Saturday, August 22, 2009

The specially protected status of homosexuals is acknowledged in Minnesota schools

Many of my posts on TONGUE-TIED concern various school abominations but I do not normally cross-post them here. But this incident seems to me to be of greater than normal interest so I am crossposting it here on this occasion

We read:
"Serving some 40,500 students and 248,000 residents living in 13 communities, Anoka-Hennepin School District’s 2,700 teachers tackle huge assignments every school day. Well, one student says two of his teachers took it on themselves to add a little extra duty to their daily doings.

Alex Merritt [pic above] recently won a $25,000 settlement after reporting that while enrolled at the STEP school back in 2007-2008, two teachers harassed him with remarks about his perceived sexual orientation....

In the settlement negotiated with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, District 11 agreed to pay Merritt $25,000 and the two teachers, Diane Cleveland and Walter Filson, were reprimanded. Cleveland, a social studies teacher, was briefly reassigned, and placed on two-day unpaid suspension....

Details were unavailable regarding the disciplinary action taken regarding Filson, a law enforcement teacher.

Anoka-Hennepin denies any violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act and its settlement of this case “does not constitute an admission of any liability of violating the Minnesota Human Rights Act or any other law or of any wrongdoing,” the Department of Human Rights Web site reported....

Settlement of the Merritt incident also directs District 11 to submit training materials related to student harassment, its complaint process and sexual orientation as a protected class for the department’s approval.

According to Olson, as has been the tradition for many years, all Anoka-Hennepin staff members go through harassment training when they are hired and principals revisit the anti-harassment policy with their employees and students every year.


Apparently the student (pic above) is straight but effeminate in some way. We read here that "Cleveland was found to have made comments such as: "[His] fence swings both ways" and also that he had a "thing for older men". Filson allegedly said the student enjoyed wearing women's clothes." Fullest details of what was said here.

The boy does seem to have been mercilessly and quite unforgiveably taunted and harassed by his teachers. I would have thought that such cruel and unprofessional teachers should have been fired regardless of whether the harassment concerned homosexuality or not. The boy must have been extremely distressed. I just hope he eventually manages to get over it.

My son has always been a quiet, inactive, non-sporty but thinking type and he got rather harshly disparaged by his teacher in Grade 4 who didn't think he was robust enough in his attitudes and actions. I immediately raised the matter with the Head Teacher and it was appropriately dealt with. But they still lost a pupil over it. I sent him to a different school the next year and he has never looked back. He now has a degree with First Class Honours in Mathematics and is working with great enthusiasm on his Ph.D. in Mathematics. He also has a girlfriend and lots of friends. So I am rather amused at the stupid value-system of that Grade 4 teacher. One wonders where the father of the boy in the above matter was. But my son was in a private school so parents undoubtedly have more leverage there. All the more reason for school vouchers.

The most interesting thing for me about the above incident, though, is how do you get to be a protected species? Fatties are often disparaged. Should they be especially protected? And what about Christians? There seems to be open season on them. Surely they should be protected from derogatory comments too? Half of the political Left would be doing sensitivity training if that one were brought in!

But Orwell knew the Left well, being one of them, and his saying that "Some pigs are more equal than others" seems to be a permanent feature of Leftist thought. (H/T Interested Participant)

Home-schooling attracts U.S. Muslims

Throughout the month of Ramadan, which begins Friday, the Cattaneo children won't have to worry about explaining to teachers and friends why they're fasting every day. That's because they're home-schooled, part of a growing trend among Muslim families. "We wanted a more religious-based influence on our kids' lives," said Ismail Cattaneo, their father. "It's the same reason the Christians have."

Home-schooling is big in Virginia, especially in Loudoun County where the Home School Legal Defense Association is based at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville. And Patrick Henry — where I was a temporary adjunct journalism professor in 2001 — is a magnet for home-schooled kids. I had been to a state home-schooling conference in Richmond in the late 1990s, but I hadn't picked up much on which religions — other than Christianity — were getting into the act.

A lot of Muslims are fine with sending their kids to public schools, Mr. Cattaneo told me, but what encouraged him and his wife, Jean, to keep their children at home was the success Christian families were having. "You hear of these Christians winning spelling bees and going to Harvard," he said.

It's not like they live in a Muslim bubble, said the couple when I visited their town house in Sterling last week. Their English tutor is Jewish; the family participates in Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Little League, and the kids play with Christian home-schoolers two doors down.

There are limits, however. The oldest son, Yusuf, 14, wanted to play on a local Christian home-schooling baseball team but he was asked to sign a statement affirming that Jesus is Lord, "which we can't do," the father explained.

Part of his passion for keeping the children nearby was his experiences growing up Muslim and attending public schools in Great Neck, N.Y. "The majority of my friends were Jewish," he says. "It was difficult to maintain your perspective."

So yes, the family does break for midday prayers and there is a verse from the Koran over the living room mantel. The girls and their mom wear long pants and long sleeves even in broiling August weather in keeping with Islamic modesty requirements. Other than that, they share the same concerns other home-schoolers have, such as trying to find the right curricula for their family.

Possibly the best-known Islamic home-schooling materials come from the San Ramon, Calif.-based Kinza Academy, which embraces the classical approach to education popularized in medieval Europe. The Cattaneo family uses a secular curriculum supplemented by Koran lessons at a local private school.

Priscilla Martinez, a fellow Muslim who home-schools her six children in western Loudoun County, says the number of Muslim home-schoolers is "exploding" for several reasons, including more in-depth study and better academics than what's available in full-time Islamic schools. She wrote a lengthy article in the January issue of Islamic Horizons magazine extolling the practice.

The Cattaneos estimate there are 10 Muslim home-schooling families in the Sterling-Ashburn-Herndon area. The family reads the Koran together every day and Yusuf is already doing 11th-grade work, two years ahead of where he would be in public school. When I quizzed the children, they indicated they liked staying at home. "I ask them if they want to go to [public] school, and they say no, we're having a good time," their father says.


Some people who did NOT do well at school

Comment from Britain

1) Damien Hirst
One of the world’s richest living artists was only allowed to enter his sixth form on the back of his art teacher’s pleas. Unfortunately Hirst was only able to achieve an "E" grade in art and was refused admission to Leeds College of Art and Design.

2) Anna Wintour
The iconic editor of Vogue US and suspected inspiration for the ghastly Miranda Priestly in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’, left school at 16 to join a training program at Harrods. The personification of fashion later explained that "in the face of my brothers’ and sister’s academic success, I felt I was rather a failure”.

3) Doris Lessing
The first British woman to win the Nobel prize for literature finished her schooling at 14. She left home a year later to work as a nursemaid. The books her employer lent her inspired a love for the written word and the rest, as they say, is history.

4) James Callaghan
The Labour Prime Minister from 1976 to 1979 left school at 14. He later began his rise to the helm of British politics by becoming a clerk for the Inland Revenue at the age of 17. Some saw Callaghan’s manner as complacent, but as the only politician in English history to have held all four Great Offices of State: Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary, this hardly seems fair.

5) Jacqueline Gold
The CEO and public face of high street sex shop Ann Summers left school before taking her A-levels. She joined the then male dominated company at the bottom of the payroll, earning a meagre £45 a week.

6) Sir Steve Redgrave
The five time Olympic gold medallist struggled at school as a result of his dyslexia. “At ten”, he admitted, “I still had problems reading and writing…Yet because I was big and strong I was never picked on”.

7) John Lennon
The Beatles legend failed all of his GCE O-level examinations, to the despair of his aunt Mimi. She warned him, “the guitar's all very well, John, but you'll never make a living out of it”.

