Saturday, October 03, 2009

Providing balance: America’s homeschoolers

Everyone has a story about the pathetic state of the public schools. But from the government's perspective public schools are anything but failures. Lots of patronage and union jobs assuring a set of reliable serfs who will time after time vote back in the same policy makers; a steady supply of tax-funded income along with built-in excuses for increasing funding ("these kids aren't learning because they don't have the resources," [never, "we failed to teach"]); a new crop of non-critical thinking subjects added to the voting base with each class of "graduates" so-called. With this toxic stew of course nothing meaningful will ever change.

And this rigged system works. Look at who holds power in Congress, in the Executive branch, in the country's large population states. Statists all. Who voted these people in? Well, you know who. The same people who can't make change without computerized registers, who cannot compose proper sentences, who sport body tattoos or piercings in the oddest of places and of the strangest of images, who cry out they're helpless in the face of floods, fires, flus. Want more proof of dumbed-down America? Watch several internet videos of Leno's JayWalking, or just go to the mall.

By and large independent thinkers will never be found in the government's schools. These are after all statist schools; accordingly no one should be surprised when opinion only furthering government policies is taught to the exclusion of all others. Viewpoints espousing that an individual, not some collectivist-minded bureaucracy, might know what's best, are taboo. Yet the individual viewpoint would go a long way in solving many of life's ills. For example, racism would largely be a thing of the past if the statists among us would stop insisting that we all play, whether we want it or not, identity politics which is nothing more than raw collectivist thinking. If we would view each other as individuals and make judgments based, expressed famously by a leader of another era, on the content of character not on the color of skin, then certain societal tensions would be lessened considerably.

But on a micro basis there is something you can do to save your own child. Homeschooling. For the sake of that child.

My son and I home schooled, and as a result he does his own thinking. He does not possess a high school diploma; he didn't have the time, patience or need. His goal was knowledge of those matters which interested him. During the time when his age peers were in high school he was taking no-nonsense courses at Springfield Technical Community College (having outstripped the knowledge reservoir of his home school teacher) or pursuing an interest on his own (in his case, the study of film). In preparing for his transfer to a 4-year college (which he entered as an upperclassman with enough credits for that college's math major) he sat for the GED, the SAT & several SAT II exams, scoring well. From his experience he learned one of life's time-honored lessons: with focus, commitment and a willingness to do hard work, there is reward. But there is no short cut. None. The sooner in life this lesson in maturity is taught to and importantly learned by the child the happier and more rewarding his/her life can be.

Homeschooling has its challenges, some obvious, others less so. But with a dedication to purpose success can be yours. Keep one thing in mind however. No matter how well you may think your child is progressing, until you have independent verification of his/her progress, the child's achievements have little currency in the eyes of the wider world. This may seem unfair but at one time you and your child will come face-to-face with the "bureaucracy" which will demand proof that the child has in fact learned. If you have done your job this will not present any issues. To assure yourself of meeting this end it is suggested that you introduce into your curriculum samples of tests types that independent testing agencies might administer; these are readily available at book retailers. Using SSAT, ACT, SAT I & SAT II, and state proficiency assessment exercises, visual analogy tests, and perhaps some standard IQ batteries benefits the child if made part of your day-to-day teaching as they give the child familiarity with these testing materials. What is more, using a variety of teaching materials is itself helpful. As you will discover different authors approach the same subject somewhat differently, and exposure to different writing styles and approaches should be welcomed.

Here are several of the guiding lights upon which I relied to assure myself that Matthias would be an educated and independent minded person, not one who looks to government to solve problems.

Deferred gratification is perhaps the most important life lesson ever learned by a child. This lesson in maturity is easily imparted in the context of a home school. Understanding future time references and the ability to plan and importantly to see the consequences of chosen paths or decisions are beneficial as this is an essential life problem-solving skill. (Mature adults use it all the time. Why then do governments invariably fail to do so?)

Self-esteem. Telling a child he/she is smart is not the same as his/her having worked at developing a knowledge base, thereby becoming smart and confident through success. And an honest, discerning child knows it. Certainly praise and encouragement should be given when effort is demonstrated and knowledge gained. Expect excellence; children routinely rise to expectations. Deeply discount all politically correct notions. Our goal as parental teachers and supporters is helping children achieve through bona fides instruction and encouragement. In such a petri dish a child's self-esteem develops effortlessly.

Rote memorization is an excellent method of placing factual information into long-term memory such that recall is instantaneous. This method in effect grooves pathways into memory that does not allow for deviation later on when knowing something cold is essential. And to boot it gives the early learner both success and confidence.

Socialization. This criticism of homeschooling is like the Everyone-is-a-Winner-and-Therefore-No-One-Is-Keeping-Score-Any-More foolishness heard on baseball diamonds or soccer fields, just so much hot air. Not only did my son have the opportunities to interact with lots of other children he also met a fair number of adults, including coming with me on occasion to client meetings, where he put into practice the very academic skills he was learning at home.

Accuracy is more important than speed. Speed will come quite naturally as the proper methodologies are learned and as understanding deepens. This lesson is especially important in learning mathematics.

Time-Spent Ratio. To me this was one of the most compelling reasons of homeschooling. Your one hour easily equates to 5–6 institutionalized school hours. Depending on the subject, e.g., arithmetic, math, this ratio may even rise to 1:10. Children's time is equally as important as that of adults. Home schoolers do not waste time on needless tasks which abound in the government schools.

Once children have acquired the skill to read thoroughly they're on the road of reading to learn. With a solid reading skill children can then begin teaching themselves all sorts things, provided of course they are properly guided which is your role. Even as early as first, second and third grade levels, children should experience the joy of freedom to study those subjects which interest them, not topics dictated by a top-down hierarchy.


British government allows exemptions from its toddler dictatorship

Two schools have won the right to opt out of the controversial early years “nappy” curriculum after ministers dropped a commitment that no pre-school child would be exempt. After their successful appeals, the two Steiner schools will no longer be required to meet the Government’s targets, including making children aged 3 and 4 write simple sentences using punctuation or start to use phonics.

The two schools, which are the first to be allowed to opt out, argued that the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) clashed with the Steiner philosophy, which does not believe that children benefit from the formal teaching of subjects such as English language until they are 7. They also do not introduce “electronic gadgetry” until children reach that age.

When ministers first published the curriculum, which contains 69 different measures for the progress and development of under-5s, they made clear that childminders and all nurseries and schools, state and private, would have to implement it. The assessment criteria includes being able to dress and undress, sounding out letters, children writing their own name, and using some electronic equipment.

Victory for the two schools, the Wynstones School in Gloucestershire and North London Rudolf Steiner School in Haringey, means that the 40 or so other Steiner schools seeking an opt-out are likely to be given the go-ahead. Their success has also stiffened the resolve of the many preparatory schools who oppose the curriculum. John Tranmer, chairman of the Independent Association of Prep Schools, said that it would back any of its 600 members who wanted to opt out. “We are keen to support any member in asserting their independence, their right to determine what is best for children in their care. If that involves disapplication from EYFS they will have our backing,” he said.

Critics say such a prescriptive set of measurements is not suitable for young children because they develop at such different rates. Most unpopular is the expectation that children should be able to write a sentence with punctuation by the time they reach 5. Professor Richard House, spokesman for the Open EYE campaign against the curriculum, said that he hoped the victory would open the floodgates for others to opt out. “When schools share the views of these Steiner schools about literacy and numeracy for such young children it will be hard for the Government to treat them differently,” he said. “We hope it will also help form a more general legal challenge against the Government’s decision to set compulsory goals for children below the compulsory age of education.”

He admitted that the Government had made the appeal process so difficult that a school would have to be very determined to see it through. Schools must win the backing of more than half their parents, warn them that funding might be cut and state why they are incapable of meeting each of the targets before they can even get leave to apply.


Head of British private school attacks 'divisive' faith schools

I suspect that this is just a coward's way of criticizing Muslim schools. The Church of England and its schools are almost mindlessly tolerant

The head teacher of one of the country’s leading independent school has criticised the country’s faith schools, arguing that they are divisive and fail to teach respect for other faiths. Martin Stephen, the High Master of St Paul’s, in Barnes, West London, itself a school with a Christian foundation, said that faith schools were too often “founded on fear”.

Dr Stephen was immediately condemned as “dangerous” by the Bishop of London, the Right Rev Richard Chartres. Addressing the Christian Fellowship at News International, the parent company of The Times, in Wapping, East London, Bishop Chartres said: “This is an astonishing statement from the High Master of St Paul’s. They are dangerous remarks for someone to make in his circumstances.”

