Saturday, November 28, 2009

British schools boss comes out fighting - for 'racist' Islamic schools

A trustee of one of the schools which Ed Balls is defending has written in a Hizb ut Tahrir journal condemning the "corrupt western concepts of materialism and freedom," observes Andrew Gilligan

We connoisseurs of Ed Balls, a small but happy band, know from experience that the moment he gets that complacent little smile playing round his lips is the time to set the video; the moment when Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families is once more about to walk, unknowingly, into an open manhole.

Mr Balls has been having good sport with the Tories this week. On Newsnight on Wednesday, the little smile was in full operation as he expressed mock sympathy with their communities spokesman, Paul Goodman, for having to defend the "factual errors" and "irresponsible politics" of his leader, David Cameron, in the row over Islamic schools. The Tories should have "checked their facts", he chided. Ofsted, he told Radio 4, "have satisfied themselves that there were not problems in these schools". The whole episode "casts real doubt on David Cameron's judgment", he said, sorrowfully.

Cameron had said that two schools run by members or activists of a thoroughly nasty extremist organisation, Hizb ut Tahrir, had been paid £113,000 of public money. The allegation came from a story of mine in the Telegraph four weeks ago. The central charge is perfectly true, thoroughly documented – and a scandal. But Cameron made some mistakes in the detail, sending the Westminster media chasing down one of their classic "process issue" cul-de-sacs (whether the schools were registered, and which particular part of the Whitehall cake this slice of cash had come from) and allowing Balls to launch his attack on Cameron. He clearly thought he'd scored a bullseye: one-nil to the forces of Gordon.

But it turns out to be Ed Balls, just as much as Cameron, who's been playing politics and failing to check the facts. The issue is not the situation with the schools now. It's the situation at the time the public money was paid. It turns out that the schools' chief Hizb ut Tahrir trustee, Yusra Hamilton, only resigned last month, in response to my story, long after the Government grant came in. The headteacher of one of the schools, Farah Ahmed, who remains a trustee to this day, refuses to deny that she was a Hizb member and has written in a Hizb journal condemning the "corrupt western concepts of materialism and freedom."

And Ofsted – far from "satisfying themselves that there were no problems" – actually condemned one of the two schools as "inadequate," questioned the suitability of the staff, and said that it could do more "to promote cultural tolerance and harmony." That was in November 2007.

By May 2008, according to a follow-up report, the school had been magically transformed, and was now "good". That second report, however, was written by an inspector with, at the very least, personal connections to Islamic groups.

I fear Mr Balls's heavy reliance on these Ofsted reports to defend the schools is about to make him look pretty silly. Ofsted is also, of course, the body that rated children's services in Haringey "good" – in the same year that the borough was comprehensively failing Baby P.

But there's a broader point. If taxpayer-funded schools were run by supporters of the BNP, there would be an outcry. Hizb ut Tahrir is an Islamic version of the BNP: not actually violent, but openly anti-Semitic, racist, and an enemy of liberal society. Do Ed Balls and New Labour really want to be the friends and defenders of such people? Does Balls really think it's good politics to be the Minister for Hizb ut Tahrir?

Not for the first time, the minister has allowed his thirst for a quick hit on the Tories to overcome his common sense. And not for the first time, he has scored a tactical victory, but dropped a massive strategic clanger.


Florida: Pupils suspended for 'Kick a Jew Day'

Ten students at North Naples Middle School were sent home for a day after a girl told the head teacher that she believed she had been kicked for being Jewish, prompting further instances to come to light. Florida passed strict anti-bullying laws last year and schools that do not do enough to stop it risk losing their state funding.

Margaret Jackson, the school's head teacher, has responded to the kicking incident by setting aside the first 20 minutes of each day to teaching students – aged 12 to 15 – about kindness, respect and ways of preventing bullying.

David Barkey of the Florida Anti-Defamation League said the organisation had been consulted over the incident. "You are talking about an incident that has anti-Jewish bias if not anti-semitism. You have Jewish students being singled out, harassed and assaulted," he said.

Last year, four pupils were suspended from a middle school in St Louis over a "Hit a Jew Day" in which one Jewish student was slapped in the face. The "day" had been the culmination of a "Spirit Week" organised by pupils which included "Hug a Friend Day" and "Hit a Tall Person Day".

Some believe the idea for such behaviour originally came from the satirical cartoon show South Park which featured a "Kick a Ginger Day" in an episode.


Hearing for homeschooler forced into gov't system

The New Hampshire Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of a 10-year-old homeschool girl who has been ordered into a government-run school because she was too "vigorous" in defense of her Christian faith. As WND reported, a girl identified in court documents as "Amanda" had been described as "well liked, social and interactive with her peers, academically promising and intellectually at or superior to grade level."

Nevertheless, a New Hampshire court official determined that she would be better off in public school rather than continuing her homeschool education. The August decision from Marital Master Michael Garner reasoned that Amanda's "vigorous defense of her religious beliefs to [her] counselor suggests strongly that she has not had the opportunity to seriously consider any other point of view." The recommendation was approved by Judge Lucinda V. Sadler, but it is being challenged by attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund, who said it was "a step too far" for any court.

The ADF filed motions with the court on Aug. 24 seeking reconsideration of the order and a stay of the decision sending the 10-year-old student in government-run schools in Meredith, N.H. On Sept. 17, a lower-court judge refused to reconsider or stay the order.

The denial of the motions, signed by Judge Sadler of the Family Division of the Judicial Court for Belknap County in Laconia, states, "Amanda is at an age when it can be expected that she would benefit from the social interaction and problem solving she will find in public school, and granting a stay would result in a lost opportunity for her."

The dispute arose as part of a modification of a parenting plan for the girl. The parents divorced in 1999 when she was a newborn, and the mother has homeschooled her daughter since first grade with texts that meet all state standards. In addition to homeschooling, the girl attends supplemental public-school classes and has also been involved in a variety of extracurricular sports activities, the ADF reported.

But during the process of negotiating the terms of the plan, a guardian ad litem appointed to participate concluded the girl "appeared to reflect her mother's rigidity on questions of faith" and that the girl's interests "would be best served by exposure to a public-school setting" and "different points of view at a time when she must begin to critically evaluate multiple systems of belief ... in order to select, as a young adult, which of those systems will best suit her own needs." According to court documents, the guardian ad litem earlier had told the mother, "If I want her in public school, she'll be in public school." The guardian ad litem had an anti-Christian bias, the documents said, telling the mother at one point she wouldn't even look at homeschool curriculum. "I don't want to hear it. It's all Christian-based," she said.

The marital master who heard the case proposed the Christian girl be ordered into public school after considering "the impact of [her religious] beliefs on her interaction with others."

"Courts can settle disputes, but they cannot legitimately order a child into a government-run school on the basis that her religious views need to be mixed with other views. That's precisely what the lower court admitted it is doing in this case, and that's where our concern lies," ADF-allied attorney John Anthony Simmons said in a statement. Simmons said the court wrongly interfered with Amanda's education plan after admitting the child was sociable and "academically promising and intellectually at or superior to grade level." "[B]ut then it ordered her out of the homeschooling she loves so that her religious views will be challenged at a government school," Simmons explained. "That's where the court went too far."

Now the New Hampshire Supreme Court will hear the case. ADF Senior Legal Counsel Mike Johnson said the lower court is setting a dangerous standard.

"We are concerned anytime a court oversteps its bounds to tread on the right of a parent to make sound educational choices, or to discredit the inherent value of the homeschooling option," Johnson sad. "The lower court effectively determined that it would be a 'lost opportunity' if a child's Christian views are not sifted and challenged in a public-school setting. We regard that as a dangerous precedent."


Friday, November 27, 2009

College is a waste of money right now

It's quite amazing that the bias in favor of college continues to survive against mounting evidence that it is a bad investment for many young people and their parents. At the top of intelligence scale, most would-be college students would clearly be better off avoiding college in favor of joining a start up, founding their own company or simply pursuing intellectual pursuits outside of the traditional four-year college.

At the bottom of the intelligence scale, the would-be students would be far better learning a trade without accumulating tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. Even middling students would probably be better off seeking a profession that is not irrationally closed off to those without a college degree.

"In this environment, opportunity cost trumps tradition. For many undergraduates and parents, the cost of going to college is now far greater than the supposed benefits," a new story on Minyanville reports. More from Minyanville:

“College costs -- along with living and medical costs -- are rising, and salaries are going down right now,” Managing Director of Formula Capital and Wall Street Journal columnist James Altucher said. “College graduates don’t have the same benefits as they did 30 years ago.”

