Saturday, June 06, 2009

Big Change In The Kind Of Parents Who Home School Their Kids

Parents who home-school children increasingly are white, wealthy and well-educated - and their numbers have nearly doubled in a decade, a new federal government report says. What else has nearly doubled? The percentage of girls who are home-schooled. They now outnumber home-schooled boys by a wide margin. As of spring 2007, an estimated 1.5 million, or 2.9% of all school-age children in the USA, were home-schooled, up from 1.7% in 1999.

The new figures come from the U.S. Department of Education, which found that 36% of parents said their most important reason for home schooling was to provide “religious or moral instruction”; 21% cited concerns about school environment. Only 17% cited “dissatisfaction with academic instruction.”

Perhaps most significant: The ratio of home-schooled boys to girls has shifted significantly. In 1999, it was 49% boys, 51% girls. Now boys account for only 42%; 58% are girls.

That may well be a result of parents who are fed up with mean-girl behavior in schools, says Henry Cate, who along with his wife home-schools their three daughters in Santa Clara, Calif. “It’s just pushing some parents over the edge,” says Cate, who writes the blog Why Homeschool.

Home schooling has grown most sharply for higher-income families. In 1999, 63.6% of home-schooling families earned less than $50,000. Now 60.0% earn more than $50,000. Cate says many highly educated, high-income parents are “probably people who are a little bit more comfortable in taking risks” in choosing a college or line of work. “The attributes that facilitate that might also facilitate them being more comfortable with home-schooling.”

Among the other findings:

3.9% of white families home-school, up from 2% in 1999.

6.8% of college-educated parents home-school, up from 4.9% in 1999.

Michelle Blimes home-schools her three daughters in Orem, Utah. Initially it was for academics, and now she sees social benefits. “They should be able to enjoy playing and being kids before being thrown into the teen culture,” Blimes says.


U.S. School Reforms on the Brink

The empire strikes back in Milwaukee and NYC

The education establishment and its political allies employ multiple methods to keep kids trapped in rotten schools. One tactic is to use control of school boards to prevent or limit the creation of charter schools. Another is to smother existing voucher programs with rules and red tape. Real world examples are currently playing out in Milwaukee and New York City.

The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program provides vouchers for some 20,000 low-income, mostly minority children to attend private schools. Because the 20-year-old program polls above 60% with voters, and even higher among minorities, killing it outright would be unpopular. Instead, Democratic Governor Jim Doyle wants to reduce funding and pass "reforms" designed to regulate the program to death. The goal is to discourage private schools from enrolling voucher students and thus force kids to return to unionized public schools.

To that end, Democrats in the state legislature voted last week to cut per-pupil payments to private schools by $165 while increasing public school spending by $400 per student. Taxpayer support for students in the program is only $6,607 per student to begin with, which is less that half of the $13,468 for students in Milwaukee public schools.

Those funding cuts would be accompanied by mandates of dubious academic benefit. One regulation would require schools that have already been accredited to meet additional accreditation requirements. Another would force schools to offer expensive bilingual programs that suck up scarce resources and are spurned by most immigrant parents who want their children taught in English.

The irony is that satisfaction and enrollment at Milwaukee public schools has steadily declined despite these very policies that choice opponents want to impose on successful private schools. A recent evaluation of the Milwaukee choice program found that its high school graduation rate was 85%, compared to 58% for students in the city's public schools. Between 1994 and 2008, the voucher program saved taxpayers more than $180 million. Yet opponents insist these schools need additional regulations to make them more like the public schools that cost more and produce inferior results.

Meanwhile, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is in a battle royal with the teachers union and state politicians who want to strip him of mayoral control of the schools. Since 2002, the Mayor has been able to hire and fire the schools chancellor and appoint a majority on the city's Board of Education.

Academic results argue strongly for continuing the policy, which expires June 30 unless state lawmakers renew it. According to the latest test scores, 82% of children in grades three through eight scored at or above grade level on this year's standardized tests, up from 74% last year and 57% three years ago. Mayoral control has also eased the expansion of charter schools, many of which are performing better than the district schools. In Harlem, where 19 of the 23 elementary and intermediate public schools are failing, all of the third graders at the Harlem Success Academy passed the most recent state math exam and 95% passed the English exam.

Before 2002 New York had fewer than 20 charter schools because the United Federation of Teachers, the dominant local union, blocked their growth. Thanks to mayoral control, there will be more than 100 charter schools in New York next year, which is one reason that the teachers union doesn't want the policy to continue. The great moral outrage of our time is the way the public schools establishment puts its interests ahead of children, trying to kill every school choice program whatever its success. Genuine reformers should be shouting from the rooftops.


Friday, June 05, 2009

Dumbest Generation Getting Dumber

by Walter E. Williams

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an international comparison of 15-year-olds conducted by The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that measures applied learning and problem-solving ability. In 2006, U.S. students ranked 25th of 30 advanced nations in math and 24th in science. McKinsey & Company, in releasing its report "The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America's Schools" (April 2009) said, "Several other facts paint a worrisome picture. First, the longer American children are in school, the worse they perform compared to their international peers. In recent cross-country comparisons of fourth grade reading, math, and science, US students scored in the top quarter or top half of advanced nations. By age 15 these rankings drop to the bottom half. In other words, American students are farthest behind just as they are about to enter higher education or the workforce." That's a sobering thought. The longer kids are in school and the more money we spend on them, the further behind they get.

