Saturday, February 21, 2009

Harvard Narcissists With MBAs Killed Wall Street

For two centuries, Wall Street survived wars, depressions, bank panics and terrorist attacks. Now Wall Street as we know it is dead. Gone. When a healthy and thriving person dies suddenly, a medical examiner may talk to family and friends to see if the deceased had recently changed behavior in some way. Wall Street did change radically in recent years in one notable way. Twenty or 30 years ago, it was common for the best and the brightest to be doctors or engineers. By the 2000s, they wanted to be investment bankers. When Wall Street was run by people randomly selected from the population, it was able to survive everything. After the best and brightest took over, it died the first time real-estate prices dropped 20 percent.

Are the two facts related? In other words, did Harvard kill Wall Street? The suspect certainly had the opportunity. If you walked into any major Wall Street firm a year ago and randomly selected an employee, chances are that person would either be from an Ivy League school like Harvard University, or have an MBA, or both. The statistics are striking. Back in the 1970s, it was typical for about 5 percent of Harvard graduates to work in the financial sector, according to a recent study by Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Larry Katz. By the 1990s, that number was 15 percent. It probably climbed since then. And the proportion of those with MBAs grew as well. Economists Thomas Philippon of New York University and Ariell Reshef of the University of Virginia found that, in 1980, workers in finance earned about the same wages, on average, as workers in other sectors. By 2005, financial-sector workers earned 50 percent more than similar workers in other industries.

Philippon and Reshef went on to explore what caused the surge in wages in the financial sector. They found one of the key reasons was the increasing reliance on highly educated workers with post-graduate degrees. Their results accord with anecdotal evidence concerning the hiring practice of Wall Street firms. A 2008 report in Fortune said that Goldman Sachs hired about 300 MBAs in 2007 and that, last year, Merrill Lynch and Citigroup were planning to hire 160 and 235 MBAs, respectively. Is it just a coincidence that so many superstar minds arrived on Wall Street just as it died?

Perhaps not. Wall Street is gone because its firms did a terrible job assessing the risks of the positions they took. The models these firms used to evaluate risks failed. But having a failed model brings a firm down only if the firm collectively buys into the model. To do that, the firm must be run by people who have a great deal of faith in their models, and a great deal of faith in themselves. That’s where Ivy Leaguers and MBAs come in.

What do you get from an MBA? One recent study found that MBAs acquire an enormous amount of self-confidence during their graduate education. They learn to believe that they are the best and the brightest. This narcissism has a real career impact. Psychologists at Ohio State University studied the behavior of 153 MBA students, who were put in groups of four and asked to orchestrate a large financial transaction on behalf of an imaginary company. The psychologists observed that the students who had the strongest narcissistic traits were most likely to emerge as leaders. According to Amy Brunell, the lead author, the results of the study had large implications for real-world settings, because “narcissistic leaders tend to have volatile and risky decision- making performance and can be ineffective and potentially destructive leaders.”

Guys like John Thain (Harvard Business School, 1979) exemplify this behavior when their sense of entitlement is so grand that they can spend a fortune renovating an office while their firm is going down in flames.

The consequences of Wall Street’s reckless brilliance in many ways parallel modern-day engineering disasters. If you travel through Italy, you can’t help but notice the many Roman bridges that still stretch across that nation’s waterways. How is it that the Romans could build bridges that would last thousands of years, while the ones we build today collapse after a few decades? The answer is simple. Back then, they did not have the fancy computers required to calculate exactly how strong a bridge must be. So an architect made a bridge very, very strong. Today, engineers can calculate exactly how much steel they need to incorporate into a bridge to bear the expected load. The result is, they are free to make them weaker. Another result is less wiggle room for design error. Hence, modern bridge’s predilection for collapsing.

The same is true of the financial sector. Back when Wall Street was run by individuals without fancy degrees, they had a proper skepticism toward fancy models and managed their risks with a great deal more humility and caution. Only when failed models became canon did catastrophe strike. Wall Street didn’t die in spite of being run by our best and brightest. It died because of that fact.


Some Muslim schools in Britain 'make children despise the West': Ban on cricket and Harry Potter

Some Islamic schools are promoting fundamentalist views and encouraging children to despise Western society, a report warns. An investigation by the Civitas social policy think-tank found websites of some of the UK's 166 Muslim schools are spreading extreme teachings, while a handful had links to sites promoting jihad, or holy war. Examples include web forums forbidding Muslims from reading Harry Potter books, playing chess or cricket and listening to Western music.

The Civitas report, entitled Music, Chess and Other Sins, claims Ofsted inspectors are incapable of scrutinising Muslim faith schools properly, and demands an inquiry by MPs. Many of the websites featured in the report were shut down or edited in the hours before it was published.

Islamic schools educate thousands of Muslim children. Most operate in the private sector although increasing numbers are seeking state funding.

The study, overseen by Dr Denis MacEoin, a university lecturer in Islamic studies, looked at material found on Islamic schools' websites, either content or via links. Examples include the website of the Madani Girls' School in East London which stated: `Our children are exposed to a culture that is in opposition with almost everything Islam stands for. `If we oppose the lifestyle of the West then it does not seem sensible that the teachers and the system which represents that lifestyle should educate our children.' The report claims this `bruising comment' gives children a `negative picture of Western life'. The website comments have since been edited and parts deleted.

Dr MacEoin stressed that the problems were not found in all Muslim schools, but said some were instilling a disturbing `ghetto mentality'. The Association of Muslim Schools condemned the study as `misleading, intolerant and divisive', claiming it was `based on prejudices rather than evidence'. A spokesman said: `Muslim schools provide an outstanding standard of education. Ex-pupils have developed into exemplary citizens and participate in all aspects of civic society.' The Department for Children, Schools and Families said it was investigating the claims and would treat seriously any failure by state-funded schools to `promote community cohesion'.