Parents should beware of their child’s intentions. Many students want to spend their parents’ money -- it’s their last chance to go all out... “If a student wants to go back to school in their 20s, when they’ve made some money, traveled, and matured a bit, then go ahead,” Altucher said. “But a parent shouldn’t have to spend $50,000 a year for their kid to go to frat parties all day long.”


Saving Private Casimer

by Mike Adams

Last Monday night, I spent an evening at my favorite cigar store with several good friends. We were laughing and carrying on as usual when a man came slowly walking in relying heavily on a cane he held with his left hand. He had a cast on his right wrist and a “World War II Veteran” cap on his head. As he passed in front of me I said “Good evening, young man.” He laughed and told me he was 83.

As soon as the veteran said he was looking for two Romeo and Juliets my friend Frank jumped up and opened the door to the humidor to help him find his cigars. A couple of minutes later, the veteran emerged with two cigars, which he plopped down beside the cash register as he reached for his wallet.

As soon as I saw his wallet I tapped him on the shoulder and said “No World War II veteran pays for his cigars in this shop.” I was about to reach for my own wallet when my friend Carl “The Chocolate Chaplain” Byrd shouted “put them on my tab.” The veteran shook my hand and thanked us all before turning and slowly walking towards the door.

After taking a few steps our new friend stopped and turned around. I saw a tear rolling down his left cheek just before he spoke with a voice that cracked with emotion. He said “I get awfully choked up when someone thanks me for my service. It means a whole lot to me.” I told him we all loved him for what he did for us. Carl got up and threw his arms around the man and hugged him before he turned around and struggled to work his cane towards the door.

After our veteran friend was gone the conversation went in an entirely different direction. We stopped trying to one-up each other. We even stopped exchanging insults, which is a favorite pastime at Brookelynn Cigars. We spent the rest of the evening telling stories about our uncles and grandfathers who served in World Wars I and II.

Someone mentioned that the last known veteran of World War I died just last year. We suddenly realized it wouldn’t be long before the veterans of World War II are gone as well.

When I woke up Tuesday morning and turned on my computer I noticed I had over 700 emails in my inbox. I had published an internet column at midnight before I went to bed. The column was about a kid named Kevin Casimer at Purdue University. Kevin was offended because a library science professor named Bert Chapman had talked about the economic costs of homosexuality on his personal blog. So Kevin started a petition to have him fired for “offensive” speech.

My response to Kevin was pretty simple: I used my column to invite people to put their names on a petition to expel Kevin Casimer for intellectual intolerance.

I was only kidding but, apparently, many people thought it was a good idea. I had not previously received more than 600 emails in a day - and that was only when Rush Limbaugh read one of my columns on his radio show. To put things in perspective, the column on Kevin Casimer was the 595th I’ve written since 2003. I had never received over 700 email responses to a column in just one morning

Before I could even get to those 700 morning emails I received another 700 that afternoon. And I have received several hundred - with some variation of “Expel Kevin Casimer” in the subject line - every day since I ran the column. By contrast, Kevin Casimer has succeeded in collecting about five dozen signatures.

One cannot understand fully the strong reaction to Kevin Casimer’s arrogance without reflecting upon the meaning of the scene in Brookelynn Cigars. People are upset to see the passing of our greatest generation. But they are equally upset to see them replaced by our weakest and most arrogant generation to date. I know that every generation of adults thinks the current generation of teenagers and younger adults is the worst. But someone has to be right.

So I am sending a proposal to President France A. Cordova of Purdue University asking her to expel Kevin Casimer. But I’m also asking her to let him back in contingent upon his completion of a simple research project.

I will propose that Kevin Casimer collect the signatures of five dozen World War II veterans. The signature lines will be placed at the bottom of a short questionnaire to be administered by none other than Kevin Casimer. The questionnaire will be comprised of two simple questions:

1) Did you storm the beaches of Normandy or fight any other World War II battle in order to preserve the right of future generations to be comfortable at all times?

2) What are your personal feelings about those who feel that the United States Constitution (that you defended by risking your life) can now be nullified by subjective feelings such as personal offense or discomfort?

I will also ask Purdue University to let Bert Chapman supervise Kevin Casimer as he carries out this important project. And I will ask Purdue to have the project graded by a panel of young veterans attending Purdue University. They, and only they, will be allowed to readmit Kevin Casimer on the basis of the proper administration and interpretation of this important project. Finally, I will ask that Kevin Casimer only be admitted upon the return of a unanimous verdict.

After all, Kevin Casimer is accused of intellectual terrorism. He should be tried before a military rather than a civilian jury.


Leftist brainwashing of future teachers at the University of Minnesota

You must denounce exclusionary biases and embrace the vision. (Or else.)

Do you believe in the American dream -- the idea that in this country, hardworking people of every race, color and creed can get ahead on their own merits? If so, that belief may soon bar you from getting a license to teach in Minnesota public schools -- at least if you plan to get your teaching degree at the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus.

In a report compiled last summer, the Race, Culture, Class and Gender Task Group at the U's College of Education and Human Development recommended that aspiring teachers there must repudiate the notion of "the American Dream" in order to obtain the recommendation for licensure required by the Minnesota Board of Teaching. Instead, teacher candidates must embrace -- and be prepared to teach our state's kids -- the task force's own vision of America as an oppressive hellhole: racist, sexist and homophobic.

The task group is part of the Teacher Education Redesign Initiative, a multiyear project to change the way future teachers are trained at the U's flagship campus. The initiative is premised, in part, on the conviction that Minnesota teachers' lack of "cultural competence" contributes to the poor academic performance of the state's minority students. Last spring, it charged the task group with coming up with recommendations to change this. In January, planners will review the recommendations and decide how to proceed.

The report advocates making race, class and gender politics the "overarching framework" for all teaching courses at the U. It calls for evaluating future teachers in both coursework and practice teaching based on their willingness to fall into ideological lockstep. The first step toward "cultural competence," says the task group, is for future teachers to recognize -- and confess -- their own bigotry. Anyone familiar with the re-education camps of China's Cultural Revolution will recognize the modus operandi.

The task group recommends, for example, that prospective teachers be required to prepare an "autoethnography" report. They must describe their own prejudices and stereotypes, question their "cultural" motives for wishing to become teachers, and take a "cultural intelligence" assessment designed to ferret out their latent racism, classism and other "isms." They "earn points" for "demonstrating the ability to be self-critical."

The task group opens its report with a model for officially approved confessional statements: "As an Anglo teacher, I struggle to quiet voices from my own farm family, echoing as always from some unstated standard. ... How can we untangle our own deeply entrenched assumptions?"

The goal of these exercises, in the task group's words, is to ensure that "future teachers will be able to discuss their own histories and current thinking drawing on notions of white privilege, hegemonic masculinity, heteronormativity, and internalized oppression."

Future teachers must also recognize and denounce the fundamental injustices at the heart of American society, says the task group. From a historical perspective, they must "understand that ... many groups are typically not included" within America's "celebrated cultural identity," and that "such exclusion is frequently a result of dissimilarities in power and influence." In particular, aspiring teachers must be able "to explain how institutional racism works in schools."

After indoctrination of this kind, who wouldn't conclude that the American Dream of equality for all is a cruel hoax? But just to make sure, the task force recommends requiring "our future teachers" to "articulate a sophisticated and nuanced critical analysis" of this view of the American promise. In the process, they must incorporate the "myth of meritocracy in the United States," the "history of demands for assimilation to white, middle-class, Christian meanings and values, [and] history of white racism, with special focus on current colorblind ideology."

What if some aspiring teachers resist this effort at thought control and object to parroting back an ideological line as a condition of future employment? The task group has Orwellian plans for such rebels: The U, it says, must "develop clear steps and procedures for working with non-performing students, including a remediation plan."

And what if students' ideological purity is tainted once they begin to do practice teaching in the public schools? The task group frames the danger this way: "How can we be sure that teaching supervisors are themselves developed and equipped in cultural competence outcomes in order to supervise beginning teachers around issues of race, class, culture, and gender?" Its answer? "Requir[e] training/workshop for all supervisors. Perhaps a training session disguised as a thank you/recognition ceremony/reception at the beginning of the year?"

When teacher training requires a "disguise," you know something sinister is going on.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Gun paranoia: California student expelled for having unloaded shotguns in truck … off campus

They can't stop kids who really want to hurt others so they penalize peaceful kids. Apparently that makes sense to them

The Willows Unified School District board of trustees has expelled a 16-year-old for having unloaded shotguns in his pickup parked just off the Willows High School campus. The board voted 4-0 Thursday to expel junior Gary Tudesko after the weapons were discovered via scent-sniffing dogs on Oct. 26. Board Vice President Alex Parisio abstained from the discussion and vote because he is related to Tudesko's family.