Bishop Chartres defended the Church of England’s faith schools, saying : “These schools are not confessional ghettos. They serve whole communities.”

Dr Stephen, speaking to The Times at his office in Barnes, said: “I do not oppose faith in schools. I worry deeply about exclusivity.” Dr Stephen, who moved from his former post as High Master of Manchester Grammar in 2004, insisted that he was not opposed to faith itself. He said that the danger of an education segregated along faith lines was that it failed to prepare children for life in a multifaith society. “If a school is to train people for the world they are going to meet, they are going to be walking along Hammersmith Broadway alongside Jew and Christian and Sikh.”

He continued: “It is crucial to learn to carry one’s faith on in an environment where you are surrounded by other people who don’t share it. I would see the faith-school movement as adding to divisiveness in UK society. It cannot breed tolerance, respect and mutual understanding.”

A spokesman for the Church of England said: “Church of England schools have syllabuses that include all the major faiths, so students can engage with faith in all its variety.”


Friday, October 02, 2009

Dick Durbin and D.C. School Vouchers

Do you believe in political miracles?

Low-income families in the District of Columbia got some encouraging words yesterday from an unlikely source. Illinois Senator Richard Durbin signaled that he may be open to reauthorizing the Opportunity Scholarship Program, a school voucher program that allows 1,700 disadvantaged kids to opt out of lousy D.C. public schools and attend a private school.

"I have to work with my colleagues if this is going to be reauthorized, which it might be," said Mr. Durbin at an appropriations hearing Tuesday morning. He also said that he had visited one of the participating private schools and understood that "many students are getting a good education from the program."

Earlier this year, Mr. Durbin inserted language into a spending bill that phases out the program after 2010 unless Congress renews it and the D.C. Council approves. A Department of Education evaluation has since revealed that the mostly minority students are making measurable academic gains and narrowing the black-white learning gap. D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and a majority of the D.C. Council have expressed support for continuing the program.

Mr. Durbin says he still has concerns about how scholarship students are being evaluated. The Senator wants participating schools to administer the same tests to scholarship students that D.C. public school students take. But since the public school test is curriculum-based, and would have to be given in addition to the exams that private schools already administer, some wonder whether Mr. Durbin is simply trying to discourage private schools from accepting scholarship students.

We think Mr. Durbin deserves the benefit of the doubt. Assuming his arguments are in good faith, there's no reason he and his colleagues can't compromise on testing and reauthorize a popular program that extends hope and opportunity to kids whom the public education establishment has ill-served.


British university standards under official scrutiny

Universities face Ofsted-style inspections amid claims academic standards are being dumbed down. Grading schemes and procedures for tackling plagiarism are two areas that need scrutiny, an investigation has found. It also reported that many universities admit international students even though they have not met minimum standards in English.

Plans for an inspection shake-up are outlined today by a high-level panel asked to look into mounting concern over university admissions, standards and teaching. It recommended that auditors visit weaker universities more frequently than the current six years and launch inspections in response to student concerns.

Detailed performance reports will also be available for prospective students, parents and employers for the first time. Currently reports are 'very detailed and technical' and intended for use solely by universities and funding chiefs.

The investigation found that teaching hours and the effort required by students in their own time 'vary hugely by subject area and among institutions'. The report said this was not necessarily evidence of inconsistent standards, but added that more information was needed in an attempt to reverse perceptions of 'poor value for money'.

The panel, led by Professor Colin Riordan, vice-chancellor of Essex University, said institutions must not be 'complacent' when accused of 'serious failings'. Revealing his findings, he said: 'There was no evidence we could find that in the system there are fault lines, but we did find several areas of concern.' His review group made a series of recommendations for boosting public confidence in the system, including an overhaul of inspections.

The proposed new regime bears similarities to the Ofsted system for checking schools. Auditors would also be encouraged to make more focused judgments on institutions instead of the 'extremely broad' ratings currently used. And they would be able to adopt a more flexible approach to the timing of visits and respond to concerns raised by students or academics.

Professor Riordan's panel, commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, warned the current system of six-yearly reviews means problems can escalate before they are addressed. Sir Alan Langlands, of the funding council, said a more public-facing system of audits by the Quality Assurance Agency was the 'next logical step'.

The group also raised concerns over the system for ensuring standards are comparable across universities. This relies on a network of external examiners who look at undergraduates' work and assessment procedures to check grades are fair. Today's report found the system is 'under strain' and needs to be strengthened. There had been allegations of examiners being 'leaned on' to boost grades or ignored completely, it emerged. There needs to be an independent body for whistle-blower examiners to turn to, the panel concluded.

The proposals may concern academics who are sensitive to any imposition of red tape. But they are likely to accept the proposals as part of a wider lobby campaign for higher tuition fees.

Universities Minister David Lammy said: 'Higher education continues to change and evolve, and our quality measures must change with it; we must never be complacent.'


Australia: Hatred of education donors who don't do what they are told

We see below a simple outpouring of hate against successful people. There is NOT A WORD about the reasons why they opposed what others sought. Could it be that conservative businessmen created an alternative to the Left-dominated Melbourne university and did not want to lose that?

A SMALL but powerful group of Melbourne establishment figures, including ANZ Bank chairman Charles Goode, has scuttled a proposal to create one of the world's top business schools. In a deeply embarrassing setback for the star-studded Melbourne Business School board, the donor members who helped establish an independent MBS in the 1980s spurned the directors' unanimous recommendation yesterday to merge with Melbourne University's faculty of economics and commerce.

With recrimination thick in the air, one observer commented: "This is a gigantic f**k-up; it's like the board of a blue-chip company unanimously agreeing to a takeover, only to have their own shareholders vote it down."

Three key players, all called John and listed in Who's Who as Melbourne Club members, lobbied heavily against the merger, which required a change to the MBS constitution that called for a 75 per cent voting majority, The Australian reports. Former ANZ chairman John Gough, 81, former Woolworths chairman and Corrs corporate lawyer John Dahlsen, 74, and MBS founding dean John Rose, 73, mobilised their longstanding business networks. But the critical individual, according to close observers, was Gough's protege, Goode, also a Melbourne Club member, who succeeded him as ANZ chairman.

The 79 MBS donor members, most of them large corporates, were allocated votes according to the size of their contributions. In a poll, 54 of them have a total of 16,512 votes and 25 individual donors retain one vote each. Goode, 71, was critical because he is chairman of both ANZ and the charitable Ian Potter Foundation, each a large MBS donor. No one ever had any doubt where the foundation's loyalties lay - Rose and Gough are also on its board of governors.

The three Johns, as they will be forever known, were said to have marshalled a blocking stake of more than 25 per cent, relying on ANZ, the Ian Potter Foundation, the Dahlsen holding and a couple of other like-minded organisations. The merger resolutions will now not be put to the planned MBS extraordinary meeting on October 7.

For this generation of the Melbourne establishment, the MBS battle was probably the last power play. Consistent with its signature style, there was no one to comment yesterday. Networks were activated, business was conducted behind closed doors, influence was wielded, an outcome was achieved and that was it. Dahlsen, Rose and Gough could not be reached for comment, and Goode is now overseas for two weeks.


Thursday, October 01, 2009

Sweden — the next Germany for homeschoolers?

Home School Legal Defense Association has sent a formal letter of inquiry to the head of a local Swedish social services unit as well as several other Swedish and American government officials inquiring about the case of Annie and Christer Johansson of Gottland, Sweden.

Christer and Annie Johansson are the parents of Dominic Johansson, who was forcibly removed from a plane by a fully armed police unit minutes before the family was due to take off to start a new life in India, Annie’s home country.

The couple had sold all of their belongings and were planning to minister to the poor in India. Annie was also looking forward to reconnecting with her family, whom she had not seen since moving to Sweden with Christer after they married in 2000.

HSLDA President J. Michael Smith expressed concern in a letter to the Swedish Authorities on this case. “If the facts as stated are true, it appears that the family has been subjected to a gross injustice and the best interests of Dominic are not being upheld. This case is particularly alarming in light of a recent proposal to the Swedish parliament to impose severe restrictions on home education.”

In the letter, copied to Swedish ministries of Education, Foreign Affairs, Social Affairs and the Justice Minister, as well as the U.S. ambassador to Sweden and the Swedish ambassador in the United States, Smith has requested that the agency return the child to the family. “If any of the information as stated above is inaccurate, we would welcome correction of the record. If, however, the situation is as I have recounted, we respectfully request that you reconsider your decisions and return Dominic to his family immediately. To do otherwise would be to perpetuate a grievous harm upon the Johanssons.”