While the academic performance of white students is grossly inferior, that of black and Latino students is a national disgrace. The McKinsey report says, "On average, black and Latino students are roughly two to three years of learning behind white students of the same age. This racial gap exists regardless of how it is measured, including both achievement (e.g., test score) and attainment (e.g., graduation rate) measures. Taking the average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores for math and reading across the fourth and eighth grades, for example, 48 percent of blacks and 43 percent of Latinos are 'below basic,' while only 17 percent of whites are, and this gap exists in every state. A more pronounced racial achievement gap exists in most large urban school districts." Below basic is the category the NAEP uses for students unable to display even partial mastery of knowledge and skills fundamental for proficient work at their grade level.

The teaching establishment and politicians have hoodwinked taxpayers into believing that more money is needed to improve education. The Washington, D.C., school budget is about the nation's costliest, spending about $15,000 per pupil. Its student/teacher ratio, at 15.2 to 1, is lower than the nation's average. Yet student achievement is just about the lowest in the nation. What's so callous about the Washington situation is about 1,700 children in kindergarten through 12th grade receive the $7,500 annual scholarships in order to escape rotten D.C. public schools, and four times as many apply for the scholarships, yet Congress, beholden to the education establishment, will end funding the school voucher program.

Any long-term solution to our education problems requires the decentralization that can come from competition. Centralization has been massive. In 1930, there were 119,000 school districts across the U.S; today, there are less than 15,000. Control has moved from local communities to the school district, to the state, and to the federal government. Public education has become a highly centralized government-backed monopoly and we shouldn't be surprised by the results. It's a no-brainer that the areas of our lives with the greatest innovation, tailoring of services to individual wants and falling prices are the areas where there is ruthless competition such as computers, food, telephone and clothing industries, and delivery companies such as UPS, Federal Express and electronic bill payments that have begun to undermine the postal monopoly in first-class mail.

At a Washington press conference launching the McKinsey report, Al Sharpton called school reform the civil rights challenge of our time. He said that the enemy of opportunity for blacks in the U.S. was once Jim Crow; today, in a slap at the educational establishment, he said it was "Professor James Crow." Sharpton is only partly correct. School reform is not solely a racial issue; it's a vital issue for the entire nation.


Not Worth the Paper . . .

New York’s public schools have replaced social promotion with universal promotion

New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein’s vision of education reform is based on his idea of the “business model” of accountability and results—which sounds good in principle. Producing numbers that show bottom-line progress is essential to demonstrating Klein’s success. The city’s much-touted improvement in student test scores, though dubious, has convinced many observers that substantial progress is happening. To keep the momentum going and appease the Department of Education’s number crunchers, school administrators strive constantly to improve graduation rates. One of the easiest ways of doing this, unfortunately, is to water down course-credit standards for graduation.

For years now, schools have been switching to “annualization” of their course offerings. Under this structure, students who fail the first semester of a sequential course (say, English 5 and 6) can get credit for both terms if they pass the second semester. The practical effect of this change is to destroy the work ethic of those students who’ve figured out how to game the system. By their junior and senior years, they know that they can blow off the first term and, with some effort in the second, get credit for the full course. For the schools’ part, annualization obviates the need to create costly, inefficient “off-track” spring sections of sequential courses for students who failed the fall section. This helps cut down drastically on night school and summer school, and also sends graduation rates skyward. Under this flawed model, teachers face inexorable pressure to get their numbers up in the second term, however they can.

The education department has taken other questionable steps to boost graduation rates. Consider the fate of summer school. Even as recently as 13 years ago, when I first taught summer classes, the course standards and rules were strictly enforced. Three absences resulted in a student’s automatic termination from the program, and a disciplinary infraction would have the same result. But Harold Levy, Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s last schools chancellor, instituted a kinder and gentler system of asking, if not begging, kids to show up. Teachers were paid to call home and implore parents to send their kids, while a smiling Levy appeared on the evening news, manning the phones himself. Principals would let kids come late, allow them to disappear for two-week vacations in the middle of summer, and drop the issue of passing them into teachers’ laps, asking them to use “discretion.” Then, under Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein, the old Summer and Evening Division was eliminated altogether in a cost-saving move. A vastly shrunken summer-school operation, run individually by the schools with no outside oversight, retains very little of the old system’s tough standards.

The schools began implementing a program known as “credit recovery,” driven, again, by the pressure on city high school principals to improve their dismal graduation rates. Through credit recovery, a student can receive credit for a failed course after attending at least nine hours of class and completing a total of 25 hours of work. The credit-recovery classes are held during school vacations or in after-school programs. They’re sometimes referred to as “boot camp,” in order to conjure up images of Camp Lejeune in July. State and city directives always call for “rigorous” standards for these programs, but one doesn’t need to be an education policy expert to judge that nine hours in class is a paltry substitute for 16 weeks of class work, or even the 36 hours of summer school in the old system. What amount to extra-credit assignments cannot substitute for course proficiency. Besides, no statewide mechanism for auditing these programs really exists, so it’s left up to the full faith and credit of each school to ensure that they’re reputable. Stories about schools “stuffing” credit-recovery programs to boost graduation figures are legion.

