Saturday, April 04, 2009

British High School Physics exam is 'too easy and fails to prepare students'

Physics A-level has become so undemanding that it leaves British students the worst prepared in Europe to take degrees in the subject, an academic has claimed. Gareth Jones, a retired professor, said teenagers had been ‘short-changed’ by the removal of difficult maths topics such as calculus from A-level syllabuses. He also said shortages of specialist physics teachers were worse here than in other countries, leading to gaps in students’ knowledge.

Professor Jones is one of five academics who questioned staff at 120 universities in 21 European countries on the state of physics students’ knowledge. He said that in most countries, there was generally a ‘growing gap between what has traditionally been expected and assumed of new students by university physics departments and the preparation in physics and maths that they have received at school’.

But he said the drop in standards was particularly acute in England and Wales. ‘It seems that the shortage of specialist physics teachers with degrees in physics is greater in England and Wales than in other European countries,’ he said. ‘Also significant is that the physics school curriculum is less mathematical here than in other European countries.’

A-level physics courses, he said, were increasingly expecting pupils simply to regurgitate information, rather than getting them to use their understanding to reason their way through problems themselves. He said: ‘Students are more or less guided through the answer. Not very much careful reasoning is required.’

They no longer required the teaching of calculus in any depth, he said, and the level of maths needed for A-level physics was now ‘really quite low’. In drawing up the exams, boards could not assume that students were studying A-level maths.

The physicist and emeritus professor of Imperial College London, added: ‘If students are being taught little of this at school, then they are being shortchanged and receiving poorpreparation for careers in physics and engineering and for university courses in these subjects.’

His concerns were highlighted in a report on a seminar at Cambridge University on the teaching of mechanics in schools. The seminar heard that mechanics was the foundation for university physics study but up to 40 per cent of maths students were only given the chance to take one paper on it from the six they sit for A-level maths.

His findings follow the admission last week by Professor Alan Wilson, a former senior civil servant at the then Department for Education and Skills, that he was ‘astonished’ to learn that at least one major exam board no longer required calculus for A-level physics. Writing in the Times Higher Education supplement, Professor Wilson, now based at University College London, said there had been a ‘dumbing down’, even from the 17th century.

Also last week, the Government’s exams watchdog found the standard required to achieve A grades in A-level physics had fallen since 2001, while backing claims that GCSE science has been ‘dumbed down’.


Canadian Pro-Life Students Demand Public Apology from School

The acting president of the St. Mary's Students for Life, Joseph Westin, has asked that the university apologize for allowing a group of pro-abortion protesters to disrupt and finally stop a university-approved pro-life presentation last month. The presentation was given by Jose Ruba, a founding member of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform.

In February LifeSiteNews reported on the disruption of Ruba's presentation by a group of abortion supporters who, less than a minute into his talk, entered the room and began shouting down the presentation. Campus security did not stop or remove the protesters and when Halifax Regional Police arrived, a university official shut down the presentation.

Joseph Westin is demanding an apology from the school for violating freedom of speech rights and for giving a misleading account of the university official's actions in a press release posted on the University's website.

Westin said the press release gave the impression that university officials merely moved the presentation "on campus somewhere else." However that account is false, he stated in an Atlantic Catholic report.

The university statement reads that, "protesters were asked to stop disrupting the event, but after more than an hour and a half, the presentation was relocated to a nearby location ... Relocating the event, though regrettable, allowed the speaker to complete his presentation."

Westin explained that, "Really, they stopped the presentation, and we decided to leave and go to the church; if the church was not there we wouldn't have been able to continue." "They made no effort to provide another building or venue for us," he added. "They're claiming that they moved us to another building. But they didn't. They stopped our presentation."

Mr. Westin said that St. Mary's Students for Life pro-life group is looking for a retraction of the press release as well as a public apology from the school for the way they gave in to the group of protesters. "They're not dealing with it at all," Westin said. "They're pretty much sweeping it under the rug. They're trying to get rid of it. The people who were breaking the law should have been dealt with and stopped, not us."

The pro-life group is also calling for an investigation into the St. Mary's Women's Centre, which Westin claims organized the protest.


Don't spare the rod

Comment from Australia

Overwork, large classes and poor pay are issues that worry new teachers. But according to a recent Australian Education Union survey of teachers across Australia, the other issue at the forefront of their minds is classroom behaviour. The 2008 survey, which drew 1545 responses, ranks disruptive students second on a list of 11 issues - rating 66.1 per cent, compared with 68.5 per cent for concerns about workload, 62.9 per cent for pay and 62.6 per cent for class sizes. Of even more concern is that the figure on behaviour reflects a jump of more than 10 per cent compared with the 2007 survey. At the secondary level, the issue is ranked number one, with a rating of 71.4 per cent.

Victorian school leaders also see disruptive students as a serious issue. The president of the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals, Brian Burgess, recently criticised the Brumby Government for weakening the power of schools to deal with the problem.

Australian teachers and principals are not alone in expressing anxiety about the damaging effects of classroom misbehaviour. In Britain, a recent teacher survey found that 45.5 per cent of those interviewed said challenging behaviour was a daily event and nearly two-thirds agreed that student behaviour had grown worse since they had started teaching.

Disruptive behaviour does not just undermine learning; equally damaging is its effect on teacher morale and wellbeing. According to one newspaper report, cases of stress leave for Victorian teachers have risen from 125 in 2006 to 170 in 2008. Beyond the cost of WorkCover claims, many qualified and committed teachers leave the profession early because of the anxiety and stress caused by disruptive students. It needs to be noted, too, that many beginning teachers are also concerned about aggressive and demanding parents, with 86.5 per cent saying that their training had not adequately prepared them for dealing with what many teachers describe as the angry parent syndrome.

What's to be done? At a time when teachers are told that they must solve society's problems - from drug and alcohol abuse to sex education, self-esteem and wellness training, road safety, diet and, following Black Saturday, bushfire prevention - it's time to say enough is enough.