Expulsion hearings are normally held in closed sessions, but affected students and their parents can request a public hearing. Susan Parisio defended her son during the 105-minute public hearing at Willows Civic Center. She acknowledged that Tudesko was lazy for not storing the shotguns at home after a morning of bird hunting, but she questioned the district's ability to enforce its policies off Willows High School property. "My son was not even parked on school property," Parisio said.

Willows High Principal Mort Geivett and other district officials did not appear to dispute that the parking space was off school property, but they cited several justifications. One of them was the legal doctrine of in loco parentis — where school officials may act in place of a parent for school functions.

Geivett said the school was responsible for students traveling to and from school as well as during lunch. He said he believed that students should not possess weapons within 1,000 feet of campus. Geivett said he believed off-campus parking around the school was under the school's jurisdiction, in part because it is primarily used by students. "I'm erring on the safe side of protecting staff and kids," he said.

The incident began on Oct. 26 when scent-sniffing dogs detected something in a pickup on the street north of the tennis courts on West Willow Street. A Willows police officer did a search of the license plate and traced the pickup to Tudesko.

Tudesko came out to the vehicle and said there were two shotguns and shells in the pickup. He opened his vehicle for a search, which revealed the guns on the rear seat as well as a knife with a 3-inch blade. The police held the weapons and the school suspended Tudesko for five days, which was later extended indefinitely until Thursday's hearing.

Geivett said the Education Code requires the school pursue expulsion, when a student is in possession of a firearm, knife or explosive without written permission from the school. He said he was concerned for the safety of students and staff. "Gary should've known better than to come to campus with guns in his truck," Geivett said.

In addition to the Education Code, the Gun-Free School Zone Act of 1995 bars possession of firearms within 1,000 feet of a school, but there are exceptions for private property and for lawful transportation of non-concealable weapons.

Parisio said her son was raised in a family that has always owned guns. "We have always, always stressed that safety is important," she said. Parisio revisited the searches that uncovered the guns. She noted the canine search found two additional vehicles that resulted in the discovery of live ammunition. Parisio compared the ammo to explosives — which is also covered by the mandatory expulsion law — and asked why there weren't expulsion hearings for those students.

In addition, one of the shotguns in Tudesko's pickup belonged to a friend who rode to school with Tudesko. Parisio asked why the school didn't punish this student as well. "Selective enforcement in of itself is wrong," Parisio said.

Before the end of the session, Tudesko spoke briefly. He apologized for his actions and said he wanted to be on time for school. Tudesko said he believed it was all right to park on a public street with the unloaded weapons. After the hearing, several school board members declined to comment on their decision.

Parisio said she will appeal the district's decision to the Glenn County Board of Education. If the decision is upheld and her son is sent to a continuation school, Parisio said she would likely home-school Tudesko.


School leavers are not fit for work, says British retail chief

Millions of school and college leavers are 'not fit for work', the boss of Marks & Spencer warned yesterday. Chairman Sir Stuart Rose said too many didn't even have a basic grasp of the three Rs. His company is one of the country's biggest employers, with a 65,000-strong regular workforce as well as 20,000 Christmas temps. It comes weeks after Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy called the education system 'woeful' and said employers were too often 'left to pick up the pieces.'

In an outspoken attack in London yesterday, Sir Stuart, 60, said: 'They cannot do reading. They cannot do arithmetic. They cannot do writing.' He said his work as chairman of the Business in the Community charity had highlighted the skills crisis. A major poll by the charity of around 2,000 business leaders over 18 months found the education black hole was their second biggest headache after the recession. Many young people simply do not have the ' employability', lacking skills from reading and writing to punctuality, presentation and communication, it found.

Yesterday business lobby groups also weighed in. Stephen Alambritis, from the Federation of Small Businesses, said many bosses spend 'two to four weeks' helping to educate young people when they join the firm. This is before they can start teaching them about the job they have been hired to do.

Phil Orford, chief executive of the Forum of Private Business, added: 'There is a clear gap between what businesses need and what businesses get when it comes to the ability of the education system to produce viable employees for small businesses.' Around 750,000 small firms have been forced to hire recruits 'with fewer skills than they had hoped for', according to its latest research. About one in five ranked the skills in the workforce as 'poor' or 'very poor'.

Appearing alongside Sir Stuart during a question and answer session at the Confederation of British Industry's annual conference yesterday was Chris Hyman, chief executive of the services giant Serco. He added that Britain suffers from a 'paranoia about qualifications, rather than skills.'

Recent figures show that nearly one in five pupils - 19 per cent - finished 11 years of compulsory education without achieving a single C grade in any subject.

There is also a widening gulf between private and state schools, with many parents feeling forced into paying to educate their children.

And the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics revealed that there are nearly one million young people aged 16 to 24 who cannot get a job. A record 19.8 per cent of young people are unemployed, which means they are actively looking for work but are having no success.

Sir Stuart was educated in Tanzania followed by a Quaker school in York before starting his career in 1971 as an M&S trainee.

Last night Schools Minister Iain Wright hit back at his claims, saying: 'Employers rightly have higher expectations of workers because there are fewer low-skill jobs in the economy - but it's unfair and wrong to make sweeping generalisations that distort the true picture. 'Our school leavers work hard for their qualifications and are better equipped for the world of work than they have ever been - with English and maths results at their highest ever levels [according to dumbed-down tests] and the consistency of those standards rigorously scrutinised by our independent exam regulator.'


A lesson in incompetence: How 1 in 3 British schools fails to provide adequate teaching

More than two million children are being taught in schools that are mediocre or failing, inspectors said yesterday. A 'stubborn core' of incompetent teachers is holding pupils back and fuelling indiscipline and truancy, Ofsted warned. Despite a raft of national initiatives, a third of schools still fail to offer a good education. The watchdog said the life chances of too many children were limited because they left school without basic mastery of the three Rs.

The withering verdict, which came in Ofsted's last annual report to Parliament before next year's general election, will be seen as an indictment of Labour's 12 years in power. 'Across the range of Ofsted's remit, there remains too much that is mediocre and persistently so,' said Christine Gilbert, the chief inspector. Her report warned that many pupils were being failed by teaching that is dull and confused and leads to disruption and absenteeism. Some 2.3million pupils were being let down.

Inspectors found that nearly half of academy schools - set up by Labour to raise standards through private sponsorship - were failing to provide a good education.

And a separate inquiry has found that ministers have wasted £5billion running education classes for adults in factories and offices.

Launching her report on the state of education in 2008/09, Miss Gilbert hailed improvements over the previous year but warned that progress has been too slow. She reserved some of her harshest criticism for poor teaching, warning that in some schools, pupils are being held back by their teachers' poor grasp of maths and science.

In science, children are being turned off the subject by lessons that are routine or paper-based. In English, some teachers are failing to extend children's vocabularies or encourage them to develop writing skills. Some trainee teachers leave college without understanding the importance of traditional 'phonics' reading techniques.

The report goes on to warn that the impact of millions of pounds being spent on computers in the classroom was being 'diminished' because the technology was too often used in pedestrian ways. 'There is a stubborn core of inadequate teaching and teaching that is only satisfactory - teaching that fails to inspire, challenge or extend children and learners,' Miss Gilbert said. 'If children are not taught well, they will not rise above low expectations.'

She revealed that substandard teachers face a crackdown under a revamped inspection regime that will see a doubling in the number of lessons observed by inspectors. 'The new inspection framework focuses more sharply on this issue,' she said. Children are more likely to play truant in schools where teaching is weak, her report added.

Pupils are also less likely to lose concentration and disrupt lessons if teaching is lively and engaging. 'As in the case of attendance, standards of behaviour are linked with the quality of teaching,' the report said. 'Improvements in behaviour are brought about through strengthening the quality of teaching.'

A hard core of more than 30 secondary schools is battling serious discipline problems, the report added.

Meanwhile one in five secondaries is struggling to get a grip on persistent low-level disruption which has a direct impact on the education of other children in the class. 'The challenge now is to get more teachers to teach consistently well and, in particular, to reduce the variation in teaching within providers and to tackle the teaching that is dull, lacking in challenge and failing to engage learners,' the report said.

Teaching in 2 per cent of schools - about 400 - was rated 'inadequate'. It was merely satisfactory in a further 28 per cent.