Friday, February 20, 2009

12-year-old steals day with pro-life speech

Teachers threaten disqualification, but girl chooses to speak against abortion. And a little girl's logic infuriates a pro-abortion "judge". Leftists HAVE to be right. They cannot bear it when they are shown to be wrong

Despite facing threats of disqualification, a 12-year-old girl took first place in a speech contest when she eloquently argued for the rights of unborn children – after an offended judge quit. "What if I told you that right now, someone was choosing if you were going to live or die?" the seventh-grader begins in a video recording of her speech on YouTube. "What if I told you that this choice wasn't based on what you could or couldn't do, what you'd done in the past or what you would do in the future? And what if I told you, you could do nothing about it?"

The girl, a student at a Toronto school identified only as "Lia," continued: "Fellow students and teachers, thousands of children are right now in that very situation. Someone is choosing without even knowing them whether they are going to live or die. "That someone is their mother. And that choice is abortion."

But what made the 12-year-old choose to speak about abortion? "It was really a family thing," her mother explained on the blog Moral Outcry. "I saw Lou [Engle] speak at a conference several years ago. I came back to my family with the Life Bands, and we all wore them, made our covenant, and prayed the prayer for abortion to end. … We were invited to participate in a 'Life Tape Siege.' Once my kids heard of this invitation, they all agreed: 'We have to do that!' Since then, Lia's passion for seeing abortion end has continued."

Despite Lia's enthusiasm for her topic, her teacher "strongly encouraged" her to select a different one for her class presentation or she would be considered ineligible for an upcoming speech contest. "[S]everal teachers discouraged her from picking the topic of abortion; she was told it was 'too big,' 'too mature' and 'too controversial,'" her mother wrote. "She was also told that if she went ahead with that topic, she would not be allowed to continue on in the speech competition."

Lia's mother continued, "Initially, I tried helping her find other topics to speak on, but, in the end, she was adamant. She just felt she wanted to continue with the topic of abortion. So she forfeited her chance to compete in order to speak on something she was passionate about."

Lia's teacher was so impressed by the speech that she allowed her student to advance as the winner. Lia presented her speech to judges in front of her entire school on Feb. 10. The school principal and teachers called Lia's presentation the "obvious winner" – but the judges suddenly disqualified her the following day "because of the topic and her position on abortion," her mother said.

Lia's father later revealed that the judges had a "big disagreement." One was offended by the speech and voluntarily stepped down while the others reversed their earlier decision – declaring her the winner.

Now Lia plans to take her message of life to a regional speech competition, and more than 130,000 visitors have viewed her presentation online. "Why do we think that just because a fetus can't talk or do what we do, it isn't a human being yet?" She asks in the video. "Some babies are born after only five months. Is this baby not human? "We would never say that. Yet abortions are performed on 5-month-old fetuses all the time. Or do we only call them humans if they're wanted?" She continues, "No, fetuses are definitely humans – knit together in their mother's womb by their wonderful Creator who knows them all by name."


Australia: Private sector rescues problem students

Violent, out-of-control students as young as four are fuelling the growth of a private school sector catering for pupils the public system doesn't want. With more than 55,000 suspensions handed out to state school students last financial year - a jump of more than 20 per cent in two years - Independent Schools Queensland acting executive director David Robertson said the "disengaged and at-risk" school sector was now a growth industry. He said four private schools already catered for problem students in Queensland's southeast, with a fifth to open at Deception Bay later this year. Two more are proposed at Logan and Springfield.

The Toogoolawa School, built for secondary school students by Queensland-based millionaire property developer John Fitzgerald at Ormeau, south of Brisbane, in 1998, has opened a primary school for the increasing numbers of younger students being excluded from the mainstream system.

Principal Gerry Moloney said his students' violence and anger often stemmed from bad home and family situations, and once they were given respect, proper time and appropriate individualised academic goals, their behaviour and attitudes turned around. He said the school recently enrolled a Prep-year student, facing expulsion, who was referred to him by a mother who didn't know what else to do. Toogoolawa students have often been through heart-breaking circumstances, with some housed in more than 40 foster homes, he said. Mr Moloney said they were able to turn more than 90 per cent of their students' behaviour around within six to 12 months.

An Education Queensland spokeswoman said the "growth in the numbers of school disciplinary suspensions" was evidence it was enforcing higher behaviour standards. This was "to ensure the best quality outcomes for all state school students without the need to resort to more serious disciplinary actions of an exclusion or cancellation of enrolment", she said. But exclusions - the start of the expulsion process - also have risen over the past three financial years. The EQ spokeswoman said expulsion figures were unavailable because they were collected on a school and district basis. In the past financial year 55,302 suspensions were handed out - with multiple suspensions recorded by some students - and 866 exclusion processes were initiated. In 2005 to 2006, 43,929 suspensions were ordered and 777 exclusion processes initiated.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Academic freedom

Stanley Fish is a literature professor who has also taken up law. Despite those handicaps, he writes well. He can be slippery at times but has a capacity -- unusual among Leftists -- to state both sides of an argument reasonably competently, including conservative arguments.

He has a long article in the NYT about academic freedom in which he surveys both popular arguments and a lot of case law. The poles of the argument that he considers are that academics are on the one hand just workers employed to do a particular job in a particular way and on the other that academics are superior beings who need acknowledge no contraint on what they do when they teach. In good Anglo-Saxon style, his own conclusion is a compromise between those positions. I suppose I broadly agree with that. I certainly reject the view that academics are especially wise, superior or insightful. As an academic myself, I see many if not most academics as intellectual mediocrities: foolish, gullible, narrow-minded, arrogant and in thrall to intellectual fashions. How you counter that, however, I have no idea. Only Leftists have all the answers. Fish's conclusions below:

What exactly would the public’s interest in academic speech be? One answer is provided by law professor J.Peter Byrne who argues in a critique of Urofsky (Journal of College and University Law, 2004) that a constitutional right of academic freedom exists “not for the benefit of the professors themselves but for the good of society.” Why? Because it is only in universities that a certain kind of speech — “serious and communal, seeking to improve the understanding” —flourishes. The special protection afforded to professors leaves them free “to articulate and critique more knowledgeable and complex assertions … in ways not possible on street corners or on television.” Now I have my elitist moments, but this is a bit much. Only professors, we’re being told, do real thinking; other people accept whatever they hear on TV and retail popular (but uninformed) wisdom on street corners. Thus while there is no reason to extend special protections in the work-place to non-academic speech — which is worthless — there is a good reason to extend them to the incomparably finer utterances of the professorial class.

