Saturday, August 08, 2009

An unwise woman

Several alert readers sent me links to this story, about a new graduate who is suing her alma mater (of all of three months) for its alleged failure to get her a job. It's one of those stories that really allows you to see what you want to see. Is the student an unrealistic whiner? Is the school trading on false hope? Is it reasonable to charge high tuition for an unemployable degree? Is it reasonable to hold a single college accountable for a nationwide recession?

I'll start by acknowledging that I don't know the student, I'm not familiar with the school, and there may be particular facts in this case that would change my interpretation of it if I knew them. That said, though, my first response is “oh, honey, no.” At the most basic level, colleges are not employment offices. While they often have Career Services offices to help people find jobs, 'help' is the key word. Absent some really serious fraud, there are no guarantees. The article quoted the student accusing the college as follows:

"They're supposed to say, 'I got this student, her attendance is good, her GPA is all right -- can you interview this person?' They're not doing that," she said.

Um, no. That's not what they're supposed to say (or do). (The article goes on to mention that the student had a 2.7 GPA, and has landed two interviews but no offers.) They're supposed to coach you on your resume, help with some interview tips, and provide some resources for you to start looking. Beyond that, it's up to you. In fact, landing two interviews within three months of graduation with a 2.7 GPA in the midst of the Great Recession isn't bad at all.

The story brought back memories of my time at Proprietary U. Since PU sold employability, students often brought outsized expectations to their job searches. (To make matters worse, the tech bubble of the late 90's briefly made those expectations actually realistic.) When the bubble burst, even the better students often struggled to find something. They weren't notably better or worse than the class that had graduated the year before; the market had just changed.

Most students understood that, at some level. But there were some who seemed to think that the Career Services office kept a top secret stash of nifty jobs that they'd dole out to whomever complained the loudest. In my observation, this was not the case.

There's no central clearinghouse for most jobs. (I'm told there actually is one for doctors, but that isn't relevant here.) Degrees and skills can improve your chances, but chances are not guarantees. If degrees guaranteed jobs, there wouldn't be PhD's trying to cobble together livelihoods from adjunct gigs. (Though I'll admit that all those freeway flying PhD's suing their graduate programs makes for a fun thought experiment.) A program can be academically rigorous, and a Career Services office can try really hard, and the result can still be nothing. It's a big world out there.

But the idea of suing the school is worse than merely missing the point. If it were just that, I'd expect it to be summarily dismissed and we'd all move on. My concern is that as an employer, if I found something like that attached to an applicant's name, that candidate would be thrown out of consideration post-haste. I don't need the headache of an overentitled, litigious applicant when I've got plenty of other good applicants who would actually be happy to have the job. A lawsuit like that renders you radioactive.

Is that fair? Maybe, maybe not – again, I don't know if Monroe College overstepped somewhere in this particular case. But as a rational employer, do I really want to take that chance? As a manager, I'm acutely aware that a small fraction of employees consume a vastly disproportionate amount of my time, complaining about everything under the sun. As Robert Sutton noted in The No Asshole Rule, these people drag down entire organizations, even when they're otherwise individually productive. Given a reasonable alternative, I'll take the alternative every single time. This student, whose name I'm not repeating as a courtesy to youth, is branding herself with a scarlet letter. Not a good idea.

We all catch lousy breaks from time to time. How you handle those breaks says a lot. My free advice to the disgruntled graduate: move on. Put this behind you, quickly, and focus on actually getting a job. Unless there's something really egregious here, there's nothing to be gained by blaming one college for a national recession. And you could lose more than legal fees.


Early mortality among British school dropouts

Dropouts often seem to indulge in risky behaviour -- particularly to do with drugs -- so this is sad but not unexpected

Fifteen per cent of school-leavers not in employment or education are dead within ten years, research suggests. Jon Coles, director general of schools at the Department for Children, Schools and Families, said that the figure proved that education was a “matter of life and death”.

Nearly one in six people aged 16 to 24 in England is classified as Neet, or not in education, employment or training. Mr Coles told a seminar in London that there was a clear social cost of being outside the system, The Times Educational Supplement reports today.

He said that one city in the north of England had conducted long-term research into Neets and the results were profoundly shocking.

“Those who had been outside the system for a long period of time ... 15 per cent of those people were dead by the time that research was done [ten years later]. “For those of us who console ourselves with the thought that education is not a matter of life and death, actually for those young people for the most vulnerable children and young people in our society it really is.”