Miss Gilbert went on to lend weight to complaints from a string of business leaders that youngsters are leaving school without the basic skills they need in the workplace. The most recent intervention came from Sir Stuart Rose, the chairman of Marks & Spencer, who said this week: 'They cannot do reading. They cannot do arithmetic. They cannot do writing.' Miss Gilbert appeared to agree, saying: 'Too many young people leave school without adequate basic skills and this can have a limiting effect on their whole lives.' Problems begin at primary school, her report warned. Nearly 30 per cent of 11-year-olds fail to reach basic standards in both English and maths, she said.

Ministers want to scrap the national literacy and numeracy hours without putting in place a proper replacement system, she warned. Her fourth annual report was published as Ofsted fights for survival amid an unprecedented crisis of confidence over its own effectiveness. The watchdog found itself disastrously exposed over its role in the Baby P scandal and is coming under growing criticism from local authorities, schools and MPs.

Delivering her report at Ofsted's headquarters in London, Miss Gilbert said she would not be cowed by vested interests. Her report concluded that, overall, 32 per cent of schools are failing to give children a good education. Just 19 per cent are outstanding, while 50 per cent are rated good. Some schools inspected last year had declined in quality since their previous inspection three years before. One in five schools previously given a good or outstanding rating have slumped to merely ' satisfactory' or even 'inadequate'.

The report drew a furious response from teachers. Martin Freedman, head of pay, conditions and pensions at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: 'This attempt to scapegoat teachers who, the report says, are doing a good job even in sometimes challenging circumstances, smacks of political expediency. 'Quite why Ofsted thinks insulting and demoralising those working in education is the best way to improve young people's education is puzzling.'

But Nick Gibb, Tory schools spokesman, said: 'There are still far too many children being let down by the quality of education on offer.'

Schools Minister Vernon Coaker said: 'We want every school to be a good school and we are clearly heading in that direction.'

The Ofsted report also revealed that thousands of children are at risk from inadequate nurseries and childminders. Weaknesses at substandard providers included a failure to check that staff were suitable to work with children. Five per cent of nurseries and childminders inspected in 2008/09 were judged to be inadequate - no improvement on last year. But Ofsted said the large majority of early education and childcare providers offered a good service, and parents should be reassured.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Military academies lack minority nominees largely because of the Leftist hatred of the military

As the nation's military academies try to recruit more minorities, they aren't getting much help from members of Congress from big-city districts with large numbers of blacks, Hispanics and Asians. From New York to Chicago to Los Angeles, lawmakers from heavily minority areas rank at or near the bottom in the number of students they have nominated for appointment to West Point, the U.S. Naval Academy or the U.S. Air Force Academy, according to an Associated Press review of records from the past five years.

High school students applying to the academies must be nominated by a member of Congress or another high-ranking federal official. Congressional nominations account for about 75 percent of all students at the academies.

Academy records obtained by the AP through the Freedom of Information Act show that lawmakers in roughly half of the 435 House districts nominated more than 100 students each during the five-year period. But Rep. Nydia M. Velazquez of New York City, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, nominated only four students, the lowest among House members who served the entire five-year period. Rep. Charles B. Rangel, whose New York City district includes Harlem, was second-lowest, with eight nominations. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose San Francisco district is 29 percent Asian, was also near the bottom, with 19. In fact, the bottom 20 House members were all from districts where whites make up less than a majority.

"It's beyond my imagination how someone that has the ability to nominate doesn't do it," Craig Duchossois said in December at his final meeting as chairman of the Naval Academy's Board of Visitors. He noted what an academy appointment means: a free four-year education and a guaranteed job as an officer for at least five years after graduation. Ms. Velazquez, Mr. Rangel and Mrs. Pelosi, all Democrats, would not comment or did not return calls.

Academy leaders and some on Capitol Hill do not put all the blame on the politicians, pointing out that some districts might have a shortage of qualified candidates, either because students have not received the necessary academic preparation from their struggling schools, they are unaware of the opportunity, or they are not interested.

Although the burden is ultimately on students to apply, academy leaders and others said elected officials should be doing more to publicize the opportunity by doing such things as visiting schools. The academies have approached dozens of members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to discuss attracting more minority students. Also, the military recently put together a how-to booklet on minority recruiting and sent it to all congressional offices, said Charles Garcia, chairman of the Air Force Academy's Board of Visitors. In addition, the Air Force Academy has begun flying in congressional staff members from districts with few minority nominations for lessons on recruiting, Mr. Garcia said. "We train them on 'Here are the things other districts have done that is successful,' " he said. "We are hopeful that will have a huge impact going forward."

Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat, whose district includes heavily Hispanic and black South Los Angeles and who is among the 20 lowest in nominations, said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have made young people in her district question military service. She said her efforts to reach out to high school students have not been successful. "In the olden days, parents would even say to young African-Americans, 'You aren't doing anything. You don't have a job. Why don't you join the service?' " said Ms. Waters, who has nominated 14 students in the past five years. "They don't quite do that anymore."

Academy leaders have struggled to make the racial makeup of the military's officer corps more closely resemble that of its enlisted ranks. The disparity is greatest in the Navy, with minorities making up about 48 percent of the enlisted ranks and just 21 percent of the officer corps.

The academies can cite some recent progress. The freshman class of 1,230 at the Naval Academy in Annapolis includes 435 students who are black, Hispanic, Asian-American, American Indian or part of another minority group. That is about 35 percent, up from 28 percent the previous year.

At the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., there are 330 minorities in the freshman class of about 1,300, or about 25 percent, up from 22 percent in 2008. The freshman class of 1,376 at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs includes 312 minorities, or 23 percent, also a slight increase from the previous class.


Some experiences of a British government school

"The summer term was a period of handover between the outgoing head teacher and her replacement. Just after half term, word reached us that the new head would come to the next PTA meeting. This was very exciting but, unfortunately, an appointment at work meant that I couldn’t make it. Still, I raced up to the chair of the PTA at the drop off the next morning: “How did it go? What’s she like?” I wanted to know, all puppyish enthusiasm and excitement.

The chairwoman looked gloomy. “It didn’t go great,” she admitted. “She was kind of... aggressive”. What had apparently happened was less than encouraging. The new head had started by telling us how much the teachers disliked us and harangued the committee for planning the school fayre on a Saturday . “The teachers are really fed up about that, that’s their day off, you know,” she was reported to have said. Well, yes, we do know, it’s our day off too. She finished by telling them that she didn’t understand why “you lot” had to meet in the school at all and said that in the future she would prefer it if we just went to a coffee shop instead.

“She was quite negative,” said another parent who was there with remarkable understatement.

“But... but... she’s new, why’s she being like this?” I stuttered. I had had five months of fantasising about how the new head was going to wave a wand and make everything alright; I had spent weeks imagining an era of co-operation, of raised standards, of enthusiasm, of openness, of light where there had been dark.

Perhaps we should have known better: although this had been the first formal meeting with the head and there had been clues that all might not be well. When the PTA secretary had asked at the office for the school’s constitution number (necessary in order for us to get raffle tickets printed in advance – who knew there would be so much red tape?), the new head had made excuses and sent her away empty-handed. When we discovered hundreds of expired Sainsbury’s Get Active vouchers, gathering dust in a box, the party line was that it was no one’s fault – except possibly the PTA’s. “We didn’t even exist then” seemed to cut no ice with the top brass.

We were committed to having the school fayre but I can’t say that anyone wanted it to happen – certainly not for the right reasons anyway. The teachers obviously didn’t want to be there and, it was rumoured, had been told to boycott it; the PTA would have backed out of running it altogether if there had been a face-saving way to do that. Instead, it was set to be a fete of attrition. The school wouldn’t ban the fayre but they certainly weren’t going to help: any equipment we asked to borrow, we were told was either lost, broken or had never been there in the first place.

So, on the first cloud-strewn day of the summer, we turned up at the bunting-swagged playground and set up our stalls: parents, parents of parents, uncles, aunts, friends, the odd governor and, much to our astonishment, the outgoing head, her deputy and one other teacher. Oh, and the caretaker. “Looks like rain,” he said, as cheerful as I had ever seen him. “Those gazebos are going to be blown right over if this wind picks up,” he added shaking his head gleefully.

“Why are you so happy about that?” asked one of the helpers. “I’m just saying,” he snapped, stalking off towards the tombola to snatch the gaffer tape from someone trying to stick up a sign (“That costs twelve quid a roll!”).

