Saturday, July 25, 2009

Naval Academy Professor Challenges School's Push for Diversity

Of the 1,230 plebes who took the oath of office at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis this week, 435 were members of minority groups. It's the most racially diverse class in the academy's 164-year history. Academy leaders say it is a top priority to build a student body that reflects the racial makeup of the Navy and the nation. The service academy has almost twice as many black, Hispanic and Asian midshipmen as it did a decade ago. Much of the increase has occurred in the past two years, with a blitz of 1,000 outreach and recruitment events across the country.

But during the past two weeks, a faculty member has stirred debate by suggesting that the school's quest for diversity comes at a price. Bruce Fleming, a tenured English professor, said in a June 14 opinion piece in the Capital newspaper of Annapolis that the academy operates a two-tiered admission system that makes it substantially easier for minority applicants to get in. Academy leaders strenuously deny Fleming's assertion. Fleming served on the academy's admissions board several years ago.

The debate, fanned on talk radio and blogs, comes as the Naval Academy and many other colleges and universities are striving to build diversity without resorting to quotas or formulas that might be found unconstitutional. A 2003 Supreme Court decision upheld diversity as a goal but encouraged universities to consider applicants as individuals, a philosophy embraced by the Naval Academy and much of the higher education community.

Fleming says the increase in minority enrollment at the academy has brought in students with lower grades and SAT scores who need more remedial classes and are less capable of the scholarship for which the academy is known. "First of all, we're dumbing down the Naval Academy," Fleming said in an interview. "Second of all, we're dumbing down the officer corps."

Academy leaders say the school has diversified with no loss of scholarship. Incoming freshmen of every race ranked near the top of their senior class in grade-point average and test scores, according to academy records. The academy admitted fewer than 10 percent of the African Americans and Hispanics who applied for admission to the Class of 2013 and a similar share of whites.

This class we inducted yesterday may be the most talented overall that we have ever brought into the Naval Academy," said William Miller, academic dean and provost of the academy. "We have increased the standards, rather than dumbing them down."

Fleming's broadside has lit up military blogs and message boards and prompted inquiries from the academy's governing board about the integrity of the admissions process. The professor has spoken on Laura Ingraham's conservative radio talk show and fielded a steady stream of e-mails from students, most of whom are spending the summer on ships and bases in far-flung locales.

"I think that diversity is a good thing," Erick Meckle, a third-year midshipman, said in an e-mail to The Washington Post from Europe. "However, if the selection process for applicants is based solely on skin color rather than raw talents, then of course it's not fair."

Fleming said he was moved to raise the issue when he saw the dramatic rise in minority first-year students, or plebes, this summer. Fleming served on the academy's admissions board seven years ago and said he participated in a process that blatantly favored minority applicants. To win the admissions board's approval at that time, he said, a white applicant had to present SAT section scores higher than 600 (out of 800); a transcript of A's and B's; and a strong background of leadership in sports and student life, reflected in a four-digit score called the whole-person multiplier. Black and Hispanic students were routinely admitted with SAT scores in the 500s; with B's and C's; and lower whole-person multipliers, he said.

Miller said Fleming's account is "not the way the admissions board works," although he would not speak about "how it worked seven years ago." Admissions Dean Bruce Latta said admissions is "a single process," with every applicant considered as an individual. A star student from a low-income community might get credit for overcoming adversity. "It's a whole-person assessment on every person," Latta said.

Anthony Principi, a former secretary of veterans affairs who is chairman of the academy oversight group known as the Board of Visitors, said he inquired about the constitutionality of the admissions process after reading Fleming's comments. "I think it would survive a constitutional challenge," he said.

Fleming said some academy admission data support his claim. The share of plebes who scored less than 600 on the SAT math test was 22 percent this year, up from 12 percent in the Class of 2008. The number of freshmen coming from the academy's one-year preparatory program, designed for remedial studies, was 244 this year, the highest figure in at least 10 years. The data are not classified by race.

On the other hand, 76 percent of the Class of 2013 came from the top fifth of their high school classes [but which high schools? Being top of a mostly black high school could mean very little], about the same proportion as a decade ago.


Education is increasingly a road to nowhere in socialist Britain

"Any luck?" I ask my daughter, as she returns from her latest foray into town. Her glum face gives the answer. She is leaving school today and, in October, will be going to university – Oxford, if she gets the grades she needs. In a perfect world, she would get a summer job, earn some money, then go travelling for a few weeks. But not much about the world is perfect these days. That low-paid summer job is proving far more elusive than a place at university.

In the recession-hit Cotswolds, where she lives, the temporary jobs in shops and pubs and cafés are just not there, or have already been taken, probably by someone from Warsaw or Tallinn. She touts around her neatly typed CV, littered with As and A*s, but nobody wants to know. "Sorry, luv. Perhaps at Christmas..."

Friends with children in a similar position have the same story to tell. The son of a friend in Wimbledon is typical. After weeks of rejection, he thought he had finally got lucky when he spotted a vacancy in a Vietnamese restaurant. "I'm sorry, we only recruit Vietnamese." "But I thought that was illegal," he stammered, drawing on his A-level politics and economics. "It's how we do things here," came the reply.

Even at the All England Club, where skilled labour is needed to pour Pimm's into a glass without spilling it, 20 per cent fewer catering staff were recruited this year. Not even the Andy Murray magic can generate jobs in the depths of a recession. If the Scot couldn't play tennis, he would probably be out of work himself.

Youth unemployment is at its highest for 16 years, rising to 726,000 in the three months to the end of May, a quarterly increase of 95,000, according to figures released yesterday. Earlier this month it was reported that, among 16 to 24 year-olds, the Murray generation, the number of Neets in the UK is about to pass a million for the first time. Neets – and it is a term we are going to hear a lot more – is government jargon for young people "not in education, employment or training". The forgotten underclass.

A MILLION? It is a terrifying statistic, when you think about it. That is an awful lot of wasted, stunted, frustration-filled lives. It is hard not to link it to another statistic unveiled this week – that the UK has the worst record of violent crime of any country in the EU. Perhaps David Cameron's talk of a broken society is not so exaggerated after all.

If the plight of children leaving school at 16 without a GCSE to their name is grim, the plight of those like my daughter, armed to the teeth with GCSEs but unable to find the most menial work, is equally depressing – if not more so.

All through their childhoods, they have been sold the same dream – by their parents, by their teachers, by the government. That, if they buckle down at school and take their studies seriously, it will be worth their while in the long run. That their hard work will be rewarded with a place at university and a well-paid job.

The dream may not be in tatters, but it has frayed so badly around the edges that it is not surprising so many young people have become cynical and disaffected. Life is not always fair: we imbibe that lesson in our mother's milk. But if reasonable expectations are consistently and savagely disappointed, why bother to try to better yourself at school and university?

Education, education, education, said Tony Blair. Perhaps he should have said unemployment, unemployment, unemployment. Data from the Higher Education Standards Authority released this week indicates that, of those who graduated last summer, eight per cent were still out of work six months later.

The ones with vocational degrees such as medicine are all right. The poor lambs who thought reading history or philosophy or computer sciences would boost their career prospects have had a rude awakening. They are just itching to get their feet under a desk, any desk, so they can pay off those five-figure student loans, but they are having to wait. And wait. And wait.

Young people have time on their side, of course, and with the recession affecting all sections of society, unemployed graduates are no more deserving of sympathy than carmakers or engineers who have been made redundant in their early 50s. But the souring of young dreams, particularly when those dreams are rooted in legitimate aspirations and backed up by hard work, is particularly corrosive. It jeopardises all our futures. Without the optimism of youth, what hope is there of building a stronger economy or a fairer society?

There is not going to be much youthful optimism on view this summer; in fact, school-leavers will be caught between a rock and a hard place. Jobs are in such short supply that they are applying for university in record numbers; but with only a small increase in the number of places available, an estimated 60,000 teenagers will be turned away from university in September and, in most cases, have to join the dole queue.

Even the lucky ones who get university places are caught in an economic vice of frightening rigidity. Student grants and loans are going to be frozen next year, while tuition fees rise. To make ends meet, the students are going to have to grub around for part-time jobs, which will be in short supply or, in Vietnamese restaurants, zero per cent supply, to paraphrase the Prime Minister.

As summer turns to autumn, the students who have managed to avoid swine flu will find themselves riddled with financial insecurity and self-doubt. What are they doing at university in the first place? Where is it all leading? Will that degree be worth anything in the outside world?

Then, next spring in all likelihood, the final indignity. The first general election at which they can vote. Their first chance to have a say at the ballot box about the sort of Britain they want to live in. But why bother to vote? The sins of New Labour are just part of an age-old malaise: politicians promising a better education for all, then dashing the hopes they have so recklessly raised.

If the young took to the streets, as they have in Iran, their anger might be a harbinger of better times ahead. As it is, they seem, in all too many cases, to have succumbed to disillusion and apathy.

Yesterday afternoon, I was walking along the canal in Oxford when I saw a couple of young men perched on top of a bridge, moodily throwing stones into the water. Their faces were pale and sullen and they scowled at me as I approached. There was a trail of lager cans and cigarette ends beside them.

Town or gown? Town, I would have said, without hesitation, 12 months ago. They had the anger of the long-term unemployed about them. They were not throwing stones into the water for fun: they were throwing them to let off steam. Then I overheard one of them talking about Euripides. So not town, gown. Students at a world-famous university. The top of the educational tree.

