Saturday, May 09, 2009

MA: Restraining of students questioned

"Why not let disruptive kids just mess up everybody else's education?" seems to be the attitude below. Disruptive kids should have classes of their own where they can be professionally handled rather than having them imposed on everyone else. Requiring teachers to be semi-psychiatrists is just absurd. But that's Massachusetts, where minority rights trump majority rights every time

Sometimes it is a child with a behavioral problem, flailing her arms, hitting anyone who comes near her. Or it could be a teenager, threatening to physically hurt a classmate. Or a fistfight that breaks out between two feuding junior high boys. Each day in Massachusetts schools, teachers are faced with the daunting question of whether to cross that barrier and physically restrain any students who are threatening to hurt either themselves or others. Too often, advocates say, teachers are making the wrong decision.

With a surge in the number of students with behavioral issues, and a teacher corps that is on edge because of increasing school violence, the question of whether and how to physically restrain students has become the subject of growing controversy in Massachusetts and will be the subject of a hearing in Congress in coming weeks.

Since 2001, when school districts were required to start reporting the most extreme cases, schools have reported more than 900 cases of restraining students that resulted in injury or lasted for an extended period of time.

Advocates worry that special education students will be especially susceptible to discipline, and question the integrity of a system that relies on self-reporting. They believe many schools do not follow the reporting requirement and accuse the state of not properly monitoring them.

The concerns reflect a national debate over whether school personnel are too quick to restrain students they deem unruly, resulting in physical or psychological injury. Critics say schools have failed to properly train teachers, leaving them ill equipped to handle the growing number of children who physically act out or are in emotional distress. Staffing shortages, because of budget cuts, are also compounding the problem, they say.

In response to those concerns - highlighted in a report this winter by the National Disability Rights Network, an advocacy group - the US House Committee on Education and Labor will hold hearings on developing restrictions on when students can be restrained. The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, is preparing a report. "This has become an increasing problem in schools, particularly as schools cut back on teachers," said Richard Robison, executive director Federation for Children with Special Needs, an advocacy group based in Boston. "Teachers get frustrated and can't deal with everything. What happens is teachers revert to using restraints illegally or inappropriately."

Under rules adopted by the state education board in 2001, school districts must receive parental permission before restraining students, unless they pose an imminent threat of harming themselves or others. The regulations call for only physically restraining a student, except in cases where a physician has explicitly authorized a chemical or mechanical restraint and a parent approves the use in writing. One popular mechanical device is a Rifton chair, which is designed to help children sit still; it sometimes comes with straps.

The rules also prohibit physically confining a student alone in a room without access to a staff member. Schools only need to report to the state a restraining that results in an injury or lasts for more than 20 minutes. The state is then required to conduct an investigation, which can range from a desk review of the case to a site visit.

When passed, state education officials and other parents expected the regulations would curb the restraint of students because training would include techniques to quell a situation before it gets out of control.

Only in rare cases does the department find that a school acted inappropriately, according to state education officials, who defended their monitoring efforts and regulations for restraining students, including teacher training requirements. "We investigate every report we receive," said Marcia Mittnacht, the state's director for special education who drafted the regulations on restraining students. "I have no evidence that suggest schools are quick to restrain."

North Reading is embroiled in a dispute over the restraining of a 3-year-old autistic boy three years ago. On Feb. 8, 2006, a North Reading elementary school teacher thought he was too disruptive in a preschool classroom. As the boy cried hysterically, she strapped him into a chair designed to help special-needs children sit still and put him into a dark closet-sized room, according to a lawsuit filed this winter by the parents in Middlesex Superior Court. Then she walked away, shutting the door behind her, leaving the boy alone.

The boy's parents did not give permission for the J.T. Hood School to restrain their child, their lawyer said. They do not know how long their child was restrained in a Rifton chair. Another teacher freed him from the closet-sized room, according to the lawyer. "He's had night terrors," said Sean T. Goguen, a Woburn lawyer representing the family, who asked that their son not be identified. "At the time the incident happened, he couldn't talk and couldn't convey the experience to his parents. . . . It doesn't seem right to me that a 3-year-old boy has to go to a therapist because of someone else's actions."

The state education department ultimately found that the teacher inappropriately restrained the child after the boy's parents - and not the school district - notified the department about the incident, according to an Aug. 22, 2006, letter the state sent to the school superintendent. The teacher never received training on restraining because she had a medically excused absence on the day it took place and should have made up the training before returning to the classroom, according to the letter.

In an interview, the district's superintendent, David Troughton, declined to comment about the case, but did speak in general about the district's philosophy on restraining students and its policy, which was adopted by the School Committee shortly after the passing of the new state regulations. "Restraints should be used with extreme caution and only in emergencies when other less intrusive actions have been tried," Troughton said. "You don't use a physical restraint as a means of punishment. It should only be used in clear situations where the safety of a child is at stake."

Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, said he believes school administrators and teachers need the authority to restrain students to maintain order in their schools when certain situations escalate, such as a fight or a student who intends to use a weapon or has a violent emotional outburst. "Sometimes it's a very close call," Koocher said. "If a student is accidentally hurt while being restrained, you can have lots of complaints.


Unruly pupils and rise in attacks drive Scottish teachers to despair

Teachers have been driven to “despair” by growing indiscipline in Scottish classrooms, being unable to exclude unruly pupils and plagued by constant low-level disruption, it was claimed last night. One trade union leader said that there was frustration within the profession at the apparent drive to keep problem children in mainstream education at all costs. Another representative said that stronger guidance should be provided to determine when such pupils should be expelled.

They spoke out following a Holyrood debate, called by the Scottish Conservatives, in which the Tory education spokeswoman Liz Smith said that the rising numbers of armed attacks in schools meant it was “little wonder that many in the teaching profession are in despair about what can be done”. She said that the increasing problem was consuming “more and more” of teachers’ time. Figures released earlier this year showed that physical attacks with a weapon increased from 286 in 2006-07 to 366 in 2007-08 and, that in the last academic year there were 39,717 exclusions.

Keith Brown, the Schools Minister, said that this constituted an 11 per cent decline on the previous year but backed moves by the previous Labour-Lib Dem administration to devolve decision-making on exclusions to head teachers.

The SNP Administration has been condemned by opposition politicians for its record on education and its failure to meet its manifesto pledges to reduce class sizes, increase teacher numbers and improve school buildings.

Following yesterday’s debate, Margaret Smith, of the Lib Dems, claimed that these “broken promises” were “hampering progress on tackling indiscipline in our schools”.

Earlier this year, a Dundee teacher, Mike Barile, was convicted of assault for grabbing a 15-year-old pupil and pinning another to a wall after they verbally abused him. Union leaders said yesterday that teachers were being forced to deal with insults and violence as well as insidious low-level misbehaviour.

Jim Docherty, of the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association, agreed there was despair among teachers and said that the situation had been aggravated by a wish at both local and national levels of government to make mainstream education more “inclusive”. He said this meant that problem children were no longer being removed to dedicated facilities. “Specialist units for pupils who are socially, emotionally and behaviourally disturbed are at least part of the answer,” he said. He urged local authorities to produce more robust guidelines for when a pupil should be expelled.

