Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Do You Know What Textbooks Your Children Are Really Reading?

FOX News Reporting investigated the $10 billion dollar-a-year textbook industry and how the drive to be politically correct might be taking over American schools. Host Tucker Carlson, asked experts, teachers, publishers and parents the same question: "Do you know what is inside your children's textbooks?" From kindergarten through college, we found staggering errors and omissions which may be pushing agendas, hidden and otherwise.

We spoke to the author of “The Language Police,” education historian Diane Ravitch, who said textbook publishers censor images or words they deem to be controversial in children’s textbooks. She told us that publishers pander to special interest groups, and assemble bias and sensitivity review committees. These committees decide what words to ban or redefine, and even what images are deemed offensive.

And we examined some college textbooks both in print and in digital forms. We found a glaring mistake in an expensive history book written by Alan Brinkley, Provost at New York’s Columbia University.

And in Fairfax County Virginia, questions remain about what textbooks are used in the private Islamic Saudi Academy. The ISA teaches about 1000 students each year pre-K — 12. Questions have been raised about its textbooks at least since 2006. This summer, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, ISA’s 1999 valedictorian, was sentenced to life in prison for his role in a 2002 Al Qaeda plot to assassinate President George W. Bush.

The ISA is wholly owned by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and teaches students from textbooks, which according to a report by a Saudi scholar interviewed by FOX News, continues to “propagate an ideology of hate to the unbeliever.” FOX News Reporting obtained some of their current 2008-2009 textbooks which were supposed to be purged of inflammatory language. We found proof otherwise.

We tracked down two American college professors who were paid by the ISA to review these textbooks. They signed a letter obtained by FOX News that the ISA’s 2008-2009 textbooks “do not contain inflammatory material…” One of them sat down for an interview; the other refused.

And in California’s Alameda County, our cameras were there as parents were embroiled in a heated debate over a mandatory curriculum designed to teach students from grades K-5 about different types of families, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender lifestyles. After a vote by the Alameda Unified School District in May of this year, the second grade reading curriculum now requires a book about gay penguins.


British private schools refusing to sign up for new diplomas

The diplomas are just a weak trade qualification

The Government's flagship diploma qualifications have been almost universally shunned by independent schools, according to new figures seen by The Independent.

Only six fee-paying schools in the entire country have joined one of the consortia set up to deliver the new qualification, which is in its second year of being offered to pupils. Opposition MPs say the diplomas effectively reinforce a two-tier education system if they fail to appeal to the independent sector.

The figures also reveal that more than one in 10 state schools have yet to sign up – although the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) said this figure had been almost halved since they were compiled.

The figures, revealed by the Liberal Democrat schools spokesman David Laws, come despite the qualification being launched in a blaze of publicity – which stressed the fact that Cambridge University, in particular, was welcoming applicants who were studying for engineering diplomas.

"The vast majority of independent schools are still shunning the diplomas. These new qualifications are heading towards being a massive flop, with take-up being lower than the Government first predicted," Mr Laws said. "With a general election looming and the inevitable uncertainty and confusion this will generate, there is likely to be even less interest in them." He added that there would have to be a major review of both academic and vocational qualifications after the election.

Andrew Grant, chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, which represents 250 fee-paying schools, said: "I'm surprised the number is that high. The trouble is [that] independent schools are hampered by the requirement to sign up to a consortium to deliver them all. They don't want to do that."

Mr Grant, who is headmaster of St Albans school in Hertfordshire, added: "There is also a question mark hanging over the programme as a result of the possibility of a change in government. The only chance they had was under the original proposal [by former chief schools inspector Sir Mike Tomlinson] to have one diploma embracing all qualifications. That would have had a good chance of success. The pity about the present diplomas is that they are divisive. If I were a betting man, I wouldn't put money on their chances of survival."

The figures, contained in a Commons reply to Mr Laws by the Schools minister Iain Wright, show that there are still 349 state secondary schools which are not members of any of the consortia delivering the diplomas.

At present, the qualifications are being offered in 10 subjects, ranging from the highly rated engineering diploma – the maths content of which has been praised by Cambridge University as superior to A-levels – to leisure and tourism. One of the country's top fee-paying schools, Wellington College, is offering the engineering diplomas.