But it gets worse. Until now, students who’ve failed a course must have spent a certain amount of time in that class (known as “seat time”) to be eligible for credit recovery. Last month, however, the State Education Department issued a draft proposal declaring that “seat time” will no longer be a prerequisite. Instead, a school-based committee made up of certified teachers and the principal will set the standards. “The provisions . . . do not require specific seat time requirements for the make-up opportunity since the opportunity must be tailored to the individual student’s need,” the memo declares. This alternative approach renders Chancellor Klein’s own regulations— which call for 90 percent attendance and “successful completion of standards in subject areas”— meaningless.

New York City’s much-heralded end to social promotion in schools has been replaced by something even worse—totally empty, if not universal, promotion. Partly as a result of new policies like credit recovery, this June’s graduation rates will likely reach record highs. Klein’s supporters will once again sound their optimistic refrain about educational progress. But at some point, ordinary New Yorkers, largely excluded from the education debate, will begin to realize that the progress is not what it seems.


Half of England's comprehensives (mainstream government schools) did not offer physics, chemistry and biology High School courses last year

The figures - requested by the Tories - show that in two areas not a single pupil studied the separate sciences. The government has said that every pupil doing adequately in science by the age of 14 should be able to pursue the three subjects. In the new curriculum, most schools do a core science GCSE with "additional science" for those who are interested. These have supplanted the double science course that most pupils followed from the early 1990s.

Separate or "triple" science GCSEs in physics, chemistry and biological sciences are the norm in grammar schools and independent schools.

The figures show that, on average, 46% of comprehensives entered at least one pupil for separate sciences. But no pupils at all in two local authority areas - Islington and Slough - were entered for separate sciences last year, although Islington says two of its eight schools do now offer them. Just under a quarter of exam entrants (23.4%) did only core science in comprehensive schools, while 57.2% took core plus additional science.

Shadow schools minister Nick Gibb said: "It is truly shocking that there are whole areas of England where not a single child has the opportunity to sit separate science GCSEs. "Without a good understanding of physics, chemistry or biology at the age of 16, it is almost impossible for pupils to get top marks in these subjects at A-level and progress to a science degree at a top university."

Schools Minister Sarah McCarthy-Fry said: "The number of pupils taking triple science has increased significantly since 2007 and we are investing £6m over the next three years to double this number." But she added: "It is misleading to suggest that pupils who don't take triple science are not receiving a strong grounding in physics, chemistry and biology. "Through core and additional science, pupils will receive a good foundation in all three sciences which will set them up for further study at A-level."

The Association of School and College leaders said the figures were misleading because they related to students who began their GCSEs in 2006. "The entitlement to triple sciences took effect in 2008 so students starting triple sciences under the entitlement will not appear in the GCSE results until 2010," said policy director Malcolm Trobe. "Other schools may be offering three separate sciences but no student is choosing to take all three."

The pupil entitlement to be taught triple science is not however matched by an obligation on schools to teach the three subjects.


Thursday, June 04, 2009

Boys who do sport and after-school activities do better in exams

Rather a contradiction to the "dumb jock" image

Boys who play sport or take part in after-school clubs are more likely to do well in exams, according to research that suggests a healthy body really does lead to a healthy mind. Cricket, orienteering and even bell-ringing improves the academic achievements of pupils at private schools, researchers at the Independent Schools Council (ISC) say. The difference that extra-curricular activities make to boys’ exam performance is more marked than the effect on girls at GCSE, they found.

Andrew Halls, head of King’s College School for boys in Wimbledon, South London, where pupils have activities in place of lessons on Friday afternoons, said that his pupils needed stimulation outside the classroom to do well in exams. “Boys really want a hinterland to their studies. They don’t want to work in a vacuum and need a sense of life beyond the classroom to make the classroom more palatable,” he said. “Girls tend to weather tedium better than boys. If their lessons are boring, girls will compensate for that, whereas with boys it explodes in your face a bit.”

Researchers compared the number of activities on offer at 508 member schools of the ISC with their academic performance at GCSE. Those offering more clubs and sporting opportunities had better results.

Tim Hands, head master of Magdalen College School, Oxford, where 91 per cent of boys achieved As or above at GCSE in 2007, said: “There is a pretty dramatic correlation between those who take on a major activity — whether it is starring in a play or captaining the first XI cricket team — and getting first-choice universities after A Level or doing particularly well at GCSE. People benefit from having commitments across the board. They have got a sense of focus and perspective.”

Schools with 30 different options outside lesson time had 100 per cent of pupils all gaining Bs or above in GCSE, the study showed. Those offering fewer than 20 activities had 10 per cent of pupils gaining Bs or above.

Clarissa Farr, high mistress of St Paul’s School for Girls, said that girls benefited just as much from extracurricular activities as boys. “A broad range of activities is fundamental to academic success,” she said.

Previous studies have suggested a strong positive link between pupil participation in sport and academic achievement but have not found a gender difference. Jacquelynne Eccles, of the psychology department at the University of Michigan, said that her study into the link between sporting activity and academic attainment found no gender divide. “But if there is a difference, it would be in that direction because the boys would be the ones that take up the sports most,” she said.