Ken Cunningham, of the School Leaders Scotland union, agreed that there should be more central guidance — but insisted that heads should retain decision-making powers. He said that it was an exaggeration to describe teachers as despairing — and that, while there were violent incidents and low-level disruptions, “schools are overwhelmingly safe places for youngsters to be”.

A survey out today shows that one in ten teachers has not been given any information on the Executive’s overhaul of the curriculum and more than a third have not been told how it will affect their subject. The Educational Institute for Scotland’s study found widespread ignorance of the details of the Curriculum For Excellence, which is to be introduced in 2010-11.

Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the union, said that it and most teachers and lecturers supported the curriculum’s aims. Yet the existence of a “substantial minority” that did not feel fully engaged with its implementation was “an issue of real concern and urgency for local authorities and the Scottish government to address”. His union was worried about the lack of funding for the curriculum and that there was insufficient time for teachers to work on it, he added.

Judith Sischy, of the Scottish Council for Independent Schools, agreed that there was “a lot of concern” among teachers about how the curriculum would affect them. While teachers were pleased to see the details of the curriculum that were published in April, those in the secondary sector were worried about how they would tie in with new qualifications such as the Scottish Baccalaureate, she said.

At its annual conference the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association is to vote on a resolution for industrial action to be considered if more funding is not provided for the implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence.


Australia: Precipitous dumbing down in Queensland schools

Teachers still incompetent after completing 4-year teaching degrees -- degrees which are notoriously mere fluff. Standards were higher when teachers needed a one-year diploma only

THE maths skills of Queensland school students fell so greatly during the 1970s and 1980s that researchers have likened it to losing two years of learning. Education expert Geoff Masters has told the Bligh Government that when there was an emphasis on maths in Queensland primary schools, the state outperformed all other Australian students. However, he said the state recorded the biggest national decline in junior secondary school mathematics in the 30 years up until 1995.

Professor Masters' review also listed survey results which showed that only 44 per cent of Queensland Year 4 teachers felt "very well" prepared to teach Year 4 science. Premier Anna Bligh has backed the report, which urges the introduction of literacy and numeracy tests for teacher graduates as part of their registration.

However, that recommendation has been given a cool reception by teacher unions, who are set to begin negotiations with the Government over future pay and conditions. Professor Masters said he found many outstanding teachers, school leaders and primary schools throughout the state. However, he said the review was also told of "teachers whose own literacy skills are little better than those of the students they teach, of underperforming school leaders and of entire schools in which levels of students attendance, behaviour and achievement are unacceptably low".

He said the evidence he uncovered raised questions about the overall performance of Queensland students and the "significant disparities" between their achievement and those of interstate and overseas students. Increased support for teachers and school leaders was the key to raising reading, writing and numeracy skills in Queensland primary schools, he said.

Improved student performance would come from schools with committed teachers who knew their subjects well and school leaders who set high expectations and demanded success for all. "A theme that emerged from the review was the fundamental importance of having all players – teachers, students, parents, school leaders, system leaders – working in a consistent and mutually supportive way," Professor Masters said.

He dismissed the argument that Queensland students have 12 months less schooling than their primary school counterparts on the same year level in other states, saying the state's underperformance continued into lower secondary school.


Friday, May 08, 2009

America’s reading gender gap

The good news is that reading scores for 9 and 13-year-olds are the highest ever according to results released this week from the 2008 National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The bad news is that boys trail girls in reading performance at all age levels. The gap at age 9 is 8 points, at age 13 is 8 points, and at age 17 is 11 points. This is not a new trend—boys have been scoring lower than girls on U.S. Department of Education reading tests for more than 30 years.

The reading gender gap spans every racial and ethnic group, and categorically finds boys underperforming girls regardless of income, disability, or English-speaking ability.

The research is clear: greater reading skills equates to greater success in school. Increasingly, it also equates to greater success in the workforce as blue-collar jobs move to low-wage countries. If we don't start to help boost our boys out of their reading slump, many of them will become unemployed adults.

Men are already taking the lead at the unemployment line. The March 2009 unemployment rate was 9.5 percent for men and 7.5 percent for women. The 2 percent male-female jobless rate gap represents a historical high.

Many boys with reading problems experience the "domino effect": They often become disinterested students, who often become behavioral problems, who often become school dropouts, who often become unemployed workers, who often become incarcerated criminals. Over 90 percent of the prisoners in America are male.

Teachers can help by understanding that boys and girls have different reading tastes. Teachers often handicap their efforts to get boys to read when they assign reading material that fails to tap into the natural interests and inclinations of boys.

One of the best ways to get boys reading is to offer them reading material that motivates them to want to read. Boys enjoy reading: nonfiction; stories with action and adventure; stories with male protagonists; and a wide variety of reading materials, including books, magazines, newspapers, how-to manuals, Web sites, comic books, and graphic novels.

Many teachers do not offer boy-friendly reading material because they view it as substandard. They believe it's better to require boys to read books that meet high literary standards, even if boys find those books unappealing. The fallacy of this line of reasoning lies in the results:many boys are poor readers.

The consequences of creating future generations of boys who hate to read are far worse than the consequences of succumbing to the natural reading interests of boys. The first priority should be to get boys excited about reading so they will become lifelong readers. Broadening their literary palates comes second.

When boys like what they read in school, they're more likely to continue reading and transition to increasingly sophisticated material. When they don't like what they read in school, they're more likely to discontinue reading and miss out on a primary resource for lifelong learning.


A fifth of British 11-year-olds with poor maths skills, say MPs

One in five children leaves primary school with a poor grasp of maths, despite £2.3 billion spent teaching the subject, MPs warned

According to a report, around 30,000 pupils started secondary school last year with the maths skills of a seven year old. The Commons Public Accounts Committee branded the results "disgraceful" and said Labour's numeracy strategy had stalled. MPs warned that many young people would need "expensive" remedial lessons in later life to get a job - posing major problems for the economy.

The findings come just months after Ofsted claimed almost half of maths lessons in English schools were not good enough. It said many teachers relied on textbooks and mundane exercises to make sure pupils passed exams at the expense of a proper understanding of the subject.

MPs backed the conclusions, saying too many pupils found lessons "boring". They insisted improvements had been made under Labour but achievement had "levelled off" in recent years.

Edward Leigh, the committee's Conservative chairman, said: "It is disgraceful that over one fifth of all primary school children reach the end of their primary education without a secure grasp of basic mathematical skills. This can have serious long-term consequences: for many then continue through secondary school without acquiring basic numeracy skills, impairing their chances in life and leaving them later in need of expensive remedial education."

Children are assessed by teachers in the classroom at the age of seven, before being given more formal Sats tests aged 11. At the age of seven, they are expected to reach "Level 2", meaning they can count up to 100 and carry out simple calculations. By 11, the average pupil is expected to get to "Level 4", meaning they can understand fractions, solve problems involving ratios, use decimal points and double or halve any two-digit number.

In 2008, 79 per cent of pupils met the Government's expected standard at the end of primary school, well short of the 85 per cent target set for 2006. Around five per cent moved to secondary school with the maths skills of a seven-year-old, said the committee.