Mats Tunehaga is President of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance. In a blog post today at the Swedish newspaper Varlen Idag he noted that the situation is beyond tragic. “Christer Johansson called me again this morning. He was crying softly, obviously in pain and despair. His wife Annie was taken into emergency room—again. She is suffering from a severe trauma, hard to comprehend. Their son has been taken away from them and put into foster care. Why? They wanted to home school their child, 7-year-old Dominic.”

Both parents are Christians and were treated like terrorists, notes Tunehaga. “Annie is from a Christian family in India, and they had planned for some time to move there to live, work and to homeschool Dominic. Due to the harassment from Swedish authorities the trip was delayed. But finally in June this year they were on their way, sitting on the plane bound for India. Then the police came rushing into the plane—as if they were to apprehend dangerous terrorists—and snatched Dominic, saying he is to be taken into care. Can anyone imagine?”

HSLDA Staff Attorney Michael Donnelly has also been in contact with the family. “Christer told me that the family originally planned to move to India in the spring of 2008. They decided they would homeschool Dominic in order to minimize the disruption of pulling him out of school when they moved and also because Dominic requested it noting that the local public school he had visited was too noisy and stressful,” said Donnelly.

Donnelly expressed grave concern over the situation. “This kind of gross disregard for family integrity and simple human decency is becoming the hallmark of countries like Germany, and now apparently Sweden, where the state is more interested in coerced uniformity than in protecting fundamental human rights and fostering pluralism. In Germany, courts have said that homeschooling creates dangerous ‘parallel societies’—an absurd notion that grotesquely turns the notion of pluralism on its head.”

Since homeschooling is legal in Sweden the parents contacted the Swedish Ministry of Education as their son approached compulsory school attendance age. They were informed it was the local principal’s responsibility to assist them with home education and that he would provide materials. Contacting the local school principal, Christer told him that the Ministry of Education had informed him to get in touch with the local school. The conversation was short because the principal informed Christer that the school law required that Dominic attend school.

Christer was surprised by the Principal’s more hostile response when he followed up later after not hearing from the school. “He was very short and not at all in favor of homeschooling. I told him that it was my right under Swedish law to homeschool and that I was making contact with him to make the necessary arrangements and to get the materials. We were planning to leave Sweden in just a month or two. Mr. Eneqvist told me that he ‘didn’t care about my right’ that I didn’t have a ‘right to educate my son like that’ and that he was going to take the matter farther,” Christer said.

This unexpected turn of events caused them to delay their move to India. “I was very upset about this as were my wife and son. We were planning to leave Sweden, and I had promised my wife and son that we would be moving to India, but I felt that I had to stay to make sure that this dispute was resolved properly. I didn’t want to leave Sweden on such a sour note,” said Christer.

The family were contacted by social workers and the school about the requirement to send Dominic to school but decided to wait for more senior officials to respond. They continued to provide formal instruction to Dominic. “Both Annie and I believe in education. We are both very studious. Annie is qualified to teach at the university level, and I had been a teacher in the community before. Dominic is a very bright boy, and so we made sure to provide him with lots of materials that were interesting to him. We started teaching him formally when he was six.” Christer said.

In August 2008 the case reached the local school board. Christer sent a letter to a school board member to ask if they could try to restart the discussion about homeschooling. Christer recognized that he and the principal hadn’t gotten off on the right foot and he was determined to try again. However the board member told Christer she was “too busy at the moment” to meet with him. “She told me that she couldn’t meet with me. I sent letters to the school board that I had a right to educate my son at home according to Swedish law. I called them and tried to get them to meet with me, so we could discuss this. Whenever I received any communication from them all they wanted to talk about was getting Dominic to school. They didn’t answer my other questions or respond to my letters.” ....

The family, currently represented by state-appointed attorneys, is pursuing an appeal to the Swedish Supreme Court in Stockholm. They continue to express their willingness to cooperate with the authorities.

“We have always expressed our willingness to cooperate with the authorities and even to send Dominic to school. We believe we have a right to homeschool our son, and we believe that these social workers have harmed our family greatly. My wife and son and I are under extreme pain from this separation. On his eighth birthday just a few weeks ago we were only able to see him for two hours at the office of the social workers. We are not permitted to call him or write to him. And his grandparents were not able to see him either. In the last three months since he was taken we have only been permitted to see him for a total of about eight hours. We cannot believe that such a thing as this could happen in a country like Sweden. We are doing our best to be kind and cooperative. All we want is to have our son home so we can get back to being a family again,” Christer said....

Donnelly noted that there seems to be an increase in these kinds of attacks against homeschoolers in Europe. “The case of the Johanssons may be the first shot in extending this type of repression to another European country—all in the name of uniformity and conformity. This spectre is raising its head not just in Sweden but in other places including Great Britain, France, Belgium, and Switzerland where there are attempts to impose additional restrictions on home education.”...

In remarks to the World Congress of Families, Michael Farris, founder and chairman of HSLDA and president of, an organization dedicated to protecting Americans from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child by passing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, agreed. “Any nation that severely restricts the ability of parents to choose alternative forms of education, including home education, in the name of creating national unity, cannot call itself a free nation. Freedom necessarily requires the individual to have the liberty to think differently and believe differently than programs instituted by the current rulers of any nation. Educational freedom is the cornerstone for all freedom of thought and conscience.”

More here

House shines light on student bankruptcy

Will Congress at long last fix a mess that it created?

Earlier this week the House held a hearing on private student loans and bankruptcy, shedding light for the first time on a rather unknown yet devastating aspect of student debt.

Did you know that because of legislation dating back to 1976 under the Higher Education Act private student loans are unable to be discharged through bankruptcy? In other words, feel free to run up the credit card and splurge, but take out loans to pay for education? That’s just reckless.

The number of students taking out private (or nonfederal) student loans has increased significantly over the past decade. Private student loans now make up nearly a quarter of the overall market, compared to just ten years ago when they made up a small fraction. This spike is not only due to skyrocketing tuition –the average four-year tuition has increased 30 percent from a decade ago –but also because of the complexity of the financial aid process that leaves many students vulnerable to take out the worst of loans. In fact, many students turn to private loans before even exhausting available federal aid and loan options.

Meanwhile, private lenders capitalize on this confusion, even at times in cahoots with universities, preying on young adults, steering them towards more risky loans.

These loans pawned on students by private lenders are often downright predatory, offering little consumer protections. Private loan interest rates are normally variable, with average interest rates running between 9 and 13 percent, nearly double that of federal loans. On top of that, the flexibility of repayment for private loans are much less pliant, in almost all cases a missed monthly payment results in an automatic interest rate hike of 2 percent, with additional fines and fees to punish borrowers.

And you can imagine that with the toughest job market in decades, coupled with staggering student debt averaging $23,000, students are finding they can no longer keep up with repayment. But unlike federal loans, private lenders do not have to offer flexible payment plans or a forbearance option to struggling borrowers. Why should lenders? When they can maintain hefty profits.

While in truly tough times, students needing to discharge their private loans in bankruptcy are forbidden to. In other words, if you face chronic unemployment, a medical emergency or even die –tough luck, student loan debt will continue to be an albatross.

Congress though may finally be addressing this injustice. This week’s hearing was the first time the issue has been addressed since written into law in 1976! Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) announced he will soon file legislation to give private student loan borrowers more equitable treatment during the bankruptcy process. And in another good sign, House Chairman of Education and Labor Committee, Rep. George Miller is on board as well, stating, "There’s no justifiable reason that the lenders who provide them should be treated any differently than credit card companies, auto finance companies, utility providers, and other creditors.”


"Tough love" welfare policies work -- as quarantining parent payments cuts indigenous truancy in Australia

INDIGENOUS leader Noel Pearson's tough welfare reforms in Cape York, which financially punish the parents of children who repeatedly miss school, have dramatically boosted attendance rates.

A report to be tabled today in Queensland parliament shows that school attendance in one of the nation's most troubled Aboriginal communities, Aurukun, has almost doubled since the introduction last year of the Family Responsibilities Commission in four Cape York communities. The report on the FRC, which links welfare payments to social responsibility, allows a comparison of school attendance in the four Cape York communities that are taking part in the welfare reform trial, one year on from its introduction.

