Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Universal Pre-K Scam

by John Stossel

Did you go to preschool? When I was growing up, few kids did. But now there is a new movement that says every child in America should have a chance to start school before kindergarten -- at taxpayer expense. It's part of President Obama's massive spending plans. His "stimulus" bill includes an Early Learning Challenge Grant to encourage states to "Develop a cutting-edge plan to raise the quality of your early learning programs"

It's a popular idea. Sixty-seven percent of Americans favor universal pre-K funded by the government. But I doubt that most Americans have thought it through. Mia Levi has. She told me, "This whole thing is a scam." Levi runs six preschools. I thought she'd favor the program, since she'd collect easy money from the government. "I don't want to have to answer to the government," she said in my ABC special "Bailouts and Bull." "Our programs are so far superior."

Universal pre-K would create a single standard for preschools, but why is that a good thing? Why should we think there is one way to do preschool and that government experts know what it is? President Obama doesn't acknowledge what Nobel economist F. A. Hayek taught us: Competition is a discovery process.

Levi has to work hard to improve her schools because she knows that, unlike with government services, parents have options. "If we didn't do our job, families would go down the street to the next school. Public schools aren't doing their job, and they get to just keep opening their doors. To say that they are the ones to define ... quality is laughable."

As she says, the pre-K movement has the whiff of scam about it. Most American kids already attend preschool. Parents pay for it themselves, and those who can't afford it can get government subsidies or use free programs like Head Start. But under universal pre-K, taxpayers would pay for every child. "It's a flagrant waste of money," Levi said. "It's as if I went shopping for myself because I needed a dress for a party and I bought a dress for everybody else whether they needed it or not."

But we keep hearing that investment in pre-K will pay off later. Obama says, "For every dollar we invest in these programs, we get nearly $10 back in reduced welfare rolls, fewer health costs and less crime." Those glowing statistics come from tiny studies (58 children) of places like Michigan's Perry Preschool. But those low-income, low-IQ kids got much more than preschool, including after-school tutoring, and their moms and dads got parenting classes. Lisa Snell, education director of the Reason Foundation, says you can't expect similar results with middle- and higher income children.

In addition, lots of studies say the preschool effect fades. Head Start is revered for raising test scores, but studies show that by grades 3 or 4 those gains vanish. "They can't tell the difference between the kids that went to Head Start and the kids who didn't," Snell says. "When they compared them to the kids that are disadvantaged that didn't go to Head Start, they can't tell from their test scores which kids had the treatment of Head Start."

There's still another flaw in the program. Some studies have found that too much school may lead to disruptive and aggressive behavior. Libby Doggett, who leads one of the biggest pre-K advocacy groups, concedes that, but claims that "high-quality" government programs benefit children. She said Oklahoma and Georgia have them already. But those states, despite spending billions of tax dollars on preschool for the past 10 years, have not shown impressive results. Oklahoma's students lost ground to kids from other states.

Doggett replied: "We don't want to just focus on IQ scores. We want to look at how children are doing in their social and emotional, their non-cognitive development." Please. When the huge government program fails to raise scores, the central planners promise it will help the kids socially? Give me a break.


Rigid British education bureaucracy produces crazy results

Boy, 4, refused place at village school where his family has been taught since his great-great-great grandfather built it

A boy of four has been has been told he cannot go to his village school - even though it was built by his great-great-great grandfather and has taught every generation of his family. When he starts school in September, Jamie Turner will not have a place in the primary just 150 yards from home but will have to attend another in a village two miles away. Priority goes to children who have siblings at the school - but Jamie's brother Joshua, 11, will be leaving when the new term starts.

Littledean C of E Primary was built in 1852 by their great-great-great grandfather, stonemason William Smith, and still carries a plaque bearing his name. Jamie currently attends the nursery which is housed in the school building.

His furious mother Leigh, 31, a care assistant, today attacked Gloucestershire County Council, which is giving places at the school to children from nearby Cinderford even though that village has three primaries of its own. She said: 'It's all wrong - the system has ruled that Jamie can't go to a school around the corner from his home yet they are bringing in children from outside the area. 'His great-great-great grandfather built the school and our family have always gone there, yet the majority of the children they've taken in are from Cinderford, not Littledean. They should give priority to local families.'

Joshua and elder sibling Ashleigh, 13, have both attended the school - as has every generation of their family since the 1800s. Mrs Turner added: 'The whole family is really upset. Jamie's quite shy and still cuddles my leg when I drop him off at nursery so he'd be lost if we tried to make him go to another school.' Father Gary, 30, a self-employed taxi driver, added: 'There has been a member of Jamie's family at that school since 1852 - so it baffles me that he has been rejected. 'If this is the system then the system needs to be changed - it's a total disgrace.' Jamie's grandfather David Annetts called it situation 'an outrage' and said: 'I have aunties and uncles in their 90s who went to that school.'

The Turners have appealed against the decision and headteacher Val Huggett has contacted Gloucestershire County Council to voice her support for the family. But Sam Budd, the council's senior access manager, said the authority had no choice but to refuse Jamie admission because it had received 19 first preferences for Littledean's 15 places - and 15 of them were from families with children already there.

'While we sympathise with Ms Turner, the county council has to abide by the school's admission criteria,' Mr Budd said. 'Jamie has been offered a place at Forest View Primary, which is the nearest school with free places.' The only option for children in Jamie's position is to go on a waiting list in case places became available after all, he added.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Graduate School Admissions, Race, And The White Status Game

By Steve Sailer

Elite schools encourage black ambition by letting in poorly qualified black students -- and then fail heaps of them. Is that kind to blacks?

All across the country, applicants to graduate and professional schools have been receiving fat letters of acceptance or thin letters of rejection. They have a right to feel nervous. They’ve sweated through college and through rigorous standardized exams, which they hope will open the door to their chosen professions. But the prestigious postgrad programs are ruthless about selecting the best candidates (at least if they are white or Asian). So, applicants obsess over whether their 165 LSATK-12 education or 680 GMAT is good enough to get in.