In 2006/07, £2.3 billion was spent teaching the subject, an average cost of £570 per pupil. It equates to around a quarter of the £10 billion total budget for primary teaching and support staff.

The report said the Department for Children, Schools and Families needed to "radically re-think its strategy for improving pupil attainment, otherwise we seriously doubt that the department will meet its 2011 target". The target demands that 84.5 per cent of pupils will make the necessary progress between seven and 11.

Last year, the DCSF published a major review of maths education in England to boost standards. It called for a maths specialist in every primary school within 10 years and more emphasis on mathematical "play" in nursery schools.

But Mr Leigh said: "The department's 10 year programme to train 13,000 specialist maths teachers will not benefit some primary schools for another decade. That's far too long; the department needs to look for ways to accelerate the programme."

Sarah McCarthy Fry, the Schools Minister, said: "Last year, over 100,000 more children achieved a Level 4 in their maths at the age of 11 than in 1997. This is a tremendous achievement, of which our pupils and teachers should be rightly proud." She added: "We have already accepted the main recommendation from a recent independent review of primary maths that every school should have a specialist maths teacher and have pledged £24 million over the next three years for a training programme for teachers."

Nick Gibb, the Tory shadow schools secretary, said: "The Government is not getting value for the money they have piled into education and the country is falling behind in international league tables as a result. The Government has failed to grasp the nettle and replace methods of teaching which have failed with tried and tested methods used in countries that have much higher levels of maths achievement."


Australia: Strange priorities at a large Melbourne university

Victoria University is axing foreign languages for remedial English. Given the ever-sagging standards in primary and secondary schools throughout the Anglosphere, the expanding need for remedial English teaching is understandable (even Harvard teaches remedial English) but what benefit is Vietnamese language teaching supposed to bring? Can there be any doubt that major European languages are culturally more important? Cutting Chinese is understandable, if regrettable, though. It is just too hard for most native speakers of English.

Victoria university is a cobbled-together set of former technical colleges -- not to be confused with the much more distinguished New Zealand university of the same name

VICTORIA University has dropped all its language courses except Vietnamese, while intensifying remedial English courses for which students are clamouring. Members of Melbourne's Chinese community demonstrated yesterday outside the university's Footscray campus against the decision to stop teaching Chinese language. "We need more and more people familiar with Chinese language and culture, so this move almost beggars belief," said the president of the Victorian chapter of the Chinese Community Council, Stanley Chiang.

Victoria University's Vice-Chancellor, Elizabeth Harman, defended the move, which she said was in response to student demand. "Victoria University's first priority is to the communities we serve, which are ethnically diverse and multilingual with more than 40 per cent of our students from non-English-speaking backgrounds," she said. "Our community is telling us that they want English language programs that help them through their courses of study. Over recent years, relatively few of them have expressed a demand for the (foreign) language courses that we have been teaching."

A university spokeswoman said the decision to intensify the teaching of English was based on the results of student surveys. Some Australian-born students were still lacking English proficiency after receiving university places.

Chinese had been axed, she said, substantially because of the dwindling numbers. While 36 were enrolled for the first year, just five were studying the subject in the third year. "This is not a course that students want to do," the spokeswoman said. Ms Harman said no student would be disadvantaged as a result of the decision not to teach Chinese. She said students who wished to study Chinese, and other languages, could undertake those studies at the University of Melbourne, where there would be more places available.

Victoria University is reducing its language courses to a single language, Vietnamese, which Ms Harman said "is an important community language in the west" of Melbourne. [So why do you need to teach it??]

Dr Chiang said the council would lobby federal and state ministers to reverse the decision. "We understand fully that in these economic times the university might have to rationalise and reconsider where to place their emphasis," he said. "But we would have thought that as China's economy becomes more and more important to us, that Chinese language teaching would be the last thing to cut."


Thursday, May 07, 2009

Proposals Would Transform College Aid

Obama Plan to Expand Federal Control of Lending Includes Creating Entitlement

President Obama's health-care goals may be garnering attention, but his higher-education proposals are no less ambitious. If adopted, they could transform the financial aid landscape for millions of students while expanding federal authority to a degree that even Democrats concede is controversial.

At stake is a plan to expand the Pell Grant program, making it an entitlement akin to Medicare and Social Security. Key to the effort is a consolidation of student lending that would give the U.S. Department of Education a near monopoly over the practice -- a proposal that has mobilized the private loan industry, which lent $55.3 billion to 6.4 million students in the 2007-2008 school year.

Obama outlined his initiatives, which also include incentives for colleges to cut costs and to raise graduation rates, in the fiscal 2010 budget that Congress approved Wednesday, and Democratic leaders said they hope to make them law by October.

The aim is to improve access to post-secondary school for those who need it most: lower-income students for whom college or vocational training can be the decisive factor in their economic future. The president has said he wants the United States to lead the world by 2010 in the proportion of college graduates, a position the country had long held; it now ranks seventh for the 25 to 34 age group. He has also called for every American to attend a post-secondary institution.

Neither goal will be met if students can't afford the cost.

The administration's plans are "the most fundamental rewriting of federal student aid policy in 35 years," said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education. "These are big changes. They are painted with a broad brush. . . . It's easy for this to be overshadowed by health-care proposals, but for many families, these discussions will be equally important."

Even critics of the plan say the status quo is unsustainable.

Students are amassing debt on a scale that approximates a home mortgage. The economic downturn has meant rising rates for defaults on loans, as well as for students dropping out. Private schools face shrinking endowments, and public universities face state budget cuts.

The tuition crisis has built over many years, however, and until recently Congress did little to address it. The maximum Pell Grant award was frozen at $4,050 from 2003 through 2007. When Democrats came to power, they laid the groundwork for many of the changes on the table, including raising Pell Grants to the current amount of $4,731. They also began to curb federally subsidized private loans.

But Obama would go much further. He wants to terminate the private Federal Family Education Loan program, the primary source of student loans. Advocates say the move is a formality: The government already effectively controls the program by guaranteeing the loans, paying a special allowance to lenders, and in recent months, buying back loans by the billions from struggling firms.

Shifting all lending authority to the government through its Direct Loan program would save $94 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Obama would use that windfall to expand the Pell Grant program, created in 1965 to cover most tuition costs for low-income students.

More here

Socialism, College Style

If you’re baffled by college students’ enthusiastic support for Soviet-lite economic policies, you need to watch several short videos created by members of Young America’s Foundation (YAF). In the videos, YAF members approach their classmates with a petition calling for the redistribution of student GPAs. “It would make it so that all students have an equal opportunity to go to grad school,” University of Oregon YAFer Kenny Crabtree explains. Students with bad grades would therefore be entitled to points earned by straight-A students.

Their classmates are flabbergasted. “Is that, like, a joke or something?” one guy responds. “Why would you take points from people who are higher up and give them to people who didn’t meet the requirements?” another asks George Mason University YAFers. But when asked if he supports Obama’s wealth redistribution schemes, he says “yes.”

Shocking? Not really. As I pointed out in my March 30 column, most college students are economically illiterate. When quizzed by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute about basic concepts, such as supply and demand, the average student’s score was 53 percent. And since most don’t work or pay taxes (only 46 percent of full-time students have jobs), they simply have no idea how capitalism works.

