Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Bathroom of Her Own

The coed college bathroom, like the coed college dormitory, is so common (at least in some parts of the country) that it inspires crude comedy sketches, advice columns and complaints.

At least one student who doesn't think bathrooms should be shared between male and female students is fighting back. A new lawsuit by a student at Green Mountain College charges that Vermont officials (and those in other states) have an obligation to make sure that all public buildings need to have separate bathrooms for men and women.

Jennifer Weiler, the freshman who sued, says that Green Mountain housed her in a facility where only shared bathrooms were available. When she complained, the suit says, the college designated a bathroom in her dormitory as a women's bathroom, but did nothing when male students went right on using it.

Ron Weiler, Jennifer's father, said in an interview that his daughter had no idea when enrolling that the bathrooms were shared by men and women. He said that the bathrooms feature showers with curtains, and toilets in stalls. But he said that while the female students generally disrobe and towel themselves behind the shower curtains, many male students do not, nor do the male students necessarily shut the stall doors.

"The men just disrobe in the middle of the room," Weiler said, and women shouldn't have to see that.

Weiler said that state building codes generally require public buildings -- a category that would include dormitories -- to have both men's and women's facilities. And Weiler said he complained to the college, to state officials, and to others before suing the state to compel enforcement of building codes. "What we have is that it's seen as politically incorrect to interfere with what goes on on college campuses," Weiler said.

He added that he has no problem with a college opting to have some coed bathrooms, as long as there are single-sex facilities readily available throughout any residential facilities.

Vermont and college officials couldn't be reached for comment, and the suit indicates that the state has asserted that it is not responsible for determining the bathroom breakdown at colleges. But Weiler noted that the issue has come up elsewhere and he predicted that more people might raise protests about coed bathrooms.

Bathroom Politics in Higher Ed

The suit in Vermont represents the latest twist in the politics of bathrooms in higher education. Of late, the big push has been by transgender students, who have urged the creation of coed bathrooms or of individual bathrooms, where one does not need to designate oneself in a traditional male/female dichotomy to use the facilities. But many colleges -- outside of institutions where religious or local political traditions would frown on such a move -- have had coed bathrooms for years. In part this has been a matter of convenience, as colleges that used to have strict gender separation in residence halls, with one large bathroom to a floor, have modified bathroom policies as they became open to coeducational floors.

The issue has been debated periodically at Williams College, courtesy of Wendy Shalit, an alumna who launched her career as a pundit and an advocate for sexual "modesty" with an essay in Commentary, later reprinted for a much larger audience in Reader's Digest, in which she criticized the college's coed bathrooms and linked them to the decline of traditional dating.

Shalit, in comments similar to those of Weiler's suit, says that it wasn't her own body that led her to complain but the forced closeness to others. "When I objected, I was told by my fellow students that I 'must not be comfortable with [my] body.' Frankly, I didn’t get that, because I was fine with my body; it was their bodies in such close proximity to mine that I wasn’t thrilled about," she wrote. In an interview with the Independent Women's Forum, Shalit said that while she was mocked for expressing these views, she was thanked privately by many students who told her that they agreed, but didn't want to be labeled as prudes.

A spokesman for Williams said that changes at Williams over the years have had "the result, though not the purpose," of placing more first-year students in buildings with separate men's and women's bathrooms than was the case previously (when Shalit raised the issue).

But one of the practices Shalit criticized -- letting students on a given floor decide whether to make the bathrooms coed -- remains. "It's still the case that students organize dorm life and in some situations, over the course of the year, students determine that the cost of walking to the bathroom designated for their sex, though close by adult standards, exceeds the benefit," he said.

James Baumann, director of communications for the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International, said that there are no national data on the percentage of colleges that have coed bathrooms. But he said that "it grows in its commonality each year."

Joey McNamara, national chair of the National Association of College and University Residence Halls, which represents students who live in the halls, said that bathroom issues have come up for the group primarily when planning conferences. Some members don't want to meet at campuses that have strictly male and female bathrooms, he said.

McNamara, a student at Lynn University, said he has only experienced single-sex bathrooms and that he has sympathy for Weiler. "I think privacy needs to be allowed," he said.

Of course, at many campuses with coed bathrooms, the concerns tend to come from parents and prospective students -- while the realities of coed bathrooms are sufficiently mundane that everyone seems to get used to the situation. Michael Snively, one of the students who blogs for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology admissions office, wrote on his blog that he is constantly asked to write about the issue or to answer questions about this topic during campus tours.

The post mocks the excessive interest in bathrooms, noting there are four things about which to be certain: "1) The bathrooms are coed. 2) The bathrooms do not have locks on them. 3) Yes, two people may very well be showering in the same bathroom at the same time. 4) Nobody cares. That's right guys, if you get into MIT there's a high likelihood that you'll get to stand 6 inches away from a naked senior on just your first or second day here! That goes for you too ladies, naked guys standing just 6 inches away! Oo la la!"

Snively's discussion of the topic -- including authentic, G-rated photographs -- discusses how the bathrooms are set up and offers key rules. (Knocking is important). And comments posted suggest that many MIT students get questions from their family members about the topic, and chuckle at the interest.

The article concludes: "From my experience, there are so many things at MIT that are important, difficult, and take adjusting to, worrying about bathrooms just isn't that critical. We're grown ups now, just be civil and polite and everybody gets along alright. You may not be used to having to share a bathroom with a girl or a guy, but you'll find that very little changes (except the length of the hair you find in the shower), so don't sweat the small stuff and worry more about, well, anything, more than bathrooms at MIT."


British Conservatives challege a government demand that is driving up the cost of private education

Tories 'would persuade Charity Commission to drop private school bursary demand'

A Tory government would ask the Charity Commission to soften the "public benefit" test for private schools, Michael Gove, the shadow education secretary, has said. Mr Gove said that he would call an immediate meeting with the Commission over the issue.

In his strongest commitment yet to reforming the guidelines that have infuriated the independent sector, Mr Gove said that schools should be awarded charitable status for opening up their facilities to local state children. In recent rulings the commission has turned down applications from private schools on the sole ground that they do not provide enough bursaries.

The Tories want charitable status to be granted to schools like St Paul's School for Boys in west London, which runs maths "master classes" for talented pupils from the state sector. "The Charity Commission say the way private schools can demonstrate public benefit is by having more scholarships. I have no objection to that – but I think it is wrong to say that's the only way they can provide public benefit," Mr Gove told The Independent. "Rather than benefiting a small group of children, why not use their resources to the benefit of a greater number like St Paul's has done?"

Responding to criticism of Dame Suzi Leather, head of the commission, he added: "I don't want to get into personalities but we do want to talk to people at the Charity Commission about this."

Private schools that have long enjoyed charitable status have warned that they may go under if it is revoked under the commission's current interpretation of the "public benefit" test. Parents have also been told that they may face higher fees to cover the cost of bursaries for children from lower-income families if the rules are not changed.


Friday, December 25, 2009

The Rot At Duke U -- And Beyond

Much of academia appears to have a disregard of due process and a bias against white males

You might think that a university whose students were victims of the most notorious fraudulent rape claim in recent history, and whose professors -- 88 of them -- signed an ad implicitly presuming guilt, and whose president came close to doing the same would have learned some lessons. The facts are otherwise. They also suggest that Duke University's ugly abuse in 2006 and 2007 of its now-exonerated lacrosse players -- white males accused by a black stripper and hounded by a mob hewing to political correctness -- reflects a disregard of due process and a bias against white males that infect much of academia.

In September, far from taking pains to protect its students from false rape charges, Duke adopted a revised "sexual misconduct" policy that makes a mockery of due process and may well foster more false rape charges by rigging the disciplinary rules against the accused.

Meanwhile, none of the 88 guilt-presuming professors has publicly apologized. (Duke's president, Richard Brodhead, did -- but too little and too late.) Many of the faculty signers -- a majority of whom are white -- have expressed pride in their rush to judgment. None was dismissed, demoted, or publicly rebuked. Two were glorified this month in Duke's in-house organ as pioneers of "diversity," with no reference to their roles in signing the ad. Three others have won prestigious positions at Cornell, Vanderbilt, and the University of Chicago.

The two stated reasons for the revised sexual-misconduct rules, as reported in the student newspaper, The Chronicle, almost advertise that they were driven by politically correct ideology more than by any surge in sexual assaults. "The first was... fear of litigation, as expressed by Duke General Counsel Pamela Bernard," as Johnson wrote in his blog, Durham-in-Wonderland. "Yet the policy Duke has developed seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen. The second factor was a development that those in the reality-based community might consider to be a good thing: Over a three-year period, reported cases of sexual misconduct on college campuses as a whole and at Duke specifically (slightly) declined."

But for many in academia, Johnson explains, "these figures must mean something else -- that a plethora of rapes are going unreported." Indeed, Sheila Broderick, a Duke Women's Center staff member, told The Chronicle without evidence that Duke had a "rape culture." And Ada Gregory, director of the Duke Women's Center, said that "higher IQ" males, such as those at Duke, could be "highly manipulative and coercive."

The revised policy requires involving the Women's Center in the disciplinary process for all known allegations of sexual misconduct and empowers the Office of Student Conduct to investigate even if the accuser does not want to proceed.

Duke's rules define sexual misconduct so broadly and vaguely as to include any sexual activity without explicit "verbal or nonverbal" consent, which must be so "clear" as to dispel "real or perceived power differentials between individuals [that] may create an unintentional atmosphere of coercion" (emphasis added).

The disciplinary rules deny the accused any right to have an attorney at the hearing panel or to confront his accuser. The rules also give her -- but not him -- the right to be treated with "sensitivity"; to make opening and closing statements; and to receive copies of investigative documents.