Parents are primarily responsible for raising their children and for instilling discipline and respect for others. It should be no surprise that children who are indulged, spoilt and turned into prima donnas at home cause disruption at school. So-called helicopter parents - the ones always hovering around, interfering and giving advice - should realise that they need to stand back, give children responsibility and allow teachers and schools to set and enforce their rules free from interference.

Based on the AEU beginning teachers' survey, it is clear that pre-service teacher education needs to be more effective in equipping teachers to cope with classroom realities. When asked whether their training had prepared them to deal with particular groups of challenging students, such as those from non-English speaking backgrounds, those with disabilities and those from dysfunctional backgrounds, nearly 70 per cent said "no".

Inquiries into teacher education have recommended that more time be given to practical classroom experience, with less emphasis on educational theory and more on what constitutes effective, research-based classroom practice.

Most baby boomer teachers my age will remember the '70s and '80s, when formal discipline went out the window - along with the strap and school inspectors - and classroom rules were negotiated, teachers were called by their first name and a student's rights had priority over those of the group.

One response to unruly behaviour, advocated by Britain's Office for Standards in Education, is a return to traditional discipline and a more authoritarian school environment. Comprehensive schools in disadvantaged areas have received positive reports after taking up such an approach. In drawing a clear line between life on the streets and what is accepted in the classroom, schools have banned hoodies and gang colours, introduced formal assemblies, clear rules that are enforced quickly and consistently, and strict uniform regulations. Many inner-city US schools have also turned behaviour around by enforcing strict rules and by promoting a school culture that rewards effort and success.

Compare such approaches with what takes place in many Australian schools, where discipline procedures are convoluted and bureaucratic. It's often assumed that teachers are at fault and parents are only too willing to take their children's side in any dispute. In one notable example of how difficult it is to enforce discipline, a Victorian teacher failed to intervene in a schoolyard fight between a group of girls, most likely because of what would have happened if he had manhandled one of them.

Research shows that, along with a rigorous, properly defined curriculum, teachers are the most important factor in successful learning. To be effective, teachers need to be well paid, well resourced and to be given the power to maintain discipline in the classroom.


Friday, April 03, 2009

Charter School Teachers Attempt Ousting of Union

Implicit in the right to associate with a union is the right to disassociate from one and the later is the right that the teachers of KIPP Academy in New York are trying to employ by attempting to oust the United Federation of Teachers from their places of work.

Teachers at two KIPP charter schools in the Bronx and Manhattan, New York, took the action after the UFT tired to meddle in school affairs without contacting teachers and staff first.

Earlier this year, the teachers union filed a grievance against KIPP Academy’s “at-will” employment policies but the union did so without first meeting with teachers to see if they wanted this action. Teacher Matt Hureau told The New York Post that the union never talked to teachers first. “It was the union acting and notifying the teachers afterward,” Hureau said

This union action, KIPP teachers said, violated the trust that must exist between union, teachers and school administrators.
“The union was interested in a more active part of the way our school operates, and at KIPP Infinity we unanimously believe that what works for us best is 100 percent open communication lines between staff, administration, parents and students,” said Rachel Heuisler, 30, who has taught at the school for three years.

The union, for its part, suggested that the only reason the anti-union petitions were raised is because a KIPP school that isn’t unionized had recently sought to join the union. Typically the union did not respond to the charge deciding to deflect by offering theories on conspiracies against them instead.
Tidings of good luck go out from us here to the KIPP teachers for their efforts to dump the union.


The “Overrepresentation” Of Immigrant Blacks

by John Rosenberg

Inside Higher Ed reports this morning on a new study’s finding
that among high school graduates, “immigrant blacks” — defined as those who immigrated to the United States or their children — are significantly more likely than other black Americans to attend selective colleges. In fact, immigrant black Americans are more likely than white students to attend such colleges.
The study noted
that previous research has documented that a smaller proportion of black high school graduates than white high school graduates enroll in college. But when students of similar socioeconomic status are compared, the black high school graduates are more likely than their white counterparts to enroll. Given the debate about the immigrant factor in analyzing black enrollments, the authors set out to determine “whether this net black advantage is very African American.”

Using data from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988, Bennett and Lutz found that among high school graduates, 75.1 percent of immigrant blacks enrolled in college, a slightly higher percentage than that of whites (72.5 percent) and substantially larger than for native blacks (60.2 percent).

In terms of the college destinations of those who enrolled in college, the rates for immigrant blacks compared to other black students were similar for two-year colleges and non-selective four-year colleges that are not historically black. The biggest gap was at selective colleges, which enroll only 2.4 percent of native black high school graduates but 9.2 percent of immigrant blacks (and 7.3 percent of whites).
Think about this. I’ll have more to say about it later today.

Continued... O.K., I’m back. Playing tennis, this morning, was fun. Going to the dentist, this afternoon, wasn’t. But now that I’m back and have thought about this during the day, it turns out that I really don’t have anything to say about the “overrepresentation” of immigrant (or offspring of immigrant) blacks among the “underrepresented” blacks on American campuses. Or rather, I don’t have anything new to say, because I’ve already said a bunch in response to similar studies and earlier news here, here, and here.

From the first here, nearly five years ago:
According to a fascinating front page article in today’s New York Times, it has begun to dawn on Lani Guinier, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and other preferentialists at Harvard and elsewhere that you’d better be very careful what you subsidize, for you’ll certainly get more of it ... and it may not be exactly what you had in mind.