And if life at the top of the tree is that bad, what chance for those clinging to the lower branches?


Revolutionary idea: New policies should be pretested to see how well they actually work

Not that it would matter much in education. Destructive policies (like the enmity to phonics) are clung to even AFTER we know that they are failures

Schools, courts and police forces need a revolution in evidence-based thinking to prevent taxpayers’ money being wasted on unworkable schemes, according to a leading scientist.

Professor Jonathan Shepherd, a surgeon and criminologist, says that the education and criminal justice systems fail to deliver the best results because policies are not researched properly.

All of the public services need to develop a research culture similar to that in medicine, where treatments must be tested for effectiveness and value before they are adopted.

Policing tactics, teaching techniques and sentencing would benefit from a the same kind of rigorous assessment, but are rarely subject to scientific analysis, he told The Times.

Professor Shepherd, of Cardiff University, is calling for more investment in public sector research and advocates a partnership between practitioners and universities so that policy ideas can be put to the test. The looming squeeze on public spending made sound research even more critical to ensure scarce funding is directed towards proven policies.

“All these choices about spending should be based on evidence, rather than relying on opinion and fashion,” he said. “We need to acknowledge in these straitened times that applied science is a national need.”

His approach has won support from senior scientists and MPs, including Sir David King, the Government’s former chief scientific adviser, Phil Willis, the chairman of the Commons Science Select Committee, and Sir Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust. Sir David said: “I’m very supportive. My entire experience of Whitehall could be described as a struggle to try to get an evidence base into policymaking. We have a knowledge base in our universities but no real commitment to push it into public policymaking and delivery.”

Sir Gus O’Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, agreed but said there were often practical difficulties. “I’m all for having as much evidence-based policy as possible,” he said. “That is something the whole Professional Skills for Government agenda is geared towards.Part of the problem is when you think about the kind of evidence you need about policies, it’s hard to get.” Professor Shepherd, a maxillofacial surgeon, has pioneered the use of health research to reduce crime, for instance, demonstrating that toughened pub glasses lead to fewer injuries because they do not break into sharp pieces if a fight breaks out.

His team has also used accident and emergency admissions data to map violence hotspots in Cardiff and inform targeted policing. Last year he won the Stockholm Prize, the equivalent of a Nobel prize in criminology. He is now campaigning for other public services to learn similar lessons about the value of research and evidence.

“There’s a huge contrast between health and the other public services in the amount of evidence there is as to what works and what doesn’t,” he said. “We need to ask, what’s the evidence that what this teacher is doing in this primary school is the most effective option and the most cost-effective?”

While hospitals routinely abandon ineffective treatments, such as prophylactic removal of wisdom teeth, he said that this rarely happened in other public services. “I don’t see a similar history of evidence-based disinvestment in the other public services,” Professor Shepherd said. “It’s hard to think of a police intervention that’s been abandoned for this reason.”

A further problem is that academics who investigate education or crime rarely work as teachers or police officers, which creates barriers between research and practice. “When you become a lecturer in a department of education, that’s the day you stop teaching,” he said. “Contrast that with health. If you’re a lecturer in a department of surgery or a dental school, you keep practising. The huge advantage is you have your feet on the ground. Your clinical practice informs your research and research informs your practice.

“I want to see practitioner academics and chief superintendents with a PhD. It’s time for universities to invade the criminal justice and education systems. Innovation stems from practitioners asking ‘Can we do better?’ — and then doing the research.”

Professor Shepherd is calling for a public services research board, which would establish funding mechanisms for research into the public services and oversee training of practitioneracademics. He has presented his ideas to Lord Drayson, the Science Minister, and Adam Afriyie, his Tory shadow.

Mr Willis, whose committee will publish a report on the Government’s use of policy next week, said Professor Shepherd’s ideas were particularly important given the parlous state of the public finances. “Over the next ten years, if things are going to be pared to the bone it’s going to be crucial to base policy on evidence,” he said.


Friday, July 24, 2009

Vast fraud alleged in NYC education statistics

But Hey! It's NYC. What do you expect?

Calling it the "Enron of American education," Comptroller William Thompson Tuesday accused the Education Department of manipulating data to boost graduation rates. The transcripts of 10% of the students his office sampled in an audit showed the kids did not earn enough credits or pass enough courses to graduate. "The Department of Education has become the Enron of American education," said the mayoral candidate, "showing the gains and hiding the losses.

About 18% of the 197 students examined who graduated in 2007 got multiple credit for passing the same courses, the report asserts. About a quarter of the students had grades changed the same month they graduated or even after graduation, allowing them to meet graduation requirements. In one case, a student's failing grades from courses taken in 2005 and 2006 were changed in June of 2007, giving him the required 44 credits.

Thompson also charged that the drop-out rate may be higher than reported. Students who take five or six years to graduate are not considered drop-outs, according to the audit. The audit looked at a group of students who were supposed to graduate in 2007 but were classified as "still enrolled" in 2008. The report found that 15% had not attended school since June 2007. Half of those hadn't even been to class in the spring of June 2007.

The Education Department said in its response contained in the audit that some schools did not use inique codes for classes, giving the impression some were taken twice. They attributed changing transcripts in the month of graduation or afterwards to careful reviews taken without the time pressure that exists during the school year.

Mayor Bloomberg's campaign attacked the report. "Instead of politicizing the comptroller's office with phony attacks, Mr. Thompson should be explaining his own failed record on education," said spokesman Howard Wolfson. "The facts are clear: When Bill Thompson ran the old dysfunctional Board of Education, graduation rates were flat and dropout rates increased." The city's graduation rate has risen to 66% in 2008 from 51% in 2001, city officials say.

Thompson stopped short of accusing the mayor or Schools Chancellor Joel Klein of personally pushing for inflate graduation rates. He said there needed to be improved oversight of the Education Department and argued that the problems could not be chalked up to paperwork mistakes. "These results are disturbing and inexcusable," said Thompson "I don't think it's just sloppy book keeping."


British schools are the problem, not its elite universities

Alan Milburn's new report into social mobility is not entirely surprising. Those of us who write about education know that social position, the background you come from and what your parents do, all make a huge difference to what you will become when you grow up. And in today's Times, Mr Milburn writes about social mobility and education.

But the new report covers more than our children's schools - and has over 80 recommedations. Certain professions should have a much wider intake, says Mr Milburn, and so should universities.

But here's John O’Leary, author of the Good University Guide, with his take on the report: he's not completely impressed....

"There are many good ideas in Alan Milburn’s report on social mobility, Unleashing Aspiration – not least a proposed network of careers mentors and the extension of financial support beyond full-time undergraduates. But few of them involve universities, which the report considers the key to greater mobility.

Like most of the debates in this area, this one confuses widening participation in higher education as a whole with fair access to the most prestigious universities. Both are important, but they are not the same thing. So by encouraging more students to stay at home and go to their local FE college, for example, you may send out the message that it does not matter where people take a degree.

In fact, as the report acknowledges, it does matter both in terms of the quality of course and subsequent career prospects. What prospective students need - especially those from families and schools with little knowledge of universities – is the best possible advice on their options. These may involve highly selective universities, but the most suitable course might well be elsewhere.

The report assumes that the most highly-qualified students should go to the universities at the top of the league tables, quoting the 13 regarded by the Sutton Trust as the cream of the crop. The fact that there are 13, rather than ten or 20, shows what an arbitrary dividing line this is. Are the tens of thousands who apply to Manchester (the most popular university in terms of applications) or Exeter (which is in the current top ten in The Times Good University Guide) deluded?

Mr Milburn’s panel wants yet more information to be published on the socio-economic background of entrants to university. But there are statistics galore on students’ class, school and home area. A few more will not change anything.

Not surprisingly, there is no flash of inspiration in the report that will transform access to the most selective universities. Many of the proposals, such as partnerships with poor schools and extra leeway for applicants from schools and colleges with low average results, are well established already. If anything, the £392m spent on widening participation over the past five years to limited effect, suggests that there are too many initiatives, rather than too few.

Mr Milburn – and the Government, which commissioned the report – are right to be concerned about access to the professions and, by extension, to the top universities. Indeed, David Willetts, who leads for the Conservatives on universities, raised many of the same concerns in a speech to the Politeia think tank yesterday. But, while the charge of social elitism can still be levelled at a few universities, the focus should be on state schools if real progress is to be made on social mobility."


Fix Australia's school performance or poor won't get into university

We need to improve schooling in disadvantaged areas if less well-off children are going to get tertiary education

EARLIER this year federal Education Minister Julia Gillard challenged Australian universities to enrol more students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds, setting an ambitious student enrolment target of 20 per cent from low SES groups by 2020.

Though more than willing, many universities will struggle to reach that target. An all-too-limited pool of prospective students from low SES backgrounds obtain the school results likely to make higher education a good option. The undergraduates who will enter universities in 2020 are at school now and many in the target groups already underperform. So while universities must engage, it also will require a substantial improvement in school results to meet the Education Minister's targets.

Two years ago, the Education Foundation report Crossing the Bridge described the challenges faced by government schools in low socioeconomic communities and the barriers confronting the young people who attend them.

