Saturday, April 18, 2009

To Slay a Hydra in Bridgeport: Teachers versus choice

“I perpetuate the creation of an underclass every day I open my classes up…” —Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch.

The monopoly on education held by public schools in Connecticut may be starting to crack. One brave mayor has decided to buck the hydra-like education establishment and advocate for school choice, risking his political skin on behalf of needy urban students. And if he succeeds, it may portend the beginning of the end of the union's stranglehold in the education community.

Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch believes that the Connecticut Supreme Court will rule that Connecticut's schools are separate and unequal, that they discriminate against blacks and Puerto Ricans—and that the solution for this is school choice.

The Mayor shocked the education and political establishment of the state with his statements in favor of what is usually too often portrayed as a conservative issue. “I think we need public school choice in the cities,” Finch said. “I wasn't planning on this being my coming-out party, but I believe, certainly, in public school choice for all the troubled cities. We have to strengthen and increase our charters. We have to work with the private schools.”

Flying in the face of NEA-union dogma, the Mayor pointed out that the urban students could attend private schools for a “fraction” of the cost of sending them to public schools. He noted that the public schools are overcrowded, that the private schools are not, and that both would benefit from an arrangement if students had a choice to attend private or parochial schools.

Needless to say, Finch won't have an easy row to hoe. In Connecticut, public education advocates have dominated the state legislature for decades. To them, deeply in thrall to the NEA, school choice is an anathema, routinely condemned as a threat to the public education establishment. And, in fact, it is. But that is because public education, dominated by union dictates, invariably skyrockets the cost of education, while protecting inferior teachers, and lowering academic standards.

Mr. Finch has evidently caught on to the deterioration of the system. But he has an uphill battle. And he will need aid. The public teachers unions, with a boot on the throats of state legislatures across the country, have guaranteed tenure and other benefits that have produced a culture of “clock-watchers” wholly unaccountable for failing students. Moreover, they are a potent political force in state and local elections, and Mr. Finch will undoubtedly find himself in the crosshairs of the Connecticut education establishment. He may also find himself subject to a political challenge when he next comes up for election.

And what of the students and parents, who presently cannot afford private schools? At present, law does not permit them to dedicate the money they pay in taxes to private or parochial schools, whether through vouchers or tax credits. They therefore have no choice but to continue sending their kids to the failing public schools.

Mr. Finch is adamant about helping the students. And he believes the out-of-control costs of public education are to blame. “We're going to have to figure out, all together, how to work to fund this problem… I perpetuate the creation of an underclass every day I open my classes up because I can't catch up. I can't get my kids to catch up.” It is this that the Bridgeport Mayor views as the injustice. As well he should. But to help the children he must first slay the multi-headed hydra that is the NEA-union establishment.


Routine violence in British schools

Teachers in fear of violence ‘are paying for body armour’, vaccinations

Teachers in some special schools have been forced to have vaccinations before going into the classroom and to wear the kind of armguards used by police-dog trainers — both of which they had to pay for themselves — it was claimed yesterday. They are being bitten, kicked and punched daily and left with debilitating injuries, the NASUWT teaching union conference in Bournemouth was told.

Special schools, struggling to cope with restricted budgets, are refusing to provide staff with the right equipment or training. Teachers are asking their doctors for preventive injections against tetanus and hepatitis B, which have cost some up to £80.

More than 20,000 teachers and 30,000 support staff work at schools for children with behavioural or learning difficulties or at pupil referral units for children repeatedly excluded from mainstream schools.

The union voted to challenge the view of some parents and heads that being assaulted and being the subject of complaints and allegations was part of the job. It will now conduct research into assaults and abuse. Suzanne Nantcurvis, who proposed the motion, said: “I sat in the staff room of a special school listening to teachers nonchalantly talking about the number of times they had been assaulted, their daily experience of being kicked and bitten and their visits to the hospital outpatients department.” The most common forms of assault are punching, kicking and biting. Our members question the method of restraint in use because of its effectiveness, especially with older, bigger and stronger pupils.

“Access to training is needed each year. The training is expensive and, where budgets are cut to the bone, the costs may prohibit all members of staff from attending. “I know of members buying their own arm guards. Due to the nature of the assaults they face, often teachers in special schools have to have vaccines such as tetanus and hepatitis B. For some colleagues this has come at a personal cost of around £80.”

Mark Perry, a teacher from Flintshire, told delegates he had been bitten so hard that blood was drawn through his shirt. A pupil had scratched his face, leaving marks on his eyelids. “I have been punched and kicked on numerous occasions and suffered a flying kick from behind . . . which did lots of damage to my back.” Mr Perry said that he had also been subjected to false allegations, which caused harm, torture and pain.

Geoff Branner, of the union’s executive, said that one teacher he knew had her arm broken by a teenager who punched and kicked her; another had a student jump on her back, push her to the floor, put her in a headlock and punch her in the face. The first teacher said that she wanted the pupil reported to the police, but was told that the head was shocked by her response and believed that it was part of her job.


Louisiana State: A crooked university

LSU ouster of Ivor van Heerden removes most honest appraiser of city's levee failures

Ugly doesn't change, even when you see it coming. Neither does stupid. I'm talking about the decision by LSU to fire Ivor van Heerden, the head of the LSU Hurricane Center who earned world-wide renown for his work before and after Hurricane Katrina. This move had been rumored and threatened almost since van Heerden began his post-storm work, but it was no less repulsive for its inevitability.

As someone who covered that story, I always thought the state should be rewarding van Heerden, not chasing him away, because metro area residents -- indeed, citizens of any U.S. community currently relying on federal levees to keep them safe -- owe Van Heerden a huge debt.

Here's why. In the days immediately after Katrina, the world thought New Orleans had been ravaged by a huge storm simply too large for the high-tech flood protection system built at great cost by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. And according to some members of Congress and many media commentators, that's just what we deserved for living here, below sea level. In fact, that was the official story being put out by the corps.

But about a week after the storm, as van Heerden and engineers on his staff began inspecting the deadly breaches in that system, the story began to change. They were expecting to see evidence of over-topping, signs Katrina was just too big for the system, the very scenario the center had predicted the day before the storm came ashore.

What they found was something else: Signs of catastrophic engineering failures. In other words, the floodwalls and levees failed not because they were too small, but because they had been either poorly designed, poorly built -- or both.

The world's media immediately gravitated to van Heerden not just because this was shocking news, but also because it came from a hurricane expert with a staff of geotechnical engineers qualified in the science of flood protection. And he was the only person from this area even talking about the issue.

Incredibly, the state of Louisiana and the city of New Orleans -- the two political entities most grievously damaged by the disaster -- showed no inclination to launch their own investigations. They were content to leave the examination of the tragedy to the same outfit that built the system in the first place: the Corps of Engineers.

Thankfully, van Heerden wouldn't let this happen. He put together a group of engineers and scientists from LSU and the private sector and convinced the state attorney general and the Department of Transportation and Development to give "Team Louisiana" official status.

You'd think the university would take pride in one of its own leading such important work. Just the opposite happened.

From the start, van Heerden was pressured by LSU administrators to go easy. At one point he was issued a gag order. It seemed the more problems Team Louisiana uncovered, the more intense the sniping from Baton Rouge.

Some of that was due to classic campus politics: jealousies, rivalries and professional disputes. Some of it was self-inflicted; even van Heerden's admirers admitted he could be difficult to work with, due to an often uncompromising style and a penchant for going public with results before final drafts were approved.

But van Heerden's real danger to LSU was his threat to funding. The federal government is the largest source of research funding for universities, and LSU was lining up tens of millions of dollars for coastal and wetlands work -- much of which might be partnered with the corps. Having one of its professors lobbing bombs at the feds made some at the university fear for the LSU pocketbook.

That's why members of Team Louisiana, as well as researchers from other universities, were warned to shut up or risk their careers. Fortunately for all of us they decided their ethics -- as professors, engineers and citizens -- compelled them to continue to work for the public good.

Anyone who thinks I'm overstating the case need only look at the Interagency Performance Review Task Force Report, the corps' official explanation of what happened during Katrina. After spending $20 million over eight months, the first page of the report states it found "no evidence of government or contractor negligence or malfeasance."