8) Kate Moss
The international supermodel’s ‘too cool for school’ style was more than just a look. The face of Topshop scraped through her GCSEs achieving almost entirely Ds, Es and Fs, and dropped out altogether shortly after.

9) Richard Branson
The renowned entrepreneur and founder of the Virgin brandleft school at 15. On the launch of his first venture, a magazine named Student, his headmaster reportedly wrote; “Congratulations, Branson. I predict that you will either go to prison or become a millionaire”.

10) Alexander Graham Bell
The man pitched by some as the greatest inventor of all time and most renowned for conceiving the telephone, left school aged 15 having only completed the first four forms. His school record is said to have been undistinguished, marked by absenteeism and lacklustre grades."


Friday, August 21, 2009

A newly formed antisemitic "educational think tank"

A newly formed "educational think tank," the International Council for Middle East Studies (ICMES), is poised to influence U.S. policy toward the Middle East in ways that could further harm American interests in the region. It will be led by Norton Mezvinsky, a radical anti-Zionist who recently retired after a 42-year-career teaching Middle East history at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU). If Mezvinsky remains true to form, ICMES will advocate for holding U.S. policy hostage to the fallacy that Israel is always at fault for the region's troubles.

ICMES found a welcoming home at the International Law Institute (ILI) at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. And according to Mezvinsky, ICMES's goal will be to build cultural bridges and promote faculty and student exchanges between the United States and Middle Eastern countries.

An immediate question comes to mind: with whom will those bridges be built? That Mezvinsky's new organization is being parachuted into ILI, a group that according to its website "raises levels of professional competence and capacity in all nations so that professionals everywhere may achieve practical solutions to common problems in ways that suit their nations' own needs" is most disturbing. We should question how such a politicized individual as Mezvinsky could operate "practically" and decide what are the needs regarding Israelis and Palestinians when he has devoted his entire career to demonizing Israel.

For example, in 2002 Mezvinsky participated in a weeklong teaching institute for Connecticut middle and high school teachers on the Middle East. Among the myths he perpetrated on his students, as recorded by an attendee, was that: "Palestinians were pushed out of their homes due to the 'Absent-Present Laws' that stated that if people who owned the land weren't on it at a given time, the land was turned over to the JNF (Jewish National Fund); and Israel has created refugees, and has intensified oppression."

Jonathan Calt Harris later reported that Mezvinsky told the entire class of teachers that, contrary to historical fact, "'the well-armed and well-funded Israelis' fought the Palestinians in 1948, but did not mention that armies of five Arab countries first invaded the U.N.-sanctioned Jewish state."

Close observers bear witness to Mezvinsky's influence on his students. Rabbi Stephen Fuchs of Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, a participant in the teaching institute, said that, "[Mezvinsky] has slanted the views of a whole generation of students about the Middle East. I am concerned that he has created a negative atmosphere toward Israel."

Mezvinsky endorses the infamous 1975 UN General Assembly Resolution 3379 that declared Zionism a form of racism. Furthermore, his biased views resemble the propaganda fed to eighth graders in Saudi Arabia, who are taught that, "the blood of non-Jews has no intrinsic value" and that, therefore, the killing of non-Jews does "not constitute murder according to the Jewish religion." Such blatant anti-Semitism has nothing on Mezvinsky's claim that Judaism teaches "the killing of innocent Arabs for revenge as a Jewish virtue."

He also places the sole onus for the Palestinian refugee problem on Israel while never acknowledging the estimated 750,000 Jewish refugees who were expelled from Arab lands. That many of those Arab refugees left under pressure from neighboring Arab countries to facilitate the destruction of their Jewish communities is yet another example of how the Arab-Israeli conflict has been taught at CCSU absent any effort to provide historical context or scholarly balance.

Not surprisingly, Mezvinsky joined forced with the late Israel Shahak to co-author "Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel". Shahak, a kindred spirit, was embraced by neo-Nazis, anti-Semites, and Holocaust deniers and was warmly welcomed into the circles of Noam Chomsky and the late Edward Said. When Mezvinsky updated the book and wrote its introduction, published Chomsky's endorsement: "An outstanding scholar, with remarkable insight and depth of knowledge. His work is informed and penetrating, a contribution of great value."

Shahak's hatred of Israel went far beyond the simple endorsement of Arab and Palestinian views or fashionable anti-Zionism, a common enough sentiment among Israeli academic leftists. He openly hated Judaism and Jews. Shahak's entire body of work rests on his conviction that Judaism is the font of all evil and that most global issues can ultimately be traced back to Judaism via a world wide Jewish conspiracy.

Mezvinsky and Shahak are prime examples of Jewish academics who throughout their careers questioned their own religion and the legitimacy of the state of Israel. Edward Alexander of the University of Washington sums up this malady in "The Jewish Divide over Israel Accusers and Defenders": "Jews who assign responsibility for anti-Jewish aggression to Jewish misbehavior not only save themselves from the unpleasant and often dangerous task of coming to the defense of the Jews coming under attack but also retain the delightful charms of good conscience. Hitler's professors were the first to make anti-Semitism both academically respectable and complicit in murder."

Mezvinsky is associated with other supporters of Shahak, including the One State for Palestine/Israel group, which advocates the "one-state solution." (They fail to note that "one state" requires no Jewish State, or that this is part of the Palestinian phased plan to destroy Israel as the Jewish homeland.) At their last conference Mezvinsky was joined by a host of radical anti-Zionist Jewish activists, including: Ali Abunimah, co-founder of Electronic Intifada; Joel Kovel, author of "Overcoming Zionism", in which he advocates the elimination of Israel; Phyllis Bennis, an antiwar activist and a fellow at the far-left Institute for Policy Studies; Ilan Pappe, a zealous anti-Zionist who now teaches at the University of Exeter in England; and Gabriel Piterberg a professor of history at UCLA and devotee of Edward Said. These luminaries gathered to discuss a solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a "rational - academic fashion" and, true to form, proffered the one state solution, which is de facto the modern-day "final solution."

This lamentable record underscores how a tenured professor who taught generations of undergraduates and was influential and an active head of CCSU's Middle East Lecture Series, was able to spread his ideas through the many anti-Israel/anti-Zionist speakers he brought to campus to "educate" the university community. His career illustrates one of the most serious weaknesses in contemporary Middle East Studies: the politicized writing and teaching that have displaced objective scholarship, and the redefinition of academic freedom as the liberty to dispense with academic standards. All of the above should raise serious questions about the credibility and education Mezvinsky will disseminate to a much larger audience through his International Council for Middle East Studies.


Many British students who do well at their final high School exams will NOT be able to get into the course of their choice

Because of the weird British system of finalizing most university admissions BEFORE the final school exam results are known

Teenagers who do better than expected in their A levels have little chance of getting into leading universities under a new government system. Universities and political opponents said that the “adjustment period” introduced this year was a mirage since many desirable courses were already full. The five-day period is supposed to give school-leavers with higher than expected grades the chance to “trade up” to popular courses or prestigious universities, without losing their first-choice place.

More than 50,000 extra people have applied to university this year, but there are only 13,000 more full-time undergraduate places. The number of spaces in clearing is expected to be half of the 43,000 available last year.

Those who are unfairly marked down in A-level exams could lose their place, even if they successfully appeal and later get a higher grade. Some courses are closed to British applicants even though they still have places for foreign students. This is because for financial reasons the Government restricts the number of British students that universities can recruit. Overseas students pay higher fees and do not receive the grants or subsidised loans available to home students.