The story is much the same today. New University of Melbourne research conducted for the Education Foundation confirms there are still too many young Australians missing out on the opportunities provided by a quality education.

Social justice requires an education system that encourages bright, creative and talented individuals, irrespective of the school they attend or their background. These goals -- quality, equity, consistency -- are at the core of a new proposal, A New Federalism in Australian Education, by Jack Keating for the Education Foundation. This proposal argues that the Australian school system faces a raft of challenges as a result of the narrow institutional structures of schooling.

To date, much educational reform policy has focused on teaching quality. This is critically important, yet young people's education outcomes are also shaped by factors beyond their teachers, including early childhood education, family income and occupation, geographical location and the wider community environment. These factors help explain why socioeconomic disadvantage persists in higher education and why students from low SES backgrounds remain substantially under-represented in universities.

Years ago, researchers Buly Cardak of La Trobe University and Chris Ryan of the Australian National University identified school performance as the missing piece of this puzzle. The currency of university admissions is school results, and Cardak and Ryan found that students from low SES families were lost to higher education in the final years of school. They do not convert academic potential evident at year 9 to year 12 results as effectively as students from high SES groups.

We surrender so much potential among students who do not make it to year 12, and are lost to the tertiary sector. Some will find other pathways, such as through vocational training. There are good arguments to consider additional new forms of education, including community colleges. But the key issue remains our schools.

In A New Federalism in Australian Education, Keating calls for widespread educational reform beginning with a multi-level, federalist approach to funding that prioritises schools with low completion rates and offers fee relief for low-income families.

He also calls for church-based schools to be incorporated into the public system and a national regulatory agency for all publicly funded schools, and recommends significant investment in early childhood education; an acceleration of programs in the middle years of secondary school to curb early school leaving; and a strengthening of upper secondary pathways to further education and training that do not rely solely on academic results.

Most important of all is the focus on countering socioeconomic disadvantage. For some time Australian education has been characterised as "high quality, low equity".

Too many students are performing below expectations, most coming from poorer families and communities. Poor results often have lifelong consequences, in fewer opportunities for further education and reduced job prospects. How to make Australia's schools "high quality, high equity" is one of the big policy questions of the coming decade.

The federal government's education reform agenda is already focused on disadvantage, targeting early childhood and inequalities in the quality of instruction across the states and territories, and identifying opportunities to cater better for students' different needs.

Not everyone will agree with Keating's proposals. Controversy over federalism is a constant of Australian politics. The inconsistencies and apparent anomalies of joint federal-state responsibility for education, and the differences between the states, also can be benefits in providing greater scope for experimentation, division of power and democratic options. Citizens dissatisfied with one level of government can appeal to the other for help.

But we also need to take seriously the costs of the present divided structures of regulating and funding education, costs well explained in thisproposal.

Our schooling system structures were not designed to produce the best education outcomes but represent the accumulation of incremental changes through decades. As students of public policy know, incrementalism encourages remarkable innovation but also can produce programmatic incoherence.

These are healthy debates on the means to achieve a high quality, high-equity education system, running from early childhood through to postgraduate university education. If we are going to meet those 2020 equity targets, it's a conversation we must have now.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Charity, private schools and the public benefit in Britain

Private schools in Britain have traditionally been regarded as charities and been given certain tax exemptions as a result. The Labour government hates private schools so is trying to end those concessions. The hatchetwoman is the aptly-named Dame Suzy Leather, who herself had a privileged education but wants to deny that to as many others as possible

It's entirely possible to argue with a straight face that private schools damage the nation. I may disagree with you, think your contention that everyone should be forced into the failing State sector absurd, but that would be my opinion, not an objective fact thrown up by the universe to frustrate you.

However, if we were to try and discuss the costs and benefits of there being a private school sector, we would at least agree that parents paying more money to have their children educated, money over and above the taxes they have already paid the State to educate their children, is a public benefit. No? Saving the State billions which it can spend upon other things is indeed a public benefit? Sure, maybe it's one we might need to offset against other things, but it is a benefit? Not, apparently, if you are the Charities Commission:
David Lyscom, the chief executive of the Independent Schools Council, has tried, without success, to convince Leather that billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money that is saved by schools educating children privately is a “public benefit” in itself.

However, this is not the worst of what the Commission is no doing as it looks at the charitable status of all those private schools. This is:
The commission have not told us what the test we have to pass is.

When a bureaucracy will not tell you what the law is, when they insist that everything is simply to be left to their discretion, then we have left the rule of law far behind. Indeed, I would argue that in this situation we have left the governance methods of a civilised society far behind.

Apologies for my fundamentalism in such matters but just as I'm sure there are both costs and benefits to having a private school system (and on net, benefits) there are also costs and benefits to having a Charities Commission. If such Commission is going to start using Kafka as an operations manual then, on net, we'd be better off without it. Abolish it and force Dame Suzi Leather to work for a living for a change.


What it is like to teach American blacks

Innumerable articles bewail the educational "gap" between American whites and blacks but it is almost always explained in very general terms. Below is a very rare detailed description of what goes on in black education

Until recently I taught at a predominantly black high school in a southeastern state. The mainstream press gives a hint of what conditions are like in black schools, but only a hint. Expressions journalists use like “chaotic” or “poor learning environment” or “lack of discipline” do not capture what really happens. There is nothing like the day-to-day experience of teaching black children and that is what I will try to convey.

Most whites simply do not know what black people are like in large numbers, and the first encounter can be a shock. One of the most immediately striking things about my students was that they were loud. They had little conception of ordinary decorum. It was not unusual for five blacks to be screaming at me at once. Instead of calming down and waiting for a lull in the din to make their point-something that occurs to even the dimmest white students-blacks just tried to yell over each other.

It did no good to try to quiet them, and white women were particularly inept at trying. I sat in on one woman’s class as she begged the children to pipe down. They just yelled louder so their voices would carry over hers.

Many of my black students would repeat themselves over and over again- just louder. It was as if they suffered from Tourette syndrome. They seemed to have no conception of waiting for an appropriate time to say something. They would get ideas in their heads and simply had to shout them out. I might be leading a discussion on government and suddenly be interrupted: “We gotta get more Democrats! Clinton, she good!” The student may seem content with that outburst but two minutes later, he would suddenly start yelling again: “Clinton good!”

Anyone who is around young blacks will probably get a constant diet of rap music. Blacks often make up their own jingles, and it was not uncommon for 15 black boys to swagger into a classroom, bouncing their shoulders and jiving back.

They were yelling back and forth, rapping 15 different sets of words in the same harsh, rasping dialect. The words were almost invariably a childish form of boasting: “Who got dem shine rim, who got dem shine shoe, who got dem shine grill (gold and silver dental caps)?” The amateur rapper usually ends with a claim-in the crudest terms imaginable-that all womankind is sexually devoted to him. For whatever reason, my students would often groan instead of saying a particular word, as in, “She suck dat aaahhhh (think of a long grinding groan), she f**k dat aaaahhhh, she lick dat aaaahhh.”

So many black girls dance in the hall, in the classroom, on the chairs, next to the chairs, under the chairs, everywhere. Once I took a call on my cell phone and had to step outside of class. I was away about two minutes but when I got back the black girls had lined up at the front of the classroom and were convulsing to the delight of the boys.

Many black people, especially black women, are enormously fat. Some are so fat I had to arrange special seating to accommodate their bulk. I am not saying there are no fat white students-there are-but it is a matter of numbers and attitudes. Many black girls simply do not care that they are fat. There are plenty of white anorexics, but I have never met or heard of a black anorexic. “Black women be big Mr. Jackson,” my students would explain.

“Is it okay in the black community to be a little overweight?” I ask. Two obese black girls in front of my desk begin to dance, “You know dem boys lak juicy fruit, Mr. Jackson.” “Juicy” is a colorful black expression for the buttocks.

Blacks, on average, are the most directly critical people I have ever met: “Dat shirt stupid. Yo’ kid a bastard. Yo’ lips big.” Unlike Whites, who tread gingerly around the Subject of race, they can be brutally to The point. Once I needed to send a student To the office to deliver a message. I Asked for volunteers, and suddenly you Would think my classroom was a bastion of civic engagement. Thirty dark hands shot into the air. My students loved to leave the classroom and slack off, even if just for a few minutes, away from the eye of white authority. I picked a light-skinned boy to deliver the message. One very black student was indignant: “You pick da half-breed.” And immediately other blacks take up the cry, and half a dozen mouths are screaming, “He half-breed.”

For decades, the country has been lamenting the poor academic performance of blacks and there is much to lament. There is no question, however, that many blacks come to school with a serious handicap that is not their fault. At home they have learned a dialect that is almost a different language. Blacks not only mispronounce words; their grammar is often wrong. When a black wants to ask, “Where is the bathroom?” he may actually say “Whar da badroom be?' Grammatically, this is the equivalent of “Where the bathroom is?” And this is the way they speak in high school. Students write the way they speak, so this is the language that shows up in written assignments.

It is true that some whites face a similar handicap. They speak with what I would call a “country” accent that is hard to reproduce but results in sentences such as “I’m gonna gemme a Coke.” Some of these country whites had to learn correct pronunciation and usage. The difference is that most whites overcome this handicap and learn to speak correctly; many blacks do not.