But, paradoxically, the faculty of the top schools seldom preaches what they practice when it comes to K-12 education or immigration. They are fiercely selectionist about who they let in to their institutions. Yet they lecture American citizens about how we should be lax about whom we let in to our country.

There is much that can be learned from the study of average test scores from the major postgrad exams. The idiosyncratic scoring systems do make them seem impenetrable to outsiders, but fortunately, they are all graded on the bell curve, so I’ve come up with a handy table that makes them easy to understand.

I’ve accumulated recent data on the average scores by race for five exams: the GRE for grad school, the LSAT for law school, the MCAT for medical school, the GMAT for business school, and the DAT for dental school.

To make all the numbers comprehensible, I’ve converted them to show where the mean for each race would fall in percentile terms relative to the distribution of scores among non-Hispanic white Americans. Most of us have some sense of what the distribution of talent is among whites —political correctness doesn’t demand we avert our eyes when it comes to whites— so I’ll use whites as benchmarks:

Thus, for example, on the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), the gatekeeper for the M.B.A. degree, the mean score for whites falls, by definition, at the 50th percentile of the white distribution of scores. The mean score for black test-takers would rank at the 13th percentile among whites. Asians average a little better than the typical white, scoring at the 55th percentile.

Most of these tests break out separate nationalities among Hispanics. Thus, my table has columns both for “Total Hispanics” (27th percentile on the GMAT) and “Mexican-Americans” (24th percentile). In the 2000 Census, Mexicans made up 58 percent of the Total Hispanic population.

I listed the subtest scores for the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) because the sources didn’t aggregate them.

Note that language is a surprisingly small problem for Hispanics —they score no worse on the GRE Verbal subtest than on the GRE Quantitative, and only moderately worse on Verbal portion of the MCAT. Why? Because Hispanics who have problems with English generally don’t finish college, or even high school.

As you’ll note, the black average scores are consistently low across all five tests, plus the listed subtests. The scores for Asian Americans are generally good, but they bounce around depending upon the balance of verbal vs. quantitative / visual questions. The Total Hispanic and Mexican-American scores are dependably mediocre —better than blacks, worse than whites.

If we look at how many people of each group take the test, we can understand the variations in average score a little better.

Thus, for example, whites, who in 2007 made up 61.5 percent of the 20-24-year-old cohort, took 68.7 percent of the GMATs. Blacks took the GMAT at a per capita rate just under half (49 percent) of the white rate. Asians are more than twice (205 percent) as likely as whites to sit the GMAT. Mexicans are only a fifth (18 per cent) as likely.

(If you are wondering why America’s white elites aren’t more worried about their kids facing competition from the huge number of Mexican immigrants they’ve let in, this educational indolence is one answer—at the highest levels of American society, Mexican-Americans just aren’t much competition.)

We are often lectured about how our racist society crushes the fragile self-esteem of African Americans. But this combination of average score and sample size data suggests that blacks tend to have inflated ambitions, especially compared to the under-ambitious Mexican American population.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard a poor black child interviewed on TV say “I want to be a doctor or a lawyer when I grow up” while the television personality nods encouragingly. But it’s many more times than I’ve heard a poor black child say, “I want to own my own carpet-cleaning business when I grow up”.

Consider the Law School Admission Test. Blacks made up a sizable 10.3 percent of LSAT-takers in 2006, while Mexican-Americans comprised only 1.6 percent, barely up from 1.1 percent way back in 1985. This large number of black law school hopefuls suffered from diminishing marginal returns: their mean score equated to just the 12th percentile among white test-takers.

In contrast, Mexican Americans scored at the semi-respectable 29th percentile among white. That was because only an elite few out of their ranks dared take the LSAT at all. If more Mexicans had tried it, their average would likely have been lower.

What nobody tells those black children is that even if you get into medical school or law school, you still have to pass a professional licensing exam when you get out.

Data gathered by Richard Sanders of the UCLA Law School shows that 53% of the black students who enter law school fail to qualify to become lawyers, versus 24% of white students. About 40 percent of black law school graduates (many of whom will have taken out crushing loans to pay three years of tuition) never pass the bar exam, compared to 15 percent of whites. Some will also waste additional years working dead-end day jobs while paying to take bar exam review courses at night, before finally giving up in despair.

In effect, the legal establishment is luring a sizable number of the black race's more promising young people (not the very best and brightest blacks, but well above average African Americans) into a career cul-de-sac. That warm and fuzzy feeling that liberals get from "diversity" comes with very real human costs.

You’ll notice that blacks take all five tests at relatively similar rates, while Asians specialize in the medical professions and tend to avoid grad school (probably because it prepares for generally lower paying careers). In a diverse society, it’s natural for racial groups to specialize in certain occupations the way Asians do. Yet, blacks don’t. One reason for that: blacks are counted as “diverse” for affirmative action purposes, while Asians generally aren’t. The grad schools’ institutional hunger for black students means that blacks aren’t allowed to develop ethnic specialties.

You might think, for instance, that blacks would be more inclined to take the DAT to try to get into dental school than the MCAT for medical school. After all— and this is not intended as an insult to dentists: the DAT User’s Manual testifies to the enormous effort the American Dental Association has put into making the DAT an extremely rigorous 4.5 hour-long test —studying one part of the body is surely less daunting than studying all of it.

But instead, blacks are relatively more likely to take the MCAT (where they do very badly: about the 11th percentile) than the DAT (where they face somewhat less competition and score at the 16th percentile).

Yet what would be the reaction of American Association of Medical Colleges and the American Medical Association if a healthy trend developed in which blacks focused more on dental than medical school?

A national crisis would be declared! The medical community would be instructed to mobilize its vast resources to fight off the challenge from dentists for precious diverse students! Bidding wars for blacks would get even more flagrant! And the Law School Admission Council is probably even crazier for diversity than the medical colleges.