A spokesman for Surrey University said: “The Government is encouraging us to take more international students. We would like to take more home students but we have to abide by regulations. We are full for home students but have spaces for international students.” Sussex University has separate clearing for UK/EU students and overseas students. Some courses at York University are available only for foreign students. It has about 100 places left for British students, compared with 350 this time last year.

Hull University’s website said: “Publicly funded universities and colleges are required by the Government to limit the number of students that are eligible to pay fees at the ‘home’ rate.” Durham University said those who missed their grades, and later successfully appealed against the mark, could still miss out — unlike last year. Other universities said that they had no way of knowing how the adjustment period would work. Glasgow has a handful of clearing places and none available for the adjustment period. Leeds University said: “We do not anticipate that many adjusters will find suitable courses at this stage.”

David Willetts, the Shadow Universities Secretary, said: “Ministers have sown the seeds of failure for their own policy. Telling people they can trade up when there is a record number of applicants and when universities are already at risk of being fined for over-recruitment is a recipe for disaster.”

David Lammy, the Universities Minister, said that the adjustment period was a trial, which raises questions about its future. He told The Times: “It is a more competitive year and demand is up but there’s absolutely no doubt that there will be more young people accepted by universities than ever bef “Clearing will be competitive but I’m quite sure many universities will be offering places. [Not all?] “We’re trialling this new adjustment period to allow young people to hold the offer they have and see if they can get into another institution or on to another course.”

Mr Lammy said that every year, two fifths of those who did not get a place in higher education applied the next year, and four fifths of those were successful. He saw no reason for this to be different this year or next. However, this could create a backlog, exacerbating problems next year.


Christian pupils are now outnumbered by Muslims at Roman Catholic schools in some parts of England

A survey has found 24 Catholic primary schools in the North West and the Midlands teach a minority of churchgoing children. Fewer than one in 10 children are Catholic at one school in Birmingham, while the Church is ending its involvement with a similar establishment in Blackburn.

Overall, Catholics make up 73.34 per cent of pupils at the 2,300 schools linked to the denomination across England and Wales. But The Tablet, a weekly Catholic magazine, found that in Oldham, Blackburn, Wolverhampton and Birmingham there has been a sharp decline in the proportion of Catholics being educated in local faith schools. At English Martyrs in Sparkhill, Birmingham, just 36 of the 410 pupils are Catholic while the vast majority are Muslim. At Sacred Heart Primary in Salford, there are only seven Catholic pupils and moves are under way to remove it from the diocese’s jurisdiction.

Canon Anthony McBride said: “It seems that, for some reason, many Catholic parents in Sacred Heart parish have, over a number of years, ceased to support their school.” An inspection by the diocese in 2007 said the situation was “seriously affecting the school’s ability to provide a traditional Catholic education”.

Most of the non-Catholic parents let their children attend assemblies although a church visit led to “friction”. Last year the Catholic Education Service said Catholic schools should provide multi-faith prayer rooms for Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Sikh students. It also suggested bathrooms should be adapted to accommodate ritual cleansing.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

The case against national school standards

President Obama recently announced a $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" fund that he and Education Secretary Arne Duncan will use, among other things, to "reward states that come together and adopt a common set of standards and assessments." Duncan has championed uniform national standards as a key to educational improvement since taking office. "If we accomplish one thing in the coming years," he said back in February, "it should be to eliminate the extreme variation in standards across America."

That goal now seems within reach. Both the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers recently stepped forward to lead the charge, and 46 states are already behind them. The day may soon come when every student in the country is expected to master the same material at the same age. Let's hope that day never comes.

The quest to homogenize standards and testing has always rested on a misunderstanding. According to Duncan, "standards shouldn't change once you cross the Mississippi River or the Rocky Mountains," because the kids "are no different from each other." In one sense, he's right. There's little reason to believe that New York children are intrinsically smarter or slower than those of Colorado, on average.

But averages don't take tests. Kids do. Even if students' average academic potential were the same in Texas and Vermont, the individual children who make up those averages would still be all over the map. To claim that all the children in a single large family could progress through every subject at the same pace is a stretch. To claim this of every child in a whole neighborhood is preposterous. To claim it of every child in a nation of 300 million people is the premise of national standards.

Children are not interchangeable widgets. It does not serve their interests to feed them through learning factories on a single, fixed-pace conveyor belt. Some pick up reading quickly and easily fly through ever more challenging texts. Others find reading a chore, progressing more slowly even when encouraged by supportive families and talented teachers. To demand a single pace for all students in all subjects is to simultaneously tie together the laces of the fleet and kick out the crutches of the slow.

Not only is it impossible to create a single set of standards that would serve every child equally well, such standards would fail to significantly improve our schools. High external standards have never been the driving force behind human progress.

The tremendous leap in Olympic athletic achievement of the past 40 years was not achieved because the organizing committee told competitors to start swimming faster or jumping higher. It happened because Olympic athletes are competitors.

The same thing is true across every sector of our economy. Cell phone makers have not relentlessly improved their products because of national mandates. They've done it to attract customers away from their competitors. Amazon did not diversify its business and create the Kindle because a consortium of Internet vendors demanded it, but because Amazon sought to beat its competition.

The progress we've seen in one industry after another, just as in athletic pursuits, has been the result of competition - something that our education system has sorely lacked. At the dawn of the 21st century, three quarters of American children are still assigned to schools based on where they live, by bureaucrats who have never met them. Stellar public schools cannot grow and take over less successful ones. Ineffective public schools have little fear of losing students to competitors because they have no real competitors - they enjoy a monopoly on $12,000 per pupil in public spending.

I published a paper in the Journal of School Choice collecting every scientific study I could find comparing public and private school outcomes. These scores of findings span the globe and cover everything from academic achievement and cost-effectiveness to parental satisfaction. And they favor competitive market school systems over state-run monopolies by a margin of 15 to 1.

If our goal is to help all children maximize their potential, we won't achieve it by shackling them together with their age-mates and forcing them to march in lockstep through the curriculum.

Instead, we must emancipate them from the confines of rigid age-based grading, allow and encourage them to progress as quickly as they are able, and oblige schools to compete for the privilege of serving them.


The Fascist Left at work again

Should a lawyer be fired for giving an opinion? Giving opinions is what lawyers do. But you must give the "correct" opinion according to the fevered brains of Leftist thugs, apparently

Anti-war activists protested Monday at the University of California, Berkeley to call for the firing of a law professor who co-wrote legal memos that critics say were used to justify the torture of suspected terrorists. Campus police arrested at least four people who refused to leave the university's law school building.

The demonstrators said John Yoo should be dismissed, disbarred and prosecuted for war crimes for his work as a Bush administration attorney from 2001 to 2003, when he helped craft legal theories for waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques. Shouting "war criminal," the protesters confronted Yoo as he entered a lecture hall on the first day of class at UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law, where the tenured professor is teaching a civil law course this semester.

Yoo mostly ignored the demonstrators and waited for police to remove them from the classroom before he began teaching. Several officers then stood outside the lecture hall to prevent protesters and journalists from entering.

Demonstrators also staged a mock arrest of Yoo. Some dressed in black hoods and orange prisoner suits similar to ones seen in infamous photos of Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, which was closed in 2006 following reports of detainee abuse. "There is little doubt that John Yoo is a war criminal," said civil rights attorney Dan Siegel, speaking outside Boalt Hall. "John Yoo went to Washington and created the ideological, political and legal basis for the torture of innocent people."

Yoo, who returned to UC Berkeley after spending the spring semester at Chapman University School of Law in Orange County, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday. Yoo, 42, has defended the controversial interrogation techniques, saying they were needed to protect the country from terrorists after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "To limit the president's constitutional power to protect the nation from foreign threats is simply foolhardy," Yoo wrote in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece last month.

