Saturday, September 12, 2009

Public school indoctrination in America

Yesterday, I blogged about the indoctrination that is an inherent part of any government school system, whether in Cuba, the U.S., England, North Korea, or any other country. Government officials have a vested interest in ensuring a citizenry that accepts the official version of things and a citizenry that is compliant, obedient, and supportive of the government. Over a period of many years, people’s mindsets are molded to encourage them as adults to let off steam by carping about the foibles and inefficiencies of politicians and bureaucrats but never to challenge, in a fundamental sense, the role that government plays in people’s lives.

Let’s compare the public school systems in Cuba and the United States. They are similar in the fact that governments in both countries own and operate the systems. Children who attend the schools are there because the law has mandated their attendance. The schoolteachers and administrators are government personnel. Whether at a national, state, or local level, the textbooks must be approved by the government and the curriculum is set by the government. In both countries, attendance is “free.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the indoctrination is the same in both countries. In Cuba, for example, it is ingrained in schoolchildren that the CIA, with its program of assassination, torture, and regime change, is a force for evil in the world. In the United States, Americans schoolchildren are taught that the CIA is a force for good in the world and that it is essential to the national security of the country.

It would be difficult to find a better example of a purely socialist program than public (i.e., government) schooling, especially given its central-planning features. Thus, it’s not a coincidence that Cuba’s public-school system is the pride and joy of Fidel Castro, one of the world’s most ardent devotees of socialism.

Interestingly, while public schooling is also the pride and joy of Americans, most of them have no idea that America’s public school systems are socialist in nature, which itself is a testament to the success of the indoctrination that takes place in the institution. From the first grade to the twelfth, Americans are taught that public schooling is one of the core features of America’s “free enterprise system.”

An even better testament to the power of indoctrination in public schooling, however, is the conviction that it instills in students that socialist programs are essential to society. A good example of this phenomenon occurs in the health-care debate. Whenever libertarians suggest that the solution to the health-care crisis is simply to repeal Medicare and Medicaid, health-care regulations, and medical-licensure laws, most Americans go ballistic. Without Medicare and Medicaid, the poor and the elderly would die from lack of medical care, they cry. Without regulations and medical licensure, quacks would be conducting brain surgery on people, they say. Free markets are fine but not in such an important area as health care, they claim.

How have people arrived at such deeply held convictions? Take a wild guess! Oh, by the way, national health care in Cuba is also a pride and joy of Fidel Castro.

Perhaps the best example though of the power of indoctrination in public schooling is with respect to the very idea of public schooling itself. Whenever libertarians suggest that this entire socialist system should be junked, that school and state should be separated, and that a total free market in education should be established, statists go haywire. Free enterprise is great, they say again, but not in an important area like education. Why, how would the poor get educated without public schooling? they ask. With a free market in education, we’d quickly end up with a nation of dumb, illiterate people, they say.

Another example of what public schooling has done to instill a faith in socialism and to damage people’s faith in freedom and free markets is with respect to the overall welfare state itself. Whenever libertarians call for a repeal, not a reform, of this immoral and destructive way of life, statists respond, “Without the welfare state, the poor would die in the streets.”

Of course, that’s ludicrous, especially given that free markets are the means by which the poor are able to maintain increasingly higher standards of living. For example, compare a nun here in the United States who has taken a vow of poverty with a nun in Guatemala who has done the same. The nun here will have a much nicer standard of living as a result of the positive economic spillover that inevitably takes place in a wealthier society.

An important prerequisite to getting America back on the right track is a restoration of people’s faith in freedom and free markets and an understanding of why socialism is so immoral and destructive. Fortunately, what public schooling has done to inculcate a love for socialism and to inculcate doubts about freedom and free markets is reversible. Libertarians are proof positive of that.


British students who get extra marks simply for turning up

Students are being rewarded with marks simply for turning up to university lectures. The practice has been criticised as a form of bribery and blamed for turning lecture halls into “drop-in centres”.

Frank Furedi, Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent, writing in the Times Higher Education magazine, argued that giving students marks towards their degree for attending lectures was based on the experience of secondary education and relied on compulsion and bribery.

“The real problem with rewarding timekeeping implicitly devalues the work and effort made by students who are genuinely interested in regarding the seminar room as a place of intellectual engagement rather than as a drop-in centre,” he said. Marks are awarded for attendance at a range of institutions. At the University of Kent’s English language faculty, students gain 5 per cent based on seminary and workshop attendance.

The method has also been adopted by the University of Glasgow where 10 per cent of a final mark in an English literature course is based upon attendance alone. A spokesman for the university said that the practice was employed “to encourage a culture of attendance among new students unaccustomed to the amount of responsibility for their studies that university places on them”.

Laurence Goldstein, head of the School of European Culture and Languages at Kent, said: “If a bit of coercion awakens them to the joys of learning, then it is probably justified.”


Beauty therapists and bouncers used as 'cheap' cover teachers in British classrooms

Thousands of former beauty therapists, driving instructors, postmen and bouncers are being used as 'cheap labour' in classrooms. Schools are employing unqualified 'cover supervisors' with just a few days' training after ministers made a pact with teachers' unions to limit their members' workloads. The supervisors are meant to stand in for short periods only and just to keep order while pupils complete work set by teachers. But research commissioned by the Government reveals that some are taking classes for whole terms or longer.

Many had little or no link to education before entering the classroom. Some had worked in the beauty industry, Post Office and as driving instructors. Others are former bouncers, soldiers or security guards, hired for their ability to keep classes under control.

The growing reliance on unqualified helpers - who take classes of children as young as five on wages of just £6.50 an hour - follows a deal ministers struck with unions in 2003. The aim was to limit the time teachers spent covering for absent colleagues. But the research from London Metropolitan-University reveals that, instead of employing extra teachers or traditional supply staff, many schools routinely use supervisors.

The researchers, who surveyed 1,764 heads, 3,214 teachers and 2,414 support staff and studied 19 schools in-depth, found 80 per cent of state schools were using unqualified support staff to cover lessons when teachers were absent. Some are teaching assistants with 'higher level' training, which means they are allowed to teach, but many more are cover supervisors.

The report said: 'While, in theory, the cover supervisors' role was to supervise, most reported that they sometimes did more than this.' It added: 'In a minority of schools, support staff, including cover supervisors, were deployed to teach whole classes for prolonged periods of time (several weeks in primary schools, or over a whole term or more in secondary schools). 'In secondary schools, those who did this generally taught lower sets.'

One cover supervisor interviewed by researchers had worked for the Post Office for 28 years. She said she thought the work would be easier and sometimes returned home in tears after struggling to control rowdy pupils.

Research leader Professor Merryn Hutchings said: 'Cover supervisors were teaching - setting a task, giving advice and commenting on work. 'They are not trained or in any way qualified for that. It's fine to use them for short periods but we find that some in secondary schools are taking the bottom set for weeks on end. That is distinctly worrying.'

Teachers also raised concerns. One told the research team: 'I feel it's cheap labour.'

The report suggests teachers' workload has not actually reduced, because extra Government initiatives have been introduced.

Shadow Children's Secretary Michael Gove said last night: 'Raising the status of teachers is vital to raising standards. Unfortunately the Government is taking things in the opposite direction, piling teachers with bureaucracy and recruiting untrained staff.'

Schools Minister Vernon Coaker said: 'We are absolutely clear that we want teachers in front of classes, not cover supervisors. It is the responsibility of heads to make sure good practice is maintained.'