In short, none of these powerful institutions will allow blacks to develop their own specialties. All of them compete against each other for scarce black talent. This is not because they care about blacks, because (as we’ve seen) many of blacks are burned out by being mis-selected.

Many blacks might be better off going to business school than to law or medical school because you don’t have to pass a licensing exam afterwards. You just get your diploma and put “M.B.A.” on your resume. (How much that’s worth is, however, another question altogether.)

It’s just another example of the intra-white status game. To adapt what I wrote some time ago: what white admissions officers in grad schools care about “is achieving social superiority over other whites by demonstrating their exquisite racial sensitivity and their aristocratic insouciance about any competitive threats posed by racial preferences.” Our culture doesn’t give practical advice to young blacks—because it would be “racist”.

SOURCE (See the original for links, graphics etc.)

Now banned on campus: Bottled water

Originally published in The Union Leader There is a new “sin” industry on college campuses. It’s not beer, fast food or tobacco. It’s water! Universities around the nation have begun to deny students the option to drink bottled water, removing it from vending machines and campus stores.

Why? They are following the advice of environmental activist groups that say students should “drink responsibly” — which to them means tap water. Drinking bottled water is supposedly wasteful because you get basically the same thing from a tap. Yet their claims don’t hold water, and surely don’t warrant this silly prohibition.

At the extreme is Washington University in St. Louis, MO. As part of its “Tap It” campaign, the school took a symbolic step in promoting sustainability, according to student body representative, Kady McFadden. This “step” basically banned bottled water from campus stores and vending machines, except where sales must continue until bottled water contracts expire.

These actions ignore the important reasons why some people choose bottled water. Among them is predictable quality. Tap water, on the other hand, periodically experiences quality problems that cause governments issue health alerts.

In the spring of 2008, Penn State — a campus considering prohibitions on bottled water — declared a tap water health advisory, calling students to boil water or drink bottled water. Fortunately, it was eventually determined that the water was OK. Such incidents reveal that overreliance on tap water doesn’t make sense and why people appreciate other options.

Even places that claim to have exceptional tap water — such as New York City — experience problems. New York’s Columbia/New York Presbyterian Hospital has provided bottled water to its patients for drinking and brushing teeth since 2005 after two patients died from Legionnaire’s disease which transmitted via city tap water. Because tap water must travel through pipes, it can develop such quality problems along the way.

In addition to safety issues, piped water can suffer flavor defects from contaminants found in pipes, disinfectants, or from the water source. Some sources, such as the Potomac River next to Washington D.C., are home to species of algae that periodically impact tap water flavor.

This is not to suggest that most tap water isn’t generally pretty safe. The United States has some of the best quality tap water in the world. However, it is not correct for environmentalists to deny the unique challenges and quality differences that tap water possesses. Nor is it fair to deny students and other consumers the option to pick a product with fewer such issues or one they simply like better.

In fact, bottled water delivers consistent results. Seventy five percent of bottled water is drawn from non-municipal sources, such as springs and aquifers, which provide water on a sustainable long-term basis. Many of these sources have supplied quality water for decades. Other distributors purify municipal water, providing a higher quality product than simply opening the tap, and the packaging ensures the quality is maintained during delivery.

Still opponents of bottled water argue that plastic bottles have been the source of excessive waste. Yet the bottles contribute less than 0.3 percent of solid waste, which is managed safely via recycling and landfilling.

This debate over bottled water has taken calls for “dry” campuses to a whole new level! Many people desire their water will taste just as sweet or crisp as the last time they bought it. And why not? There is no good reason why anyone else should deprive them access to those products—on campus or anywhere else.


Failing Jewish school bounces back after emphasizing religious standards

AN Orthodox Jewish primary school has achieved some of the best results in the country despite living with the threat of closure after failing an Ofsted inspection.

Pardes House in Finchley ensured every boy who took national tests in English, maths and science last year achieved the Government's target Level 4 grade in all three subjects. Many scored better than expected, given their social backgrounds and academic records, placing the school top of the league for Barnet, and 13th out of 1,600 primaries in London. It was a remarkable change for the school, which had been under Ofsted's "special measures" since a failed report in October 2006.

Robert Leach, the 34-year-old head, said inspectors were critical of poor standards of behaviour and teachers "not doing their job".

"Classroom management was just totally inadequate. There was no respect," he said.

The school took a radical approach, changing 80 per cent of its staff and focusing on reinforcing its religious ethos and standards of behaviour in the belief everything else would follow.


Thursday, April 09, 2009

Democrats and Poor Kids

Sitting on evidence of voucher success, and the battle of New York

Education Secretary Arne Duncan did a public service last week when he visited New York City and spoke up for charter schools and mayoral control of education. That was the reformer talking. The status quo Mr. Duncan was on display last month when he let Congress kill a District of Columbia voucher program even as he was sitting on evidence of its success.

In New York City with its 1.1 million students, mayoral control has resulted in better test scores and graduation rates, while expanding charter schools, which means more and better education choices for low-income families. But mayoral control expires in June unless state lawmakers renew it, and the United Federation of Teachers is working with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to weaken or kill it.

President Obama's stimulus is sending some $100 billion to the nation's school districts. What will he demand in return? The state budget passed by the New York legislature last week freezes funding for charters but increases it by more that $400 million for other public schools. Perhaps a visit to a charter school in Harlem would help Mr. Obama honor his reform pledge. "I'm looking at the data here in front of me," Mr. Duncan told the New York Post. "Graduation rates are up. Test scores are up. Teacher salaries are up. Social promotion was eliminated. Dramatically increasing parental choice. That's real progress."

Mr. Duncan's help in New York is in stark contrast to his department's decision to sit on a performance review of the D.C. voucher program while Congress debated its future in March. The latest annual evaluation was finally released Friday, and it shows measurable academic gains. The Opportunity Scholarship Program provides $7,500 vouchers to 1,700 low-income families in D.C. to send their children to private schools. Ninety-nine percent of the children are black or Hispanic, and there are more than four applicants for each scholarship.