Australia: Islamic school plans turned down by NSW Land and Environment Court

Not mentioned below is that there were big protests from locals over this proposal

THE proposed islamic school near Camden has been rejected by the NSW Land and Environment Court. The Quranic Society launched an appeal over the application after Camden Council turned down the plans in May last year. Commissioner Graham Brown upheld Camden Council’s decision to turn down the Quranic Society’s application this morning.

Commissioner Brown said he rejected plans for the school on Burragorang Rd because the development would not be in keeping with Camden’s rural character and heritage. The commissioner agreed with Camden Council’s decision last year and rejected the school plans pursuant to objectives C and F of the site’s 1(a) zoning. He also said some public interest arguments, presented to the court by Camden community members, were taken into consideration.

Camden Mayor Chris Patterson said he never doubted what the court’s decision would be. ``The commissioner said he based the decision on planning grounds like council did 12 months ago,’’ he said. ``I feel very happy that the council’s decision has been vindicated by the court. ``I never questioned the outcome because I always believed we’d done the right thing.’’

The council’s solicitor Chris Shaw welcomed the decision. ``Council’s original decision has been considered the correct decision based on the assessment of planning issues only,’’ he said. He said public interest issues had been given ``very little weight by the court, and that whether or not residents arguments against the school constituted racism was a matter for Camden’’.

Quranic Society expert planning adviser Jeremy Bingham said there was no case for further appeal as the finding was based on ``fact not law’’. ``The commissioner found against the school on one very specific and limited ground which was that the school was urban in character and therefore not in keeping with the existing rural character of the area which was the character of open grazing lands,’’ he said. ``One of the objectives of the zone was to allow development only if it is in keeping with the existing character. ``All of the other grounds raised by objectors were rejected. ``The society is very disappointed. It has put a lot of time and effort and a lot of money into this. It has been a long process.’’


Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Obama’s voucher plan isn’t enough

In order to head off a public-relations catastrophe, Barack Obama has spun a partial about-face in his opposition to the school-choice voucher program for low-income students in Washington, DC. The president’s move, however, falls far short of truly saving the program and helping the legions of disadvantaged children in the nation’s capital.

Here’s a short chronology of Obama’s zigs and zags. After first seeming open to vouchers if they could be proven to help kids, then-candidate Obama reversed course and opposed vouchers because he decided that they hadn’t improved student outcomes. Last month, the U.S. Department of Education released a study of the Washington, DC voucher program that found that students using the voucher to go to a private school achieved at a significantly higher level in reading than students attending regular Washington, DC public schools. Despite this finding, the Obama administration decided to rescind the voucher scholarships for 200 students who won the 2009 lottery for those scholarships. After a large protest demonstration by the mostly African-American parents and students benefiting from the DC vouchers, the president decided to rescind his rescission and guarantee voucher scholarships to all students currently receiving the scholarships until they graduate from high school. The president’s latter actions are insincere at best, and a blatant political ploy at worst.

Observers across the political spectrum don’t believe that the president had a road-to-Damascus moment on vouchers. The Economist magazine said: “The stay of execution [for the DC voucher program] had a lot to do with political expediency. Ending the scheme immediately would not only have disrupted the education of 1,700 children; it would also have exposed both [education secretary Arne] Duncan and his boss to charges of hypocrisy. Mr. Duncan sends his children to school in Virginia, and Mr. Obama pays for his two daughters to go to Sidwell Friends [private school].” Reading the administration’s tea leaves, the Washington Post speculated that “there was also some thought given to the political optics of booting hundreds of poor, black students from private schools back into troubled public schools.” Perhaps the best line came from Rick Hess, education expert at the American Enterprise Institute.

“Like a guilty teenager who wrecks the family car and then generously offers to pay for a tank of gas,” observed Hess, “the administration’s proposal is insulting in its earnestness.” Hess noted that Obama and his officials stood by silently as congressional Democrats attacked the voucher program and as the National Education Association threatened any Democrat who sided with the program. Hess rightly worries that “the administration will score some quick points for this too-clever-by-half ‘pragmatism’ while persuading pundits to look past the double talk on respecting data, seeking out solutions that work, and putting interests of kids before those of adults.”

For all his fancy PR footwork, Obama’s bone to the current voucher-receiving students in DC fails to answer the larger question facing students across the nation. If vouchers are improving the performance of students and parents and their children are happy with their new private schools, then why not extend the program to those who aren’t currently receiving vouchers?

In a hearing on the DC voucher program which he chaired, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) argued that if the program is working it should be continued so more children, not just the ones already receiving the scholarships, can benefit. “We happen to have the facts on our side,” Lieberman said, “We also have justice on our side.”

President Obama should heed the letter signed by 14 senators, including California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, expressing “disappointment” in the president’s decision to bar new students from taking advantage of the DC vouchers. The senators urge the president to “reverse your decision and allow funding to be used to allow the maximum number of low-income students trapped in underperforming schools to benefit from the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program.”

Barack Obama’s cover-my-backside half-measure should garner him no accolades. It’s simply not enough, Mr. President.


Vouching for vouchers

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty supports President Obama's disingenuous ploy to allow students already enrolled in the D.C. voucher program to continue until they graduate, so long as no new vouchers are provided to their younger siblings ("D.C. willing to discuss extending voucher plan," Metro, Friday). D.C. spent $15,798 per public school student in 2007, and yet only 12 percent of eighth graders are proficient in reading and only 8 percent are proficient in math, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The D.C. voucher program provided scholarships of up to $7,500 (less than 50 percent of public school spending) for inner-city students to attend private schools. The Obama budget provides trillions of dollars for dubious make-work projects and middle-class entitlements like the State Children's Health Insurance Program, but it supports dysfunctional education bureaucracies instead of quality education in this so-called era of change.