Please. How about ignoring information that the structures they were building were as much as two feet lower than claimed? Or skipping over alerts that its storm modeling was outdated? Or failing to inspect projects as required by law? Or a mandatory review process that was so sloppy, it missed obvious mistakes by subcontractors?

And how about this verdict: If the project has been built properly, some of the flooding would not have occurred, and much of the rest would have been reduced to the point of nuisance instead of disaster. That's just the start of a very long list.

Team Louisiana pointed the way to early exposure of these mistakes and many more. Van Heerden was the only Louisiana official to speak on the record, and loudly. If he hadn't persisted, who knows what the corps would have failed to find out, or how much more dangerous our lives would be today.

Now, rather than build on that very significant accomplishment, LSU has decided to clean out those who made it happens. That's ugly and stupid.


Update: Comment below received from a La resident:

This author just gets a lot of the levee issue just plain wrong:

1 No way Ven Heerden was original in his criticism. NOLA and other sources have been beating this drum for years - that there were serious design and maintenance issues.

2 Much of the "design flaws" were from many years ago, and local, state, and federal officials didn't fix the system for a number of reasons, including cost.

3 "Inside" sources tell me that Levee Board was much more guilty than th Corps - Federal money for maintainence was diverted to building roads and casinos.

4 Proposed project years ago for Category 4 protection was rejected because those with lakefront property didn't want their views obstructed by higher levees.

5 As I recall Van Heerden was a darling of the Press because he trashed the Corps - fitting in with the Left's trashing of everything Federal while Bush was President, and giving the mostly Democratic City and Governor a pass.

And this author is a part of the problem. Wanting to blame it all on the Corps.

Friday, April 17, 2009

"Educators" hate testing

Because it shows the ineffectiveness of their methods

One of Britain's leading experts on school testing and assessment delivers a scathing attack on national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds today. Professor Peter Tymms warns that they are having "a serious negative impact on the education system" and should be scrapped. They mislead parents as to the performance of their children's schools, he said.

Professor Tymms's intervention comes as the National Union of Teachers prepares to vote on balloting its members to boycott tests in English, maths and science to pressure ministers to drop the tests entirely. The vote will take place at the union's annual conference in Cardiff tomorrow.

"The main problem with key stage two [11-year-olds] tests is their publication in league tables. This is having a serious negative impact on the education system," said Professor Tymms, who is the director of the Curriculum and Evaluation Management Centre at Durham University. "Parents can judge schools based on the league tables which do not portray an accurate picture of the quality of the teaching or pupils' progress over time. Neither do they give a rounded picture of a school's success."

Secondary school heads have also argued that so much coaching goes on for the tests that the results do not give an accurate reflection of children's ability. Most schools re-test the pupils when they start secondary school.

Professor Tymms, who has written several books on assessment, suggests that a random sample of pupils should be tested every year to give an accurate guide to the Department for Children, Schools and Families as to how national standards are progressing. The system used to be in operation two decades ago and the pilot always mirrored the make-up of the population in the country. Over time, with a different selection of pupils, it also gave individual schools an idea of how they were achieving.

Professor Tymms said: "We do need assessment at a high level to monitor standards across the land and the best way to achieve that is by using a sampling approach. "Schools should monitor pupils' success with objective measures which do not have to be statutory tests."

Tomorrow's NUT vote will be followed by a similar vote for a boycott at the National Association of Head Teachers' annual conference in May – which would be the first time the heads have had a ballot on industrial action. The other two big teachers' unions, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, have cautioned against a boycott – arguing there should be continued dialogue with ministers over changes to the present system.

Speaking at the ATL conference in Liverpool yesterday, Michael Gove, the shadow Education Secretary, said: "It is not good enough to just say that the current system sucks. Some form of accountable testing which allows useful comparisons between schools to be drawn is necessary."

An expert group set up by the Government to look at testing and assessment in the wake of last summer's marking fiasco, when thousands of results were delivered late, is expected to report next month.


British justice: Teenager who shot teacher in the face is suspended for just 15 days

A teenager who shot a teacher in the face with a pellet gun has been given a 15-day suspension as punishment. The female English teacher was hit after she approached the 15-year-old in the school corridor. The local authority said the pellet gun was not fired maliciously and the teacher, named as Miss Atkins, was not seriously hurt by the pellet. But she is said to be so distressed she is leaving the school this summer.

The short-term suspension has caused uproar among parents at Beal High School in Ilford, Essex. Many are furious the pupil, understood to be the son of a teaching assistant, will be allowed to return after the Easter holidays.

The incident happened as the teacher approached a small group of pupils who had gathered in a corridor between lessons. A 14-year-old pupil who was in a classroom next to the shooting said: 'Someone came running into our lesson and said this teacher was shot. He said a group of pupils were playing with a toy gun, and were aiming for someone else, but it hit the teacher in the face. 'The teacher was very upset, she cried and cried.'

The Year 10 pupil will return to school after Easter. His classmates who helped conceal the pellet gun were given brief suspensions and have already returned to school.

Meanwhile Miss Atkins, who returned to work days later, is 'extremely upset' by the incident on March 17. She only started teaching at the comprehensive in September, but has told the school she will leave this summer and already has another job lined up.

One parent, who did not want to be named, said: 'It was very lucky the teacher was not badly hurt. The lad should have been expelled - not just suspended.' Iqbal Pnag, 44, who has two children at Beal High School, said: 'It is surprising that he is being allowed to return to school. To suspend him for three weeks is nothing. He shouldn't be allowed to come back.'

Last night John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, said any children who use physical violence against teachers should be expelled. He said: 'There have to be very clear lines over which children must not tread. Violence on teachers should lead in the vast majority of cases to exclusion. 'That message is very important, not only to the child involved, but for other children at the school.'

Last night Redbridge Council defended the actions taken by the school over the 'isolated incident'. A spokesman said: 'This was not a malicious act, however the behaviour was wrong and potentially dangerous. 'The school took the matter extremely seriously and carried out a thorough investigation immediately which involved talking to a number of pupils involved and some parents. 'The pupils involved have since expressed remorse for their actions and apologised to the teacher concerned. All of the pupils involved have received or will be receiving fixed term exclusions and one pupil was excluded from the school for 15 days.'

The Met Police said they were aware of the incident, but did not attend the school when it happened.


Professor Defends terrorist Bill Ayers

Dan Kennedy, an assistant professor at the Northeastern University School of Journalism in Boston who writes for the British Guardian, has been caught spreading falsehoods about communist terrorist Bill Ayers. Yet, he refuses to correct the record, promising that he will one day "surprise" people with the truth about Bill Ayers and his connections to two Weather Underground members involved in the murder of a Boston police officer.

To borrow a phrase from Mark Thompson, a student parent who recently confronted Ayers at one of his propaganda sessions on the University of Illinois campus, Kennedy has revealed himself to be an "Ayer Head."

Specifically, Kennedy is defending Ayers against charges that members of his organization, Katherine Ann Power and Susan Edith Saxe, were convicted of involvement in a bank robbery and the murder of Boston Police Officer Walter A. Schroeder in 1970.

But a 1975 Senate Internal Security Subcommittee report and former top FBI official Oliver "Buck" Revell say that Power and Saxe were regarded by law enforcement authorities as members of the Weather Underground. An FBI document on the official FBI website explicitly identifies Power as a Weather Underground member.

Echoing Ayers, Kennedy claims that Ayers has been unfairly "demonized" and insists that, other than blowing up a bomb that killed three of their own members, the Weather Underground "radicals" never "killed nor injured anyone." This is a monstrous lie worse than his deceptions about Power and Saxe.

Murder Spree

Weather Underground members Power and Saxe were not only involved in the murder of Schroeder and served prison time for it but Ayers himself told an FBI informant, Larry Grathwohl, that his wife, Bernardine Dohrn, had personally planted the bomb that killed San Francisco Police Sergeant Brian V. McDonnell in 1970. This case is still open and evidence is being gathered and analyzed.

What's more, the Weather Underground spin-off, the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), murdered black educator Marcus Foster and bank customer Myrna Opsahl during a robbery and also blew up police cars in an effort to kill police officers. SLA member Sara Jane Olson was recently released from prison.