Once again we see that the argument for academic freedom as a right rather than as a desirable feature of professional life rests on the assertion of academic exceptionalism. What I have been trying to say is that while academic work is different — it’s not business, it’s not medicine, it’s not politics — and while the difference should be valued, academic work should not be put into a category so special that any constraints on it,whether issuing from university administrators or from the state as an employer, are regarded as sins against morality, truth and the American Way.

It should be possible to acknowledge the distinctiveness of academic work and to put in place conditions responsive to that distinctiveness without making academic work into a holy mission taken up by a superior race of beings. One can argue, for example, that since it is the job of the academy to transmit and advance knowledge, there should be no pre-emptive anointing or demonizing of any particular viewpoint or line of inquiry; not because such pre-emptings would be an assault on truth, but because they would impede the doing of the job. Free inquiry means free in relation to the goals of the enterprise, not free in the sense of being answerable to nothing.

Those who would defend academic freedom would do well to remove the halo it often wears. Stay away from big abstractions and remain tethered to work on the ground. If you say, “This is the job and if we are to do it properly, these conditions must be in place,” you’ll get a better hearing than you would if you say, “We’re professors and you’re not, so leave us alone to do what we like.”

More here

Leading Australian universities trash the plan for a vast expansion of higher education

The envious bitch who wrote the plan seems to have had no capacity for any thought beyond kneejerk Leftist responses and no idea of all that her proposals would lead to

The Group of Eight has savaged the Bradley review, describing it as a "road map to mediocrity", foolish and deeply flawed, in a confrontation likely to fuel political tensions ahead of the federal Government's promised education overhaul. The Government is formulating a response to the Bradley review in a fiscal climate dramatically altered from that in which the review was commissioned, and Education Minister Julia Gillard met the Go8 yesterday as part of her consultations with the sector. The group's response to the Bradley review has hardened this past month.

On Monday evening, University of NSW vice-chancellor Fred Hilmer warned the Government not to accept the review as a whole, saying it was not properly thought through and costed, and could not deliver dramatic increases in quality and output. He told the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney that he and "many of my colleagues" were troubled by the review's lack of a clear vision. He said the review did "not clearly acknowledge the fundamentally important principles of excellence, differentiation of mission and the importance of auniversity education for its own sake". "There is little recognition in the Bradley report of the special and key role played by research intensive, internationally well-ranked institutions."

The Go8 bristled at comments by Denise Bradley, former vice-chancellor of the University of South Australia, which it believes reflect a "hidden agenda" to "de-concentrate" research. Go8 vice-chancellors were fearful before the release of the Bradley review, in late December, that the hostility its chairwoman was believed to harbour against the research elite might influence her recommendations. The group decided to air its concerns, published today in the HES, after Professor Bradley revealed to a recent Australian Technology Network conference that her review had stressed the teaching and research nexus to counter an "extreme position" on research concentration.

Professor Bradley told the ATN conference: "I am aware of the arguments about the strategic importance of greater concentration of internationally competitive research performance, but I think that there are good national reasons for us to adopt a model which continues to encourage some spread across institutions." She argued against "too much concentration of research capacity in too small a number of what will inevitably be capital city institutions".

The Go8, which argued forcefully for research concentration to meet global challenges in a paper released before the Bradley report, slams the findings of her panel today. "What is presented as a tightening of criteria for university status, based on the mythical 'teaching-research nexus', could well loosen expectations of research quality and further dissipate the nation's research investment," argues the group's executive director Michael Gallagher. "The Bradley report reflects a parochial and complacent view in the context of aggressive concentration of research investment in many other countries."

But universities outside theGo8 sprang to Bradley's defence. In a direct response to Professor Hilmer's criticism, ATN director Vicki Thomson said: "We think that it is unfortunate that the Bradley review is being picked apart and that might diminish the opportunity for significant reform." The ATN and the Innovative Research Universities met MsGillard in Melbourne on Monday as part of the consultation process.

Representing the ATN, University of Technology, Sydney, vice-chancellor Ross Milbourne said the Bradley review was the best he had seen on the sector. He said its vision was to create a world-class university system. "We need a great university system, not one or two great universities," Professor Milbourne said.

Ms Gillard has finished her round of consultations and the HES understands that bureaucrats have been given two weeks to consolidate the sector's views for her consideration.

In his article for the HES, Mr Gallagher does not limit his criticisms to the research agenda. He asserts the Bradley report's "vision for the long-term tertiary education system is confused; it fails to offer incentives for diversification, either through competition or governmental strategies; and its financing model will not sustain quality higher education and university research".

The Go8's tough stand against Professor Bradley has been echoed by University of Melbourne professorial fellow Vin Massaro, who points out that the review's targets for enrolment growth would involve producing an extra 544,000 graduates by 2020, housed in an additional 20universities. "Assuming that the Government (was) prepared to fund these places, no mention has been made of the likelihood of finding the academic workforce to teach them, nor of the cost of building the necessary teaching infrastructure, nor of the plausibility that demand would rise so quickly," Professor Massaro says in an analysis for HES online. He estimates that the capital costs required to meet the challenges of this enrolment explosion would be in the range of $25billion-$30 billion.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Now tanning courses are 'equal' to a High School mathematics qualification in Britain

Courses in tanning are worth the same in school league tables as A-level maths papers, it emerged yesterday. Ministers have relaxed the rules to allow schools and colleges to count a host of practical qualifications towards their league rankings, alongside GCSEs and A-levels. It has led to courses in cake decoration, pottery and flower-arranging also being given an equivalent value to traditional qualifications.