Most of the blacks I taught simply had no interest in academic subjects. I taught history, and students would often say they didn’t want to do an assignment or they didn’t like history because it was all about white people. Of course, this was “diversity” history, in which every cowboy’s black cook got a special page on how he contributed to winning the West, but black children still found it inadequate. So I would throw up my hands and assign them a project on a real, historical black person. My favorite was Marcus Garvey. They had never heard of him, and I would tell them to research him, but they never did. They didn’t care and they didn’t want to do any work.

Anyone who teaches blacks soon learns that they have a completely different view of government from whites. Once I decided to fill 25 minutes by having students write about one thing the government should do to improve America. I gave this question to three classes totaling about 100 students, approximately 80 of whom were black. My few white students came back with generally “conservative” ideas. “We need to cut off people who don’t work,” was the most common suggestion. Nearly every black gave a variation on the theme of “We need more government services.”

My students had only the vaguest notion of who pays for government services. For them, it was like a magical piggy bank that never goes empty. One black girl was exhorting the class on the need for more social services and I kept trying to explain that people, real live people, are taxed for the money to pay for those services. “Yeah, it come from whites,” she finally said. “They stingy anyway.”

“Many black people make over $50,000 dollars a year and you would also be taking away from your own people,” I said. She had an answer to that: “Dey half breed.” The class agreed. I let the subject drop.

Many black girls are perfectly happy to be welfare queens. On career day, one girl explained to the class that she was going to have lots of children and get fat checks from the government. No one in the class seemed to have any objection to this career choice.

Surprising attitudes can come out in class discussion. We were talking about the crimes committed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and I brought up the rape of a young girl in the bathroom of the Superdome. A majority of my students believed this was a horrible crime but a few took it lightly. One black boy spoke up without raising his hand: “Dat no big deal. They thought they is gonna die so they figured they have some fun. Dey jus’ wanna have a fun time; you know what I’m sayin’?” A few black heads nodded in agreement.

My department head once asked all the teachers to get a response from all students to the following question: “Do you think it is okay to break the law if it will benefit you greatly?” By then, I had been teaching for a while and was not surprised by answers that left a young, liberal, white woman colleague aghast. “Yeah” was the favorite answer. As one student explained, “Get dat green.”

There is a level of conformity among blacks that whites would find hard to believe. They like one kind of music: rap. They will vote for one political party: Democrat. They dance one way, speak one way, are loud the same way, and fail their exams in the same way. Of course, there are exceptions but they are rare.

Whites are different. Some like country music, others heavy metal, some prefer pop, and still others, God forbid, enjoy rap music. They have different associations, groups, almost ideologies. There are jocks, nerds, preppies, and hunters. Blacks are all- well-black, and they are quick to let other blacks know when they deviate from the norm.

One might object that there are important group differences among blacks that a white man simply cannot detect. I have done my best to find them, but so far as I can tell, they dress the same, talk the same, think the same. Certainly, they form rival groups, but the groups are not different in any discernible way. There simply are no groups of blacks that are as distinctly different from each other as white “nerds,” “hunters,” or “Goths,” for example.

How the world looks to blacks: One point on which all blacks agree is that everything is “racis’.” This is one message of liberalism they have absorbed completely. Did you do your homework? “Na, homework racis’.” Why did you get an F on the test? “Test racis’.”

I was trying to teach a unit on British philosophers and the first thing the students noticed about Bentham, Hobbes, and Locke was “Dey all white! Where da black philosopher a’?” I tried to explain there were no blacks in eighteenth century Britain. You can probably guess what they said to that: “Dat racis’!” One student accused me of deliberately failing him on a test because I didn’t like black people.

“Do you think I really hate black people?” “Yeah.” “Have I done anything to make you feel this way? How do you know?” “You just do.” “Why do you say that?" He just smirked, looked out the window, and sucked air through his teeth. Perhaps this was a regional thing, but the blacks often sucked air through their teeth as a wordless expression of disdain or hostility.

My students were sometimes unable to see the world except through the lens of their own blackness. I had a class that was host to a German exchange student. One day he put on a Power Point presentation with famous German landmarks as well as his school and family. From time to time during the presentation, blacks would scream, “Where da black folk?!” The exasperated German tried several times to explain that there were no black people where he lived in Germany. The students did not believe him. I told them Germany is in Europe, where white people are from, and Africa is where black people are from. They insisted that the German student was racist, and deliberately refused to associate with blacks.

Blacks are keenly interested in their own racial characteristics. I have learned, for example, that some blacks have “good hair.” Good hair is black parlance for black-white hybrid hair. Apparently, it is less kinky, easier to style, and considered more attractive. Blacks are also proud of light skin. Imagine two black students shouting insults across the room. One is dark but slim; the other light and obese. The dark one begins the exchange: “You fat, Ridario!” Ridario smiles, doesn’t deign to look at his detractor, shakes his head like a wobbling top, and says, “You wish you light skinned.” They could go on like this, repeating the same insults over and over.

My black students had nothing but contempt for Hispanic immigrants. They would vent their feelings so crudely that our department strongly advised us never to talk about immigration in class in case the principal or some outsider might overhear.

Whites were “racis’,” of course, but they thought of us at least as Americans. Not the Mexicans. Blacks have a certain, not necessarily hostile understanding of white people. They know how whites act, and it is clear they believe whites are smart and are good at organizing things. At the same time, they probably suspect whites are just putting on an act when they talk about equality, as if it is all a sham that makes it easier for whites to control blacks. Blacks want a bigger piece of the American pie. I’m convinced that if it were up to them they would give whites a considerably smaller piece than whites get now, but they would give us something. They wouldn’t give Mexicans anything.

What about black boys and white girls? No one is supposed to notice this or talk about it but it is glaringly obvious: Black boys are obsessed with white girls. I’ve witnessed the following drama countless times. A black boy saunters up to a white girl. The cocky black dances around her, not really in a menacing way. It’s more a shuffle than a threat. As he bobs and shuffles he asks, “When you gonna go wit’ me?”

There are two kinds of reply. The more confident white girl gets annoyed, looks away from the black and shouts, “I don’t wanna go out with you!” The more demure girl will look at her feet and mumble a polite excuse but ultimately say no. There is only one response from the black boy: “You racis’.” Many girls-all too many-actually feel guilty because they do not want to date blacks. Most white girls at my school stayed away from blacks, but a few, particularly the ones who were addicted to drugs, fell in with them.

There is something else that is striking about blacks. They seem to have no sense of romance, of falling in love. What brings men and women together is sex, pure and simple, and there is a crude openness about this. There are many degenerate whites, of course, but some of my white students were capable of real devotion and tenderness, emotions that seemed absent from blacks-especially the boys.

Black schools are violent and the few whites who are too poor to escape are caught in the storm. The violence is astonishing, not so much that it happens, but the atmosphere in which it happens. Blacks can be smiling, seemingly perfectly content with what they are doing, having a good time, and then, suddenly start fighting. It’s uncanny. Not long ago, I was walking through the halls and a group of black boys were walking in front of me. All of a sudden they started fighting with another group in the hallway.

Blacks are extraordinarily quick to take offense. Once I accidentally scuffed a black boy’s white sneaker with my shoe. He immediately rubbed his body up against mine and threatened to attack me. I stepped outside the class and had a security guard escort the student to the office. It was unusual for students to threaten teachers physically this way, but among themselves, they were quick to fight for similar reasons.

The real victims are the unfortunate whites caught in this. They are always in danger and their educations suffer. White weaklings are particularly susceptible, but mostly to petty violence. They may be slapped or get a couple of kicks when they are trying to open a bottom locker. Typically, blacks save the hard, serious violence for each other.

There was a lot of promiscuous sex among my students and this led to violence. Black girls were constantly fighting over black boys. It was not uncommon to see two girls literally ripping each other’s hair out with a police officer in the middle trying to break up the fight. The black boy they were fighting over would be standing by with a smile, enjoying the show he had created. For reasons I cannot explain, boys seldom fought over girls.

Pregnancy was common among the blacks, though many black girls were so fat I could not tell the difference. I don't know how many girls got abortions, but when they had the baby they usually stayed in school and had their own parents look after the child. The school did not offer daycare.

Aside from the police officers constantly on campus, security guards are everywhere in black schools-we had one on every hall. They also sat in on unruly classes and escorted students to the office. They were unarmed but worked closely with the three city police officers who were constantly on duty.

There was a lot of drug-dealing at my school. This was a way to make a fair amount of money but it also gave boys power over girls who wanted drugs. An addicted girl-black or white-became the plaything of anyone who could get her drugs. One of my students was a notorious drug dealer. Everyone knew it. He was 19 years old and in eleventh grade. Once he got a score of three out of 100 on a test. He had been locked up four times since he was 13.

One day, I asked him, "Why do you come to school?" He wouldn't answer. He just looked out the window, smiled, and sucked air through his teeth. His friend Yidarius ventured an explanation: "He get dat green and get dem females." "What is the green?" I asked. "Money or dope?" "Both," said Yidarius with a smile.

A very fat student interrupted from across the room: "We get dat lunch," Mr. Jackson. "We gotta get dat lunch and brickfuss." He means the free breakfast and lunch poor students get every day. "Nigga, we know'd you be lovin' brickfuss!" shouts another student.