Friday, September 11, 2009

America's public schools are crippling the economy

America's public schools are failing. From the smallest towns to the biggest cities, our schools aren't delivering the tools that young people need in today's economy. Many kids simply aren't finishing school. And too many who do graduate are unprepared for college and the working world. Comprehensive reform is needed.

There are plenty of signs that there's something wrong with the status quo. Over 7,000 students drop out every day -- that's about 1.2 million students each year. The national high school graduation rate, around 73 percent, is lower than it was 40 years ago.

Students couldn't be quitting school at a worse time. Technology is catapulting us forward. Jobs are increasingly complex. According to the federal government, more than half of all new jobs in the next five years will require some college. Only about 30 percent of low-income young Americans go on to earn any kind of degree or certificate after finishing high school.

But simply reducing the dropout rate won't make things better. Getting a high school diploma is no longer a guarantee that someone is ready for college. More than one third of America's college students require remedial classes to learn what they should have learned in high school. Roughly 60 percent of students at community colleges have to take some remedial classes before they can pursue their degree. These extra courses cost taxpayers, students, and parents about $2 billion annually. And businesses now spend substantial amounts of time and money teaching employees what they should have learned in school.

To produce the next generation of workers, we must improve our schools. Lawmakers have the most important role to play. They could start by looking at ways to change the way teachers are taught and recruited. They should also consider restructuring the teacher-student relationship. Perhaps students and teachers should stay together for multiple years.

Raising state standards will also help. One idea that's gaining traction is the creation of a uniform roadmap from primary school to high school, so that once a student receives a diploma, she would actually be able to continue onto college or smoothly transition into the workforce.

Nonprofits, too, can improve educational outcomes. Over the last decade, for example, the Millennium Scholars program from the Gates Foundation has provided 12,000 scholarships to promising low-income students. The result? About eight in 10 students receiving these funds graduate from college within five years.

The business community also has a role to play. Together with the Gates Foundation, Viacom has launched "Get Schooled," a five-year initiative that creates a platform for corporate and community stakeholders to address the challenges facing the public education system.

American businesses must also find innovative ways to encourage today's students to succeed. We need to make a habit of communicating with government leaders and educators on a regular basis. We can -- and should -- offer insights into how the world economy is evolving.

We can't allow the nation's students to be left behind. Our failure to produce a properly educated workforce today will cripple our ability to compete in the global arena tomorrow. The time to act is now.


What the American Public Thinks of Public Schools

High-school graduation rates are lower today than in 1970

Yesterday President Barack Obama delivered a pep talk to America's schoolchildren. The president owes a separate speech to America's parents. They deserve some straight talk on the state of our public schools.

According to the just released Education Next poll put out by the Hoover Institution, public assessment of schools has fallen to the lowest level recorded since Americans were first asked to grade schools in 1981. Just 18% of those surveyed gave schools a grade of an A or a B, down from 30% reported by a Gallup poll as recently as 2005. No less than 25% of those polled by Education Next gave the schools either an F or a D. (In 2005, only 20% gave schools such low marks.)

Beginning in 2002, the grades awarded to schools by the public spurted upward from the doldrums into which they had fallen during the 1990s. Apparently the enactment of No Child Left Behind gave people a sense that schools were improving. But those days are gone. That federal law has lost its luster and nothing else has taken its place.

It's little wonder the public is becoming uneasy. High-school graduation rates are lower today than they were in 1970. The math and reading scores of 17-year-olds have been stagnant for four decades.

You cannot fool all the people all the time, President Lincoln said. And when it comes to student learning, the public seems beyond deceit. When asked how many ninth graders graduate from high school in four years, the public estimated that only 66% of students graduated on time—slightly less than the best available scholarly estimates.

When asked how American 15-year-olds compare in math with students in 29 other industrialized nations, the public did not fool itself into believing that the U.S. is among the top five countries in the world. Those polled ranked the U.S. at No. 17, just a bit higher than the No. 24 spot the country actually holds.

In another sign of declining confidence, the public is less willing to spend more money on public education. In 1990, 70% of taxpayers favored spending "more on education," according to a University of Chicago poll. In the latest poll, only 46% favored a spending increase. That's a 15 percentage point drop from just one year ago when it was 61%.

But when it comes to actual dollars spent per pupil, Americans get the numbers wrong. Those polled by Education Next estimated that schools in their own districts spend a little more than $4,000 per pupil, on average. In fact, schools in those districts spend an average of $10,000.

One can understand the public's confusion on the dollar and cents question. Schools' money pots are filled with revenue from property taxes, sales taxes, income taxes, gambling revenues, and dozens of other sources. It's not easy to add up all the numbers, and no one does it for the voter except the federal government, which manages to get the information out two years late. When those surveyed are told how much is actually being spent in their own school district, only 38% say they support higher spending.

The public also dramatically underestimates the amount teachers in their state are being paid. The average guess in 2007 was around $33,000—well below actual average salary of $47,000 across all states. When told the truth about teacher salaries, support for the idea that they should get a salary increase plummeted by 14 percentage points.

A presidential truth-in-spending address is definitely in order. Over $100 billion of the stimulus package went to K-12 education, doubling the federal contribution to school spending. A powerful public-school lobby will fight fiercely to keep federal aid to education at these historic highs. President Obama could head off such deficit-driving pressures by sharing accurate information about how much students learn, how much schools spend, and how much teachers are paid.

The president didn't hesitate to tell American kids to take responsibility for their behavior. It's time he delivered that same message to states, school districts and unions.


Australia: Another NSW government school destroyed because of ban on effective discipline

BALACLAVA-clad students jeered as frightened children stood outside the gates of their government high school yesterday with signs reading "Stop the violence". School bullying has become so rampant that parents fearing another Jai Morcom-style death threatened to remove their children from school.

Police have charged two 15-year-old boys with assault and affray after an alleged serious attack on students at Airds High, near Campbelltown in Sydney's southwest. Two students were suspended for 10 days and two others for four days after a brawl that left three teens injured - one with a broken nose.

Yesterday, protesting students shielded their faces with placards. Students worried about bullying plan a mass walkout tomorrow. Parents said the death of 15-year-old Jai Morcom after a schoolyard fight at Mullumbimby on August 29 was a chilling reminder of the potential dangers children faced.

Yesterday, Airds High students said they were "living in constant fear of being next". "All it takes is just looking at someone the wrong way and then you're hit," one student, too frightened to give his name, said.

Students leaving the school yesterday told of a "vicious" culture of bullying at the school. They said the bullying was indiscriminate, with victims targetted regardless of age, race or religion. "It's pretty vicious - people bash each other and call each other names," one Year 7 student said. "The bullies target anyone they think they can get to - they don't hurt people because of race. "But there are always people getting hurt in the playground."

Tracey Ross said she feared sending her son Jacob to school each morning after he was severely bullied by a group of older students. "I was told . . . that not one of these kids is safe between school hours," she said. "Jacob is in Year 8 but the students who were picking on him are in Year 10 . . . he was physically and emotionally bullied so badly that he was removed from school for six weeks."

Rebecca Hoffman said she often felt "scared" for her daughter Danielle in Year 9. "When I saw the (Mullumbimy High) incident on TV I was very worried," she said.

The two 15-year-olds charged after the incident on September 3 will appear in Campbelltown Children's Court on September 28. A Department of Education and Training spokesman said they would be placed on probation on their return to school. [Meaning what? More empty talk]


Thursday, September 10, 2009

America can do better on education

As our nation's students and teachers return to school in uncertain economic times, Americans across party lines agree that a quality education is indispensable to the future of each child, our competitiveness, and our country.