The DCSF said an update on the figures showed that they were being offered in 94 per cent of all state schools and colleges.

Mr Wright added: "Whilst, of course, our aim is for 100 per cent coverage for what is a very new qualification, the high proportion of schools and colleges involved in diplomas is truly remarkable. We are encouraging independent schools to offer diplomas and want to see them available in all parts of the schools sector. This is a new qualification, but one which is obviously becoming increasingly popular with pupils, teachers, employers and all types of schools and colleges."

Three academic diplomas – in science, languages and humanities – are due to be launched by the Government in two years' time. However, the Conservatives have indicated they will not go ahead with these, on the grounds that they duplicate what is already on offer in A-levels.

At the launch of the diplomas, the Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, said they could eventually take over from A-levels as the natural way for pupils to progress at school.


British co-ed schools experiment with separate classes for boys and girls

Boys and girls are being taught in separate classes as growing numbers of co-educational schools show interest in segregating lessons. They have found that both male and female pupils concentrate better and are less intimidated when taught core subjects without the distraction of the opposite sex.

Academics and state and independent head teachers will meet tomorrow at a conference in Cambridge devoted to the issue. Mike Younger, head of the education faculty at the University of Cambridge, will describe the renewed popularity of single-sex classes in mixed secondary schools. He is expected to say that separating boys and girls is not a panacea for disruptive classrooms, but can help to raise academic standards in schools, under the right conditions. “The number of single-sex schools has decreased since the early 1970s in both state and independent sectors,” Mr Younger told The Times. “In the state sector some ideological resistance to single-sex teaching, a notion that comprehensive schools must be co-educational.”

A resurgence of interest in teaching girls without their male classmates had been prompted by the lower number who study maths and science after the age of 16, despite performing as well as or better than boys, he suggested. He said: “Some schools enter girls for lower-tier, less demanding papers in technical and scientific subjects at GCSE, and thus narrow their subsequent choice, despite evidence of superior prior achievements by girls aged 14 and above.”

Boys can also benefit from single-sex classes because they sometimes allowed them to perform without worrying about their image in front of girls.

Mr Younger, who has written reports for the Government on raising boys’ achievement, said that some attempts to teach girls and boys separately about ten years ago had resulted in confusion and had been conducted on an ad hoc basis. More recent research had found that male pupils concentrated better in single-sex classes. They were more likely to respond to questions without embarrassment and ridicule and to participate without showing off. The standard of their work had improved.

However, Mr Younger said that schools had also experienced some problems in separating classes. “There is a need to avoid an intimidating atmosphere for other boys, which can be generated among all-boys’ classes, and to be alert to the dangers of generating a homophobic environment,” he said. “There is also a need to beware of girls becoming aggressive towards each other.” Head teachers needed to establish an ethos of collaborative working with their staff, exchanging experiences without feeling undermined, he said.

Research had uncovered positive reactions from students to being taught in same-sex groups. One boy said: “There’s more participation in the lesson and no one is shy or afraid to express an opinion — you know the other boys won’t laugh at you and you don’t lose face.” A female student told researchers: “Girls are more hard-working and work better without the boys around. Girls want to do their best and this is an environment where they’re not afraid to show what their best is.”

Case study

Girls and boys at Moulsham High School in Essex learn apart, together (Joanna Sugden writes). While girls discuss quietly in groups whether the Civil War broke out because of money, down the corridor boys answer quick-fire questions on the main reasons for the conflict.

The head, Dr Chris Nicholls, says it is counter-productive to keep them apart outside lessons: “Girls and boys have got to learn to get along.” Students learn separately until they are 14 at Moulsham, which is in a relatively affluent area of Chelmsford, has been rated good for attainment by Ofsted and achieves above-average results. “I’m utterly convinced of the differences between boys and girls and the way that they learn,” says Dr Nicholls.

Tom Power, 12, prefers lessons without girls, particularly PE. “In junior school I used to get annoyed because I worried that if I picked all-boys teams the girls would moan and if I picked girls I wouldn’t win,” he says. “That sounds a bit sexist doesn’t it?” His friend Jacob Jeffries interjects: “You’re supposed to be sexist — you’re 12 years old.”


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