Some readers may believe that I have drawn a cruel caricature of black students. After all, according to official figures some 85 percent of them graduate. It would be instructive to know how many of those scraped by with barely a C- record. They go from grade to grade and they finally get their diplomas because there is so much pressure on teachers to push them through. It saves money to move them along, the school looks good and the teachers look good. Many of these children should have been failed but the system would crack under their weight if they were all held back.

How did my experiences make me feel about blacks? Ultimately, I lost sympathy for them. In so many ways they seem to make their own beds. There they were in an integrationist's fantasy-in the same classroom with white students, eating the same lunch, using the same bathrooms, listening to the same teachers-and yet the blacks fail while the whites pass.

One tragic outcome among whites who have been teaching for too long is that it can engender something close to hatred. One teacher I knew gave up fast food-not for health reasons but because where he lived most fast-food workers were black. He had enough of blacks on the job. This was an extreme example but years of frustration can take their toll.

Many of my white colleagues with any experience were well on their way to that state of mind. There is an unutterable secret among teachers: Almost all realize that blacks do not respond to traditional white instruction. Does that put the lie to environmentalism? Not at all. It is what brings about endless, pointless innovation that is supposed to bring blacks up to the white level. The solution is more diversity-or put more generally, the solution is change. Change is an almost holy word in education, and you can fail a million times as long as you keep changing. That is why liberals keep revamping the curriculum and the way it is taught.

For example, teachers are told that blacks need hands-on instruction and more group work. Teachers are told that blacks are more vocal and do not learn through reading and lectures. The implication is that they have certain traits that lend themselves to a different kind of teaching. Whites have learned a certain way for centuries but it just doesn't work with blacks.

Of course, this implies racial differences but if pressed, most liberal teachers would say different racial learning styles come from some indefinable cultural characteristic unique to blacks. Therefore, schools must change, America must change. But into what? How do you turn quantum physics into hands-on instruction or group work? No one knows, but we must keep changing until we find something that works.

Public school has certainly changed since anyone reading this was a student. I have a friend who teaches elementary school and she tells me that every week the students get a new diversity lesson, shipped in fresh from some bureaucrat's office in Washington or the state capital. She showed me the materials for one week: a large poster, about the size of a forty-two inch flat-screen television. It shows an utterly diverse group-I mean diverse: handicapped, Muslim, Jewish, effeminate, poor, rich, brown, slightly brown, yellow, etc.-sitting at a table, smiling gaily, accomplishing some undefined task.

The poster comes with a sheet of questions the teacher is supposed to ask. One might be: "These kids sure look different, but they look happy. Can you tell me which one in the picture is an American?" Some eight-year-old, mired in ignorance, will point to a white child like himself. "That one." The teacher reads from the answer, conveniently printed along with the question. "No, Billy, all these children are Americans. They are just as American as you."

This is what happens at predominately white, middle-class, elementary schools everywhere. Elementary school teachers love All of the Colors of the Race, by award-winning children's poet Arnold Adoff. These are some of the lines they read to the children: "Mama is chocolate . Daddy is vanilla . Me (sic) is better . It is a new color. It is a new flavor. For love. Sometimes blackness seems too black for me, and whiteness is too sickly pale; and I wish every one were golden. Remember: long ago before people moved and migrated, and mixed and matched . there was one people: one color, one race. The colors are flowing from what was before me to what will be after. All the colors."

Teaching as a career: It may come as a surprise after what I have written, but my experiences have given me a deep appreciation for teaching as a career. It offers a stable, middle-class life but comes with the capacity to make real differences in the lives of children. In our modern, atomized world children often have very little communication with adults-especially, or even, with their parents-so there is potential for a real transaction between pupil and teacher, disciple and master. A rewarding relationship can grow up between an exceptional, interested student and his teacher. I have stayed in my classroom with a group of students discussing ideas and playing chess until the janitor kicked us out.

I was the old gentleman, imparting my history, culture, personal loves and triumphs, defeats and failures to young kinsman. Sometimes I fancied myself Tyrtaeus, the Spartan poet, who counseled the youth to honor and loyalty. I never had this kind intimacy with a black student, and I know of no other white teacher who did.

Teaching can be fun. For a certain kind of person it is exhilarating to map out battles on chalkboards, and teach heroism. It is rewarding to challenge liberal prejudices, to leave my mark on these children, but what I aimed for with my white students I could never achieve with the blacks. There is a kind of child whose look can melt your heart: some working-class castaway, in and out of foster homes, often abused, who is nevertheless almost an angel.

Your heart melts for these children, this refuse of the modern world. Many white students possess a certain innocence; their cheeks still blush. Try as I might, I could not get the blacks to care one bit about Beethoven or Sherman's march to the sea, or Tyrtaeus, or Oswald Spengler, or even liberals like John Rawls, or their own history. They cared about nothing I tried to teach them.

When this goes on year after year it chokes the soul out of a teacher, destroys his pathos, and sends him guiltily searching for The Bell Curve on the Internet. Blacks break down the intimacy that can be achieved in the classroom, and leave you convinced that that intimacy is really a form of kinship. Without intending to, they destroy what is most beautiful-whether it be your belief in human equality, your daughter's innocence, or even the state of the hallway. Just last year I read on the bathroom stall the words "F**k Whitey." Not two feet away, on the same stall, was a small swastika.

The National Council for the Social Studies, the leading authority on social science education in the United States, urges teachers to inculcate such values as equality of opportunity, individual property rights, and a democratic form of government. Even if teachers could inculcate this milquetoast ideology into whites, liberalism is doomed because so many non-whites are not receptive to education of any kind beyond the merest basics. It is impossible to get them to care about such abstractions as property rights or democratic citizenship. They do not see much further than the fact that you live in a big house and "we in da pro-jek."

Of course, there are a few loutish whites who will never think past their next meal and a few sensitive blacks for whom anything is possible, but no society takes on the characteristics of its exceptions. Once I asked my students, "What do you think of the Constitution?" "It white," one slouching black rang out. The class began to laugh. And I caught myself laughing along with them, laughing while Pompeii's volcano simmers, while the barbarians swell around the Palatine, while the country I love, and the job I love, and the community I love become dimmer by the day.

I read a book by an expatriate Rhodesian who visited Zimbabwe not too many years ago. Traveling with a companion, she stopped at a store along the highway. A black man materialized next to her car window. "Job, boss, (I) work good, boss," he pleaded. "You give job." "What happened to your old job?" the expatriate white asked. The man replied in the straightforward manner of his race: "We drove out the whites. No more jobs. You give job."

At some level, my students understand the same thing. One day I asked the bored, black faces staring back at me. "What would happen if all the white people in America disappeared tomorrow?" "We screwed," a young, pitch-black boy screamed back. The rest of the blacks laughed. I have had children tell me to my face as they struggled with an assignment. "I cain't do dis," Mr. Jackson. "I black."

The point is that human beings are not always rational. It is in the black man's interest to have whites in Zimbabwe but he drives them out and starves. Most whites do not think black Americans could ever do anything so irrational. They see blacks on television smiling, fighting evil whites, embodying white values. But the real black is not on television, and you pull your purse closer when you see him, and you lock the car doors when he swaggers by with his pants hanging down almost to his knees.

I have been in parent-teacher conferences that broke my heart: the child pleading with his parents to take him out of school; the parents convinced their child's fears are groundless. If you love your child, show her you care- not by giving her fancy vacations or a car, but making her innocent years safe and happy. Give her the gift of a not-heavily black school.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Time to end the monopoly in education

To boost the economy out of the recession, President Obama has chosen to spend an additional $100 billion on public schooling over the next two years. His education secretary, Arne Duncan, is touring the nation to promote this education "stimulus."

However well-intentioned, their effort isn't just futile; it's also counterproductive. Far from being an engine of wealth creation, the education system is bleeding the economy to death. The U.S. spends 2.3 times as much per pupil in real, inflation-adjusted dollars as it spent in 1970, but the return on this ballooning investment has been less than nothing.

Student achievement at the end of high school has been flat for nearly 40 years, according to a recent study by the Education Department, while the graduation rate fell over the same period, according to a report by James Heckman, a Nobel laureate economist. If the efficiency of U.S. public schooling had merely remained at its 1970 level, the country would enjoy the equivalent of an annual $300 billion tax cut.

The productivity collapse in education is more than staggering; it's unparalleled. Can you name any other service or product that has gotten worse and less affordable over the past two generations? The reason you can't is that no other field is organized as a state-run monopoly. The general argument against monopolies is well understood and accepted. A concrete case study might drive home the point that monopolies are just as harmful in education as in other fields.

Earlier this year, I sifted through the 2008-09 budget for the District of Columbia, summing up all K-12 education spending, not counting charter schools. It comes to just under $1.3 billion. The latest audited enrollment count for the district is 44,681, putting per-pupil spending in the nation's capital at about $29,000. Meanwhile, fewer than half of the students who enter the ninth grade in D.C. go on to graduate four years later.

To put that profligacy in perspective, the private schools serving D.C.'s 1,700 voucher students charge an average tuition of $6,600, according to a recent Education Department. After three years in the program, voucher students read more than two school years ahead of a randomized control group of their public school peers. That is, the voucher program yields substantially better results at less than one-quarter the cost.

For those unfamiliar with the D.C. voucher program, it is the one that President Obama has decided to phase out, despite his stated goal of pursuing education reform that's effective and efficient.