Fully 30 percent of our nation’s students drop out of high school each year and most high school graduates don't complete college. While America was first in the world in high school and college graduation rates 30 years ago, we have slipped back into the middle of the pack among industrialized countries. Our results have stagnated while other nations are racing ahead of us.

As a former U.S. secretary of education and a former majority leader of the U.S. Senate who is now dedicating a substantial portion of time to education reform in Tennessee, we believe America can and must do better. While government has a crucial role to play to ensure quality schools, government can't do it alone. The evidence and our common sense make it clear: a good education also depends on hard work and personal responsibility for learning and achievement from individual students, parents, grandparents, and educators.

That's why we are supportive of the president of the United States – whether it is a Democrat or Republican – speaking directly to our nation's students to emphasize the core American values of education, hard work, and personal responsibility. We are pleased that presidents Reagan and Bush (Sr.) delivered similar speeches when they were serving in the White House in 1986 and 1991 respectively, and that is why we have both delivered similar speeches in many local schools throughout our careers.

Tuesday at noon, President Obama will address the nation’s students on the importance of personal responsibility, hard work, staying in school and getting a good education. Schools and classrooms all across America can tune in to the speech on the web or on television. Although the decision of whether to watch the speech is appropriately left up to individual educators and parents, we encourage everyone to have their students watch and discuss the speech – and find every other possible way they can to underscore the value of education to our children. If parents are concerned about the content of the speech, they can read the speech first (already available on the White House website) and then decide whether or not they want their child to listen to it.

One of the most important steps in turning around our nation’s education system is ensuring all of our children understand the value of education and the key role hard work plays in being successful in school and in life. The more people we have echoing this message, the better off our nation will be. President Obama, both because of his office as president but also because of his compelling personal story, is well-positioned to deliver this message and serve as a role model to students across our nation.

As individuals who have held leadership roles in both political parties, we encourage all Americans to support every effort to encourage children and parents to take ownership of their future. We are excited that President Obama is delivering this message across our nation today, and we hope every president will continue to do so in the future.


Gates brings education message to MTV, Nickelodeon

Students who might be too glued to their televisions to keep up with homework are going to find channels like MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon prodding them to get on task and graduate.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is partnering with Viacom Inc.'s television networks, education leaders and celebrities to launch an awareness campaign to reduce the number of dropouts. The foundation, started by Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates and his wife, has invested more than $2 billion in educational programs since 2000. "People should understand how the system is falling short today and how it really contradicts our commitment to equal opportunity," Gates told The Associated Press. "If we don't change it now, it will hurt the future of the country as a whole." Only one-third of American high school students graduate with the skills necessary to succeed in college and the nation's workplaces, he said.

"All too often, the value and benefit of education are not real enough to kids," said Tony Miller, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. Charities and industry won't have to go it alone; about $100 billion of the federal stimulus package is dedicated to improvements in education, said Miller.

The "Get Schooled" initiative focuses on low graduation rates in college and high school and the accountability of teachers. Gates criticized the practice of salaries rewarding seniority over proven efficacy, calling it a detriment to quality education.

A student drops out of an American high school every 26 seconds, according to the Seattle-based Gates Foundation. At that rate, not enough American children are graduating high school and college to stay competitive in the global marketplace, said Viacom President and CEO Philippe Dauman. "We don't know much about substance, we're about fluff at Viacom," Dauman said with a laugh. The Viacom chief, whose networks also include VH1, CMT, Spike TV, TV Land and Logo, said he told Gates a year ago, "We know kids, we know how to reach them; if you provide the substance we can be the megaphone."

To launch the five-year campaign, the documentary "Get Schooled" was set to premiere on all of Viacom's networks simultaneously at 8 p.m. EDT Tuesday night. The documentary features pop singer Kelly Clarkson, basketball star LeBron James and President Barack Obama, but the program's real focus is on people behind the scenes, like a presidential speechwriter, and how education brought them success.

Dauman said the "Get Schooled" initiative would find its way into plot lines and programs, like BET's documentary "Bring Your 'A' Game," which featured prominent black men who have achieved success. But "we're not going to go to all PBS-type programming," Dauman said. "In order to reach kids, you have to entertain them." Activism is not new for Viacom and its networks. MTV has raised AIDS awareness, promoted participation in elections and led other education initiatives.

At a Los Angeles event to launch the "Get Schooled" campaign, New York City schools chief Joel Klein said he was hopeful the approach would succeed because "trying to get traction with the millions and millions of kids in school is something that's been a challenge." "When you bring the resources and the vision that the Gates family and foundation has, coupled with the distribution assets that Viacom has — the role models, the glitz they can produce — it feels like a good mix of stuff that will capture kids," Klein said.

Klein and others praised the successes of charter schools, which have drawn the ire of union representatives and school officials. Union leaders in Los Angeles say that such schools would decrease the size of districts and that instructors at charter schools are not covered by unions. An e-mail to the nation's largest labor union, the National Education Association, was not returned immediately Tuesday.

Privately operated schools undertook fresh approaches to schooling, had happier teachers and inspired healthy competition in achievement among New York City schools, said Klein. In Los Angeles, the Board of Education approved a resolution that invites outsiders to submit proposals to develop new charter schools, while increasing accountability standards. Private charter school operators, communities and the mayor's office will submit proposals for the operation of 50 new schools that will open over the next four years, as well as 200 existing schools that are chronic underperformers.

Tuesday's event coincided with a speech Obama made in Arlington, Va., that was broadcast to schools across the nation. In the address, Obama urged students to hit the books, saying that success is hard-won and that every student has something at which they excel.


Australia: Literacy hit squads for schools

Trying to pick up the literacy wreckage caused by disastrous and long-disproved Leftist theories that demonize phonics. The "whole word" madness goes back to the psychology laboratory of Wilhelm Wundt in 19th century Germany, would you believe?

And mathematics results are poor because many of those teaching it have no expertise or interest in it. The small number of people who are good at mathematics and who choose to teach it mostly do so in private schools rather than in chaotic government schools. My mathematician son was inspired to a career in mathematics by good mathematics teachers in his private school

FLYING squads of specialist teachers will swoop into 300 Queensland schools next year under a plan to boost literacy and numeracy results. The so-called Turnaround Teams will be deployed to low-performing schools to identify why their results are below average and develop strategies to improve literacy and numeracy levels.

``Some schools may have problems with truancy or behaviour management, others may need extra help with early childhood learning or teaching science for instance,'' Premier Anna Bligh said today.

The teams are part of the State Government's three-year bid to turn around poor results in Queensland schools and will cost $9 million. The program will be trialled at 10 schools in the Wide Bay/Burnett region later this year before being rolled out to the other schools next year.

The 2008 NAPLAN tests _ National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy _ were an embarrassment for Queensland, with the state's students coming second-last, overall, nationally.


Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The great escape

Many of the issues of our times are hard to understand without understanding the vision of the world that they are part of. Whether the particular issue is education, economics or medical care, the preferred explanation tends to be an external explanation-- that is, something outside the control of the individuals directly involved.

Education is usually discussed in terms of the money spent on it, the teaching methods used, class sizes or the way the whole system is organized. Students are discussed largely as passive recipients of good or bad education. But education is not something that can be given to anybody. It is something that students either acquire or fail to acquire. Personal responsibility may be ignored or downplayed in this "non-judgmental" age, but it remains a major factor nevertheless.

After many students go through a dozen years in the public schools, at a total cost of $100,000 or more per student-- and emerge semi-literate and with little understanding of the society in which they live, much less the larger world and its history-- most discussions of what is wrong leave out the fact that many such students may have chosen to use school as a place to fool around, act up, organize gangs or even peddle drugs.