But exam watchdog Ofqual has expressed concern over whether self-tanning courses should be equivalent to A-level units. 'We begin to wonder whether it really stands up against A-level maths,' said Isabel Nisbet, Ofqual's acting chief executive. [A remarkable example of understatement!]

A merit in an ITEC diploma in 'tanning treatments' is worth 45 points in school league tables - the same as an A grade in one of the six units that make up an A-level. The 72-hour course teaches students aged 16 and over to operate sunbeds and apply fake tan without streaks and stripes. It has been awarded a 'level three' status in the qualifications database - the designated A-level standard. Other courses given level three status and league table points include a City and Guilds' certificate in self-tanning'. This 30-hour course accrues between 16.5 and 27 points depending on the grade, but is unlikely to be used in tables as it is only for those aged 19 and over.

Ofqual is responsible for accrediting qualifications for the national database. Whitehall then decides whether to assign them a league table points score. But Miss Nisbet, speaking at a recent seminar in London, seemed to raise doubts about accrediting self-tanning courses as level three. Her aides said she chose it as an example of the tough judgments the watchdog must make.

Ministers hoped the wider range of qualifications in league tables would encourage schools to enrol pupils in courses more suited to their ability, 'motivating' them to stay in education or training. But critics say children are being sold short by neglecting traditional qualifications and accuse schools of using the points system to inflate their league table rankings. They also claim A-levels are being undermined and league tables made more confusing.

Tory schools spokesman Nick Gibb said: 'Ofqual are right to raise concerns about these equivalences. 'We have got to stop pretending that things are better than they are, which can have the effect of luring unsuspecting pupils into qualifications that are not really right for them, and may help boost a school's league table position. 'We have got to remove anything that encourages or incentivises schools to manipulate the system.'

Ofqual said the tanning courses were 'primarily taken by those working in the industry'. A spokesman said: 'Points for all approved vocational qualifications are calculated depending on the guided learning hours, the level of the qualification and the level of skill and achievement attained. 'The courses have been carefully considered against these criteria.'


British stupidity of getting more people into university about to be repeated in Australia

So lots of kids attempt courses they cannot handle and people with degrees end up as waiters. Brilliant! Inflation of credential requirements is already a problem so they want to make it worse! Heaps of jobs that were once done with only high school education now require degrees -- meaning that kids spend 3 or 4 years wasting time and not earning or contributing. And if Fred Hilmer -- a cautious bureaucratic type not given to rocking the boat -- thinks it's foolish, then you can be sure it is REALLY foolish

The Bradley review of higher education lacks vision and sets unrealistic and unaffordable goals, the University of NSW vice-chancellor, Fred Hilmer, said in a speech last night. On the eve of a meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, Professor Hilmer said the review failed to provide a vital blueprint for the sector's future. He highlighted the proposed increase in undergraduates as being a huge and uncosted financial burden, saying another six or seven new universities the size of UNSW would be required.

Ms Gillard will meet Professor Hilmer and other members of the elite Group of Eight universities in Sydney. Ms Gillard began the series of six discussions two weeks ago so universities and other stakeholders could respond before the Government's official response to the review.

The former vice-chancellor of the University of South Australia, Denise Bradley, released her review of higher education in December, urging the nation to increase participation in higher levels of education and give fairer access to people from lower socio-economic groups and rural areas.

Professor Hilmer said the Secretary of the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, Lisa Paul, should be appointed to map out the long-term overhaul of the system with full and realistic costings. He said extra funding would ensure the viability of a strained higher education system in the short term by allowing immediate action on problems such as student/staff ratios and research funding shortfalls.

But the blueprint for a highly effective, affordable plan for higher education was missing, Professor Hilmer told the Centre for Independent Studies forum at St Leonards. "The problem is not the themes themselves but the lack of a vision and a clear and affordable path. The proposed path seems to be to recommend processes without a sense of where they might take us, and at what cost," he said.

The Bradley target that 40 per cent of 25-34 year-olds will have attained a qualification at bachelor level would require about "a 70 per cent increase in commencing students annually, 3.2 million additional enrolments over a decade, $15 billion in capital works, the equivalent of about six or seven new universities the size of UNSW, and an additional 17,700 academic staff", Professor Hilmer said.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

CA: College Sued for Religious Discrimination

(Los Angeles, California) In U.S. District Court, a lawsuit was filed last week against Los Angeles City College by a student claiming religious discrimination. The lawsuit stems from a classroom controversy regarding Proposition 8, the ballot measure approved by California voters that bans same-sex marriage.
Student Jonathan Lopez says his professor called him a "fascist bastard" and refused to let him finish his speech against same-sex marriage during a public speaking class last November, weeks after California voters approved the ban on such unions.

When Lopez tried to find out his mark for the speech, the professor, John Matteson, allegedly told him to "ask God what your grade is," the suit says.

Lopez also said the teacher threatened to have him expelled when he complained to higher-ups.

In addition to financial damages, the suit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, seeks to strike down a sexual harassment code barring students from uttering "offensive" statements.
Sadly, similar classroom scenarios are played out regularly at colleges and universities throughout the U.S. Liberal educators have a stranglehold on higher learning and with regard to suppression of opposing opinions, they are masters.
UK: Teachers "need lessons in breaking up fights"

Staff are too scared to intervene in violent incidents, survey shows

Teachers are demanding lessons in restraint techniques to help them stop fights between pupils. Many staff are worried they will face assault charges if they intervene physically to break them up, says a report to be published next week. As a result, children are being excluded from school as fights escalate and the incident becomes more serious. Two-thirds of teachers say they feel strongly that they should have lessons in restraint techniques to help cope with the problem. They would also like to be taught how they should physically escort excluded pupils from the school premises.