The massive productivity advantage of private-sector education is not unique to Washington, D.C. For the Journal of School Choice, I tabulated the international scientific research comparing public and private-sector schooling. Across time, countries and outcome measures, private provision outshines public in the overwhelming majority of cases. More important, the least regulated, most marketlike education systems show the greatest margin of superiority over monopoly schooling. In literature on education, 59 findings show that markets outperform school monopolies. Not a single study has found a monopoly school system to be as efficient as a market system.

Once upon a time, America could afford to sustain a parasitic school monopoly, fecklessly throwing billions more dollars at it decade after decade despite its failure to improve. That time has passed. Now that the economy is in a deep recession, the perpetuation of that monopoly puts our economic future at unacceptable risk.

Many policy proposals are on the table that could inject market forces back into the field of education, bringing to it the same long-term productivity growth that has been the norm in other fields. Some states already have such programs operating on a tiny scale, such as Illinois' modest tax credits for families' own education costs, and the tax credits in Florida, Arizona and Pennsylvania for donations to K-12 tuition-assistance organizations serving low-income families.

The first states to combine and expand these programs on a grand scale will become magnets for businesses in search of better-educated workers and lower taxes, leading to an economic and educational boom. The states that don't will continue to burn in the budgetary hell created by monopoly schooling, needlessly jeopardizing their children's economic and educational futures. It's time to bring the field of education into the fold of the free enterprise system.


A British Leftist advocating vouchers? Sort of

By Alan Milburn (Alan Milburn, MP, is chairman of the British Government’s panel on social mobility)

The motor force of an open society, in which social mobility is extensive, is education. A good school opens the door to a good career. Today I launch the final report of the panel that I have been chairing on how professional careers can be open to people of talent, regardless of background. A huge expansion in professional jobs in the next decade will bring the potential for a new wave of social mobility. But, as our report makes clear, generations of low and middle-income young people will miss out unless we do more to close the educational attainment gap in schools.

In the past decade the Government has done much to improve results, refurbish schools and raise standards. The number of failing schools is falling. City academies, located in the poorest areas, are helping to improve the GCSE results of children who receive free school meals at a faster rate than those who do not.

Despite this progress, the attainment gap by social position is still substantial. The chance of children eligible for free school meals — roughly the poorest 15 per cent by family income — getting good qualifications by the age of 16 is still less than a third that of their better-off classmates. Poor areas are still far too likely to have poor schools. But, as the large number of appeals over school places demonstrates, it is not just the most disadvantaged who can be caught in the gap between the demand for good schools and their supply. It is also many middle-income families.

Better-off parents can sidestep these problems. They can take their children out of state schools and send them to private schools. They can buy extra tuition or move near a good school to guarantee a place.

When affluence buys attainment it restricts mobility. Some believe the answer lies in academic selection — and a return to grammar schools. But there is precious little evidence that schools selecting pupils does anything to close the attainment gap. The evidence from countries such as Denmark, Sweden and the US is that it is not schools selecting pupils, but parents being able to choose schools that raises standards generally and helps the disadvantaged particularly.

There is a lot of good thinking out there, if it can be brought together. The Conservatives say that city academies should be extended in both primary and secondary schools. They also say, rightly, that the supply of education places could be opened up to greater competition, particularly in areas of underperformance. The seeds of this have been sown: under Labour’s existing legislation 19 new schools have been opened and 37 more are due over the next four years. Undoubtedly, however, new impetus could be injected by new partners, such as chains of state schools or schools sponsored by groups of parents, being invited to take over or work with underperforming schools.

The Liberal Democrats have argued that, in poor areas, schools could receive additional funding or each pupil from a disadvantaged background could attract a premium payment to recognise particular needs. They have a good point, but there are already higher levels of funding for deprivation. The problem is that money allocated nationally is not always handed on to schools by local authorities. The Government’s recent White Paper argued that additional funding for each pupil from a disadvantaged background should be passed on. That is why the Government should aim for 100 per cent of deprivation-funding being passed to schools.

Other reforms could close the attainment gap and benefit pupils from middle as well as lower-income families. Schools could be asked to report on pupils’ outcomes as well as examination results. They could assess the progress made between pupils starting school, leaving school and their destination after school. The Government could then consider how schools could be paid according to the progress their pupils make. That could provide a powerful incentive to drive up standards and improve pupils’ outcomes.

And we could give parents who do not at present have access to a good school the power to get it. I have proposed that parents be given a new right of redress to choose a better school for their child if they live in an area where the schools are consistently performing badly. Parents could be given an education credit worth 150 per cent of the cost of the child’s schooling for a state school of their choice. The extra funding would give good schools an incentive to expand pupil numbers and broaden their social intake.

Each of these ideas is controversial and contested. But my panel believes that the Government should examine these and other reforms as part of a sustained drive to close the educational attainment gap.

It is no longer sustainable for our education system to produce a cohort of youngsters who lack the skills to compete in the modern labour market. For reasons of economic progress, we need a second wave of social mobility. But, more than that, this is a question of basic justice. A talent unfulfilled is not just an opportunity cost. It is an opportunity lost.


Mother banned from British school for confronting bully who used son as 'human punch bag'

School hates to have its failures noted

A mother has been banned from a primary school after confronting a bully who used her five-year- old son as a 'human punch bag'. Christine Hart, 38, calmly asked the pupil to 'please stop hitting' her son Arthur after he endured months of bullying despite several complaints to teachers. But a teaching assistant saw and hauled her off to the headmistress, who told her not to cross the school gates and to attend a hearing with the governors to discuss her conduct.

Miss Hart spoke to the pupil last week when she dropped Arthur off at his classroom at Orleans Infants School, which serves a well-to-do catchment area in Twickenham, South-West London.

She has been warned she could face a further six-month ban for 'verbally abusing' the pupil and interrupting a class. She was also told that causing a 'nuisance' at school could constitute a criminal offence and that any further incidents will be reported to police. 'I am being punished because I stood up for my son when the school appeared to be doing nothing about my complaints,' she said. 'What message does this send to the boy? I don't know if he's ever been told off. Instead, I'm the one who is made to feel in the wrong. 'The message is hit Arthur whenever you like as you cannot be touched. If anyone challenges you, they will be cast out of school and threatened with the police.'

The school issued a statement saying that pupil safety was paramount and all bullying procedures had been followed.

Miss Hart, a journalist, said the bullying began when Arthur started at the school last September. 'He used to come home in tears and say that he didn't want to go back and could I teach him at home,' she added.

Two months ago Miss Hart saw Arthur being set upon by a classmate at a party in the school hall. 'Art was standing alone when one boy ran up to him and started using him as a punch bag, literally hitting him several times on the chest,' she said. 'Other boys then ran up to him grabbed him round the neck and arms and he was being hit. I was rooted to the spot.'

On another occasion Arthur, who suffers from asthma, was jumped on by a group of boys in the playground. 'He was squashed under a pile of them and said he couldn't breathe,' she said.

In an attempt to build bridges, Miss Hart laid on a picnic for her son and one of his tormentors, and they played together. But the bullying began again almost straight away. The night before his mother spoke to the boy in class, Arthur cried and said going to school made him feel scared

Miss Hart said: 'I saw the boy sitting in the classroom so I approached him, knelt by his side, made eye contact and said "please stop hitting Art". 'The boy thought for a moment and said he would stop. I was not in any way aggressive and he seemed to respond positively. 'The next thing I knew was a teacher's assistant came rushing up saying I couldn't do that, and she marched me off to the head teacher's office.'

Miss Hart said that headmistress Pip Utting initially seemed sympathetic. But later she received a phone call saying she was banned from taking Arthur to his classroom, before a letter from the school arrived warning that she could face police action in future.

'I feel I've no choice but to move my child or take him to private martial arts classes himself to fight off this boy and his entourage,' she said.

In a statement, Mrs Utting said: 'We cannot discuss individual cases especially when investigations may be in progress.'


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

British Parents 'will have no say' over sex education in schools

Parents will be given barely any say in the content of sex education classes under Government plans to make the subject compulsory for children as young as five, a report warns today. Schools are currently free to draw up their own policies on sex education and are obliged to consult parents.

But proposals unveiled by Children's Secretary Ed Balls earlier this year to make the subject mandatory in primary and secondary schools will inevitably limit parents' influence, says a report from the Family Education Trust. Parents would have less power to keep explicit materials out of the classroom and object to the Government's 'misplaced' and 'counterproductive' promotion of contraceptives in lessons.

Norman Wells, the trust's director, said: 'Making personal, social and health education statutory would reduce the influence of parents over what is taught. 'Making it part of the curriculum would inevitably make schools less accountable to parents in what is a particularly sensitive and controversial subject area.' He added: 'There is a definite agenda at work to undermine the role of parents and to tear down traditional moral standards. The need for parents to be alert and vigilant has never been greater.'

Under the Government's plans, which are open to public consultation until the end of the week, primary schools would be required to teach sex and relationships education for the first time. Currently they do not have to cover the issue at all beyond the basic requirements of the science curriculum.

Draft plans suggest children aged five would learn to name parts of the body while sevenyearolds will learn about physical changes linked to puberty. Nine-year-olds would begin to learn about the facts of life.

