Saturday, November 07, 2009

If they feel 'offended,' you're fired

Professor claims he was canned on mystery harassment charge

A college professor in Georgia is whirling in confusion right now, reprimanded and apparently threatened with termination without any specific charges, hearings or evidence of wrongdoing – only the school administration's allegation that he "offended" someone.

The troubles for Professor Thomas Thibeault of East Georgia College seem to have begun during an Aug. 5 faculty sexual harassment training seminar, when he questioned the assertion – as he understood it – being presented by Mary Smith, the school's vice president for legal affairs, that the feelings of the offended constituted proof of offensive behavior. "What provision is there in the sexual harassment policy to protect the accused against complaints which are malicious or … ridiculous?" Thibeault asked.

According to Thibeault's description of the events, Smith replied, "There is no provision in the policy. I must emphasize that if the person feels offended then the incident must be reported to the college authorities."

"So there is no protection against a false accusation?" Thibeault pressed. "No," Smith is said to have responded. "Then the policy itself is flawed," commented Thibeault.

Two days later, a police chief was waiting to escort Thibeault off campus. The professor, under the circumstances, believed he was fired. Then in subsequent weeks, Thibeault was informed his contract would not be renewed for the following year and that a faculty committee had concluded he violated the college's sexual harassment policy. For doing what, for saying what, Thibeault still doesn't know.

Thibeault shortly thereafter contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which immediately fired off a letter of protest. Said FIRE spokesman Adam Kissel, "The professor still has not received anything in writing detailing what he is accused of doing. … If professors can't engage in vigorous debate on college campuses, who can?" But the letter from FIRE to the school got down to business:

"The Supreme Court has explicitly held on numerous occasions that speech cannot be restricted simply because it offends people. In 'Street v. New York,' 394 U.S. 576, 592 (1969), the court held that '[i]t is firmly settled that under our Constitution the public expression of ideas may not be prohibited merely because the ideas are themselves offensive to some of their hearers.' In 'Papish v. Board of Curators of the University of Missouri,' 410 U.S. 667, 670 (1973), the court held that 'the mere dissemination of ideas – no matter how offensive to good taste – on a state university campus may not be shut off in the name alone of "conventions of decency,"'" it warned the school.

School officials declined to enter the conversation. "Since this matter is an ongoing personnel mater, I cannot discuss it," said school president John Black via e-mail.

FIRE officials said Thibeault was notified Oct. 20 "that he had been reinstated due to lack of evidence." But then Black issued the professor a "'reprimand' for unspecified 'offensive' speech – again without presenting any notice, hearing, evidence or witnesses."

"This case is far from over," FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. "President Black has added to his blatant abuses of power by reprimanding Professor Thibeault for his speech, but never bothering to mention precisely what his offense was. Black has already retaliated against Thibeault by informing him that his contract would not be renewed after the spring semester. The bullying tactics at this college are breathtaking."

In the interim, FIRE reported, Black first wrote Thibeault that since he failed to resign dismissal proceedings were begun, then wrote that a committee was appointed to conduct an inquiry, then said Thibeault had been suspended, not terminated.

"EGC and President Black have utterly failed to meet their constitutional and moral obligation to respect freedom of speech, academic freedom, and due process," Kissel said. "Black has punished protected speech without any due process whatsoever, and he has threatened further disciplinary action if someone else merely sends in a complaint. Meanwhile, he has not lifted his retaliatory decision not to rehire Thibeault for the next academic year."


Mandatory sex lessons for every 15-year-old in Britain

More Leftist assumptions. The rationale is to REDUCE teenage pregnancies but there have been various observations to the effect that it INCREASES sexual experimentation and hence pregnancies. Maybe that is what the Left really want. It suits their destructive urges

Sex education is to be made compulsory for all pupils, prompting fury from faith groups which said that the move would contravene the right for children to be educated in accordance with their parents’ beliefs.

All 15-year-olds must receive at least one year of sex and relationship lessons, Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, said yesterday. Those whose religious or moral values prevent them from attending will be classed as truants and may be punished by the school. Until now parents could opt out of lessons about contraception, sexually transmitted diseases and homosexuality until their children were 19.

Roman Catholic and Muslim groups said they would strongly oppose the move. Shahid Akmal, chairman of the Muslim Council of Britain’s education board, said he would challenge the laws, which he called an imposition. “It is always better for the parents to talk to children about sex rather than the school over which the parents have no control,” he said.

The Catholic Education Service for England and Wales said it was “disappointed” that the “blanket right to withdrawal” had been removed.

Mr Balls said that lowering the age to 15 was “the most balanced, most practical and legally enforceable way” to satisfy the rights of parent and children. The move is central to the Government’s attempts to lower the teenage pregnancy rate, which rose for the first time since 2002, according to the latest figures. There were 41.9 conceptions per 1,000 15 to 17-year-olds in 2007, up from 40.9 the year before. England has the highest rates of teenage mothers in Western Europe.

Yesterday’s decision, which is part of the move to put sex and drugs education on the national curriculum for the first time, comes after a two-year review and consultation.

The Government is pressing ahead despite its own research, which shows that the move is heavily opposed, with 79 per cent of the population backing the right of parents to exempt their children. One in three people in the survey of more than 6,000 said that this right should not be restricted by the child’s age. Under current rules, schoolchildren must be taught the biological facts of reproduction, usually during science classes. Every school has a sex education policy, but at present there is no statutory requirement for teaching about relationships or the social and emotional side of sexual behaviour. Under the new laws, to be enforced in 2011, schools will teach about the importance of marriage, civil partnerships and stable relationships in family life, as well as how to have sex.

Mr Balls said: “Sex and relationship education is a very important element and we see it as crucial to our drive to reduce teenage pregnancy.” Gill Frances, chairman of the Independent Advisory Group on Teenage Pregnancy, welcomed the new legislation. “We believe this is the biggest single step that can reduce teenage pregnancy rates,” she said. “Evidence shows that sex and relationships education helps young people delay early sex and make healthy choices when they eventually do become sexually active.”


British parents to be fined if they take their children out of sex lessons

Parents will face fines if they remove 15-year-old children from sex education lessons as they become part of the national curriculum for the first time. Lessons in relationships and sex will begin at five, with prescribed content for each age group. Parents will still be able to withdraw children on moral and religious grounds, but this right - which currently extends until students are 19 - will be lost at 15. Mothers and fathers risk being fined and prosecuted under anti-truancy laws.

Under current arrangements, secondary schools must teach sex education but can choose the content. Primary schools do not have to offer it at all. The shake-up, outlined by Children's Secretary Ed Balls, will affect 600,000 children from September 2011. It drew immediate protests. Campaigners said sex education in the last year of secondary school - to which all children will now be exposed - is often the most explicit, with pupils taught about how to use a condom and access to contraception and abortion.

Religious leaders said parents would 'vote with their feet'. The Government insists that only a 'tiny minority' of parents exercised their right to pull their children out of sex education. Mr Balls said it would not make sense to keep the age limit of 19, because teenagers can vote at 18 and the age of consent is 16.

In a Government-backed poll nearly a third of parents wanted to retain the right regardless of age. But another third said it should end at 11 and 20 per cent said there should be no opt-out at all. Mr Balls said the aim was for all children to have at least one year of sex education. He said the changes would help tackle teenage pregnancies. But critics said the Government's strategy of handing out contraceptives and spreading sex education was already failing.

Tahir Alam, education spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said: 'It is not for the state to become a parent. 'We will be making representations to fight for the right of parents to withdraw their children from sex education. 'Some parents view exposure of their children to this sort of material as morally objectionable and morally corrupting.'

The Catholic Education Service said it was 'disappointed' the blanket right of withdrawal had been dropped. But the Right Reverend John Saxbee, chairman of the Church of England's Board of Education, said: 'Students already receive some sex education through the biology curriculum, for which there is no right for withdrawal. 'Giving students aged 15 and above access to factual information and the opportunity to discuss relationships in a supervised setting seems a responsible and appropriate response to a context where these topics are widely discussed among young people.'


Student beats the Australian Tax Office

Succeeds in claiming education expenses

UNIVERSITY undergraduates will be able to claim educational expenses as a tax deduction after a former student had a landmark win in the full Federal Court yesterday. Symone Anstis, a former Australian Catholic University student, was successful in her bid to claim $920 as self-education expenses after fighting the Taxation Office through a number of jurisdictions over three years.

While studying full-time to be a primary teacher, Ms Anstis worked as a part-time sales assistant for retail chain Katies, where she earned $14,946. She also received a youth allowance of $3622 during the 2006 income year. She claimed education expenses including travel costs, supplies for children during teaching rounds, student administration fees and depreciation of her computer.