The great escape of our times is escape from personal responsibility for the consequences of one's own behavior. Differences in infant mortality rates provoke pious editorials on a need for more prenatal care to be provided by the government for those unable to afford it. In other words, the explanation is automatically assumed to be external to the mothers involved and the solution is assumed to be something that "we" can do for "them."

While it is true that black mothers get less prenatal care than white mothers and have higher infant mortality rates, it is also true that women of Mexican ancestry also get less prenatal care than white women and yet have lower infant mortality rates than white women. But, once people with the prevailing social vision see the first set of facts, they seldom look for any other facts that might go against the explanation that fits their vision of the world.

No small part of the current confusion between "health care" and medical care comes from failing to recognize that Americans can have the best medical care in the world without having the best health or longevity because so many people choose to live in ways that shorten their lives. There can be grave practical consequences of a dogmatic insistence on external explanations that allow individuals to escape personal responsibility. Americans can end up ruining the best medical care in the world in the vain hope that a government takeover will give us better health.

Economic issues are approached in the same way. People with low incomes are seen as a problem for other people to solve. Studies which follow the same individuals over time show that the vast majority of working people who are in the bottom 20 percent of income earners at a given time end up rising out of that bracket. Many are simply beginners who get beginners' wages but whose pay rises as they acquire more skills and experience. Yet there is a small minority of workers who do not rise and a large number of people who seldom work and who-- surprise!-- have low incomes as a result.

Seldom is there any thought that people who choose to waste years of their own time (and the taxpayers' money) in school need to change their own behavior-- or to visibly suffer the consequences, so that their fate can be a warning to others coming after them, not to make that same mistake.

It is not just the "non-judgmental" ideology of the intelligentsia but also the self-interest of politicians that leads to so much downplaying of personal responsibility in favor of external explanations and external programs to "solve" the "problem." On these and other issues, government programs are far less likely to solve the country's problems than to solve the politicians' problem of getting the votes of those whose think the answer to every problem is for the government to "do something."


British universities 'swamped with students, but no extra funding'

Universities risk being swamped with more students but no extra funding because of government policy, a leading vice-chancellor will tell university heads at a conference this week. Steve Smith, the new president of Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors, will give his inaugural address at its conference in Edinburgh. Professor Smith, who is Vice-Chancellor of the University of Exeter, told The Times that the theme of the conference would be that universities needed support during the recession.

He said: “Whatever government is in power will need a strong university sector. The key point is that if universities are to take more students, it’s essential we don’t see a return to what happened in the 1970s and 80s, with a decline in the funding per student. “It’s essential that in the recession we don’t keep putting in more students without the funding. The bottom line is that, if we keep taking more and more students without funding, the quality of the university experience could be threatened.”

A review is expected to begin this autumn, into whether the £3,145 cap on annual top-up tuition fees should be lifted. It is not due to conclude until after next year’s general election. However, it is expected that the review group will recommend that universities should be allowed to set higher fees, and this would bring in additional income.


More British grade-school children to be educated in "academies" (charter schools)

Thousands of primary schoolchildren will be educated in academies because of a surge in the number of all-through schools opening this term. Eight of the schools, which cater for children from the age of 3 to 18, are opening their doors this week and two more are planned, doubling the number of all-through academies (semi-independent, state-funded schools). Sponsors no longer have to provide £2 million in funding but need to show that they have the skills and leadership to run an academy.

David Miliband, Harriet Harman and Andy Burnham were among 19 ministers from a range of departments who turned out in force to open their local academies yesterday in a show of support for the scheme.

Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, said: “Scrapping the £2 million sponsorship has led to a boom in the number of universities, schools and colleges coming in – so it makes sense to do the same for the voluntary and private sector.” He said that a robust selection process would be used to assess potential sponsors thoroughly, but teaching unions disputed this.

Christine Blower, general-secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “The requirement of interested companies simply having to prove they have the ‘necessary skills and leadership’ to run an academy really does not stand up to scrutiny. “One of the latest academies to open is being sponsored by Aston Villa Football Club. I defy anyone to suggest that a football club can know more about the running of schools than a local education authority. “Where the focus needs to lie is on strategies which will genuinely help children from socially deprived backgrounds, rather than feeding a burgeoning two-tier system.”

The Tories, and some education experts, want to see primary schools become academies. Michael Gove, the Shadow Schools Secretary, said this year that primary schools would be able to apply for academy status within two years of the Conservatives winning a general election. But the Government is reluctant to do this because of the cost implications, and because it does not want to divert focus from the drive to improve standards in secondary schools. A source at the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), said the issue of primary-only academies had been explored and dismissed by ministers, adding: “In particular there were concerns about the large costs involved.”

The primary element of all-through schools is funded by local authorities. Children as young as 3 will be starting at eight new all-through academies this term. They include the Nottingham Academy, created from two secondaries and a primary school. It will eventually become the largest school in the United Kingdom, with 3,600 pupils. Barry Day, the chief executive, who turned around one of the predecessor schools, said: “We’re working with a primary school because our fundamental belief is, if we have children from the age of three, we can do absolute wonders with them. “We serve a very deprived inner-city area. We already have a track record of getting a large number of pupils through to university.”

A DCSF spokesman said: “We back all-through academies where they are part of robust plans to drive up standards. We know that many academies already work closely with their feeder primaries so it is common sense to extend this. Ministers are clear that improving the transition between primary and secondary school is vital in making sure children do not fall back — so there are clear benefits in pupils have seamless continuity during their school careers with shared facilities and coherent leadership, ethos and school policy.”


Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Schools can do better with less money

Budget cuts and demands for improved student achievement test public-school administrators more than ever – but, undaunted, some scrappy innovators are passing that test with an 'A.' -- by CUTTING BUREAUCRACY. Rather unbelievable

When Alberto Carvalho took charge of Miami-Dade County Public Schools last September, his first goal was to scour the district's nearly $5.5 billion budget to find money for teacher raises, which had been on hold because of state funding cuts. He brought together a budget review team – including some outside experts – for a series of weekend number-crunching meetings fueled with buy-your-own-pizza lunches. They were able to cobble together the needed $45 million – in part by cutting overtime and changing food service delivery.

The superintendent recalls feeling "euphoric." But he didn't stop there. Maybe there were more savings to be had if they dug even deeper, he reasoned, so the search continued, line by line. The euphoria was short-lived: The leader of the 340,000-­student district, the nation's fourth largest, discovered he was on the precipice of a financial crisis that previous budget scenarios hadn't projected. Healthcare and other costs had been underestimated, revenues overestimated. It added up to $158 million of imminent deficits. And more state cuts were on the horizon. Raises would have to wait again.

Educators across the country find themselves staring over the edge of some steep financial cliffs these days. As never before, they're squeezed between the twin pressures of budget cuts and calls for improved student achievement. The demand is to do more with less, and it's a daunting one. But even in the darkest shadows of the recession, there are many – scrimpers, innovators, or just plain optimists – who are finding ways to do exactly that.

Mr. Carvalho saw the Miami-Dade crisis as an opportunity for a "budget transformation ... that would increase efficiency and force us to invest more in our core function." His approach, colleagues say, boils down to a keen sense of frugality and common sense. The plan he and his team came up with last fall redeployed administrators to classrooms, whittled down central-office expenses dramatically, and protected teachers' jobs.