A spokeswoman for the department said: “The official made clear that this was one bit of local research which could not be taken as representative of the whole country. However, it is clear that young people who are Neet are at greater risk of poor health and negative outcomes in later life, which is one of the key reasons we see reducing the Neet numbers as such a high priority.”


Is Britain's Jewish Free School Racist?

A decision has been handed down in the British Court of Appeal that sets a monumental precedent for those wishing to place their children in a faith-based school. Reading this sorry saga Americans will be grateful for separation of Church and State and for the independence afforded parochial schools.

The British school crisis started this way: one of two couples whose children were rejected by the Jewish Free School in 2007 went straight to the High Court because in one case the rejection was based on a view that the mother had “stopped living an Orthodox lifestyle.” Mr. Justice Munby ruled that the school’s right to determine admission criteria was as valid as that of Christian or Islamic schools and their being censured could sabotage "the admission arrangements in a very large number of faith schools of many different faiths and denominations". The decision was appealed.

Putting aside the intricacies of Jewish religious law this story is an intriguing one because this summer Lord Justices Sedley and Rimer and Lady Justice Smith of the Appeals Court have handed down a decision saying that the criteria for admitting a child to the Jewish school are in breach of the Race Relations Act. The Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, has interpreted this as a condemnation of Jewish ecclesiastical regulations as “racist.” He said, “Jews have been in Britain for 353 years and the JFS in existence since 1732. In all those years the same principle has applied… we extend Jewish education to applies to all Jewish schools, Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike… Now an English court has declared this rule racist and since this is an essential element of Jewish law, it is in effect declaring Judaism racist..”

The Appeal Court is saying that religious criteria violate the same laws as those laid down against racial discrimination. In other words, if you want your kid to go to Catholic School or some other faith establishment, effectively the very concept of a single-faith environment smacks of racism.

The uproar this story has caused in Britain has been something to behold and has even made its way into the columns of the mainstream newspapers. Anguished commentators have been writing columns about the crisis. JFS is an outstanding state-funded school that has enjoyed a national rating in the first 1% in the scholastic excellence tables, but the judge in question is saying that taxpayers should not be footing the bill for a “racist” entry system. This reverberates not just with Jewish establishments but with Muslim and Christian schools. So -- is it reasonable for a Jewish or Muslim family to expect their children, if they so wish, to be able to observe halal and kashrut in early childhood? Once they get to Oxford or Harvard they will be exposed to bacon sandwiches and alcohol but in their formative years many feel they have a right to reassurance that their religious beliefs will be respected in a supervised school environment.

Equally so, Christian children are entitled to an education structured in Catholic, Protestant or other denominational tenets and need not be constrained by having to worry about others’ religious beliefs. In other words, if Catholic or Protestant children want to bring ham sandwiches to school or sing about Jesus they have a right to their observances with their own flock, rather than being forced by a judge to “tackle racism” and mingle with non-Christians who, in turn, could be miserable too.

The ruling will mean that it is open season on admissions. The Orthodox Chief Rabbi Sacks should never have allowed JFS to subject the couples in question to such an ordeal, and Jewish communal conflict should never have reached the mainstream press. Journalist Andrew Sanger points out that the far-right British National Party supports the JFS on this issue because the decision means no group or institution will be safe from liberal interference in defining a unique ethnic or national group. A comment from “Lord Reith” on Sanger’s blog says, “ The state should not be paying for faith schools. Why should people pay for schools they can't send their children to? If people want to indoctrinate their kids in faith schools and dogma, let them pay for it themselves.”

This brings me to the story of one of the Founding Fathers. Alexander Hamilton’s mother, living amongst the seventeenth-century Sephardi community of the Caribbean island of Nevis, had left her Jewish husband and given birth after a liaison with a new, non-Jewish partner. Because he was regarded as “born out of wedlock” Alexander could not gain admission to the Christian schools on the island. The one Jewish school in existence decided to let him enroll. He enjoyed a fine education at the little synagogue on Jew’s Walk and learned Hebrew. Later in life he rejoiced in being able to read a Hebrew bible and write in the language. He often said he was indebted for life to the Jewish community for taking the view that education overtook any other aspiration. Likewise did anything bad happen to the cheder (Hebrew school) he attended? Was its stature diminished because he was the offspring of a gentile mother? No. Hamilton’s biographer Dorothie Bobbé wrote: "..Denied schooling, [his mother] sent him to the Jewish school.. The Jews were respectable, and respected, in the islands...His teacher liked to stand him on a table and make him recite the Decalogue in Hebrew."