The Tax Office rejected the claim, so Ms Anstis and her father, Michael, who is a qualified solicitor but does not work as a lawyer, fought it all the way to the hearing in Melbourne yesterday. The full court of the Federal Court upheld an earlier decision that because the former student had to be enrolled in a full-time course of study to get her assessable income of Youth Allowance, any costs incurred in the course of studying should be deductible.

"I am very happy with the outcome; my Dad did a very good job," she said. "When you are a student everything makes a difference, every little bit helps. I think I will be able to get $300 back. I have been waiting a long time but it will go pretty quickly."

Tax experts say hundreds of thousands of university students who receive Youth Allowance could benefit from the ruling, but they will need to generate a taxable income above $15,000. About 440,000 students receive Youth Allowance or Austudy. Many of these students would earn enough with the addition of part-time work to have a tax liability, according to Asssociate Professor Dale Boccabella from the University of NSW.

He said items including computer depreciation, stationery or textbooks could now be claimed as a deduction. In the past, the Taxation Office had made it clear it would not allow educational expenses to be claimed against welfare payments. "The decision further complicates tax administration in the area of self-education expenses, an area that is already riddled with difficulties," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Tax Office said the decision was being assessed.


Friday, November 06, 2009

Obama uses money to urge school changes

Using stimulus dollars as bait, President Barack Obama is coaxing states to rewrite education laws and cut deals with unions as they compete for $5 billion in school reform grants, the most money a president has ever had for overhauling schools. And it may end up going to only a few states. In Wisconsin, where Obama will visit Wednesday, lawmakers are poised to change a law to boost their state's chances. Nine other states have taken similar steps.

And states can't even apply for the money yet. "There is an appetite out there for change," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in an interview with The Associated Press. "There's been really dramatic movement in a number of states," said Duncan, who will travel to Madison, Wis., with the president. "This was the goal, but we didn't know if anyone was going to respond."

Respond they have. Wisconsin lawmakers planned to vote Thursday to lift a ban on using student test scores to judge teachers. That helps clear the way for an Obama priority, teacher pay tied to student performance. California lifted a similar ban last month. And before that, charter school restrictions or budget cuts were eased in eight states — Louisiana, Illinois, Tennessee, Delaware, Indiana, Ohio, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Duncan had repeatedly warned that such restrictions would hurt a state's chances at the money. The administration can't really tell states and schools what to do, since education has been largely a state and local responsibility throughout the history of the U.S.

But Obama has considerable leverage in his nearly $5 billion competitive grant fund, dubbed the "Race to the Top," that was set aside in the economic stimulus law. "If you put a very large, $5 billion program in front of the entire country, everyone eyes that as an opportunity," said Wisconsin state Sen. John Lehman, a Democrat who chairs the state's Senate Education Committee and a former high school teacher.

No president has ever had that much money for schools at his discretion. Only Duncan — not Congress — has control over who gets it. And only some states, perhaps 10 to 20, will actually get the money.

Obama will use the trip to Wisconsin to call attention to the actions states are taking, one year after his election, to put his vision of reform in place, Melody Barnes, Obama's domestic policy director, told reporters Wednesday on a conference call.

Obama sees the test score data and charter schools, which are publicly funded but independent of local school boards, as solutions to the problems that plague public education.

The national teachers' unions disagree. They say student achievement is much more than a score on a standardized test and that it's a mistake to rely so heavily on charter schools. "Despite growing evidence to the contrary, it appears the administration has decided that charter schools are the only answer to what ails America's public schools," the National Education Association, the largest teachers' union, said in comments submitted to the Education Department. The NEA added: "We should not continue the unhealthy focus on standardized tests as the primary evidence of student success."

At the state level, unions have made deals with lawmakers on test scores. In Wisconsin, the state teachers' union agreed that test scores could be used to evaluate teachers — as long as they couldn't be used to fire or discipline teachers. Teachers' unions are an influential segment of Obama's Democratic base. Obama is encouraging states to get their support; the Education Department says a state can win extra points in the "Race to the Top" if unions support their efforts.

The Wisconsin agreement is only half a loaf, said Amy Wilkins, a lobbyist for Education Trust, a children's advocacy group. "There are lots of ways to use the data aside from firing and discipline," Wilkins said. "That said, unless you figure out a fair but fast way to remove truly incompetent teachers from classrooms, they're going to continue to be cycled into the highest poverty schools."

Charter schools and test scores fit into four broad goals that Obama wants states to pursue — tougher academic standards, better ways to recruit and keep effective teachers, a method of tracking student performance and a plan of action to turn around failing schools.


An alternative to the usual watered-down British High school curriculum

Many schools are turning to the International Baccalaureate ahead of traditional British A-level exams. "It frustrates me that IBs are still seen as an elitist form of education," says Terry Hedger, head of Southbank International School in Westminster, London, where the International Baccalaureate has been taught for the past 30 years. "That stereotype does not do justice to the IB system, which is equally well suited to state and independent schools. IB students do not need to be rich or privileged: they just need to be able to work hard and apply themselves to their studies."

Southbank is a small fee-paying school, taking pupils from all over the world: a natural taker for IB, you might say. But Hedger is insistent that, just because the school teaches the supposedly demanding IB, where you study six rather than three subjects in the sixth form, that does not make it an academic hothouse.

"It has been our experience that students of no more than average ability and maybe quite weak in individual subjects, have flourished under the IB system," he says.

The relative merits of A-levels and IBs will continue to be fiercely debated in education circles and the waters have been further muddied by the introduction of A* grades at A-level, enabling universities to sift the wheat from the chaff more effectively. But one thing is already clear. The IB is on the march.

About 200 secondary schools currently teach it and that figure will be closer to 300 this time next year. And it is state schools, if anything, which are setting the pace, accounting for about two in every three IB schools. The Government has announced that it wants at least one IB school in every local authority.

"We took a risk in changing to IB," says Andy Jeffries, one of the IB coordinators at Barton Court Grammar School in Canterbury. "We didn't know if it would appeal to pupils or not. In the event, our numbers in the sixth form have more than doubled."

Barton Court adopted the IB in 2007 and, unusually, went cold turkey, moving wholesale to the new system, rather than trying to teach IBs and
A-levels in tandem. The first cohort of students got their results this summer and, with an average IB score of 30 (roughly the equivalent of three As at A-level and one A at AS), comfortably matched expectations.

"Comparing IB and A-level results is difficult," Jeffries says. "Some universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, show a better appreciation of the IB scoring system than others. But what has particularly pleased us is the way some middle-of-the-road students seem to have coped far better with IBs than they would have done with A-levels."

He cites the example of a student who got into Bristol University to read aeronautical engineering, having wowed tutors with a 5,000-word essay comparing early aircraft with Concorde. "The requirement to write an essay of that sort of length, demanding the kind of detailed research expected of university students, is one of the things that gives IBs the edge over A-levels. Another invaluable element is the requirement to serve the local community. In the last two years, our pupils have put in 15,000 hours of voluntary service."

Barton Court, a specialist language college, is keen to stress its international credentials. Of the 260 pupils in the sixth form, nearly 30 have their main place of residence in mainland Europe. The change to IB has not merely been a tweaking of the curriculum, but a cultural gear-change.

It is a similar story at Elthorne Park School, a state secondary in Ealing, west London, where local children have been joined by students from Greece, Finland and Morocco. Up until this year, there was no sixth form at all at Elthorne Park. Faced with a choice between introducing A-levels or IBs, the school had no doubt which route it wanted to take.

"The greater breadth of IBs was the clinching factor," says head of sixth form and IB coordinator Al Grant. "No major country in the world teaches as few subjects in the sixth form as Britain, with its traditional three A-levels. The other advantage of the IB system is that pupils are given more time to mature. They have two years to work at each subject, at their own pace, without having to jump the hurdle of AS levels," he says.

There are 36 IB students at Elthorne Park, a figure Grant expects to rise. "In the short term, offering IBs has cost the school more than offering A-levels and, as we have had no special financial help from the Government, it has been a calculated risk. But we are confident that it will prove a sound move in the longer term. Parents have been particularly enthusiastic. They seem to share our view that schools should educate the whole child, not just be exam-passing machines."


Australia: Prolonged degrees at Melbourne university not popular

Despite the spin. Melbourne is moving to the American model of a generalist first degree followed by specialized study only at the graduate level -- which increases the time you need to spend in order to get a useful qualification. Australia has always in the past followed the Scottish model -- which allows considerable specialization from Day 1.