The revised policy, among other things, shows that Duke is still in the grip of the same biases, indifference to evidence, and de facto presumption of guilt that led so many professors and administrators to smear innocent lacrosse players as rapists (and as racists) for many months in 2006 and 2007. The centerpiece was the full-page ad taken out by the "Group of 88" professors, as critics call them, in The Chronicle on April 6, 2006, about three weeks after the woman claimed rape.

This ad stopped just short of explicitly branding the lacrosse players as rapists. But it treated almost as a given the truth of the stripper's claims of a brutal gang rape by three team members amid a hail of racist slurs. It praised protesters who had put lacrosse players' photos on "wanted" posters. It associated "what happened to this young woman" with "racism and sexism." It suggested that the lacrosse players were getting privileged treatment because they are white -- which was the opposite of the truth.

And in January 2007, after the fraudulence of the stripper's rape claim and of rogue Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong's indictments of three players had become increasingly evident, most of the 88 also signed a letter rejecting calls for apologies while denying that their April 2006 ad had meant what it seemed to say.

Among the most prominent signers of both the ad and the letter were Karla Holloway, an English professor, and Paula McClain, a political science professor. They also slimed the lacrosse players in opaquely worded, academic-jargon-filled individual statements full of innuendo.

This disgraceful behavior apparently did not trouble Duke's Academic Council, which in February 2007 made McClain its next chairwoman -- the highest elected position for a faculty member.

And just this month, the university's in-house organ, Duke Today, heaped special attention and praise on Holloway and McClain and featured their photos in a gushing five-part series titled "Diversity & Excellence," focusing on Duke's efforts to hire more black faculty members.

None of the five articles mentioned the roles of Holloway, McClain, and most of the African and African-American studies faculty (the vast majority of whom signed both the ad and the subsequent letter) in smearing innocent Duke students -- not only the lacrosse players but also the many others whom the letter fatuously accused of fostering an "atmosphere that allows sexism, racism, and sexual violence to be so prevalent on campus." ...

The fact that these five people of questionable judgment have subsequently won glorification by Duke or advancement to other prestigious positions may reflect the interaction of academia's demand for more "diversity" with the small supply of aspiring black professors who are well credentialed in traditional disciplines. These factors, amplified by politically correct ideology, have advanced many academics who -- unlike most African-Americans -- are obsessed with grievances rooted more in our history of slavery and racial oppression than in contemporary reality.

Try imagining a white male professor who had smeared innocent black students enjoying a similar path of advancement in academia today.


Too many students - too few apprentices in Britain

Both parties' misplaced egalitarianism is to blame for the funding crisis, argues George Walden (George Walden is a former minister for higher education)

Lord Mandelson's announcement of reduced university funding and his warning against over-recruitment are signals that the unworkable system imposed by successive governments is now getting what a student of our language once called its "up and comings". As the nation's cash runs out, there were always going to be cuts, but the way universities have been structured makes them poorly placed to handle them.

The prospect of quicker degrees is especially disquieting. If progress in our schools were as marked as Labour claims, there might be logic in shortening certain courses, since students would be better prepared for them. In reality, billions more have been spent with little to show for it. Achievement at primary level has faltered, and the results of the city academies rarely reflect the cost of their premises. Academics at university complain about the amount of remedial teaching they have to do, in maths especially, before students are ready to tackle their courses.

More focus, Lord Mandelson says, is needed on skills demanded by employers. The old polytechnics used to provide this, though in a civilised society it should never be at the expense of the humanities. That's what the old, more selective university system was good at. Not everyone with a couple of indifferent A-levels in questionable subjects was allowed in, and not everyone emerged with a First or Upper Second.

Many of those going to university are unprepared or unsuited for higher education. They should have been doing training or apprenticeship courses in colleges of further education, the underrated Cinderellas of the system. Aerospace, plumbing, health studies, business studies or beauty and catering would be of greater use to everyone. They would be cheaper and better than a poorly taught course in English literature, featuring warm-hearted reflections on the role of nature in the poetry of Ted Hughes, or the life and work of Sylvia Plath, with a helping hand from the internet.

Students and academics have an equal right to feel aggrieved: just as Labour supported the Tories' daft conversion of polytechnics into universities, the Tories are backing the over-hyped city academies, from which better-qualified students are supposed to come. Meanwhile, both Cameron and the Labour Left shun any suggestion of selection (except, in the case of the Tories, in private schools). But more selectivity in schools would make it easier to decide who was best suited to higher education, and to keep up university standards.

Though the Tories claim to oppose it, it is misplaced egalitarianism that is behind Labour's vast expansion of student numbers, which Lord Mandelson admits is "putting unmanageable pressures on our student support budget". It puts pressures on academics and facilities, too, with the risk of Britain regressing from its relatively successful higher education ethos into a mass, mediocre system, as in France.

On top of that, Lord Mandelson says he wants greater priority in admissions to students from modest backgrounds. Sensitively handled, this can be justified: studies by the Sutton Trust have shown that, when properly taught on campus, bright but poor pupils can outperform private school students. But the risk is of a dogmatic, politicised application of the principle as a stick to beat independent schools, and to massage admission figures in the correct sociological direction, by keeping some of our best-educated pupils out of our best universities.

No one should be penalised by their background. A principle, Lord Mandelson appears to have forgotten, that works both ways.


Britain adopting 2 year degrees

Universities face a move towards two-year degree courses as the Government dramatically reduces higher education spending. The announcement of the cuts, which will see £518m lopped off university funding next year, provoked an outcry from vice-chancellors, students, lecturers and opposition MPs last night. Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, which represents lecturers, said: "We will see teachers on the dole, students in larger classes and a higher education sector unable to contribute as much to the economy and society."

Key elements of the plan, outlined by the Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson, include a shift away from the traditional three-year degree to two-year courses. In addition, universities that recruited more students in the autumn than ministers had budgeted for will face fines of £3,700 per extra head.

One estimate indicated that 22,000 additional students were taken on as demand for places reached an all-time high because of the recession. Universities were allowed to recruit 10,000 extra undergraduates because of the increased demand. Even so, about 130,000 students eligible for a clearing place failed to find one in the summer. Lord Mandelson made it plain there would be no repeat next year and reduced the funding for higher education from the £7.8bn grant for 2009-10 to just under £7.3bn for 2010-11.

This, coupled with the fines, lowers the Government's chances of meeting its oft-stated aim of recruiting 50 per cent of young people into higher education courses, though ministers will hope that introducing more two-year courses might be enough to achieve it.

Vice-chancellors will now put more pressure on the government review into top-up fees to increase the current cap of £3,240. They have already indicated that they would like to see it doubled to more than £6,500. The review is due to report next year, after the election. Research funding – which helps the more selective universities like Oxford and Cambridge retain world-class research contracts – is to be maintained.

In a letter to the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which is responsible for allocating university cash, Lord Mandelson said he wanted more programmes "such as foundation and fast-track degrees that can be completed full-time in two years". He added: "Over the next spending review period [to 2014], we will want some shift away from full-time, three-year places towards a wider variety of provision."

Professor Les Ebdon, chairman of the university think-tank million+ and vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire University, said the shift towards two-year degrees was "tinkering with the edges". "Two-year degrees work for some students, who do not have to fund themselves with part-time jobs," he said. "They will only be offered by a limited number of universities for a small number of courses." Examples of two-year degree courses already running include one for higher level teaching assistants at Stroud College in Gloucestershire and a fast-track nursing degree at King's College London for those with a degree already.

In his letter, Lord Mandelson went on to warn that any further over-recruitment next autumn could again provoke fines. The £3,700 is equivalent to the average cost of providing one student with teaching and access to facilities for one year.

The Conservatives immediately attacked the Government for fining universities that were trying to meet its own target of getting 50 per cent of young people into higher education. Even with the increase in student numbers allowed by the Government this autumn, the overall participation rate remains at around 43 per cent when, ironically, because of the demand created by the lack of employment prospects, ministers had a realistic chance of nearing the 50 per cent target for the first time this year.

"We now have the bizarre situation that universities are being fined for meeting targets set by this Government," said David Willetts, the Conservatives' universities spokesman.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Black Education

by Walter E. Williams

Detroit's (predominantly black) public schools are the worst in the nation and it takes some doing to be worse than Washington, D.C. Only 3 percent of Detroit's fourth-graders scored proficient on the most recent National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) test, sometimes called "The Nation's Report Card." Twenty-eight percent scored basic and 69 percent below basic. "Below basic" is the NAEP category when students are unable to demonstrate even partial mastery of knowledge and skills fundamental for proficient work at their grade level. It's the same story for Detroit's eighth-graders. Four percent scored proficient, 18 percent basic and 77 percent below basic.

Michael Casserly, executive director of the D.C.-based Council on Great City Schools, in an article appearing in Crain's Detroit Business, (12/8/09) titled, "Detroit's Public Schools Post Worst Scores on Record in National Assessment," said, "There is no jurisdiction of any kind, at any level, at any time in the 30-year history of NAEP that has ever registered such low numbers." The academic performance of black students in other large cities such as Philadelphia, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles is not much better than Detroit and Washington.

What's to be done about this tragic state of black education? The education establishment and politicians tell us that we need to spend more for higher teacher pay and smaller class size. The fact of business is higher teacher salaries and smaller class sizes mean little or nothing in terms of academic achievement. Washington, D.C., for example spends over $15,000 per student, has class sizes smaller than the nation's average, and with an average annual salary of $61,195, its teachers are the most highly paid in the nation.

What about role models? Standard psychobabble asserts a positive relationship between the race of teachers and administrators and student performance. That's nonsense. Black academic performance is the worst in the very cities where large percentages of teachers and administrators are black, and often the school superintendent is black, the mayor is black, most of the city council is black and very often the chief of police is black.