The findings follow the first detailed age breakdown of pupils suspended or excluded from school, which showed that although overall exclusion numbers have fallen, more than 4,000 children under the age of five were excluded from school in the past year, mostly for assault. Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the huge number of exclusions in the early years reflected teachers' fears that they could lose their jobs if they intervened to stop violent pupils. As a result, they were using suspension powers instead.

Select Education, the largest provider of supply teachers in the country, conducted the survey of more than 100 teachers. Its managing director, Peter Flannery, said: "The growing culture of litigation means that today's teachers are fearful of restraining pupils who are at risk of hurting themselves in case it results in them losing their jobs."

He added: "Physical contact should very much be the last resort. Instead, teachers need to be undertaking training to equip themselves with positive handling strategies that look at de-escalating techniques, such as positive techniques for challenging behaviour with the aim of avoiding physical intervention." All 10,000 teachers and support staff on Select Education's books can receive training in how to defuse challenging situations. However, Scott Kelly, who trains teachers in these techniques, acknowledged that supply staff can often miss out on training - if, indeed, schools organised it - simply because they are not there.

He added that even in cases where an allegation of assault was "unwarranted" against a teacher, a pupil may believe "what is happening is inappropriate contact whereas what the teacher was trying was to make the situation safe".

The aim of the training was to try to avoid physical contact wherever possible. However, new guidance from the Government says teachers can use reasonable restraint to avoid violence.

The survey also shows that nearly three out of four teachers believe many exclusions are caused by a lack of parental discipline at home.

Patrick Mahoney, a teacher with Select Education, said: "While I certainly agree that discipline in the home is a problem, it's important to note the root causes - for example, the growing number of single-parent families who are overwhelmed with responsibilities and unable, on their own, to instil the level of discipline needed." Three out of four teachers also believe parents could reduce the chances of their children being excluded by taking more interest in their education.


War of Words on Investments in Israel

A pro-Palestinian student group and Hampshire College disagreed Thursday as to whether the Massachusetts institution's withdrawal of investments from an index fund represented a rebuke of Israel, and a major first for the divestment movement. Any hope that this might stay a quiet campus disagreement - probably a slim hope given the topics involved - has evaporated with dueling press releases, media coverage from the Middle East and the entry of Alan M. Dershowitz into the dispute.

Dershowitz, a Harvard University law professor and well known supporter of Israel, threatened to unleash a campaign against the college, and issue a call for donors to withhold contributions, unless Hampshire resolves any ambiguities and clearly states that it rejects student efforts to divest from the Jewish state. "What they have to do is make it impossible for the students to plausibly be able to declare victory," said Dershowitz, whose son went to Hampshire.

"They want me on their side, they want the anti-Israel students on their side, they want everybody on their side. But unfortunately the divestment campaign is a zero-sum game. Both sides can't win, and Hampshire let the anti-Israel students win and they will pay a heavy price for that. Unless they withdraw it, they withdraw it and they make it clear they have rejected these efforts to divest from Israel."

The students dominated the headlines on Thursday when, in a press release, the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter hailed Hampshire as "the first of any college or university in the U.S. to divest from companies on the grounds of their involvement in the Israeli occupation of Palestine." The student group celebrated having successfully pressured the college to divest from six companies with connections to Israel's military operations in the West Bank and Gaza.

Hampshire officials acknowledge they initiated a review of the specific State Street fund in question in response to a petition from Students for Justice in Palestine. However, Hampshire maintains that it transferred assets to another fund after finding much broader violations of its policy on socially responsible investing, including unfair labor policies, environmental abuse, military weapons manufacturing and unsafe workplace settings. In all, Hampshire says it found more than 200 companies in the fund that fell short of its standards. "[T]he decision expressly did not pertain to a political movement or single out businesses active in a specific region or country," the college's statement says.

As an analogy, Ralph Hexter, Hampshire's president, said, "There might be a court case that the higher court sustains the ruling but the principles are entirely different. Not that we thought that way. This is not a policy decision; I can't say that enough. The investment committee expressly rejected the idea that we were acting in any way [in regards to] a certain country or region or political position, but rather because it came to our attention - it happened to be through this [Students for Justice in Palestine] petition - that this fund contained many, many companies that were problematic, in a whole host of regions."

Hexter acknowledged the court analogy was likely imperfect, and one imperfection is that when a higher court upholds a lower court's ruling, but for different reasons, judges usually go out of their way to make the distinctions clear. That's not quite what happened at Hampshire, at least initially. In the group's press release, Students for Justice in Palestine quote Hexter as saying, during the February 7 board of trustees meeting when this was decided, "that it was the good work of SJP that brought this issue to the attention of the committee." Hexter said the quote was accurate.

"What I referred to was their good work at doing undergraduate-level research and bringing it to the appropriate subcommittee of the board. It didn't rely on their work, but it's the kind of praise that I think you give to students for using the processes of the college," Hexter said. While he expressed disappointment in the students disseminating "such a partial and biased version" of what happened, he also pointed out, "Remember, they are students."

"We reject in our actions any singling out of a country, we thought that's entirely inappropriate and it never occurred to us that this would be taken as divestment from Israel because that wasn't the question before us," said Hexter. "We're in an awkward position that people are claiming falsely what this is and all I can do is deny it.... I can tell you personally as president that I am definitely opposed to divestment from Israel."

In 1977, Hampshire was the first college to call for divestment in South Africa.

Matan Cohen, a spokesman for Students for Justice in Palestine Hampshire College, and a sophomore, said of Hampshire's written clarification, "I will use the word curious but I would not say I'm surprised.... We all know how much pressure will be put on Hampshire to take this decision back."

"We've identified, actually in fact and it's true, other companies that do horrible things," said Cohen. "They had to divest from all 200 to divest from these six.... How can you say it's not about this area if you say first of all that it was SJP's good work that brought your attention [to the fund]?" asked Cohen, a student from Israel.

"I think that Hampshire divested because we have pushed them. The majority of students on the campus support it, and we pushed them to make this decision and to divest from this occupation. It's a shame to me that they're not willing to fully own it."