MONASH University has again topped the Victorian first preference popularity polls while rival Melbourne University has suffered a steep fall as it transitions to its graduate model and cuts undergraduate courses.

Melbourne stresses that the fall is expected as it discontinues undergraduate courses in professions that are becoming graduate-only like law, dentistry and physiotherapy. But nevertheless, timely first preferences have dropped from 9771 last year to 8022 this year, a fall of 1749. That cuts its share of first preferences from 17 per cent to 13 per cent.

On the plus side Melbourne says first preferences for its "new generation" undergraduate degrees, that are to be the feeders to postgraduate study, are up by 3 per cent. But the drop in Melbourne's first preferences clearly indicates that many would-be students are prepared to look elsewhere so they can take professional disciplines at undergraduate level. But at over 8000, Melbourne's first preferences are still well above its 2010 undergraduate intake that will be limited to about 5000, in line with 2009.

In a statement Melbourne University's new provost John Dewar was upbeat, saying the numbers were "a welcome endorsement" of the new model.

Melbourne's Group of Eight rival Monash was buoyed by an 11.6 per cent rise in first preferences to 15,175, giving it 24 per cent market share.

Demand for places at Deakin University was also strong as its first preferences rose by 16 per cent to 9978 giving it 16 per cent market share.

La Trobe University secured a 15 per cent rise in first preferences to 6767, reversing its falling market share over the past two years. La Trobe's share of first preferences rose to 11 per cent from 10 per cent. At time of writing data from the other Victorian universities had yet to be released.


Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Power of Race

Racism in favour of blacks firmly established in elite American universities

Is the glass half empty or half full? Thomas J. Espendshade, a professor of sociology at Princeton University, used that question to answer a question about his new book, No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life (Princeton University Press), co-written with Alexandria Walton Radford, a research associate at MPR Associates. In fact, he could probably use the glass image to answer questions about numerous parts of the book.

While Espenshade and Radford -- in the book and in interviews -- avoid broad conclusions over whether affirmative action is working or should continue, their findings almost certainly will be used both by supporters and critics of affirmative action to advance their arguments. (In fact, a talk Espenshade gave at a meeting earlier this year about some of the findings is already being cited by affirmative action critics, although in ways that he says don't exactly reflect his thinking.)

Unlike much writing about affirmative action, this book is based not on philosophy, but actual data -- both on academic credentials and student experiences -- from 9,000 students who attended one of 10 highly selective colleges and universities. (They are not named, but include public and private institutions, research universities and liberal arts colleges.)

Among the findings:

* Significant advantages and disadvantages exist for members of some racial and ethnic groups with regard to the SAT or ACT scores they need to have the same odds of admission as members of other groups. While advantages and disadvantages were also found based on economic class, these were far less significant than those based on race and ethnicity.

* Just about every existing idea for reforming college admissions would not, by itself, preserve current levels of racial and ethnic diversity -- if current affirmative action policies were eliminated or scaled back.

* Most undergraduates at the institutions studied do have significant interactions with members of different races and ethnicities, and these interactions result in learning about the experiences of different groups. At the same time, the data suggest significant gaps in the kinds of meaningful cross-race interactions that take place with some groups much more likely than others to have such interactions. (By far, the most common interactions are white-Latino, while the least common are black-white).

* On measures of academic performance, graduation rates across racial and ethnic groups show only modest gaps at the institutions studied. But analysis of class rank suggests major gaps in academic performance. More than half of black students and nearly one-third of Latino students who graduated from the colleges studied, for example, finished in the bottom quintile of their classes.

Based on these findings, and the reality that some states have barred affirmative action and that the U.S. Supreme Court's blessing for consideration of race in admissions came with a 25-year time limit, the authors suggest that it's time for a massive federally supported effort, equivalent in intensity to the Manhattan Project, to determine the source of academic achievement gaps and to develop plans to shrink them.

The Test Score Advantage

Among the potential bombshells in the book are data on the advantages or disadvantages of SAT or ACT scores by race, ethnicity and economic class. Many studies -- including those released annually by the College Board and the ACT -- show gaps in the average tests scores by members of different racial or ethnic groups. This research takes that further, however, by controlling for numerous factors, including gender, status as an athlete or alumni child, high school grades and test scores, type of high school attended and so forth.

The "advantage" referred to, to take an example from the book, is what it would take to have equivalent odds of admission, after controlling for other factors. So the table's figure of a 3.8 black ACT "advantage" means that a black student with an ACT score of 27 would have the same chances of admission at the institutions in the study as a white student with a score of 30.8.

As the following table shows, there are large black advantages in the way colleges consider SAT and ACT scores, and notable disadvantages for Asian applicants. On issues of wealth, the SAT shows an expected affirmative action tilt, with the most disadvantaged students gaining and the wealthiest losing. But there is also a gain for upper middle class students. On the ACT, analysis found the advantages go to wealthier students.

Much of the debate about affirmative action historically has focused on the advantages given to those from some minority groups. But the research in No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal may also be of particular interest to advocates for Asian students. Many such advocates and guidance counselors who serve those students have charged in recent years that elite colleges have de facto higher standards for Asian applicants. Is the Asian disadvantage of 3.4 points on the ACT and 140 points on the SAT evidence to bolster that claim?

Espenshade said in an interview that he does not think his data establish this bias. He noted that while his formulas are notably more complete than typical test score comparisons by race and ethnicity, he doesn't have the "softer variables," such as teacher and high school counselor recommendations, essays and lists of extracurricular activities. It is possible, he said, that such factors explain some of the apparent SAT and ACT disadvantage facing Asian applicants.

At the same time, he said he understood that these numbers would certainly not reassure Asian applicants or those who believe they are suffering discrimination. "I understand the worry of Asian students, but do I have a smoking gun? No," he said.

As to the large racial gaps on SAT scores, he said it was "distressing" in that it showed the difficulties colleges face in using their traditional criteria for admissions and still producing diverse student bodies.

The book notes that dropping the SAT or ACT as requirements would result in gains for black and Latino students. Espenshade has given papers previously showing that the biggest gains in such models are for colleges that drop consideration of testing entirely, as opposed to just making it optional. (To date, only one institution -- Sarah Lawrence College -- has taken that step.)

Beyond shifting test policies, may other ideas have been proposed over the years to achieve a racially diverse student body without affirmative action as currently practiced. Here the book is quite discouraging. It reviews simulations based on class-based affirmative action (extra points for low-income applicants), reducing the emphasis given to academic credentials and priority admissions for those in the top 10 percent of their high school classes. And the book considers various combinations of these policies, looking for a formula that would yield diversity similar to what colleges have obtained to date.

"In this exhaustive examination of a wide variety of potential admissions policies, we have looked for but have not found any feasible policy alternative to the current practice of race-sensitive admission that has the capacity to generate the same minority student representation on campus," the book says. "The closest we have come among private institutions is a 15 percent minority student share among all students, achieved by lifting affirmative action, adding more weight for low-income students, and paying no attention whatsoever to students' academic qualifications. This policy stands no chance of being implemented at any academically selective institution." ....

More here

Duncan: States “set bar too low”

A report on state educational standards shows many states are "setting the bar too low," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Friday.

The National Center for Education Statistics compared data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, given to samples of students across the country, and the tests required by the No Child Left Behind Act.

"Today's study confirms what we've known for a long time: States are setting the bar too low," Duncan said. "In all but a few cases, states aren't expecting students to meet NAEP's standard of proficiency. Far too many states are telling students that they are proficient when they actually are performing below NAEP's basic level."

No Child Left Behind allows states to set their own standards with their own tests.

The NCES researchers found most of the difference between states on the percentage of students who show proficiency on the tests stems from how rigorous the standards are, with fewer students demonstrating proficiency in states with high standards.

The NAEP assessments are given to students in the fourth, eighth and 12th grades.


British university standards deliberately dragged down by the British government

Middle-class pupils face being bumped off prestigious university courses under plans to give youngsters from poor homes an A-level 'head start', it emerged yesterday. Unveiling a ten-year blueprint for universities, Lord Mandelson declared that published or predicted A-level grades would not be enough to win places at leading universities. He urged universities to take pupils' school and family backgrounds into account when allocating places and setting conditional offers.

The First Secretary of State also backed schemes already operating which involve lowering entry requirements for students from disadvantaged backgrounds by two or more A-level grades. He revealed that elite universities such as Oxford, Cambridge and Bristol would be made to set targets to widen the social mix of their students, possibly linked to financial incentives.

His report, published yesterday, said progress at highly-selective universities had been too 'modest'. During exchanges in the Commons, the Conservatives warned ministers against resorting to 'crude class warfare'.