One of the dirty little secrets of racial preferences, now beginning to leak out, is not only that most of the beneficiaries are middle class or actually rich -- that has been known if not advertised for a good while -- but that most are not even American, or if they are American they are of very recent origin. 8 percent of the undergraduates at Harvard are black (still “underrepresented,” says Guinier), but “the majority of them — perhaps as many as two-thirds — were West Indian and African immigrants or their children, or to a lesser extent, children of biracial couples.” Moreover,
Researchers at Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania who have been studying the achievement of minority students at 28 selective colleges and universities (including theirs, as well as Yale, Columbia, Duke and the University of California at Berkeley), found that 41 percent of the black students identified themselves as immigrants, as children of immigrants or as mixed race. [Editorial Aside: Has the NYT lost its copy editors? The comma after “... Berkeley)” should not be there. If the Times were not as foolishly opposed to the serial comma as it is to President Bush, it should be after “Duke.”]
For many preferentialists, subsidizing dark foreigners is not at all what they had in mind....
Mary C. Waters, the chairman of the sociology department at Harvard, who has studied West Indian immigrants, says they are initially more successful than many African-Americans for a number of reasons. Since they come from majority-black countries, they are less psychologically handicapped by the stigma of race. In addition, many arrive with higher levels of education and professional experience. And at first, they encounter less discrimination.
So, there we have it. American blacks are so “psychologically handicapped” by the presumably internalized stigma of being black that they must be benevolently handed the crutch of racial preferences. I would like to think that if I had friends like this I would begin to rethink my friendship patterns.

“You need a philosophical discussion about what are the aims of affirmative action,’’ Professor Waters continued. I would be tempted to ask where she has been, but then she’s been at Harvard. Has Harvard really not had such a discussion, or has she simply been unaware of it? In any event, here’s her dramatic philosophical contribution:
If it’s about getting black faces at Harvard, then you’re doing fine. If it’s about making up for 200 to 500 years of slavery in this country and its aftermath, then you’re not doing well. And if it’s about having diversity that includes African-Americans from the South or from inner-city high schools, then you’re not doing well, either.
Well of course. If you give preferences to “black faces,” what you get is “black faces.” Why should anyone be surprised? I would say that’s Harvard for you, but that same surprising surprise seems to be prevalent across preferentialdom.
And from the third here, a year ago, which began by quoting from an article in the Washington Post:
The nation’s most elite colleges and universities are bolstering their black student populations by enrolling large numbers of immigrants from Africa, the West Indies and Latin America, according to a study published recently in the American Journal of Education.
Immigrants, who make up 13 percent of the nation’s college-age black population, account for more than a quarter of black students at Ivy League and other selective universities, according to the study, produced by Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania.

.... The more elite the school, the more black immigrants are enrolled.....

Black American scholars such as Henry Louis Gates and Lani Guinier, two Harvard University professors, have said that white educators are skirting long-held missions to resolve historic wrongs against native black Americans by enrolling immigrants who look like them.
“Wait a minute,” I then continued.
Now I’m confused. Have Gates and Guinier finally rejected the “look like” test for preferential treatment? Have they, finally realizing that those “historic wrongs” consisted precisely of distributing burdens and benefits based on color, renounced racial preference and embraced the old civil rights standard of colorblind equal treatment?

If they reject color — the “look like” test — as a basis for preferential treatment, what test do they propose? If color is no longer an acceptable proxy for having suffered “historic wrongs” that preferential admissions are somehow supposed to redress, what is? Should actual harm have to be proven, and if so, how much, how recent? Should Southern blacks receive preferences over Northern blacks on the theory that they’ve suffered more discrimination?

It seems to me that it’s very difficult to defend a regime of racial preference while rejecting color as the basis of determining whom to prefer.
The widespread discomfort, sometimes hostility, expressed by the supporters of affirmative action for home-grown blacks to the large numbers of immigrant blacks who benefit from it confirms, I think, that they really don’t base their pro-preference views on a noble belief in “diversity,” no matter how often they mouth the word.

It could be argued, I suppose, that the advantage immigrant blacks have over both native blacks and native whites reflects the fact that college admissions officers really do believe the “diversity” mantra they all now repeat. But that argument would be persuasive only if, say, Asian immigrants were also given such favorable treatment, and, as numerous studies have shown, they aren’t. In fact, they are disproportionately victimized by the preferences given to other minorities.


Thursday, April 02, 2009

Under a third of men at black colleges earn degree in 6 years

Enrolling kids who don't have what it takes to complete a course is pretty dumb -- and a rip-off from the kids concerned. An IQ test could predict who would succeed very readily

They're no longer the only option for African-American students, but the country's historically black colleges and universities brag that they provide a supportive environment where these students are more likely to succeed. That, though, is not necessarily true.

An Associated Press analysis of government data on the 83 federally designated four-year historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) shows just 37% of their black students finish a degree within six years. That's 4 percentage points lower than the national college graduation rate for black students.

A few HBCUs, like Howard and all-female Spelman, have much higher graduation rates, exceeding the national averages for both black and white students. But others are clustered among the worst-performing colleges in the country. At 38 HBCUs, fewer than one in four men who started in 2001 had completed a bachelor's degree by 2007, the data show. At Texas Southern, Voorhees, Edward Waters and Miles College, the figure was under 10%.

To be sure, women are outperforming men across education, and many non-HBCUs struggle with low graduation rates. And the rates don't account for students who transfer or take more than six years, which may be more common at HBCUs than at other schools.

Most importantly, HBCUs educate a hugely disproportionate share of low-income students. Compared to other colleges defined by the government as "low-income serving," HBCU graduation rates are just a few points lower. Factoring in obstacles like lower levels of academic preparation, some research suggests that HBCUs do as well with black students as do majority-white institutions.

Still, HBCUs' low completion rates, especially for men, have broad consequences, on and off campus. Women account for more than 61% of HBCU students, the AP found. They have unprecedented leadership opportunities, but also pay a price — in everything from one-sided classroom discussions to competition for dates.

HBCUs educate only one-quarter of black college students, but produce an outsized number of future black graduate students and leaders. That group is distinctly female; HBCUs award twice as many degrees to women as to men.

The good news is some HBCUs are working hard to boost graduation rates — and succeeding. Experts say that proves failure isn't inevitable — but also means it's fair to ask tough questions of schools that are not improving.

HBCUs receive more than half their revenue from government. There is growing frustration with the waste of money — for students and taxpayers — when students have nothing to show for their time in college. President Barack Obama wants to return the United States to the top rank of college attainment by 2020. That will never happen if the colleges that do the heavy lifting of educating disadvantaged groups don't perform better.