In secondary schools sex education would become a statutory part of the national curriculum for the first time. Parents would retain their right to withdraw pupils from lessons. But hardly any exercise this amid concerns about their children being singled out by classmates or discovering the material anyway in the playground.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: 'Schools have an important role to play in providing effective sex and relationship education, which is essential if young people are to make responsible and well informed decisions about their lives.'


Giving schoolkids government laptops may send standards backwards

Getting a kid a laptop may lead to them goofing off more with games etc. rather than doing their homework

THE centrepiece of the [Australian] Federal Government's so-called education revolution may be worse than useless, a visiting American researcher says. Before the 2007 election Kevin Rudd vowed to spend $2.3 billion rewarding parents who installed or bought home computers. He later said his decisions would be evidence based.

Jacob Vigdor, of Duke University, North Carolina, has conducted what is probably the world's biggest study on the effect on maths and reading scores of gaining a home computer. He finds "statistically significant" evidence that it sends them backwards. "Children in homes with computers tend to do better than those in homes without - there's no doubt about that," Professor Vigdor told the Herald. "But there could be other reasons. Those homes also have a lot of other things other homes don't have, and often have more educated parents."

He examined the performance of students before and after their home gained a computer. This meant examining students from less well-off homes. The better-off ones already had computers. But Professor Vigdor told a seminar at Australian National University he did not think this was an important limitation.

Professor Vigdor found that acquiring a computer at home made end-of-year results for year 3 to year 8 students in North Carolina "significantly worse" in reading and maths. These results were spread over five years. "The bad effects fade somewhat over time, but even after five years they are still negative. I am not saying go out and burn all the computers.

"If you want to buy junior a computer with your own dollars, that's fine … but it's another thing when we talk about spending public dollars."


Push by Australia's Institute of Public Affairs (conservative thinktank) to offer school vouchers

THE federal government should introduce a system of school vouchers to bring about a genuine education revolution, according to a report to be published today. The paper, prepared by the Institute of Public Affairs, says vouchers -- under which government funds go to pupils rather than the schools they attend -- encourage more choice in education, improve academic outcomes and are popular with parents.

"The federal government's education revolution perpetuates the waste, inefficiency and perverse incentives that come with funding micromanagement," the IPA says. "The current schools stimulus package is a prime example of this, with a range of ill-suited, cost-padded infrastructure works being laid out across the country. "If Australia wants a real education revolution, it should ensure government funding follows the student and not the preferences of education ministers or bureaucrats."

The Australian understands Malcolm Turnbull has ordered the opposition's education spokesman, Chris Pyne, to examine vouchers as part of Coalition policy. Mr Pyne was unavailable for comment yesterday, but the Opposition Leader has backed a voucher system in the past.

Mr Turnbull clashed with then education minister Brendan Nelson in 2002 as chairman of the Liberal Party's think tank, the Menzies Research Centre, when he supported a paper produced by the centre suggesting a similar voucher system. "This is core Liberal stuff," Mr Turnbull said at the time. "A lot of the themes in this report are absolutely core Liberal Party educational philosophy -- issues of greater accountability, more autonomy, divulging more control to schools and communities." The co-author of that paper, John Roskam, is now executive director of the IPA and a Turnbull confidant.

A voucher system provides parents with government funds to spend at the school of their choice. "By separating government financing of education from the operation of schools, vouchers can help break down monopoly control over school services delivery and promote competition between government and non-government schools," the IPA report says.

"As has been increasingly understood by both sides of the political fence, vouchers represent a powerful tool to tackle educational disadvantage. This is because parents of children with special education needs, or from low-income families, are financially empowered to take their children out of failing schools and into high-quality educational institutions."

The report lists options ranging from a universal system to vouchers for students with special needs. "The cost of a universal voucher can be prohibitively expensive," the report's author, IPA research fellow Julie Novak, told The Australian. "If you want to tackle education disadvantage, which is what Education Minister Julia Gillard is keen to do, you may want to bundle up a disability-targeted voucher with an indigenous-targeted voucher. "That would be less expensive than a universal voucher, but has the added benefit that it tackles education disadvantage so students in those groups have the potential to attend high-quality, high-achievement schools."

Ms Novak said bundles of targeted vouchers would "have the most realistic policy potential in Australia." She said this approach would be an effective trial for a broader voucher scheme. Ms Novak acknowledged the proposal would be controversial. "A voucher system threatens the entrenched positions of education unions as government schools in particular have to become more innovative and compete," she said. "It's good for parents, great for students but you can understand why there might be some reluctance among some of the entrenched interests," she claimed.

The report says voucher systems are being pursued in 30 countries around the world, from the US through to developing nations such as Colombia.


Monday, July 20, 2009

How states like Illinois rig school tests to hype phony achievement

When President Obama chose Arne Duncan to lead the Education Department, he cited Mr. Duncan's success as head of Chicago's public school system from 2001 to 2008. But a new education study suggests that those academic gains aren't what they seemed. The study also helps explain why big-city education reform is unlikely to occur without school choice.

Mr. Obama noted in December that "in just seven years, Arne's boosted elementary test scores here in Chicago from 38% of students meeting the standard to 67%" and that "the dropout rate has gone down every year he's been in charge." But according to "Still Left Behind," a report by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, a majority of Chicago public school students still drop out or fail to graduate with their class. Moreover, "recent dramatic gains in the reported number of CPS elementary students who meet standards on state assessments appear to be due to changes in the tests . . . rather than real improvements in student learning."

Our point here isn't to pick on Mr. Duncan, but to illuminate the ease with which tests can give the illusion of achievement. Under the 2001 No Child Left Behind law, states must test annually in grades 3 through 8 and achieve 100% proficiency by 2014. But the law gives states wide latitude to craft their own exams and to define math and reading proficiency. So state tests vary widely in rigor, and some have lowered passing scores and made other changes that give a false impression of academic success.

The new Chicago report explains that most of the improvement in elementary test scores came after the Illinois Standards Achievement Test was altered in 2006 to comply with NCLB. "State and local school officials knew that the new test and procedures made it easier for students throughout the state -- and throughout Chicago -- to obtain higher marks," says the report.

Chicago students fared much worse on national exams that weren't designed by state officials. On the 2007 state test, for example, 71% of Chicago's 8th graders met or exceeded state standards in math, up from 32% in 2005. But results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam, a federal standardized test sponsored by the Department of Education, show that only 13% of the city's 8th graders were proficient in math in 2007. While that was better than 11% in 2005, it wasn't close to the 39 percentage-point increase reflected on the Illinois state exam.

In Mr. Duncan's defense, he wasn't responsible for the new lower standards, which were authorized by state education officials. In 2006, he responded to a Chicago Tribune editorial headlined, "An 'A' for Everybody!" by noting (correctly) that "this is the test the state provided; this is the state standard our students were asked to meet." But this doesn't change the fact that by defining proficiency downward, states are setting up children to fail in high school and college. We should add that we've praised New York City test results that the Thomas B. Fordham Institute also claims are inflated, but we still favor mayoral control of New York's schools as a way to break through the bureaucracy and drive more charter schools.

And speaking of charters, the Chicago study says they "provide one bright spot in the generally disappointing performance of Chicago's public schools." The city has 30 charters with 67 campuses serving 30,000 students out of a total public school population of 408,000. Another 13,000 kids are on wait lists because the charters are at capacity, and it's no mystery why. Last year 91% of charter elementary schools and 88% of charter high schools had a higher percentage of students meeting or exceeding state standards than the neighborhood schools that the students otherwise would have attended.

Similar results have been observed from Los Angeles to Houston to Harlem. The same kids with the same backgrounds tend to do better in charter schools, though they typically receive less per-pupil funding than traditional public schools. In May, the state legislature voted to increase the cap on Chicago charter schools to 70 from 30, though Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has yet to sign the bill.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley deserves credit for hiring Mr. Duncan, a charter proponent. But in deference to teachers unions that oppose school choice, Mr. Daley stayed mostly silent during the debate over the charter cap. That's regrettable, because it's becoming clear that Chicago's claim of reform success among noncharter schools is phony.


Have British universities taught their students anything?

Higher education used to be exciting and guarantee a good job. Not any more

A broken promise? Or a noble aspiration that ended in disappointment? Of all the targets set by New Labour when it first came to power in 1997, the real headline-grabber – the one we all remember – was the aim of having 50 per cent of school leavers in higher education. That one felt good, emotionally, however half-baked the thinking behind it.

In this brave new 50/50 world, higher education would no longer be the preserve of a privileged minority, but a natural progression from a normal schooling. And the prospect of universities opening their doors to children whose parents and grandparents had missed out on the chance appealed to people across the political divide. It mirrored the kind of Britain we all wanted to live in.

Nobody focused too much on the small print. What would all these new university entrants be studying? How useful would their degrees be to them in later life? Who was going to pay for all this? It was the headline figure that caught the eye: 50 per cent. Half the population. A reasonable target for a modern democracy.

Twelve years on from the Labour landslide of 1997, the 50 per cent target is as remote as ever, like a mirage in a desert. In 2008-9, 39.8 per cent of people aged between 18 and 30 were in higher education, compared with 39.2 per cent 10 years earlier – absolutely minuscule progress, however you crunch the figures. The proportion did rise to 42 per cent in 2005 but that was a freak year, statistically – there was a surge of students wanting to enrol before the introduction of top-up tuition fees.