He has come under intense criticism since the interrogation memos became public in 2004. The Berkeley City Council has passed a measure calling for the federal government to prosecute him for war crimes, and convicted terrorist Jose Padilla has filed a lawsuit alleging that Yoo's legal opinions led to his alleged torture.

Christopher Edley Jr., Berkeley's law school dean, has rejected calls to dismiss Yoo, saying the university doesn't have the resources to investigate his Justice Department work, which involved classified intelligence.

Berkeley law students are divided over Yoo, whose classes are among the law school's most popular. Liz Jackson, a second-year law student, said the university should determine if he violated UC's faculty code of conduct. "I personally believe he has blood on his hands," said Jackson, 30.

But Nathan Salha, 24, who took one of Yoo's classes last year and is enrolled in his course this semester, said he's a good teacher. "I don't think it's the university's place to fire him for political opinions," he said.


British High School exams that fail everyone

Few things are certain in August, except rain when you've planned a barbecue and an almighty row over A-level results. So I can confidently predict that tomorrow our Education supremo, Ed 'I'm Talkin' ' Balls, will grin for the cameras, welcome this year's record pass rate and praise the hardest-working, most intelligent pupils in the history of the world.

Cynics will point out that A-levels are now impossible to fail, unless you don't turn up for the exam. Meanwhile, the teenagers I know, just a few of the 250,000 anxiously awaiting their results, have been through so many hoops over the past two years they feel like human basketballs. This is supposed to be one of the best times in their lives, a period of expanding horizons, full of intellectual excitement and possibility. Instead, they feel exhausted, demoralised and very scared.

Who can blame them? Years of New Labour's social engineering have created a system that is so 'equal' that it fails almost everyone. It fails those at the bottom by giving them false expectations and a dodgy course at a bargain-basement uni where the only thing that is guaranteed at the end of three years is £23,000 worth of debt. It fails the brightest pupils by not stretching them - even steering them away from hard subjects so they get grades that make schools and politicians look better.

Let's be candid. Universities now trust A-levels in roughly the same way that Peter Andre trusts Katie Price.

Meanwhile, teenagers are coached to regurgitate buzzwords and key phrases. There are many words for this numbing production line. Education is not one of them. I can't tell you how upset I was when a clever girl who goes to our local comprehensive cheerfully told me she was doing George Eliot's great novel, Middlemarch, for English A-level and hadn't actually read the whole book. Apparently, too much knowledge could harm her chances in the exam.

As for the really tough subjects, Professor Rosemary Bailey of the University of London has said that A-level maths is now 'more like using a sat-nav than reading a map'.

Our examination system is surely what Albert Einstein had in mind when he said: 'It is nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry.'

How the hell did A-levels go from being a nourishing meal that a young person could get their teeth into to a baby puree fit only for spoon-feeding? Blame New Labour again, with its barmy scheme to get 50 per cent of teenagers into university. Increasing numbers in the sixth form became more important than maintaining the challenging content at A-level.

The tragedy is that a plan designed to improve social mobility has had precisely the opposite effect. At least the excellent shadow education spokesman, Michael Gove, is determined to do something about the dumbed-down exam system. Under the Tories, more points will be given to 'hard' subjects, which means that schools will no longer be tempted to put their pupils in for easy subjects which cut them off from the best careers later on. Personally, I am ready to declare undying love for Michael Gove if he also scraps those wretched AS-levels, which mean our knackered teenagers spend all of their time in the sixth form cramming non-stop for endless exams.

We need to bring back the holy curiosity of inquiry and make A-levels a challenge, not a chore. Don't get me wrong, I'll be as happy as anyone to see the pictures of smiling teenagers tomorrow when they get their results. They've worked hard enough for them. I just hope the reality of life beyond A-levels won't wipe the smile off their faces.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bright British students are waking up to the uselessness of many degrees

It was while doing his Saturday job at Sainsbury's and "stacking shelves alongside graduates" that Tom Mursell started having doubts about going to university. "I had been accepted to study law at Bournemouth University but was working with a lot of graduates who were extremely pessimistic about the usefulness of their degrees," he remembers. "It's sad that people graduate with so much debt and then can't get decent jobs."

Mursell, now 20, turned down his place at university (despite getting the A-level grades he needed to study law) and launched, a service aimed at – you guessed it – students who feel that university might not be for them.

And who can blame them? Figures released last week by The Office of National Statistics indicate that this year's graduates will enter the worst jobs market in a generation. The jobless total hit 2.4 million – the highest for nearly 15 years with 928,000 in the 18-24 age group alone. That's one in five of all young people out of work. Thanks to the recession, there are fewer graduate jobs available than ever before – numbers have diminished by over a quarter – and those that are available are being chased by on average 45 graduates per job, according to research published last month by High Fliers Research Ltd. Tony Blair's push back in 1998 to get half of all school leavers into higher education has thus had one notable result: the graduate jobs market is now completely saturated.

"The biggest client group I see is recent graduates," says Denise Taylor, a registered careers adviser and author of How to Get a Job in a Recession (Brook House Press). "They've been searching for that elusive graduate job because nothing else will do, but then often have to resign themselves to working as a call centre operator sitting on £12,000 of debt."

This is exactly what didn't appeal to Mursell, and it was his girlfriend's experience with careers advisers at her school that kick-started his business idea. "She was even more sure than me that university wasn't for her, but there was a lot of pressure for her to go," he says. "Then she came back from college one day with a job seekers pack, which made her feel like she was about to join the dole queue. It just wasn't on."

So Mursell set about investigating what the other options might be off his own back. "I learned that there are so many opportunities after A-level, from distance learning to apprenticeships, that you don't get told about at school," he explains. "I set up the website initially as an information resource, but after a few months my inner entrepreneur kicked in and I thought, I could make a business out of this."

Mursell is one of an increasing number of students bucking the university trend, and the success of his site – they now get 15,000 unique users a month, and he and his partner have just taken on a third member of staff – suggests that more and more young people are keen to find out about alternatives to university. Mursell now spends the majority of his time spreading the word in schools and sixth form colleges that "you don't need a degree to be a success in life", and have just launched a Results Day information pack (, which is being sent out to 3,500 schools and colleges. "There is a domineering social feeling that if you go university then you're kind of better in a way," he continues, "which is very wrong."

When A-level results are announced this Thursday, an estimated 50,000 UCAS applicants will be without a university place. There are alternatives, though, and plenty of enterprising young people are seeking them out and pursuing dreams that don't cost £3,225 a year (the price of a university education as per this September).

Laura Griggs, 18, is waiting for her A-level results in maths, biology and PE from Guisley School in Leeds, and wants to become an accountant. The learn-while-you-earn scheme she has joined through the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) means that she can get her qualifications while she works. "I wanted to continue learning but without the debt, plus I am guaranteed a job at the end," she explains. Griggs has already started working at an accountancy firm in central Leeds and is really enjoying the practical experience: "When you finish something on your own it's really satisfying. You feel good about completing a task."

She is earning £13,000 a year for two years during her training, with one day a week out of the office to study. Her plan is to do her chartered accountancy study straight afterwards, aged 20, which is when the big bucks will kick in. Most of her friends are going to university but that doesn't phase her in the least: "Everyone goes to university these days; it's not that special. I just feel like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders because I am focusing on what I want to do and not getting into loads of debt in the process."