Another Weather Underground off-shoot, the Revolutionary Armed Task Force, which included members of the Black Liberation Army, conducted the 1981 robbery of a Brinks truck that left two police officers and a security guard dead. Dohrn spent 8 months in jail for refusing to testify before a grand jury about what she knew about the case.

Ayers and Dohrn signed the notorious "Prairie Fire" manifesto praising the BLA and the SLA as "leading forces in the development of the armed struggle." This manifesto included a dedication to Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin of Robert F. Kennedy. A Weather Underground statement dated February 20, 1974, and signed by Dohrn had praised the SLA, which also kidnapped newspaper heiress Patty Hearst, for raising "everyone's consciousness" about "the war between the rich and the poor."

Weather Underground members operated under a variety of names, including Red Guerrilla Resistance, Armed Resistance Unit, New World Liberation Front, and United Freedom Front.

It defies common sense and Journalism 101 for Kennedy to try to separate the Weather Underground and its leaders from their various cells or spin-offs.

Kennedy's bizarre comments have been thrust into the spotlight because Ayers had been scheduled to speak at Boston College. When Boston-based radio talk-show host (96.9 FM, WTKK) and Boston Herald columnist Michael Graham found out about it, he raised an outcry and sparked protests. Graham highlighted the fact that Katherine Ann Power, convicted in the 1970 bank robbery and murder of Officer Schroeder, was identified by the FBI as a member of the Weather Underground. As a result of the protests, Ayers' speech on campus was cancelled.

Considering the nature of the Schroeder murder, it's not surprising that Ayers and Dohrn and their followers would try to distance themselves from it. Schroeder, who was survived by a wife and nine children, was shot in the back three times.

No Facts

Kennedy, who also writes for the Boston Phoenix and is a regular panelist on "Beat the Press" on public television station WGBH, has been adamant on his Media Nation blog that "Katherine Ann Power had no connection to the Weather Underground" and that "I have searched far and wide on several occasions, and I can find no evidence that anyone has ever linked Power or Saxe to the Weather Underground?including the FBI." He based his conclusions on some Google and searches and a look at a heavily redacted FBI document on the Weather Underground posted on the Web.

Graham countered: "For the nitwits out there (including some moron who claims to teach at Northeastern University) who keep trying to argue that the murder of Officer Schroeder was unrelated to Ayers' Weather Underground, check out what the actual FBI has to say on the subject." This is a link to the FBI item about the Weather Underground that included a photo showing "Weather Underground members Bernardine Rae Dohrn and Katherine Ann Power."

Incredibly, Kennedy's response was that the FBI had erred. "Based on what I've found so far," he said, "I think someone in the FBI communications department made a mistake."

This is a classic response from someone who doesn't want to acknowledge that he is wrong. It is terrible for a journalist, let alone a journalism professor, to have such an attitude.

It turns out that the FBI listed Katherine Ann Power and Susan Edith Saxe as members of the Weather Underground for the basic reason that they were considered members of the group.

One authority on this matter is Oliver "Buck" Revell, who retired as FBI Agent in Charge (SAC) in Dallas, Texas, but had risen to the position of Associate Deputy Director in Charge of Investigations, with jurisdiction over all FBI operations. He was involved in the search for Power and Saxe after their involvement in the murder of Schroeder.

He told AIM that the FBI considered Power and Saxe to be members of the Weather Underground but involved in a "spin-off" that he called the United Freedom Front (UFF). "They had been associated with the Weather Underground," he said. "All the UFF members were essentially a cell associated with the Weather Underground." "We talked to a lot of people that had Weather Underground connections in trying to trace them [Power and Saxe] down and track them down," he added. "They generally hung around college campuses where the Weather Underground was active. They were connected."

Saxe was captured in 1975 and served seven years in prison, while Power surrendered to authorities in 1993, went to prison, and was released in 1999.

Ignorant of the Facts

In an interview with AIM, Kennedy admitted he was unfamiliar with a 1975 report on the Weather Underground from the Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security which identified Power and Saxe as members of the Weather Underground who went on the FBI's "Most Wanted List." You can find the report (PDF) here and the reference on page 36. On Page 33 you can find a reference to Power and Saxe being members of the "Weatherman group." The Weatherman became the Weather Underground. Page 92 of the report noted that Power attended Brandeis University and was described by a confidential informant as a member of a "small Weatherman group" there. An October 5, 1970, report in Time magazine said Power was seen attending rallies of the SDS, the forerunner of the Weatherman and the Weather Underground. Saxe also attended Brandeis and roomed with Power.

Veteran Congressional investigator Herbert Romerstein, who just completed a major report on the Weather Underground, makes the basic point that the Weather Underground did not issue membership cards for obvious reasons. This was a secret communist organization, some of whose members were trained in Cuba, which operated in cells, spin-offs, sections, fronts, or "collectives."

The Weather Underground provided the leadership rather than establishing a membership organization, Romerstein points out. He explains, "They encouraged others to go out and commit acts of violence. People who committed these acts of violence on behalf of the Weather Underground were considered members of the Weather Underground." Such was the case with Power, Saxe and their gang....

The facts of the case are obvious to anybody who takes the time to do some basic research. But Kennedy is so determined to defend Ayers that he is willing to ignore essential facts about how the Weather Underground operated through cells and fronts. This is the mark of a left-wing ideologue determined to rehabilitate Ayers, not a journalist or journalism professor.

More here

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Caning Returns to Malaysian Schools

(Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia) Three years after banning corporal punishment, the government of Malaysia has revived the practice to address discipline problems.
The government made the decision to revive caning last month and will issue specific guidelines on how to implement the punishment, Deputy Education Minister Wee Ka Siong said.

“We will allow the headmaster or anyone who has been authorized to execute the punishment, while parents will be notified and invited to witness the caning to be done in a confined area,” he said.
Naturally, some people will protest the caning of schoolchildren, believing it to be an assault.

However, many others support judiciously-imposed corporal punishment as an acceptable method of instilling discipline in youngsters.
The School that runs Britain: An old boy explains why Eton is suddenly cool

When the producers of the acclaimed TV cop show The Wire were looking for an actor to play tough, Irish-American detective Jimmy McNulty, they cast an Old Etonian, Dominic West. When Steven Spielberg, the man behind the classic World War II mini-series Band Of Brothers, was looking for a star to convey the strength, leadership and decency of Major Richard Wynters, a true-life U.S. hero, he chose an Old Etonian, Damian Lewis. And when the time came to find a man to play the grouchy, tortured but brilliant Dr Gregory House in the hit U.S. medical drama House, the role went to Hugh Laurie who is, I need hardly say, an Old Etonian.

They're everywhere these days, the products of Britain's most famous, most powerful public school. Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is one. Next year, we may well see the election of the 19th Old Etonian Prime Minister, as David Cameron follows in a line that includes Wellington, Gladstone and Macmillan. And, in due course, the nation will crown its first Etonian monarch as Prince William ascends to the throne.

For centuries, Etonians have wielded huge influence in high society. But, as the old Establishment collapsed in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, it seemed their influence was waning. The aristocracy lost their seats in the House of Lords. The Tory Party produced three successive state-educated PMs in Heath, Thatcher and Major. High finance exchanged the gentleman's club and the old school tie for international meritocracy. And for the past dozen years, the New Labour Government has been obsessed with modernity and anti-elitism.

Old Etonians should have become an irrelevance. Yet they're more powerful, more pervasive than ever. And their influence reaches into the most unlikely aspects of our lives. The country's biggest clubbing and dance-music business, Ministry Of Sound; one of our most successful fashion catalogues, Boden; the travel website; the White Cube gallery that nurtured Brit Art - all were founded by Old Etonians.

So what is the secret of the school's success? Well, one clue comes from the fact that we - for I am an OE myself - don't ever call it Eton. I was there from 1972 until 1976, and to us it has always been just 'school'. Even those of us who have decidedly mixed feelings about the place regard it as unique and, frankly, superior to anywhere else. So it's 'school' because, to Old Etonians, there is only one that counts. But it's also 'school' because you wouldn't necessarily want to say the word 'Eton' out loud. It's a name that has long carried connotations of grotesque privilege, chinless wonders and arrogant young men who deserve a good hiding.