Even some within the tight-knit HBCU community say the schools bear some responsibility. They say too many HBCUs have grown content offering students a chance at college, but resisting the hard work to get them through. "I think HBCUs have gotten lazy," said Walter Kimbrough, president of Philander Smith College in Little Rock. "That was our hallmark 40, 50 years ago. We still say 'nurturing, caring, the president knows you.' That's a lie on a lot of campuses. That's a flat-out lie."

Glancing around her classes at LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis and in the stands at basketball games, sophomore Velma Maclin has noticed something odd. Most of the so-called "Big Men on Campus" are women. "The ladies pretty much run the yard," said Maclin. Several male friends recently got discouraged and dropped out. She has little sympathy. She works the overnight shift at FedEx Corp. and says if she can stay in school, they can, too.

Women have probably outnumbered men at HBCUs for most of their history, but the proportion has been gradually rising, the AP found — from 53% in 1976 to about 61% the last few years. On 17 HBCU campuses there are two women for every man. At a few, the ratio is three-to-one...

At Edward Waters, virtually every student takes developmental courses — essentially, to finish the high school education they never fully received. Only then can they start progressing toward a college degree.

To explain the particular struggles of men, educators point to a range of cultural factors that affect black men everywhere, but which are especially visible at HBCUs. Men have fewer role models, and also seem to think they have more opportunities without a degree. Educators also describe a constant battle against two poisonous ideas: that black men can't succeed, or that if they do they are somehow less than genuine.

More here

Quarter of British 11-year-olds fail English and maths

More than a quarter of 11-year-olds leave primary school without mastering the basics of English and maths, official league tables will show today. Around 150,000 pupils failed a performance measure the Government is introducing. It shows the proportion of pupils who took SATs for 11-year-olds last summer and achieved the Government's expected level in both English and maths.

As many as 28 per cent of pupils started secondary school in September without having met the benchmark, the tables are expected to show. However, the figure is expected to vary widely between primary schools, whose results are being published in school-by-school tables this morning.

Youngsters who missed the benchmark will need extra help to cope with the curriculum at secondary school because they failed to reach level four in the core subjects of English and maths.

Separate official figures showed yesterday that a fifth of bright children - those who exceed Government expectations at 11 - make no progress in key subjects in their first three years at secondary school. More than 20 per cent of pupils who gain level five in English and science are still at level five three years later after 'coasting' once entering secondary school. Opposition politicians said teaching should be better tailored to pupils' abilities.

The trends emerged as the Government faced fresh criticism over the decision to publish today's tables amid claims they are tainted by last summer's marking fiasco. A catalogue of blunders in the administration of the tests led to a sharp rise in the number of delayed, missing or incorrect results. An official report concluded earlier this month that while the reliability of results was no worse than in previous years, it was possible that up to half of awarded levels in any given year are wrong.

Today's tables, which are being published at 9.30am, are certain to trigger renewed calls by teachers' leaders for SATs for 11-year-olds to be scrapped. Ministers said performance had improved on last year following literacy and numeracy drives costing hundreds of millions of pounds. But Tory schools spokesman Nick Gibb said: 'Too many children are leaving primary school without the basics they need to succeed later on. We simply cannot allow things to continue in this way.'

Shadow Schools Secretary Michael Gove said: 'We need to ensure teaching is tailored to individual pupils. 'We would give heads much more power over budgets so they can better reward great teachers and attract specialists.'

Schools Minister Sarah McCarthy-Fry said: 'In 1997, almost half of children left primary school having failed to reach the expected level in both English and maths. 'We now see three quarters of children leaving primary school having reached the expected level in both subjects.'


Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Zero-tolerance policies wreak havoc on children’s education

There are children who matter so little that no government agency even bothers to count or keep statistical track of them. They are the children of prisoners. Nationally, the justice systems have no interest in how children or families are affected by an offending parent’s imprisonment. The state ensures that the sins of the father are visited upon the son.

The number-one predictor of a child going to prison is having had a parent in prison. The number-one drag on a child’s academic success is family chaos of any kind. And nothing is as chaotic as having a parent yanked out of their lives and branded as a convict.

Sen. Leo Blais, D-Coventry, has submitted Bill S0320 to the General Assembly, to reduce the penalty for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana to a fine of $100. Excellent. Hopefully this bill will pass. Hopefully it will start a trend of rethinking all of the state’s morally-righteous but destructive laws that don’t take families into account.

The 1990s surge of harsh zero-tolerance laws stuffed the U.S. prisons to the point where we lock up a higher percentage of our own people than any other country in the world. Some unlucky inmates got caught with an ounce or less of marijuana. In Rhode Island, 89 percent of the marijuana arrests are for possession. Is passing a joint among friends that much more pernicious than sharing a bottle of wine?

Well, some would say marijuana is the gateway to more serious drug use. Sol Roderiquez, director of the Family Life Center in South Providence, would say, “Incarceration itself leads to worse drugs, often worse crimes. And with a prison record, it’s so hard for an ex-offender to get a job, crime is one of the few options left.” And so the cycle continues. The Family Life Center helps ex-cons piece their shattered lives back together so they can live in the mainstream again.

According to the 2007 Pew prison report, Rhode Island spends $44,860 a year per inmate — the highest in the country. And that doesn’t include the court costs.

But neighboring Massachusetts passed a law similar to Blais’ that will save their taxpayers almost $30 million a year in arrests, bookings, and basic court costs alone. Eleven other states have also passed such laws. Vermont is considering one now. Blais’ bill is not legalization of marijuana, but decriminalization. The mom, dad, uncle, or sister caught with a joint won’t have a criminal conviction on their record that makes supporting a family with legitimate work nigh impossible.

According to a survey done by RI Kids Count, as of Sept. 30, 2007, roughly two-thirds of the 3,081 inmate responders had children — 4,520 children, to be exact. When the parent goes to jail, many children go into foster or residential care, or stay with relatives who resent the unasked-for burden and cost. Families split up. Children act out. The stress is intense.

Roderiquez says, “When the state imposes such a severe punishment, it should take the whole family into account. Prison has huge consequences for the whole family. But we’ve dehumanized this population. They don’t have feelings or respond emotionally. No one pays attention to the fact that we’re pushing the families into falling apart.”