Albert Shanker, former president of the American Federation of Teachers, once remarked: "It's time to admit that public education operates like a planned economy, a bureaucratic system in which everybody's role is spelled out in advance and there are few incentives for innovation and productivity. It's no surprise that our school system doesn't improve. It more resembles the communist economy than our own market economy."

It's time to admit that discussing the voucher program isn't the same as extending the voucher program.


Australia: Incompetent teacher training under fire

When will they admit that the problem is that teaching has become an option for desperates only as classroom discipline has become virtually non-existent?

UNIVERSITIES are under attack from fellow educators for failing to produce teachers ready for the classroom. One stakeholder is calling for universities to raise teaching course cut-off marks to increase the desirability of the profession. Others warn the courses aren't rigorous enough and are calling for "teacher schools" or internships.

The calls are being made in response to the Masters Report recommendations. Professor Geoff Masters was commissioned by Premier Anna Bligh to help raise the standards of literacy and numeracy among students. Professor Masters reported doubts over teachers' numeracy and literacy standards and recommended they sit a test.

The Queensland Catholic Education Commission wants an OP of around 12 to be targeted as a minimum entry requirement for university teaching courses instead of a test, arguing responsibility for teachers being numerate and literate "should be placed firmly with tertiary institutions". "Analysis of QTAC enrolments 2007-2008 admissions indicates that education courses as a whole, let alone primary education courses, are not attracting high performing academic students," their submission says. "Only 15 per cent of students entering education courses had an OP1-7; three times as many (46 per cent) had OPs of 13-19. "The desirability of teaching as a profession needs to be increased for students with higher academic achievement." The QCEC would also like to see some prerequisite level of mathematics ability for entry into primary education tertiary courses.

Independent Schools Queensland said while they didn't reject the notion of a teacher test, they would prefer action that ensured universities had rigorous assessment practices which properly prepared graduates for the classroom, including internships.

The Queensland Association of State School Principals has also attacked the rigor of university training, arguing extra training schools or internships are needed to ensure pre-service teachers are ready for the classroom.

Both the QCEC and ISQ have not supported a recommendation for standard science tests to be introduced in Years 4, 6, 8 and 10 to help identify struggling students. All groups have supported recommendations calling for extra funding. [Funnily enough]


Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Homosexual activist to oversee public classroom 'safety'

Homosexual group founder handed federal Education Department post

The founder of the homosexual activist group GLSEN, which promotes homosexual clubs in high schools, middle schools and grade schools and is the driving force behind the annual "Day of Silence" celebration of homosexuality in many districts, has been handed a federal appointment where he will be responsible for overseeing "safety" in the nation's public schools.

Linda Harvey of Mission America, which educates people on anti-Christian trends in the nation, said it is nothing more than a "tragedy" for an open homosexual who has "had an enormously detrimental impact on the climate in our schools" to be in such a position.

The appointment of Kevin Jennings was posted – with little fanfare – on a government list of federal jobs recently. He was named by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to be the Assistant Deputy Secretary in the Office of Safe Schools. He previously worked to raise money for the presidential campaign for President Obama. In the new post, he'll be working on "safe schools" programs for educational institutions nationwide, said Harvey.

"In his own writings and books listed on the GLSEN [Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network] Website, I've reported, Kevin Jennings has given tacit nods of approval to sex between young teens and adults," Harvey told WND. "In addition to that, the writings and books, many of which I've read and are incredibly graphic, seem to normalize early teen same-sex sexual behaviors." "It is unconscionable. This is educational malpractice and child corruption," she said.

On Jennings' own website, a biographical sketch talks about how his work as an activist started when he used a school assembly in a district where he was a teacher to announce his homosexuality. He soon started the GLSEN activist group and, the report said, "has spent the last 12 years building GLSEN into a national organization at the forefront of a bold movement that now works with over 3,000 Gay-Straight Alliances."

But a blogger who calls himself Beetle Blogger cited another statement from Jennings about his early promotion of homosexuality in schools. The blogger quoted Jennings saying, "We immediately seized upon the opponent's calling card – safety – and explained how homophobia represents a threats to students' safety by creating a climate where violence, name-calling, health problems, and suicide are common. Titling our report, 'Making Schools Safe for Gay and Lesbian Youth,' we automatically threw our opponents onto the defensive and stole their best line of attack. This … short-circuited their arguments and left them back-peddling from day one."

Harvey said the appointment really is not surprising, given the pro-homosexual position adopted by Obama and Jennings' fund-raising for the Democrat. But she warned when "safe" is combined with "LGBT" as is happening at the federal agency, "What you have is the silencing of any conservative opinion. That's what they consider safety." "This is an outrageous 'in-your-face, take this, we don't care about your version of safety' for kids," she said.

She also cited the introduction in Congress of H.R. 2262 by U.S. Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., which is "to amend the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act" to include pro-homosexual language that could use the issue of bullying to force indoctrination sessions for both students and teachers.