The result of the leaner and meaner approach: a healthier budget – with reserves to offset future revenue drops – and impressive academic gains. "The traumatic impacts of budget reductions and the economy have pushed us to do more with less, but also to do better with less," Carvalho says. The district starts its new year Aug. 24 with state grades dramatically improved for many of its schools – including one "F" school earning an "A."

This kind of self-examination and reinvention is what US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is urging districts to do as they receive infusions of federal economic stimulus. The more they spend wisely and innovate, the more money he's likely to send their way. But traditional approaches – laying off teachers with least seniority, closing schools, and cutting back nonacademic classes – may prevail, observe scholars and advocates who follow education trends.

"There are [several] states, like California, where there's a supercrisis and a broad awareness that ... practices are going to have to be dramatically altered in order to cope," says Edward Kealy, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, a coalition in Washington.

Still, while basic savings on everything from cafeteria food to transportation are widespread, many districts anticipating the federal stimulus aren't going beyond stopgap measures, perhaps in hope of maintaining the status quo until the good times roll again, Mr. Kealy observes. "They're in a strange period of [wondering], 'How bad is it really, [and] is it going to turn around over the next year?' " he says. In the meantime, school districts share a common quest to accomplish more with less. How successful will they be?

The Monitor took a closer look at Miami-Dade's transformation – and three examples of individual schools' approaches – to glean creative ways education leaders have been directing dollars in the hope of bringing out better results for kids.

While his colleagues cite Carvalho's methodical common sense, they also note that what he does is not common at all. Out of seven superintendents that chief budget officer Judith Marte has worked for, Carvalho is the only one who has probed the budget line by line and vetoed hotel expenses for professional development or BlackBerrys for employees who didn't need them.

Chief financial officer Richard Hinds, who came out of retirement to work with the new superintendent, offers another anecdote: When Carvalho saw movers this summer clearing furniture out of a central-office space slated to become a new school, he canceled the $12,000 contract and rounded up school custodians, already on the payroll, to do the job.

Last fall, the budget team started at the top, eliminating about 350 positions in the central office (a 20 percent cut), including the seven with salaries over $200,000. More than half were reassigned to teaching jobs or other open positions.

By looking at average costs and best practices in other large districts, they found they could save millions on food and transportation and could cut dozens of assistant principal jobs. They froze hiring and all purchases of nonessential supplies. They trimmed overtime spending by more than $15 million.

Overall, the district cut 27 percent of central-office costs. Miami-Dade now spends less per pupil on those costs than any other school district in Florida, while before it ranked 27th, according to the district's analysis.


MA: Science MCAS stymies many

6,000 seniors still lack passing score Other data show improvements. The response: Water down the requirements, of course

Approximately 6,000 high school seniors are in jeopardy of not graduating next spring because they have not yet passed the new science MCAS exam, state education officials announced yesterday, possibly setting the stage for a new revolt against the 11-year-old standardized test system. The students, members of the first class that must pass the science exam in order to receive a diploma, will have at least two more chances to take the test before school officials face the difficult prospect of barring them from the graduation stage.

Those who do not pass by graduation day would probably have to delay any college plans and return to high school for more science instruction, then take the test again the following February. Or they could instead try to earn a General Educational Development credential, which involves passing multiple tests.

The seniors’ plight surfaced yesterday as state education officials announced the results of the spring’s MCAS exams, which showed progress at most grade levels in most subjects, but a lingering disparity between students from different socioeconomic and racial backgrounds. Although state education officials expressed concern about the failure rate in science, they emphasized that the problem is not nearly as widespread as earlier this decade when passing the English and math MCAS exams first became a graduation requirement, starting with the class of 2003. When those students entered their senior year, 19 percent of them still had not passed one or both of the tests. This year, 10 percent of seniors have not yet passed all three test subjects, with failure on the science exam representing by far the largest chunk.

“I’m always concerned if students are not being successful,’’ Mitchell Chester, the state’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said in an interview. “But I do think holding onto this requirement [passing the science exam] is the right thing to do. It’s important to prepare students for opportunities after high school.’’ Since last fall, as members of the class of 2010 have retaken the exams and passed, they have cut their failure rate in half, from 20 percent.

Chester said the state is working with individual high schools to help students pass the exam this year, but officials also are preparing for an onslaught of requests from high schools to exempt students from the testing requirement.

Last year, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education eased rules for bypassing the science test requirement, in recognition that students often show an understanding of the subject through experiments. As long as students have strong grades in a comparable science course, schools can appeal after the student fails the exam just once, instead of after three failures as is required for English and math appeals.

More here

Britain: Larger sixth forms help students perform better, say researchers

Another blow to the "smaller classes" religion bleated by most teachers

Teenagers studying in large sixth forms perform better on average than those in smaller establishments, research shows. Small primary schools have a reputation for achieving good results, but the reverse may be true when it comes to further education.

Research by the Association of Colleges (AoC) suggests a link between a sixth form or college’s size and the attainment of its pupils at A level and equivalent qualifications.

Martin Doel, AoC chief executive, said: “The poor performance of smaller school sixth forms is a source of concern, as it raises serious doubts about continued political support for an increase in the number of school sixth forms. New smaller school sixth forms do not look like an efficient investment, according to this data, particularly at a time when public spending is so constrained. “This is not a colleges-versus-schools contest. It’s about getting the best for young people in a way that is cost effective for Government — a point that needs to be accepted by all three parties.”

The AoC examined the average Level 3 point scores (equivalent to A levels) per student, which show a difference of 241 points between the largest and smallest school sixth form providers. At schools or colleges with fewer than 50 pupils, the average score was 561, for those with 101 to 150 students this was 657, and institutions with more than 250 pupils had an average score of 802. This excludes independent schools.


Monday, September 07, 2009

Students Borrow More Than Ever for College

Heavy Debt Loads Mean Many Young People Can't Live Life They Expected

Students are borrowing dramatically more to pay for college, accelerating a trend that has wide-ranging implications for a generation of young people.

New numbers from the U.S. Education Department show that federal student-loan disbursements—the total amount borrowed by students and received by schools—in the 2008-09 academic year grew about 25% over the previous year, to $75.1 billion. The amount of money students borrow has long been on the rise. But last year far surpassed past increases, which ranged from as low as 1.7% in the 1998-99 school year to almost 17% in 1994-95, according to figures used in President Barack Obama's proposed 2010 budget.

The sharp growth is "definitely above expectations," says Robert Shireman, deputy undersecretary of the Education Department. "But we're also in an economic situation that nobody predicted." The eye-opening increase in borrowing is largely due to the dire economic environment, which is causing more people to seek federal loans, he says.

The new numbers highlight how debt has become commonplace in paying for higher education. Today, two-thirds of college students borrow to pay for college, and their average debt load is $23,186 by the time they graduate, according to an analysis of the government's National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, conducted by financial-aid expert Mark Kantrowitz. Only a dozen years earlier, according to the study, 58% of students borrowed to pay for college, and the average amount borrowed was $13,172.

Some options for graduates having trouble making payments on their federal student loans:

* Borrowers can request a deferral or forbearance, which suspends payments temporarily

* The extended-payment option makes monthly payments smaller by increasing the loan term

* Income-based repayment means the borrower pays up to 15% of discretionary income each month

The ripple effects for today's heavily indebted young people are becoming palpable. A growing body of research suggests that tough loan payments are affecting major life decisions by recent graduates, forcing them to put off traditional milestones—from buying a first home to even marriage and having children.