A slow trickle of parents started to arrive, politely buying cakes, burgers, tickets for the bottle stall and asking, equally politely, where all the teachers were. We shrugged and mumbled. The people who came seemed to enjoy themselves; the children whooping round, boing-ing about on the bouncy castle (“Why didn’t you just borrow the school’s one?” asked one ex-governor innocently), throwing wet sponges at each other in the absence of any teachers willing to go in our newly-built stocks.

Two hours later, we knew the event had come to a close when the caretaker returned and tipped the water out of the “Pluck a Duck” paddling pool (while one puzzled child was still mid-pluck) barking: “Go home!” We poured the takings onto four pushed-together desks and counted: £2,000!. We added up the outgoings - £1,000!

Still, not a bad profit, it had to be worth a few skipping ropes, maybe even some monkey bars or a swing set. We asked the new head to meet us, the following week so we could choose some equipment with her. She was too busy. The week after? The same. The week after? It became obvious that no meeting was going to take place. The chair of the PTA spoke to the “playground co-ordinator” and asked if we could have the telephone number of her equipment suppliers so we could see, at least theoretically, what our money could buy. No, we couldn’t. It was the end of the term, the end of the school year and although we had raised money, we had achieved precisely nothing.

I hate my daughter’s school, I really hate it. I hate it not simply because it is a low-achieving island in a sea of success. A year ago I would have put its failings at least partly down to a lack of interest by the parents of children there – a stupid, snobbish assumption, I admit. The school may be failing the pupils there in a thousand tiny ways but I haven’t met a single parent who doesn’t care about their child’s education. Teachers don’t get an easy press and a lot of the complaints hurled at them are unfair but at schools such as my daughter’s, I can’t help feeling that they have switched off, that “it’ll do” is good enough; that the children are seen as almost getting in the way of their jobs. As the outgoing head said to me at one stage with a rueful sigh: “The problem is we have so many children where English isn’t spoken at home. You can get them up to a reading age of eight but, after that, there’s not much you can do.”

Over the summer holidays, the PTA chair decided to emigrate – “I’m not saying it’s all about the school but, yeah, that’s a major part of our decision”. The rest of us check our positions on waiting lists at other schools on a weekly basis and make plans to move. And in the meantime we hope, really, really hope that things will change.


Australia: Learning to add up by using calculators?

YEAR 2 students are learning to add up on calculators in a Cairns school. Mother-of-four Fleur Nightingall was disgusted when her seven-year-old son Jayden's teacher at Trinity Beach State School asked for him to be supplied with a calculator to learn maths for his year 2 classes next year. "I just shook my head. I was stunned," Mrs Nightingall said. "I didn't start using calculators until year 7, but you had to show you could work out your sums on paper without using a calculator. "My son is still learning how to do sums on paper, let alone getting a calculator. It's disgusting - absolutely disgusting."

Education Queensland maintains the calculators support students' mathematics learning and does not detract from this focus.

Ms Nightingall said she had been disappointed by the standard of numeracy being taught in the early years of school. "I think the education department is letting down my son," she said. "I just can't think of any good reason why he needs to learn this in year 2, he just doesn't need to learn how to use a calculator. "I've spoken to a few people, and they just think it's a joke."

James Cook University academic Professor Peter Ridd, who has been vocal on slipping standards of numeracy within state schools, said it was worrying students were being tempted to use calculators at such an early age. "It is a worry that by giving them a calculator, it's a crutch and then they never learn to do arithmetic properly," Prof Ridd said. He said calculators were banned from first-year mathematics exams at JCU, in order to challenge students' mental arithmetic skills. "Their skills are almost universally woeful at first-year level," Prof Ridd said. "They're a little unhappy to start off with, but they accept it well. By the end of the year, their mental arithmetic is tremendous."

The Tableland-based president of the Queensland Council of Parents and Citizens Associations, Margaret Black, said she had been assured the school calculators played only a minor role in year 1 and 2 students’ learning. Calculators were taught as part of a national test in numeracy. "Using the calculator is one out of 44 subjects being taught," Ms Black said. "It's a necessity for our children to sit the national testing."

An Education Queensland spokeswoman said the department placed a strong emphasis on improving literacy and numeracy standards in state schools. "It is important for their future learning that students learn to use appropriate technologies from an early age," she said. "The Australian Association of Mathematics recommends that all students have ready access to calculators and computers to support and extend their mathematics learning."


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The power-mad NEA: They say so themselves

We watched an interesting YouTube video the other day. It was brought to our attention by state Sen. James Meeks, the Chicago Democrat who is also pastor of Salem Baptist Church on the South Side. We think our readers should check out the video. It'll open your eyes. Meeks, who chairs the Illinois Senate Education Committee, has been in a war with the Chicago Teachers Union since he had some tough things to say about public education in a Tribune essay and in a speech at Rainbow Push.

The CTU responded with a vow not to give him another dime in campaign money until he apologized. Meeks promptly wrote a check for $4,000, giving back every dime the union had already given him. No apology. You have to love this guy. He's genuinely looking out for kids and doesn't back down to pressure.

Back to the video. It shows the top lawyer of the National Education Association, Bob Chanin, speaking at the NEA's annual meeting in July. Chanin was retiring. This was his swan song. Chanin makes unmistakably clear what the highest priority is for the union. Hint: It's not the education of your kids. Chanin closed his nearly 25-minute speech by explaining the influence of the NEA:
Despite what some among us would like to believe it is not because of our creative ideas. It is not because of the merit of our positions. It is not because we care about children and it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child. NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power.

And we have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing to pay us hundreds of millions of dollars in dues each year, because they believe that we are the unions that can most effectively represent them, the unions that can protect their rights and advance their interests as education employees.

Oh, it gets more interesting.
This is not to say that the concern of NEA and its affiliates with closing achievement gaps, reducing dropout rates, improving teacher quality and the like are unimportant or inappropriate. To the contrary. These are the goals that guide the work we do. But they need not and must not be achieved at the expense of due process, employee rights and collective bargaining. That simply is too high a price to pay.

Too high a price to pay for educated children. Chanin got wild applause from thousands of NEA members at the San Diego Convention Centerfor his remarks.

We tried for several days to get NEA officials to explain those remarks. We wanted to ask if the rest of the union leadership believed that kids ranked behind collective bargaining on the teacher priority list. We're still waiting to hear from them. We know the answer the Chicago Teachers Union gave the Rev. Meeks: Cross us and we'll choke off your money.

Meeks plans to introduce a bill in January that would give the kids at Chicago's lowest-performing schools a choice. It would give kids at 15 high schools and 48 elementary schools a voucher to pay for another school. He plans to push to remove the cap on the number of charter schools in Illinois. The legislature raised the cap this year. But there should be no cap at all.

Meeks met on Thursday with Sen. Dan Cronin, the Republican leader on the Education Committee, to see if they can work out a bipartisan agenda. Good for both of them.

The teachers unions in Illinois get angry when we write about them. They argue that they're pushing a reform agenda, too. If that's the case, they shouldn't be asking Meeks for an apology. They should be asking for an apology from everyone who cheered Chanin. Too high a price, eh?


Oxbridge is clearly guilty of pursuing excellence

Oxbridge demands very high A-level passes and produces many students with good degrees, very few of whom drop out. Where is the problem, wonders Simon Heffer

Something called the Higher Education Policy Institute clearly has nothing to spend its money on. It has conducted elaborate research that concluded that Oxbridge demands very high A-level passes and produces many students with good degrees, very few of whom drop out.

Oddly enough, I thought that was the point of Oxbridge: they are the best universities in the country, and they do this by taking the best people, who are usually motivated to do well. This proof of such an apparently disgusting pursuit of excellence on behalf of our country has prompted yet more boring accusations of elitism – following recent observations by Lord Rumba of Rio that A-levels alone should not regulate admissions to universities.

The next step, no doubt, is for him to argue that intelligence should not regulate the class of degree. The point is that with state schools being run into the ground by the repulsive Ed Balls, Oxbridge has to rely on private sector products, and imports, to maintain its high standards. Whoever's fault that is, it is not Oxbridge's.


Australia: Teachers warned off online Facebook contact with students

This is a bit authoritarian but is probably prudent

TEACHERS would be banned from contacting students on social-networking websites like Facebook or Myspace under proposed changes to their code of ethics. The move comes after the WA College of Teaching disciplinary committee reprimanded about 10 teachers in the past year for inappropriate cyber interaction with students. The behaviour included teachers sharing private photos with students and in some cases engaging in online sexual innuendo.

WACOT's disciplinary committee chairwoman, Theresa Howe, said the code of ethics needed to be updated to specifically target inappropriate and over-friendly computer correspondence between students and teachers. ``We're seeing an increase in it and it has to be specifically addressed," she said. ``That should be in both the code of ethics and in professional development courses for teachers."