Lord Mandelson also hinted that tuition fees will have to rise after ruling out an increase in public funding. This is likely to hit middle-class students hardest. They could also face paying more interest on student loans and cuts in grant funding.

The proposals came in a long-awaited higher education framework aimed at starting a consumer revolution in universities and appealing to a new generation of part-time mature students.

Lord Mandelson said there was a risk deserving candidates from under-privileged backgrounds were being 'excluded' by current university admissions criteria. He backed a scheme operating at Leeds University, which typically involves lowering the standard entry requirement by two A-level grades if students go to poor-performing schools or come from areas where few teenagers go to university.

Asked whether middle-class children could miss out if such schemes are extended, Lord Mandelson said: 'Entry to university has always been competitive. 'What we are saying is that nobody should be disadvantaged or penalised on the basis of the families they come from, of school they attended and the way in which simple assessment based on A-level results might exclude them.'

He said merit was defined by 'academic attainment, aptitude and potential'. Ministers also spoke in favour of a scheme at St George's Medical School, which has increased the proportion of students from state schools from 48 per cent in 1997. Lord Mandelson argued the change was vital to improve social mobility. But critics have warned against introducing unfairness through 'social engineering'.

Private school leaders have spoken in support of universities which make individual decisions about candidates' suitability but have voiced concerns about some admissions procedures. Andrew Grant, chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, said: 'What Lord Mandelson really needs to do is increase the pool of well-qualified candidates from schools maintained by his government.'

Tory higher education spokesman David Willetts said: 'Students and their parents will lose confidence in the integrity of the university admission system if it is used for crude class warfare.'

Lord Mandelson enjoyed a free and privileged education, first at a grammar school and then Oxford University. The First Secretary attended Hendon County Grammar before winning a place at St Catherine's College to read politics, philosophy and economics. He now represents a Government opposed to selective education and seeking to make it tougher for pupils from high-performing schools, including grammars, to get into top universities.

Lord Mandelson has ruled out an increase in public funding for universities and his party will also consider a further rise in student tuition charges from the £3,225 a year at present. This is likely to hit middle-class students hardest, as they could also face paying more interest on their student loans, along with cuts and restricted access to grant funding.


Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Boston still vexed by school busing

That they are still doing it at all is the wonder: It destroyed its own reason for existence when it forced most white families out

More than three decades after a federal court order forced Boston to desegregate schools by busing black students to white neighborhoods and whites to black areas, the birthplace of public education is still fighting the battle. But the lines no longer pit race against race, with 87 percent of the student body now minorities.

Now the city is wrestling with school-choice issues and an antiquated busing system that can send a lone student on a bus ride across the city. And the more the Boston Public Schools system assigns students to neighborhood schools, rather than bus them across town, the more likely it is that children in the poorest neighborhoods will go to the worst-performing schools.

Boston schools still let parents pick schools, but only within three enormous and controversial geographical zones. Buses carting only one student often crisscross the city - contributing to next year's nearly $80 million transportation budget at a time when the district faces a projected $100 million budget shortfall.

Proposals to replace the 20-year-old school-assignment zones with five smaller ones fizzled twice this decade, most recently in June. And while the city secured federal funding this month to take another stab at overhauling its busing system, the issue remains a political hot potato that is not among the talking points of either mayoral candidate. "And they won't talk about it because it's very divisive," said Myriam Ortiz, executive director of Boston Parent Organizing Network, which successfully argued that Boston Public Schools' recent proposal to return to neighborhood schools drastically decreased access to quality schools for the city's poorest students, "because communities where better schools are located could care less about the communities where the underperforming schools are located."

"I know this for a fact. A few months ago, we heard parents testifying that their schools should not receive budget cuts because their schools perform better. They said, 'The schools that are not performing, budget cuts should be their punishment.' "

At a recent debate, Mayor Thomas M. Menino had his performance on education graded by his opponent - City Council member Michael F. Flaherty Jr., who gave him an "F" - and by himself. He said he'd grade himself "maybe a B-plus, no, a B. I'll be generous."

The two men sparred over the mayor's record: "We boast of having the best colleges and universities in the world, yet children who actually do graduate from Boston Public Schools will never get an opportunity to compete," the mayor's 40-year-old challenger said. Each man slung around statistics on dropouts, but neither addressed the educational elephant in the auditorium at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum: busing.

Mr. Menino, who called for the abolition of busing in his 2008 State of the City Address, could not be reached for comment for this report.

During a phone interview, Mr. Flaherty, a proponent of neighborhood schools who said he recently realized the need to focus initially on improving school quality, did address busing frankly. "The city has a long history with the subject; at the same time, things have changed tremendously," said Mr. Flaherty, who was born five years before the 1974 forced-busing ruling. "We need to be sensitive to the issue and recognize the past. I've seen Boston at its best and at its very worst. To dismiss and discount the past is shortsighted. We need to put all the issues on the table. "The discussion around school assignment can be polarizing already. With that said, maybe we do need to have a frank discussion about race in Boston, where we came from and where we are now before we embark on this particular issue."

While Boston's third attempt to rewrite its school-assignment plan since 2004 has gone untouched this political season, Washington has taken notice. On Oct. 1, 35 years after the now-deceased federal Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr. ruled that Boston Public Schools practiced de facto segregation, the U.S. Department of Education awarded Boston a $241,680 grant.

The Technical Assistance for Student Assignment Plans grant is designed to help school districts reconcile long-term effects of busing by studying the practices of cities nationwide. The 11 districts awarded the grant have 12 to 24 months to use the funds and cast wide nets in reaching out to school-assignment experts and civil rights activists.

For the Boston Public Schools system - which has 72 percent of its students eligible for subsidized free and reduced-price meals - the challenge is deflating a bloated transportation budget without impeding access to the city's best schools. Superintendent Carol Johnson shelved her five-zone plan in June after it was revealed that the majority of the district's underperforming schools were concentrated in the two zones populated by the city's poorest residents. Parents in those two zones were irate after learning they wouldn't have equal access to bilingual and special education.

"We are pleased about the grant; it will help propel us further and faster," Ms. Johnson said by phone. "But even if we had not gotten the grant, we are committed to making changes to improve the quality of schools in Boston."

More here

British parents cheating to get kids into good schools

Britain has so many bad and dangerous government schools, these days

Tougher action should be taken against the thousands of parents who lie to get their children into popular schools, England's school places watchdog says. Schools Adjudicator Ian Craig said an estimated 3,500 parents lied on school application forms each year.

Local authorities should use all means open to them to deter parents from cheating the admissions system. This includes removing places from the guilty and pursuing them through the courts, possibly using the Perjury Act. In his government-commissioned report Dr Craig said currently people had "nothing to lose" if they lied to get a place, but he stopped short of calling for school place fraud to be made a crime.

He said he was not persuaded that the courts would use short-term prison sentences in such cases. He added that fines would not be effective against parents who could afford to rent a second property close to a popular school. However, he described lying to get a place at a good school as a "theft" because it deprived another child of that place. He called on the media to send a message to parents that this was wrong.

The detail of how parents could be deterred, and any sanctions to be taken against those that make misleading or false applications, are to form part of a second report ordered by the Secretary of State, Ed Balls. In the meantime he urged councils to make use of their ability to remove school places from children whose parents had been found cheating.

This first report on "fraudulent or misleading applications" was commissioned by the government following the case of a mother accused of using a false home address to get her child into a popular school in London. The case was denied and later dropped.

Dr Craig asked the 150 English education authorities to provide information on the scale of fraudulent or misleading applications their area. Two-fifths of the 123 councils that responded to Dr Craig's inquiry said the problem was a growing one, with some authorities reporting as many as 100 cases. In total 1,100 incidents where local authorities had taken action were reported by these 123 councils. Dr Craig said if this was extrapolated across the remaining councils the number would be more like 1,300 cases. Officers then said they believed they were only catching about half the number of school place cheats.

Dr Craig said: "The majority of parents are honest. If we put this in the context of the 800,000 reception class entries and about 800,000 children transferring to secondary school. "That's 3,500 out of about one to two million school place applications." He blamed parents and not the schools admissions system for the problem, saying: "This is about the parents bending the rules and not telling the truth."

But he said there needed to be consistency between local authorities about what, for example, could be deemed a "permanent address". Ways of cheating included using relatives' addresses and renting a property for the duration of the application. Parents also faked marriage breakdowns and used vacant properties

Mr Balls said he was reassured that the vast majority of applications were honest, but he was concerned some places were being obtained by deception. "I take this issue very seriously and it is vital that it is also taken seriously by schools, admission authorities, and parents. "The small minority of parents who break the rules must understand that obtaining a place by deception is not fair to everyone else."