Dershowitz said of Hampshire, "They found an easy way out. `Yeah, we'll divest from the six companies but we're also going to divest from 200 others'.... Not a single Fortune 500 company would pass muster under Hampshire policies."

"I think it's a very simple story ... a cowardly college administration that doesn't want to say no to anybody, wants to talk out of both sides of its mouth to me and out of another side of its mouth to anti-Israel students," he said. "They were looking for an excuse to be able to divest from those six companies but to do it in a broader way, but they were under-inclusive. They didn't look at the rest of the portfolio."

Hexter said Hampshire examined only one fund because officials had reason to believe it was problematic. Also at the February 7 board meeting, the board of trustees voted to revise its 1994 policy on socially responsible investing - after that's completed, Hexter said, the review will continue. "We would then expect to have a continual methodology of making sure that all of our investments are always in compliance with our policies. It's not good management to have this out of whack."

Students for Justice in Palestine waited until Thursday to publicly declare victory in part so it could collect endorsements from prominent figures. As one example, David Theo Goldberg, director of the University of California Humanities Research Institute, is quoted in the group's online press kit as saying, "I fully endorse the reasonable and courageous decision of Hampshire College's Board of Trustees to divest all investments that support the Israeli occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people." In an interview Thursday, Goldberg said, "It's commendable that even at the wider level, they would have taken a stance against companies doing business with repressive forces in questionable, unjust, unethical ways. I think that the companies doing business with the repressive forces in Israel and Palestine should be included." But, he said, "I'm for divesting in the other 194 if they engage in unjust activities in other parts of the world.

"That's not lacking cleverness given the political climate, to go for the broader general principle as a way of getting at the particular. Whether it's a way of getting at the particular or not that's driving it is an open question, obviously subject to debate by those more privy to the decision than I."


Monday, February 16, 2009

CO: School district does away with grade levels

If it ends social promotion it might be a good thing but it sounds like just another starry-eyed idea that only works with an exceptionally high level of teacher committment -- something unlikely in a large and unionized public school district

School districts across the US are trying to improve student performance and low test scores. But few have taken as radical an approach as Adams 50. For starters, when the elementary and middle-school students come back next fall, there won't be any grade levels - or traditional grades, for that matter. And those are only the most visible changes in a district that, striving to reverse dismal test scores and a soaring dropout rate, is opting for a wholesale reinvention of itself, rather than the incremental reforms usually favored by administrators.

The 10,000-student district in the metropolitan Denver area is at the forefront of a new "standards-based" educational approach that has achieved success in individual schools and in some small districts in Alaska, but has yet to be put to the test on such a large scale in an urban district. "There was a sense of urgency to attend to what wasn't happening for kids here," says Roberta Selleck, district superintendent, explaining why she decided to go with a drastic approach. "When you see the stats for the whole school district over time, we realized we are disconnecting [from] our kids."

The change that's getting by far the most attention is the decision to do away with traditional grade levels - for kids younger than eighth grade, this first year, though the district plans to phase in the reform through high school a year at a time. Ultimately, there will be 10 multiage levels, rather than 12 grades, and students might be in different levels depending on the subject. They'll move up only as they demonstrate mastery of the material.

But Dr. Selleck and others are quick to emphasize that that's only one piece of a radically different, more student-centered, approach to learning - and that it's not the same as tracking, the currently out-of-favor system of grouping students by ability.

The district is training teachers to involve students in the lesson plan in a far greater way than before - the students articulate their goals and develop things such as a code of conduct as a classroom. And when children fall short of understanding the material, they keep working at it. The only "acceptable" score to move on to the next lesson is the equivalent of a "B" in normal grading - hopefully showing proficiency and giving kids a better foundation as they move on to more advanced concepts. Advocates sometimes describe it as flipping the traditional system around so that time, rather than mastery of material, is the variable.

While the idea of "standards-based education," as it's often known, has been around for a while, the only public district where it's been tried for any length of time is in Alaska, where the Chugach district - whose 250 students are scattered over 22,000 square miles - went from the lowest performing district in the state to Alaska's highest-performing quartile in five years in the 1990s, a shift the former superintendent, Richard DeLorenzo, attributes to the new philosophy. "We saw how radical a reinvention needs to happen," says Mr. DeLorenzo, who is serving as a consultant to Adams 50 and is now the founder of the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition, which is seeking to spread the model.

In Adams 50, the challenges aren't quite so severe as they were in Chugach, which had only had one college graduate come out of its schools in the 20 years before DeLorenzo implemented the reforms. But the district, which has a 58 percent graduation rate, has been on an academic watch list for several years now, and has seen a drastically shifting student population in which percentages of minorities, non-English speakers, and low-income kids have shot up.

Selleck decided the district needed a massive transformation, and got the OK from the state. This year, the district is beginning to phase in the changes before all the schools switch to the new, gradeless system next year. One elementary school is serving as a pilot program, and many of the 300 or so teachers who have undergone training from DeLorenzo are implementing a modified approach in their classrooms - albeit still in traditional grade levels.


Shock! Horror! Even some British government schools think that all students are not equal

High-performing comprehensives are "screening" 16-year-olds by telling them they cannot study A-levels unless they score as many as six Bs at GCSE. Some schools believe a C grade, the government measure of a "good" GCSE, is so devalued that it gives little evidence of ability.

Policies pursued by some comprehensives are now more restrictive than grammars that are open about selection. At Fortismere school in Muswell Hill, north London, pupils must score five Bs, including English and maths, to study academic subjects at A-level. Other pupils must opt for "applied" A-levels, which are more vocational. At Fulford school, York, pupils need five Bs for academic A-levels. Steve Smith, the head, said: "You can get students through to a C but a large part of that is staff giving support. For A-levels you have to have independent learning."

Professor Alan Smithers of Buckingham University said: "Sixth-form selection is an unacknowledged feature of our system."