This notion that Etonians are all idiotic twits is the first mistake the school's enemies make. In fact, Eton is a ruthlessly efficient machine for producing tough, super-confident, often arrogant young men who are geared for success and absolutely certain that they can get it.

It begins with the standard of teaching, and the level of expectation imposed on the 1,300 boys by their 135 teachers or 'beaks'. There is no nonsense at Eton about the need to make the little darlings feel good about themselves. Boys are tested weekly and examined every term. Results are public. Any drop in standards results in a summons to your housemaster.

In every sphere of the school's activities, competition is unrelenting. Outside the classroom, the opportunities are endless. If you want to act, the school has a fully equipped 400-seat theatre as good as many a provincial town, and better than most. If you want to row, it owns the 2,000m lake on which the 2012 Olympic rowing regatta will be held.

Above all, it instills the confidence that there is no aspiration so great that an Etonian cannot fulfil it.

I always wanted to be a writer. I soon discovered that James Bond was created by an Old Etonian. So was 1984 and Brave New World. I dreamed of following in the footsteps of Fleming, Orwell and Huxley. My contemporaries also had big ambitions - and most of them achieved them. Hugh Laurie, Conde Nast managing director Nicholas Coleridge, the writer and satirist Craig Brown, former Telegraph editor Charles Moore are but a few.

Eton is a very big, tough, demanding place. You have to learn to stand on your own two feet and hold your own in any circumstances. Try being 13 years old and walking through Windsor, the nearest town, wearing a tailcoat and stiff collar, while all the locals stare at you and the tourists frantically take photographs. After that, any other form of public appearance is a doddle. But why are those qualities coming to the fore again?

Well, for a start, 40 years of Labour's anti-grammar school bigotry have drastically reduced the competition. Fifty years ago, bright, working-class children could get something close to an Eton education for free. Now they're all, unforgivably, lost to bog-standard mediocrity and the field is that much clearer.

Plus, Etonians are adaptable. Look at all those actors hiding behind American accents on Hollywood TV shows. Look at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall playing the posh peasant down at River Cottage.

In my day, OEs were more stereotypical Hooray Henrys, much more likely to wear lurid cords and striped shirts, and speak with braying accents. Now they're much better camouflaged. The massive PR boost given by Charles and Diana's decision to send their sons to Eton also helped. So, too, did the prosperity, however bogus, of the past decade.

When people feel well-off, they are much less inclined to resent the wealth of others. But, above all, I think, Etonians owe a massive debt of gratitude to Tony Blair. His underlings may have been rabid egalitarians, but Blair was patently public school. Whatever one may think of his politics, Blair made it OK to be pleasantly posh; he was smart but not off-putting. That kind of easy-going, relaxed charm, however insincere, is right up an Old Etonian's street.

Now that times are hard, and Blair has been replaced by the dour, bitterly class-conscious Brown, you might think Old Etonians will have a tougher time again. But we still have the Cameron card to play. And even if Dave makes an utter hash at No.10, it won't make much difference in the long run. Old Etonians are like cockroaches. They will survive.


Revolving door' for British pupils who misbehave

The number of pupils suspended more than ten times a year has almost tripled in the past four years. Figures indicate that there is now a "revolving door" for the worst behaved, who bounce in and out of school instead of being expelled.

Last year at least 867 pupils were suspended more than ten times each, compared with 310 in 2003-04. The figures, obtained by the Tories under the Freedom of Information Act, from 125 out of 152 councils asked, suggest that up to 1,000 pupils were suspended more than ten times last year.

Ministers' attempts to lower the number of permanent exclusions have forced heads to keep pupils who would have been expelled. Between 1997 and 2007 expulsions fell from 12,300 to 8,600, but this decrease has been matched by an increase in the proportion being suspended numerous times.

Nick Gibb, the Shadow Schools Minister, said: "Teachers want these pupils out of their classroom so other children can learn. Suspending a child over and over again does them no good at all."

Sir Alan Steer will today publish a report calling for traditional methods of discipline such as detentions and suspensions and for more use of parenting contracts for mothers and fathers failing to keep children in line.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

British Nursery pupils' education 'damaged' by the 300 tick-box targets they have to reach by age of five

Children's development is being damaged by a 'nappy curriculum' which judges them against 300 tick-box targets by the age of five, teachers' leaders warned yesterday. The curriculum, which was introduced last September for all 25,000 private and state nurseries and 70,000 childminders, sets out hundreds of developmental milestones between birth and primary school. In one example, babies from birth to 11 months are marked if they have shown they have 'communicated' by crying, gurgling, babbling or squealing.

But the National Union of Teachers has warned that the requirement on nursery staff to complete detailed 'assessment grids' is tying up time they should be spending with children.

Members also claim that the curriculum is simply a box-ticking exercise with an over-emphasis on paperwork and assessment, and that it is too rigid and formal for many youngsters. Inbar Tamari, a nursery teacher from Hackney, East London, said: 'I soon discovered in the time I had there was no way I could tick all the boxes in the foundation stage profile with my play-based observations, and each time I had to resort to less than child-friendly, though quicker, methods. 'Not everything can be measured, not everything can be numbered. Measuring plants won't make them any taller.'

Speaking of one three-year-old child in her care, Jane Walton, a nursery teacher from Wakefield, in Yorkshire, said: 'I'm supposed to be observing her and all these little boxes I'm supposed to be ticking off, so I couldn't intervene with her play, I couldn't engage her or move her on because I was too busy ticking her. 'I want somebody to trust my professional judgment. It doesn't tell us any more about those children I am teaching.' And in a plea to Children's Secretary Ed Balls, she added: 'Perhaps we should set you a target when you were born and it would be "leave education alone" Mr Balls.'

Their complaints are the latest in a series of concerns levelled at the curriculum. Ministers have already ordered a review of standards in early writing targets amid fears they could be too stretching. One requires five-year-olds to begin writing sentences using punctuation.

NUT delegates yesterday passed a motion condemning 'the demands made on members to complete paper-based assessments in early years, including assessment grids including up to 300 tick boxes per child'. The motion added: 'High quality early education should not be limited to a narrow focus on academic standards and targets should be concerned with the education, in the broadest sense, of the whole child and, in particular, with active participation, experiential learning and play.'


● Birth to 11 months: Communicate in a variety of ways, including by crying, gurgling, babbling and squealing

● Eight to 20 months: Begin to make marks, for example with a rusk on a feeding tray

● 16 to 26 months: Say some counting words randomly

● 22 to 26 months: Understand the numbers one and two and use number language such as 'more' and 'a lot'

● 30 to 50 months: Sing a few simple, familiar songs, draw lines and circles

● 40 to 60 months: Write their own names and under things such as labels and captions and begin to form simple sentences sometimes using punctuation


Texas Christian University to Offer Separate Housing for homosexuals

This hardly conveys the Biblical message that homosexuality is abhorrent to God

Eight students have signed up for Texas Christian University's designated on-campus housing for gay students and their supporters, in what may be the only such college housing in North Texas. The DiversCity Q community will open in the fall in a section of the Tom Brown-Pete Wright apartments. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender students and allies — heterosexual classmates who support them — will have the chance to live together, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported in a story posted Tuesday on its Web site. "It's a chance for students to be part of a unique experience," said David Cooper, TCU associate director for residential life.

TCU sophomore Shelly Newkirk, who is gay, applied to create the program. She said eight students have committed to live in the apartments. "Well I've been trying to create a safe space on campus for the queer community," Newkirk said Tuesday in an interview with Dallas-Fort Worth television station KDFW. "We're not creating just like a bubble for ourselves, but creating a space where we can have open dialogue and students can be comfortable."

TCU will also open two Christian-based living groups, another for fine arts and three other themed housing arrangements. It's all part of the university's living-learning communities, designed for students who want to live with others who are like-minded. Living-learning communities are common at universities in Denton and Tarrant counties, but none has an on-campus living program for gay students. A fraternity for gay and straight students opened in 1998 at the University of North Texas but had closed by 2001, University of North Texas spokeswoman Sarah Bahari said.

Neither Cooper nor Newkirk had received any criticism, they said. "Surprisingly, I found nothing but support," said Newkirk. She said she was prepared for criticism. "Sometimes those things can bring a community together," she said. "It doesn't have to tear us apart."