Shadow schools minister Nick Gibb said he did not condone parents making fraudulent claims but that the government was dealing with the symptoms rather than the causes of parental dissatisfaction.

Liberal Democrat schools spokesman David Laws claimed the government was in a complete muddle over the issue and considering a media campaign to highlight this issue. "It is wrong for parents to cheat the system. However, the problem is more likely to be solved by creating more good school places than a daft media campaign."


British University 'crisis' as applications soar

The idiotic British Leftist government has been pushing to get more kids into university but has failed to fund the extra places that are required for that

Labour has been accused of “sleepwalking” into a fresh university admissions crisis as figures show record applications to degree courses. The number of people applying to UK universities next autumn is already up by 11.6 per cent, it was disclosed. Data published by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) showed almost 71,900 people had applied by mid-October, compared with 64,500 at the same time last year. It follows controversy this summer when the recession and a shortage of jobs is believed to have fuelled a record rise in applications – leaving thousands without places.

On Monday, the Conservatives warned of a repeat unless ministers sanctioned an expansion of higher education. David Willetts, shadow universities secretary, said: “Ministers are sleepwalking into another university entrance crisis. This year, far more potential students than usual have been left without a place and we can now see the problems are set to be even worse next year. Ministers failed to tackle the issue in 2009 and are now repeating their mistakes for 2010.”

Figures from Ucas showed applications for medicine were up 13.7 per cent, dentistry increased by 12.6 per cent and veterinary medicine was up 14 per cent. Applications from outside the UK increased by 16.6 per cent, it was revealed. This included a 26.8 per cent rise among Chinese students. Oxford University, which shuts its admissions earlier than other universities, along with Cambridge, reported a 12 per cent rise in applications.

The National Union of Students called for an urgent expansion of university places. Wes Streeting, NUS president, said: "We now have a clear indication that competition for university places will be fierce again during the next admissions round. Given that tens of thousands of people lost out this year, the Government must look immediately at an expansion of places.”

Ministers capped the number of additional places this year, so that only an extra 13,000 were on offer. Some 10,000 of these were for students studying maths or science based subjects. Students faced an intense scramble for places and some 139,520 missed out, although this included those who did not get the right grades or applied late. The Government has also imposed a cap on places for next year, so that only an extra 10,000 will be available.

David Lammy, the Higher Education Minister, said: “This year there will be more students than ever before going to university. It is still early in the application cycle for next year, but it is encouraging to see that overall application numbers in England to some of the most selective courses and institutions are up on this time last year. "We have encouraged people from all backgrounds to aspire to university, and our initiatives have seen the percentage of young entrants to first time degrees from state schools, lower social groups and low participation backgrounds all increase over the last decade.”

Oxford University announced it had received more than 17,000 applications this year for around 3,000 undergraduate places - an increase of 12 per cent. Most of the 1,808 additional applications came from state schools. Mike Nicholson, director of admissions, said: "This is great news. We have worked hard to ensure that all students with the potential to succeed at Oxford apply, regardless of their background. I believe we can now say that this work is beginning to bear fruit.”

Virginia Isaac, Ucas acting chief executive, said: “While it is pleasing to see the continued rise in applications, it is too early in the cycle to tell whether this significant increase will be sustained throughout 2010 entry. “It does indicate, however, that in certain areas, once again, prospective students will be facing strong competition for places."


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Racial Achievement Gap Still Plagues American Schools

That gap yet again. Nothing they try budges it. When will they realize that the theories that present policy is based on (All men are equal; Discipline is destructive) are just plain wrong? If your theories are wrong, you won't get the results you want. The NPR article below is in part an argument against streaming. Abolishing streaming would just destroy the education of white children while doing nothing for blacks. But that is OK to Leftists, of course. Equality achieved by grinding everyone down is just fine and dandy to them

Black and Latino students consistently have lower test scores and attendance rates than their white counterparts. Placing struggling students in remedial classes has been a standard way to deal with the issue, but this method is coming under fire. American schools have struggled for decades to close what's called the 'minority achievement gap' — the lower average test scores, grades and college attendance rates among black and Latino students. Typically, schools place children who are falling behind in remedial classes, to help them catch up. But some schools are finding that grouping students by ability, also known as tracking or leveling, causes more problems than it solves.

Columbia High School in Maplewood, N.J., is a well-funded school that is roughly 60 percent black and 40 percent white. The kids mix easily and are friendly with one another. But when the bell rings, students go their separate ways.

Teacher Noel Cooperberg's repeat algebra class last year consisted of all minority kids who had flunked the previous year. There were only about a dozen students because the school keeps lower-level classes small to try to boost success. But a group of girls sitting in the middle never so much as picked up a pencil, and they often disrupted the class. It was a different scene from Cooperberg's honors-level pre-calculus class, which had three times as many students — most of them white.

These two classes are pretty typical for the school. Lower-level classes — called levels two and three — are overwhelmingly black, while higher-level four and five are mostly white. Students are assigned to these levels by a combination of grades, test scores and teacher recommendations.

"You could look at the highest-achieving kid and the lowest-achieving kid and say 'Oh my god, they're worlds apart,' right?" says Amy Stuart Wells, sociology and education professor at Columbia University's Teachers College. The problem, Stuart Wells says, is the way kids in the vast middle are sorted. The racial segregation corresponds to the difference in average test scores between black and white students both at the school and nationally. But Stuart Wells says racial stereotypes still play a role. "What you're seeing in suburbia and how it is playing out along racial lines is testimony to the fact that race still matters quite a bit in a society and very much so in education," she says. [It sure does. Because blacks and whites ARE different in significant ways]

The two towns served by the school are diverse, middle-class suburbs, although a third of the students are low-income and almost all of those children are black. But a considerable number of the African-American students are middle and upper middle class.

Reporter Nancy Solomon spent last year as a Spencer Fellow in Education Reporting to examine why good suburban schools are failing black students.

"I was born and raised here," says Haneef Quinn, an African-American student. "I'm 16 years old; I'm a very intellectual student; I've been — I think I'm really actually the smartest underachiever in Columbia High School." Quinn lives in a large house in a solidly middle-class neighborhood. He has two older siblings who have gone to college and he says his parents pushed him to do well. His freshman year, he was placed in level four classes, one of a small group of African-American students. "We kinda sat together," he says. "It would be the black kids over here and the white kids over here. It just seemed like the teacher, she stayed on the other side of the room away from us. The teacher focused on the larger group of whites and left us in the dust."

Columbia Principal Lovie Lilly, who is African-American, is troubled by the racial segregation in leveled classes and says she has heard stories similar to Quinn's many times. She says levels do reflect differences in skills and work habits, but she believes race plays a part. Lilly conducted research on the experience of black students at her school while studying for her doctoral degree.

"Black children in higher-level classes were ignored, or perceived that they were being ignored, or did not feel comfortable going to the teacher after school to get help," Lilly says. "They gave up and decided to go to level three classes where at least there were other black children." But this comfort comes with a penalty. Lower-level classes ask less of students, so they do less. The school district's new superintendent, Brian Osborne, who is white, says the lack of rigor in lower levels is his top priority for change. "The second day that I was here as superintendent I met with a group of middle school students for lunch," Osborne says. "I asked the students one of the questions that I always ask students, which is: What are your teachers' expectations of you? The very first thing that one of the students told me was 'It depends what level you're in.' " [Which is realistic]

The question Osborne has yet to answer is whether lower-level classes can hold students to higher standards, or whether any sorting system sends the wrong message. Jerry Mornvil, a recent graduate, remembers his level two class. He says the lower expectations affected the way students felt about themselves — and about school. "Our first day, going to that class, we made a nickname for that class," he says. "We called it the retarded class." Students were unhappy that the school placed them in a lower level, Mornvil says. "We were mad," he says. "A lot of kids were being rude to the teachers and stuff like that [That would have been a big help]. That class was crazy. It was like every African-American or black ethnic friend I knew in my grade, they were all in that class."

For the past 20 years, proposals to get rid of levels at the school have been defeated by the well-organized parents of highest-performing students. They tend to be affluent and white, and they fear their kids will be slowed down by mixed-ability classes. "I've done both and I've found that when you have kids mixed together, then you're gonna find that this group of kids at this level cannot work at the same level as someone else," says Richard Moss, an African-American math teacher with 37 years of experience. "OK? So that it makes it difficult to organize, and then the frustration level increases at both ends."

On the other side of this issue is Line Marshall, who teaches a demanding medieval literature class to a mixed group of kids from levels two, three and four. The class began as a scheduling mistake, but it turned out to work.