When a practicing lawyer he said during a case , “ the progress of the Jews...from their earliest history to the present time has been and is entirely out of the ordinary course of human affairs. Is it not then a fair conclusion that the cause also is an extraordinary one---in other words that it is the effect of some great providential plan?..”

What an irony that in 2009, two-hundred-and fifty years after one of the most revered of the Founding Fathers enjoyed a full Jewish education despite his un-Jewish roots, a British school could impose on families restrictions that could have been resolved within its own community and not become a national cause celebre. As I write this, headlines abound: “JFS ruling leaves schools in chaos;” “The Court judgment that has declared Judaism racist” and “This is a battle for justice and unity.” Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg passionately decries the “profoundly unjust” behavior of JFS.

Having said earlier on that children of faith tend to be happier amongst their own, I would venture that JFS should have adapted to the modern world and modified its rules to accommodate the children of converts. Life would have gone on. Some historians posit that Alexander Hamilton’s mother was indeed Jewish and so was he. Whether he was or not, his school bent the rules and the Hamilton experience produced a man who treasured his core religious education, venerated Judaism for the rest of his life and became a great leader.

For those who wish to keep their offspring in a religious environment this case has resulted in a judgment that effectively declares the centuries-old tradition of faith schools a violation of race laws. Some on the Right are saying the British court judgment is the first step to abolishing faith schools in a passionately secular, Dawkins-esque nation. On the Left it is being mooted that this is a sinister plot to close down Islamic madrassahs across Britain and force a mass-exodus of Muslims from our shores, just as the campaign to ban ritual slaughter has been perceived as an attempt to make Britain Muslim and Jew-free.

Although separation of Church and State will preclude even a super-liberal US Supreme Court from following suit, and secularism in France, for example, will also make such crises unlikely there, those who favor faith schools should take note of the enormous influence the courts can wield and the seismic shocks they can inflict.


MA: Backers seek end to charter school cap

The number of charter schools in Massachusetts could increase without limit under a ballot question that proponents will file today, putting a reticent Legislature on notice that inaction on expansion proposals could place the issue in voters’ hands. Charter school supporters intend to file the necessary paperwork by today’s deadline to officially launch the effort to repeal the state-imposed cap, which has left more than 20,000 students on waiting lists for available slots. The ballot question, if it meets legal criteria and gains the necessary signatures, would go before voters in the next statewide election in November 2010.

The language goes much further than legislation filed last month by Governor Deval Patrick, who proposed doubling the number of charter school seats in only the school districts with the lowest MCAS scores.

Although charter supporters embrace many aspects of the governor’s proposal, they are worried that his bill will die in the Legislature due to lingering concerns that charter schools - public schools that are often touted as laboratories of innovation - draw too much money from traditional public schools.

Several legislators have indicated they will resist an expansion in the number of charter schools until the state overhauls the charter school funding formula.

The ballot initiative process, while lengthy and arduous, has frequently allowed voters to make fundamental changes in state law. Most recently, voters approved the end of dog racing at the state’s tracks and legalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Earlier this decade, they voted to end bilingual education. Other voter-approved initiatives, such as public financing of political campaigns and a rollback of the state income tax, have been partially or completely ignored by the Legislature.

Charter school supporters characterized the new initiative as a last resort to prod the Legislature into lifting the state cap and vowed to drop the effort if the Legislature approves the governor’s bill. “It’s time for the Legislature to act, and, if they can’t, it’s time for the people to decide,’’ said James Peyser, a former chairman of the state Board of Education who is cochairing the ballot initiative campaign.

In a statement, Representative Martha Walz, cochairwoman of the Joint Committee on Education, did not directly address the ballot initiative, but stressed the need for all parties to work together on a complex policy question. ’’The Education Committee is actively reviewing numerous proposals to expand the number of charter schools,’’ she wrote in an e-mail. “We are also evaluating the financial implications of the proposals.’’

Created under the state’s 1993 Education Reform Act, charter schools were designed to foster cutting-edge teaching techniques that could eventually be transferred to mainstream public schools. Charter schools operate under fewer regulatory restrictions, and nearly all run independently of school districts. Most do not have teacher unions.

While many of the state’s 62 charter schools boast high MCAS scores and college entrance rates, the model has been embroiled in controversy over funding. Every time students leave a local district for a charter, they take with them several thousands of dollars in state aid, which is allotted on a per-student basis. The loss is a painful pinch for local districts, particularly in tough economic times. Boston, for instance, expects to lose about $50 million next year.