But they do understand grades. Students who study hard get good grades; students who skip class and binge drink every night get bad grades. Some struggle with difficult material, but with enough effort (attending office hours, seeing a tutor) most can maintain a decent GPA. Every sane college student realizes the immorality of “spreading the grades around”—regardless of who benefits.

And it makes their rationales for supporting socialism interesting. “I don’t think people who worked for their grades should have to suffer because someone else slacked off,” one student says. Then how can she believe in wealth redistribution? “Money is different.” Another explains, “Earning money is not the same as earning grades.” O-kay.

Again, this is typical. Day in and day out, professors indoctrinate students with hatred for the greedy “rich”—which, under our tax code, includes a lot of middle-class families just like theirs, who struggle to pay the mortgage and college tuition. They’re taught to believe that people who don’t work are entitled to endless welfare benefits financed by the productive class. But when it comes to redistributing grades they earned, they don’t support it.

There is some hope for the future. As several of my fellow Townhall columnists have pointed out, most people who support Obama’s plan to “spread the wealth around” either don’t pay income taxes or are too rich to care. (And some of Obama’s biggest supporters, including Senators John Kerry and Ted Kennedy, are living off inherited money earned by somebody else.) As soon as these students become productive business owners and professionals, they won’t want the Democrats confiscating money they worked for.

“It’s amazing how students only care about the immorality of socialism when it hurts them,” said George Mason University student Alyssa Cordova. Her classmates were universally opposed to a GPA redistribution plan.

Now, if we could just convince Ted Kennedy and John Kerry that we need to implement a “mansion redistribution plan” or “private jet redistribution plan,” we could abolish Obama-style socialism altogether.


Reduce exam stress: give pupils more tests

The reason British teachers dislike SATs is nothing to do with children - it's because their work is exposed to outside scrutiny. Sats are grade-school exams in Britain

Complete this sentence: a light ray hitting a mirror at an angle is reflected off at the _____ - ____ angle.

Now complete this multiplication: (a) x (b) x (c) = 286, where a, b and c are prime numbers.

Finally, fill in each gap in the following with a different word for “nice”: It was so... of Lauren to invite us all back to her house after the play. She made everyone a really... hot chocolate with some... pink marshmallows floating in it. Patrick said he thought the theatre was ...

Congratulations. You may have just passed your Key Stage 2 standard assessment tests (SATs). For a set of fairly minor exams that children take only once before the end of primary school, and which the Prime Minister yesterday promised to keep, SATs cause an inordinate amount of fuss. That the National Association of Headteachers and the National Union of Teachers have decided to ballot members over boycotting the tests next year says a lot more about the failings of the teachers than it does about the limitations of the exams.

There is no need for a child to be stressed about an exam unless adults make them so. All the pressure put on children comes from teachers and parents. Seven-year-olds should be happily unaware that they are even taking a test at Key Stage 1, particularly as their teachers do the assessment at this stage. Nor is there much need for an 11-year-old to be stressed at Key Stage 2 tests. Revision is a not particularly arduous business of answering practice questions (Will you practice/practise playing the banjo?) for an hour a day, and looking up the answers at the back of the book. Most 11-year-olds simply object to any homework.

The real reason behind the calls for a boycott is that the tests at the age of 11 are the first national ones and the first where results are published; hence they are the first test of teaching quality as well as of individual ability.

Private schools have tests at the end of each term (some at the end of each week) and you do not hear parents squealing about it. If teachers in the state system are “teaching to the test”, and confining their pupils' education to the narrow band of questions in an exam, that is their fault. A good, creative, confident teacher will not do so.

Equally, a good, creative, confident parent will not judge a school purely on its test scores. For every teacher subjecting pupils to formulaic worksheets, there are probably a dozen parents poring over the league tables. The information that these provide is far too narrow, which is a good argument for having many more tests in state schools, not fewer. They would then take on less significance individually, but provide a more rounded picture of progress overall.

An average score from a child's performance throughout the years at primary school, or even individual results every term or year, would give secondary schools far better information than Key Stage 2 results do. Many secondary schools find them so inaccurate that they retest the children anyway.

I wouldn't send a child to a school where the headteacher was boycotting SATs and I hope that most teachers will reject the boycott. Given the load of continuous assessment, and its contiguous jargon, that they are already buried under, straightforward tests that they do not have to assess themselves ought to be the least of their worries.

Look up the reading assessment guidelines for primary children. Each “level” is split into seven “assessment focuses” (AFs): “Using AFs for classroom-based assessment enables a direct link to be made to national curriculum standards in a subject and the primary framework learning objectives. The AFs sit between the national curriculum programmes of study and the level descriptions...”

Clear? So, the heading for the AF3 for reading is: “deduce, infer or interpret information, events or ideas from texts”. And at Level 3 for 7 to 9-year-olds, this is what the teacher has to gauge in each pupil: “straightforward inference based on a single point of reference in the text, eg, ‘he was upset because it says “he was crying”'; responses to text show meaning established at a literal level, eg, “‘walking good' means ‘walking carefully'” or based on personal speculation, eg, a response based on what they personally would be feeling rather than feelings of character in the text”. (Yes, it really does say “walking good”. I'm sorry; I didn't write it.)

This is learning reduced to jargon. No wonder my GP friends say that they always know when a teacher has come through the door because she will be on the verge of tears. This degree of intrusive monitoring, target-setting and assessment is a form of bullying of the teaching profession. It implicitly tells teachers that ministers do not believe they are competent and, in some cases, that is undoubtedly true.

A good teacher would not have to be told that a child should be able to make inferences from a statement, just as good schools do not actually need SATs. But scrapping Key Stage 2 tests would enable some bad schools to continue to fail to monitor their pupils.

And some teachers find themselves cheating. I have seen them monitoring in-school assessments for younger children: in one class, the teacher helped almost every child, because they had no idea that they were supposed actually to do something with the worksheets without any assistance. They sat there bemused until the teacher read out the questions and showed them how to do it, one by one, and then they copied their answers from the cleverest on the table, which was what they had become used to doing in lessons. Then the marks were noted down as theirs.

Key Stage 2 SATs are the first time that a child sits down to national exams, not tests assessed by its teacher. Given the hassle of the self-assessment process for any sensible teacher, and the unreliability of its results for parents, I would have thought the straightforward SAT would come as a relief.


Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Another Israel-hating Jew in academe

His Leftist colleagues might not be nice to him unless he denounces Israel. Someone should send him to Gaza for a while. He would surely find that educational. If he survived, he would be mighty glad to get back to Israel

A sociology professor at the University of California Santa Barbara is in the center of a heated debate about academic freedom after he sent an e-mail comparing "parallel images of Nazis and Israelis" to 80 of his students in January.

Two of William Robinson's students dropped out of his sociology of globalization class after they received the e-mail. The message also caught the eye of at least two national Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, which has called upon the tenured professor to "unequivocally repudiate" it.

"If Martin Luther King were alive on this day of January 19, 2009, there is no doubt that he would be condemning the Israeli aggression against Gaza along with the U.S. military and political support for Israeli war crimes, or that he would be standing shoulder to shoulder with the Palestinians," the 50-year-old Robinson wrote in his e-mail. "I am forwarding some horrific, parallel images of Nazi atrocities against the Jews and Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians." Dozens of photographs followed, depicting Holocaust victims in Nazi Germany and nearly identical images from the Israeli attack on Gaza. Robinson included a note that "Gaza is Israel's Warsaw."