Sebastien Clerc's common sense crusade to improve French education

Sébastien Clerc left teacher training college with a good knowledge of 18th-century literature and 19th-century history, but he had almost no idea how to cope with the violent, rebellious teenagers he met in his first job. He was posted to a secondary school near Paris teetering on the edge of anarchy amid gangland battles and classroom insurrection. “I was on my knees” within a few weeks, he said.

Now the frail-looking 33-year-old is fighting back with a campaign to restore authority in the suburban lycees that are in the front line of social and economic breakdown in France. His recipe — be firm but fair, keep troublemakers apart, never let misdemeanours go unpunished — draws heavily on common sense. But it represents an historic U-turn for a nation that has traditionally taken a high-flown attitude to education. “In France, we like the theoretical approach because it seems more noble,” Mr Clerc told The Times. “But when it comes to getting a class to obey you, there is no one theory which holds sway — just a series of pragmatic steps you can take. As a result, it has been ignored altogether here.”

He wrote a book, Au Secours! Sauvons Notre Ecole (Help! Save Our School), in which he detailed the insults to which he was subjected and urged tougher discipline in response. The work proved so successful, and met with such an echo among his disgruntled colleagues, that officials have asked him to organise a course on classroom control for young teachers.

In teacher training college, for example, Mr Clerc was lauded for his dissertation on the history of the French education system and for his study of Le Barbier de Séville by Beaumarchais, the 18th-century playwright. But no one told him what to do when a fight broke out between two pupils in one of his first lessons at Jean Moulin lycée in Blanc-Mesnil, north of Paris. Mr Clerc tried to break it up, but found himself confronted with a bigger, heavier teenager. “He rushes at me,” he wrote. “I lift my knee to cushion the shock. He slams into me . . . As I am struggling with him, his classmates get up and help me to bring him under control. I feel worn out, emptied.”

Worse was to follow the next day when he was called in by the head teacher to explain why he had kneed the pupil in the chest. “It was as though I had been responsible for the altercation. The pupil had lied with great skill . . . and my colleague really suspected me.”

Violence is common in the school, where at least 50 per cent of pupils are brought up by single parents, where about 85 per cent are from immigrant families, where drugs are common and where 90 per cent of teachers put in a request for a transfer to another establishment every year. In September last year staff at Jean Moulin went on strike to protest at what they said were daily fights. Hardly had they returned to work than a gang burst into the lycée wielding baseball bats in an attack on a rival group.

Equally draining is the constant chatter — highlighted in The Class, Laurent Cantet’s award-winning film about education in urban France — and the indignation of lycéens asked to keep quiet. “Oh, there’s no need to shout at me,” said one adolescent girl when Mr Clerc requested silence. “It’s perfectly possible to learn while chattering,” answered a second.

For a teacher keen to interest teenagers in such great French authors as Proust and Flaubert, it can be dispiriting. When Mr Clerc asked his pupils to write about a contemporary figure who they found noteworthy, for example, Paris Hilton came out top. Angelina Jolie was second.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009


The Washington Post's editors describe how Congressional Democrats together with the Obama adminstration are destroying the District of Columbia's school voucher program which, according to a new study, has achieved good results for students in the program. I can't improve on the Post's account of this shameful development, so I will simply reprint it:
Education Secretary Arne Duncan has decided not to admit any new students to the D.C. voucher program, which allows low-income children to attend private schools. The abrupt decision -- made a week after 200 families had been told that their children were being awarded scholarships for the coming fall -- comes despite a new study showing some initial good results for students in the program and before the Senate has had a chance to hold promised hearings. For all the talk about putting children first, it's clear that the special interests that have long opposed vouchers are getting their way.

Officials who manage the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program sent letters this week to parents notifying them that the scholarships of up to $7,500, were being rescinded because of the decision by the Education Department. Citing the political uncertainty surrounding vouchers, a spokesperson for Mr. Duncan told us that it is not in the best interest of students and their parents to enroll them in a program that may end a year from now. Congress conditioned funding beyond the 2009-10 school year on reauthorization by Congress and approval by the D.C. Council. By presuming the program dead -- and make no mistake, that's the insidious effect of his bar on new enrollment -- Mr. Duncan makes it even more difficult for the program to get the fair hearing it deserves.

That's not to mention the impact of the last-minute decision on these families. Many of the public charter schools already have cut off enrollments for the upcoming school year; the deadline for out-of-boundary transfers for the public schools has passed. No doubt Mr. Duncan is right about possible disruption for new students if the program were to end. But scholarship officials have been upfront with parents about the risks, and the decision really should be theirs. Let them decide whether they want to chance at least one year in a high-quality private school versus the crapshoot of D.C. public schools.

That, after all, is what this program is about: giving poor families the choice that others, with higher salaries and more resources, take for granted. It's a choice President Obama made when he enrolled his two children in the elite Sidwell Friends School. It's a choice Mr. Duncan had when, after looking at the D.C. schools, he ended up buying a house in Arlington, where good schools are assumed. And it's a choice taken away this week from LaTasha Bennett, a single mother who had planned to start her daughter in the same private school that her son attends and where he is excelling. Her desperation is heartbreaking as she talks about her daughter not getting the same opportunities her son has and of the hardship of having to shuttle between two schools.

It's clear, though, from how the destruction of the program is being orchestrated, that issues such as parents' needs, student performance and program effectiveness don't matter next to the political demands of teachers' unions. Congressional Democrats who receive ample campaign contributions from the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers laid the trap with budget language that placed the program on the block. And now comes Mr. Duncan with the sword.


Homosexual Day Of Silence

The Day of Silence, which is sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), fast approaches. This year it will take place in most public schools on April 17. On this day, thousands of public high schools and increasing numbers of middle schools will allow students to remain silent throughout an entire day-even during instructional time-to promote GLSEN's socio-political goals and its controversial, unproven, and destructive theories on the nature and morality of homosexuality.

Parents must actively oppose this hijacking of the classroom for political purposes. Please join the national effort to restore to public education a proper understanding of the role of government-subsidized schools. You can help de-politicize the learning environment by calling your child out of school if your child's school allows students to remain silent during instructional time on the Day of Silence.

Parents should no longer passively countenance the political usurpation of public school classrooms through student silence. If students will be permitted to remain silent, parents can express their opposition most effectively by calling their children out of school on the Day of Silence and sending letters of explanation to their administrators, their children’s teachers, and all school board members. One reason this is effective is that most school districts lose money for each student absence.

School administrators err when they allow the classroom to be disrupted and politicized by granting students permission to remain silent throughout an entire day.


Britain employing nightclub bouncers as teachers

Bouncers are being employed by schools to take classes when teachers are not available. One London school went to a doormen’s agency for “cover supervisors”, who watch over lessons when teachers are away, and gave jobs to two bouncers, one of whom is still at the school.

The National Union of Teachers conference in Cardiff heard that schools were advertising for cover supervisors with military or police experience. Andrew Baisley, a mathematics teacher at a secondary school in Camden, North London, told delegates that head teachers were hiring almost anyone provided they had been checked by the Criminal Records Bureau.

Cover supervisors hand out worksheets and make sure that children behave. They have no teacher training and work is normally set by a teacher who does not stay in the classroom. Mr Baisley said: “The idea is that it’s about crowd control and childminding. If they’re stern and loud, that’s what is necessary to do the job.” The wage, half that of supply teachers, was an incentive for supervisors to be used, he said.

In Birmingham an education recruitment agency posted an advert online saying: “Hard core cover supervisors needed now!” and offered £50 to £70 a day. It said: “Aspire People are on the hunt for dynamic, inspiring, hard core cover supervisors. You might be an ex-Marine, prison officer, bouncer, policeman, fireman, sportsman or actor. We need someone who thinks they can get involved in a school environment and control the kids in schools.”

Mr Baisley said: “I know of a school which went to an agency to employ bouncers. They were taken on as permanent members of staff. One ended up with a disciplinary issue within the first term. The bouncers were monitoring lessons. They were big guys who had no teaching experience.”

The school was a secondary in a “not particularly tough area”, he said. “Some adverts for cover supervisors ask for applicants with ex-military or police experience. I think there’s something questionable about thinking that is an appropriate skill for the classroom.”