Under proposed changes, teachers would be banned from becoming friends with students on social-networking sites. Ms Howe said she would take the matter to the WACOT board. She revealed that online behaviour was central to half the investigations conducted by the committee in the past year.

WA Council of State School Organisations president Rob Fry last night agreed that any cyber contact between teachers and students was fraught with problems. ``I do know that there have been issues where teachers have gone down this track and it has caused some very distressing problems," Mr Fry said. ``The problem for a teacher can be that they form a close relationship of a platonic nature that unfortunately can get misinterpreted. ``Once the damage is done and the finger is pointed, the mud sticks. ``There has got to be a barrier between the relationship of a student and a teacher. ``That barrier cannot be crossed."

Catholic Education Office of WA director Ron Dullard said his schools already banned teachers from becoming friends with students on social-networking websites. ``It is covered by our internet protocols and relationships with students," he said. ``We would see that it would be inappropriate for it to occur. ``Teachers shouldn't accept students as a friend unless it is a relative." Mr Dullard said internet guidelines for teachers at Catholic schools were revised every two years to keep pace with the changing medium.

Some independent WA schools have started advising teachers against creating personal profiles on websites such as Facebook or MySpace. Association of Independent Schools of WA executive director Valerie Gould said teachers were told to remember that any information on public websites could be accessed by students and parents.

Education Department boss Sharyn O'Neill said teachers and staff must maintain appropriate boundaries in their relationships with pupils. ``The department expects teachers to exercise common sense and act on the side of caution when dealing with students," she said. The Education Department is reviewing its code of conduct for teachers.


Monday, November 23, 2009

AZ: School tax credits saving mega-millions

A Baylor University economics professor told lawmakers on Monday that Arizona's private-school tax-credit scholarship program saved the state $44 million to $186 million last year. Charles North's analysis offered a substantially higher savings estimate for the state than The Arizona Republic's estimate of $8.3 million over a period of nine years, published in an article last month.

North said his analysis was based on information that was "speculative" but was reasonable enough to allow him to reach his conclusions. He was paid to conduct the study by the Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative research and advocacy group that supports school choice. He appeared at a state House committee hearing chaired by state Rep. Rick Murphy, R-Glendale, to consider changes to the private-school individual tax-credit program.

Under the law, individuals can donate up to $1,000 a year to fund tuition scholarships and take a dollar-for-dollar credit off their state tax bill. The money is collected by school-tuition organizations, which then disperse it in the form of private-school scholarships. Murphy's committee is considering changes to the individual tax-credit law but does not plan to discuss suggestions until its next meeting, which has not yet been scheduled. A second House committee has met twice on the same issues but, after taking testimony, does not plan to meet again.

How to estimate savings

Supporters of the tax credits argue that the program saves the state substantial money because it enables students who normally would attend publicly funded district or charter schools to attend private schools. The cost of the tax credits to the state budget is more than offset by the savings from not having to pay per-student funding, supporters say.

A key to estimating savings is to determine how many students would not attend private schools without the tax credits. These students represent savings for the state. Students who get tax-credit scholarships, but who would have attended private schools regardless of the credits, represent a cost to the state.

North, the Baylor professor, estimated that in 2008, at least 11,697 students attended private school solely because of the tax-credit scholarships. He reached this number by first checking the Web sites of tuition organizations to see which ones placed a heavy emphasis on awarding scholarships based on students' need. Then, he assumed that half of the students getting scholarships from those groups went to private school only because of the scholarships. He assumed the same for a quarter of students from the other tuition groups.

North made the assumptions despite the fact that there is no uniform standard to determine need among school-tuition organizations, or STOs. The Republic reported Sunday that although the 12 largest organizations say financial need is a factor, many also considered other factors, such as recommendations by those who made tax-credit donations. Parents of private-school students often seek donations from friends and relatives, who can request their gifts be directed to those students; many STOs say they honor at least some of these requests. "This is admittedly speculative, but it seems reasonable to me based upon my own perceptions of families with financial need from my own service as a board member at a private school in Texas," North said after the meeting.

By contrast, The Republic's analysis assumed that no more than 7,530 students went to private school because of the tax-credit incentive. The number represents the entire growth in private-school enrollment from 1999, when the first tuition tax credit took full effect, to 2007. The Republic showed its analysis to economists from Arizona State University, the Arizona Department of Revenue, an accounting professor at Northern Arizona University, the finance director of the Department of Education and an analyst for the Goldwater Institute. None expressed concerns with the methodology.

North, who supports tax-credit scholarships, said that relying on private-school enrollment growth to calculate the financial effects of tax credits understates the savings. The reason is that the growth of public charter schools during that time likely drained many students from private schools. In addition, the national trend for most of the past decade was a decline in private-school enrollment. Despite those factors, he said, Arizona's enrollment still grew thanks to the scholarships.


Can British schools be freed from the ruinous grip of the British government?

Ed Balls doesn't understand that the best engine for raising standards is not ministerial diktat, but the devolution of power to parents, says Matthew d'Ancona

Michael Gove is famous within and outside the Palace of Westminster as a man you want on your side in a quiz: so much so that he sets the questions for his fellow Tory MPs when they want to test their general knowledge. So Ed Balls was taking a serious risk in the Queen's Speech debate on Thursday when he challenged the Shadow Schools Secretary to answer a GCSE question. "Explain how a fluoride atom can change into a fluoride ion," Mr Balls raged across the Dispatch Box – an unsettling mix of Magnus Magnusson and Jake LaMotta. Did he mean "fluorine"? No matter – this was never going to fox Mr Gove, who was obviously paying attention in the lab at Robert Gordon's College, Aberdeen. "We all know that atoms, whether fluoride or otherwise, are made up of protons, neutrons and electrons," he said. "The way to transform an atom into an ion is by adding or taking away an electron."

Let the scores on the doors show that the Shadow Schools Secretary won that particular round. What is certain is that there are many more such rounds to come in this particular battle. The next general election will probably be dominated by three issues: economic competence; change versus experience; and whether the public can stand another four years of Gordon Brown (a question which, sadly for the Prime Minister, rather answers itself). But if one is looking for an area of policy that truly showcases the difference between Labour and the Conservatives, the resilient distinction between Left and Right, it is education.

In the schools Bill announced in the Queen's Speech, Mr Balls proposes a host of "pupil guarantees", "parent guarantees" and new powers for local authorities and the Secretary of State "to intervene to raise standards in schools". It is a centraliser's charter. As the Lib Dems' education spokesman, David Laws, said on Thursday, recalling Douglas Jay's famous dictum: "There is no better version of the man in Whitehall and Westminster who thinks that he knows best than the Secretary of State."

It was Nye Bevan's ambition "to be able to hear the clatter of the bedpan on the hospital ward, in the office of the minister": Mr Balls, for his part, wants to be able hear the squeak of the marker pen on the classroom whiteboard.

And, to be fair, the Schools Secretary is that most rare of creatures: an honest centraliser. "If we simply leave it to local decision-making," he asked on Thursday "or, as we know from the Conservatives, basically opting out entirely from the national curriculum of the state system and having a much more market-based free-for-all, it might work for some children, but how can we guarantee that a child from a particularly disadvantaged background, whose parents may be less engaged, will get the necessary support? How can we make sure that we deliver social justice in that way?"

There is something both extraordinary and pathetic in a Government as arthritic, broke and impotent as this one suddenly issuing an inventory of "guarantees": promissory notes to future generations. It is true that guarantees do not cost anything, and therefore have a specious appeal to ministers at a time of fiscal tightening. But that's about it. The idea that central prescription can end this country's educational crisis has been tested to destruction. Pledges, targets, a tidal wave of bureaucracy: in many cases, all this prodding and poking from Whitehall has ended up compounding the problem. This is the 12th education Bill to be published in 12 years of New Labour: indeed, little more than a week has passed since the parliamentary debate concluded on the last one (the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009).

The instinct of the Left is to offer "guarantees" policed by the state. The instinct of the Right is – or should be – to champion freedoms. The Cameroons have embraced a fundamental principle of public service reform that became apparent to Tony Blair only in his last years as Prime Minister and has never been accepted by Brown: namely, that the best engine for raising standards is not ministerial fiat or Whitehall diktat, but the devolution of power to parents, governors and head teachers.