Earlier this year, Patrick proposed changes to the funding formula as part of a modest expansion of charter schools that would have benefited local districts. But charter school proponents balked, and the proposal went nowhere in the Legislature. In his latest proposal, Patrick does not address funding.

Momentum has been growing for more charter schools, spurred in part by President Obama’s threat of not sending additional federal stimulus dollars for education to states that restrict charter school growth. That helped persuade Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston, a longtime charter school opponent, to file legislation this summer that would allow local school districts to open new, district-run charter schools and control the state aid sent to those schools.

Several cities - including Boston, Cambridge, Springfield, and Lawrence - have hit or are about to reach the maximum number of charter schools. “With 23,000 kids on a waiting list, it’s time to allow charters to expand and provide opportunities to more kids and give parents additional choices,’’ said Dominic Slowey, a petition signer who also is a spokesman for the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association.

Charter supporters are filing two versions of the ballot question. Their preference is to pursue one that, in addition to eliminating a cap, would preserve the current funding formula for charter schools. They are unsure, however, if the funding language meets legal muster, so they filed a second version without it.

To gain a spot on the 2010 ballot, a question must first be deemed constitutional by the attorney general and then gain signatures from 66,593 registered voters, or 3 percent of the number who voted in the last governor’s race, by Dec. 2.

Both proposed questions would eliminate three provisions that limit the total number of charters statewide to 120, restrict charter enrollment to no more than 4 percent of the total statewide public school enrollment, and dictate that no more than 9 percent of a school district’s net spending can be dedicated to charter schools.

Among those leading the ballot initiative effort are former lieutenant governor Evelyn Murphy; William Edgerly, former head of State Street Bank; and Kevin Andrews, president of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association and headmaster of the Neighborhood House Charter School in Dorchester.

Thomas Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, said he is worried that a proliferation of charter schools will not leave enough money to teach the children left in the districts. Many of those students, he said, have the severest education needs and, unlike students in charter schools, often do not have a parent advocating on their behalf.


1 comment:

IftikharA said...

The demand for Muslim schools comes from parents who want their children a safe environment with an Islamic ethos.Parents see Muslim schools where children can develop their Islamic Identity where they won't feel stigmatised for being Muslims and they can feel confident about their faith.
Muslim schools are working to try to create a bridge between communities.

There is a belief among ethnic minority parens that the British schooling does not adequatly address their cultural needs. Failing to meet this need could result in feeling resentment among a group who already feel excluded. Setting up Muslim school is a defensive response.

State schools with monolingual teachers are not capable to teach English to bilingual Muslim children. Bilingual teachers are needed to teach English to such children along with their mother tongue. According to a number of studies, a child will not learn a second language if his first language is ignored.

Bilingual Muslim children need state funded Muslim schools with bilingual Muslim teachers as role models during their developmental periods. Muslims
have the right to educate their children in an environment that suits their culture. This notion of "integration", actually means "assimilation", by which people generally really mean "be more like me". That is not
multiculturalism. In Sydney, Muslims were refused to build a Muslim school, because of a protest by the residents. Yet a year later, permission was
given for the building of a Catholic school and no protests from the residents. This clrearly shows the blatant hypocrisy, double standards and racism. Christians oppose Muslim schools in western countries yet build
their own religious schools.

British schooling and the British society is the home of institutional racism. The result is that Muslim children are unable to develop self-confidence and self-esteem, therefore, majority of them leave schools with low grades. Racism is deeply rooted in British society. Every native child is born with a gene or virus of racism, therefore, no law could change the attitudes of racism towards those who are different. It is not only the common man, even member of the royal family is involved in racism. The
father of a Pakistani office cadet who was called a "***" by Prince Harry has profoundly condemned his actions. He had felt proud when he met the Queen and the Prince of Wales at his son's passing out parade at Sandhurst
in 2006 but now felt upset after learning about the Prince's comments. Queen Victoria invited an Imam from India to teach her Urdu language. He was highly respected by the Queen but other members of the royal family had no respect for him. He was forced to go back to India. His protrait is still in one of the royal places.

There are hundreds of state schools where Muslim pupils are in majority. In my opinion, all such schools may be designated as Muslim community schools with bilingual Muslim teachers. There is no place for a non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school.
Iftikhar Ahmad
London School of Islamics Trust