The 2008 report demonstrated progress among certain subgroups of children but not everyone. This year's report shows statistically significant academic gains for the entire voucher-receiving population. Children attending private schools with the aid of the scholarships are reading nearly a half-grade ahead of their peers who did not receive vouchers. Voucher recipients are doing no better in math but they're doing no worse. Which means that no voucher participant is in worse academic shape than before, and many students are much better off.

"There are transition difficulties, a culture shock upon entering a school where you're expected to pay attention, learn, do homework," says Jay Greene, an education scholar at the Manhattan Institute. "But these results fit a pattern that we've seen in other evaluations of vouchers. Benefits compound over time."

It's bad enough that Democrats are killing a program that parents love and is closing the achievement gap between poor minorities and whites. But as scandalous is that the Education Department almost certainly knew the results of this evaluation for months.

Voucher recipients were tested last spring. The scores were analyzed in the late summer and early fall, and in November preliminary results were presented to a team of advisers who work with the Education Department to produce the annual evaluation. Since Education officials are intimately involved in this process, they had to know what was in this evaluation even as Democrats passed (and Mr. Obama signed) language that ends the program after next year.

Opponents of school choice for poor children have long claimed they'd support vouchers if there was evidence that they work. While running for President last year, Mr. Obama told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that if he saw more proof that they were successful, he would "not allow my predisposition to stand in the way of making sure that our kids can learn . . . You do what works for the kids." Except, apparently, when what works is opposed by unions.

Mr. Duncan's office spurned our repeated calls and emails asking what and when he and his aides knew about these results. We do know the Administration prohibited anyone involved with the evaluation from discussing it publicly. You'd think we were talking about nuclear secrets, not about a taxpayer-funded pilot program. A reasonable conclusion is that Mr. Duncan's department didn't want proof of voucher success to interfere with Senator Dick Durbin's campaign to kill vouchers at the behest of the teachers unions.

The decision to let 1,700 poor kids get tossed from private schools is a moral disgrace. It also exposes the ugly politics that lies beneath union and liberal efforts across the country to undermine mayoral control, charter schools, vouchers or any reform that threatens their monopoly over public education dollars and jobs. The Sheldon Silver-Dick Durbin Democrats aren't worried that school choice doesn't work. They're worried that it does, and if Messrs. Obama and Duncan want to succeed as reformers they need to say so consistently.


British teachers targeted in their own homes by pupils, say union delegates

More results from the destruction of discipline by Britain's Left

Teachers are being intimidated in their own homes by unruly pupils, a union has claimed. One teacher returned from work to find the word “bitch” painted across her garden wall. Another found that his car had been scratched with a key. A third had 17 windows smashed at her home, while a fourth received a series of late-night obscene calls.

These events are just a snapshot of a much bigger picture of intimidation and damage to property endured by teachers daily, members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers heard at their annual conference in Liverpool.

Even when they are on school premises, teachers cannot be sure that their property is safe. In the past year the union has received 146 claims about malicious damage to property and 69 claims of damage to vehicles.

Maxine Bradshaw, a teacher from North Wales, told the conference that pupils felt that they could get away with anything. “Parents and teachers feel powerless to discipline children for fear of repercussions or, worse still, prosecution,” she said.

Even when police did get involved with cases of vandalism, it was often a waste of time, she said.

When her car was damaged by pupils from another school she was offered restorative justice — in which perpetrators meet the victims to make amends. But the youngsters “appeared to feel no remorse” and offered an insincere apology, she said.

Ian Martin, from Bristol, said that he was aware of staff facing knife threats. On one occasion the knife had been made from copper in a workshop. In another incident a former student drove to a college and fired an airgun at pupils and staff, he said.

“A member of staff teaching 16 and 17-year-olds who had recently returned to work following a triple heart bypass was subjected to a student threatening to shoot him and students,” Mr Martin said.

Ms Bradshaw said that schools should follow the policy of many other public buildings with display notices indicating that they will operate a “zero tolerance” policy towards anyone who is violent or abusive to staff.

Although violence and abusive behaviour among pupils are commonplace in many schools, teachers are given very little training in how to respond.

Wendy Hardy, a teacher in Derby who works with excluded pupils and those at risk of exclusion, said that trainee teachers were offered just one hour and fifteen minutes’ training, during three or four years of study, on how to handle challenging behaviour.

A recent survey by the union found that challenging behaviour was one of the main reasons why one in five teachers leave the profession in the first five years of their careers.

But Irene Baker, a delegate from Sefton, Merseyside, said that schools were partly to blame. Pupils knew that they could get away with bad behaviour because the worst thing that they face is a talking-to. This would leave pupils little able to cope with the world once they left school and were forced to accept the consequences of their actions, she said.

Delegates warned of creeping state censorship over a clause in the guidance to the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill that would give ministers the legal power to control the content of exams. Teresa Dawes, an English teacher from Berkshire, said that the move was “chilling and frightening”. Last year a group of MPs put pressure on Britain’s biggest exam board to remove a poem by Carol Ann Duffy, Education for Leisure, from the GCSE syllabus because it refers to knife crime.


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Australia: Shocking Sex Ed Curriculum

(Queensland, Australia) Associate Professor Anne Mitchell of La Trobe University created a sex education website which has shocked parents despite being endorsed by government overseers at Education Queensland.
PRIMARY school students are being told abortion can be "a relief" and hormones make you "feel sexy" on a website endorsed by Education Queensland.

Outraged parent groups are demanding the State Government immediately withdraw its endorsement, warning the website is inappropriate and even dangerous for pre-teens. But educators argue it is a valuable, fun tool that helps children entering their teens learn about their bodies.

The controversial site,, has been approved as a student resource for Queensland Year 7 classes.

Set up by La Trobe University, it uses cartoons to tell 10 to 12-year-olds why certain hormones give them "sexy thoughts" and start making them "interested in sex".