The proposed training would relate to "real or perceived" sexual orientation and gender identity, she said. "How does this work? Well, let's look at an example from a state that already passed a similar law. In Iowa, teachers in some school districts endure the most outrageous in-service training imaginable. The Council Bluffs, Iowa, school district, Loess Hills Area Education Agency 13, gives a two-day teacher training course called 'How to Make My Classroom Safe for LGBT Students.' As part of the training, 'Videos will be used from Anderson Cooper 360, 'Will & Grace,' and several popular film segments like 'Brokeback Mountain' and 'Latter Days,''" Harvey said.

"This man's work and his agenda are exactly why we've seen the radical pro-homosexuality curriculum pushed across California. He is now more strongly positioned to implement his agenda nationwide," said Karen England, executive director of Capitol Resource Institute.

In Duncan's announcement appointing Jennings, he said GLSEN "works to make schools safe for all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity."


Bullies rule in Australia's primary schools

BULLYING is spiralling out of control in the nation's schools with one-in-four children from Year 4 to Year 9 claiming they are regularly attacked. The Daily Telegraph can reveal that bullying peaks in the final years of primary school where 32 per cent of students are targeted by playground thugs.

New data documented in Australia's largest ever study of bullying in schools shows Year 8 students are also major victims with 29 per cent reporting attacks. The research, commissioned by the Federal Government, shows New South Wales has some of the highest levels of bullying in the country - well above the national average in Years 4, 5 and 6. Many of the 7000 children from 124 schools surveyed across Australia said they had lost faith in the ability of teachers to protect them.

The report, recommending an overhaul of the way in which schools handle the issue, found almost half of all children in Year 9 are both being bullied and bullying others. The Daily Telegraph also has learned that some parents, desperate to protect their children, are inflaming cyber exchanges by confronting bullies in online chat rooms. One 15-year-old girl in Sydney's west, mistaken for someone else online, was pursued by a gang of females who threatened to stab her at school.

And the breakdown of a teenage romance sparked a bullying episode that ended with another gang of girls smashing their victim's nose and eye socket.


Monday, June 01, 2009

School Choice Is the New Civil Rights Struggle

A word of support from the president could transform local politics on the issue.

Getting arrested doesn't normally bolster a politician's credibility. But when South Carolina state Sen. Robert Ford told me recently that he saw the inside of a jail cell 73 times, he did so to make a point. As a youth, Mr. Ford cut his political teeth in tumultuous 1960s civil-rights protests.

Today this black Democrat says the new civil-rights struggle is about the quality of instruction in public schools, and that to receive a decent education African-Americans need school choice. He wants the president's help. "We need choice like Obama has. He can send his kids to any school he wants."

Mr. Ford was once like many Democrats on education -- a reliable vote against reforms that would upend the system. But over the past three and a half years he's studied how school choice works and he's now advocating tax credits and scholarships that parents can spend on public or private schools.

He's not alone. Three other prominent black Democrats in South Carolina have publicly challenged party orthodoxy. In 2006 State Rep. Harold Mitchell Jr. crossed party lines to endorse Republican Karen Floyd for state education superintendent. "We have to try something different," he told me at the time. That same year, Curtis Brantley defeated a state representative in a primary fought over education reform. And last year, Ennis Bryant ran (unsuccessfully) against an anti-school-choice state representative in a primary.

These men are the most visible part of a movement joining black Democrats and political conservatives in a common cause. In recent years, school-choice candidates (black and white) have taken the seats of more than half a dozen antichoice legislators, and there have been two mass rallies for school choice at the state capitol that included black leaders.

Charter and private schools geared toward impoverished black children also are cropping up, and no wonder. There are about 700,000 students in public schools in South Carolina, more than a third of whom -- 247,000 -- are in schools considered to be failing based on test scores. Nearly 60% of the kids in these failing schools -- about 146,000 -- are African-American. Blacks make up about 39% of public-school students.

In March, a Pulse Opinion Research poll of 1,000 black voters in the state reported that 53% agreed that school choice would improve public education (28% disagreed). Support for school-choice legislation increased to 61% when Mr. Ford's name was attached to it.

Two years ago, legislation that would have created education tax credits failed in the House by a handful of votes and could pass today with the support of just a few more members. Meanwhile, Mr. Ford estimates that he is now just two votes shy in the state Senate of passing legislation that would create scholarships for poor children, and education tax credits for all parents, that would be equal to half of what the state spends per-student in each district. When Mr. Ford announced his bill in March, he held a press conference in the capitol that forced work on the House floor to come to a standstill as lawmakers made their way out to hear him thunder, "I don't give a damn about the money. I'm doing this for the kids."

The danger for Democrats still opposed to school choice is that Mr. Ford represents widespread frustration among black voters who see Mr. Obama in the White House and now expect real change to occur in their communities. Black voters could come to support conservative education policies (if not GOP candidates).

Typically, school-choice fights involve Republicans and a handful of Democrats pushing vouchers for a limited number of poor kids in inner cities. That's fine as far as it goes. But, as is evident in Washington, D.C., it doesn't go far. With just a few thousand families receiving vouchers, congressional Democrats are confident that they can kill the school-choice program in D.C. without provoking a voter backlash.