Also, the rising levels of borrowing may ironically be contributing to the accelerating cost of college, say some college-finance experts. Loans can give colleges an artificial sense of a family's ability to pay tuition. To some extent, that false sense of security gets built into the assumptions schools make when setting prices, say experts. The idea is that as prices rise, families borrow more and more, spurring prices to rise further, which in turn requires more borrowing. Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, says this phenomenon is playing a role in why tuition grows at about twice the rate of inflation. "Instead of imposing tougher choices" on college costs, he says, it's "easier to raise prices...because this additional loan amount is made available."

These and other impacts are likely to continue to spiral for future generations of tuition payers, college finance experts say. It is unclear whether we have seen the worst of it. Mr. Kantrowitz predicts the rate of increase will slow to 12% for the 2009-10 school year due mainly to what he expects to be a rebounding economy. On the other hand, Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's, says he thinks unemployment rates will be at least as high as they are now, and housing prices will fall further, making it difficult for families to borrow against home equity.

"Growth in student lending can remain very strong, at least through the next school year," Mr. Zandi predicts.

The total borrowing limit for dependent undergraduates who take out federal Stafford loans—the most popular federal aid program—grew to $31,000 this past school year from $23,000. Raised limits in federal loans may have siphoned some borrowing away from riskier—and costlier—private loans, which are now harder to get due to the retrenchment of that business. The move away from these risky loans may be one bright spot in an otherwise frenzied student credit environment, Mr. Kantrowitz says.

Still, students cringe when they think of what they will owe by the time they graduate. Kordi Solo, a senior majoring in journalism at Central Michigan University, expects to owe about $60,000 in student loans by the time she graduates in the spring. She had hoped to owe much less, but her father, a construction worker, has been out of work since last fall. She worries about the ramifications that debt will have on her future—whether it is being able to afford health insurance or qualifying for future loans.

Zack Leshetz, a 30-year-old lawyer in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has $175,000 in student loans from his seven years in college and law school. Lately he has had his eye on the real-estate market. "Everyone says that it's a great time to buy a house," he says. But that is not an option right now, he says, thanks to $800 a month in payments—and another chunk of student loans in forbearance, which means payments are halted while interest accrues. "I find myself living paycheck to paycheck," he says.

He has also been engaged since March, but has held off on marriage. "There's no way I can pay for a dream wedding, or even just a regular wedding," Mr. Leshetz says. "I feel like I'm putting my entire life on hold."

"There are no guarantees about how easily you'll be able to pay off your student loans," says Lauren Asher, president of the Institute for College Access and Success.

These students' experiences are mirrored in research by Mathew Greenwald & Associates Inc. for investment-management firm AllianceBernstein LP. In a 2006 survey of 1,508 graduates under age 35, 39% of college graduates say it will take them more than 10 years to pay off their household's education-related debt. The survey says that this has caused a delay in certain key "rites of passage" associated with adulthood. Forty-four percent of respondents said they delayed buying a house because of their student loans, while 28% delayed having children.

"Loans have gone from being the exception to being the norm for most students," says Mr. Nassirian. He laments that, rather than fixing the problem of sticker price, policy makers typically tweak student-aid programs to make it easier for students and families to continue to borrow more.

Attacking the problem of cost is thorny because it is politically difficult to get all the interested parties -- which include federal and state governments, foundations and private institutions—to agree. "There are so many stakeholders, different explanations at different schools as to what's happening with cost, that it becomes politically dicey," says Christine Lindstrom, higher-education program director for U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which advocates for consumers. Also, colleges can be big employers in congressional districts, making it challenging for politicians who represent them to also take them on. "You're not going to win friends if you're alienating them," she says.

Some Republicans made attempts at controlling tuition increases when they held the majority in Congress. Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon of California championed legislation in 2003 that would have penalized colleges for raising tuition too much by taking away federal subsidies. Though the bill died, he plans to continue pursuing the issue in the upcoming Congress, a spokeswoman says.

Some recent graduates say they wish they had known more about the consequences of debt before taking it on. Lillian Russell graduated from law school at the University of Pittsburgh last year with $181,000 in debt from her seven years in school. She has spent much of the past year looking for work. In recent weeks, she found a job clerking at a small law office. While she settles into her job, she has deferred payments on most of her federal loans, though interest continues to accrue.

"I wish I had considered the long-term impacts of what I was getting into," Ms. Russell says. When she entered school, "the idea was I'd take out the loans, get a job, and pay it back," she says.

It seemed straightforward. But as the economy has soured, "I feel like it's shifted a lot of my life goals," says Ms. Russell, from buying a house to starting a family. "I'm really concerned about handling this obligation while taking on new ones."


Indianapolis Tests Out Education Reform

A confluence of factors favors school choice—for now

The classrooms were full and bustling with activity at Valley Mills Elementary School on the city's southwest side one recent rain-soaked morning. Children smiled and raised their hands, eager to answer questions, and to tell me how happy they were to be in school on a summer day. This was not your father's summer school—punitive and mandatory—but a fresh approach to bridging the achievement gap.

Education reform has long been a popular buzz phrase. But too often it's proven to be a hollow call as the education establishment kills off common sense reforms even while we watch districts struggle with failing schools and low graduation rates. Last year, for example, the district that serves the core of Indianapolis had a heartbreakingly low graduation rate of 47% and half of the state of Indiana's schools failed to meet federal improvement standards in English or math.

But now, as the new school year begins, a confluence of events is making Indianapolis a test case for real reform. Reformers here have dared to introduce a modicum of school choice through charters and have tried to focus the system on the quality of instruction (not just dollars spent) through merit pay. Here, reformers are receiving a bipartisan assist from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, state and local policy leaders, and from a nonprofit organization that's filling the city with education entrepreneurs. The stars are aligned for reform, which means that if it doesn't happen now, and it doesn't happen here, it's hard to image how it could happen.

Take Valley Mills Elementary. I visited the school to see an education entrepreneur in action. Three years ago, David Harris founded a nonprofit called The Mind Trust with former Democratic Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson with the goal of luring new education ideas to the city. One of their successes was on display at Valley Mills this summer. It's called Summer Advantage USA—a five-week pilot program funded by a state grant that selects teachers and provides lively instruction to students in low-income areas. The hope is to help these kids advance by keeping them focused on their studies through the summer.

Summer Advantage is run by Harvard and Yale graduate Earl Martin Phalen. He told me his goal is to bridge the achievement gap between students of different socioeconomic groups by reversing an education tradition that "leaves three months on the table each year." Low-income kids often fall further behind over the summer because their parents can't afford to enroll them in summer programs. Thanks to Mr. Phalen, the students at Valley Mills didn't suffer that fate this summer.

Other steps are being taken to increase school performance across the city. In recent years, the mayor's office has sponsored 18 new charter schools, a trend started by Mr. Peterson and carried on by current Republican Mayor Gregory Ballard. The Mind Trust has brought several national education groups to the city, such as Teach for America. And the state's new superintendent of public instruction, Tony Bennett, is trying to break habits that have long guided school policy.

Mr. Bennett recently unveiled a plan to pay bonuses to top teachers willing to work at the city's worst schools, and to tie their pay to student performance in the future. He also wants to require teachers to have more expertise in their subject areas than they are required to have now.

"Our intent is to be the leader on education reform," Mr. Bennett said in launching his initiatives earlier this year. "The question is not, how much can we do? It is, how do we become the leader?"

But change comes hard. Mr. Bennett has come under fire from local superintendents, unions and education-school leaders who fear, among other things, that merit pay will unravel a seniority system that rewards longevity not quality of instruction. Meanwhile, a group of state legislative Democrats, cajoled into action by urban school leaders, earlier this year tried to pass a bill to curtail the future growth of charter schools in the state.