The two students who dropped out of Robinson's class accused him of violating faculty code of conduct by disseminating personal or political matter unrelated to the course. "I felt nauseous that a professor could use his power to send this email with his views attached, to each student in his class," senior Rebecca Joseph wrote. "Due to this horrific email I had to drop the course."

Robinson, who is Jewish and has been teaching at UCSB for nine years, is defending his message. He says the university's ongoing investigation is an attack on his academic freedom. He did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

In a letter to Robinson and UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang, Cynthia Silverman, regional director of Santa Barbara's Anti-Defamation League chapter, described the professor's comparison as "offensive" and said it "crossed the line well beyond" legitimate criticism of Israel. "We also think it is important to note that the tone and extreme views presented in your email were intimidating to students and likely chilled thoughtful discussions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Silverman wrote.

But Robinson's supporters, including prominent professor of linguistics Noam Chomsky, say the university's probe is improper and is an attempt to silence criticism of Israel. "Unfortunately, there has been a wave of similar efforts to undermine academic freedom throughout the country in recent years," Chomsky wrote in a letter to Yang. "I hope and trust that the university will take a clear and strong stand in favor of principles that are central to free inquiry and expression, particularly so in a distinguished institution of higher learning such as this one."

A group called the Committee to Defend Academic Freedom at UCSB, which includes professors and Robinson's former students and teaching assistants, has been formed to back the professor. The group's Web site includes a letter of support and a call for an apology to Robinson from the California Scholars for Academic Freedom, which represents more than 100 professors from 20 colleges. "The right to present controversial material in the context of a course — including opinions that may be deeply disturbing to some students — is an essential element of academic freedom," [as long as they are not conservative opinions, of course] the group wrote. "This includes the right to criticize government actions, whether they be American, Israeli, or those of any other government."

Paul Desruisseaux, a UCSB spokesman, said a faculty committee has been formed to determine whether the case should be considered by school administrators. "Given the nature of this case, there are some aspects of censure that could possibly be imposed that could probably fall short of dismissal," Desruisseaux told "And it's possible that this initial committee could determine it was just bad judgment. We need to let this process run its course."

Whatever the outcome of Robinson's case, a chilling effect will likely follow, particularly on local academics, according to Cary Nelson, national president of the American Association of University Professors. "Some faculty will take it as an opportunity to exercise their free speech rights while others won't because they don't want calls from 20 reporters," Nelson said. "You'll get a dual effect."

Nelson, whose organization has not announced a formal opinion on Robinson's actions, said the professor appears to be in the clear. "We wait and watch that inquiry," Nelson said. "It's easy to imagine how a course in globalization made some comparisons between different historical periods and different historical events. "If it is related to class discussion, it is almost certainly to be covered by academic freedom."


British schools in poor areas 'fail bright pupils': High fliers at 11 'miss out on up to four GCSE grades'

Bright children who go to struggling comprehensives don't achieve their potential at GCSE [Junior school exam], researchers say. A study shows that those considered high fliers at 11 are significantly less likely to gain top grades at GCSE if they are at deprived secondary schools. The difference could be as much as four GCSE grades - for example, slipping from eight As to four As and four Bs.

These findings made ' uncomfortable reading' for politicians, said researchers from the London School of Economics. The report also found pupils do better if they are taught with high-achieving, middle-class pupils, confirming the link between GCSE performance and mixed-ability classes. [A non-sequitur. It shows the importance of HIGH ability schoolmates] And it warned that the Government's 'gifted and talented' scheme, designed to reassure middle-class parents the state system stretches bright children, appears to have little impact for many. Poor pupil behaviour, mediocre teaching and an over-reliance on vocational courses are likely to be to blame.

'The attainment of otherwise similar pupils in deprived schools lags significantly behind those in the more advantaged schools,' said researchers working on behalf of the Sutton Trust education charity. 'The findings are unequivocal, and make for uncomfortable reading for parents and policy makers alike.'

The study tracked 550,000 pupils who took Sats [grade school exam] at 11 in 2001 until they took their GCSEs. Secondary schools were categorised according to the number of pupils eligible for free meals because of family poverty. At the most-deprived 10 per cent, up to half the children had free meals. And at those schools, half the pupils did worse at GCSE than those with similar ability at schools with little deprivation. They gained two-and-a-half grades less over eight GCSEs, on average.

For those who had been in the top 10 per cent in their year aged 11, the results were even worse. They were penalised twice over - doing worse in their GCSEs, and taking vocational courses when they could have tackled extra GCSEs. On average, those high fliers achieved half a grade less across their GCSEs than those at advantaged schools, dropping the equivalent of four grades over eight GCSEs.

However, since many at deprived schools more likely to take a vocational course, many of these may not have even taken eight GCSEs. They were ten times more likely to take an intermediate GNVQ than peers in better-off schools. GNVQs are being phased out after an outcry over their high weighting in national school league tables even though they require considerably less teaching time than equivalent GCSEs. The report warned that high-achievers were being 'entered for examinations which serve to improve schools' "league table" positions but may not be in the best long term interests of the pupils concerned'.

There was also evidence of a 'peer effect' - suggesting pupils at more advantaged schools benefit from having classmates with higher levels of prior attainment, and lower levels of deprivation. It added: 'Questions will also be raised about whether the Government's current gifted and talented programme is operating effectively in all schools, particularly those with the most deprived intakes.'

The divide in achievement between pupils of similar ability, 'could be due to a number of factors associated with advantaged schools, from better pupil behaviour to more effective teaching', it adds.

Dr Philip Noden, who co-wrote the study, said: 'This is an attainment gap that needs to be closed so that parents know their children will make good progress whatever the social mix of the school.' And it warned ministers are overstating their success in narrowing the gap between poorer and more affluent pupils by ignoring 40,000 'hidden poor' in their calculations.

The study reinforces research in the Mail last month, showing that poorer children are failing to win places at university because of substandard comprehensive schooling - not because academics are biased.


Australia: A great kid

And another lesson for us all from Asia. Odd that "racism" didn't hold her back, though. Racism affects the attainments of American blacks only, apparently

JUST two years after she arrived from Vietnam struggling to speak English, Tram Ngo is one of Queensland's greatest academic success stories. Her story is just one highlight of the 2008 Year 12 results, released by the Queensland Studies Authority and detailed inside The Courier-Mail today. Ms Ngo not only graduated with an OP 1 from Alexandra Hills State High School last year, but won a scholarship at QUT to study engineering.

Ms Ngo admits she had no idea what her teachers were saying for her first three months of Year 11. "I can read and write, but I couldn't understand 50 per cent of what the teachers say, so I take the notes and then when I went home I would read the book again and match what the teachers say to the book," she said.

She credits as her inspiration her teachers and fellow students who spent countless hours helping her. But her teachers say it is the other way around. Alexandra Hills State High School acting principal Jan Jarman said Ms Ngo was an inspiration. "She proves if you want something enough, if you want something hard enough and you are prepared to put in the effort, you definitely can succeed."