The communities of Aurukun, Coen, Hope Vale and Mossman Gorge are all part of the $48million four-year Cape York Welfare Reform Trial, which is being funded by the federal and Queensland governments in partnership with the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership, founded by Mr Pearson. It aims to tackle school attendance, drug and alcohol abuse, health, child safety, economic development and housing.

The FRC is a key plank of the Cape York reform agenda, with a magistrate and respected Aboriginal community members sitting on a commission that has the power to direct that a person's income be managed by Centrelink. The FRC is notified if a person's child is absent from school three times during a term or is not enrolled in school, if a person is the subject of a child safety report or is convicted of an offence in the Magistrates Court, or if someone breaches their tenancy agreement. The project is aimed at restoring social norms through collective responsibility.

Figures contained in today's quarterly report show that school attendance has increased in Aurukun, which had an average attendance rate of 37 per cent 12 months ago and now is achieving an average rate of 63 per cent, while Mossman Gorge rose from 60.9 per cent to 81.6 per cent.

Attendance at schools in Coen and Hope Vale have experienced a slight reduction, with Coen's attendance rate falling from 96.8per cent to 93.6 per cent, and Hope Vale's attendance falling marginally from 87.6 per cent to 86.9 per cent. Those two communities have remarkably high rates of indigenous attendance compared with poor attendance rates in remote schools across the nation.

The Queensland Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, Desley Boyle, said the commission had been working with local schools, parents and case managers during the first six months of this year to devise ways of getting children to come to school. "I want to applaud all those involved, including parents and community leaders," she said. "As a result of this concerted effort, there are important improvements in school attendance."

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said yesterday research indicated that education and employment made the largest contribution to closing the life expectancy gap. "The latest report from the commission shows a promising upward trend in school attendance, and demonstrates what can be achieved when parents take responsibility for their child's future," she said.

Figures contained in the quarterly report reveal that the commission has been following through vigorously on the punitive aspects of the welfare reform project. Between April and June this year, there were 31 conditional income management orders issued. More than 252 school attendance notices were issued, together with 46 child safety notices, 336 magistrates court notices, and two housing tenancy notices.

Those who are issued with such notices are referred to the FRC, which sits periodically in each of the four Cape York communities. When the FRC receives a referral it typically holds a conference in an informal setting with the notice recipient, who is encouraged to come an agreement with the commission about an appropriate response to the issues that have led to the notice being issued. If the person is unwilling to change their behaviour, the FRC can issue warnings, refer the person to community support services, or order income management.

The FRC is a crucial aspect of the Cape York Institute and governments' efforts to reinforce indigenous community values of respect and responsibility, as well as determining what actions will be taken at a community level to address dysfunctional behaviour.

The federal government has also moved to link school attendance to welfare in certain communities in the NT.

But Mr Pearson's tough model measures to instil social norms have not been popular with all Aboriginal leaders. Indigenous education expert Chris Sarra yesterday slammed government attempts to combat truancy through welfare quarantining as ill-conceived and a waste of taxpayers' money. Dr Sarra said the policies -also being trialled in the NT and scheduled for testing in suburban Brisbane - were ill-conceived because they are based on flawed assumptions. "The assumptions are that parents are actively trying to keep their kids away from school, that parents don't want quality education for their kids, and that schools are the kind of places that are really exciting for every child," Dr Sarra said. "That's simply not the case." Dr Sarra is the executive director of the Queensland University of Technology's Stronger Smarter Institute and is the former principal of Cherbourg primary school.

A fortnight ago, Federal Minister for Families Jenny Macklin and Queensland Premier Anna Bligh announced that a year-long trial would begin in Brisbane's urban southern fringe, which could see parents lose welfare payments if their child was routinely and inexplicably absent from school. The trial will also run in the remote indigenous communities of Doomadgee and Mornington Island and follows a trial in several Northern Territory communities.

The Queensland and Northern Territory trials are separate to the Cape York welfare reform trials.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

More school: Obama would curtail summer vacation

Students beware: The summer vacation you just enjoyed could be sharply curtailed if President Barack Obama gets his way. Obama says American kids spend too little time in school, putting them at a disadvantage with other students around the globe. "Now, I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas," the president said earlier this year. "Not with Malia and Sasha, not in my family, and probably not in yours. But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom."

The president, who has a sixth-grader and a third-grader, wants schools to add time to classes, to stay open late and to let kids in on weekends so they have a safe place to go. "Our school calendar is based upon the agrarian economy and not too many of our kids are working the fields today," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

Fifth-grader Nakany Camara is of two minds. She likes the four-week summer program at her school, Brookhaven Elementary School in Rockville, Md. Nakany enjoys seeing her friends there and thinks summer school helped boost her grades from two Cs to the honor roll. But she doesn't want a longer school day. "I would walk straight out the door," she said.

Domonique Toombs felt the same way when she learned she would stay for an extra three hours each day in sixth grade at Boston's Clarence R. Edwards Middle School. "I was like, `Wow, are you serious?'" she said. "That's three more hours I won't be able to chill with my friends after school."

Her school is part of a 3-year-old state initiative to add 300 hours of school time in nearly two dozen schools. Early results are positive. Even reluctant Domonique, who just started ninth grade, feels differently now. "I've learned a lot," she said.

Does Obama want every kid to do these things? School until dinnertime? Summer school? And what about the idea that kids today are overscheduled and need more time to play?

Obama and Duncan say kids in the United States need more school because kids in other nations have more school. "Young people in other countries are going to school 25, 30 percent longer than our students here," Duncan told the AP. "I want to just level the playing field."

While it is true that kids in many other countries have more school days, it's not true they all spend more time in school. Kids in the U.S. spend more hours in school (1,146 instructional hours per year) than do kids in the Asian countries that persistently outscore the U.S. on math and science tests — Singapore (903), Taiwan (1,050), Japan (1,005) and Hong Kong (1,013). That is despite the fact that Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong have longer school years (190 to 201 days) than does the U.S. (180 days).

Regardless, there is a strong case for adding time to the school day. Researcher Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution looked at math scores in countries that added math instruction time. Scores rose significantly, especially in countries that added minutes to the day, rather than days to the year. "Ten minutes sounds trivial to a school day, but don't forget, these math periods in the U.S. average 45 minutes," Loveless said. "Percentage-wise, that's a pretty healthy increase."

In the U.S., there are many examples of gains when time is added to the school day. Charter schools are known for having longer school days or weeks or years. For example, kids in the KIPP network of 82 charter schools across the country go to school from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., more than three hours longer than the typical day. They go to school every other Saturday and for three weeks in the summer. KIPP eighth-grade classes exceed their school district averages on state tests.

In Massachusetts' expanded learning time initiative, early results indicate that kids in some schools do better on state tests than do kids at regular public schools. The extra time, which schools can add as hours or days, is for three things: core academics — kids struggling in English, for example, get an extra English class; more time for teachers; and enrichment time for kids.

Regular public schools are adding time, too, though it is optional and not usually part of the regular school day. Their calendar is pretty much set in stone. Most states set the minimum number of school days at 180 days, though a few require 175 to 179 days. Several schools are going year-round by shortening summer vacation and lengthening other breaks.

Many schools are going beyond the traditional summer school model, in which schools give remedial help to kids who flunked or fell behind. Summer is a crucial time for kids, especially poorer kids, because poverty is linked to problems that interfere with learning, such as hunger and less involvement by their parents. That makes poor children almost totally dependent on their learning experience at school, said Karl Alexander, a sociology professor at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University, home of the National Center for Summer Learning.

Disadvantaged kids, on the whole, make no progress in the summer, Alexander said. Some studies suggest they actually fall back. Wealthier kids have parents who read to them, have strong language skills and go to great lengths to give them learning opportunities such as computers, summer camp, vacations, music lessons, or playing on sports teams. "If your parents are high school dropouts with low literacy levels and reading for pleasure is not hard-wired, it's hard to be a good role model for your children, even if you really want to be," Alexander said.

Extra time is not cheap. The Massachusetts program costs an extra $1,300 per student, or 12 percent to 15 percent more than regular per-student spending, said Jennifer Davis, a founder of the program. It received more than $17.5 million from the state Legislature last year. The Montgomery County, Md., summer program, which includes Brookhaven, received $1.6 million in federal stimulus dollars to operate this year and next, but it runs for only 20 days.

Aside from improving academic performance, Education Secretary Duncan has a vision of schools as the heart of the community. Duncan, who was Chicago's schools chief, grew up studying alongside poor kids on the city's South Side as part of the tutoring program his mother still runs. "Those hours from 3 o'clock to 7 o'clock are times of high anxiety for parents," Duncan said. "They want their children safe. Families are working one and two and three jobs now to make ends meet and to keep food on the table."


