my speech and which offered your assistance should I ever be prevented from speaking on a college campus in the future. I noticed that you closed your note by stating that you hoped I did not mind your little protest outside the door of my speech.

I am writing to you today to let you know that I did mind your little protest outside the door of my speech. I really got nothing positive out of it. In fact, I was annoyed with it because it is part of a major problem on our college campus today; namely, the use of protest simply for the sake of protest.

It is my contention that the self-described college liberals of your generation are even more spoiled and less informed than the college liberals of the 1960s. Generally speaking, you (and your generation of liberals) are inclined to protest against things you don't understand - basing your protests on vague emotions rather than specific facts. You come to protests completely unprepared to offer any kind of solution to the problems - the same ones you fail to understand. And, finally, you are most concerned with drawing attention to yourselves at speeches - as opposed to actually drawing information from the speaker. Let me provide you with some examples I've observed at some of my speeches:

Protestors of my speech at The University of New Hampshire broke into glass cases and spray-painted swastikas on my picture. Then, when my speech was over, the protestors asked really pointed questions like "Do you want to bring back slavery?" and "Do you think it's OK to beat a gay person with a baseball bat?" Remarkably, after the liberals had vandalized my posters, one liberal asked if I could learn to be a little more civil in my discourse. He went through the line three times to ask me that same question.

Like I said, the protestors have no idea what they are protesting - the speech wasn't about legalizing slavery and the assault of gays. But the protestors do manage to draw a lot of attention. Indeed, UNH provided five armed police officers and a police escort (which I refused) to take me back to my hotel.

Protestors of my speech at Appalachian State University couldn't think of a single objection to the substance of my points so (in the middle of the Q & A) they ran out of the room after shutting off the lights in the auditorium. The audience just sat there in the dark wondering why the un-bathed protestors were angry.

We never figured out their objections to the substance of the speech but they did manage to draw attention to themselves. People just scratched their heads - sort of like they did when they saw you sitting in the handcuffs.

Protestors of my speech at The University of Oregon sat on a row and talked audibly throughout a substantial proportion of the speech. One of them, who was very obviously gay, sat knitting a sock and talking to the guy to his right. The guy was so stoned you could blindfold him with dental floss. They also laughed audibly at inappropriate times in order to distract me during the speech.

But during the Q & A I didn't get a single question from any one of them - nothing that could have helped me determine the basis of their protestations. They made no contribution to the debate. But they did draw a lot of attention to themselves. And a gay dude got himself one new sock. (Since he didn't knit two I assumed he wasn't a bi-soxual).

Protestors at my speech at The University of Massachusetts at Amherst seemed especially concerned about racism - or so I thought. During the Q & A there was a Planned Parenthood supporter arguing that the organization had no presence in the State of Mississippi. I argued that they did have a presence in all areas with high black populations. And I accused them of aiding and abetting the mass slaughter of black babies - with black abortion rates soaring high above white abortion rates nationwide.

Soon after I finished my defense of innocent black life protestors in the back of the room began screaming "Racist, sexist, anti-gay. Right wing bigots go away!" They did not seem to hear or understand the content of the speech. But they did draw attention to themselves and, eventually, they seized control of the microphone. I was escorted from the room by two undercover bodyguards as the event was ended prematurely.

A protestor at my speech at Agnes Scott College handed out literature for Amnesty International, seemingly unaware that the speech was on the rights of the unborn, not the rights of prisoners. But that didn't stop her from ruining the Q & A with completely inane and irrelevant questions like "Dr. Adams, do you love yourself?" That question would have been more relevant at one of the feminist masturbation workshops.

I finally confronted the protestor at Agnes Scott pointing out that she hadn't listened to or understood the speech. So she approached me after the speech asking for an apology for offending her. The speech, by the way, was about how feminists have started to use one imaginary constitutional right - the right to be un-offended - to keep people from trying to restrict another imaginary constitutional right - the right to murder innocent children. We never had an actual discussion about her problems with the content of my speech or any of her solutions. But she managed to get everyone in the room to focus their attention upon her. Like you, that was really her only objective.

I know that under the First Amendment you have a right to protest my speeches. But I would prefer it if you would not just protest for the sake of protesting without some sort of goal (other than just drawing attention to yourself). Even a dog can draw attention to himself by exercising his right to lick his genitals. But no one wants to watch him do it endlessly.

In conclusion, I would like to thank you for attending my speech. But I would respectfully ask you to refrain from protesting another one of my speeches until you are more informed on the subject matter, more willing to offer constructive solutions, and less in need of drawing attention to yourself. In my next column, I'm going to respectfully ask you to quit voting.