"Which of you is going to present the squire?" Marshall asks her class. "Chenerl?" Chenerl Sainte is one of Marshall's level two students, and he has been in level two classes since middle school. Yet here he is in Marshall's class, explaining the character of the squire in The Canterbury Tales, and doing it well.

"I saw in the kids who wanted the opportunity, a light open up," Marshall says. "The kids who had been used to, I guess, doing very basic work, whose English classes for whatever reason hadn't been challenging, would come up to me and say: 'We've just never thought this way before. No one has ever asked us these questions before.' "

Superintendent Osborne is moving gingerly toward change. He's created a task force to study leveling in Maplewood, and he is hoping to convince parents that education is not a zero sum game — that the schools can boost the lowest performers while improving achievement for all.


Britain needs more private schools, not fewer

Can the Conservatives learn from Sweden's school voucher system? Another blow for the left this week as the University College Debating Society threw out a motion calling for the abolition of private education. Camden LibDem candidate Jo Shaw and I, opposing the motion, expected to be defeated, but at the end of the debate our calm and precise arguments gave us a 2:1 majority.

Not that the argument is difficult. Scrapping private education would place a huge additional burden on the state – leaving it with larger class sizes, or leaving taxpayers with higher taxes – all to fund the education of wealthier kids who the rest of us aren't paying for right now. And why do it? Frankly we should be growing more independent schools, because they perform better. It's not just that they get brighter kids with more motivated parents. Or that they charge more than the state spends. The fact is that they make their budgets work harder. Pound for pound spent, private-school kids get more face time with their teachers than state school kids, as our report A Class Act showed. No wonder they perform better.

Sure, you have to be well off to send your kids to a private school: rich enough to pay taxes to support the state sector, and then pay for your private schooling. What I would like to do instead is make private schooling affordable for everyone – as they do in Sweden, or in Denmark. Sweden introduced a voucher system in the mid-1990s. It means that if parents take their children from a municipal school and move them to an independent school, that school gets the same money from the government that it would have spent on their state education. No fees, no top-ups, not even extra charges for sports kit are allowed. So all at once, the whole population of Sweden can exercise a choice. And around 1000 new independent schools have sprung up, bringing in new ideas and much more customer focus. Even the municipal schools have had to sharpen their act in the face of this new competition.

The Tories have seen the merit of this system. I hope they will be brave enough to let voucher schools go their own way and allow customers, not civil servants, to say how they want their schools run. For instance, we don't need a massive state curriculum, administered by thousands of bureaucrats – parents know whether or not a school is doing a good job, and if it isn't, they will move and take their voucher funding to another. In fact, we wouldn't need much of Ofsted's lumbering regulation at all. Let schools run themselves, and give parents the financial power to make their own choice. That would revolutionize UK education. for the better


Another wacky idea: Careers advice for British 10-year-olds

Children as young as seven are to be offered careers guidance under a government scheme in England. The programme, which aims to broaden the horizons and raise the aspirations of children from deprived backgrounds, is to be piloted in seven local areas. Universities and firms will give pupils a glimpse of what it is like working and learning in adulthood.

The move comes as an annual survey shows careers guidance for teenagers has fallen over the past 12 years. Under the government scheme, careers advice will continue up to the age of 18. It is being tried in 38 primary schools in seven local authority areas: Bristol, Coventry, Gateshead, Manchester, Plymouth, Reading and York.

The programme aims to challenge some of the "negative stereotyping" that leads some children from poorer backgrounds to believe that universities and certain careers are out of reach for them. Children will be offered career-related learning in a range of areas to raise awareness of what they can achieve. It is hoped this will lay the foundations for them to make good subject choices in secondary schools and inspire them to do well.

As part of the new careers strategy, parents will be urged to think while their children are still in primary school about what jobs they might want to do.

New research suggests that many children have very high aspirations at age 11, with 75% saying they want to go to university. The Department for Children, Schools and Families wants teachers and parents to build on this to get children thinking about higher education, especially those from homes where no members of their family have been to university before.

The department stresses the scheme is not about helping children decide what job they want to do, but showing them what can be possible so they fulfil their potential. There will also be more help for disadvantaged and disabled young people in accessing work experience and every young person is to get a careers mentor. Children are also to be offered good information, advice and guidance online on Facebook, YouTube and other social networking sites.

But a survey conducted annually by researchers at Durham University suggests advice and guidance for teenagers at school has plummeted over the last 12 years. The survey of 15 and 16-year-olds, commissioned by the Sutton Trust education charity, shows the proportion who said they had had formal career adviser meetings fell from 85% in 1997 to 55% in 2008. The proportion saying they learned "some" or "a lot" from career advisers or teachers fell from 49% in 1997 to 25% in 2008, while those receiving career talks reduced from 45% to 22%.

The survey asks the same questions to tens of thousands of school children each year. On a positive note, the number of school pupils who had visited universities had increased from 11% in 1997 to 23% in 2008.


Monday, November 02, 2009

Send fewer students to college

Marcus A. Winters says we should “send more students to college.” He is responding, in part, to my NR piece making the opposite case. My argument is that when 40 percent of college students fail to graduate in six years, and when about a quarter of employed college graduates have jobs that don’t require degrees, it’s obvious we’re pushing too many kids into higher education.

Winters essentially (though not explicitly) concedes that now is not the time to ship more kids off to postsecondary institutions. He notes Charles Murray’s documentation of the fact that lots of today’s high-school graduates are not ready for college-level work. Winters disagrees, however, when Murray says there is very little we can do to change this.

I also objected when I reviewed Murray’s Real Education. I pointed out some research showing that high-quality teachers can improve student outcomes, suggesting that we can make a little bit of progress. Winters takes this line of thought much farther, making essentially an anti-Murray case: Schools are so powerful that, with the right reforms, they can significantly narrow, or even close, achievement gaps between various racial and income groups. He points to a study of New York City charter schools — which found that charter schools increase scores significantly relative to New York City public schools — as well as to the aforementioned teacher-quality research. Reforms like these, he implies, will lift almost everyone above the college-ready threshold, thus eliminating the ability-based objection to sending all high-school graduates to college.

Inner-city charter schools and teacher-quality initiatives are promising and deserve greater implementation, but I’m highly skeptical that they will prove to be the panacea Winters is looking for. In the past few decades, there have been countless initially promising solutions to this problem, none of which ended up doing much to help. I’d be surprised, albeit delighted, if these reforms more than marginally increased the proportion of high-school graduates who are college-ready. And that’s assuming teachers’ unions don’t kill them before they’re implemented.

The New York City study in particular isn’t as promising as Winters makes it out to be. For one thing, it involved exactly the kind of students that even Murray admits can benefit from better education: inner-city kids stuck in truly awful schools. What about all the kids who go to schools that appear perfectly fine, but who still aren’t college-ready when they graduate?

On the easy standardized-test questions Murray highlights, one of which Winters quotes, about half of eighth-graders don’t know the answers. Certainly, fewer than half of American children go to schools so bad that they’d be radically better off in charter schools. Winters seems unwilling to believe so many people could be so dull; I appreciate Winters’s faith that virtually all of humanity can learn complicated academic material, but I’m afraid I don’t share it.

Further, all the kids in the study had parents who cared enough to apply to charter schools (the control-group public-school kids had applied to charter schools but were denied by lottery). The change from a terrible public school to a charter school might not have as big an effect for kids whose parents don’t pressure them to take advantage of the new opportunities. Not to mention that one benefit of charter schools is that students get away from poorly behaved peers. If the program expanded so that everyone went to charter schools, these bad apples would come along with the others, and this advantage would weaken.

And even if all these studies’ results hold true across the board, and even if all levels of government work together to implement the reforms Winters envisions, it will be years before we see significant results. Only then can this analysis influence our policies regarding sending more kids to college. Until that point, we’re stuck figuring out what to do with the kids who graduate from the secondary schools we have now — and for many of those kids, college isn’t working.

Winters argues that in addition to being able to get more kids into college, we need to. Why? Because, he says, our economy has a strong, unmet demand for educated workers. He uses as evidence the fact that the “college wage premium” (the degree to which college graduates out-earn high-school graduates) has increased over the past few decades. The economic logic seems sound — if the price is going up and the supply is staying about the same, the demand is probably increasing. From this, it follows that if we can use public policy to increase the supply of college-educated workers, we should seriously consider doing so.

But if there’s such a high demand for college-educated workers, then why, even before the economy crashed, were 25 percent of college graduates in their 20s working at jobs that didn’t require degrees? (The proportion of graduates who utilize their degrees rises, by a few percentage points, until about age 32, but levels off thereafter.) As I pointed out in NR, people who graduate but don’t utilize their degrees get essentially no “college wage premium,” especially once you factor in the debt they’ve accrued and the years of work they missed while attending college.