British school admissions reforms 'failing'

A £15m Labour plan to get poor pupils into the best state schools has had a “minimal effect”, according to research. But if it had succeeded, the schools concerned would no longer be "best". Feral students will destroy any school in the absence of strict discipline and strict discipline is a distant memory in British schools

The reforms – introduced in 2006 – have benefited less than one child in 100 and are just as likely to help pupils from middle-class families, it was disclosed. Every local council in England is required to run a team of “choice advisers” to make the school admissions system fairer.

Under plans, they are supposed to advise parents about secondary school admissions policies, help them fill out forms and provide information on uniform policies, the curriculum, term dates, travel details and understanding league tables and Ofsted reports.

Launching the programme four years ago, ministers said they would “have a real impact on ensuring that all parents are armed with the information they need to find the right school for their child”. They were introduced alongside a more stringent system of school admissions rules to stop head teachers selecting bright pupils from middle-class backgrounds.

But a study by Sheffield Hallam University said the high-profile reforms had an “incommensurate” impact. “The proportion of children benefiting from the service is, and in any likely policy context could only ever be, tiny,” it said. “While it substantially benefited a small group of parents, some of whom were very needy, it had a minimal effect on the numbers of poorer parents gaining entry to the more popular schools.”

This year, one in six children failed to get into their preferred secondary school. In some areas, such as London, where parents face the stiffest competition for places, up to half of 11-year-olds missed out.

Researchers led by Professor John Coldron, from the centre for education and inclusion research, studied the impact of choice advisers in 15 local authorities. The report said 73,000 children transferred between primary and secondary schools in the affected areas but only 602 had contact with a choice adviser. It represented 0.8 per cent of parents, but only half of those were from the poorest families, the study said.

Researchers suggested other parents taking advantage of the additional help were from middle-class backgrounds. “We dubbed them ‘well-informed, but anxious’,” said Prof Coldron. “They were parents who wanted to ensure no stone was left unturned in their attempt to make sure children got into the best schools.”

The report said the initiative had failed because it ignored the fact that postcode was the “main driver” of school “segregation”. It suggested that – even with the help of advisers – many poor families could not get into the best state schools because they did not live in the catchment area. The study also found that many parents did not want to send children several miles to sought-after schools, preferring the local comprehensive irrespective of quality. "While the choice advice service has delivered a valuable service to a few needy families, the proportion helped was so small it could not make any significant impact on the larger process of segregation of schools and therefore had a minimal impact on the fairness of admissions," it found.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "We’ve outlawed covert selection and given all parents a fair and equal chance to get into a school of their choice through the mandatory admissions code. Choice advisers target families that need the most help with the application and appeal process – it was never designed to deliver fair access for all parents so it is disingenuous for this research to claim it was.

"Parents now have more choice because there are undeniably more good schools and standards have gone up across the board.The vast majority of parents will get a place at a school of their choice - most at their first choice school. We have given the admissions watchdog real teeth to police the system and crack down on unfair admissions.”


Australia: Only one State is set to use the best method of teaching kids how to read

The amazing defiance by teachers of all the research evidence shows how deeply they are involved with the most destructive elements of the Left: Simplistic theories must triumph, no matter how much havoc they cause. And the havoc wreaked on literacy has been extreme, with many kids years behind where they could be in reading ability.

FOUR years after the national inquiry into teaching reading, one Australian government has finally embraced the key recommendation that children be taught the sounds that make up words as an essential first step in learning to read. The NSW government has released literacy teaching guides incorporating the latest research evidence on the best way to teach reading. The guides mandate that children from the first years of school be explicitly taught the sounds of letters and how to blend and manipulate sounds to form words in daily 10 to 20-minute sessions.

The guides set out key principles for teachers to follow in reading instruction, stipulating that phonics need to be taught to a level where children can automatically recall the knowledge. They also debunk "common myths" about phonics that "have almost become accepted as truths", including that "phonics knowledge is caught, not taught" or that having a sound of the week is an effective way of teaching. Devised in response to the 2005 national review on teaching reading, the NSW guidelines were yesterday lauded as the benchmark for the rest of the country.

A bitter debate has raged for the past three decades over the teaching of reading, with the proponents of phonics pitted against those favouring the "whole language" method, which emphasises other skills instead of sounding words.

Whole language advocates encourage students faced with an unfamiliar word to look at the other words in the sentence, the picture on the page or the shape of the letters rather than by "sounding out" the word. The national review, released after an inquiry led by the late educational researcher Ken Rowe, was one of three large international studies in the past decade to examine all the evidence about teaching reading, including an earlier US report and Britain's Rose report, completed in 2006.

All three reviews concluded the same thing, that teaching children phonics and how to blend sounds to make words was a necessary first step in learning to read, but not the only skill required.

The Australian inquiry was prompted by a letter from reading researchers and cognitive psychologists, many based at Macquarie University, concerned about the state of literacy teaching in the nation. One of the signatories to the letter, Macquarie University professor Max Coltheart, yesterday said the NSW guides were entirely consistent with the recommendations of the reading inquiry and that "Ken Rowe would have been delighted". Professor Coltheart called on the other states and territories to follow NSW's lead.

Jim Rose, author of the British report and now reviewing the English primary curriculum for the British government, praised the NSW guides for "establishing the essential importance of phonics". "It provides some firm guidance for principals and teachers rather than leaving them to reinvent reading instruction, school by school," Sir Jim said.

The assistant principal and kindergarten teacher at Miranda Public School in Sydney's south, Susan Orlovich, has already started using the guides in teaching her students. "For the first time, we have really clear materials and guidelines for setting up an early literacy program that's integrated and balanced but ensures we also teach phonics and phonemic awareness explicitly and systematically," she said. Ms Orlovich said the guides had struck the right balance between teaching the skills necessary to sound out words and decode the alphabet, and comprehension with students being able to write their own words. They also gave teachers strategies for students at different stages in recognition that some already understand the phonemic basis of language.

"Some kids can learn with whole language, and make those connections and do phonemic substitution, so if they know how to write 'look', they can write 'book'," she said. "Some kids are able to make that substitution without being taught, but for other students, you need to teach them explicitly, make it visual for them."

In an interview with The Australian during a visit to Australia last week, Sir Jim said the simple view of reading was that it had two dimensions, comprehension and word recognition. While teaching sounds is often denigrated by the whole language side of the reading debate as a decoding skill unnecessary to be able to read, Sir Jim said it was essential children knew how the alphabet worked and that it was a code to be understood. "It's not just barking at print, although that is a stage you go through," he said.

Professor Coltheart, said he understood the new national English curriculum being written would include extensive material on the teaching of phonics in the early years of school, including phonemic awareness in the first year. "This alignment between the national curriculum and the NSW guides for teachers is going to be of enormous benefit for the state's young children. I hope other states will be following in NSW's footsteps," he said.

Sir Jim said the reading debate was a false dichotomy and the two sides had more in common than the extremists were prepared to recognise. "A picture has emerged from the research that is overwhelmingly clear; I can't see any conflict, they're closer than they admit," he said. "I don't understand why they can't accept good evidence that would enrich both sides."

The NSW Education Department has produced two guides, one focused specifically on phonics and a companion guide on phonemic awareness, or the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds that make up words. In response to the myth that phonics knowledge is "caught, not taught", the guide says letter-sound correspondences are arbitrary and therefore difficult to discover without explicit teaching. "Left to chance or inference alone, many students would acquire phonics knowledge too slowly or fail to learn it at all," it says.

Another myth debunked is that teaching phonics impedes student comprehension by having them rely too much on "decoding" rather than "reading for meaning", resulting in students "barking at print" without understanding what they're reading. "Effective phonics teaching supports students to readily recognise and produce familiar words accurately and effortlessly and to identify and produce words that are new to them. Developing automatic word recognition will support and enhance students' comprehension skills," the guide says.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Costly Lessons in America

How traditional universities rip students off


In a typical year over the past generation, the cost of attending college has risen at about double the rate of inflation. Family incomes have not kept pace. And despite huge increases in federal financial assistance, the proportion of lower-income Americans in the college population has actually declined over the past 30 years.

The other sector that has seen comparable inflation over the past generation is health care, and this is no accident. In both sectors, government intervention largely neuters the ability of markets to allocate resources efficiently, by establishing third parties (neither consumers nor producers) that pay many of the bills. When that happens, the consumer is not very sensitive to prices, and consumes wastefully. For these and other reasons, a good argument can made that we are overinvested, or at least mal-invested, in higher education.