Many Australian High School students can't read and write

Ever-declining standards. I think our leftist "educators" will only be happy when NO-ONE can read and write

Reading skills at some Queensland high schools have slumped to alarming levels with about one in every three students considered to be reading below their age level, according to teachers and private tutors. And in a parallel problem some students are being taught one subject by as many as 12 different teachers because of staff shortages in state high schools.

An internal screening test on Year 8 students at one school has found that most of the struggling students - one-third of that year level - were reading at the standard of a Year 4 student. The worst readers among those Year 8s - about one-sixth of the entire group needing learning support - were reading at a level of Year 3 student or below, the tests revealed.

Frustrated school learning support staff say they have begun to refer students to reading lessons outside schools, as the curriculum is failing to address the problem. Their claims are backed by private tutors interviewed by The Sunday Mail, who say they regularly encounter teenagers reading three to four years below their age. It is understood the internal testing that highlights the problem was done in schools at Logan and the northern Gold Coast. But many educators say similar reading level issues can be found state-wide. Gold Coast-based private tutor Dr Bruce Cruicks is teaching 15 state high school students with reading problems: "Some of these kids came to me with no reading level at all. They could have been in Grade 3 or 4."

A Brisbane-based tutor, who asked not to be identified to shield his students, said many were initially up to four years behind in their reading. A state school teacher who was involved in recent testing of literacy levels, and also asked not to be named, said: " Some kids are really stuck at such a basic level, and the gap between them and other students just keeps widening. Yet we get told (by governments) that (the reading level) is getting better."

Education Queensland does not gather each school's internal testing data on reading levels, and the only official guide can be found in State Budget figures. Those statistics back up the concerns of education leaders, with national benchmark figures showing that reading for Year 7 students has dropped by more than 11 percentage points in three years, down from around 93 per cent in the 2004-05 period.

Queensland Teachers Union president Steve Ryan said he believed the State and Federal governments should focus on providing more resources, rather than worrying about preparing students for national benchmark testing. An Education Queensland spokesman said the Government was investing $18 million implementing a literacy framework.

On a second front underlining more problems in education, sources say some students are being taught one subject by as many as 12 different teachers as state high schools attempt to deal with staff shortages. And when substitute teachers can't be slotted in, classes are often combined. At one school, three senior classes were combined and seated in a sports hall recently with the students told to do crosswords because of a lack of teachers, the sources told The Sunday Mail.

Figures released by the State Government show an extra 5400 students enrolled in state schools this year - leaving a shortfall of 150 teachers. Education Minister Rod Welford has acknowledged a lack of maths and science teachers, employing more than 530 graduate teachers this year in the face of a 17 per cent jump in primary and secondary teacher resignations since 2003. But The Sunday Mail understands up to eight teachers at one school, employed to teach maths, are only qualified in physical education. "They are just bringing in primary school and excess PE teachers," a source revealed.

But Mr Welford denies the system will be unable to cope with an increased influx of students this year. "Our government plans for the future, continually monitoring regions with high population growth to ensure there are local state school options for all Queenslanders," he said. "That's why we opened three new schools on the northern Gold Coast this year, to cater for population increases in one the state's fastest-growing regions. "We've also opened a new school this year north of Brisbane, another fast-growing area."

Mr Welford said there has been unprecedented growth in prep enrolments, with an increase of almost 1900 on last year. He said upper secondary schools also had more than 750 extra students enrolling in Year 11 and more than 1000 in Year 12. "All these new students create a need for more teachers so that we can continue to meet our class size targets, which are among the lowest in the country."

Mr Welford says the 150 new teaching spots would be permanent appointments in mainly manual arts, maths and science. "These are roles which have been traditionally difficult to fill because their skills were so much in demand outside of teaching," he said. "With demand slowing in other sectors we are hoping to see more of these skilled workers moving back into teaching where the jobs are available, secure and stable."


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Choosing a prosperous future

The children are our future, goes the hackneyed phrase. It is gag-inducing when issued from the mouths of politicians and celebrities, but its truth can't be denied. Which makes it all the more important that we make strides to improve what is at present a severely inadequate effort to prepare today's students for tomorrow's world. A big step forward would be the advance of educational freedom on two fronts: liberating schools, teachers, and administrators from paralyzing red tape; and liberating parents from constraints on school choice.

Nancy Pelosi received well-deserved criticism for her grotesque attempt to defend the inclusion of birth control promotion in the economic stimulus bill. But Pelosi's tortured observations do point to a truth: It is not enough to bring children into the world. Economic resources are required to care for dependent young people, and the responsibility to provide the intellectual and moral education necessary for engagement of the world is serious.

Focusing on education is not a distraction from the pressing business of economic recovery; it is vital to ensuring it. When asked recently to explain the causes of the stagnation of the American economy, the first response of Paypal co-founder and CEO of Clarion Capital Peter Thiel was telling: "You have an educational system that is very broken."

Public schools absorb a lot of criticism for failing to ensure basic competency in their students, and for spending loads of money not doing it. Yet most administrators and teachers are dedicated to their jobs and sincerely concerned about the welfare of their students. One of the factors hampering success is excessive regulation, a product of a litigious culture and overweening government involvement in education.

To cite but one troubled area, countless hours and dollars are now spent ensuring the "safety" of students by adhering to strict standards concerning everything from classroom supplies to cafeteria furniture. Parents rightly expect due caution to be exercised by those entrusted with the lives of their children every day, but safety regulations enforced on schools exceed what most of us demand in our own homes. All of this distracts from the core mission of the school.

Evidence continues to suggest that private schools educate more efficiently than public ones. Yet the largest private system in the country, Catholic schools, continue to struggle: A New York Times article last month-prompted by the announcement of another raft of school closures in the city-noted that the number of students in Catholic schools is half what it was in the 1960s.

Declining private school enrollment should not be taken as an indication that parents are satisfied with conventional public schools. That demand for alternatives persists is proved by a recent report from the National Center for Education Statistics, showing a 36 percent rise in the number of homeschooled children from 2003 to 2007 (now standing at 1.5 million, almost 3 percent of the school population). Interest in choice within the public arena-for example, charter schools and open enrollment-remains high as well.