In South Carolina, however, the tax credits on the table would go to middle-class and poor parents alike and would align the interests of the vast majority of voters with those of poor families. If such tax credits take root, they will create a coalition between black Democrats and Republicans and be nearly impossible to trim back, let alone repeal.

That coalition is already starting to form. Mr. Ford is finding a ready ally in Republican Gov. Mark Sanford, who has spent the past six years pushing for school choice. The governor has already enacted charter-school legislation, created choice at the prekindergarten level, and has twice pushed for tax credits. School choice is a top goal of his in his final two years in office.

South Carolina doesn't have powerful education unions that can derail reforms, so Democrats are scrambling for alternatives. Jim Rex, the state school superintendent, is pushing to give parents more choices within the public system -- such as magnet schools and single-gender programs. He has also revamped the state's standardized tests. But Democrats are late to the game and parents are growing impatient for progress.

"[Mr.] Obama knows the right thing to do," Mr. Ford told me, noting that just a few words from the president praising education tax credits would likely swing the state senators he needs to pass his legislation. But will the president do it?


Money and the Schools: More isn't better

Brace yourself, because there's good news on education -- and in New Jersey of all places. On Thursday, the New Jersey Supreme Court let stand a 2008 law replacing a judge-made funding formula that had been in place since the 1980s. Under the old formula, created by the 1981 Abbott decision, 31 of the state's poor school districts received the lion's share of state education funding. Funding in these so-called "Abbott districts" has been exceeding $17,000 per student, well above the state average of $13,500.

Test scores have improved among younger students, but University of Arkansas professor Gary Ritter says education reformers had hoped for better results in earlier years of the program given that urban districts like Camden are now spending more than rich suburbs. Derrell Bradford of Excellence in Education for Everyone says scores at the lower grades look better because testing has been dumbed down, and he attributes any improvement to the fact that Abbott students can use vouchers for preschool. By any measurement, Abbott students still lag behind those in districts spending far less per student.

New Jersey taxpayers pay the highest property taxes in the country -- $7,000 on average -- to fund their own schools, and then they pay state income taxes to further fund Abbott districts. Under the new law, state funds will be sent automatically to wherever the needy kids are, even if they attend suburban schools. The real reform would be to let parents decide which schools deserve their kids and allow the funding to follow. But at least we've had one more object lesson that more money doesn't mean better schools.


Sunday, May 31, 2009

The biggest mystery in American history

What is the greatest mystery in American history? Rattle off a few answers. I bet you won't think of mine...

Here is my nominee for biggest mystery: the decline and fall of public school education. Don't agree? Give me a minute and I'll convince you.

Here are the towering facts: The U.S. spends a huge amount on education; more per student than anyone else; more and more every year. Simultaneously, over the last 70 years, literacy has fallen, SAT scores have fallen, American competitiveness has fallen, and the general knowledge of ordinary citizens has fallen. Teenagers graduate from high school who can't read their diplomas; the country now has 50,000,000 functional illiterates. I recently saw on television that the wealthiest, most successful country in the world--that would be us--hovers around 18th internationally on reading, and 25th in science.

I submit that all of these facts taken together are paradoxical; one might say, impossible. It's as if I told you that an ordinary man consumed 5000 calories a day and lost weight. So this, I submit, is the greatest mystery in our history.

But why have our educators allowed this decline to take place? Or is "allowed" a trick word, and they have actually abetted this failure? Ah, mystery on top of mystery. This is a puzzle that academic historians should be trying to solve. For starters, can't we all agree that genuine experts, making a sincere effort, would have our schools functioning at a higher level? Why, oh why, don't our educators do a much better job?

In the interest of brevity, let me just list the three most common answers given to that question:

* Our educators mean well but they get caught up in fads.

* Our educators have a lot of bad luck. Who could guess that all their wonderful ideas would have so many unintended consequences?

* A harsher theory is that our educators, alas, are nitwits. (Smart people, it's often remarked, don't go into Education.)

The problem with all these theories is that, if true, we would see a greater range of outcomes. After all, there are thousands of these people. Now and then they'd have to get lucky; the law of averages would have to have its day. There's only one problem with this: there are, it seems to me, no successful results, and no good ideas. All we see is a grinding mediocrity.

It goes beyond a failure to find ideas that increase education; many have embraced ideas that are clearly destructive. Our experts really don't seem all that interested in education as most people understand this term. Reading, writing, arithmetic, and geography, for example, don't seem to be priorities. What we see in education makes sense only if we assume that our educators have an agenda we don't know about, or that they are malevolent, or both.

So what agenda, you're wondering, are they actually focused on? What's the answer to the mystery? Here is my deduction: that those at the top of the Education Industrial Complex, since the time of John Dewey, have been collectivists first, and educators second or third. The goal of creating an educated child was too often superseded by the goal of creating a co-operative child.

Broadly speaking, they undermined educational success in two ways. First, they found reasons to delete and dilute the curriculum. Second, the things they did teach, they often taught in confusing, unhelpful ways. I could reel off a list of 50 failed pedagogies, none of which lived up to the hype or the hope, things such as New Math, Reform Math, Constructivism, Bilingual Education, Self Esteem, et cetera.

The paradigm of bad pedagogies, of course, is Whole Word, I.E. any non-phonics way of teaching reading. Around 1931, every public school in the country was told that phonics was out, and the children should be taught by Look-Say (think Dick and Jane). This switch is one of most amazing (and revealing) events in American educational history. Try to think of another instance where a profession abruptly decided to reverse everything ordinarily done for centuries.