Black people have accepted hare-brained ideas that have made large percentages of black youngsters virtually useless in an increasingly technological economy. This destruction will continue until the day comes when black people are willing to turn their backs on liberals and the education establishment's agenda and confront issues that are both embarrassing and uncomfortable. To a lesser extent, this also applies to whites because the educational performance of many white kids is nothing to write home about; it's just not the disaster that black education is.

Many black students are alien and hostile to the education process. They have parents with little interest in their education. These students not only sabotage the education process, but make schools unsafe as well. These students should not be permitted to destroy the education chances of others. They should be removed or those students who want to learn should be provided with a mechanism to go to another school.

Another issue deemed too delicate to discuss is the overall quality of people teaching our children. Students who have chosen education as their major have the lowest SAT scores of any other major. Students who have an education degree earn lower scores than any other major on graduate school admission tests such as the GRE, MCAT or LSAT. Schools of education, either graduate or undergraduate, represent the academic slums of most any university. They are home to the least able students and professors. Schools of education should be shut down.

Yet another issue is the academic fraud committed by teachers and administrators. After all, what is it when a student is granted a diploma certifying a 12th grade level of achievement when in fact he can't perform at the sixth- or seventh-grade level?

Prospects for improvement in black education are not likely given the cozy relationship between black politicians, civil rights organizations and teacher unions.


Failing Public Schools Cost Us All

Everyone knows our public schools aren't what they should be. The nation spends more than $500 billion per year on K-12 education. That's much more than other countries – yet we still rank in the middle on international tests measuring the educational performance.

Many parents take comfort, assuming that their local schools are better than the average. They know there are places where the public schools are little more than expensive, dangerous, holding pens in which little education occurs. They think of Detroit, where only about a quarter of high schoolers will receive a diploma. They think of Baltimore City, where little more than a third of students are expected to graduate high school. And they think of Washington D.C., which spends more than $14,000 per year per student but produces only 15% of students who are proficient in reading and math. Parents figure those places weigh down the U.S.'s performance on those worldwide tests; other Americans need to worry about education reform, but not them.

Certainly, communities with the worst schools have the most to gain from education reform. Yet we are all affected by the outcomes of our nation's education system. Most people understand intuitively that we are better off with a more educated populace since educated people are less likely to commit crimes and can better contribute to their communities.

It makes sense that our country would be better off if all of our citizens were better prepared to contribute and compete in today's global, knowledge-based economy. But this is too often lost in our discussions about education policy, which tends to be an emotional subject. Education is supposed to be a stepping stone to a successful life. By perpetuating an inadequate system, we let down a generation of children. Kids who may have grown up to be scientists, professors, doctors, or authors will be forced to settle for more modest aspirations as they fail to acquire needed skills while passing through our lousy schools.

But education isn't just a moral imperative: it’s an urgent national priority that is critical to long term growth and prosperity. Few seem to comprehend that we are actually paying a price in dollars and cents because of the failures of these school systems. The management consulting firm McKinsey and Company looked at the effects of our failure to provide a quality education in order to estimate its impact on the economy. They compared it to a “permanent national recession” that made our country hundreds of billions of dollars poorer each year. Imagining how much better off we would be if our education system achieved the superior results of other countries, analysts concluded that “if the United States had in recent years closed the gap between its educational achievement levels and those of better-performing nations such as Finland and Korea, GDP in 2008 could have been $1.3 trillion to $2.3 trillion higher.” That's between $4,300 and $7,600 per person.

Sadly, the media tends to miss the benefits that will accrue to communities and individuals with better education. For example, the press all but ignored the recent debate about the Washington D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. This program, launched in 2004, helped over 1700 students from low-income families in Washington D.C. to attend schools of their parents' choice. Last year, a U.S. Department of Education study proved that this program was working: test scores showed that students using vouchers were performing two years ahead of their public school peers on standardized reading tests. These are incredibly powerful results for a modest investment. In fact, the program actually saved taxpayers money, as tuition at the average private school attended by a scholarship recipient was just $6,600 – a fraction of what is currently being spent per pupil in D.C. dysfunctional public schools.

Yet Congress moved to defund this program, condemning future low-income D.C. students to the public school system that we know fails so many. The President and the Secretary of Education had promised to pursue “whatever works” when it comes to education reform. However, it is increasingly clear that was just empty rhetoric. The all-powerful teachers unions loathe any program that helps kids exit the public schools, and Democratic leaders seem to have calculated that teachers unions’ interests are more important than the future of those students.

Politically, Congress’ decision probably made sense. After all, the teachers unions give loads of money to politicians in order to maintain the status quo. Clearly, the poor families receiving opportunity scholarships in Washington D.C. don't. And, for the most part, those around the country—even those who are sympathetic to the cause of education reform and school choice—don't see a debate about a program out in the nation's capitol as their fight.

But it should be all of our fights.

A dynamic, effective education system is in everyone's self-interest. Our public schools are a drag on the economy, bringing everyone down. We are poorer and have lower standard of living because we have allowed this problem to persist. Americans need to fight for meaningful reforms and against those who cling to the dysfunctional status quo. For a stronger nation, education reform should be everyone's cause.


British universities in big financial trouble

Universities will have to make severe cuts after Lord Mandelson abruptly slashed teaching budgets by millions of pounds yesterday. Departments are expected to close, degree courses will be scrapped and students will have to pay higher fees.

Academics were furious at the plan to claw back £135 million and condemned the timing of the announcement. Universities had already been ordered to find £180 million in savings in the next 18 months.

When savage spending cuts were announced in the Pre-Budget Report, schools were given immunity but universities were not. The cuts mean that funding per student has fallen in real terms for the first time in ten years.

A review of tuition fees that began last month and will conclude after the general election is expected to recommend that they be raised considerably from the current £3,225 a year.

The Business Secretary said that universities should move from the three-year, full-time undergraduate degree model towards a “wider variety of provision”, such as foundation and fast-track degrees. They will be encouraged to focus more on the skills and knowledge demanded by employers rather than on academia for its own sake. Those that disobeyed the Government by taking on too many students this autumn will be penalised in next year’s grants at a rate of £3,700 per extra full-time student.

Lord Mandelson made his position clear in the Secretary of State’s annual letter to the Higher Education Funding Council for England. He said: “My predecessor repeatedly made clear the risks of student over-recruitment putting unmanageable pressures on our student support budgets.” The council will inform universities of their individual grants in March.

Lord Mandelson said that teaching grants would be cut by £51 million but urged universities to minimise the impact on teaching and students. The remaining £84 million will come from capital budgets. After adjustments, the overall higher education grant will fall from £7.8 billion to £7.3 billion. The Times reported earlier this month that universities were already slashing thousands of jobs, scrapping courses and putting campuses out of use to meet budget constraints. The 10,000 extra unfunded places the Government allowed this year for science, technology, engineering and maths degrees will disappear next year, even though the recession means that unprecedented numbers are expected to apply for places.

Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors, said that the cost of subsidising tuition fees would jeopardise the quality of the student experience. “The sector will not be able to deliver more with less without compromising our longer-term sustainability and international competitiveness.”

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “You cannot make these kinds of cuts and expect no consequences. We will see teachers on the dole, students in larger classes and a higher education sector unable to contribute as much to the economy or society.”

Wes Streeting, of the National Union of Students, said: “The Government was quick to take credit for avoiding a student places crisis earlier this year, but is now shamefully cutting teaching funding to the very universities that helped it achieve it.”

The university research grant is protected, meaning that newer universities that focus mainly on teaching will feel extra pressure. Professor Les Ebdon, chairman of Million+, which represents some of these institutions, said: “December 22 will go down as a good day for the Government to bury bad news for universities and students.

David Willetts, the Shadow Universities Secretary, said: “Universities are being fined for meeting targets set by this Government. Higher education should be available to all those who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue it, and who wish to do so.”


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Bilingual Ban That Worked

In 1998, Californians voted to pass Proposition 227, the “English for the Children Act,” and dismantle the state’s bilingual-education industry. The results, according to California’s education establishment, were not supposed to look like this: button-cute Hispanic pupils at a Santa Ana elementary school boasting about their English skills to a visitor. Those same pupils cheerfully calling out to their principal on their way to lunch: “Hi, Miss Champion!” A statewide increase in English proficiency among all Hispanic students.

Instead, warned legions of educrats, eliminating bilingual education in California would demoralize Hispanic students and widen the achievement gap. Unless Hispanic children were taught in Spanish, the bilingual advocates moaned, they would be unable to learn English or to succeed in other academic subjects.

California’s electorate has been proved right: Hispanic test scores on a range of subjects have risen since Prop. 227 became law. But while the curtailment of California’s bilingual-education industry has removed a significant barrier to Hispanic assimilation, the persistence of a Hispanic academic underclass suggests the need for further reform.

The counterintuitive linguistic claims behind bilingual education were always a fig leaf covering a political agenda. The 1960s Chicano rights movement (“Chicano” refers to Mexican-Americans) asserted that the American tradition of assimilation was destroying not just Mexican-American identity but also Mexican-American students’ capacity to learn. Teaching these students in English rather than in Spanish hurt their self-esteem and pride in their culture, Chicano activists alleged: hence the high drop-out rates, poor academic performance, and gang involvement that characterized so many Mexican-American students in the Southwest. Manuel Ramirez III, currently a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, argued that bilingual education was necessary to ensure “the academic survival of Chicano children and the political and economic strength of the Chicano community.” The role of American schools, according to this nascent ideology, became the preservation of the Spanish language and Mexican culture for Mexican-origin U.S. residents.