Mr Gove and his colleagues do not espouse the educational "free market" of Mr Balls's caricature. Rather, they claim, with good reason, that public services thrive when institutions are localised and as close to autonomous as possible: not branches of a homogeneous national system but the outcrop of each local community. This is the lesson of modern education reform, from the transformation of schools in East Harlem to the grant-maintained sector in this country during the last Tory government and the independent state schools in Sweden that are the direct inspiration of the reforms proposed by Messrs Cameron and Gove. When schools are set free, they prosper: only a few weeks ago, Harris City Academy in Crystal Palace became the first school to receive a perfect Ofsted score under the new system of inspections. Before this school became an academy, 90 per cent of its pupils failed to get five decent GCSEs.

If there is such a thing as Cameronism, it is based on an essentially optimistic view of human nature: citizens will step up to the plate, businessmen will get behind local schools, parents will become involved. This is a sharp contrast to the Left-wing pessimism embodied by the Schools Secretary: the insistence that only Whitehall and town hall can ensure educational success and social justice, that big government is the only force that stands between our children and brutish anarchy.

I know which philosophy I prefer. But I also hope that the Cameroons embark upon their reform of schools with clear sight and one eye on the lessons of history. As Kenneth Clarke and John Patten can attest, the education establishment is a vicious beast when provoked: the local education authorities, teaching unions and their allies in the schools department will do anything in their power to scupper any reform that redistributes power and threatens vested interests. Parents will be misinformed at the council taxpayer's expense. There will be strike threats, warnings of turmoil in the classroom, the risk that children will be sent home.

The recoil will be swift and ferocious. That, of course, should encourage the Cameroons and reassure them that what they are doing is real and worthwhile, rather than cosmetic. It follows that they will require serious nerve and adamantine political will as much as the right ideas. Mr Gove certainly knows his ions. But, as he well knows, the challenges ahead will test much more than his grasp of chemistry.


Beware bogus degrees

Scandal in Canada gives a warning. Online checks now needed

York University has brought in tough new controls in the wake of a Toronto Star investigation that showed a former student fabricated dozens of its degrees, and another got into Osgoode Hall Law School with a degree purchased from a diploma mill.

The new online degree verification is an invaluable tool for employers, immigration officials and other schools wanting to check whether someone holds a genuine York degree, said Alex Bilyk, spokesman for the university. "We've also made changes to our degrees and transcripts. However, we're not comfortable revealing further details on that for obvious security reasons," Bilyk said of the moves meant to strengthen and safeguard the integrity of the university's degrees.

Entitled YU Verify, the online service provides instant confirmation on whether someone received a degree and/or certificate from York, the type of degree or certificate and the year in which it was conferred. To verify a degree at you either need basic biographical information about the person (e.g. first and last name, day and month of birth) or their York University student number.

The service is a work in progress and may not yet contain information on students who graduated before 1982 or law students who graduated from Osgoode Hall this past June or before 1993, according to the Registrar's Office.

A Star undercover investigation last December revealed how former York University student Peng Sun was churning out near-perfect copies of York U. degrees for $3,000. He also sold copies of transcripts on watermarked paper containing the university logo that were virtually indistinguishable from the real thing.

A Star reporter posing as a bank clerk was able to buy an MBA and a sealed transcript of marks from Sun for $4,000 cash after a series of meetings in parking lots around Toronto. During the investigation, Sun, 26, boasted to the undercover reporter that he had manufactured hundreds of York and University of Toronto degrees in the four years he had been operating. His clients, he said, were mainly Chinese visa students who had skipped or flunked school during their time in Canada and wanted to go home with a degree that would get them good jobs. "I have friends in China who spent three years here, didn't want to go to school but got York and U of T degrees (from me), then got a job. There are many of them. It's funny," he said.

The price for a BA, MBA or PhD was the same because for him it was just paper and ink, Sun said.

Two Star reporters confronted Sun in his car after the transaction; when they demanded the money back, he complied. Sun was never charged with a crime. Sun's own degree from York University is real. He graduated from the Atkinson School of Administrative Studies in 2007 with a bachelor's in human resources management.

The Star investigation also showed how Quami Frederick, a 28-year-old immigrant from Grenada, got into the prestigious Osgoode Hall Law School with a degree she had purchased from a diploma mill on the Internet. Frederick, in her third year at Osgoode Hall, had just landed a job with the Bay St. labour law firm Wildeboer Dellelce LLP when the Star revealed her bachelor of science in business administration from St. George's University in Grenada was a fake. Frederick's name was on a list of bogus degree buyers compiled by U.S. Homeland Security and Secret Service agents who took down a Washington State diploma mill in 2005. A simple call to St. George's University in Grenada would have revealed that Frederick had never attended the school.

"The integrity of our admissions process is of paramount importance to the law school," Patrick Monahan, the law school dean at the time, wrote to students following the Star exposé. "If even a single individual is able to gain entrance to the school improperly, that takes a place in the class away from another qualified deserving applicant." Monahan is now vice-president academic and provost of the university.

Not only did Frederick use the bogus degree to get into Osgoode, she also forged her transcript of marks for the three years she attended. She quit York after the Star article and the law firm withdrew its job offer. "We've taken appropriate steps to detect bogus transcripts and any person caught will be prevented from continuing with the application," said Bilyk. "We welcome continued support from police to catch and charge individuals, and we are thankful to you (the Star) for having brought that to our attention."

The University of Toronto already has online degree verification but its website says it needs a turnaround of five days to fill requests. Ryerson University verifies degrees by email or fax, but not online.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

We're All Right-Wing Bastards Now

On the last day of the National Education Association's convention this summer, its outgoing general counsel, Bob Chanin, gave a speech for the ages. After sharing fond recollections of his 41 years as the NEA's top lawyer, he switched gears and started lobbing grenades at "conservative and right-wing bastards," including Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and Forbes. The NEA and its affiliates, by contrast, were "the nation's leading advocates for public education and the type of liberal social and economic agenda that these groups find objectionable." Chanin's glowing portrait of the NEA was wildly wrong, of course, but so was his characterization of the union's opponents. People of all! political stripes--not just right-wing "bastards"--are starting to realize that the single biggest impediment to education reform is the NEA itself.

Take the nation's 4,000 charter schools--public schools that operate with less red tape, fewer suffocating union rules, and a higher percentage of minorities and poor students than regular public schools do. In California, 12 of the top 15 public schools are charters, including three in Oakland that cater to exceptionally poor children. Los Angeles charters' median score on California's Academic Performance Index (API) was 728 in 2008, compared with 663 for regular public schools.

Who are the "right-wing bastards" who support charter schools? Well, there's Los Angeles's liberal-leaning school board, which looked at its large number of failing schools and voted 6-1 to turn 200 of the lowest performers into charters. There's Steve Barr, a card-carrying Democrat who served in the presidential campaigns of Bill Clinton and Michael Dukakis and who now operates 17 successful Green Dot charter schools in L.A. And don't forget Democrats for Education Reform, a political action committee that supports charters and that says, in its statement of principles, that American public schools, "once viewed romantically as avenues of opportunity for all, have become captive to powerful, entrenched interests that too often put the demands of adults before the educational needs of children."

"Entrenched interests" is a thinly veiled reference, of course, to teachers' unions like the NEA, whose position on charter schools is very clear. According to a resolution adopted at this year's convention, "NEA shall oppose any initiative to greatly expand the growth of charter schools"--though "by no means should this effort conflict with the ongoing and necessary work of organizing charter school teachers." Unfortunately, this "necessary" work hasn't helped students. A study of charter schools in Boston by Harvard economist Tom Kane found that "students accepted by lottery at independently operated charter schools significantly outperformed students who lost the lottery and returned to district schools. But students accepted by lottery at charters run by the school district with unionized teachers experienced no benefit."

The NEA fights school vouchers even more fiercely than it opposes charters. In Washington, D.C., where public schools are a national embarrassment--tops in spending, last in achievement--the union set its sights on the Opportunity Scholarship Program. This tiny but successful voucher program gave 1,700 financially strapped parents, mostly poor African-Americans, the opportunity to free their children from horrendous public schools, getting a few thousand of their tax dollars back to help pay the tuition at private schools of their choosing. A number of the 1,700 lucky lottery winners were able to attend Sidwell Friends, the same school that President Obama's daughters attend.

Here's what NEA president Dennis Van Roekel wrote to Democratic congressmen in March:
The National Education Association strongly opposes any extension of the District of Columbia private school voucher . . . program. We expect that Members of Congress who support public education, and whom we have supported, will stand firm against any proposal to extend the pilot program. Actions associated with these issues WILL be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 111th Congress. Vouchers are not real education reform. . . . Opposition to vouchers is a top priority for NEA.