Cover supervisors are paid up to £20,000 a year; experienced supply teachers earn twice as much. The NUT wants all classes to be taken by qualified teachers when the regular teacher is ill or away preparing for lessons. More cover supervisors are likely to be recruited after September, when rules barring schools from asking teachers to cover for colleagues other than in emergencies come into force.

One teacher discussing the issue on a web forum said that his former school had “full-time security on the corridors and on call for classroom and playground fights. These security were actually nightclub door staff, topping up their income with daytime hours — and believe me they were needed.”

Sarah McCarthy-Fry, the Schools Minister, said: “Heads should ensure that the people they employ have experience and training — and that checks are carried out. Cover supervision should only be a short-term solution. “Pupils should continue their learning through pre-prepared lessons and exercises supervised by support staff with appropriate skills and training. It is up to heads to determine systems for cover in their schools.”

The behaviour expert Sir Alan Steer, asked by the Government to examine behaviour in schools, is to report this week that disruptive children should be removed to “withdrawal rooms” and taught in isolation.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Britain's ruling elite have put themselves in a class apart

They don't send their own kids to the sink schools they have created for "the masses"

It is easy to see why a cynical Tory leadership might have secretly wanted to destroy Britain's excellent grammar schools. Once selection by ability was abolished and replaced by comprehensives based on catchment areas, the best state schools would be in the wealthiest parts of town, and the Conservative-voting middle classes need no longer fear competition for scarce places from the bright children of poor homes. And so it has turned out, more or less.

But it is much harder to work out why Labour - supposedly the party of the working class --should have tried so hard and for so long to deprive the poor of good schools. If you can understand why this happened, then you can begin to grasp what has gone so wrong with British politics since the Second World War.

For the crisis in British state education is the direct result of the takeover of the Labour Party - once a working-class, Christian and socially conservative party - by dogmatic, well-off, middle-class cultural revolutionaries. They saw, and still see, education as the new nationalisation, their most effective weapon for levelling our society and forcing the rest of us - but not them - to be equal. It is their real Clause Four, the thing they will never give up. Those who have fooled themselves into thinking New Labour is really a conservative party should observe the dogged way that Labour never budges on this subject.

Modern British socialists - and modern British Tories - openly and actively support a school system that ensures the children of the rich and influential are privileged, while the offspring of the poor and weak are deprived. Why?

The evidence for all this is quite clear. The odd thing is that so few realise what it means. Since this is the system that we have, and since socialists do support it, and with some vigour, it is amazing that this question is not asked more often. All around us we see proof of it. We also have strong evidence that they know what they are doing. They pretend, when they must know they are fooling nobody, that they have not watered down the exam system to conceal the general drop in standards. And above all, they all try to avoid the schools they force on their voters. They usually do this through a variety of obvious fiddles. Sometimes they quite blatantly buy themselves out of the mess they have created. What they do not do is suffer the results of their own dogma.

This obvious, repeated hypocrisy is a reliable source of embarrassing scandals. But they are not like other scandals because, however many times they are exposed, the wrong is never put right. These events play for a little while in the Press, flare, flicker and die.

News is meant to shock, because it reveals a state of affairs that is plainly wrong. Normally, wrongdoing is in some way righted or at least expiated once it has been exposed. If it is the disclosure of a crime, the story usually ends with the trial and punishment of a culprit. If it is the revelation of an injustice, it generally ends in some sort of restitution. Fat cats are forced to ration their cream. Dirty hospitals are made to clean filthy lavatories and scrub bloodstained floors. Sordid broadcasters are forced off the air. The Monarchy, found to be privileged, is compelled to pay tax and to forgo much of its privilege and grandeur.

But if it is the exposure of socialist hypocrisy and privilege, there are no consequences. This hypocrisy is allowed.

Let us go through just some of the exposures of this kind. Back in the Sixties, prominent socialist politicians such as the Labour Lord and Minister C.P. Snow made no apologies about sending their children to Eton. Snow, himself a state-school product, said loftily that he 'didn't believe in cutting down the tall poppies'.

Nowadays it is slightly more complicated. Ruth Kelly, once in charge of forcing poor comprehensive schooling on others, while issuing massaged statistics to pretend it was good, was found to be sending one of her own children to a private school --on the grounds of 'special needs'. She tried tenaciously to prevent the news being published at all.

The Blairite Labour Cabinet Minister Paul Boateng got away with educating some of his children privately, perhaps because of his sparkling Left-wing credentials in other areas. Anthony Blair's friend Charles Falconer, forced to choose between educating his children privately and becoming a Labour MP, chose private education. But Mr Blair then made him a Lord, so allowing him to have a political career anyway.

Baroness Symons, another Labour Minister and former Leftwing trade unionist, quietly sent her son to an independent school. Diane Abbott, a militantly Leftist Labour backbencher, likewise sent her son to a private school. Astonishingly, she admitted that her action was 'indefensible' but went ahead with it anyway. Nothing has happened to her.

But for the more ambitious, other methods had to be used. It is simply impossible to find out how many Labour Ministers did as the Blairs did, and hired private tutors to coach their children through crucial exams. If nobody talks, the truth stays secret. But the general liberal elite method of obtaining a privileged and special education - while supporting egalitarian schooling for everyone else - appeared in many subtle and different ways.

Harriet Harman, a fierce upperclass radical married to Leftist union official Jack Dromey, managed to get one child (supposedly on the grounds of his religion) into the Oratory, a Roman Catholic secondary that is a grammar school in all but name. Soon afterwards, she got her second child into St Olave's, an openly selective grammar school (but not Catholic) far from her home. On this occasion, faith seemed to matter less.

Mr Blair himself, thanks to the Catholic faith of his wife, was able to escape bad local comprehensives and get his children into the Oratory, miles from his London home. This upset his Press secretary, Alastair Campbell. It also annoyed the pointedly unmarried mother of Mr Campbell's children, Fiona Millar. These fierce radicals were educated in selective grammar schools but are now passionate advocates of comprehensive schools. Miss Millar has publicly criticised Ms Harman over the St Olave's incident. Yet Mr Campbell and Miss Millar just so happen to live in the costly and very small catchment area of a group of London's most exceptional state schools, including two rare single-sex comprehensives. Others, too, just so happen to live in such desirable catchment areas.

To hope for a place at Camden School for Girls, you must dwell almost within sight of its gates. Local estate agents know to the yard where the catchment area begins and ends, and there is an agreeable gentrified square nearby, conveniently situated for middle-class buyers. It is not cheap to live there. Once again, it just so happens that, discontented with the state schooling available for their daughters elsewhere in London, the Blairite Pollster Philip Gould and his fashionable publisher wife Gail Rebuck moved to a property close to this excellent school - which is officially a nonselective comprehensive but has most of the features of an old-style girls' grammar school (with boys in the sixth form) and regularly gets plenty of pupils into Oxbridge. Nearby also live former Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt and her husband, the one-time communist, now a judge, Bill Birtles. Their daughter also attended Camden Girls.

Another prominent Labour MP, Jon Cruddas, was recently found to have used his parliamentary allowance to buy a second home in Notting Hill, which just so happens to be in the catchment area of the superb - and exceptional - Cardinal Vaughan Roman Catholic state school. I think we can be sure there are many others who happen to have made similar housing choices, but we have not heard about them yet.

Since David Cameron's Conservatives finally stopped pretending to defend grammar schools and accepted the egalitarian agenda of New Labour, Tory politicians have been going through similar contortions. Mr Cameron's wife Samantha has been working busily on the parish magazine of a fashionable West London church. So has Sarah Vine, the journalist wife of Shadow Education Secretary Michael Gove. It just so happens that attached to this church is one of London's very best Anglican primary schools, and that a little Cameron and a little Gove just so happen to have won rare places there: three children apply for every one.

This sort of secret privilege is standard procedure in countries where socialism is in power, and the most blatant example of George Orwell's deadly accurate satirical comment in Animal Farm that all are equal but some are more equal than others.