Hopes of widening access to higher education have also been cruelly disappointed. Research published earlier this year showed that children from the poorest 25 per cent of families make up just 6.5 per cent of the student population. From Wolverhampton to Newcastle, there is an educational underclass that refuses to go away. No target set in Whitehall can shift it one jot. In the very poorest areas, fewer than one in 20 school-leavers go on to university.

This coming autumn, thanks to the economic recession, is going to be a particularly depressing time for apostles of higher education. Millions of British children still aspire to go university. UCAS applications are up eight per cent on last year. But the requisite university places are not there for them. The Government has had to put a cap of 10,000, down from 15,000, on the number of new places which universities can offer.

The problem is not a lack of interest in learning among the young: it is the lack of a structure in which that appetite for learning can be satisfied. There are not enough good, useful, challenging degree courses to go around. And, with increasing numbers of pupils getting good grades at A level, it has become harder and harder for universities to sort the wheat from the chaff at the application stage.

In previous years, because of the clearing system, most school-leavers who were determined to go on to higher education managed to find a course somewhere, even if it was not their first choice. This year, the gap between supply and demand will ensure an awful lot of disappointed youngsters in August and September.

Well, perhaps they should just swallow their disappointment and get on with their lives. It should not take Sir Alan Sugar to remind us that success in life is not achieved by racking up letters after your name but by hard graft, enterprise and a teaspoonful of arrogance.

Yes, a degree can be a passport to a secure career and a comfortable income, but not even that can be taken for granted any more.

Interestingly, a recent survey indicated that only 49 per cent of employers planned to recruit graduates this year. Companies that would normally comb the universities for talent are tightening their belts like everyone else, which can only mean one thing – graduate unemployment on a significant scale.

Not so long ago, the idea that you could go to university, get a good degree, then have to join the dole queue like everyone else, was anathema. I remember, as a student in the late Seventies, staring horrified at a front-page news story about an Oxford graduate with a first-class degree who was still unemployed nine months after graduating. That story would not make the front pages today; in fact, it would hardly be worth reporting at all. The unemployed graduate, with a five-figure student loan to pay off, but not a sniff of a job, is part of the social furniture of our times.

My elder daughter, now 23, is a medical student in London. She should be able to find a job when she graduates: the country needs every doctor it can get. But for her contemporaries who have left good universities with degrees in arts subjects, the outlook is much bleaker. Some of them have found reasonably paid jobs. Others are still doing the sort of non-professional jobs they were doing before they went up to university. Not surprisingly, they are starting to ask themselves; was it worth it?

It is a question which more and more students are asking themselves while they are still at university. They enrol to read geography or film studies or political science, or whatever, go to the odd lecture, attend seminars, take notes, dash off essays at three in the morning. But, deep down, they get no real enjoyment from their studies, which seem too much like hard work. They have been told that higher education will be good for them: they have not been told that it will only be good for them if they want to do it.

A few years back, the daughter of some friends of mine set gaily off to read English at Durham, having got three As in her A-levels, then dropped out after six months. "She's throwing her whole life away," wailed her father, a teacher. Not a bit of it. She was just bored, burnt out academically, and in need of a fresh challenge. In the university of life – in her case, working on a sheep farm in New Zealand – she learnt far more than she would have ever have learnt studying Wordsworth and Conrad.

She is back in England now, working for an IT company. Perhaps, in a few years, she will have rediscovered her appetite for academic study and apply for university again, or get a professional qualification. Or perhaps she won't bother, because she is happy and doing well and forging ahead in the working world, unburdened by the debts of her contemporaries who took out student loans and thought university was the answer to all their prayers.

From a utopian viewpoint, whatever your politics, the fact that higher education remains theoretically open to all but, in practice, is only enjoyed by a minority, will remain a source of disappointment. But we shouldn't get too hung up on statistics, particularly ones like that arbitrary 50 per cent target. A university education can be a joy, a privilege, a stepping stone; but it is not a prerequisite for a happy and successful career.


Australians Open U.S. Med School

When Australia itself has to import large numbers of Indian doctors, this seems very odd. There is no doubt, however, that the University of Queensland is a highly regarded institution. In American terms, it would be one of the "Ivies". Both I and my son are graduates of it

To produce more physicians for Louisiana, a major academic medical center has joined up with a medical school down under. The University of Queensland School of Medicine, in Australia, has opened a clinical school in New Orleans in cooperation with Louisiana's Ochsner Health System. Under the arrangement, students will travel to Brisbane for the first two years of medical school, then return to the United States to complete their third- and fourth-year clinical training at Queensland's new outpost at Ochsner. Those enrolled in the collaborative program will graduate with an Australian medical degree, a Bachelor of Medicine/Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS), which is equivalent to an M.D., from Queensland.

This particular program is only open to American students and, while its graduates will be eligible to apply for an internship in Australia, the stated intent is to help address projected physician shortages in the United States, Louisiana especially. “The goal for them is to secure residencies and practice in the United States. Our Ochsner goals are to have our top students stay in Louisiana, and hopefully at Ochsner,” said William W. Pinsky, executive vice president and chief academic officer for the Ochsner Health System. The first 16 students in the program began their training in Australia in January; the goal is to admit 80 students this coming January and the following year, 120 more, “which would be our steady state.”

“This is quite a novel, transnational model of education. We’ve all talked about these sorts of things in the higher education sector for some time but as far as we know, this is the first, certainly the first in Australia, and we’re not aware of any other partnership like this in the United States," said David Wilkinson, dean of medicine and head of the medical school at Queensland

Queensland's medical school, which is positioning itself as "Australia's global medical school," also has a clinical school in Brunei, in Southeast Asia, and is in the early stages of establishing a shared teaching site in Malaysia, Wilkinson said. About half the medical school's students spend a portion of their studies overseas, and they can now come to Ochsner for a clinical rotation. "That's a very important part of this program, that we have mixed student cohorts," said Wilkinson.

Apart from the education component of the collaboration, Pinsky added, "To really make this a home run, we need to extend this further in terms of getting into a collaborative relationship with research."

Australian universities have been active in establishing branch campuses abroad, although, with the exception of Charles Stuart University's campus in Ontario (offering degrees in education and business), not typically in North America. In fact, rather than have their ranks reinforced from abroad, some U.S. medical schools have set up shop elsewhere -- take Cornell University's medical campus in Qatar, for instance, and Duke University's partnership with the National University of Singapore.

And while many university entities have developed joint, dual or otherwise transnational degrees in recent years, it's more complicated terrain in schools of medicine given licensure and accreditation requirements, and extra hurdles that foreign medical school graduates must jump in order to practice medicine in the U.S. -- including Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates certification.

In this case, a graduate of the Queensland/Ochsner program applying for licensure in Louisiana “will be considered an international medical school graduate, and will be required to go through ECFMG and meet the various requirements associated with that. But I imagine that would not be a problem, and that they’ll end up doing post-graduate training here in Louisiana, some of them at Ochsner, some in the growing network of Ochsner facilities,” said Robert Marier, executive director of the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners.

Marier, a former medical school dean, said the Ochsner/Queensland partnership strikes him as pretty unique, “in one respect. There are offshore medical schools, international schools, in the Caribbean, for instance, which have established relationships with hospitals in the United States and they send significant numbers of their students, most of whom are also U.S. citizens, up to these hospitals for clinical training. That’s not new.... I think what’s different about this arrangement is Queensland is a great university, it’s not a for-profit off-shore medical school. It’s a great university and aspires to be a world player, and with good reason…. And Ochsner is a major, major teaching hospital, so I think it’ll be excellent clinical training for these students.”

“It’s very important to understand that this is a very serious and genuine attempt at an exciting transnational collaboration. This is not a, if you will, a Caribbean medical school, run by a bunch of businessmen. This is a very serious transnational collaboration between one of the world's leading universities and one of America’s leading integrated health systems,” said Wilkinson, the head of Queensland’s medical school.

Queensland’s School of Medicine is accredited by the Australian Medical Council, and the school has submitted an application regarding the new arrangement with Ochsner for the council's approval; the accreditor's decision is pending. “We are hopeful but we are also conscious that this is a novel partnership,” said Wilkinson.

As for those students who have already started the joint Queensland/Ochsner program, in the event that the accreditor does not approve it, or does not do so in a timely fashion, "students who enroll will be expected to complete their four year medical education at University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia," as Queensland's Web site for international applicants notes.

John Prescott, chief academic officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges, said that he was struck by the partnership given that Ochsner has had a long history of working with students from the medical schools at Louisiana State and Tulane Universities (Pinsky said the long-standing affiliations with Louisiana-based medical schools are continuing amid the development of its new partnership with Queensland).

“The prime difference is that the LSU students and the Tulane students are from schools accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education," Prescott said. The LCME is sponsored by the AAMC and the American Medical Association, and only accredits medical schools in the U.S. and Canada.

“I re-watched the press announcement where the governor [of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal] and others were talking about helping to meet the needs of Louisiana. If it helps to do that, wonderful, that would be a truly wonderful thing,” Prescott said (the AAMC has been among those calling attention to the projected physician shortage and need to increase medical school capacity). Other than that, Prescott continued, “I know the American system very well. I don’t know the system well for Australia, and would have to wait before I make further comment... I’d have to just see how this would roll out.”