Novel linguistic theories arose to buttress this political platform. Children could not learn a second language well unless they were already fully literate in their native tongue, the newly minted bilingual-ed proponents argued. To teach English to a five-year-old who spoke Spanish at home, you had to instruct him in Spanish for several more years, until he had mastered Spanish grammar and spelling. “Young children are not language sponges,” asserts McGill University psychology professor Fred Genesee, defying centuries of parental observation. Even more surprisingly, the advocates suddenly discovered that the ability to learn a second language improved with age—news to every adult who has struggled through do-it-yourself language recordings.

Such ad hoc justifications rested on shaky scientific ground. Psycholinguistics research supports what generations of immigrants experienced firsthand: the younger you are when you tackle a second language, the greater your chances of achieving full proficiency. Children who learn a second language early in life may even process it in the same parts of the brain that process their first language, an advantage lost as they age.

Only one justification for bilingual education made possible sense. The bilingual theorists maintained that children should be taught academic content—physics, say, or history—in their home language, lest they fall behind their peers in their knowledge of subject matter. But this argument applied most forcefully where bilingual education has always been the rarest: in high school, where, one would hope, teachers use relatively sophisticated concepts. In the earliest grades, however, where bilingual education has always been concentrated, academic content is predominantly learning a language—how to read and write B-A-T, for example. Moreover, most Hispanic children who show up in American elementary school have subpar Spanish skills to begin with, so teaching them in Spanish does not provide a large advantage over English in conveying knowledge about language—or anything else.

The bilingual-education crusade also contained patent inequities that never seemed to trouble its advocates. If teaching a nonnative speaker in his home tongue was such a boon—if it was, as many argued, a civil right—bilingual education should have been provided to every minority-language group, not just to Hispanics, who have been almost the exclusive beneficiaries of the practice. If instructing non-English-speaking students in English was destructive, it would damage a school’s sole Pashto speaker just as much as its Hispanic majority. But minority rights, usually the proud battle cry of self-styled progressives, invariably crumpled before brute political power when it came to bilingual ed. “If it could benefit 82 percent of the kids, you don’t have to offer it to everyone,” says Robert Linquanti, a project director for the government-supported research organization WestEd.

Nor did bilingual-education proponents pause long before counterevidence. In 1965, just as the movement was getting under way in the United States, the Canadian province of Quebec decided that not enough Quebecois children were learning French. It instituted the most efficient method for overcoming that deficit: immersion. Young English-speaking students started spending their school days in all-French classes, emerging into English teaching only after having absorbed French. By all accounts, the immersion schools have been successful. And no wonder: the simple insight of immersion is that the more one practices a new language, the better one learns it. Students at America’s most prestigious language academy, the Middlebury Language Schools, pledge not to speak a word of English once the program begins, even if they are beginners in their target languages. “If you go back to speaking English, the English patterns will reassert themselves and interfere with acquisition of the new grammatical patterns,” explains Middlebury vice president Michael Geisler.

McGill professor Genesee—who opposed Prop. 227 in 1998, when he was directing the education school at the University of California at Davis—hates it when proponents of English immersion in America point to the success of French immersion in Quebec. The English-speaking Quebecois don’t risk losing English, Genesee says, since it remains the predominant Canadian tongue and is a “high-prestige language.”

Whereas if you start American Hispanics off in English, Genesee maintains, “they won’t want to speak Spanish” because it is a “stigmatized, low-prestige language.” Genesee’s argument exposes the enduring influence of Chicano political activism on academic bilingual theory. Hispanic students do risk losing their home tongue when taught in the majority language. Such linguistic oblivion has beset second- and third-generation immigrants throughout American history—not because of the relative status of their home languages but simply because of the power of language immersion and the magnetic force of the public culture. But bilingual-ed proponents know that most Americans don’t view preserving immigrants’ home tongues as a school responsibility. So they publicly promote bilingual education as a pedagogically superior way to teach Hispanics English and other academic subjects, even as they privately embrace the practice as a means for ensuring that Hispanic students preserve their Spanish.

The early Chicano activists sought the “replacement of assimilationist ideals . . . with cultural pluralism,” writes University of Houston history professor Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr. in his book Contested Policy. Bilingual education was the activists’ primary weapon in fighting assimilation because, as they rightly understood, English-language teaching is a powerful tool for encouraging assimilation. In a country as diverse as the United States, fluency in the common tongue is an essential bond among citizens, and the experience of learning it alongside classmates of different ethnic origins reinforces the message that Americans share a common culture. Bilingual-ed proponents often accuse immersion advocates of opposing multilingualism or wanting to stamp out Spanish. This is nonsense. But it is true that maintaining students’ home language for the sake of strengthened ethnic identity is no part of a school’s mandate. Its primary language duty, rather, is to ensure that citizens can understand one another and participate in democracy.

Despite its conceptual contradictions, bilingual education spread inexorably through the federal and state education bureaucracies. The National Education Association, undoubtedly whiffing a jobs bonanza for its unionized members, produced a report in 1966 arguing that teaching Hispanic children in English hurt their self-esteem and led to underachievement. In 1968, Congress passed the Bilingual Education Act, which provided federal funds for bilingual teaching. When not enough school districts applied for the funds, advocacy groups sued, claiming that the districts were violating Hispanic children’s civil rights. The federal Department of Education agreed, issuing rules in 1975 that penalized schools for not establishing bilingual programs for their non-English-speaking students. Though the Reagan administration cut back on several bilingual-education mandates from the Ford and Carter years, the federal bilingual bureaucracy remained firmly entrenched for decades.

In California, which contains the vast majority of the country’s so-called English learners—students from homes where a language other than English is regularly spoken—the rise of the bilingual machine was swift and decisive. The 1976 Chacon-Moscone Bilingual-Bicultural Education Act declared that bilingual education was the right of every English learner. Elementary schools had to provide native-language instruction if they enrolled a certain number of English learners; bilingual education in the lower grades became the default mode for anyone with a Hispanic surname. (Hispanics have always dominated the “English learner” category. In California, they make up 85 percent of all English learners; the next-largest language group—Vietnamese—constitutes just 2.4 percent.)

Even after Governor George Deukmejian refused to reauthorize the Chacon-Moscone bill in 1987, the bilingual establishment in Sacramento continued to enforce the law’s mandates. The state’s department of education sponsored numerous conferences and reports alleging that bilingual education was necessary for Hispanic success and showered an additional $5,000 a year on bilingual teachers. Administrators and teachers in heavily Hispanic areas often saw themselves as part of the Chicano empowerment movement. “You weren’t worthwhile if you didn’t speak Spanish,” recalls a Santa Ana teacher. “The attitude was: ‘No one should teach our kids but native language speakers.’”...

Much more here

Factory schools don’t give real education

A ten-hour day could close the attainment gap between state and private, but only if it’s used well

You can imagine the look on the faces of the poor children. At the final assembly of the Christmas term last Friday they are told by their headteacher that in the new year the school day will last ten hours, from 7.30am to 5.30pm, not the traditional seven hours. There couldn’t have been more dismay if the head had announced that Christmas has been cancelled.

Yet this ten-hour day is exactly what the Sutton Trust announced yesterday in an effort to further its mission to improve educational opportunities for children from deprived backgrounds. The decision echoes the Knowledge is Power Programme (KIPP) in the US, which has caught the eye of Michael Gove, the Shadow Education Secretary. These schools have ten-hour days and are open every other Saturday, and for three weeks in the summer holidays. Thus KIPP students are in school 60 per cent longer than in other publicly run schools in the US. These free, open-enrolment schools, are heavily oversubscribed. More than 90 per cent of students are from African-American or Hispanic-Latino backgrounds, and more than 80 per cent are eligible for free or subsidised school meals. Parents are desperate to get their children into these schools in the hope of their getting into college and experiencing better lives than they did themselves.

Is the extended day the answer to chronic underachievement in British schools? Would it help to narrow the gap in performance between state and independent schools? Despite huge increases in public spending, the attainment gap between private and state has widened.

We should beware the idea that more teaching time necessarily means better education. In the independent sector, children are rarely taught in class for more than five hours a day averaged over the week, including Saturday mornings. The evidence suggests that even the most academically able cannot concentrate in class for much longer, and that further hours become counter-productive.

What counts is not extending the hours taught, but improving the quality of what happens in the time children are in lessons. Independent schools outperform state schools academically for three principal reasons. The teachers may not be better or harder working, but the ratio of subject specialists, for example in maths and physics, is far higher. Class sizes are far smaller, with, on average, twice as many teachers per pupil. Finally, behaviour and work expectations are higher, as are parental expectations. If one wants to improve the quality of academic results, it is to these three areas that attention should be given.

A deeper concern is about the narrowing of education that has happened in Britain in the past 15 years as a direct consequence of the culture of targets, league tables and low trust of schools. “Education” is derived from the Latin educare, “to draw out”. Schools should be drawing out all children’s faculties or intelligences: yet in our exam-drunk country, breadth of education and the nurturing of individuality have all too often been sacrificed to achieve quantifiable test and exam data.

Children, of course, need to be taught academic subjects rigorously, and to be tested regularly to assess their development: But, there is a world of difference between a child with a string of A grades and an educated child. Genuine learning has all too often been replaced in our factory schools by rote-learning.

What are the different intelligences that each child, regardless of background, should have “drawn out”? My own school, Wellington College, structures its curriculum and extracurricular life around eight different aptitudes, inspired by the work of Howard Gardner of Harvard University: the logical and linguistic; the creative and kinaesthetic; the moral and spiritual and the personal and the social. Where these are not developed by schools, they may lay dormant for the rest of a person’s life. Schools have a responsibility not only to develop logical and linguistic intelligences, but also the other six.