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Australia: Sex instruction book Where Did I Really Come From? aimed at toddlers

A BOOK which teaches children about lesbian mums getting pregnant using sperm donors is being pitched at kids as young as two. The controversial publication, Where Did I Really Come From?, also features a drawing of two gay men holding a baby in a chapter about surrogacy. The publisher's marketing spruiks the book, which includes in-depth descriptions of sexual intercourse, as suitable to be read to two-year-olds.

It is being advertised at some Sydney book stores and inside the cover as being part of the New South Wales Attorney General Office's Learn to Include program. A spokesman for the Attorney General was unable to confirm yesterday if the book had been funded by the State Government.

In a chapter on assisted conception, the book tells children: "Sometimes, a woman really wants to have a baby but she doesn't want to have intercourse with a man. "Some women want to bring up a baby by themselves, or with another woman, so the baby gets two mums."

However, angry family advocates claim the book targets children too young. "It devalues the traditional family unit and at the very least desensitises us," Focus On The Family spokeswoman Deb Sorensen said yesterday.

The book was first penned in the early 1990s, but has been updated and relaunched by Learn to Include, which has published a range of books featuring child characters whose parents are gay. Learn to Include's website said that the book's "simple, non-judgmental explanations of sexual intercourse, assisted conception, pregnancy, birth, adoption and surrogacy were "suitable for 2-12 year olds".

Author Narelle Wickham defended the book, describing it as a mainstream publication which just went further about ways of conceiving children. "It is just trying to normalise to children that there are many ways to conceive a child," she said.


Leftist hostility to private education

There's something the U.S. government doesn't want you to know. And it's come out again in the new Heritage Foundation report on education. It conveys that the general public is increasingly dissatisfied with public schools, with a rising number opting for private education. The report explains that during the 2007 and 2008 legislative sessions, 44 states introduced school-choice legislation. And in 2008, choices for private school were enacted into law or expanded in Arizona, Utah, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana and Pennsylvania. Today 14 states and the District of Columbia offer voucher or education tax-credit programs that aid parents with sending their children to private schools. But that may be short-lived.

Despite the growing public preference for private education, Congress recently canceled the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which was created in 2004 to offer students from low-income families in the nation's capital an opportunity to join the voucher educational community. The law provided $14 million in scholarships to help pay for tuition at private schools of their choosing. But no longer.

Why did Congress nix the program, especially when recent studies showed that students receiving vouchers since the program's inception were academically 18.9 months ahead of their peers? (I read the other day that 100 percent of Thurgood Marshall Academy's charter graduates are accepted to colleges.) And why would Congress phase out a program that costs $7,500 per student annually, compared with the $15,000 it costs in Washington's public schools to educate a child?

So its cancellation is not a result of costing too much, because it's half the price of public schooling. And it's not because of inferior quality, because the kids enrolled in the program were scoring higher than students in regular schools. There's only one reason Congress canceled it, and it comes down to this: federal control and educational indoctrination.

Of course, government officials won't admit to a blatant usurpation of our rights, but they will say their educational reform is seeking to help your children. They will say it is necessary to establish common educational standards. They will say that we need to leave education to the experts and not to parents. And I fear that too many of us simply will give in to the whims of the nanny state.

As I wrote in my new best-selling book, "Black Belt Patriotism: How to Reawaken America": "The reason that government is cracking down on private instruction has more to do with suppressing alternative education than assuring educational standards. The rationale is quite simple, though rarely if ever stated: control future generations and you control the future. So rather than letting parents be the primary educators of their children -- either directly or by educating their children in the private schools of their choice -- (government) want(s) to deny parental rights, establish an educational monopoly run by the state, and limit private education options. It is so simple any socialist can understand it. As Joseph Stalin once stated, 'Education is a weapon whose effects depend on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed.'" (Get a free chapter of my book at here.)

What's amazing, too, is how hypocritical it is for Congress to make this decision. The Heritage Foundation's report also conveys that 44 percent of current United States senators and 36 percent of current members of the U.S. House of Representatives have "at one time sent their children to private schools." While the foundation found that 11 percent of American students attend private schools, 20 percent of the members of the 111th Congress attended private high schools. And they want to remove the voucher option for private school education?

While the members of President Barack Obama's administration profess to have education as a top priority, they did nothing in March when Congress chose to discontinue the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Why? Because they all are in cahoots to not only choose our medical care for us, own the mortgage insurance and finance businesses, and place caps on corporate earnings but also control our educational choices for our children.

Our Founders' educational philosophy seems to me to be the charter of a true American system of education. But as we know, our nation's public schools, especially our nation's colleges and universities, are the seedbeds of politically correct and leftist indoctrination. It shouldn't be that way, but it is. It's a travesty that we have come to the point that we have to protect our children from the public school systems by looking to alternative methods.

If you have a good public school, congratulations. Stay active in the PTA, and attend school board meetings to keep it that way. For many parents, the only responsible choice is to send their children to private, parochial or Christian schools or to home-school their children. My wife and I home-school our 8-year-old twins.

What I also think is good about private schools is the students' wearing uniforms. Just like in my KICKSTART martial arts program for kids in Texas schools, uniforms in private schools give students a sense of pride and empowerment. They increase the atmosphere of respect. And uniforms make economic class more of a nonissue, making rich and poor students indistinguishable -- not to mention the fact that uniforms do away with young people's style of wearing their jeans down to their knees and showing their butt cracks!

Parents deserve educational choices; choice is what this country was founded upon. Government's controlling and monopolizing education is just another avenue for usurping power and control on the slippery slope to socialism. And it's unbecoming for our republic, whose Founders created a system of freedom, choice and minimal government intervention.

Is it merely coincidental that the private choice of home schooling was outlawed by the Soviet state in 1919, by Hitler and Nazi Germany in 1938, and by Communist China in 1949? Is America next?


Monday, May 04, 2009

Are 'No-Fail' Grading Systems Hurting or Helping Students?

What's a kid gotta do to get an "F" these days? At a growing number of middle schools and high schools across the country, students no longer receive failing marks when they fail. Instead, they get an "H" — for "held" — on their report cards, and they're given a chance to rectify their poor performance without tanking the entire semester. Educators in schools from Costa Mesa, Calif., to Maynard, Mass., are also employing a policy known in school hallways as ZAP — or "Zeros Aren't Permitted" — which gives students an opportunity to finish the homework they neglected to do on time.

While administrators and teachers say the policies provide hope for underperforming students, critics say that lowering or altering education standards is not the answer. They point to case studies in Grand Rapids, Mich., where public high schools are using the "H" grading system this year and, according to reports, only 16 percent of first-semester "H" grades became passing grades in the second semester.

Last week in Texas, state senators backed the elimination of "no-fail" grading by unanimously approving a measure that would prohibit school districts from forcing teachers to dole out minimum grades to failing pupils. The bill was introduced by Republican State Sen. Jane Nelson, who said the trend toward "no-fail" grading encourages manipulation of the education system. "These policies are more widespread than people think," Nelson said in a statement issued Tuesday. "I was appalled to hear from teachers who are not allowed to assign failing grades to students. It is often an unwritten rule, but it is happening in many of our schools." Nelson, a former public school teacher, said minimum grade policies reward "minimum effort" from students who "live up or down" to expectations set by educators.