So there are alternatives to university, it's just knowing what they are. Andy Gardner, the university and careers adviser for JFS School in Brent, and La Sainte Union Catholic Secondary School in Camden, always gives his pupils a PowerPoint presentation, "What if you earned while you learned?" detailing all the options from advanced apprenticeships at companies like BT and Tesco, to "DIY learning" routes into accountancy, marketing or law while working. Like Mursell, he thinks the pressure to go to university is very real. "Increasingly, I'm hearing that sixth form students feel under enormous pressure to apply for university, even if they are not really committed," he says. "One sixth former likened the UCAS application process to a train ride they couldn't get off."

Tristan Pruden, 18, from Bainbridge, near Wenslydale in North Yorkshire, didn't let himself get pushed into university. "I decided against it a year and a half ago when I realised it would cost me around £7,000 a year." He was considering a degree in architecture before doing the sums and now, as he waits for his results for three A-levels and two A/S-levels, Pruden is readying himself for an altogether different dream: cooking.

Pruden found out about a scholarship for a one-year Cordon Bleu course at the Tante Marie cooking school and got it, thanks to his enthusiasm and the experience he has already gained working in restaurants in the Yorkshire tourist area where he lives. A fan of celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, and encouraged by his current restaurant boss, he says, "I've always done a lot of cooking and really enjoy it. I would much rather be hands-on with my learning than sit listening to a tutor."

Having a passion like this, and clear idea of what you want to do, is, of course, a distinct advantage. Lorraine Candy, the editor-in-chief of Elle magazine, didn't go to university because she knew she wanted to be a journalist.

Candy started out on a local paper in her native Cornwall, securing a job after doing work experience in the summer holidays before her A-levels. "They offered me a job so there was no point doing my A-levels. From there I went to the Wimbledon News where I worked with Piers Morgan. I worked freelance for a local paper in the week and for the nationals at the weekends."

She maintains it was incredibly hard work but that in industries such as journalism, it is gaining work experience that is key: "I don't think a degree matters in journalism. The work experience I got in the four years I would have been at university were invaluable. I was on the Daily Mirror by the time I was 20. I could have wasted that time and been four years behind everyone else."

Subsequently, Candy is a huge advocate for on-the-job training. "At Elle we don't care if people have degrees or not. I don't look for it on CVs – it's totally irrelevant to me. In the creative industries people come through many different routes."

Candy is not the only high-achiever to have given university a miss. Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Philip Green, Alan Sugar .... all are just a handful of the big-hitters lacking a degree. And, as Andrew Carroll, a teacher and careers adviser at Wilmington Enterprise College in Dartford, suggests: "Maybe this is a bit punk rock, but I think the people who make the choice not to go to university are probably the leaders of the future."


Socialist Indoctrination in Venezuelan Schools — What's That Got to Do with Us?

Note that although Simon Bolivar was known as a liberator, his ideas were very authoritarian and essentially Fascist -- JR

At Powerline, John Hinderaker notes that the "leftist majority in Venezuela's legislative assembly has adopted a measure that extends state control over education and mandates that all education be conducted in accordance with 'the Bolivarian Doctrine.' Opponents of Hugo Chavez call it the 'socialist indoctrination law.'" John goes on to describe (including photographic evidence) how pro-Chavez jackboots — sort of the Venezuelan version of ACORN or the SEIU — were dispatched to beat up dissenters.

John's post reminded me of three things. First there was that warm embrace in April between Chavez and President Obama. Second was the fact that Obama had enthusiastically teamed up for years with his friend Bill Ayers, the self-described communist and former terrorist, in an ambitious education reform project in Chicago — the Annenberg Challenge, a kitty they used to line the pockets of sundry radicals. And third was the speech Ayers gave in 2006 at the World Education Forum in Venezuela, with a smiling Hugo Chavez in attendance. I've posted on it before — prior to the election, when the media and a choir of moderates insisted that we knuckle-draggers were making too much of the trifle that Obama was pals with a disturbing number of America-hating revolutionaries. But somehow it seems worth repeating some excerpts today — you know, as a weekend interlude amid the debate over Obama's effort to nationalize another one-sixth of the private sector:
President Hugo Chavez, … invited guests, comrades. I’m honored and humbled to be here with you this morning. I bring greetings and support from your brothers and sisters throughout Northamerica [sic]! Welcome to the World Education Forum. Amamos la revolucion Bolivariana! ...

[M]y comrade and friend Luis Bonilla, a brilliant educator and inspiring fighter for justice … has taught me a great deal about the Bolivarian Revolution [i.e., Chavez's movement] and about the profound educational reforms underway here in Venezuela under the leadership of President Chavez. We share the belief that education is the motor-force of revolution, and I’ve come to appreciate Luis as a major asset in both the Venezuelan and the international struggle—I look forward to seeing how he and all of you continue to overcome the failings of capitalist education as you seek to create something truly new and deeply humane…. [For more information on the Venezuelan socialist Luis Bonilla-Montoya, see here.]

I began teaching when I was 20 yeas old in a small freedom school affiliated with the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. The year was 1965, and I’d been arrested in a demonstration. Jailed for ten days, I met several activists who were finding ways to link teaching and education with deep and fundamental social change. They were following Dewey and DuBois, King and Helen Keller who wrote: “We can’t have education without revolution. We have tried peace education for 1,900 years and it has failed. Let us try revolution and see what it will do now.”

I walked out of jail and into my first teaching position—and from that day until this I’ve thought of myself as a teacher, but I’ve also understood teaching as a project intimately connected with social justice. After all, the fundamental message of the teacher is this: you can change your life—whoever you are, wherever you’ve been, whatever you’ve done, another world is possible. As students and teachers begin to see themselves as linked to one another, as tied to history and capable of collective action, the fundamental message of teaching shifts slightly, and becomes broader, more generous: we must change ourselves as we come together to change the world. Teaching invites transformations, it urges revolutions small and large. La educacion es revolucion!

… [I’ve] learned that education is never neutral. It always has a value, a position, a politics. Education either reinforces or challenges the existing social order, and school is always a contested space—what should be taught? In what way? Toward what end? By and for whom? At bottom, it involves a struggle over the essential questions: what does it mean to be a human being living in a human society?

Totalitarianism demands obedience and conformity, hierarchy, command and control. Royalty requires allegiance. Capitalism promotes racism and materialism—turning people into consumers, not citizens. Participatory democracy, by contrast, requires free people coming together, voluntarily as equals who are capable of both self-realization and, at the same time, full participation in a shared political and economic life.

… Venezuelans have shown the world that with full participation, full inclusion, and popular empowerment, the failing of capitalist schooling can be resisted and overcome. Venezuela is a beacon to the world in its accomplishment of eliminating illiteracy in record time, and engaging virtually the entire population in the ongoing project of education.

… [W]e, too, must build a project of radical imagination and fundamental change. Venezuela is poised to offer the world a new model of education—a humanizing and revolutionary model whose twin missions are enlightenment and liberation.


Australia: Centre/Left Federal government aims at national teacher rankings

Good stuff but it is rather surprising that they are defying the teachers' unions. Has some deal been done?

TEACHERS' pay could soon reflect their value in the classroom while schools' performance will be made public as an online report card rolls out next year.

Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Julia Gillard believes teachers should be remunerated using a merit-based pay system and will work with education experts to develop a national benchmark that will rank every teacher's value. Ms Gillard said a top-tier band existed in many states and territories and the only way for them to get paid more was to move away from face-to-face teaching. "We want to reward teachers - especially great quality teachers - and (those) prepared to go to disadvantaged schools where their excellent teaching skills can make the most difference," Ms Gillard said.

"Under the system that we're proposing, we would have a national accreditation system where people could be judged against national standards. "Then we want to see school systems better rewarding those highly accomplished teachers, particularly for teaching in disadvantaged schools." Some of those standards incorporate face-to-face teaching skills and knowledge of the curriculum.