In communist Moscow, those with Red Power - much more useful there than money - used it to get their young into the famous School Number One, a great deal less equal than most Moscow comprehensives, but officially just the same. The Lenin High School in Havana is for the sons and daughters of Fidel Castro's revolutionary elite. In Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, the Mangyongdae Revolutionary School is at least as exclusive as Eton, though not perhaps in exactly the same way. The children of the communist Chinese leadership often turn out to be studying at major American universities. They did not get there through the normal Chinese state school system. Here the same process happens. It is not secret, but when it is found out, it does not stop. It is too important for that.

You might think that at some point someone had shown that comprehensive schools were better than what went before them. The opposite is true. Experts knew they would make things worse. The largely unknown father of the idea of comprehensive schools in Britain - who also invented the term - was a war veteran and onetime teacher at Eton called Graham Savage, later knighted. His 1928 study of high schools in the United States was the first shot in the campaign to go comprehensive.

But Savage admitted from the start that while comprehensive schools were more 'democratic', they would also hold back the brightest pupils. Before he died in 1981, he began to express regrets about the destruction of grammar schools. Too late. By this time Labour had been captured by militant levellers, especially the zealot Anthony Crosland, who in 1965 sent out the circular that set wrecking balls swinging against the walls of hundreds of grammar schools.

Crosland, it turns out, did not really know what he was doing. In his 1956 book, The Future Of Socialism, it is clear that he had no idea what comprehensive schools would be like. He, like Graham Savage, admits that American-style high schools 'would lead to a really serious levelling-down of standards'. He explicitly ruled out the mixed-ability classes that would in fact become common. He supported selection within schools, instead of between them. But he did not reckon with the revolutionary zeal of the teachers themselves, many of them products of the Sixties campus revolution. Too bad for the rest of us.

But the liberal elite would always find a way out of the educational hell it had made for everyone else. It is a perfect illustration of what is wrong with modern British politics, that this shameful hypocrisy, combined with grave damage to our educational system, goes unchallenged by any major party.


That old School


In his not–quite–State of the Union address the other week, President Obama said the following:
“I think about Ty’Sheoma Bethea, the young girl from that school I visited in Dillon, South Carolina — a place where the ceilings leak, the paint peels off the walls, and they have to stop teaching six times a day because the train barrels by their classroom. She had been told that her school is hopeless, but the other day after class she went to the public library and typed up a letter to the people sitting in this chamber. She even asked her principal for the money to buy a stamp. The letter asks us for help, and says, ‘We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina but also the world. We are not quitters.’ That’s what she said. ‘We are not quitters.’”

There was much applause, and this passage was cited approvingly even by some conservatives as an example of how President Obama was yoking his “ambitious vision” (i.e., record-breaking spending) to traditional appeals to American exceptionalism.

I think not. “We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen . . .” The doctors are on track to becoming yet another group of state employees; the lawyers sue the doctors for medical malpractice and, when they’ve made enough dough, like John Edwards, they get elected to Congress. Is there no one in Miss Bethea’s school who’d like to be an entrepreneur, an inventor, a salesman, a generator of wealth? Someone’s got to make the dough Obama’s already spent.

As for the train “barreling by their classroom,” my colleague John Derbyshire checked. The closest the railroad track comes to the school is about 240 yards, or over an eighth of a mile. The president was wrong: Trains are not barreling by any classroom six times a day. And, even if they were, I’ll bet that’s fewer barrelings per diem than when the school was built in 1912, or the new wing added in 1957. Incidentally, you may have read multiple articles referring to the “113-year-old building.” Actually, that’s the building behind the main school — the original structure from 1896, where the school district has its offices. But if, like so many people, you assume an edifice dating from 1896 or 1912 must ipso facto be uninhabitable, bear in mind that the central portion of the main building was entirely rebuilt in 1983. That’s to say, this rotting, decrepit, mildewed Dotheboys Hall of a Gothic mausoleum dates all the way back to the Cyndi Lauper era.

Needless to say, the salaried stenographers up in the press gallery were happy to take the hopeychanger-in-chief at his word on the facts of the case. But even more striking is how indifferent they were to the bigger question: If a schoolhouse has peeling paint and leaking ceilings, what’s the best way to fix it? Applying for federal funds and processing the building maintenance through a huge continental bureaucracy? Or doing what my neighbors did when the (older than Dillon) grade-school bell tower was collapsing? The carpenters and painters donated their time, and the materials were paid for through community dances and bean suppers. If that sounds sick-makingly Norman Rockwell, well, take it from me, small-town life is hell and having to interact with folksy-type folks in a “tightly knit community” certainly takes its toll, and the commemorative photo montage of gnarled old Yankees in plaid looking colorful doesn’t capture many of the disputes over the project. But forget the cloying small-town sentimentality: It’s the quickest and cheapest way to resolve the problem.

It always is: A friend of mine is on the select board of a neighboring town. In recent years, the state highway department has condemned two bridges. With the first bridge, they were advised to apply for funds under the 80/20 state/town formula: The bridge has yet to be constructed and in that time the cost — including their 20 percent — has almost doubled. When the second bridge was condemned, the town rebuilt it themselves, for less than half of the first bridge’s original 80/20 formula cost, and in a twentieth of the time. It’s called the can-do spirit, not the can-apply-for-funding spirit.

Dillon, S.C., is a town of about 6,000 people. Is there really no way they can organize acceptable accommodation for a two-grade junior high school without petitioning the Sovereign in Barackingham Palace? To be fair to the good burghers of Dillon, they seem to be wearying of playing the peasant extras in Barack the O-mighty’s crowd scenes. They were originally proposing a municipal bond to fund building improvements, and appear to have realized that being stuck in Stimulus Hell is a high price to pay for young Ty’Sheoma’s photo op with Michelle. But, even if the federal behemoth were capable of timely classroom repainting from D.C. to Hawaii, consider the scale of government and the size of bureaucracy that would be required. Once such an apparatus is in place it won’t content itself with paint jobs.

Tocqueville would weep. “It is in the township that the strength of free peoples resides,” he wrote. “Municipal institutions are for liberty what primary schools are for science; they place it within reach of the people. . . . Without municipal institutions, a nation is able to give itself a free government, but it lacks the spirit of liberty.”

The issue is not the decrepitude of the building but the decrepitude of liberty. Maybe the president can spend enough of our money to halt the degradation of infrastructure. The degradation of citizenship will prove harder to reverse.


Cultural sensitivity directives 'bamboozle' Australian teachers of black kids

An education expert says teachers are being "bamboozled" by mysticism surrounding Aboriginal children and letting educational standards slip. Dr Chris Sarra, director of the Indigenous Education Leadership Institute in Queensland, was in Darwin this week addressing 200 principals and senior education department figures.

He says he told the conference teachers should demand high standards of Aboriginal children, instead of making allowances for cultural differences. "There is the potential and I believe this absolutely, that the Territory education system can move from one that is perhaps been guilty of creating an underclass to becoming a world class education system," he said.

Dr Sarra says he read a paper last year directing educators "not to look Aboriginal children in the eyes" because it might somehow damage their psyche. He says there is an impression that being culturally sensitive means accepting second rate outcomes from Aboriginal students, but that this approach does the students no favours. "It presented Aboriginal children as being so mystical and so culturally different and so exotic, to the extent that lots of teachers were overwhelmed by that sort of information and forgot these are actually just kids in schools who deserve an education as much as anybody," he said.

"We can't get to a point where we just cannot see the kids for the black faces. "We've got to take Aboriginal children as high-potential learners, high-calibre learners with tremendous potential."

Dr Sarra says he has completed a structural review of the Northern Territory Education Department which is currently with the Chief Minister. He was commissioned to conduct the review after the former head of the department, Margaret Banks, was sacked by the then education minister Marion Scrymgour in October last year.

Dr Sarra says it would be inappropriate for him to comment on whether his review recommends redundancies. "You'll have to wait for the Chief Minister to have a look at what's contained in the report," he said. "I don't believe it's fair that that education department employees up there should be hearing about any outcomes from me through this forum."


Sunday, April 12, 2009

British crack cocaine user keeps his teaching job... as he's an 'excellent role model'

A teacher caught with crack cocaine has been allowed to keep his job. Michael Swann was given a caution for possession of the Class A drug after being found with it in a nightclub.

The 27-year-old, who teaches at Maltby Comprehensive in Rotherham, could have been struck off, suspended or given an official reprimand. But at a disciplinary hearing, the General Teaching Council told the science teacher he would face no further sanctions. While his actions amounted to 'unacceptable professional misconduct' he remained an 'excellent' role model for children.