A big part of the reason is that “college-educated workers” are not interchangeable. The college wage premium, and fluctuations therein, vary substantially by field of study. In other words, the economy doesn’t need more generic college graduates — and in fact refuses to hire many of them. Rather, it needs highly capable people in certain fields. It would probably be better to encourage students acquiring useless majors to switch to these lucrative fields than to send more kids to college across the board.

After all, when you send more kids to college, you’re scraping closer to the bottom of the college-eligibility barrel. The new kids will be less able and motivated, on average, than the ones who are already in college — and thus even more likely to drop out before finishing and to wind up in jobs that don’t utilize their degrees if they do finish.

Winters also takes the existence of the college wage premium to mean that students “acquir[e] knowledge and skills that employers prize.” This is fair enough when it comes to chemists and engineers; in cases such as these, a degree certifies that the student has learned a lot about the specific field in which he’ll work. But when it comes to less demanding fields, employers often use a degree as a simple screening mechanism: They figure that if an applicant is smart enough to graduate, he’s smart enough to learn the job. This is why, on career websites such as, job-seekers frequently come across listings that require four-year degrees but do not mention specific majors. (I’m doubtful that the “social skills” Winters says people learn in college are strong enough to justify employers’ completely refusing to consider non-grads.) In these cases, certification programs could replace degrees, saving students time and money.

As I said in my NR piece, today’s youth are trapped in a lengthy, expensive weeding-out process. About 60 percent of them attempt college; of these, about 40 percent fail to graduate within six years; of those who do graduate and find jobs, about a quarter work in non-degree-utilizing positions. If Winters’s proposal — reforms in secondary education that, unlike most previous reforms in secondary education, actually work — is carried out, that will significantly alter this landscape. I’m hoping for that day to come, but until it does, too many kids are going to college.


Islamists who want to destroy the state get £100,000 school funding from the British government

Members of a group regarded as an 'organisation of concern’ by the Home Office has secured large government grants for schools , reports Andrew Gilligan

Leading members of a group that wants to bring down the British state and replace it with a dictatorship under Islamic law have secured more than £100,000 of taxpayers’ money for a chain of schools. Accounts filed at the Charity Commission show that the Government paid a total of £113,411 last year to a foundation run by senior members and activists of Hizb ut-Tahrir — a notorious Islamic extremist group that ministers promised to ban. The public money helped run a nursery school and two Islamic primary schools where children are taught key elements of Hizb’s ideology from the age of five.

Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary, last night described the disclosure as “astonishing and outrageous” and accused the Government of “sleeping on the job”.

Hizb regards integration as “dangerous” and says that British Muslims should “fight assimilation” into British society. It wants to create a global Islamic superstate, or “caliphate”, initially in Muslim-majority countries and then across the rest of the world. It says that “those [Muslims] who believe in democracy are Kafir”, or apostates. It orders all Muslims to keep apart from non-believers and boycott “corrupt” British elections and political processes. It has a tiny following and its views are rejected by most British Muslims.

Hizb, which operates worldwide, insists it is non-violent and condemned the London bombings. However its website previously displayed a leaflet urging Muslims to “kill [Jews] wherever you find them” and at a rally in London earlier this year, Imran Waheed, its chief media adviser in Britain, said that there could be “no peace” with Israel, calling on Muslims to “fight” a “jihad… in the way of Allah” against it. Its anti-Semitism has resulted in the group being banned in Germany and on some British university campuses.

After the bombings in London on July 7, 2005, Tony Blair, who was then prime minister, also promised to ban Hizb, describing it as “fanatical”. A ban has not been introduced but the Tories have pledged to outlaw the group and the Home Office continues to regard it as an “organisation of concern”.

The three schools — in Tottenham, north London, and Slough, Berks — are run by the Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation, a registered charity. The foundation’s lead trustee is Yusra Hamilton, a leading Hizb activist who is married to Taji Mustafa, the group’s chief spokesman in Britain. At least three of the four trustees are Hizb members or activists, including Farah Ahmed, the head teacher of the Slough school, who has written in a Hizb journal condemning the “corrupt Western concepts of materialism and freedom”. On their website, the schools say their “ultimate goal” and “foremost work” is the creation of an “Islamic personality” in children The creation of an “Islamic personality” is a key tenet of Hizb’s ideology.

The schools’ history curriculum states that children are taught that “there must be one ruler of the khilafah [caliphate]”. The schools’ website says that “in the glorious history of Islam... the Sharia was the norm”. Children learn Arabic from the age of three. A spokesman for the foundation insisted that it was not a Hizb ut-Tahrir operation but involved “Muslim women from a wide variety of backgrounds”. The spokesman claimed that Mrs Hamilton resigned two years ago. However, Charity Commission records, accessed yesterday show that she remains the lead trustee.

In January 2009, Mrs Hamilton was described by Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, as the “proprietor” of the Shakhsiyah Foundation’s Slough school. The Foundation’s annual report of December 2008 shows her as a trustee. Mrs Hamilton is listed on the electoral roll as residing just around the corner from the Foundation’s Tottenham school, with Mr Mustafa under his real name, Urutajirinere Fombo.

Contacted by telephone, he confirmed his identity as Mr Mustafa and said that Hizb did not “run” the foundation, but added: “We would certainly approve of those in the Muslim community who seek to establish good Islamic schools.” The Shakhsiyah Foundation spokesman said the government money, from Whitehall’s “Free Entitlement” and “Pathfinder” programmes, had been claimed by parents on behalf of the school.

However, a spokesman for Haringey council, which administered the grant, said this was incorrect and that the foundation had applied for the money.

The Tottenham school’s landlord, a moderate Muslim organisation, said it had serious reservations about its tenant. “They have a contract with us,” said Serkan Yumakci, a spokesman for the landlord. “But if we had known then what we know now, things would be very different.” Mr Yumakci said that Mr Mustafa had previously been a frequent visitor to the school but had now been asked not to come by the landlord.

A report out next week by the Centre for Social Cohesion, a think-tank, says that Hizb is creating a number of similar “front organisations” to win public money and enlist support from mainstream politicians. “Hizb is a fringe group but it is being given a public platform, legitimacy and funding by the very institutions it wishes to destroy,” said Houriya Ahmed, one of the authors of the report. “Just as everyone sees the BNP for what they really are, it’s time for us all to recognise how dangerous and divisive this group is.”

Outside a Victorian Gothic priory in Tottenham, which houses two of the Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation’s schools, boys spilt out at home-time in their royal blue uniform sweatshirts. Even the smallest girl wore the hijab. Most parents said they liked the school, but not all were aware of its links with Hizb. “We don’t really know about it,” said one father. Others, however, were more political. “Hizb ut-Tahrir is not an extremist group,” said one mother, Khadija. “They’re people who want to stop the US domination of the Middle East.” Was it a good school? “It’s a lovely school,” she said. “Because they love Islam.”

When the school realised there was a journalist outside, a teacher came to tell the parents not to talk to us. Some, however, ignored their orders. “To be honest with you, I don’t prefer this school,” said one father. “They don’t teach good English. Personally, I would say it’s not good for integration.” “It is a good school,” his daughter, aged about six, interrupted. Asked what she was taught, she replied: “Arabic.” ....

A Department for Children, Schools and Families spokesman said: “We give that money to local authorities and they are responsible for ensuring that providers are appropriate.”

More here

Australia: Weapons maker funds new school curriculum

Leftists are fuming. Nobel peace-prize nominee Adolf Hitler condemned the "armaments madness of the world" too. See the actual prewar German election posters here

An Adelaide public school has come under fire for reaching a deal with the world's largest manufacturer of guided missiles to fund a new curriculum. The principal of Aberfoyle Park High School says the program will get students more interested in maths and science and encourage them to consider engineering as a career.

But critics argue it is helping US-based contractor Raytheon poach students into the defence industry.

Principal Allan Phelps says the $500,000 deal to co-develop the curriculum with Raytheon provides students with the best real-life learning examples possible. "The focus is on learning and teaching in maths and science," he said. The deal also funds about 250 new laptops.

It does not have the support of the education union's president, Coreena Haythorpe. "I think the question the community would be asking is whether you want a company that has been involved in global conflicts and developing missiles, working in education with our children," she said. Ms Haythorpe says schools should not have to resort to business deals and wants the Government to increase education funding.

South Australian Education Minister Jane Lomax-Smith and Raytheon would not comment.