Roderiquez and her colleague Nick Horton, policy researcher at the center, have seen it all, and rattled off story after story.

There was the family with three daughters. When the husband and breadwinner went to prison, the mother went on welfare. In time, the youngest child had to be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, and the oldest became a classically enraged young adolescent, getting involved in serious escapist bad habits. All three girls’ grades at school have tanked. Roderiquez and Horton add that children’s grades always suffer. Always. “It’s the first thing to go,” said Roderiquez.

Then there was the single father responsible for two children. When he went to prison, one dropped out of school immediately, and the other ran away.

I’ll gladly stipulate that smoking dope could be an indicator of growing or potentially dangerous social behavior. But wouldn’t it be more effective in the long run, more healing for everyone, to send a family-services worker to the home to help those families who are in fact dangerously drug-involved? The City of Providence has a nationally recognized “go-team” of family-service workers whom the police call to crime scenes when children are present or a family is traumatized. Use them for marijuana busts. If you must punish the offender, revoke a bit of the family’s privacy by investigating whether a family has unhealthy stresses driving the drug use. If we’re serious about “corrections,” the only real way to correct misbehavior is to get to the root cause, which prison does not.

When the best solution to a social problem is treatment, provide treatment. It’s cheaper than courts and prisons, healthier, and more long-lasting. For my money, the state should look at all their laws with an eye to the collateral damage that harsh penalties cause to an offender’s extended community. Is the damage worth it? Sometimes prison is necessary, but often it’s just vindictive.

And for heaven’s sake, start collecting data on the inmates’ children. Bring those children to light. They are our responsibility.


How to Cure Your Daughter’s STD

by Mike S. Adams

Dear Steve:

Thanks for writing me with your concerns about your daughter’s recent visit home from college. I don’t have a daughter but I can understand the concern you have after seeing such dramatic changes in her after just six months at a public university. After all, you didn’t save money for eighteen long years in order to pay someone to teach her to despise the values you taught for, well, eighteen long years.

First of all, I want you to understand that many of the crazy ideas you hear your daughter espousing are commonplace on college campuses. Nonetheless, it must have been shocking for you to hear that she supported Barack Obama in the last election principally because of his ideas about “the redistribution of wealth.” I know you were also disappointed to hear of her sudden opposition to the War on Terror and her sudden embrace of the United Nations. Most of all, I know you are disappointed that she has stopped going to church altogether.

Now that your daughter is not going to church it will be easier to get her to accept other policies based on economic and cultural Marxism. Socialist professors like the fact that average church attendance drops dramatically after just one year of college. God and socialism are simply incompatible. One cannot worship both Jesus Christ and Karl Marx.

But there is good news, Steve. I think I can implement a program that will cure your daughter’s Socialist Teaching Disorder (STD) in just a few short days. In case you were wondering, I define STD as the sudden infatuation with socialism brought on by exposure to pro-socialist ideas without a corresponding exposure to anti-socialist ideas. Although not recognized by the APA, this emotional disorder is running rampant at American universities.

The solution to your daughter’s STD is to be found in your decision to award her a sum of $4000 if she returns from her freshman year with a 3.5 GPA or above. Previously, you explained to me that you decided to do this for two reasons: 1) Your daughter had earned a $4000 scholarship, which meant you had the extra money, and 2) Your only son had gone to college five years ago and flunked out after one year.

Now that your daughter has maintained a 3.6 GPA (so far) you are happy. But you are unhappy that you are about to reward her newfound love of socialism when you had only intended to reward her studiousness. I have a solution that involves three steps. If you follow these steps (in order) we’ll have this little problem cured in no time:

1. When your daughter returns from college in early May (presumably with a GPA over 3.5) I want you to tell her that you lied. Put simply, when she asks about her $4000 just tell her that you never really had any intention of delivering on your promises.

This revelation will, no doubt, cause significant consternation and outrage. But when she protests, simply point out that her choice for president, Barack Obama, also lied to her. Note that his lies about earmarks and line-by-line analysis of the budget will probably end up costing her more than $4000. She might say, “But you’re my father.” If she does, respond by saying “But I’m not your president.” If things get too uncomfortable, just tell her the $4000 promise was technically “last year’s business.”

2. When your daughter has cooled down somewhat from the realization that her father is a confessed liar I want you to strike again. Since your son, now 23, still lives at home it will be possible for you to implement step two in the presence of both children. This step will involve simply taking out your wallet and writing a $2000 check to your son.

This action will, no doubt, cause even more consternation and outrage for your daughter. She may well point out that her brother is unemployed. She may also point out that he has been in rehab twice and that he once punched you in the face while under the influence of drugs. But, when she protests, simply say that it was Barack Obama who taught you to reward failure.

She may well say “But that’s half of the money I was supposed to get.” If so, point out that it is Barack Obama who would like to take other people’s money – at least half, if not more – and use much of it to reward bad behavior. By this time, she will probably hate socialism and the lesson will have saved you a lot of money.

But, just in case the point is not yet made, there is a third step to my plan. And this is where I get actively involved.

3. I’m going to take your daughter and the remaining $2000 - in the form of one hundred $20 bills – to the “hood.” Specifically, I am going to take her to places where crack cocaine is sold here in Wilmington in the middle of the afternoon. This will include grocery stores and actual crack houses. Don’t worry about your daughter’s safety as I will be armed with a .357 magnum loaded with 145-grain silver tipped hollow point bullets. When I approach a crack head I will first ask whether he paid income taxes last year. If he says “no” I will hand him $20.

If your daughter asks me why I give money to people who don’t pay taxes I’ll remind her that this is what President Obama does. Then I’ll ask her if she still believes in “spreading the wealth” without regard to individual merit.

By the end of the afternoon, I can guarantee your daughter will be cured of her STD. Sorry if I sound overly optimistic, Steve. I got my optimism from the same place I got my love of capitalism. I learned it from Ronald Reagan, not Barack Obama.