From 2010 people will be able to compare schools using an online portal that will rank schools, compare resources and show teachers' qualifications. "We need greater transparency ... so we know what's happening in each and every school and so does the public," Ms Gillard said. Other means include the publication of national education results.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Catholic college faces lawsuit over contraceptives

The president of a small Catholic college said Friday he would rather close the school's doors than violate the church's teachings on contraception should the college lose the latest battle involving health-insurance laws and religious freedom. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has determined that Belmont Abbey College violated discrimination laws because the school's employee health insurance plan does not cover contraception, according to a letter the EEOC sent to the school. "I hope it would never get this far," college President William K. Thierfelder told The Washington Times, "but if it came down to it we would close the college before we ever provided that."

The factual conclusion reached by the EEOC could be a precursor to the commission filing a federal discrimination lawsuit against the college. "By denying prescription contraceptive drugs, [the college] is discriminating based on gender because only females take oral prescription contraceptives," the EEOC wrote in a letter to the North Carolina college. "By denying coverage, men are not affected, only women."

Mr. Thierfelder disputed that conclusion in a letter posted on the college's Web site: "Belmont Abbey College rejects the notion that by following the moral teachings of the Catholic Church we are discriminating against anyone. "We are simply and honestly exercising the freedom of religion that is protected by the Constitution," he wrote.

In the highest profile case involving contraception coverage and Catholic institutions, California forced Catholic Charities to cover contraception as part of its employee health-insurance plan. The California Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that Catholic Charities was not a religious organization under state law, and therefore was required to provide contraception coverage under state law.

The EEOC investigation into Belmont Abbey stems from changes the college made to its employee health-insurance plan nearly two years ago. The changes came after the school discovered its plan had inadvertently been covering abortions, prescription contraception and elective sterilization procedures. Mr. Thierfelder wrote at the time that "it is the clear, consistent, incontrovertible, public, official and authoritative teaching of the Roman Catholic Church that abortion, contraception and voluntary sterilization are actions which are intrinsically wrong and should not be undertaken because of their very nature." The college, which has about 1,500 students, no longer covers contraceptive services as part of its employee health coverage.

"As a Roman Catholic institution, Belmont Abbey College is not able to and will not offer nor subsidize medical services that contradict the clear teaching of the Catholic Church," Mr. Thierfelder wrote in a letter explaining the changes. In response, eight current and former faculty members - six men and two women, according to Mr. Thierfelder - filed a complaint with the EEOC charging that the changes to the insurance benefits violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act by discriminating against them based on religion or sex.

The letter the EEOC sent to the school said the plan change resulted in discrimination based on sex, but found no discrimination based on religion. The letter called only the contraception change discriminatory; it did not mention the change in coverage for abortion or elective sterilization. A spokesman at the EEOC in Washington declined to comment Friday, saying that confidentiality laws prevent the agency even from confirming that a complaint has been received or an investigation was undertaken.

The letter said the next step is for the college and those who filed the complaint to try to reach an agreement to settle their differences. That seems unlikely, given Mr. Thierfelder's language. If no agreement is reached, the EEOC could then file a federal lawsuit against the college. [Which the college should win under the First Amendment]


British students lying about family backgrounds to win university places, figures reveal

Sixth formers are lying about their family backgrounds to meet university "social engineering" admissions criteria

Up to 15 per cent of candidates who claimed on their application forms they had been in care later admitted they had "made a mistake", according to figures provided by universities. The revelation comes as universities are under increasing pressure to take into account candidates' social circumstances when offering him places. Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, is drawing up a framework which will lead to students from disadvantaged families being given lower grade offers than middle-class students.

Application forms include sections where sixth formers can declare that they were brought up in a care home, that their parents did not go into higher education, or that they attended summer school classes. But it can be revealed that the vast majority of UK universities have no systems in place to check the information being entered by students on their Universities and Colleges Admission Service (Ucas) form.

A small number of universities, including three from the Russell group of top institutions, said they later found out that up to one in seven candidates who declared they had been in care on their forms later admitted that they been filled the box "in error".

Critics said that universities were being forced to "socially engineer" their intakes on the basis of potentially false information. Professor Alan Smithers, the director of the centre for education and employment research at Buckingham University, said: "Universities are taking this information at face value but given the huge competition to get in, it is not surprising that people are doing what they can to maximise their chances. "It is possible that the ticks in the boxes are genuine mistakes or they could be an attempt to try something out and then claim it is a mistake if they are found out.

"These attempts to make admissions fairer are actually making them less fair. The best way to get the best candidates is a national examination that distinguishes between students and is externally validated evidence of achievement."

Geoff Lucas, the secretary of the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference, representing leading public schools, said: "The Government is creating a many-headed monster with this. "The more we go down this road of using information about a candidate's background in deciding who gets places, the less chance there is of verifying it because of the practicalities."

Of the 62 universities which responded to a Freedom of Information request, almost all failed to carry out checks on any of the family background or "contextual" information provided in the Ucas form. Six indicated that they have a follow-up system where those who have been in care are contacted before the start of term to give them additional support. Of those, four discovered that a number of students had provided false information.

Liverpool University said 15 candidates had filled in the indicator "in error" from the 103 that ticked the box, while Newcastle said four applicants were found to have "incorrectly indicated that they had been in care." At Liverpool Hope University, of the 40 care leavers followed-up by the institution, four admitted to having not been in care. Edinburgh University said that of the 18 students contacted to confirm their status, two said that they had mistakenly identified themselves as having been in care. A number of universities have explicitly stated that being in care or being the first in the family to attend university will be looked on favourably in admissions.

A spokesman for Liverpool University said that while being in care did not trigger extra points, the university does "ensure that care leavers are considered carefully so that an appropriate offer is made". At Oxford University, candidates who are predicted three A grades but who also tick three out of five contextual indicator boxes, including time spent in care, are guaranteed an interview. The university said it only checked the information on care leavers at the stage that applicants have received an offer but it was not aware that any candidate had supplied incorrect information.

At Edinburgh University, humanities and social science and geography departments give "additional credit" to students who have parents who have not previously attended university. However, the admissions office does not check if the information provided on parental education levels in the Ucas form is correct.

Nottingham University has no system to check if background information provided in the Ucas form is correct. Yet the university's admission policy says an applicant's examination grades may be "valued more highly" if they have been in care or their parent have not attended university.

Evidence collected by Ucas suggests that some sixth formers do lie in their application forms. Plagiarism software used to vet students personal statements for the first time last year found as many as 400 would-be doctors had lifted 60 per cent of their statements from websites.

Ucas said that the proportion of applicants who indicated they had been in care was less than 1 per cent and had dropped this year compared to last. A spokesman said: "Where such information is used, it does not result in either an automatic offer of a place or a lower grade offer to a candidate."


British schools inspectorate report criticises vocational diploma over poor English and maths teaching

Almost half of teenagers studying for the new Diploma are not receiving satisfactory English and maths teaching, Ofsted will say today in its first inspector’s report on the qualification. The diploma, which the Government hopes will replace A levels, is intended to bridge the gap between academic and vocational qualifications.

Among many of the first cohort of 14 to 19-year-old students taking the diploma there was “little firm evidence of their achievement in functional skills”, including maths, English and IT, inspectors said.

There are currently five diplomas on offer: construction and the built environment; media; engineering; IT; and society, health and development. Inspectors found that pupils chose subjects along traditional gender lines — despite hopes that they would appeal to all young people regardless of their sex.