Why should children who go to independent schools enjoy this far richer education? The injustice is all the more stark because children in state schools often lack the same opportunities and support at home to develop their broader intelligences, and school thus becomes all the more important if they are to become fully rounded human beings, knowing more about who they are and what their talents are.

KIPP schools focus on extracurricular activities, including music, dance and sport. They also make a feature of the “joy factor”, using a variety of techniques, including movement and chanting to make lessons engaging and positive.

Schools should be immensely happy places, but in the “factory school” mentality we have allowed to grow up in Britain, they are anything but. Achieving breadth and depth is not an add-on: it is the right of every child. So three cheers for the Sutton Trust if its ten-hour day allows time for the wider development of the whole child.


Graduation for kindergarten gets A+ for weirdness

Graduation season is upon us. But not the university type. The class of 2009, the leaders of the future, are a bunch of five-year-olds who can barely spell their name, let alone write a thesis.

Graduation for children is a bizarre phenomenon that has gained momentum in the past few years. A child who enters preschool and completes a university degree may potentially "graduate" half a dozen times over the space of 13 years, giving us the most overqualified generation yet to step on a dais.

Kindy graduation comes first, for those "school leavers" off to start school, followed by year 6 graduation for those moving from primary school to high school, then year 12 graduation . . . And some schools even have a ceremony for students moving from middle school to senior school.

Some may never go on to tertiary education - you know, from which you actually graduate, with a degree or diploma in hand - but still would have ''graduated'' many times over.

A degree is a concrete and measurable marker of having earned something, not just having turned up. It is for students. For those who have studied, researched, written dissertations, been examined and assessed. They will pick up many vital lessons of life along the way, gaining financial and emotional independence from their parents that may include moving out of home, developing adult relationships and experimenting with vices.

To finance their educational enterprise, many will work long hours for the minimum wage, while studying and racking up a big debt to complement that hard-won certification.

Their degree is conferred upon them by a senior member of the institution or a guest, usually selected from the field of study they have undertaken. This is graduation, not kindergarten.

Don't get me wrong. Little kids with their cardboard mortar boards and hastily sewn capes pinned over freshly ironed clothes are as cute as a button. It is hard not to get caught up in the excitement of the moment as they parade in front of proud families, belt out the national anthem and demonstrate the things they have learnt during the year.

But kindergarten, preschool, day care - whatever form of childcare - is a mixture of childminding, play, socialisation and preparation for school. The lessons learnt in the playground of a child-care centre are valuable but they have not even entered formal learning.

Some might see it as harmless fun, but it devalues the worth of a degree or diploma that has been hard-earned, whether with a pass or with honours. It suggests you deserve to graduate just by turning up.

It is not just about getting letters to put after your name to make you look more impressive - most tertiary-educated people don't bother with that. But a degree or diploma will be there through life: it qualifies graduates for fields of employment, it is a sign of higher learning, it is a building block for further study to become a specialist in a particular field.

So what, then, to make of this kindy grad trend? Surely it is more about us as adults, parents, than about our young children. Why are we in such a rush for them to grow up? What delusions of grandeur are we inflicting upon them? Where will it end? Will there be new tiers of graduation, with different-coloured hoods on their gowns and honours for those who know their alphabet and can count to more than 10?

I have no beef with the excellent childcare workers who do so much for the children in their care and try hard to ensure these ceremonies are a success. But it has become one of those hard-to-resist phenomena in which once a few start doing it others follow, and soon kindy graduation becomes the norm in an ever-increasing trend of tailoring adult behaviour to children.

It is more evidence of our rush to fast-track kids, creating mini-adults out of them rather than letting them enjoy their childhood and grow up at their own pace.

My guess is that most five-year-olds would happily settle for cupcakes, cordial and a singalong to celebrate the end of their attendance at preschool, rather than endure a semi-solemn ceremony requiring rehearsals and motherhood statements.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

College prof: Christian crosses like swastikas

A student says a Dallas public community-college teacher compared crosses to swastikas while explaining a school ban on religious items made in ceramics classes.

Liberty Legal Institute sent a Dec. 15 demand letter on behalf of Joe Mitchell, a retired General Motors employee, Dallas resident and student, to Eastfield College in the Dallas County Community College District. The complaint accuses the school of an "unconstitutional attack on religious expression in the classroom."

Mitchell, 69, said the college has banned crosses, menorahs and other religious items from the ceramics classes. According to his complaint, James Watral, chair of the ceramic department at Eastfield College, filled in for the regular ceramics instructor on the first day of a spring 2009 class. "As Mr. Watral was giving students a tour of the pottery department, he took them to a shelving area where ceramics pieces are stored prior to being fired in the kiln," the complaint states. "Mr. Watral then pointed to a cross and stated in front of the entire class with contempt: 'I don't like that.'" "I felt humiliated and that my spirituality was being demeaned," Mitchell said in a statement. "The whole point of art is to express who you are."

He began enrolling in non-credit ceramics classes at the community college three years ago. Mitchell enjoys making crosses and distributing them as gifts to graduates, churches and charities. He said he was able to make a few crosses that semester, but he was forced to hide them behind larger pottery pieces so they would not be visible.

Mitchell said instructors and administrative staff told him on several occasions this year that he is prohibited from making his crosses. Then the college adopted a "no symbols" policy, and Watral distributed a memo to all ceramics students and instructors to inform them of the rules. The memo prohibited creation of any "religious items" and "seasonal pieces – Christmas, Easter, Valentines, Halloween, ornaments, etc." "[T]he making of such pieces at Eastfield College demeans the goals of the ceramic program at EFC," it stated.

Mitchell stopped making his crosses and filed a complaint with the art department, arguing that the policy discriminates against people of faith. Mitchell had a meeting with Watral, and Watral apologized for "making the offensive remark about the cross," the complaint states. But Watral then sent out a revised memo that prohibited "religious items that are replicas" rather than prohibiting all religious items. The new rules still prohibited "seasonal" items and purportedly required students to submit a written proposal each time they wished to create a cross or other religious item.

"Mr. Mitchell brought a ceramic cross to the meeting as an example of the things he wished to make," the complaint states. "When Mr. Watral saw it, he physically recoiled in disgust, throwing his arms up into the air."

During the fall 2009 semester, Mitchell said he was constantly asked by his instructor whether he would be creating religious projects. He created a ceramic Israeli Coat of Arms, including a Menorah, to give to a Jewish friend. After the piece had been fired, he said his instructor, Chris Blackburst, asked if she could take a look at it. "She told Mr. Mitchell that it 'should never have made it through [the firing process]' due to the religious content," according to the complaint.

She then purportedly told Mitchell that he would need to buy his own kiln if he wanted to continue making religious art. She handed him two crosses that he had made and said the ceramics department would not fire them. Mitchell said she then asked him if he considered a swastika offensive. He responded, "Of course."

"She then proceeded to compare the cross to a swastika," his complaint states. "She stated that many individuals view the cross as an offensive symbol in the same was that many people are offended by swastikas, and that his crosses would therefore not be fired by the department."

Another student identified only as E.D., claims the department told her to "expand her horizons" when she constructed a cross in ceramics class. She said the adjunct professor teaching the course specifically said she could make any item except a cross. E.D. said Watral phoned her and told her to "pick up her damn crosses" from the school. But she said when she went to retrieve them, they were destroyed.

"It appears the Eastfield College art department has no room in the inn for artistic religious expression such as that of Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci," said Hiram Sasser, director of litigation at Liberty Legal Institute. "Hopefully they will change their mind."

The college claims the rules are to require students to make unique projects and avoid duplicate assignments, not to inhibit artistic freedom, Dallas' WFAA-TV reported. The college said its legal counsel will review the policy.

Liberty Legal Institute's legal demand letter requires that the college advise the group in writing on whether students will be allowed to create religious art in the class by Jan. 23. "Unfortunately, not everyone has the Christmas spirit or even a basic understanding of religious freedom," said Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel of Liberty Legal Institute. "The government cannot ban crosses and religious symbols."


Pen and paper exams 'could be axed' in Britain

This is reasonable enough as long as the ability to write an essay is retained and tested

Traditional “pen and paper” exams could be scrapped in favour of computer-based tests, according to the qualifications watchdog. Ofqual – set up by Gordon Brown to regulate test standards – said examiners had to make “the best use of technology” as part of a modern assessment system. In its annual report, the regulator also said computerised exams should be encouraged as part of a plan to crackdown on cheating. Tests can easily be created with different questions and multiple choice exams can appear in a random order to stop candidates copying from pupils sat nearby, it said.

Any rise in computer-based tests would inevitably lead to a reduction in the use of pens, pencils and paper in the classroom, as pupils are taught using the same system employed in the exam hall.

Last night, head teachers welcomed the development which they said would boost children’s vocabulary. But parents’ groups said it risked created a generation of pupils that “relied on spell-checkers” instead of developing their own linguistic skills and could lead to a decline in handwriting.

In the report, Kathleen Tattersall, Ofqual chief regulator, said the organisation had a duty to “encourage those who provide assessments to look forward so that the qualifications system remains relevant to society”. “Other performance standards, therefore, might relate to how assessments are carried out to effect a transformation from examinations that are largely paper-based to those in which candidates respond using computers,” she said. “We need to ensure that the means of assessment are fit for their purpose and make the best use of technology.”

The report said the main criticism of “e-assessment” was that it was easy for pupils to cheat. But she said there were “techniques to combat cheating that are much easier to operate in e-assessment” than paper-based tests, including altering the questions in each exam.

Many exam boards already mark tests on-line and the latest intervention could lead to a charge towards a completely computer-based assessment system.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: “We’re glad Ofqual is looking at different ways pupils can take exams and tests. It’s right that assessment keeps up with the 21st Century, but exams and tests must be fair and can be accessed by all students.”