It asks students if they think "a six-inch penis is normal" and if they believe "13 is too young to have a baby".

Students are told it can be a relief if a woman has a termination.

Queensland Council of Parents and Citizens Associations president Margaret Black yesterday sought a meeting with Education Queensland's head of curriculum.

"We can understand that children will ask questions, however the answers on the website are far too detailed, not tasteful and are too advanced for primary students," Ms Black said.
Not tasteful, eh? I'll say. I'll also say it's ironic that the some of the same people who complain about the moral decay of contemporary youth are endorsing the seemingly "let's teach immorality to 10-year-olds" website.

The teachers union president and a spokesperson for Education Queensland said that individual teachers should assure that the sex curriculum is suitable for their classes.
Revealing situation in NYC: 39,000 applicants for 8,500 charter spots

The teachers' unions must be grinding their teeth

Applications to the city's charter schools have surged to new heights -- more than doubling from 18,672 last year to 39,200. The interest has led at least one school, Democracy Preparatory Charter School in Harlem, to tout its acceptance rate of 100 middle-school students out of 1,500 applicants as more competitive than Harvard's.

"Whatever one may say about charter schools, the one fact that can't be denied is that parents are clearly voting with their feet," said James Merriman, CEO of the New York Center for Charter School Excellence, which released the figures.

The report comes as most charters begin holding lotteries for 8,500 open seats this week -- including the Super Tuesday of lotteries that will take place tomorrow, when 29 schools draw from their lists of applicants.

Among the parents vying for open charter-school seats are Cherida Nurse, of Crown Heights, whose daughter, Rebecca, has been attending traditional schools through fourth grade. "From what I'm hearing, the standards seem to be very, very high [at charter schools]. They expect a lot from the kids," said Nurse.

At least 99 charters will be operating this fall.


UK: 40% of teachers abused by parents, 25% attacked by students

The methodology of the survey behind this report was very slapdash so the figures below should not be taken as exact. That the picture is broadly accurate is however undoubted

Four in 10 teachers have faced verbal or physical aggression from a pupil's parent or guardian, according to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. And of the 1,000 teachers surveyed, a quarter said a pupil had attacked them. Over a third of teachers in primary schools said they had experienced physical aggression, compared with 20% in secondary schools.

The government says teachers have sufficient means at their disposal to punish disruptive pupils.

Almost 60% of those questioned for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' survey thought pupil behaviour had worsened during the past five years. The survey questioned over 1,000 teachers from primary and secondary schools. The responses appear to suggest that bad behaviour is not the preserve of secondary schools.

One teacher at a primary school in England said: "A six-year-old completely trashed the staff room, put a knife through a computer screen, attacked staff and we had to call the police. "Another six-year-old attacked staff and pupils with the teacher's scissors."

Another teacher said: "I and other members of staff were physically assaulted daily by a five-year-old (including head-butting, punching). "He was taken to the head to 'calm down' then brought back to apologise. "It became a vicious circle. I was off sick as a result. "People often underestimate that young children can be as violent and intimidating as the older ones."

Around one third of teachers surveyed said that they had lost confidence as a result of the behaviour they had faced. But most teachers (90%) reported that "disruptive behaviour" constituted talking in class.

"Persistent low-level rudeness and disruption seems to have become a fact of life in education today and no longer raises eyebrows or seems to merit special attention," said Dr Ian Lancaster, a secondary school teacher from Cheshire.

Teachers will discuss the problem at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' conference next week. Last year it emerged that more than 300 pupils a day were being temporarily, rather than permanently, excluded for violent conduct. A similar survey by ATL two years ago suggested half of teachers knew another who had been driven out of the profession by violent conduct.

ATL general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said it was "shocking that over a third of teaching staff have experienced aggression from students' parents or guardians". "ATL firmly believes no member of staff should be subjected to violent behaviour by either students or parents. "Parents should be acting as good role models by supporting staff and helping them create a more positive learning environment for their children."

The government said it was right that head teachers were using short, sharp shocks as a punishment.


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Hispanics travel rough road to higher education

Ethnic group is the fastest growing, but the least likely to enroll in college

The future of Texas is sitting in room 318 at Austin High School, and right now, it could go either way. Students in the after-school program — Hispanic and from low-income families, the group least likely to enroll in college — are optimistic. But who knows?

“I hope to go,” says Neri Gamez, 17, a high school junior who dreams of being a doctor. Gamez has an advantage: She is in a program run by the Center for Mexican-American Studies at the University of Houston, designed to help Hispanic students enter college and, once there, earn a degree. Academic Achievers is among dozens of programs that address one of the state’s most intractable education problems.

But Hispanics, the state’s fastest-growing ethnic group, have fallen behind in some key areas, and efforts to change that remain piecemeal:

• Statewide, 68 percent of Hispanics graduate from high school within four years, 10 points below the overall rate.

• Just 42.5 percent of Hispanics who graduated from high school in 2007 enrolled in college or a technical training program the following fall, compared with 45.3 percent of black students and 57.5 percent of white students.

• Texas is “well below target” in raising the number of Hispanics in college, according to a 2008 report by the Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Enrollment of both white and black students was “somewhat above target.” And there are no consequences for schools that don’t raise Hispanic enrollment.

“The good news is, there’s a state goal,” said Paul Ruiz, co-founder and senior advisor to the Education Trust, a national group that advocates for at-risk students. “The bad news is, the institutions don’t get it. They set goals for Latino kids at about half the rate the state says we need.”

The issue is complicated by the rapid growth of the Hispanic population; about 36 percent of the Texas population is Hispanic. “We’ve made progress,” said Raymund Paredes, higher education commissioner for Texas. “Our challenge is, we started so far behind, and the Latino population is growing so fast.” Unless the numbers change, the state will be unable to field a well-educated work force. “The Hispanic community is key to the economic future of Texas,” Paredes said.