Sunday, November 01, 2009

IA: Vindictive principal suspends girl over empty gun shells

An 11-year-old Des Moines girl was at home on suspension Tuesday for bringing a handful of empty shotgun shells to school last week. Jazmine Martin, a sixth-grader at Brody Middle School, picked up the shells as souvenirs during a family trip to a ranch in South Dakota, where the rounds were fired as part of a show. They were blanks. "I didn't think they were going to hurt anyone," Jazmine said. "I wanted to show them to my science teacher because he's into stuff like this."

She said she didn't have time to show her teacher, but she did show a couple of friends. This week, she was called into the office and suspended. Principal Randy Gordon said the shells were considered ammunition even though they were empty, and were therefore against school policy.

A copy of the school policy shows that it specifically bans "live ammunition or bullets" but makes no reference to empty shells or casings. However, the policy says it is not limited to the items specifically listed as being banned.

The girl's mother, Chenoa Martin, 39, said school officials were trying to make an example of her daughter — and overreacted. She said she will fight to have the offense removed from her daughter's record. "They could have handled it differently," she said. "I could have seen a detention, a conference with the parents ... but this was harsh."


Cleared British teacher calls for greater protection against allegations

The first teacher in Britain to take a lie detector test to try to clear her name after she was wrongly accused of assault last night called for greater protection against false allegations. Jane Watts, 52, claims her life was left in tatters after she was accused of hitting a five-year-old girl in her reception class. Police dismissed the allegation against her but she was still sacked from her job at a primary school in Chorley, near Preston, Lancs.

Mrs Watts, who has been forced to rent out her home and is now living in “exile” in Spain, still recalls her fear at being arrested and taken to a police station. “It was absolutely horrendous,” she said. “I was warned that I might be handcuffed and put in a cell. I was fingerprinted, had my DNA taken and photographed. “I had been on the senior management team and had an unblemished record. I was terrified.”

Mrs Watts spoke out after the Daily Telegraph revealed how Michael Becker, a special needs teacher, was convicted of assault by beating for daring to eject a disruptive pupil from his classroom. Mr Becker, 62, from Stutton, Suffolk, took action because the boy refused to stop telling racist jokes. He was fined and ordered to pay costs. An imminent disciplinary hearing is expected to confirm his dismissal after 32 years in the classroom.

The case comes as a poll by the the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) found a quarter of school staff have been falsely accused by a pupil of wrongdoing while one in six has faced malicious allegations from a pupil's family. Half of those questioned said there had been at least one false allegation in their current school.

Mary Bousted, the union's general secretary, said false allegations were blighting teachers' lives. "You get allegations of inappropriate sexual contact, you get allegations that you have hit a child, you get allegations that you have been unreasonable in your behaviour to the child," she said. "It is a totally isolating experience," said Bousted, who added that many teachers never went back because they felt a cloud was hanging over them.

Mrs Watts, speaking from her new home in Cantabria, said teachers should learn that 'nobody is their friend.' “The Government should look at suspensions and at their procedures very, very carefully, and it needs to be somebody independent to look at them. “Children need to be protected, but so do the adults.”

Her 30-year career effectively came to a halt in September, 2007, when a youngster accused her of hitting her on the hand during a lesson at Duke Street Primary School. She spent £25,000 trying to clear her name, even going to the trouble of submitting herself to a polygraph examination. The test came back clear but the school said it was unreliable.

Mrs Watts, who maintained throughout that she had struck a desk rather than the child, was reinstated after an appeal. After declining an “invitation” to return to the school she applied for early retirement, but this was turned down. The stress continued to wear her down and she was eventually sacked for non-attendance in 2009. “I don’t know how I’ve survived,” she said. “Without the support of my family I would have lost it. There were days when I couldn’t get out of bed and it took months for me to go into town. “At one point I almost lost my house. I spent all my life savings just to stay afloat and almost had to sell my house.” She added: “It finally seems like people are talking about the issue, and I won’t rest until I get changes made.”

Ken Cridland, Lancashire secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the human cost to teachers subjected to false allegations “cannot be underestimated”. He added: “This is a brutal system that wrecks the careers and home lives of innocent teachers. “There are some older children who are wise or unwise enough to attempt to get staff into trouble.”


Teachers need the law on their side

We need a politician with the guts to stand up for reasonable discipline in our schools, argues Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London

Let's be clear. I am not calling for the return of the cane. I do not want to bring back the great British thrashing. It seems amazing that in our lifetimes otherwise humane teachers would roll up their sleeves, flex the Malacca and – with or without a pervy Terry-Thomas glint in the eye – administer violent corporal punishment to the children they were supposed to be instructing.

My memory of an otherwise idyllic 1970s English prep school is that masters used virtually any weapon of discipline they could lay their hands on. There was the blackboard rubber, a heavy chalky object that teachers would hurl with great force if they saw you staring vacantly during maths. There was the ruler, which could be brought down so hard on the back of the hand that a friend of mine had a contusion that lasted for years. There was the jokari bat, for those who forgot their construe. There was the cricket bat for seriously argumentative types and also, I kid you not, the handle of a nine iron golf club. And then there was the cane. I remember being so enraged at being whacked for talking at the wrong moment that it has probably given me a lifelong distrust of authority.

So no, frankly, I do not want to turn the clock back to a school system that allowed regular beating of children by adults. But when I look at the state of our schools, and the misery and confusion of so many teachers, I wonder whether the pendulum has swung too far the other way. Classrooms are often scenes of such anarchy that learning is impossible. Violence against teachers is continuing to rise, with physical assaults by children on adults up to 18,000 a year.

In a particularly nasty incident in February a music teacher was duffed up by a 14-year-old and suffered such badly broken teeth that he will never play the saxophone again. How could he have been so humiliated? Because he was just panic-stricken at the thought of offering any kind of physical restraint. "I thought of putting (the pupil) in an armlock," said the teacher, David Mishra, later, "but he was struggling, and if he had broken his arm I thought I would have been crucified."

I partly blame the parents, and the hysterical way they are allowed to rail at any teacher who tries to discipline their little brutes. A mum once came to see me at my MP surgery to complain about what she said was a breach of her son's human rights. I was all set to take up her cause until it became obvious that the breach in question involved an attempt to keep her son in detention for an hour – an entirely reasonable chastisement, it turned out, after her son had caused chaos on a school trip by jumping out of a bus. As the mother ranted on about her hatred of the school, her hatred of the teacher and the general conspiracy to deprive her son of his human rights, I am afraid that I saw red and told her that I was completely on the side of the school. I told her firmly that she would have to vote for another MP.

But far more than the parents, I blame an educational and legal system that is now routinely betraying teachers, preventing them from fulfilling their vocations, and depriving them of the dignity and respect they deserve.

It was with complete fury that I read Nigel Bunyan's brilliant interview with Michael Becker , 62, who has spent 31 years giving blameless service to the cause of teaching children in Suffolk. Just as he was preparing to retire amid the thanks of his community, he has been convicted of assault by beating, and fined £1,500, with an order to pay a further £1,875 in costs.

What had he done to deserve this disaster? He tried to take action against a boy who refused to stop telling racist jokes during a science lesson. He grabbed the boy by his belt and sweat shirt and removed him to an adjacent store room. The boy claimed he had been turned upside down during the scuffle; the magistrates believed the boy, and the teacher leaves his profession in disgrace.

Whatever the exact facts of the case – and the magistrates will have of course heard them in greater detail than me – you have to wonder whether the punishment is proportionate to the offence.

Or take the case of teaching assistant Mark Ellwood, 46, who was working at the David Lister school in Hull. A boy in his class was wearing his outdoors coat in class and playing with his mobile phone. Mr Ellwood asked the boy to take off his coat and stop fiddling with the mobile. How did the little darling respond to the request? He said "I will have you killed," and threatened to stab the teacher.

Now I don't want to make heavy weather of this, but if I had said such a thing to any of my teachers I would not only have had my mobile officially marmalised. I would have been beaten or slung out of the school. As it was, Mr Ellwood took the boy out of the classroom and to the school car park; and when the kid tried to kick him on the shins, he defensively swung his legs out from under him. After which, Ellwood was charged with assault, lost his job, and has spent nine months of hell until a court sensibly threw the case out.

The real victims in all this are not just the teachers. They are the other kids whose education is being wrecked by a minority of badly behaved children. We don't need the return of the cane. We don't need systematic corporal punishment. All we need is the politicians to have the guts to take on the bullying parents, the supine education authorities, and the crazed culture of health and safety.

We want the next education secretary to stand up and say that the law is plainly and unambiguously on the side of the teacher exercising reasonable discipline – and not on the side of the violent little squirts who are trying to make their jobs impossible.