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “In a few years’ time people will look back on pen and paper tests as old-fashioned. I actually think the art of writing is improved by using a computer because you can easily edit your work.”

But Margaret Morrissey, from the campaign group Parents OutLoud, said computers “inhibited children’s ability to think”. “We cannot develop a generation that relies solely on spell-checkers,” she said. “If children rely too much on machines to do everything for them it will destroy their handwriting, spelling and grammar.”

Ofqual’s second annual report also appeared to warn of the danger of exams skewing the curriculum. It follows warnings from schools that they are forced to “teach to the test” to boost their league table position. “Our principle is that qualifications, tests and assessments must facilitate good learning, not dominate or distort it,” said the document. Ofqual also appeared to issue a warning to the Government not to tinker with the qualifications system. Constant change "destabilises the system", said the report.


Israeli grade-schools faltering

Israel should cherish the feeling of producing Nobel Prize winners, because in the future they will be even harder to come by. The education system is failing today's children and tomorrow's society, according to research conducted by Prof. Dan Ben-David of the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel.

In its forthcoming annual report on the state of Israel's society and economy, the Jerusalem-based Taub Center will present a first-of-its-kind comparison between Israel and 25 advanced economies in every exam given over the past decade. On Sunday, the center released a preview of the section of the report dealing with education, which showed Israel consistently ranking at the end of the list of Western countries and presenting a growing trend of severe gaps between top and bottom performers.

"Over the past decade or so, each couple of years, we get hit by different exam results, each time its with a different number of countries and each time the rankings change, so it's hard to get any idea of where we are," Ben-David said. "We decided to put some order in all of this. What we did was take the same 25 OECD countries that serve as a benchmark for us and compare Israel to them in a consistent way. When we did that, we found some pretty interesting things."

Ben-David and his team crunched the numbers from the results of two international scholastic evaluation mechanisms that are taken by students around the world every four years - the Programme for International Student Assessment tests, which were taken in 2002 and 2006, and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study tests, which were taken in 1999, 2003 and 2007. The results showed that the average levelin Israel was consistently lower than every one of the 25 countries they compared it with.

The study also showed increasing inequalities among Israeli students. "Our educational inequality within Israel is simply the highest in the Western world, bar none," said Ben-David. "There are smallergaps between Beverly Hills and Harlem students in the United States than there are between our best and worst achievers here in Israel." "By creating the largest education gaps in the Western world," he said, Israel is "sowing the seeds today of high income gaps tomorrow."

The "frosting on the cake," as Ben-David referred to it, was the performance of Israel's top achievers. According to the study, even they consistently fall behind the rest of the Western world. From the 25 countries examined, only Italy's top performers performed more poorly than Israel's.

Ben-David said that the truth was actually even worse than the tests indicated, because the sample of the Israeli students taking the tests were skewed upwards. "None of the results include Haredim. In light of the fact that they do not study core curriculum in any meaningful manner, you can expect that all of these problems would be much worse," said Ben-David. "We exclude more kids out of these samples than any other country."

"For a country whose entire population is barely greater than that of metropolitan Philadelphia, which is sitting in the heart of one of the world's most inhospitable neighborhoods [the Middle East], these findings indicate existential problems in the next generation - unless a comprehensive reform of the educational system is adopted, and soon," he said. "This is really all about national priorities. What do we really care about? What is most important for this country? I think that most people would agree that education should be at the top of the list," he said.

The problems, according to Ben-David, are threefold and perhaps surprisingly, budgeting isn't one of them. The same results that exist today after the education budget was cut, existed when the budget was relatively higher than in many of the other countries. Ben-David blames the situation on other things.

First, he said, Israeli kids study the wrong things. Israelis pay for more instructional hours than many of the other countries, but those hours aren't spent on core curriculum subjects that will serve the students in their competition with OECD students, Ben-David said. He gave examples of Tel Aviv high schools luring students in by offering courses in law, medicine and biotechnology, when they should focus on mathematics and reading and writing skills. He also pointed to the religious schools that, because of their focus on the religious studies, can't offer what's necessary in terms of core subjects.

The second element Ben-David pointed to was the overall quality of the teachers. "We have some excellent teachers. We have teachers who would do well in any occupation that they chose. However, we also have roughly two dozen teaching colleges in Israel and they produce the mass of our teachers. Their entrance requirements are below the entrance requirements of nearly every university departmentin Israel.

"So how could we possibly expect the caliber of teachers that go to these places to be on a level that could bring our kids to the universities that they themselves couldn't be accepted to?" Ben-David asked.

Finally, he said, the education system does not give principals enough power to shape their faculty. "Principals do not have the authority to reward their best teachers or fire the poor performers. As a result, teachers who should probably not carry on teaching, continue to do so despite the good of the children."

The study shows a trend that should concern anybody who cares about Israel's future, Ben-David said. "The past and the future are diverging," he said. "During the same decade in which Israel garnered more Nobel Prizes per capita in the sciences than any other country, the achievements of its top high school students were near the bottom of the Western barrel," he said.

"Within another decade or so, these same children in these same countries will be competing for real in other arenas that will determine their livelihood. The level of the basic toolbox that Israel is providing its children will put them at a severe disadvantage that many will be unable to extricate themselves from," Ben-David said.


Monday, December 21, 2009

China’s higher education revolution

I recently visited the top four universities in mainland China: Tsinghua University, Peking University, Fudan University, and Shanghai Jiao Tong University. The former two are located in Beijing, and the latter two are located in Shanghai.

As an American educational researcher, the purpose of my visit was to witness and assess China's higher education revolution firsthand.

When Mao Zedong came to power in 1949, there were only 205 universities in China. They closed down during the turbulent era of the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1977. Under Deng Xiaoping, they began to reopen in 1978.

In the 30 years since, China has experienced a higher education revolution. It now has the largest higher education system in the world.Five of its universities are in the world's top 100. University enrollment has more than tripled since 2000. More university degrees are awarded in China than in the U.S. and India combined. Over the last decade, annual awards of doctoral degrees in China have risen sevenfold. China recently surpassed the UK to become the world's second-largest producer of academic research papers, and is on course to surpass the U.S. by 2020.

The four universities I visited are part of a nine-university alliance, dubbed C9, which is hailed as China's Ivy League. The nine universities share resources and recognize each other's course credits.

China's C9 League differs from America's Ivy League in several ways.First, C9 universities are public; the Ivy League universities are private. Second, C9 universities answer to the Ministry of Education; the Ivy League universities answer to their own board. Third, C9 formed around academics; the Ivy League formed around athletics. Fourth, C9 includes nine universities; the Ivy League includes eight.

The C9 League was created on October 10, 2009; however, the concept for its formation began a decade ago when Jiang Zemin initiated Project 985.Under the project, the nine universities received millions of dollars in funding.

China's heavy investment in its leading universities is evident. As I explored the four campuses, I was impressed with the massive number of research facilities.

As China continues to strengthen its universities, the U.S. appears to be losing its international dominance in higher education. If the U.S. falls behind, it will be a very long march back.


British universities shun excellence under political pressure

Leading universities are shunning the new A-level A* grade for fear that it will derail their attempts to increase the numbers of students they admit from state schools and poor families. The new grade, which will be awarded for the first time next summer, was intended to help universities distinguish between the soaring numbers of A-level pupils scoring A grades.

Institutions that are ignoring the A* in the current round of applications, partly because it may lead to more private school pupils winning places, include Leeds, St Andrews and Cardiff. Others, including University College London (UCL) and Warwick are placing tight restrictions on the use of A*s in offers. Their concerns will be intensified by findings from researchers at the Independent Schools Council, who say that, based on this year’s A-level results, 16.5% of all papers taken by its members’ pupils would have scored an A*, more than double the national average.

The introduction of the new grade was intended to make it simpler for universities to select candidates, but schools have instead been left confused about whether their pupils will gain an advantage from achieving the grade. Cambridge is the only university using the A* as a standard part of its offers for entry in 2010. This has resulted in a slight fall in applicant numbers as weaker candidates are put off, bucking the national trend of rising university applications.

Imperial College London and Sussex, in addition to UCL and Warwick, will use the grade for a limited number of courses. Others, including Oxford, Bristol, Durham and Surrey, take into account whether a candidate is predicted by their school to score an A*, but will not make offers that include the new grade. They will wait to see how it operates in practice, but do not cite fears over the balance of independent and state school grades.

John Morgan, president of the Association of School and College Leaders, and head teacher of Conyers school, a comprehensive in Stockton-on-Tees, described such an approach as “wriggling a bit”.

Tim Hands, master of Magdalen College school, Oxford, and chairman of the main independent schools university committee, said: “Selection for top universities became a lottery because of lack of an A*. Now we have a double lottery where some use the A* and some don’t. The lack of transparency has been disgraceful.” One of Hands’s former pupils, Ed Bernard, 18, was celebrating winning a place at Durham last week after applying post-A-level. His scores were so good Hands believes he would have been predicted three A*s, had the grade been available. Because only As were possible, Bernard was rejected by all his preferred universities last year, leaving a surprise gap year.

To win an A*, candidates must score at least 80% overall in their two years of A-level study and 90% in exams taken in the second year. The new grade was introduced in response to complaints by universities that the soaring number of As at A-level was making it increasingly hard to identify the best candidates. One in eight pupils now achieves three A grades. Exam regulators soon warned that independent schools would dominate the new grade, creating a clash with another Labour priority in higher education — loosening the grip of privately educated students at leading universities.