The state plan, known as Closing the Gaps, began in 2000 with the goal of increasing college enrollment to 5.7 percent of the population by 2015. That would raise college-going rates to the national average. Over the past eight years, overall enrollment has edged up to 5.3 percent from 5 percent. For Hispanics, it’s up to 3.9 percent from 3.7 percent.

More than 1.2 million Texans enrolled in a two- or four-year college or technical school last fall; state goals call for that to reach 1.6 million by 2015. The Coordinating Board’s own estimates suggest it will fall short by 300,000 students.

Gamez, a student at Austin High School, said she understands why so many of her peers don’t go on to college. “They may have to work,” she said. “And once they get a taste of the money, they may decide to skip college.” Often, no one in their family has attended college, so they don’t know the ropes...

The University of Texas system touts its diversity, noting that in 2008, Hispanic enrollment was about equal to that of white students, and several campuses have been designated as among the nation’s top in awarding degrees to Hispanics. But most Hispanic enrollment is concentrated at the system’s border schools, including UT-Pan American (86 percent), UT-Brownsville (91 percent) and UT-El Paso (75 percent). At UT-Austin, 16 percent of students are Hispanic; at UT-Dallas, it’s 9 percent.

About 20 percent of UH students are Hispanic, up only slightly over the last five years. (About 40 percent of Harris County residents are Hispanic.) But that was still enough to earn a place among the top 20 colleges and universities awarding degrees to Hispanic students, according to The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education magazine. The numbers are slightly higher at the University of Houston-Downtown, which has its own outreach programs. About 36 percent of students there are Hispanic.


UK: Three Rs courses late in life “ineffective”

Adult basic skills courses have been a waste of millions of pounds, an educationalist will tell a conference. Professor Anna Vignoles, from the Institute of Education, believes that good basic skills must be learned early to improve attainment later in life.

The government spent £995m between 2006-07 on one such programme in England, called Skills for Life. The government says it will not "write off" adults with poor basic skills, and that this is "money well spent".

Roughly five million adults still have the literacy levels which would be expected of an 11 year old, and the government has targeted its further education funding largely at extending the availability of literacy and numeracy courses. Colleges have in turn complained that training places in other areas are under serious threat.

But 2.8 million people have been through a Skills For Life programme. "It is well known that an individual's basic skills level affects how much they earn, but research shows that the three Rs are best acquired in childhood," Professor Vignoles will tell the Institute for Fiscal Studies conference. "Policies and qualifications to help adults develop them have proved largely ineffective."

Professor Vignoles will argue that there is a place for short training courses of up to 20 hours, as they can reach those who have not taken up any other opportunity to learn. And she acknowledges that adults who take basic skills courses may then go on to other courses. But she will say the "array of low-level courses available to adults has not boosted productivity and earnings". "Adult basic skills training might increase equality of opportunity, but unfortunately it won't boost economic competitiveness."

A spokesperson for the Department for Innovation and Skills said it was important for adults to develop these skills for a number of reasons, not just to try to increase their earnings. "Professor Vignoles may argue that good basic skills are best acquired in childhood but we have no intention of writing off the 12 million adults who struggle with literacy or numeracy," she said. "We will continue to invest so that even more adults can get a qualification, improve their self-confidence, get work, boost their earning power and help with their children's education.

"The £5bn we have spent since our Skills for Life strategy was launched in 2001 has enabled 5.7m people to go on 12m literacy, language and numeracy courses with over 2.8m achieving first qualifications. "This works out as £660 per achievement. "We consider it money well spent."


British parents get £10,000 State grant to teach their children at home... because they refuse to send them to failing school

Easier to pay off responsible parents than to fix a disastrous school, apparently. Too bad for the kids at the school concerned

Parents who refused to send their children to one of the country’s worst schools have been paid a £10,450 State grant to teach them at home. Essex County Council made the one-off payment to six families who kept the four boys and two girls away from Bishops Park College in Clacton-on-Sea and hired home tutors. It is believed to be the first time an education authority has provided funds to families who opt out of traditional school.

Under normal circumstances, parents who remove their children from schools are responsible for paying for their education. The payment was described by the council as ‘exceptional’, but it may encourage others in similar circumstances to apply for State funding.

The parents, who include a garden furniture manufacturer, a florist, a market trader and a former cafe owner, were offered places for their children at the failing secondary school despite refusing to name it on a list of preferred choices. For the past six months, they have been paying £100 a week in tutor fees and other expenses. The 11 and 12-year-olds are now doing so well their tutor is considering entering them for an English GCSE this summer, four years early.

The offer of financial help came after the parents had a meeting at the House of Lords with the council’s Conservative leader Lord Hanningfield. At a further meeting with director of education Terry Reynolds, they were told that if they looked into starting up their own school they could be given a cash payment. However, so far the parents have not done this. Under Government policy, town halls do not fund parents who educate their children at home but can provide money for groups who want to establish their own schools.

Holly O’Toole, who has kept her 12-year-old son Harry at home, said: ‘We were given no other option than to send our children to Bishops Park but it is chronically under-achieving. 'It is bottom of the tables and teachers from that school have even warned us not to send our children there. ‘The money is to help educate all the children. I was surprised when it happened because we had been told the money was not there. It is by no means enough and we have been told that there will be no further payments but at least it is a start.’

Another parent, Mark Hulstrom, said: ‘We were told that the funding was a very rare occurrence and that it was a one-off payment. I think they just wanted us off their backs and we didn’t have to fill out any forms.’

Earlier this year, Bishops Park slumped to the bottom of the GCSE ‘value added’ league table after axing traditional subjects for ‘themed’ lessons. Only eight per cent of pupils met Government targets. The school, housed in £15million state-of-the-art buildings opened by Tony Blair in 2005, has now reintroduced specialist teaching for science and maths.

The families learned this week that there are no further places at any of their other preferred schools next year either, and they will have to go on teaching the children at home.

Essex County Council said: ‘The payment followed an initial discussion around parents establishing their own school and we are pleased to be in a position to assist. 'We have always considered and will continue to consider any requests from parents for financial support on their merits.’