But with the nation's high school dropout rate hovering around 30 percent, Sherri Johnson, director of programs for the National Parent Teacher Association, said school districts should consider any measures possible to stop low-performing students from quitting school. "Students ought to be assessed on how they master whatever skills they're being assessed on, and one grade cannot achieve that," Johnson told "If a teacher is not teaching to different learning styles, a student is always behind the 8-ball."

Johnson said a single letter grade does not adequately address specific skills contained within a certain subject. "What an 'F' says is that you just don't get it," Johnson said. "But what if the child gets pieces of it but they haven't mastered everything? Or perhaps that 'F' says you failed three tests but not necessarily failed the entire skill." Some students simply don't perform well on exams, and grades typically don't reveal "what's behind" the failure, Johnson said.

With an 'H' grade rather than an 'F,' she continued, students and parents alike get another opportunity to learn the lesson plan and hold schools more accountable. "Simply saying that an 'F' is what you get and everybody moves on does not help that young student," she said. "It takes the school off the hook in many ways."

The psychological impact of an "F" is also something to consider, according to Valerie Purdie-Vaughns, a professor of psychology at Columbia University in New York. "'Students who are doing poorly tend to gravitate to other students who are also getting 'F's' or not doing well," she said. "You can unintentionally start to create a culture of failure. The other effect is that students really feel like they cannot recover, particularly as schools are becoming more competitive."

But Michael Petrilli, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and a former U.S. Department of Education official, said he disagreed with the new grading policies. "This is clearly about dumbing down expectations for our students," Petrilli told "Some of these children are just a few years away from being in the workforce, in college or even in the military, and in none of those environment will they be coddled like they are in these programs."

Petrilli said the policy also sends the wrong message to students. "If you're getting a zero, that usually means you didn't turn in the assignment or do the job correctly," he said. "All this does is create cynicism among educators and send signals to students that the education system is not serious about achievement." If anything, Petrilli said, overall standards at high schools across the country should be raised, not lowered. "It does not take a lot to pass a high school course," he said. "If we have kids not meeting the standard, the answer is not to lower the standard."


Student Says Teacher Scolded Him for Viewing‏

That good old Leftist "tolerance" again

A Michigan high school is investigating allegations that one of its teachers berated and belittled a student for taking part in what the teacher considered an unacceptable activity: reading

A young man who identified himself only as Mitchell, an 18-year-old senior at Traverse City West Senior High School, called in to Rush Limbaugh's radio show Thursday and said he was yelled at in front of his classmates for reading the "wrong" news. The teacher of his video production class saw what he was looking at and "proceeded to give me a 10-minute lecture on why I can't read FOX News ... and that I can only listen to BBC and other news venues," the student said.

James Feil, superintendent of Traverse City Area Public Schools, told that any attempts to pressure students politically would go against his schools' policies. "It would be inappropriate. I would clearly tell you that is not something that we would do anything to indoctrinate students here," he said. "That would clearly be a violation of our policies and guidelines, written or non-written."

Traverse City West principal Joe Tibaldi declined to comment about the inquiry he was leading, but school officials said the student hadn't violated any computer-use rules in his class.

But the school has a strict policy against bullying, which it says "may in circumstances be a violation of federal or state law" and goes against its commitment to provide a safe learning environment. "Bullying, taunting, stalking, hazing and other forms of harassment ... by any member of the staff are strictly forbidden," according to the school handbook. "Any student or staff member found to have bullied, taunted, stalked, hazed or harassed another person in any form will be subject to discipline."

Traverse City West has several art and science teachers, but it was unclear who leads the video production class. The superintendent wouldn't confirm the involvement of any specific teacher.

Feil said the student never filed a complaint to the school and Tibaldi was following up "in a very responsible and a timely manner."


Sunday, May 03, 2009

Drop in Sociology Jobs

Hooray! Useless "education" gets its just reward. I taught sociology for 12 years at a major Australian university so I know a bit about it. It's almost entirely Leftist propaganda. I taught the useful bits: Research methods and statistics

Add sociology to the list of disciplines reporting significant declines in available jobs. The American Sociological Association has released an analysis showing a 22.8 percent decline in announced position openings between 2006 and 2008. The analysis is based on listings in the association's job bank in the two years compared. Because there are many jobs that aren't listed in the job bank, the totals can't be seen as definitive. But because the job bank does receive a significant number of listings from year to year, the trends in postings are seen as a good reflection of trends in disciplinary hiring, especially for assistant professor positions.

The job bank receives more assistant professor openings than any other kind -- and that category of listing, the category crucial to new Ph.D.'s, is down by nearly 40 percent.

The best news in the survey was a sharp increase -- from 37 to 164 -- in the number of positions for which no one faculty rank is specified.

The association report notes that things could be even worse. Associations that have tracked the status of job listings months later have found that many searches were called off. Here is such a list in economics. The sociology association plans a survey of departments to find out how many searches were called off, so that a subsequent report can provide a more full picture of the job market.


The decline of Catholicism at a Catholic university

What might have been a coup at many colleges was, at the University of Notre Dame, cause for scandal: “It has come to our attention that the University of Notre Dame will honor President Barack Obama as its commencement speaker on May 17," begins an online petition circulated by the Cardinal Newman Society, which, as of Monday afternoon, counted more than 336,000 signatures. “It is an outrage and a scandal that ‘Our Lady’s University,’ one of the premier Catholic universities in the United States, would bestow such an honor on President Obama given his clear support for policies and laws that directly contradict fundamental Catholic teachings on life and marriage.”

The announcement on Obama was made more than a month ago but the controversy continues unabated. On Monday, Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard University law professor and former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, who was to receive a medal during Notre Dame's commencement ceremony, declined the honor. In an explanation, she writes that she took issue with the idea that "my acceptance speech would somehow balance the event. ... A commencement, however, is supposed to be a joyous day for the graduates and their families. It is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame's decision -- in disregard of the settled position of the U.S. bishops -- to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church's position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice." (Newsweek has published the full letter.)

Notre Dame, which will grant an honorary doctor of laws degree to Obama, has a tradition of hosting U.S. presidents as commencement speakers -- six total, including both Bush presidents. "The invitation to President Obama to be our Commencement speaker should not be taken as condoning or endorsing his positions on specific issues regarding the protection of human life, including abortion and embryonic stem cell research," Notre Dame's president, the Rev. John I. Jenkins, says in a statement.

Nonetheless, the selection has been taken as such. This controversy that won't quit has been fueled in part by pressure from outside groups like the Cardinal Newman Society, which serves as a self-appointed watchdog of sorts when it comes to colleges’ Roman Catholic identities. But it's also been fueled by a steady stream of statements of opposition from U.S. bishops -- who, under the 1990 Vatican document Ex Corde Eccelesiae, "should be seen not as external agents but as participants in the life of the Catholic University." The Cardinal Newman Society counts more than 40 bishops who have stated opposition.