Compounding the problem, over 90 percent of American higher education is nonprofit. Nonprofit institutions lack incentives to be efficient. The officers of for-profit entities work hard to do two things: increase revenues and reduce costs. But there is no well-defined bottom line in nonprofit higher education. Is Yale having a good year in 2009? Who knows?

For-profit corporations compete to win new customers and despair when they lose market share. But in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, higher scores come from turning customers away — in the form of a lower acceptance rate. Supply therefore tends to be rigid and unresponsive to demand at many of the nation’s best-known colleges and universities. Moreover, with third parties paying part or all of the bills (via government and private “scholarships,” subsidized loans, and subsidies of institutions), schools can often raise fees without dire financial or academic consequences. In particular, they sock it to more affluent customers — whose financial condition they know in exquisite detail, thanks to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which requires a level of disclosure unique in American consumer life.

The supply of educational institutions is itself rigid. Accreditation organizations have restricted the ability of innovative education entrepreneurs to enter the market. The for-profit higher-education sector costs less and, perhaps ironically, disproportionately serves the low-income, first-generation university students whom premier universities have largely abandoned.

In addition, perverse incentives for administrators and students often increase costs. It is often ambiguous who actually runs the school — the university trustees? Top administrators? Faculty? Students? The alumni and major donors? Tenured faculty and their deans usually control the curriculum and can make life miserable for university presidents. The presidents, to buy peace, give the faculty nice salaries and benefits, light teaching loads, and good parking, and maintain low-demand academic programs that should be axed. Students are given fancy country-club-like facilities in which to live and play, and a curriculum of decreasing rigor (average GPAs on a four-point scale have risen from about 2.5 to around 3.1 or 3.2 over the past 50 years), as well as the opportunity to lead lives focused on partying, booze, and sex. The alumni’s favorite collegiate entertainments, typically sporting events, are heavily subsidized. In short, everyone who is part of the “shared governance” of universities is paid off. To make things worse, decisions are often made by committee in a costly, bureaucratic fashion.

Allow me to offer a personal anecdote of university inefficiency at work. In a weak moment a quarter of a century ago, I agreed to be a department chairman. I conned my dean into letting me hire a new faculty member, meaning that 17 people now did what 16 had done before. In other words, the department’s productivity fell — yet I was nicely rewarded for my efforts, since my compensation was based partly on peer evaluations and my colleagues were grateful to have less work. (In what other business do employees have partial control over their boss’s salary, and even a say in who their boss is?)

Universities do little to measure what students learn, and it is hard to assess the value of their research, so good estimates of academic productivity are hard to come by. Nonetheless, under almost any reasonable assumptions, it is lower than it was 40 years ago — and it is certainly not higher. Yet over the past 30 years or so, the number of non-instructional university employees, adjusted for changing enrollment, has roughly doubled. My university has a sustainability coordinator, a recycling coordinator, and umpteen diversity and public-relations specialists — almost none of whose posts existed when I began teaching. How much do they improve the instructional and research programs? Not at all.

Speaking of research, much of it achieves only trivial refinements of insignificant issues, and is produced for a nearly nonexistent audience. Jeff Sandefer of the Acton School of Business estimates that an academic-journal article costs on average $50,000 — and is read by 200 people. That’s $250 per reader. Mark Bauerlein of Emory University notes that over 22,000 articles about the works of Shakespeare have appeared since 1980. Are there that many new and insightful thoughts to be had about the Bard? Have not diminishing returns set in — for this topic and many others?

More generally, statistical analysis from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity suggests that the correlation between economic growth and state-government appropriations for higher education is negative — i.e., resources are taken from the highly productive for-profit sector and reallocated to relatively inefficient universities, retarding growth. As the late Milton Friedman said to me a few years before he died, perhaps he was wrong in his early writings, and instead of subsidizing higher education we should tax it.

The solutions? Reduce, do not increase, the federal student-loan programs that have raised both demand and prices. Give money directly to students, rather than to institutions, and restrict aid programs to those who are truly needy and perform well (40 percent of students do not graduate within six years; support should be cut off after four years of full-time undergraduate study). Substitute a system of good consumer information for most of the current accreditation process, which stifles competition. Make it easier for students to transfer between institutions, and favor lower-cost community colleges that are not as afflicted with the ailments described above. Develop non-university programs for certifying vocational competence — for example, tests similar to the CPA examination.

More radically, a strong case can be made that higher education is a truly private good, that the positive spillover effects of universities are vastly overrated or even nonexistent, and that government should get out of higher education altogether. In short, we should implement roughly the opposite of the strategy favored by policymakers in Washington and most of our states.


British science uptake figures are 'science fiction', says report

Lies never stop from a Leftist regime

Labour has been accused of fiddling the figures on the number of students studying science and maths, covering up the nation's skills crisis. The Government has trumpeted a "significant increase" in the numbers of pupils taking separate GCSEs in physics, chemistry and biology.

But a new report claims the rise is accounted for, in part, by the growth in the number of 16-year-olds, while the proportion studying science A-levels has dropped since 1997. At university level, big increases in the number of undergraduates studying science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects are also a "fiction", according to the study.

The Government now includes as "science", courses such as nutrition and complementary medicine, geography studies, sports science, nursing and psychology, even though in dozens of universities it is classed as an arts degree. "The Government is deliberately trying to make the statistics on STEM subjects appear better than they really are," said Anna Fazackerley, the head of education at the Policy Exchange think tank, which produced the report. "This must stop. We must have a sound picture, based on consistent and meaningful data, of what is really happening to these skills in our schools and universities."

Industry experts insist that Britain need more science skills if it is compete internationally. According to the Confederation of British Industry, 92 per cent of firms across all sectors require employees with science, technology engineering and maths skills but nearly two thirds have problems finding them. By 2014, there will be more than two million extra jobs which need STEM skills.

Ministers have acknowledged their importance and in 2007 designated STEM as "strategically important subjects" to the economy. Since then, they have claimed success in boosting the numbers studying the subjects. But the new report, due to be published tomorrow, said the figures do no stand up to scrutiny.

In 2006, Gordon Brown pledged that all children achieving high grades in science tests at 14 would be "entitled" to study three separate sciences at GCSE. But less than half of state schools entered at least one pupils for the traditional science GCSEs last year. [Not even ONE student!] The percentage of pupils studying three separate sciences barely improved from 1997 to 2007, rising from 6 per cent to 8 per cent. Instead, the vast majority of pupils take a single science GCSE which focuses on scientific literacy and issues that are in the public eye, such as global warming and mobile phone technology.

Teachers and academics warned that the qualification, taken for the first time in 2008, was a "dumbed down" version, needing little scientific knowledge and understanding. One question in a recent science paper asked "why is wireless technology useful?" - the correct answer was: "no wiring is needed". Earlier this year, the exam regulator Ofqual admitted there were serious problems with the exam and ordered it to be redesigned.

At A-level, the percentage of pupils taking biology, chemistry and physics has actually fallen since 1997. In 2008, 6.5 per cent of students were studying biology, down from 7.2 per cent in 1997, while 4.9 were studying chemistry, down from 5.5 per cent. The proportion studying physics fell from 4.3 per cent to 3.3 per cent in 2008.

University level STEM subjects seemed to be rising. The number enrolled has grown from 370,000 to 515,000 in just over a decade. Even when converted to a percentage, they are still increasing, from 38 per cent in 1997 to 42 per cent in 2008. But analysis by the think tank shows that study of the traditional subjects of biology, chemistry and physics has barely changed over this period. Biology has actually fallen, from 13,923 students in 1997 to 12,515 in 2008. The dramatic increase in science numbers has been driven partly by the growth in new subjects and the manipulation of what counts as science.

The Government's classification is now much broader and includes subjects such as sports science, forensic science and complementary medicine. Psychology students have been included as "biological science" students since 2003, adding more than 13,000 students to the STEM total. Even students at universities which classify psychology as an arts degree are included.


Britain: University terms begins again, and the Chinese are back

I was in Sainsbury’s yesterday afternoon. Looking around me I might have been in Guangzhou Tesco. The occasional foreigner (as they will insist on calling us, even in our own country), but otherwise wall-to-wall the sons and daughters of the Middle Kingdom. And then I remembered; it is the end of September, and I live in a small university town.