Monday, April 06, 2009

Study Supports School Vouchers

In District, Pupils Outperform Peers On Reading Tests

A U.S. Education Department study released yesterday found that District students who were given vouchers to attend private schools outperformed public school peers on reading tests, findings likely to reignite debate over the fate of the controversial program.

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, the first federal initiative to spend taxpayer dollars on private school tuition, was created by a Republican-led Congress in 2004 to help students from low-income families. Congress has cut off federal funding after the 2009-10 school year unless lawmakers vote to reauthorize it.

Overall, the study found that students who used the vouchers received reading scores that placed them nearly four months ahead of peers who remained in public school. However, as a group, students who had been in the lowest-performing public schools did not show those gains. There was no difference in math performance between the groups.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement that the Obama administration does not want to pull participating students out of the program but does not support its continuation. "Big picture, I don't see vouchers as being the answer," Duncan said in a recent meeting with Washington Post editors and reporters. "You can pull two kids out, you can pull three kids out, and you're leaving 97, 98 percent behind. You need to help all those kids. The way you help them is by challenging the status quo where it's not working and coming back with dramatically better schools and doing it systemically." [A very disappointing response from Duncan. That old "We are going to make ALL schools first-class" response has been around forever but it never happens and it certainly won't in DC]

Since it began, the voucher program has awarded scholarships to more than 3,000 students from low-income families, granting up to $7,500 a year for tuition and other fees at participating schools. This school year, about 1,715 students are participating. The Bush administration, and many Republicans, have championed the program as a "lifeline" for students in struggling schools.

Supporters hailed the congressionally mandated study as proof the program works. "With concrete evidence in hand that this program is a success, we look forward to reauthorizing it as quickly as possible," Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (Calif.), the top Republican on the House education committee, said in a statement.

The study, conducted by the Education Department's research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences, compared the performance and attitudes of students with scholarships with those of peers who were eligible but weren't chosen in a lottery. Parents of students in the program were more satisfied with their children's new schools and considered the schools safer, the report found. Students showed no difference in their level of satisfaction.

In a letter Thursday to Duncan, several GOP leaders urged him to continue awarding grants. "Under no circumstances should the funds be withheld by the U.S. Department of Education when so many children in the District need and deserve access to a quality school today," House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and other lawmakers wrote.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), whose Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs has jurisdiction over the District, has said he plans to hold hearings on the program.


No school for 35,000 British High School students?

Tens of thousands of A-level students may be left without a college or sixth-form place this autumn because there is no state funding for them.

Frantic efforts were under way last night to plug a £60 million hole in funding for the education of students aged 16-19 in England.

Details of last-minute cuts to sixth-form funding were e-mailed to schools on Tuesday – the last day of the financial year – which meant that they had no opportunity to seek new money or to readjust annual budgets due to begin the following day.

The cuts, which could affect an estimated 35,000 students, contradict government plans to encourage more young people to remain in education until 18. Many schools and colleges say that they have insufficient cash to pay for their current students, let alone the significant increase in numbers predicted for 2009-10. Some have lost as much as £300,000 a year.

Shaun Fenton, co-chairman of the Grammar School Headteachers’ Association, said that jobs would be cut, leading to bigger classes and fewer courses. “It will not be popular media studies courses that will close,” he said. “It is more likely to be small science, maths, languages or computing courses that will face the axe.”

John Dunford, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that schools and colleges had responded magnificently to the Government’s policy to increase the number of 16-year-olds in education. “They have an even more critical part to play during the recession, when more young people are likely to stay in full-time education,” he said. He has written to Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, asking for more money.

Sixth-form and college funding is administered by the Learning and Skills Council, which was criticised this week for mishandling a rebuilding programme that left colleges millions of pounds out of pocket.

Ministers said that they were not aware that it had promised schools one sum of money on March 2 only to cut it on March 31.


British government meddling 'has de-skilled teachers'

Teachers should be allowed to use their judgment and be given greater freedom to teach beyond the strictures of the national curriculum, rather than being flooded with edicts, MPs say today in a highly critical report.

The Commons Children, Schools and Families Select Committee says that government meddling has de-skilled the teaching profession and turned it into a franchise operation.

The freedoms enjoyed by academies, which are semi-independent from local authority control, should be enshrined at all schools, the committee says.

MPs took evidence from government agencies, trade unions, academics, research organisations and associations representing different subjects.

The report says that MPs have heard how the level of central prescription and direction through the national curriculum and national strategies had “deskilled teachers”. “At times schooling has appeared more of a franchise operation, dependent on a recipe handed down by government, rather than the exercise of professional expertise by teachers,” it said.

The current regime of testing and school inspection had exacerbated matters, the report adds.


Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Entitled

Every teaching assistant at a large state university has had the experience. At least I did as a TA in the University of Missouri's history department. Sometime during the semester you'd get a call from a junior assistant coach -- as new to the academic life as you were -- who just wanted to drop by and have a Coke.

How strange. I was mystified the first time it happened. What did he want, the pleasure of my company? Had he confused me with a football fan? Didn't he know that us intellectuals prefer baseball? Ah, the arrogance of youth. I kind of miss it.

After some puzzling small talk -- what do you think of this weather? where you from? -- my visitor got around to the point: He mentioned a student in a freshman survey course, a student whose name didn't register at once. Mainly because he just sat there without anything to say. His thoughts, if any, were clearly far away. Maybe on the football field? It seems that said student had failed a quiz or two, not surprisingly, and he would make an awfully fine guard or tackle or whatever if only his grades were better and he stayed eligible, and could I see my way clear to ... well, even I could see where this was heading, and the conversation was closed.

The young coach had carried out his assignment, I'd done my duty, no hard feelings. That's the way it worked. Every system has its little accepted corruptions that accumulate like sludge on the gears. I don't know if that kind of visit still happens. It shouldn't.