This concern is reflected in the approach some institutions are taking to pupils now applying — the first year group eligible for the A*. Helen Clapham, head of student recruitment at Leeds, said: “We have reservations about the A* because of the likelihood that more will go to the independent sector. “The independent sector tends to do better in A-levels generally.”

Darren Wallis, Warwick’s admissions director, said his university would use A*s for a few maths offers this year, but would only cautiously widen its use depending in part on the “degree of dominance” by private schools.

The confusion about how the A* is used has been heightened by the decision of some universities to take into account schools’ predictions, despite refusing to make offers that include the grade. Some leading schools, including Cheltenham ladies’ college, are not making A* predictions as they believe there are no reliable data on which to base judgments.

Geoff Parks, Cambridge’s admissions director, said his university was making its own predictions, mostly ignoring those by schools. “Some of the A* predictions made by schools have been fanciful in the extreme,” said Parks.


British Christian teacher lost her job after being told praying for sick girl 'was bullying'

But the light of publicity seems to be causing a lot of backpedalling

A devout Christian teacher has lost her job after discussing her faith with a mother and her sick child and offering to pray for them. Olive Jones, a 54-year-old mother of two, who taught maths to children too ill to attend school, was dismissed following a complaint from the girl’s mother. She was visiting the home of the child when she spoke about her belief in miracles and asked whether she could say a prayer, but when the mother indicated they were not believers she did not go ahead.

Mrs Jones was then called in by her managers who, she says, told her that sharing her faith with a child could be deemed to be bullying and informed her that her services were no longer required.

Her dismissal has outraged Christian groups, who say new equality regulations are driving Christianity to the margins of society. They said the case echoed that of community nurse Caroline Petrie, who was suspended last December after offering to pray for a patient but who was later reinstated after a national outcry. Coincidentally, Mrs Petrie lives nearby and has been a friend of Mrs Jones for some years. Mrs Jones, whose youngest son is a Royal Marine who has served in Afghanistan, said she was merely trying to offer comfort and encouragement and only later realised her words had caused distress, for which she is apologetic.

The softly spoken teacher, who has more than 20 years’ experience, said she was ‘devastated’ by the decision to end her employment, which she said was ‘completely disproportionate’. She said she had been made to feel like a ‘criminal’, and claimed that Christians were being persecuted because of ‘political correctness’. Speaking at her home in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, she said: ‘Teaching was my dream from the age of 16. It is as if 20 years of my work, which I was passionate about, has gone. It is like a grief. ‘I have been sleeping badly and been in a daze. I haven’t even got around to putting up a Christmas tree or decorations. So much for Christmas cheer.’

Mrs Jones shares her comfortable four-bedroom house with her husband Peter, who is also a teacher and heads the maths department at a local state secondary school. The house provides few clues about her strong beliefs. There is a small wooden cross on one wall, a few plaques carrying religious texts, and some Bibles in the sitting room which she used in her studies for a diploma at the Pentecostal Carmel Bible College in Bristol.

She is a regular churchgoer, attending her local Church of England church most Sundays, but she also occasionally opts for more lively evangelical worship at the college.

After training to be a teacher at Aberystwyth University, where she met her husband, and a period bringing up her children – student Rob, 24, and soldier James, 23 – she returned to teaching in state secondary schools and sixth-form colleges. Wanting to concentrate more on family life, she began a part-time job more than four years ago at the Oak Hill Short Stay School and Tuition Service North, which caters for children with illness or behavioural difficulties. She had no formal contract but was scheduled to work to a timetable for about 12 hours a week at the school in a converted bungalow and one-storey prefabricated block in nearby Nailsea.

She prepared lessons, taught and marked work for about six children between 11 and 16 who had problems ranging from leukaemia to Attention Deficit Disorder. In reality, however, pupils were frequently unavailable for lessons, and she says she often found herself working as little as 20 hours a month.

As she was technically a supply teacher, she was paid £25 an hour plus mileage and had to submit a timesheet. While she was working, she was paid about £700 a month before tax and pension contributions by North Somerset Council, and received payslips. Occasionally she would teach one or two sick children at their homes, and from September she made half-a-dozen visits to one child in a middle-class area who she was tutoring in GCSE maths. On the fourth visit the girl stayed in her bedroom because she did not feel well enough for lessons, so Mrs Jones chatted to her mother and raised the subject of her faith, saying she believed God had saved her life.

The teacher said when she was a teenager she had been driving a tractor on the family farm near Carmarthen in Wales when it slid down a slope but came to a halt just before tipping over. ‘I shut my eyes and thought I was going to die,’ said Mrs Jones. ‘Then there was a sound of a rushing wind, like that described in the Bible, and then total stillness. ‘I was convinced it was a miracle. I shared my testimony to encourage the mother to believe that there is a God who answers prayer. I believe I have a personal relationship with God, who is a constant source of strength.’

Unbeknown to Mrs Jones, the mother complained about her comments to health authorities in the mistaken belief that they were her employers. It appears, however, that these criticisms were not passed on to Mrs Jones. Unaware that there were any problems, Mrs Jones’s fifth lesson with the child passed without incident, but when she returned for her sixth session towards the end of last month, things went awry. She said that although the girl came downstairs in her dressing gown, she could not face a lesson, so the three of them chatted over cups of tea about books they were reading. Mrs Jones once again referred to the incident involving the tractor and spoke about her belief in Heaven.

‘I told them there were people praying for them, and I asked the child if I could pray for her,’ said Mrs Jones. ‘She looked at her mother, who said, “We come from a family who do not believe”, so I did not pray. ‘I asked the mother if she wanted me to cancel the next lesson as her daughter had not been feeling up to maths, but she said no.’

She left on what she thought were good terms and returned to the unit to do some more work, but within a few hours she was told that the head of the unit, Kaye Palmer-Greene, wanted to see her in her office. ‘I suspected it must be serious as Kaye did not normally see people without an appointment,’ said Mrs Jones. ‘When I got to her office I was told to wait outside. ‘Then the unit co-ordinator Karen Robinson came out and said I would have to come back later. I could tell by her face I was in big trouble. ‘I asked her if I was being sacked but she refused to comment. I drove to a Tesco car park and sat in the car and called a few friends to ask them to pray.’

About an hour-and-a-half later she was told she could go back to the office, and she went in holding a Bible. ‘You could feel the tension in air,’ she said. ‘I was so frightened I could hardly breathe. ‘I was a total wreck. I was shaking and in shock. I had never experienced anything like this before. I had a faultless record. It was horrible, one of the worst experiences of my life. ‘They were very strict and firm. Kaye was mostly silent while Karen read comments from the parent from a sheet of A4 paper. One thing the parent said was that I had demanded a cup of tea, which I hadn’t. ‘Then she said that my testimony and mention of prayer had distressed her and her daughter, and she didn’t want me to tutor in their home again. Obviously, if I had known she was upset when I had first mentioned my testimony I would never have brought it up again. But I had no idea. ‘I don’t push my beliefs down other people’s throats, and I apologise for any unintentional distress I may have caused.’

Mrs Jones said that during the meeting Ms Robinson told her that talking about faith issues in the house of a pupil could be regarded as bullying. Ms Robinson also asked Mrs Jones why she had ignored her advice not to pray or speak about her faith at work, a reference to an occasion three years ago when the teacher had prayed for a girl with period pains. The girl appears to have complained and Ms Robinson had told Mrs Jones to be more professional, but Mrs Jones said there had been no written warning.

‘Karen then said I had been an exemplary maths teacher, but my services were no longer required. As I had no contract, they could tell me to go just like that. ‘They also told me that had I been on a contract, I could be facing disciplinary proceedings. But they never told me the grounds for that.’

Mrs Jones was advised by a friend to contact the Christian Legal Centre, an independent group of lawyers funded by public donations that defends Christians in legal difficulties.

‘I am not angry with my bosses, as they are trying to interpret new equality and diversity policies,’ she said. ‘But I am angry with the politically-correct system and about the fact that you can’t mention anything to do with faith to people who might find it of use. ‘My main concern is the interpretation of the policies concerned, which seem very ambiguous. ‘An atheist may think that you shouldn’t speak about anything to do with faith to students if it is not your specialist area, but it is not really clear. ‘It is as if my freedom of speech is being restricted. I feel I am being persecuted for speaking about my faith in a country that is supposed to be Christian. ‘I feel if I had spoken about almost any other topic I would have been fine but Christianity is seen as a no-go area. It felt as if I was being treated as a criminal. It is like a bad dream that had come true.’

She said that although she was clear that she had been sacked, she had recently been approached by a senior education official who had said the complaint was still being investigated and had suggested a meeting. She said she believed the approach had been triggered by the involvement of the Christian Legal Centre, and she was now taking legal advice about how to proceed.

Andrea Williams, a lawyer and director of the Christian Legal Centre, said: ‘The story of Olive Jones is sadly becoming all too familiar in this country. It is the result of a heavy-handed so-called equalities agenda that discriminates against Christians and seeks to eliminate Christian expression from the public square...

Nick Yates, a spokesman for North Somerset Council, said: ‘Olive Jones has worked as a supply teacher, working with the North Somerset Tuition service. A complaint has been made by a parent regarding Olive. This complaint is being investigated. ‘To complete the investigation we need to speak to Olive and we have offered her a number of dates so this can happen. At the moment we are waiting for her to let us know which date is convenient for her.’


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Reading Bible Called Inappropriate for School Quiet Time

(Old Bridge, New Jersey) It sure seems like Christianity is always flying standby on society's freedom of religion itinerary.
A teacher at the Madison Park Elementary School in Old Bridge, N.J., told a 3rd grader that the Bible was not appropriate reading material for quiet time, and ordered the girl to put the book away, according to the girl's parents.