Declining private enrollment is more likely due to the fact that families, especially in a downturn, increasingly cannot afford to support two school systems, one through their taxes and another through their tuition. States should promote public school alternatives, fostering competition and greater efficiency. Charter schools could be utilized more liberally. Tax breaks offer incentives for parents to choose private schools and relieve the overall public funding burden. Federal authorities have offered some help this year by permitting income tax deductions for local property taxes. States could follow suit by allowing similar deductions for the purpose of tuition payments or homeschooling expenses.

As states look for ways to balance their budgets, some might bristle at the cost of extending tax breaks or vouchers. Yet it's not clear that the end result would be negative for the state budgets. Tax deductions might be offset by gains reaped by shifting school populations to private alternatives. Competition at the local level might spur public schools to higher efficiency. Significantly, pressure to remove expensive regulation would increase.

More important than this year's budget or next year's deficit is the economic viability of the next century. Without a sound educational system, the prospects dim considerably. It should be clear by now that prosperity depends on both technical expertise and moral integrity. Neither can be achieved without bringing freedom to our schools. In existing schools, staff must be permitted to teach and discipline in a way that cultivates virtue and suppresses vice. Where schools have failed, parents must be encouraged to select more effective options for their children. School reform and school choice are not peripheral to economic recovery and future prosperity. They are essential.


Top British civil servant attacks Leftist education policies

Professor Adrian Smith, one of the Government's top education officials, has launched a devastating attack on Labour schools' policy, suggesting reforms focused on "the masses" at the expense of bright students. In an extraordinary outburst, Prof Smith, the second highest-ranked official at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, said plans for new diploma qualifications to replace A-levels were "slightly schizophrenic". He also said:

*School science lessons had been undermined by "insidious" health and safety legislation

*The Government may have exaggerated the success of a drive to get more teenagers to study science seriously

*Universities "won't touch" a new elite A* grade at A-level for fear of recruiting too many sixth-formers from independent schools

*So-called "golden hellos" to attract teachers would be better spent on higher salaries for staff

Prof Smith also said a refusal to complete a review of student tuition fees could lead to universities going bankrupt.

The comments will come as an embarrassing blow to Gordon Brown who has pledged to prioritise education and training in an attempt to kickstart the economy. It also suggests discord at the heart of the Government as Prof Smith breached official protocol which says civil servants should avoid public statements on policy.

The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills was formed in 2007 when Mr Brown split the old Department for Education and Skills in two. It now shares education responsibilities with the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

Prof Smith, director general of science and innovation, joined the department five months ago following a decade in charge of Queen Mary, University of London. He was giving a speech in central London on the future of science, technology, engineering and mathematics when he made the outspoken attack. The official, who led a Government review of maths education in 2003, highlighted issues which required the Government to "pause" and consider "whether we are thinking them through carefully enough".

It included plans for diplomas, which combine practical training with classroom study, he said. They are initially offered in vocational subjects, such as media and construction, but will be expanded in coming years to cover the traditional academic disciplines of humanities, languages and science. Ministers believe they could replace GCSEs and A-levels altogether. But Prof Smith branded the science diploma as "slightly schizophrenic", claiming it fell between the twin aims of pushing the brightest and aiding weaker students.

In comments quoted in the Times Educational Supplement, he said the Government should focus on "getting GCSEs and A-levels right first". "In core subjects like maths and physics we already have a shortage of qualified teacher cover," he said. "Are we wise in adding different bits of curricular offerings, each of which will require additional teacher input? "Are we thinking in a joined-up way when we plan curriculum developments and new programmes, whether we have the teacher power, planning and recruitment? Might we not be better getting GCSEs and A-levels right first?"

He said an overall increase in the number of teenagers taking A-levels in science looked encouraging. But the official said it could be explained by rises in subjects such as sports science and psychology, claiming those studying "hardcore" science at universities remained static. In a similar vein, he said there were "serious questions" about whether education inspired the most talented pupils. "We have a tension in the education system," he said. "We are educating everybody - the masses - for citizenship, for (mathematical) competences and functionality. "Higher education and the innovation and high tech industries of the future involve those at the end of the spectrum who are capable of achieving and aspiring to more professional levels of mathematics. "There are still serious questions in the system about whether we have really cracked that balance."

On science in schools, he said teachers had toned down experiments for fear of breaching health and safety laws. "If you ask a lot of scientists, chemists and engineers what turned them on in the first place, I am afraid it was things like making bombs," he said. "I think both in terms of funding, in terms of qualified teachers, and the insidious effects of health and safety legislation, we may have done something rather damaging to that fundamental curiosity. We need more explosions in schools."

The comments have been seized upon by Opposition MPs. David Laws, the Liberal Democrat schools spokesman, said: "This is a damning criticism of the Government's education policy. Ministers cannot simply ignore these comments from someone working at such a senior level in their own department. "These comments totally undermine what little faith there was in the new diplomas and there must now be an even greater concern that our education system is failing to stretch the most able children. The fact that such a senior civil servant believes that ministers are exaggerating improvements will shatter confidence in the Government's entire education strategy."

Adam Afriyie, the Conservative shadow science minister, said: "It is extraordinary that such a senior civil servant should launch such a blistering attack on the Government's failure on science. "It is a desperate act of a failing Government if ministers are deliberately exaggerating improvements to hide their failure. We need a robust qualifications system in our schools and a stronger presence for science in government."

Alan Smithers, professor of education at Buckingham University, said: "It is great that someone in his position has finally spoken out."

A DCSF spokesperson said: "The idea in this day and age that education policy should not focus on "the masses" and instead only on an elite minority is out of date and wrong-headed. "We were surprised to read and totally disagree with the comments about diplomas, golden hellos for science teachers and on our reforms to the new A-level, all of which have been widely welcomed."