Yes, around this time of year we go Chinese. I merely observe; I have no racist reactions, and nor does anyone else. Firstly, this is the era of globalisation; virtually a quarter of the world’s population is Chinese, and why shouldn’t that be the case here? Secondly, these are all bright and valuable undergraduate and postgraduate students; they’re not on the dole, and if you get beaten up late at night it won’t be one of them who does it. No doubt they keep our university afloat with the fees they pay. (Economists often complain about the high Chinese savings rate; I wonder if they realise what a large proportion of those savings go to British and American universities, to educate the savers’ grandchildren.)

The strange thing is that Chinese universities are riding high in the world rankings. Only the very best UK/US places of learning can compete with the best of Beijing and Shanghai. So why are so many Chinese parents so keen to send their kids to our universities?

Partly, of course, because the top universities in Beijing and Shanghai are not so easy to get into. The word is that it doesn’t exactly depend on school results. Natives of those cities enjoy a built-in advantage, and good connections also help. Chinese who don’t enjoy these advantages feel better off sending their kids to Western universities than second-rate Chinese ones. Western education, you see, still carries a certain innate cachet. In a society where “face” is everything, it’s interesting to see that our products are seen as automatically superior, however debased we may sometimes feel it is. The Chinese theoretically believe their culture is superior to all others; but they are voting with their feet, or at least their children’s and grandchildren’s feet – and long may it remain so.


Monday, September 28, 2009

America’s institutions of higher learning: The idiot factory

Did you know our public universities are producing idiots? PajamasTV’s Steven Crowder goes undercover exposing UC Berkeley’s liberal bias and the indoctrination underway in its classrooms. You won’t believe the hilarious and alarming interactions Steven has with the Berkeley students.

You’ll notice that the most popular president on the campus of UC Berkley is Abraham Lincoln (probably the most hard-to-miss president in U.S. history). Most aren’t sure what political party he belonged to. (Remember, these are college-educated people at a top-rated university–explains a lot, doesn’t it?)

When it comes to the Great Depression (wow!), you know, “the first one,” there isn’t a wealth of knowledge about its causes at this high-rated institute of higher learning. There is also a dearth of knowledge about firearms and the Second Amendment.

Here’s one of my favorites: “The Second Amendment was written in a very different time, socially. It was a time when people lived mostly rural lives, and it was also a time after a huge rebellion against an ‘unjust’ government.” When Crowder asks him about his gesture of quotations around “unjust,” the kid replies, “There were some pressures put on the American people that maybe were unjustified but I also think that those revolutionary people in American history were maybe blowing those issues up a little more.”

There you have it from the young voice of the Left: the United States shouldn’t even be here, because the founders made a mountain out of a molehill. (I wonder if he’s read the Declaration of Independence for himself).

This would actually explain a lot about liberals. If they look at the abuses of the people by a king thousands of miles away and say “Chill, bruh,” then perhaps it’s no wonder they look at the abuses of our own government and its attacks on freedom and say, “What’s the big deal, dude?”

(Don’t forget to look at some of the ultra-Leftist tshirts on some of these recipients of too much of someone else’s hard-earned money)

SOURCE. (See original for video)

Some British students go to America for more generalist degrees and keener teaching

Growing numbers of school-leavers are going to the United States to take their degrees because of “apathetic teaching” and “faceless, sprawling campuses” at too many British universities, a leading head teacher will warn this week. Andrew Halls, headmaster of King’s college school in Wimbledon, south London, believes there is a “growing sense of panic” about whether British universities are places of learning or “vocational conveyor belts” for job applicants.

The vehemence of his comments is rare among head teachers, who are often deterred from speaking publicly by fear that negative remarks may damage the university chances of their pupils. Halls, whose independent school is ranked 18th in the country in The Sunday Times Parent Power league table, will make his comments at a conference he is hosting to promote American higher education.

Halls is among those who believe American universities, usually with more lavish facilities than those in Britain, often give a far broader education: “I was at a meeting where a UK admissions tutor told hundreds of pupils that his university had ‘no interest whatsoever’ — his words — in anything beyond their academic ability.”

He will add in his speech that British universities have been “bullied [by the government] to the very edge of a precipice”. He will warn of grade inflation, “dumbed-down teaching, often provided by dumbed-down graduates” and “worst of all, apathetic teaching, often in groups so large no one actually knows if you are there or not”. “No wonder so many boys and girls at our schools are beginning to say, ‘Does it have to be like this?’,” Halls will say.

Fears about quality have been highlighted by a Commons report and by student protests at universities such as Bristol and Manchester.

However, a report this week by the Higher Education Funding Council for England is expected largely to clear universities of “systemic” failings, finding most claims of poor standards are anecdotal. It will nevertheless recommend that parents and applicants should be given clearer information on how courses are taught and suggest changes to the way the quality of degrees is policed.

The growing popularity of American degrees, particularly at Ivy League universities, is reflected in new figures. At St Paul’s, the boys’ school in London ranked seventh by The Sunday Times, a record 28 of this year’s leavers have gone to America, up from about 20 last year. St Paul’s girls’ school sent 14 pupils to the US, twice the total two years ago.

Other independent schools reporting steady growth in interest include Cheltenham ladies’ college, where 18 pupils have applied to study in the United States next year, a 50% increase on this year. Ten are applying from Halls’s school for entry next year, up from seven. At Wellington college in Berkshire, which is co-hosting Halls’s conference, 25-30 pupils have expressed strong interest in studying in the US next year, up from 15.

There is growing state sector interest. At Monkseaton high school in North Tyneside, six pupils plan to apply, up from two last year. It came to prominence in 2000 when Oxford’s rejection of Laura Spence, a pupil there, resulted in a political row over “university elitism”. Spence went to Harvard.

US universities are reporting growing interest from Britain — Yale received 308 applications for entry this year, up from 257 the year before. It gave places to 26. Harvard reports a rise in state sector applicants.

Britons studying in the US include Felix Cook, a pupil at Wellington who turned down a place at Oxford, in favour of a liberal arts degree at Harvard. A month into the course he is enjoying the breadth of study: “I’m doing English literature but I’ve also got the chance to do Mandarin and sociology. I’ve met a much more diverse range of people than I would at Oxford.”

Celia Harrison, a former Cheltenham pupil now at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, said she found the range of activities “inspiring” although going there was a “major culture shock”. [I believe that!]

One deterrent to studying in the US is financial. Harvard costs more than £40,000 a year in fees and accommodation. But lavish bursaries are available at the richest institutions and even families with incomes of £120,000 have to pay only about £12,000 of the cost at Harvard.

Stephen Spurr, headmaster of Westminster school, which sent 12 pupils to the US this year, said: “As fees go up in this country, as they almost inevitably will do, the gap between the cost of studying in the US and here will narrow still further.” However, Paul Ingham, head of careers at Hills Road sixth form college in Cambridge, warned: “There’s a lot of interest, but when the universities tell you about the scholarships they offer they don’t say how difficult it is to get them.”


Unruly British pupils 'expelled by the back door'

The appalling British school discipline scene again

Schools are expelling thousands of children “by the back door” to ensure they do not appear in official statistics, it has been disclosed. Up to 7,000 pupils a year are transferred to other schools as part of a “managed move”. It is almost the same as the number of children permanently excluded every year – suggesting the real expulsion rate is around twice the official total.

Parents’ groups claim that unruly children are being foisted onto other schools to give the false impression that behaviour is under control. It is also feared that the most disruptive pupils are not being given the support they need. Figures suggest as many as a quarter of children shifted to other schools are eventually forced to move back.

Adam Abdelnoor, a child psychologist and founder of Inaura, a charity promoting policies to keep pupils in school, said: “Heads have to stop passing the buck.” So-called "managed moves" – when pupils are transferred between schools – are supported by many headteachers. They see them as cheaper, less time-consuming and less bureaucratic than permanent exclusions, which can be challenged and overturned.

But pupils transferred in this way do not count in official exclusion data, suggesting figures are being kept artificially low. In 2007/08 just 8,130 primary and secondary school children were expelled in England – a fall of more than 4,000 in a decade.

Ministers claim the reduction is due to Government behaviour initiatives and the use by schools of the "short, sharp, shock of suspension" which "nips problem behaviour in the bud". But research by Mr Abdelnoor suggests figures could be much higher. He surveyed almost 300 schools and more than half conducted managed moves. Extrapolated nationally, research suggests as many as 7,000 managed moves took place over a 12 month period, according to the Times Educational Supplement.