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Let’s not play standards roulette

Whether it's blind hope that Washington can fix anything, a lack of ideas for reforming our crummy schools, or some other reason entirely, calls for national academic standards are increasingly loud and frequent. And while President Barack Obama stopped short of explicitly advocating for them in his first major education address, there have been several high—profile calls recently by American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, the National Governor's Association and Obama's education secretary, Arne Duncan.

But instituting national standards will not solve the problems facing our schools. Indeed, it would be like playing Russian roulette with our kids — with only one empty chamber.

What's driving this bandwagon? The No Child Left Behind Act is a big part of it. NCLB requires schools to bring all students to math and reading "proficiency" by 2014, but leaves it to states to define what that means. This practically begs states to set weak standards in order to stay out of trouble, and has led to standards that vary markedly from state to state but are almost always very low.

Of course, NCLB isn't designed like this because it yields the best educational results. It's optimal politically. The law is structured to make federal politicians appear both tough on failing schools and dedicated to cherished local control.

But NCLB isn't the only problem. Many people simply don't trust the states, and reasonably so. As the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a longtime national standards supporter, has repeatedly documented, even before NCLB, state standards were all too often light and fluffy, not meaty and rigorous. In 2000, the Institute gave state standards an average grade of C minus, and concluded that only five states combined solid standards with strong accountability.

Like NCLB, politics explains this pitiful performance. As Fordham wrote, "Some people seem quite content to let it [establishing strong standards] take forever. ... That will allow all the standards setters, enforcers, testers, monitors and analysts to maintain full employment, and will enable elected officials to continue to claim that they and their states are fully engaged in standards—based reform."

In light of dismal state and federal track records, why should anyone expect national standards to miraculously avoid crippling politics and end up with anything better than what we've seen so far? No one should. Knowing that only a few states have occasionally gotten standards right, trying to nationalize them would be at best a high—risk game of Russian roulette.

Just think about how education politics works. Because their very livelihoods come from the public schools, the teachers, principals and bureaucrats who are to be held to performance standards exert outsized influence over them, and strongly resist being subjected to tough accountability. Meanwhile, politicians do whatever is easiest for them, trying to be all things to all people while keeping on the good sides of powerful interests such as teacher unions and administrator associations.

Political reality simply offers no support for national standards. Likewise, national standards supporters offer no convincing arguments for their proposal.

Randi Weingarten claims that "the countries that consistently outperform the United States on international assessments all have national standards." But most of the countries that do worse than we do also have national standards, making the correlation between national standards and academic success at best pretty weak.

How about the unreasonableness of states having "50 different goal posts," as was cited by Secretary Duncan? Certainly no child should be legally condemned to a bad school, but the fundamental problem isn't that standards differ. Indeed, since all children are unique, differentiation at the individual level is critical to success. No, the fundamental problem is the "legally condemned" part. Unless their parents can afford private schools on top of taxes, children are forced to attend government schools that, by their very one—size—fits—all nature, stifle specialization and are powerfully inclined to low standards.

The last thing we need are government—driven national standards. We must not play Russian roulette with our kids. Indeed, we need to take the political revolver out of education completely. We need to let parents control education dollars, let autonomous schools freely set their own standards, and allow competition to continuously drive standards higher. We need universal school choice.


Are school trips a thing of the past in Britain?

Now that spring has sprung and the evenings are getting lighter, children may be aching to get outside the classroom. What better way to burn off some of that youthful energy and excitement than on a school trip?

Sadly some teachers no longer share their enthusiasm. New research suggests a fifth of teachers never - or rarely - take children on educational school visits, because of the burden of red tape and the cost to parents during a recession.

The survey had responses from 400 primary and secondary school teachers. It found the majority (57 per cent) arrange excursions only once or twice a year. One in eight teachers undertakes visits only every few years, and one in 10 never does so.

Paul Gilbert, chief executive officer of Education Travel Group, which commissioned the research, said: “Our review of teachers’ opinions found that teachers agree education visits are vital. “They give students a broader understanding and provide a fun, first-hand experience of their subjects as well as facilitating team building and socialising. “But the biggest barrier we found to arranging excursions is now concern about costs for parents – nine out of ten teachers we spoke to said the current economic climate would make it harder to arrange trips in future.”

The survey also discovered that two fifths of teachers were put off school visits because they involved too much paperwork, too much organising and raised fears about litigation should the worst possible scenario happen.

More than a third felt they put a burden on staff, a quarter said there were not enough teachers to take children on trips, 17 per cent were concerned about disciplinary action and 15 per cent worried about accidents. Half of teachers felt they could do more to encourage school trips by helping parents to understand their value.

However it raises the question of whether parental encouragement would revive the fortune of school trips, in the face of such fear and reluctance by teachers.


Monday, March 30, 2009

British Exam regulator finally admits: Science exams are dumbed down

GCSE boards must act immediately to improve the quality of science questions in order to stretch and challenge students, the exam regulator said yesterday. It said that the qualification had been dumbed down, with too many multiple choice papers and superficial questions.

A controversial new GCSE in single science, which was intended to make the subject more relevant to teenagers, raised “significant cause for concerns” about standards, Ofqual said.

Many of the multiple choice questions were too easy because the wrong options given were “too obviously incorrect”, it said. There were also too many “short-answer questions that were fairly limited in their requirements or in the scientific content that they addressed”. The GCSE physics paper had replaced the testing of physics concepts with questions about the advantages and drawbacks of CCTV, mobile phones and the internet, it said. The regulator called for tighter marking criteria to ensure that “only answers deserving of the marks are credited”.

A separate study found a “decline in the standard of performance” in GCSE physics. Papers had got easier because fundamental principles of science were removed from the syllabus.

The reports have reignited a fierce public debate over the nature of science teaching. The new applied single GCSE in the subject, introduced in 2006, aimed to create scientifically literate citizens and ensure that all students got at least a toehold in the discipline by focusing on scientific processes. But purists complain that this approach results in the squeezing out of “proper” science, adding that efforts to make the subject seem relevant and trendy had not attracted more students to it.