Once you assume that all these conclusions are true, you find there's no mystery at all. Everything that's happened in American education is as logical as 1 + 2 = 3. My estimation is that if we tossed out the ideological admixture, we'd see steady improvement. Don't think we can improve things by tweaking around the edges. We need an intervention. We need surgery.


British teacher makes pupils kneel and pray to Allah' during RE lesson

School denies it but fires the teacher anyway! One of the stranger examples of a British "fudge"

A teacher has been sacked after parents claimed that their children were forced to pray to Allah during a religious education lesson. Alison Phillips was accused of giving two pupils detention after they refused to kneel down and 'pray to Allah' during the class. However, an investigation by the school concluded that there was no truth in the allegation.

Parents were outraged after stories emerged that the two boys, aged 11, were allegedly punished for not wanting to take part in a practical demonstration of how Allah is worshipped. They said children should not be forced to take part in the exercise, which included wearing Muslim headgear, was a breach of their human rights. But governors at Alsager High School, near Stoke-on-Trent, denied Mrs Phillips made pupils pray or that two boys were put into detention for refusing to do so.

The school suspended the teacher last July after receiving complaints and a lengthy disciplinary process was carried out. A statement released on behalf of the school by Cheshire East Council said: 'It can be confirmed that following a long and rigorous disciplinary process, a member of staff at Alsager School has been dismissed from her post. 'The member of staff was suspended in July 2008 following parental complaints and newspaper reports relating to an RE lesson.

'In reaching this decision, the governing body wish to make very clear that they were completely satisfied that at no point did that member of staff make children pray to Allah or put boys in detention for refusing to do so. 'The RE lesson in question contains an element of role play which complies with acceptable practice.'

At the time of the alleged incident, one parent - Sharon Luinen, said: 'This isn't right, it's taking things too far. 'Being asked to pray to Allah, who isn't who they worship, is wrong and what got me is that came away thinking they were being disrespectful.' Another parent, Karen Williams, said: 'I am absolutely furious and I don't find it acceptable. 'I haven't got a problem with them teaching my child other religions and a small amount of information doesn't do any harm. 'But not only did they have to pray, the teacher had gone into the class and asked them watch a short film and then said "we are now going out to pray to Allah".'

The grandfather of one of the pupils in the class added: 'It's absolutely disgusting, there's no other way of putting it.' Parents had claimed that their children were made to bend down on their knees on prayer mats which the teacher had got out of her cupboard.


Australia: Moronic NSW education department

Banned heaters still in NSW schools. Is someone getting a kickback? Using heaters that need the windows wide open is amazingly counterproductive. Most of the heat flies right out the windows. Greenies would have a fit!

THE NSW Government will continue to fit out public schools with gas heaters that have failed World Health Organisation tests, as it awaits further tests taking place in schools this winter. The unflued gas heaters, which emit carbon monoxide, nitrous dioxide, carbon dioxide and formaldehyde fumes, can only be used safely if classroom windows and doors are left open.

Michael Coutts-Trotter, the Director-General of the Department of Education, said he had been told by NSW Health that the heaters were safe. That contradicts the results of a 2004 Health Department study.

In the meantime, the department has authorised a new $2 million study, despite existing Australian and international research which has led to the heaters being banned in other states and many other nations. "We're looking for research and evidence on which we can base our decisions," Mr Coutts-Trotter said. "My judgment was that we did need to do more research … we did need to fill that gap."

Mr Coutts-Trotter said public school students who had to have windows open in winter had it no worse than his own experiences as a child at school in Britain. "There was snow outside a lot of the time, and the windows were open. We wore a jumper," he said. [Mr Trotter should trot off into the sunset -- and take his cooties with him]

Parents of some students are fighting to have the 51,000 heaters in NSW replaced, a process that would cost $400 million, which the Education Department says is the equivalent of building 20 new schools.

They also raised concerns that the latest government study, being undertaken by the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, would not be truly independent. It is being co-ordinated by a senior NSW Health official, Dr Wayne Smith, who has previously advised the Government that the heaters pose no risk. "I can't see how the process could be called independent," said Richard Kalina, who is part of a concerned parents group. "They are really hiding behind another study when there have been 35 years of studies, and most of the rest of the world has already banned these heaters," Mr Kalina said. "I just want my daughter, my children, and anybody's children, to be safe when they are dropped off at school. They're not safe."

Mr Coutts-Trotter said Dr Smith was a recognised expert in environmental health and would be completely impartial. He said the department was listening to parent's concerns but wanted to reassure people that there was no risk. "Low emissions heaters, properly maintained and properly operated, are perfectly safe," he said.

Teachers have complained to the department about the heaters several times over the past two years, but say their objections are yet to be heard. A spokesman for the NSW Teachers Federation said the issue was symptomatic of a lack of public school funding. Unflued gas heaters are generally not used in private schools, on the recommendation of NSW Health.

A spokeswoman for the Education Minister, Verity Firth, said the minister was unable to comment because she was visiting schools in rural NSW.

A government study undertaken in Blackheath Public School last year found that 30 per cent of the classroom areas tested returned nitrous oxide levels above World Health Organisation guidelines.