Previous research has shown how pupils suspected of serious offences have been allowed to move to another school under the rules. Among the pupils moved between schools in 2007 were two teenagers from Barnsley who had brought weapons into school. In Bristol, a 15-year-old who attacked a pupil, verbally abused teachers and brought drugs and alcohol into school also escaped expulsion and was transferred. In St Helens, Merseyside, a 12-year-old was moved after threatening a classmate with a knife, as was a 15-year-old who brought a meat cleaver into school.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tucson Schools To Implement Race Based Punishment - Blacks And Hispanics To Receive Passes

Sounds like a blatant contravention of the 14th Amendment to me: "nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws". Note that it is the person, not the group which is to be treated equally

Black and Hispanic students in the Tucson Unified School District will soon receive passes for breaking school rules if the TUSD board has its way. It proposed a two tiered punishment system for the whole district that will reduce suspensions and expulsions for minority students, even if warranted, so that in the end there is "no ethnic/racial disparities" in punishment meted out.

I wonder why they didn't just go the other direction. Say for instance a white student is 2 minutes late for class, why not expel them, that way the number of white expulsions will eventually catch up to other minority groups.

Some would say I am a racist for even covering this news story, to them I say "What the hell are you smoking?" It is not racist to point out other people in this country who are pushing for racial quotas and special favors for those of minority groups. There can be nothing more racist than giving gifts to those of one race and not to those of another. Doug MacEachern of the Arizona Republic sums up nicely what the TUSD has passed and plans to implement.
From the section of the 52-page plan titled "Restorative School Culture and Climate," subhead, "Discipline":

"School data that show disparities in suspension/expulsion rates will be examined in detail for root causes. Special attention will be dedicated to data regarding African-American and Hispanic students."

The board approved creating an "Equity Team" that will oversee the plan to ensure "a commitment to social justice for all students."

The happy-face edu-speak notwithstanding, what the Tucson Unified School District board of governors has approved this summer is a race-based system of discipline.

TUSD is known nationwide for its open policy on disenfranchising white students through special favors to all other minority groups. It's "Raza Studies" program has been covered numerous times on this website and as recently as last week when I reposted "Raza Studies, Occupied America, Mexican American Heritage And The Reconquest Of America". The "studies group" pushes the agenda of amnesty for all illegal aliens because the southwest really still belongs to Mexico. It also sows hatred of the United States in its students and a pro-racial pride agenda inciting insurrectionist thought.

It should be noted that the Raza Studies program is very well funded and the TUSD board is calling for an expansion of the program. Meanwhile, TUSD has been closing libraries, arts and music programs and laying off teachers in other areas not related to Raza Studies due to funding. You'd think that someone would be looking into where of all this funding is coming from. It is obviously not being funded by those who care about America and equality for all.

MacEachern continues and shows that not only are students are being rewarded by race, the TUSD is participating in race-based hiring.
In a year in which hundreds of district teachers received pink slips, meanwhile, TUSD spent thousands on recruiting teachers from out of state.

And it hired a coordinator at $80,000 per annum to lead the effort.

... TUSD's race-obsessing board of governors is taking racial bean-counting to preposterous extremes.

... increasing the number of minority teachers - per the summer hiring spree, which netted 14 special-education teachers and one math-science teacher.

They are actively doing so, claiming that they want the race of teachers to be the same racial makeup as students. This is illegal under federal law, yet no one is doing anything about it.

It is all quite sickening. The TUSD is populated by Liberal, "tolerance", "social justice" and "race justice" bed-wetters, yet they are the true face of hate in this country. They are too blind to see what they are doing is exactly the opposite of what "equality for all" means. They don't want an equal playing field, they want to hold one group down and promote another without merit. There can be nothing more un-American, or illegal, than that.


Let’s get back to worksheets

The U.S. is falling behind the world in math. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, "We are lagging the rest of the world, and we are lagging it in pretty substantial ways." A special analysis put out by the National Center for Education Statistics found that the math performance of U.S. high schoolers was in the bottom quarter of the countries that participated in the most recent Program for International Student Assessment. Results of the 2009 ACT and SAT show that U.S. students are no better in math this year than they were last year. Math performance has improved in other countries while it has remained stagnant in the U.S.

These findings are disturbing in an increasingly global economy where careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are becoming progressively more important for nations to compete internationally.

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the proportion of students obtaining STEM degrees from U.S. universities has dropped from 32 percent to 27 percent over the past decade. At the same time, the percentage of non-U.S. students earning these degrees from U.S. universities has increased dramatically.

In The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Friedman argues that getting more Americans to pursue careers in STEM fields is critical to the future of our nation's economy. Friedman is not alone in his opinion.

The National Science Foundation reports that non-U.S. graduates from U.S. universities accounted for more than half of the doctorate recipients in physics (58 percent), computer sciences (65 percent), engineering (68 percent), and mathematics (57 percent). The most numerous of these non-U.S. graduates were from China, India, and South Korea. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that over 40 percent of non-U.S. doctoral degree recipients intended to leave the U.S.

Not only are we losing ground to non-U.S. citizens at our own universities, but we're also falling behind other nations. The U.S. is no longer the leader in STEM education. In absolute numbers, Japan and China are producing more graduates. Our rate of STEM to non-STEM graduates is roughly 17 percent while the international average is nearly 26 percent. We're not even keeping pace with some developing countries.

President Obama has acknowledged that other countries--especially Asian countries--are performing better in math than the U.S. How does he plan to prevent us from falling farther behind?

In the U.S., we used to focus on basic computation skills when we taught students traditional math. Ever since the U.S. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics developed standards for school math in 1989, many U.S. schools starting teaching reform math.

Recently, I visited schools in Japan and Taiwan. I found they're teaching math the way we used to teach it; they're focusing on basic computation skills. Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea--all top performers in math--are also focusing on the basics. Even the cram schools, which are prevalent in Asia, focus on the basics.

The largest and most established cram school in Asia is Kumon. I visited their head office in Tokyo to interview public relations executives Mayu Katata and Shinichiro Iwasaki about the Kumon method. In a nutshell, they focus on using worksheets to help students master basic computation skills. Traditional math emphasizes basic computation skills and algorithms that lead to the correct answer while reform math places more value on the thinking process that leads to any answer.

Both of these skills are needed. However, the major problem with reform math is that it puts the cart before the horse by trying to teach students abstract concepts of math before they have built strong foundational skills. With traditional math, students often work individually on worksheets. With reform math, they often work in groups cutting, pasting, and coloring.

Sure, worksheets and algorithms are boring compared to gluing stuff and explaining how you came up with an answer that may not even be correct, but which method will better prepare our students to compete in an increasingly global economy? America, let's get back to worksheets.


One in 12 British secondary schools 'failing'

One in 12 secondary schools could be closed or merged unless they hit GCSE targets next year. As many as 270 secondaries, including 40 of Labour’s flagship academies, fell short of the Government’s strict exam benchmark last summer. Those failing to improve by 2011 could be shut, merged with better performing schools nearby or turned into academies, which are sponsored and run by the private sector.

Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, warned that academies which have been open for at least three years could also have their sponsors replaced if they did not show "clear evidence" of improving results.

The Government also announced that it would send expert advisers into a series of local authorities to raise standards. It includes Kent, which has a selective education system that includes grammar schools and secondary moderns.

Mr Balls has previously criticised academic selection, insisting pupils who did not win grammar school places at 11 were made to feel like “failures”.

On Tuesday, he said: “I've always said that non-selective schools in selective areas face extra challenges. It's harder but it's not necessarily harder because there's more deprivation or it can't be done.

“There's no doubt in my mind that if you have a new cohort of young people who have all arrived in secondary school having been told that they didn't succeed then you have greater issues around aspiration and belief.”

Under the National Challenge initiative, every school must ensure at least 30 per cent of pupils gain five A* to C grades at GCSE, including the key subjects of English and maths. They are supposed to meet the target by 2011.

Every school below the benchmark was told it would receive extra funding to help boost scores. The number of schools failing to hit the target has dropped from 638 two years ago to around 270.

Around 40 academies are still below the 30 per cent benchmark, according to the Department for Children, Schools and Families. Of these, around 10 have been open for at least three years, before National Challenge began.

The DCSF said today that it had "concerns" about the performance of a "handful" of these, because their results had either stalled or fallen.

Nick Gibb, the Conservative shadow schools minister, said: “There are still far too many schools where fewer than a third of children reach the basic standard of five good GCSEs including English and maths, and it is the poorest areas that are worst affected.

“We urgently need a different approach with more powers for teachers to keep order, more highly qualified people encouraged into teaching, and making schools answerable to parents instead of bureaucrats.”