It was a tough fight that ended in a close victory for reformers and that ultimately highlighted the increasing strength of the reform movement. The measure passed both houses of the legislature but was shelved in late-session negotiations after Mr. Duncan warned that he will be handing out about $5 billion this year to states that show "a deep-seated commitment to education reform," which he partly defines as an embrace of charters.

The fight also underscored the bipartisan push for reform. Mr. Bennett and Gov. Mitch Daniels, both Republicans, routinely praised the Obama administration for challenging teachers unions on merit pay and charters, and for helping shape the debate in Indiana.

And that debate is at a full simmer at Indianapolis Public Schools, which serve the core of the city. Superintendent Eugene White has begun lobbying against collective bargaining policies that prevent merit pay for teachers and make it difficult to fire older, poorly performing teachers. Earlier this year several of the district's "Teacher of the Year" nominees found themselves on a list of teachers who could be laid off if school budgets are cut. The reason top-notch teachers made the list is that it is based strictly on seniority.

"If you are truly going to be fair to urban students you have to provide them with the best teachers they can have," Mr. White told me recently. "You shouldn't have a mandate that says you are untouchable because you have been here longer."

While Indianapolis teachers union President Ann Wilkins promises to fight any attack on seniority rules, Mr. Bennett agreed with Mr. White and told me, "The rules have to be challenged." He isn't alone in that belief. The New Teacher Project, a New York-based nonprofit that has studied Indianapolis Public Schools, recently surveyed district officials and found that 74% of teachers believe the district should consider more than seniority on key staffing decisions.

"That's big stuff," Daniel Weisberg, one the authors of The New Teacher Project's study, told me. It's also encouraging because it suggests support for education reform stretches from the White House to the statehouse to many of the classrooms in this city. That gives Indianapolis a rare moment to build a broad coalition for reform and enact substantial changes. But, Mr. Weisberg warned, the "window of opportunity is a small one." If reformers fail to capitalize on the moment, it will be lost. "Now is the time to think big," he said. "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity."


Britain: Children worse off with classroom assistants

There's no substitute for good teachers and good discipline but I think that this finding should be rather obvious. It is the dummies who get handed to the TAs and it is also of course the dummies who do less well. The study is presented to make teachers look good when it shows nothing of the sort

Children do worse in tests and exams the more time they spend with classroom assistants, according to a major study published today. The report, due to be unveiled at the British Education Research Association conference in Manchester this morning, says the classroom assistants have significantly reduced teachers' stress levels - but had a negative effect on pupils' progress.

The findings are an embarrassment to Labour which has made great play of its achievement in increasing the number of support staff in schools since it came to power. Since Labour came to power in 1997, their numbers have risen from 133,500 to 322, 500 last year.Researchers at the Institute of Education, London University, discount the idea this is because of the low attaining profile of the children teaching assistants work with. They say their survey of 8,000 pupils compared youngsters of similar ability, social class and gender who were with or without classroom assistants.

Professor Peter Blatchford, who headed the research, said one of the key reasons was that less than a quarter of the teachers surveyed had been trained to manage teaching assistants. In addition, only a quarter of the teachers surveyed - and only one in 20 in secondary schools - had allocated any time for feedback on pupils with their teaching assistants.The report also found that - the more time a pupil spent with a classroom assistant - the less contact they had with the teacher.

"While TAs are extremely dedicated - many work extra hours without pay - their routine development to pupils most in need seems to be at the heart of the problem," said Professor Blatchford. "Pupils with the most need can be separated from the teacher and the curriculum.

"The report describes the negative results on academic progress as "troubling", adding: "We found a negative relationship between the amount of additional support provided by support staff and the academic progress in pupils in years one (five and six-year-olds), three (seven and eight-year-olds) and seven (11 and 12-year-olds) in English and mathematics and ten (14 and 15-year-olds) in English."

In national curriculum tests, results showed seven-year-olds given support for between one and 50 per cent of their time at school scored one point less in English (which could be the equivalent of achieving level two - the standard for a pupil of that age - and failing). the difference between those with the most and least support was three points. It was a similar story with maths and in national curriculum tests for 11 and 14-year-olds.

"A consistent view of teachers, when they considered the benefits of support staff for their own teaching and pupils' learning and behaviour, is that the TA's presence allows more teacher attention to the rest of the class and therefore better progress for the rest of the class," the report added.

It went on: "Some support staff are less well qualified than teachers and this might be expected to be related to the educational progress of pupils that are supported..."TAs' subject knowledge did not match that of teachers."

It concludes: "It would seem appropriate to argue that all pupils should get at least the same amount of a teacher's time, and, indeed, that those in most need are most likely to benefit from more, not less."


Sunday, September 06, 2009

UK foundation to distribute textbook that lauds Muslim world's scientific and cultural heritage

This is tired old garbage. The one thing they get right is that the Dark Ages were not uniformly dark. The Christian Greek half of the Roman empire -- Byzantium -- continued on alongside the Islamic imperium for fully half a millennium. They were militarily powerful and the Muslims could not conquer them. It was actually the Venetians who ended up destroying Byzantium. Classical scholarship was at no time lost in the Christian world, though it was largely lost in Western Europe. The Muslims simply borrowed books from the Greek Christians of Byzantium next door. They also took over the learning of the Persian empire when they conquered it. And the scholarship in Spain was mainly the work of Jews. And many so-called Muslim books were in fact the work of Assyrian Christians. There is very little in so-called Muslim civilization that is actually Muslim. It was little more than a patchwork of borrowings from other cultures

An educational foundation in the UK has announced plans to distribute to high schools a free book that highlights the scientific and cultural legacies of Muslim civilization. "1001 Inventions: Muslim Heritage in Our World" is the creation of the Foundation for Science Technology and Civilization (FSTC), a Manchester-based organization set up to raise awareness of the contributions of the Muslim world to modern civilization.

FSTC said the contribution that Muslim and other civilizations have made to the modern world has been widely overlooked and that its team of academics has focused on debunking the myth of the so-called "Dark Ages of Civilization." "The period between the 7th and 17th centuries - which has been erroneously labeled 'the Dark Ages' - was in fact a time of exceptional scientific and cultural advancement in China, India and the Arab world," Prof. Salim Al-Hassani, chief editor of the book, said. "This is the period in history that gave us the first manned flight, huge advances in engineering, the development of robotics and the foundations of modern mathematics, chemistry and physics."

The foundation said it hoped to distribute 3,000 copies of the book to UK schools by October and is seeking public support for the campaign through a sponsorship scheme.

Last month, British evolutionary biologist, popular science author and outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins announced plans to distribute free DVDs to high schools across the UK. "While the Dawkins campaign, supported by the British Humanist Association, positions science and religion as opposing forces, the 1001 Inventions project reminds us that for 1,000 years the religious and the scientific were comfortable bedfellows and led to unprecedented openness to new ideas and social change," the FSTC said.

The foundation said it was not challenging Dawkins with the free book but only wanted to "encourage debate about the relationship between science, faith and culture." It said FSTC has campaigned for school curriculums to acknowledge the scientific achievements of Muslim civilization for more than a decade. "Whilst the Dawkins DVD teaches young people about the experimental scientific method, it fails to point out that it was pioneered by a religious physicist called Ibn-Al Haytham, who saw no conflict in being both a Muslim and a scientist," Prof. Al-Hassani said. The book comes with a DVD, a poster set for classrooms, a free Teachers Pack and lesson plans.

Responding to the initiative Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the representative organization of Anglo-Jewry, said: "Foundations can distribute materials to schools, but that does not mean that schools will or should use them. We would expect the DCSF [Department for Children, Schools and Families] to monitor carefully what is made available to children for appropriateness and balance."