The diploma is split into two parts — principal learning, in which students are taught about the employment sector and work-related skills — and functional skills, to help them to develop their English, maths and IT skills. “Work in functional skills lacked co-ordination in just under half the consortia visited and, as a result, the quality of teaching and learning varied considerably,” inspectors said.

Chris Keates, the chief executive of the NASUWT teaching union, said: “The fault lies with the way that functional skills are designed, not the quality of teaching and learning.”

Ofsted inspectors were also concerned about the lack of formal assessment of the qualification. “There was little evidence of frequent marking or checking of students’ knowledge and understanding in relation to work they had completed,” the report said.

Schools offering the diploma work together because of the specialist facilities that some courses require. But timetabling clashes lead to some students missing lessons in their own school and having to catch up later, “putting considerable extra pressure on those involved”, inspectors said.

Only 12,000 pupils have taken up the courses so far — less than half the number estimated — and the proportion of children registered as “gifted and talented” who were taking the diploma was low, inspectors said.

Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, wants the diploma to become the qualification of choice and replace A levels as the gold standard. Vernon Coaker, the Schools Minister, said: “While we are pleased with the progress made so far, we acknowledge that more needs to be done to improve the teaching of diplomas, which is why we are increasing our support for schools and colleges.”


Monday, August 17, 2009

American higher education is sliding lower and lower

You may have heard about Trina Thompson. Unable to find work, she's suing her alma mater, Monroe College, to recover $70,000 in tuition. The Thompson case may not turn out to be the precedent-setter that some theorize, because Monroe makes unusually bold promises to students about post-college success. But the sad truth is this: Practically all colleges are failing their students nowadays, and in most cases at far greater expense than Monroe failed Thompson.

Historically, criticism of education in America has targeted grade-school and secondary education. Indeed, perhaps the best thing about the K-12 is that in these polarized times, it is the great uniter: Maligned by liberals and conservatives, Christians and Jews, Red Sox fans and Yankee fans, and just about everyone else in the grand American cultural stew. Still, we take pride in the notion that when young adults get the chance to get through college, the doors of opportunity truly swing open. Our colleges and universities, we've been told again and again, are the envy of the world.

To the contrary, one might say that the philosophical rot that has long blighted primary education has now slowly and surely been admitted to college. This was inevitable. Today's typical college freshman is a product of the watered-down, "self-esteem-building" curriculum that emerged in the late 1960s and held sway over U.S. scholastic policy by the mid-'90s.

According to the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress, over 20% of those churned out by America's high schools are functional illiterates. Meanwhile, American students placed behind 16 of 30 nations in scientific literacy on a major international comparison, and behind 23 of 30 in math. What would make these subpar students suddenly able to handle the rigors of a demanding college regimen?

Though colleges aren't quite as overt in protecting students' feelings as K-12 schools, the same dynamic is visible in a wide array of "enlightened" policies, beginning with admissions criteria. We live in a "college is for everyone" world. Rather than drawing any bright shining lines between those who are ready for college and those who aren't, universities widely offer remedial courses to incoming students.

About 1 million freshmen per year - that's a third of all freshmen - need such crash courses, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Because some of these students never catch up, higher-level coursework often must be dumbed down.

Further, the very definition of what constitutes "a good education" has flexed from a set of time-honored expectations to the more accommodating paradigm known as "student-directed learning." Loath to force ill-prepared students to stretch by mandating a core sequence in math and science, most colleges permit them to concentrate in their major subjects and fluffy electives.

A 2004 study of 50 major colleges and universities found that half failed to require students to take a suite of core courses in such basic subject areas as math, science and economics - and a quarter required just one such core course or none at all.

Meanwhile, grades keep rising. Grade inflation is no news flash, but the magnitude of the problem startles. An exhaustive analysis by a former Duke University professor early this year showed that average GPAs at state-run colleges rose steadily over the past half-century and have now hit 3.0. The trendline is even more pronounced at private colleges; some elite schools boast collective GPAs approaching 4 - which is straight A's.

And yet - the final irony - none of these concessions is enough to ensure the successful completion of a four-year degree program. The dropout rate at U.S. colleges is a jaw-dropping 46%. Among free-world nations, only Mexico fares worse. It's time to stop kidding ourselves about the lower and lower quality of the higher education our young men and women are apt to receive.


Under Leftist rule, British high School students have become twice as smart (on paper)

Pupils with three A grades double under Labour. What does BritGov hope to gain by devaluing the qualifications they issue?

This week’s A-level results are set to bring a new row over grade inflation with a doubling in the proportion of pupils winning three straight A grades since Labour came to power. Research by the Commons library shows that in 1997, 14,065 candidates – 6.1% of the total – scored three As. Last year the total hit 31,100 – 12.1% of those who sat the exam. The proportion winning at least one A is expected to edge up for the 27th successive year when results are announced on Thursday, pushing the percentage winning three As over twice the figure for 1997.

Michael Gove, the shadow schools secretary, said: “The massive growth in candidates getting three As suggests standards are not being policed as rigorously as in the past.” He plans to overhaul GCSEs and A-levels by making papers more difficult and giving universities a role in setting them. He would also exclude vocational exams from academic league tables and give more points in tables to hard subjects such as physics than to softer ones such as media studies.

Evidence of A-level devaluation also comes in a new analysis by Professor Alan Smithers of Buckingham University. He has compared results with those from the international baccalaureate (IB), an alternative to A-level studied at 196 British schools. In 1993 the pass rates of both were about the same, but a gap of 20% has since opened up, with A-level passes nearing 100%. “IB passes have fluctuated from 70%-80%, as you would expect if standards were being maintained,” Smithers said. “We are fooling ourselves if we believe these A-level rises mean education is getting better.”

Vernon Coaker, the schools minister, said: “The increased numbers of students with top marks should be a cause of celebration. There has been no dumbing down.”

At least 20,000 candidates are expected to be have no place after clearing, which starts on Thursday. A scheme to help those with better grades than predicted is set to flop because of lack of places. Such candidates can upgrade their university if they find a space. It was intended to help bright candidates from disadvantaged families whose grades are most likely to be underpredicted.

John Dunford, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “If such students are frustrated in their search for a place at top universities, the conclusion must be that institutions are not committed to helping them.” [It's not that the government failed to fund places for all qualified students??]


British education agencies are not raising standards, says think-tank

The salary of the chief inspector at Ofsted has risen by 70 per cent since 2002 and overall staffing costs at the school inspectorate have increased by more than a third. A report, which calls for the abolition of two thirds of the government agencies that deal with education, claims that more than a billion pounds has been spent on the taxpayer-funded quangos with little evidence that they have raised standards in schools.

The Centre for Policy Studies urges reform of the main organisations, including Ofsted, the General Teaching Council and the School Food Trust.

David Laws, the schools spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said: “At a time when public finances are being squeezed, we must ask if these quangos are necessary.”

The Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA), the Training and Development Agency for Schools and the Government’s technology agency, Becta, are among those that should be abolished, researchers at the right-of-centre think tank said. While politicians of all parties had made repeated calls for a reduction in the size and number of quangos, little had been done, the report said.

The research analysed 11 education quangos receiving public funding totalling £1.2 billion in 2007-08. In the last year, the cost to the taxpayer of these organisations has increased by 12 per cent. The report recommended a programme of reform that would remove seven of the bodies and overhaul the others. It said: “There is no evidence that the performance of the quangos has matched the growth in their budgets.”

The Department for Children, Schools and Families’ annual report in 2008 revealed that productivity in UK education had fallen by 0.7 per cent a year between 2000 and 2006.