Drugs charities and teaching unions last night accused the GTC of being toothless. John Dunford, of the Association for School and College Leaders, said the decision sent out the wrong message. 'This represents an inadequate warning to others who might set a similarly bad example to children,' he added.

The decision was also described as being 'unhelpful' by drugs charity Hope UK, which works with young people. 'The examples that adults set have a powerful impact on children and young people, for good or ill,' said a spokesman. 'Parents and teachers are in a unique position to role model a healthy, drug-free lifestyle to the young people in their care - anything less is unhelpful, to say the least.'

Mr Swann was arrested by South Yorkshire Police in October 2007 outside Rotherham's Liqschooluid club. They released him with a caution, but were obliged to report the incident to the GTC. However, it chose not to take any further action after looking at Mr Swann's performance as a teacher. In its report, the GTC's professional conduct committee said it felt Mr Swann was 'a good teacher making a significant contribution to the and he had 'much to offer'. 'We believe you are genuinely sorry for what occurred,' it said. 'We think you have the potential to make a positive contribution to the profession.'

They said there was 'no direct effect' on his pupils and that the consequences of receiving a caution - which will be seen by future employers which carry out a Criminal Records Bureau check - was 'an adequate sanction'.

Mr Swann said last night that he planned to carry on teaching and he insisted that the cocaine did not belong to him. He told the Daily Mail: 'I went into the nightclub toilet and saw a small white polythene bag which had what I presumed was cocaine in it. 'I picked it up but as I did so a bouncer looked over the top of the cubicle, saw me with the bag and asked me to move out. 'He took me to the front of the club and said he was going to inform the police. I was subsequently arrested. I was tested for drugs and it came back clear.'

Mr Swann said his school had imposed an 18-month final written warning, which is due to expire at the end of this month.


The Veteran: Penn State's gratuitous slur


"What if it was 'Oh, the gay one,' or 'Oh, the Asian kid?' " asks Maggie Kwok, head of the Penn State Veterans Organization in an interview with the Daily Collegian, PSU's student newspaper. She is referring to a "training video," prepared by the university's Counseling and Psychological Services office, depicting "worrisome student behavior."

The office swiftly removed the video when it prompted a kerfuffle, but the PSU College Republicans preserved it on YouTube. It's a fascinating documentation of academic prejudice.

Just shy of five minutes, the video depicts a vignette in two scenes. As it opens, a timorous young female instructor is talking with an older man, perhaps the department chairman. We join the conversation as it is about to wrap up, before she brings up a new and worrisome subject:
Instructor: . . . So, I think that we should talk to everybody about that.
Chairman: Good, let's bring it up at the staff meeting, OK?
Instructor: Actually, I kinda wanted to talk to you about something else? Um, I'm still having problems with that student I mentioned?
Chairman: The Veteran.
Instructor: Yeah. He's having problems with his papers still. His grammar is really poor, and he veers off subject, and he's just not really seeming to understand the assignments.

Sound familiar? "You know, education--if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, uh, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."

The video's salient stereotype, however, is not of veterans as thickheaded but as angry. The instructor reluctantly tells the chairman that the student's "tone is very confrontational, and I feel like he's always on the verge of losing his temper." The chairman asks if he has threatened her or if she is "worried about what he might do." She says no, but "he makes me really uneasy." He gives her some obvious advice, beginning: "If he ever threatens you, you call the police right away."

After this inconclusive chat, the story shifts to the classroom, where The Veteran confronts the instructor, demanding to know why he only got a C-plus on his paper even after rewriting it to her specifications. She says that while there was some improvement after the rewrite, she graded the paper on the merits. He thinks she has it in for him and says, "I don't see why you're doing this":
Instructor: I'm not doing anything, Matthew. This isn't a personal thing against you.
The Veteran: I think it is! You've made it very clear in class how you feel about the war, and you're taking it out on me!
Instructor: My personal beliefs have nothing to do with the way that I treat you. I think that you need to relax and we need to discuss this. Or I could give you the name of someone to talk to if you feel like you want to get some help.
The Veteran: Help? Do you think I'm an idiot? You're the one who's being unreasonable! I just want the grade that I deserve. [Pauses.] You know what? You'll see, you'll be sorry. I'm gonna get you fired.

With this, The Veteran exits stage left. Fade to black as the instructor's jaw goes slack in an expression midway between terror and pensiveness.

"Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said the university responded to the veterans' concerns as quickly as possible by removing the video," the Collegian reports:
"We heard them, we responded and there was certainly no intent to suggest that any particular student group was inclined toward worrisome behavior," Powers said. . . .
"Obviously someone has taken our video and has posted it elsewhere," Powers said. "Since it has been posted on the Internet, we have received some e-mails from veterans and friends of veterans who have seen the video out of context."

We watched the other three videos in the series, and we must say we don't see how the "context" ameliorates the veterans' objections to the depiction of The Veteran.

All the videos in the series concern students behaving in ways that are creepy but not necessarily dangerous. In the first, a young woman tells her professor that a young man in her class has an unreciprocated romantic interest in her and has been making her feel uncomfortable. "It's not like he's stalking me or anything," she allows, but then she describes behavior that some may reckon crossed that line.

The second depicts a female student who is behaving erratically for reasons that are unspecified--perhaps trauma, mental illness or drug abuse.

The third shows a classroom discussion on news coverage of violent crime. When the conversation turns toward school shootings, a black-shirted male student in the back row remarks that such violence "doesn't make sense to me. Why shoot at the other students? Personally, I'd blow up Old Main or shoot up the administration. That's where the real problems are."

The video about The Veteran is similar to the others, in that all depict abnormal behavior by young people who probably are normal, but are immature or temporarily impaired. But the characters in the other videos are all completely generic, with no distinguishing characteristics other than their sex. Only The Veteran is fleshed out enough even to be a stereotype.

The obvious objection to the depiction of The Veteran is that there is no reason to think that veterans are more prone than anyone else to lash out angrily, blaming others for their own failings. If anything, one would think that the rigors of military training and deployment would leave them more mature, at least in this regard.

But The Veteran's status as a veteran is relevant to the video's story, inasmuch as he believes the instructor is treating him unfairly because he is a veteran. This lends another dimension to Maggie Kwok's speculation about the reaction if the character were depicted as a member of an ethnic or sexual minority.

What if the student in the video were black and accused the instructor of racial discrimination? Would this be depicted, as it is in this video, as if the charge was absurd on its face? Would the student's threat to have the (presumably untenured) instructor "fired" come across as an empty one, the way it does in the actual video? And if the department chairman in the opening exchange identified the student by asking, "Oh, the black guy?," would that not be seen--with some justification--as bolstering the charge of discrimination?

In the video, The Veteran behaves inappropriately--but he also accuses the instructor of inappropriately bringing her politics into the classroom at his expense. We are meant to think the accusation if preposterous. But at a university that produces such a video, is it hard to believe that such things actually go on?


Australian country school rocked by student violence

Very different from the country schools of the "unenlightened" past

A COUNTRY Victorian school faces a growing culture of aggression and intimidation, a confidential report says. Several teachers have been assaulted and overwhelmed by unruly teens, the report commissioned by the Department of Education says. A former Benalla College teacher, who resigned last year, described the school as in crisis, but said the report into the violence had largely been ignored. "Staff are exasperated, they have nowhere else to turn . . . they expected the report to lead to changes," she said. "The Government has swept it under the carpet."

School sources said there had been at least five assault incidents against teachers in recent times, the latest last week.

The assessment report on trouble at the college, written by consultants ResolutionsRTK, says a mob of students was continuing to cause trouble. "There is a relatively small but growing cohort of students who are evidencing unacceptable behaviour," says the report filed last month. "There was also a perception that 'good' students are leaving the school at a higher rate . . . students swearing and being aggressive or threatening towards teaching staff was broadly reported."

Despite the reports, deputy principal John Brownstein said three recent incidents had been dealt with immediately and the students had apologised.

Concern over student conduct was raised last year when it was reported some parents were refusing to allow their children to return to the college. Police have attended the school several times in recent months and students had been asked to sign contracts regulating their behaviour.