Kathleen Tattersall, chairwoman of Ofqual, said: “Our monitoring shows that the revisions to the GCSE science criteria in 2005 have led to a fall in the quality of science assessments.” She added that improvements had been made to exams being set from this year and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) was reviewing the GCSE science criteria for courses starting in 2011. “Science is a vitally important subject and it is essential that these new criteria and specifications should engage and challenge all learners, particularly the most able,” she said.

For coursework completed under teacher supervision, which can represent up to a third of marks, standards were too variable, the regulator said. Exam boards should collaborate to ensure that grades were comparable.

On GCSE physics, Ofqual found a “significant reduction in content” from GCSE exams between 2002 and 2007 so that “fundamental explanations of phenomena were not tested”. It added: “Boyle’s law, the use of a capacitor as a timing device and detailed consideration of the optics of the eye and the projector were also removed. The content that was added tended to be concerned with the social implications of technological applications, rather than physics concepts.”

Candidates were required, for example, to discuss the advantages and drawbacks of CCTV, mobile phones and the internet, which “did not add to the candidates’ knowledge and understanding of physics”.

The Schools Minister, Jim Knight, said he was concerned about the findings and wanted to make sure that the most able students were stretched. He added that the Government was investing in measures to increase the numbers of both specialist science teachers and students who can study the triple individual sciences.

Nick Gibb, the Shadow Schools Minister, said: “This is a terrible indictment of the Government and the QCA at a time when scientific education has never been so economically vital, and it shows why private schools are abandoning the GCSE.”

Mike Cresswell, of the AQA exams board, said he was disappointed that the regulator did not address the inevitable conflict between the need to create a scientifically literate population at the same time as training world-class scientists.

Richard Porte, of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said the report confirmed the society’s findings that brighter students were no longer being stretched by the system and candidates were almost walked through the questions. “No fault lies with students or teachers. It is the system that is at fault and that system requires early, radical surgery,” he said.


AZ: State Supreme Court bans school vouchers

The Arizona Supreme Court on Wednesday declared the state's school-voucher programs unconstitutional because they violate a ban against appropriating public money for private or religious schools. The unanimous decision shuts the door on vouchers in Arizona unless voters agree to a statewide ballot measure to change the state Constitution.

Voucher programs give public-education money to parents to help them pay tuition for their children at private and religious schools. Public support for vouchers across the country is weak, and the court's ruling was not unexpected.

"Some of us just think it's wrong to tax people to pay for private or religious education," said Phoenix attorney Don Peters, who argued against the voucher program before the state Supreme Court. "The public schools are struggling enough, and these programs would take money away from public schools and route it to private schools. We think it's entirely the wrong road to be on. Vouchers could just eviscerate the public schools."

In 2006, Arizona lawmakers created two voucher programs, specifically for disabled students and students living with foster families. A coalition of advocacy groups, including local school-board members, parents and teachers, feared the law opened the door for a much larger voucher program in the future. The coalition immediately challenged the state law in Maricopa County Superior Court. The coalition lost that challenge, but in May 2008, the Arizona Court of Appeals reversed the lower-court decision and called the voucher program unconstitutional.

Andrea Weck is the mother of a 6-year-old daughter with autism and used one of Arizona's voucher programs to send her child to a small, private Tempe academy. Weck said her daughter just wasn't thriving in a public school. "The opportunity created by the scholarship program changed Lexie from the inside out," Weck said.

Vouchers are the most controversial and least successful of school-choice reforms that have swept the country during the past decade. Far more successful reforms include privately operated public schools, known as charters, which are growing rapidly, and education tax credits, which give individuals and corporations dollar-for-dollar tax breaks for donations to private-school scholarship funds. Both charters and tax credits are gaining popularity in Arizona.

Seven states and the District of Columbia have limited voucher programs still operating, mostly for disabled students or in small geographic areas. Voters in California and Utah recently turned down statewide programs. Supreme Courts in Florida and Colorado also declared larger voucher programs unconstitutional.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer called the ruling "heartbreaking" and vowed to work with the Legislature to find a constitutional way to help foster parents and parents with disabled children afford private- and religious-school tuition.

Tom Horne, state superintendent of public instruction, said the decision hurts Arizona's reputation as a leader in the school-choice reform movement. "Nobody knows better than parents what's best for their children, and that's especially true for a child's educational needs," Horne said.

While it deliberated, the Supreme Court agreed to keep the program operating until the end of this school year, but the Legislature had already cut funding for the voucher program. In response to the court's temporary decision, legislative leaders transferred about $3.5 million from another education fund to continue to help parents pay for participating students.

In Wednesday's decision, the court allowed parents to continue to receive tuition money until the end of the current school year. Only 473 students are participating in the program this year.

Other parents, such as Jessie Geroux of Apache Junction, were watching and hoping the decision would go in favor of helping disabled kids attend private schools. Geroux has been going from district to district, looking for the right program for her son and wanted the option of choosing a private school. "(State) money that is supposed to be allocated to a child should be attached to them like a little backpack and follow them to whatever school they go to (private or public)," Geroux said.


Australia: Teachers given the cane go-ahead in some Queensland schools

THE cane is still being wielded at some Queensland schools where parents sign legal waivers to give teachers the power to hit their children. The corporal punishment option is offered at some of the state's fastest-growing independent schools as part of their strict behaviour management strategies. Religious beliefs are used to justify discipline at some schools, The Sunday Mail reports.

With more than 55,000 suspensions handed out at state schools last financial year - a jump of more than 20 per cent in two years - Independent Schools Queensland has reported growing support for private schools catering for the "disengaged and at-risk" school sector.

Bundaberg Christian College principal Mark Bensley said corporal punishment had become a drawcard for some parents because of a "lack of boundaries" at other schools. "A growing number of parents come to our school and say the school got their attention because it uses the paddle," Mr Bensley said. "If they choose to not sign it (the waiver), they are not refused enrolment. But a very significant majority of parents sign because they like that we understand the need for boundaries, fairness and consistency." Mr Bensley said the plastic paddle - shaped like a table-tennis bat - was a "last resort" when suspensions, detentions and warnings had failed.