In a letter to Notre Dame’s president, for instance, the Most Rev. Daniel M. Buechlein, Archbishop of Indianapolis writes: “There isn’t a single reason that would justify Catholic sponsorship of the president of our country, who is blatantly opposed to the Catholic Church’s doctrine on abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. You dishonor the reputation of the University of Notre Dame and, in effect, abdicate your prestigious reputation among Catholic universities everywhere.”

“Your actions and that of the Board of Trustees of Notre Dame do real harm to the mission of Catholic education in this country and further splinters [sic] Catholic witness in the public square,” the Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila, the Bishop of Fargo, writes.

Meanwhile, the bishop for the diocese that includes Notre Dame, the Most Rev. John M. D’Arcy, has said he will skip the ceremony. On Tuesday, he issued a public statement challenging Notre Dame’s interpretation of a 2004 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops statement that stands at the heart of this controversy. A bullet point in “Catholics in Political Life” reads: “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

Notre Dame’s president, Father Jenkins, argued in a letter to his board that the statement did not apply to this matter because the document was understood to refer only to Catholics in political life; Obama is not Catholic. The South Bend Tribune quoted Father Jenkins' letter as saying: "This interpretation was supported by canon lawyers we consulted, who advised us that, by definition, only Catholics who implicitly recognize the authority of Church teaching can act in 'defiance' of it."

Bishop D’Arcy responded that the meaning of the document is clear, that it does in fact apply, and furthermore suggested that he should have been consulted on the question -- as he was not. "The failure to consult the local bishop who, whatever his unworthiness, is the teacher and lawgiver in the diocese, is a serious mistake," he writes. "Proper consultation could have prevented an action, which has caused such painful division between Notre Dame and many bishops — and a large number of the faithful."

New Orleans Archbishop Alfred Clifton Hughes cited that same 2004 document Thursday in a letter indicating he would not attend Xavier University of Louisiana's commencement ceremony for its choice of speaker, the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile. "I recognize that Ms. Brazile is a Catholic Louisiana native who has worked effectively in service to the poor and African Americans in particular. However, her public statements on the abortion issue are not in keeping with Catholic moral teaching," he writes.

In one other related mini-controversy, the Washington Post on Friday reported a flap at Georgetown University. Washington D.C.'s archbishop, the Most Rev. Donald W. Wuerl, expressed concern over Georgetown serving as host for an award ceremony honoring Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic (in this case, the Post notes, a nonprofit organization, Legal Momentum, bestowed the honor, not the university itself).

A lack of clarity about the implications of that 2004 document -- and specifically that one bullet point about awards, honors and platforms -- continues to plague Catholic college presidents, says Richard A. Yanikoski, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. “You have individuals who take that one bullet outside of the context of its original document, which was titled "Catholics in Political Life," and assume that it applies equally to everyone, everywhere, if they somehow are defiant of Catholic moral teaching. Well, there are a couple of difficulties with that and I don’t assume the difficulty is bad faith on the part of anybody who makes that or some other interpretation. It simply was a poorly written document to begin with" -- released in the context of the 2004 political season, when a pro-choice Catholic Democrat, John Kerry, was running for president.

Yanikoski adds, too, that there has not been consistency in how the document is applied. “There have been other presidents who have spoken at the University of Notre Dame and at other Catholic universities who have been equally opposed to other moral teachings of the Catholic church [aside from issues surrounding abortion] and yet were never criticized by the bishops in terms of them speaking at the commencement." (To take just one example, George W. Bush was a staunch supporter of the death penalty; he spoke about the role of faith-based organizations in fighting poverty at Notre Dame's commencement in 2001.)

“I am not surprised that some bishops have taken a strong and even public stand as they have,” Yanikoski says. "I’m not surprised that far more bishops have used the discretion to remain silent on this point. The matter will not go away in the weeks or years to come. This is a very high-profile case and we probably won’t see another like it for some time but the issue is still there and it’s there largely for three reasons: 1) the language from the 2004 document is still unsatisfactory; it does not provide adequate guidance to bishops or presidents. 2) Organizations, particularly the Cardinal Newman Society, in effect make their living on these moments. This is how they raise money and gain support. ...The third reason is that there is an inherent tension between the teaching authority of the bishop and the universities’ larger exploration of points of view for educational purposes.”

“Where does academic freedom of the campus bump up against church authority?” Yanikoski asks. “What constitutes an honor versus an award versus a platform? Those were the three words in the 2004 document. Are we talking about only Catholics or all people? Are we talking only about politicians or all people? None of those things were clear in the 2004 document. I have to believe that we’re not going to just continue to let this thing sit in a difficult place without some further effort to bring clarity to it as it applies to Catholic colleges and universities.”

Meanwhile, the controversy at Notre Dame boils on. “It’s the outside groups, I think, that are feeding the fire,” says Spencer Howard, a senior and co-president of the College Democrats. On Thursday, the College Democrats and 23 other student groups delivered a letter to President Jenkins supporting the decision to host Obama.

“I think they’re trying to use a school with the name and reputation of Notre Dame has to make a political statement. I think it’s frustrating a lot of the seniors here because they just want to spend graduation day with their friends and family,” Howard says.

“I have plenty of friends who on at least that issue [abortion] don’t agree but at the end of the day they say, it’s the president. ...How many people get the president to come to their school for anything?”

“Personally for me, I hear a lot of division on this and a lot of unhappiness or uneasiness that the university administration chose someone so controversial for an event that’s supposed to be unifying,” says Edward Yap, a junior and spokesman for ND Response, a coalition of 11 student groups that organized to protest the choice of Obama. “We want to reaffirm the Catholic church’s position on this issue and really show average citizens and Catholics around the country and the world that while the preeminent Catholic university in the land might be straying, Catholics at the university are not.”

Yap adds: "We appreciate the attention that other groups are bringing to this issue but I know from my perspective and the perspectives of other students, this really is an internal matter.”


Australia: Queensland teachers face competency exam before teaching

Good idea

QUEENSLAND primary teachers may face an Australian-first competency exam before they will be allowed to teach the state's young. Education expert Professor Geoff Masters today handed down a report into improving Queensland students' literacy, numeracy and science levels after a test last year showed results were lagging behind other states. The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study showed Queensland's Year Four students ranked last in science and seventh in maths out of the country's eight states and territories.

The report made five recommendations to improve standards, including that all aspiring primary school teachers sit a Queensland College of Teachers test to show proficiency levels and gain their registration. It would be the first time such a test was imposed on Australian teachers before their registration. Its proposal followed concerns expressed to the review about some new teachers' own levels of competence in mathematics, science and literacy.

Premier Anna Bligh, who called the report a "road map'' to better results, said she expected the recommendation to be controversial. But the premier said last year's results were unacceptable and she wanted to ensure the best people were teaching the state's children. "I know there'll be some controversy about this recommendation, but teaching, like other professions, needs to have an open mind about these sorts of ideas,'' Ms Bligh said. "To become a barrister for example, a law graduate has to sit the Bar exam and satisfy the requirements for that exam.''

The report also recommended a new program be designed and delivered through distance education for teachers to improve their teaching methods. Additional money should also be provided for the advanced training and employment of specialist literacy, numeracy and science teachers to work in schools.

Ms Bligh said the government would now examine all recommendations and look at where money needed to be spent.