Three months later, Congress dutifully voted to kill the program. Who are the "right-wing bastards" here? The black parents and children who benefited from the voucher program?

Just two days before Chanin's speech, the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights released a report, National Teachers' Unions and the Struggle Over School Reform, maintaining that the teachers' unions consistently blocked meaningful education reform and accusing the NEA of trying to end enforcement of the No Child Left Behind act. The unions "almost uniformly call for the spending of more money and the creation of more teaching positions which, of course, result in an increase in union membership, union income and union power," wrote one of the authors, David Kilpatrick. Perhaps the report's authors are the "right-wing bastards" Chanin was talking about? The problem is that Kilpatrick spent 12 years as a top union officer, while the study's other authors include former senators Bill Bradley and Birch Bayh, D.C. congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, and civil rights leader Roger Wilkins--all liberals.

That Democratic leaders and poor African-Americans in Washington have found common cause with the Wall Street Journal and Fox News shows that school reform is neither a liberal nor a conservative issue. While Chanin champions the power of an entrenched union and belittles those who oppose it, people of goodwill across the political spectrum fight back for real education reform.


Obama gets inflated grade on education reform

Even as President Barack Obama's approval ratings continue to slide, folks of all political persuasions are singing his praises on education -- though he has done little of substance. In a speech last Wednesday, Obama lamented that "people have seen schools as sort of a political spoil having to do with jobs" and declared that "we are putting our resources behind the kinds of reforms that are going to make a difference."

What "reforms" was he talking about? The ones states are encouraged to make to get part of the $4.35-billion "Race to the Top" Fund, a kitty of stimulus cash controlled by the U.S. secretary of education, for which official guidelines were announced this week. To compete, the administration has said states must end prohibitions on using student achievement data to evaluate teachers. They should also eliminate caps on charter schools, adopt "internationally benchmarked" curricular standards and prepare to "turn around" bad schools.

It's these seemingly tough stipulations that have education reformers on both the left and right applauding. Even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called Obama "courageous" for taking these positions. The only problem is, there's no there there.

Consider teacher evaluations. While states are being told they can't prohibit the use of achievement data in evaluating teachers, there's nothing pushing schools to go ahead and actually use the data. But shouldn't that be the ultimate goal? Of course, but it's also what teacher unions really want to avoid, so Race to the Top avoids it, too.

How about lifting charter caps? It's certainly a good idea, but a lot more than that goes into getting good charter schools. Unfortunately, points out Jeanne Allen, president of the charter-advocating Center for Education Reform, "the president and his education secretary states credit for talking about charter schools rather than actually changing laws to improve the likelihood that children will have real school choice."

So Race to the Top is great talk but little substance. But at least it isn't making matters worse. The same can't be said for the one substantive thing that Obama has done in education: Deliver a gargantuan $100 billion in direct stimulus to schools.

The stated rationale for doing this was to save schools from financial devastation, including deep cuts to the most fundamental educational functions. But few public schools were likely facing such a dire scenario. According to the most recent federal data, inflation-adjusted, per-pupil expenditures in public schools nearly doubled between the 1975-76 and 2005-06 school years. Similarly, in 1990 there were 9.2 students per public-school employee. By 2006 there were only 8.

The schools have been anything but starving. They've also been anything but improving: According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress -- the so-called "nation's report card"--academic outcomes have stagnated since the 1970s.

The situation in higher education is no different. Obama's announced goal for the United States is to have the world's highest proportion of college graduates by 2020. This has translated into colleges getting their own part of the stimulus windfall, as well as creation of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, a bill that would funnel yet more money into tuition-inflating student aid and other bankrupting federal programs.

Like K-12 resources, the evidence shows that we already push college too much, not too little. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 25 percent of all jobs in 2006 required at least a bachelor's degree, but as of March 2007 roughly 29 percent of Americans had one. And most new jobs in the coming years will require not a college education, but on-the-job training.

But don't we have to keep up with the Chinese? Hardly. China has certainly been pushing higher education, but to its detriment. According to a September report from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China has such a glut of degree holders that college grads are earning wages on par with migrant workers. There's no valid reason to emulate that.

Okay, there's one, and it's been serving Obama well since his campaign: Talking about great education--but doing little to actually get it--appears to be a surefire political winner. But that's hardly change we should believe in.


British children get legal right to good education

Children will be legally guaranteed the right to a good education under new legislation that teachers fear will descend into a “whingers’ [whiner's] charter”. An education Bill to be unveiled will create a set of pupil and parent “guarantees” for the first time – outlining what families can expect from the state school system in England. This includes one-to-one tuition for pupils struggling in the basics, five hours of PE every week, the right to “high quality” cultural activities and a promise that all schools will promote healthy eating, active lifestyles and mental wellbeing. [And provide free apple pie, no doubt]

In a hugely contentious move, parents will be able to complain directly the Local Government Ombudsman if schools and councils fail to meet the guarantees. Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, has already admitted that mothers and fathers could eventually take schools to court as a “last resort”. It prompted claims from head teachers’ leaders that the proposals would turn into a “whingers’ charter” and open the door to litigation. The Association of School and College Leaders also warned that the laws risked creating one of the most “centrally prescriptive” education systems in the world – stifling innovation.

Labour wants many of the new “guarantees” to be introduced by September next year, suggesting ministers will attempt to push the proposed legislation through Parliament before the forthcoming General Election.

John Dunford, ASCL general secretary, said the plans would put many head teachers’ jobs “on the line”. “Raising so many aspects of education to the status of a ‘guarantee’ will have the effect of making everything quasi-statutory. It will take statute into realms it has never previously covered,” he said. “Instead of the increasingly diverse system that the government has often said that it wants to encourage, England will have one of the most centrally prescriptive systems in the world. Researchers have stated that English heads are among the most autonomous; these ‘guarantees’ tell a very different story.

“School leaders are extremely concerned that these ‘guarantees’ will turn into a whingers’ charter for the more litigious parents to complain, first to the head, then to the governors, then to the Local Government Ombudsman service... This will create an immense amount of work for school leaders, who are currently trying, with government encouragement, to create more productive relationships with parents.”

Labour’s education Bill will set out 23 guarantees for pupils and 15 for parents that must be met. The pupils’ charter will say all primary and secondary pupils should have the “opportunity to have their say about standards of behaviour in their school” from spring 2010. Children identified as gifted and talented should have written confirmation of the extra work they need to ensure they are stretched and every pupil should eventually have the right to five hours of “cultural activities” in or out of school every week, including visits to libraries, museums and performing arts centres. Children over 11 will have a personal tutor to ensure “any learning needs or issues are quickly addressed”, while teenagers will be legally entitled to study one of the Government’s new diploma qualifications.

Under the guarantee, parents will have the right to demand information about their child's performance and overall school standards and regular face-to-face meetings with designated teachers. By 2010, they are expected to have access to a range of additional services including “information and support on parenting skills”.

Mothers and fathers can complain to head teachers if they believe schools are failing to meet the pledge. Complaints are then referred to the local authority and ultimately the Local Government Ombudsman. Mr Balls has previously admitted that – if these avenues fail to provide a resolution – a parent could take a school to court in the form of a judicial review.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "It's absolutely right that parents are given concrete guarantees of clear discipline; close contact with teachers; intensive catch-up classes if their children are falling behind; and education and training for all 16 and 17-year-olds. "This is not telling schools to reinvent the wheel - they should already be doing this. This is about setting out in law what pupils and parents should expect from their schools and making sure that happens wherever they are in the country. "This simply will not lead to a flood of court cases against schools. There will be a clear process so teachers, heads, governing bodies and local authorities can deal with any complaint - as they already do with the vast majority of issues. "If they do not, we've now given the Local Government Ombudsman powers to hear parents' complaints and recommend that schools take remedial action. If they still will not, the Secretary of State will be able to intervene and direct schools to act."

Nick Gibb, the Tory shadow schools minister, said: “Ed Balls’s plan to see head teachers in court defending themselves against parents is expensive, time-consuming and completely misses the point about giving parents more control over their child’s education. “Far from a system of legal guarantees which would allow mainly wealthier parents to take schools to court, what we need is to give parents a genuine choice by opening up the system.”

David Laws, the Liberal Democrat children's spokesman, said: "Only an arch centraliser like Ed Balls could believe that the only way to empower parents and pupils would be to create a vast bureaucratic structure of 'rights' without the means to deliver them. "Instead of giving real freedom and rights to pupils, parents and schools, Ed Balls' proposals are likely to prove a license for litigation and will raise expectations without creating a mechanism to raise standards."