There's been one big change since my days behind the lectern. It's no longer the coaches who appeal, wheedle, growl, grovel, or whatever it takes to raise a student's letter grade. It's the students themselves.

Naturally enough, a team of academics has written a paper about this sad trend. ("Self-Entitled College Students: Contributions of Personality, Parenting and Motivational Factors"). The syndrome now has a name (Academic Entitlement) and an abbreviation (AE) -- just like Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Doubtless there will soon be federal grants and endowed chairs to study AE and a drug to treat it. And sure enough, it'll turn out to be more widespread than anyone ever suspected.

The four scholars who did this Pioneering Study trace the origins of AE to parental pressure, material rewards for good grades, competitiveness, and "achievement anxiety and extrinsic motivation." They conclude that AE is "most strongly related to exploitive attitudes towards others and moderately related to an overall sense of entitlement and to narcissism."

At the risk of putting all that in plain English, these kids are spoiled brats with character problems. But how will they ever get over them if they're not allowed to fail -- and learn from their failures? If their mediocre performance is regularly rewarded with As and Bs, how will they learn the difference between excellent and run-of-the-mill?

The saddest aspect of these kids' condition is that they're unaware of it. They actually think they're pretty darned good, and deserve those good grades. More to be pitied than scorned, they may come out of school with no idea of what real accomplishment is, and the intrinsic satisfaction of doing something well.

They may never thrill at a formula elegantly devised, a mission truly accomplished, a sentence well written, a simple procedure done with care every time, an experiment perfected, a form that perfectly follows function.... Not for The Entitled the sense of awe that may be the first step toward God. If a teacher dropped one of these students off at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he the might emerge a few hours later with only one question: Is this going to be on the test?

But why should they be any different from what they are? Raised in an age when self-esteem is all, they're told how great they are from K to 12 and may graduate without the faintest idea of what greatness is, or demands.

Consider this newly named syndrome another argument for universal military service. Call it Greenberg's Theorem: There's nothing wrong with these kids that six weeks of basic training at an Army base in some barren clime wouldn't cure -- if they didn't manage to have mama or papa get them out of it.

But if they stuck it out, they'd soon learn that it's results that count, not influence or manipulation. Or even effort if it's misplaced, if it amounts to nothing more than the same mistakes endlessly, energetically repeated.

To quote a deluded young senior at the University of Maryland: "I think putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade. What else really is there than the effort that you put in?"

Well, for starters there is talent, insight, intention, humility, tolerance, an openness to criticism and a determination to learn from it. There is an appreciation for what is noble and contempt for what is base. And the love of knowledge for its own sake, not for the rewards it might bring, and . . . well, you get the point. Unless, of course, you think you're entitled.


Principals Australia calls for job preparation -- in pre-school!

Does the nonsense from "educators" ever stop? It's true that little kids do have career thoughts. Most little boys that I have known have wanted to be firemen or policemen when they grew up but I know none who grew up to be so. The Archbishop of Westminster wanted to be a truck driver when he was a boy.

THE head of Principals Australia believes toddlers in daycare should be given early career counselling to help them work out what they want to be when they grow up.

Kate Castine, who runs the Principals Australia career education project on behalf of the federal Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, is calling for "career development concepts" to be included in the new national curriculum, according to a report in The Australian. The call was immediately rejected as "crazy stuff" by a leading childcare operator, while the state and territory children's commissioners warned against pushing academic-based teaching on children still in nappies.

But Ms Castine said research showed students as young as six could identify what they wanted to do when they grew up. "The argument that children should be exposed to career development concepts at an early age has been endorsed by current worldwide research," she wrote in comments posted on the department's official online forum, seeking feedback on the latest draft of the "early-learning framework". "Reference to career development competencies needs to be explicit so teachers understand its importance."

Ms Castine said her concern was that little children rarely think beyond what their parents and relatives do for a living. "They identify very, very limited careers, usually associated with their family," she told The Weekend Australian. "That makes quite good sense but what needs to happen is that children who are very young need to identify there's a whole range of possible careers ... and not just what they see at home."

Queensland's biggest childcare chain, the community-based C&K, yesterday rejected the kids' careers counselling as "crazy stuff". "What about letting children be children?" said C&K's chief executive Barrie Elvish. "It's bad enough that kids in years 11 and 12 have to choose a career. How on earth can you get a four-year-old to think about what they'll be doing in 20 years' time?"


Indian students boost Australia's export economy

VASHA Vankadesh is the new face of Australia's export economy. As part of an exploding diaspora of young Indians now studying in Australia, she contributes more than $30,000 a year to the domestic economy as she ploughs her way through an engineering degree at the Australian National University in Canberra. But Vasha's investment in Australia is unlikely to end there.

The 18-year-old from Chennai, in India's southern state of Tamil Nadu, was one of the 96,739 Indian enrolments in Australian higher education and vocational training courses last year, a massive 54 per cent increase on the almost 63,000 Indian enrolments in 2007 and up from just 11,313 in 2002.

With India projected to be the fifth-largest consumer market by 2025, Australian-trained Indian graduates and skilled workers represent a future trade and investment bonanza as they return home to jobs in the business and government sector.

Australia's now well-established business links with Southeast Asia can be traced back to the 1950s, 60s and 70s when many students from that region studied in Australia.

"You're now seeing the beginnings of that sort of relationship between India and Australia," Australia's High Commissioner to India, John McCarthy, said yesterday.

Indian students now make up almost 18 per cent of Australia's total foreign student population, the second largest group after China, which represents 23.5 per cent of the total foreign student body. Foreign students are now Australia's third-largest export income earner, behind coal and iron ore, contributing $14.1 billion in direct income and an additional $12.6 billion in value-added goods and services, a new Access Economic report has found.

Vasha says she chose Australia over Britain and the US because it was closer to home and cheaper. "I was quite nervous, but since a large number of (Indian) students are now in Australia they're really helpful to new students," she said. She plans to return to India at the end of her four-year degree.