The school, which has 600 students in Prep to Year 12, gave the paddle 10 times last year and seven times in 2007, he said. "I would never use the paddle unless we have spoken to both parents and have their blessing for it to be used," Mr Bensley said. "It is always administered in a loving way. In fact, we pray with them afterwards."

Corporal punishment was banned in state schools in 1995 by a decision of Cabinet but was not written into law. Parents, teachers or guardians are allowed to use "reasonable force" in disciplining children. The 109-year-old law was applied in a case involving a Gold Coast high school teacher last year who was acquitted on an assault charge after he admitted slapping a Year 8 student.

But State Attorney-General Cameron Dick warned that Section 208 of the law that relates to the matter was "by no means a carte blanche authority for teachers to use physical force to manage students".

Colin Krueger, principal of Mueller College at Rothwell on Brisbane's northern outskirts, said the school used the cane at the request of parents. Parents are asked to sign a consent form as part of enrolment which gives teachers the power to use "firm but fair" discipline "administered in a spirit of love according to Proverbs 13.24, 22:6 and 22:15", which promote the "rod of discipline" to "correct the foolishness raging in every child". Mr Krueger, principal of the school for 19 years, said using the cane on a child "depended on the circumstances". "If kids are persistent and we have tried every other avenue, it will be administered if parents request it. We haven't used it for a couple of years," he said. "I've had many kids come back to me and say 'Thank you for giving me the cane'."


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Obama’s education “reforms”

In his first big education speech earlier this month, President Barack Obama tried to show that he is a reformer, and not a shill for the education special interests that dominate the Democratic Party. While he had a few worthwhile ideas, others sounded good until one turned to the details.

“What’s required is not simply new investments, but new reforms,” President Obama told the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Some of his reform ideas did address important needs, such as longitudinal student performance data from “childhood through college.” He rightly pointed out that such data can “tell us which students had which teacher so we can assess what’s working and what’s not.” The president also recognized the disparity among state academic content standards. He noted that students in states with weak standards may receive high marks even though these same students would fail in states with tough standards. “The solutions to low test scores is not lowering standards,” he observed, “it’s tougher, clearer standards.” When it came to details and his overall vision, however, President Obama’s call for reform fell short.

Although he pushed for tougher academic standards, the president also said he wanted standards and assessments that measure “21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking and entrepreneurship and creativity.” So-called “21st century skills,” however, is a buzz phrase that liberal educators use to spruce up the failed teaching methodologies they have advocated for decades, such as having students discover knowledge on their own, with little input from teachers.

John Richard Schrock, biology education professor at Emporia State University in Kansas, has pointed out that a number of school districts in his state have adopted the 21st century skills agenda. “The teachers are not to speak for more than a few minutes each class, and then only to give directions,” professor Schrock says. “Students are to work on projects to learn all science concepts on their own.” Overwhelming quantitative research confirms that such methods leave students deficient in core basic skills and knowledge.

In his speech, President Obama said that the “first pillar” of his reform plan is to increase spending on government preschool efforts. That’s why, he said, he’s funneling billions of dollars more into the federal Head Start and Early Head Start early childhood programs. Yet, a 2001 study by a federal researcher found that participation in Head Start “does not have long-term benefits.” In addition, in Oklahoma and Georgia, which both offer universal government preschool, student performance has been disappointing.

The president also wants to change teacher pay and retention practices. In 150 pilot school districts, he wants to institute teacher pay-for-performance schemes where teacher pay will be linked to improved student performance. While this idea sounds great, it is hugely suspicious that the giant National Education Association teachers union, an implacable foe of merit pay, says it can support Mr. Obama’s plan. Further, 150 school districts is a proverbial drop in the bucket. There are approximately 1,000 school districts in California alone. Most parents and students will have to wait a long time for teachers to focus more on student achievement.

President Obama says that if low-performing teachers don’t improve, “there’s no excuse for allowing that person to continue teaching.” However, rules that protect incompetent teachers are negotiated at the local school district level. Mr. Obama does not say how he would change local union contracts to achieve his goal. The unfortunate reality is that he simply cannot.

President Obama has good intentions but his education agenda will fall short of its goals because it is based on a purely government-focused vision. His tweaking efforts divert attention from the big-picture issue that the government school system itself is inherently and irretrievably flawed and that all children have a right to an immediate escape ticket in the form of a voucher or similar school-choice option.

President Obama attended private school and sends his own children to a private school, but in his education speech he again opposed and denigrated vouchers that would allow other children the same opportunities that he and his family have had. The new president thus demonstrates that, for all his reformist rhetoric, he is no true reformer.


Australia: Trial aims to tame bad behaviour in classroom

BASIC etiquette is being taught to parents and children in a prep school trial aimed at tackling bad behaviour and improving academic success. It follows a rise in violent behaviour in prep classes, with Education Queensland introducing suspensions for out-of-control four and five-year-olds to protect teachers and fellow students from pupil assaults.

While unions and school associations have called for full-time teacher aides to stem the violence, others have urged better parenting and social support, which a trial called STEP -- Supporting the Transition for Entry to Prep -- is trying to address.

Participants in STEP, an extension of Mission Australia's and Griffith University's crime prevention Pathways to Prevention Project -- say it has already transformed children's behaviour. STEP co-founder Dr Kate Freiberg said the program targeted lower socio-economic areas where parents with time and financial pressures were least likely to teach their children the necessary skills for a smooth school transition. "The idea is when kids are growing up in tough times of certain circumstances it can constrain and limit their social and emotional development and they start school behind the eight ball," Dr Freiberg said.

She said the program tried to engage parents and children in education while teaching them basic skills such as the importance of discipline and reading. "It can be simple things like not being able to sit and listen and pay attention or know how to participate in a group setting," Dr Freiberg said. "Just really basic things like packing lunch boxes and what the teachers are going to be asking you when you get there and how it is important to sit and listen to what the teacher says and skills for getting along with other kids."

Mother-of-eight, Fua-laau Faolua said she now understood how important it was to read to her children and be involved in their homework. The program also has taught her how to use "time out" and speak at her children's level, which has turned daughter Litarina's behaviour around. Litarina now eagerly attends Durack State School Prep.