The authors of the report argue that the new QCDA (formerly the QCA) should be scrapped and replaced by a small Curriculum Advisory Board, with the aim of freeing schools from centralised control in the national curriculum. Plans by ministers to abolish national strategies and “repeated” fiascos in the Sats exams, showed the failure of the QCA, it said. A new advisory board would be responsible for creating a broad, voluntary curriculum for schools, which would be mandatory only for those that were failing.

Ofsted should be revamped and returned to its original function as an inspectorate focusing on failing schools. Its remit to inspect children’s services should be given to another organisation, the report said. Christine Gilbert, the chief inspector at Ofsted, earns £230,000 a year, say researchers, an increase of 70 per cent on the salary in 2002. Staffing numbers at Ofsted have fallen by 48 since 2002 but costs per head for each member of staff have increased by 38 per cent. The programme of reform would cut Government spending by £633 million.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Nobody wants sociologists

All they have to offer is opinion, and hack opinions at that. I taught for 12 years in a major sociology school and there was a lot of expertise in the writings of Karl Marx there but not much else

For sociologists who want to see social science influence public policy, these should be heady times. The president of the United States is someone who isn’t afraid of being called an intellectual and who worked at and lived near a top university for years. His late mother was an anthropologist. He likes to talk to experts.

But the mood in many sessions here at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association was one of just a bit of hurt and disappointment. With a few exceptions, sociologists aren’t getting called by the White House -- and if many imagined that calls from Washington in the last administration might land them in Guantanamo Bay, this time around, they want to be called.

Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, a professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, described watching the news in December, as the economy was in a free fall and Barack Obama, as president-elect, was naming people to key positions in his administration. From the social sciences, he said, it was “the same old cast of characters,” and that means economists.

Obama’s election had brought “a sense of possibility,” but “as a sociologist I was pissed off,” he said. "I have economist envy on a good day and worse things on a bad day,” he said.

Based on his frustrations, he circulated an e-mail to fellow sociologists that led to discussion here of a proposal to create a “council of social science advisers” as a new federal board to conduct research and provide perspectives that are missing from policy circles. The ASA's Council discussed the idea Wednesday and "affirmed the general principle behind the proposal and authorized the ASA executive office to explore the feasibility of this or other initiatives to broaden social science input into U.S. Policy development," according to an association spokesman.

As sociologists here noted, there is a already a Council of Economic Advisers. And there is the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, a group that could theoretically include social scientists, but the only one on the council now is, you guessed it, an economist (and he may be on the board as much for being president of Yale University as for his economics work).

Jerry Jacobs, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, said “on the one hand, the president can ask anyone for advice" -- criminologists, public health experts and others. "It's not that the president is short of advice, but there is a lack of legitimized and organized social science at the highest levels of policy formation.”

“Even in a tremendously sympathetic administration,” Jacobs said, “it is hard to ignore” that within the social sciences, economists have the access. “For me, the agenda [of pushing for a new social science council in the White House] “is figuring out what we need to do to get ourselves a seat at the table.”

Sociologists speaking here stressed that their concern was not ego or a desire to work in Washington, but a sense that key issues related to the economy, health care, education and other subjects would benefit from some of their ideas to balance out those of the economists.....

More here

Leftist Britain's abolition of selective schools has given a free run to the children of the wealthy

Selective schools gave bright working class kid a chance at reaching the top. Now they languish in mundane occupations. So much for the pursuit of equality

Leading professionals are becoming less intelligent, researchers said yesterday. Lawyers, doctors, accountants and bankers were all cleverer a generation ago, a study found. The startling conclusion was reached by academics looking into social mobility. They wanted to find out why those born into poor families in the 1970s were much less successful than those born in the 1950s.

The research found that as poor children in the 1970s lost the chance of a good education - often blamed on the abolition of grammar schools - they were not able to reach the top professions. Instead, the places were filled by those from wealthier families - who were not always as naturally gifted.

The researchers from Bristol University based their findings on IQ tests taken by ten and 11-year-olds as part of two major surveys into the lives of children born in 1958 and 1970. They found a decline in IQ among those in the best-rewarded and highest-status professions between the two generations. It means professionals now in their 50s are likely to be brighter than those in their late 30s.

Ratings from the tests give someone of exactly average intelligence a score of 100, with broadly average intelligence running from 90 to 109. Between 110 and 140 is regarded as superior intelligence.

It found that lawyers born in 1958 had IQs about 10.5 per cent above the average when tested as children - in the superior bracket. But those born in 1970 had IQs nearer to 7.5 per cent above the norm, putting them into the average bracket. Similarly, accountants from 1958 were nearly 10 per cent above average, but only 6 per cent above average in 1970. Bankers' IQs fell from 7.5 per cent above average to 6.5 per cent, while university lecturers dropped from 9 to 7.5 per cent above average. Doctors were 12.5 per cent above average in 1958, but 11 per cent above average in 1970.

A handful of professions showed that the 1970 generation were at the same level or more intelligent than their older colleagues. These tended to be those of lesser status, with less clearly laid out career paths, or with more egalitarian traditions. They included nursing, science, engineering, art and journalism.

However, the researchers - led by Lindsey Macmillan from the Centre for Market and Public Organisation at Bristol University - offered a crumb of comfort to those who worry about whether their GP is up to the job. 'Somewhat reassuringly,' the study said, 'doctors and scientists and other medical professionals exhibit the highest IQ test scores over time.'

Labour has consistently blamed the fall in social mobility on universities shutting out youngsters from less wealthy backgrounds. But critics say the problem lies with comprehensive schools that fail to help poor pupils develop and achieve good grades. They point out that the major difference between the two generations born in 1958 and 1970 is that the former were educated in the era of grammar [academically selective] schools.


Dim British science teachers

Four out of five trainee science teachers have fewer than 2 A levels. If you were bright, why would you want to teach in a chaotic British "Comprehensive"?

Four in five students training to be science teachers on undergraduate courses have fewer than two A levels, says a report, and only 58 per cent of all students on undergraduate teaching courses have two A levels or more.

Last year there was a dropout rate of about 40 per cent between the final year of teacher training and taking a post in a state school, while a further 18 per cent left the profession during their first three years of teaching. There has also been a steady decline in the number of men teaching in secondary schools and only one in seven primary school teachers is a man — a figure that has not changed since 1998.

The report, the Good Teacher Training Guide, says that there is a wide variation in the grades achieved by entrants to teacher training, according to discipline. For those who entered teacher training after taking a degree, 42 per cent had a 2:1 or better in maths, 43 per cent in modern languages and 47 per cent in science. This compared with 61 per cent in geography, 78 per cent in history and 90 per cent in classics. “For those at the bottom [of the chart], filling places was evidently a struggle,” the report says. “Besides maths, this was true of modern languages and science, where the availability of biologists masks the shortage of physicists.

“It appears there are two cycles. In one, there is competition for training places, high completion and the successful are snapped up by schools. “But in the other, places are difficult to fill, the relatively low entry qualifications are associated with high dropout from courses, and there is a poor conversion rate of trainees to teachers. “This is the situation in core subjects like maths, science and modern languages.”

The report added: “It is extraordinary that we have to train almost double the number of teachers as are actually needed. “A contributory factor to the dropout, which we have highlighted in this report, is the poor qualifications of those recruited. “Raising entry qualifications, therefore, would seem to be a way of reducing waste. But if potential trainees do not come forward in sufficient numbers then the providers cannot select and qualification levels will remain low.” [Wow! You figured that!]

Professor Alan Smithers, of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, co-wrote the report. He said: “These figures must be a cause for concern. Teacher trainees in crucial subjects seem under-qualified and the training process seems very wasteful. No one would, I think, suggest that having a good grasp of one’s subject is not a very important aspect of teacher quality.”