The project has been accused of being Islamic propaganda by a London-based think tank. "This organization calling itself the FSTC is not an educational project. It is a dawah project. That is, it is Islamic propaganda," said Douglas Murray, director of the Center for Social Cohesion, a non-partisan organization that focuses on issues related to community cohesion in the UK.

"There is significant ignorance these days, in the Britain, and the West in general, about our own scientific and cultural heritage. Organizations like the FSTC aim to step into the gap created by that ignorance and claim that the roots of our culture do not lie in our Greek and Judeao-Christian heritage, but in Islamic history."

Murray accused the FSTC of mixing propaganda with scientific history. "There are those who would claim that no good whatsoever has come from the Islamic world, such claims are demonstrably ignorant. But it is also ignorant and indeed ridiculous to mix propaganda with scientific history as the people behind this project seem to be doing."

A spokesperson from the Department for Children, Schools and Families said schools could use the material at their discretion.


An open letter to Notre Dame's president to release abortion protestors

Dear Father Jenkins:

I’m writing you, as president of Notre Dame, my alma mater, with an urgent plea that you drop the criminal trespass charges that have been pending against the many defendants – most of whom are faithful, fervent pro-life Catholics – who “dared” to venture onto Notre Dame’s campus last Spring, 2009, to bear peaceful, prayerful witness to the sanctity of all human life, from conception to natural death.

Among them were at least one priest and several nuns, Norma McCorvey, the “Jane Roe” of Roe v. Wade, former presidential candidate Alan Keyes, two ladies – Jane Brennan, author of Motherhood Interrupted (2008), and Laura Rohling – who preach about healing and hope after abortion in the Archdiocese of Denver, Colorado, and many other non-violent participants in America’s pro-life movement.

Many were praying the rosary or singing religious hymns. The priest – Fr. Norman Weslin, who regularly prays and counsels abortion-bound women about live-saving alternatives outside the Omaha, Nebraska abortion facility of late-term abortionist, Dr. Leroy Carhart – carried a heavy wooden cross and a rosary.

Others carried signs proclaiming that life is sacred, that abortion kills children, and other pro-life messages. All were arrested, handcuffed, and hauled off to jail where they spent the night and sometimes longer in custody. Surely that protracted detention and the humbling impact of a public arrest on trying to enter the campus of America’s premier Catholic university was enough of a penalty to offset whatever “injury” or “insult” these good people inflicted on Notre Dame’s property rights.

So, it was shocking to hear that the charges were not quickly dropped, and an even worse surprise to hear that these good Catholics had to return to South Bend to enter their pleas of “not guilty” and then again to demand jury trials.

When the St. Joseph County prosecutor backed off the latter demand, we were yet more deeply aggrieved on hearing, Fr. Jenkins, that you had responded to a request that the charges be dropped by claiming that “it is out of [your] hands.” With respect, Father, the future of these cases – if they must go on – is squarely in your hands. Notre Dame is the complainant. Its security personnel directed and/or conducted the arrests, pointing out those who would be arrested (pro-lifers) and those who would not (those carrying pro-Obama signs and/or taunting the pro-lifers).

Participation of Notre Dame witnesses will be essential if these 88 cases – all of which are to be scheduled for jury trials – actually go forward. Some defenses that already have been raised by initial trial counsel – e.g., Catholics’ access to the Sacred Heart Basilica on campus – also would require Notre Dame witnesses’ involvement in the trials.

I’m not only a Notre Dame alumnus but also president and chief counsel of a public interest law firm, based in Chicago, the Thomas More Society. We founded the Society over 10 years ago to carry on the defense of a nationwide federal class action lawsuit against pro-life protesters, NOW v. Scheidler. The Scheidler case involved charges that what Dr. M.L. King called “peaceable, non-violent direct action” (Letter from Birmingham Jail (April, 1963)) constituted the federal felony crimes of extortion and racketeering. We won Scheidler only after two decades of litigation and three U.S. Supreme Court appeals. We finally prevailed, with two successive Supreme Court wins, both by decisive, bipartisan margins: by 8-1 (2003) and then by 8-0 (2006).

Notre Dame helped us when we defended NOW v. Scheidler. Fr. Hesburgh wrote letters and agreed to testify as a character witness at the trial. Fr. Joyce sent us many generous donations. Notre Dame law professor Bob Blakey argued our first Supreme Court appeal.

But now the “Notre Dame 88" have asked us to take the lead in their defense. Not to spite Notre Dame but because we love it, we have agreed. America’s civil rights movement is ongoing, and the pro-life movement is its next phase. Notre Dame should not only support this new civil rights movement but lead it. It should honor all who dare to speak out for the dignity of all human beings – born or unborn, wanted or unwanted, humble or exalted – not prosecute them!

SOURCE [I doubt that the make-believe Catholics of Notre Dame will take much notice of this. They are not even religious enough to be called today's Pharisees]

British independent schools score far more A and A* grades at GCSE than do State schools

About two thirds of GCSE exams taken at independent schools this year gained at least an A grade, compared with only one in five in the state sector. The increase in the proportion of top marks at private schools comes as a growing number of independent head teachers abandon GCSEs in favour of more rigorous exams, casting doubt on their usefulness.

Westminster School, London, which leads this year’s independent schools table with 98.1 per cent of all grades at either A or A*, will offer ten subjects as International GCSEs (IGCSE) in the next academic year. “Pupils taking more rigorous IGCSE exams have found them more intellectually stimulating and enjoyable, so they do even better in them [than in GCSEs]” said Stephen Spurr, the headmaster of Westminster.

The IGCSE contains no coursework element and is similar to a traditional O level. It is favoured by all of this year’s Top Ten independent schools but is still not recognised by the Government. Dr Spurr said the GCSE syllabus for some subjects, particularly science, is not challenging enough for pupils at the £19,000-a-year school. “We want them to have reached a level of scientific understanding which is going to help them make informed scientific decisions in the future, even if they are not taking it at A level,” he said. “The GCSE doesn’t allow for that — for the academic level of pupils at Westminster it is too low.”

At St Paul’s Girls’ School, also in London, which heads the independent girls table with 97.3 per cent at A or A*, only maths is offered as an IGCSE. But Clarissa Farr, the school’s High Mistress, said that the school was planning a review of education for 14 to 16-year-olds this year. “We want to be sure that the curriculum provides sufficient challenge for our students,” she said. The school is considering expanding the number of IGCSEs it offers and could also adopt the middle years baccalaureate in place of GCSEs.

Magdalen College School, Oxford, came top of the all-boys table with 97.9 per cent A and A* grades. Tim Hands, the headmaster, said he still believes in the capacity of the GCSE syllabus to test even the cleverest. “They offer a broad base, discriminate between schools effectively and are challenging,” Dr Hands said. “If we have too much change, then young people are deprived of stability.”

Almost 60 per cent of GCSEs and IGCSEs taken by independent pupils were awarded A or A* this year compared with 21.6 per cent of those taken in state schools. Admissions tutors at top universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, have indicated that they value the IGCSE most highly. State schools cannot take IGCSEs and are allowing their brightest pupils to leap-frog GCSEs and take AS levels instead.

One in seven independent schools has boycotted the league tables published by the Independent Schools Council. Among them is St Paul’s School for Boys in London, whose High Master, Martin Stephen, denounced league tables as a “lie”. He said: “The problem with league tables is they compare apples and pears. It’s absolutely idiotic to have a highly selective day school compared on the same basis as a comprehensive entry rural school.”