Now the principal is apologizing, saying that the teacher made a mistake and that school policy absolutely does allow children to read the Bible or any other religious book during quiet reading time.

Michelle Jordat says her daughter, Mariah, cried when the teacher told her to put away the Bible. Jordat says her daughter's feelings were hurt and she was confused.
It would be nice to know if this incident were isolated or reflective of a generic anti-Christian bias in the school.
Las Vegas Teacher Denies Holocaust

(Las Vegas, Nevada) A gym teacher and multiculturalism club advisor at Northwest Career and Technical Academy is being investigated for a possible hate crime for allegedly denying the Holocaust and prompting anti-Semitic jokes and threats against Jewish students.
The investigation involves a text message sent to multiple students that said: "Men are supposed to act like men and not be pansy asses ... only girls are allowed to be that way you slut(t)y Jews ... Please feel free to (forward message) or I will slit your throats personally ... And yes I'm related to Hitler."

Lori Sublette, the teacher accused of denying the Holocaust, has not apologized to students for her comments, said 17-year-old Katie Piranio, a student in Sublette's "advocacy class," a weekly course intended to prepare teens for life after high school. [...]

Piranio said Sublette told students that history textbooks have inaccurate information and Holocaust photographs were doctored or distorted. She also said Sublette said in class that some Holocaust photographs were actually taken during an earlier time period in Russia.

After Piranio's father complained to school officials, Sublette called him to apologize, but only for giving her "opinion" in class, Katie Piranio said.

As a matter of district policy, teachers are not supposed to speak about subjects outside their expertise. Sublette is a full-time gym teacher with a bachelor's degree in kinesiology from the University of Washington and a master's degree from Arizona's Grand Canyon University, according to the school's Web site.
Apparently, a history course isn't required for a degree in kinesiology.

Clark County School administrators say that disciplinary action was taken against Sublette, however, it was not specified as to what it entailed.

Lastly, if the allegations are confirmed as facts, one must question the school administrator's decision to make Sublette responsible for multiculturalism awareness.
Brain gym for pupils is pointless, admits British education boss

A programme used in thousands of classrooms in the hope of boosting children's brainpower has no scientific basis, Ed Balls's department has ruled. Schools around the country have spent taxpayers' cash on Brain Gym, a system of 26 postures and movements invented in California. But in a statement issued to MPs, the Department for Children, Schools and Families warned that studies put its success-down to nothing more than the 'placebo effect' and the general benefits of breaks and exercise. Officials said Brain Gym had been 'criticised as being unscientific in a wide-ranging and authoritative review of research into neuroscience and education'.

Despite the department's concern, Brain Gym is still promoted in a range of Government-backed literature. The Young Gifted and Talented programme, supported by the DCSF to stretch the brightest children, claims on its website that Brain Gym 'can have a sustained impact on learning'.

Hundreds and possibly thousands of schools - mainly primaries - have used Brain Gym techniques since the system was introduced to the UK in 1984. Some councils have spent thousands training teachers to lead the movements. The exercises are said to work on the principle that coordinating mental and physical activity boosts energy, stimulates the brain and enhances performance in the classroom. They include pupils touching so-called 'brain buttons' beneath their collarbones to stimulate blood flow to the brain and massaging their jaws to improve language skills.

But growing numbers of scientists are claiming that the programme is nothing more than 'hocus pocus'. They say that while the exercises may be harmless, the programme gives pupils false information about how the human body works and wastes school time and resources.

Now the DCSF has raised its own concerns about the programme to the Commons Science and Technology Committee. Asked by the committee about the scientific evidence for its use, the DCSF said: 'We are unaware of any sufficiently robust or peer-reviewed evaluation of the approaches it promotes which would allow any clear link between the use of Brain Gym and pupils' learning to be established. We are also aware of a significant body of criticism of the theoretical underpinnings of the programme.' It said that Paul Dennison, the Californian teacher behind it, had admitted that many of Brain Gym's claims were based on 'hunches'.

However the DCSF stopped short of ordering schools not to use the programme, instead declaring that it 'does not have a specific policy'. Schools still using Brain Gym include Westcliff Primary in Dawlish, Devon. Headmistress Barbara Capper said: 'It does help children's coordination and does help children's concentration.'

Brain Gym said it was a notforprofit company and revenue was ploughed back into developing the programme. Kay McCarroll, who brought Brain Gym to the UK, said: 'This has been around for 30 years. Where are the peer-reviewed studies the Government refers to? I'm not aware of them.'


Intimidating anti-Israel consensus among elite American university students

A recent study conducted using students from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has led to a debate by pro-Israel organizations on how the Jewish State should be defended on American college campuses. The Israel Project, a Washington-based Israel advocacy group, conducted the recent study which showed that even the most educated and decidedly pro-Israel students are hesitant to speak out in the face of anti-Zionist accusations. The study put 15 unsuspecting Jewish students from Harvard and MIT into a small room with 20 non-Jewish peers and prompted them to candidly discuss the State of Israel. The tone of the discussions quickly became strongly critical of the Jewish state and its policies but many of the Jewish participants were hesitant to rush to Israel’s defense.

Frank Luntz, the pollster who served as the group’s facilitator and who in an earlier TIP policy paper not only acknowledged that expelling Jewish residents from their homes in Judea and Samaria would constitute an “ethnic cleansing” but also recommended that pro-Israel advocates put forward this point, said he found the results of the study to be “horrifying.”

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder of The Israel Project, which works primarily in the realm of media and public opinion, found the results so disturbing that she declined to post them on her organization’s internet site. “If it had been students from any other campuses I would not have been horrified. But this was the best and the brightest. I know it involved only 30 people and that’s not the same as an 800-person poll but its still problematic. A leader is a leader, and those who are selected to attend Harvard and MIT are more intelligent and successful than the vast majority of people.”

The problem, Mizrahi said, was “not that they [the Jewish students] were too open-minded, it is that they were too quiet.”

In a detailed memo describing the experiment, Luntz pointed out that the students did not know the religious or ethnic backgrounds of the other students in the room. They knew that they were being paid $100 for their opinions regarding United States foreign policy but they did not know the focus would be on the Middle East or Israel. For three hours the students, who with a few exceptions did not know one another, engaged in a candid discussion facilitated by Luntz.

“Needless to say, the results of the group were truly eye-opening,” he wrote. “They’re perhaps best summarized by the following exchange, which took place early on in the session. When we first started discussing Israel, it was only a matter of minutes before the phrase ‘the Israel lobby’ was uttered, along with direct references to Jewish money. The problem, frankly, wasn’t that these terms and topics were broached. The problem was the type of negativity directed toward them. This is Harvard and MIT, and yet none of the Jewish students interjected during this exchange to offer an opposing viewpoint. The question you should be asking is not why smart Jewish students are having so much trouble on American college campuses, but instead, why these students are not standing up for Israel. You can’t blame the institutions when the students who attend them are the ones at fault.”

Matthew Cohen, president of the Harvard Students for Israel and the only student in the focus group who was not promised anonymity due to his high-profile position on campus, said he felt he handled himself better than Luntz’s analysis suggests. He argued that he was one of the few who spoke out in opposition to the anti-Israel comments but added that in retrospect he could have done more.

Mizrahi attempted to add a positive spin to the results of the study by comparing them to a similar test conducted in 2002 that found many Jewish students from the same two schools to have much less knowledge of and emotional connection to Israel. “The Jewish students were much more informed and comfortable with Israel. But the problem is that the best and brightest still don’t have it in their kishkas to stand up for Israel under the social pressure of their peers… It didn’t happen and it’s disappointing because they are knowledgeable. Most knew the answers and are very aware of the issues.”

Many of the Jewish students had attended advocacy training sessions offered by the David Project, a pro-Israel advocacy organization active in the United States. But Mizrahi reported that even those students were quiet.

No representatives of the David Project were available for comment but another pro-Israel organization active on American college campuses told Israel National News that the problem is not with any particular students or campuses but rather with the general direction of pro-Israel advocacy. Benny Katz of the Zionist Freedom Alliance said that most advocacy organizations offer pro-Israel students dry information without nurturing a passionate commitment to the Zionist struggle. “There is a difference between being pro-Israel and being a Zionist. The Israel Project and the David Project are pro-Israel groups in that they defend the government of Israel’s actions, even when morally wrong, but they do not deal with the crucial underlying issues. ZFA teaches students that it is OK to criticize the Israeli government’s policies so long as that criticism is attached to a greater message of Jewish national rights to self-determination in all lands between the Mediterranean and the Jordan.”

Katz, who identifies himself as coming from the far-Left of the American political spectrum, argues that most Israel advocacy groups have “no clue how to engage progressive students who are active in struggles for social justice and human rights.”
“Rather than speak about the justice of the Zionist revolution or of the Jewish people’s legal and historic rights to the Land of Israel, these groups are teaching students to present Israel as a Western outpost in the Middle East that’s wiling to shrink its own borders and expel Jews from their homes in order to avoid having to fight for its rights. This is a pathetic image of Israel that has clearly alienated students looking to champion justice in the world.”

Katz agreed with Luntz’s assessment that expelling Jewish residents from Judea and Samaria would constitute an ethnic cleansing and that using such language would actually empower pro-Israel students to put issues into perspective for their peers. “It [the ethnic cleansing argument] paints a completely different picture of the Middle East conflict and moves the paradigm away from the contemporary anti-Israel narrative which portrays Jews as Western colonialists. It creates a sense of urgency for Jewish students to act and makes clear that our work is not merely to defend Israeli government positions but actually to resist an injustice from being perpetrated against us. This is a language that progressive students can identify with even if they don’t agree with our positions.”

At the end of the session, Luntz asked everyone to write down the number of Jewish students they believed were in the room of 35 students. The average response of the non-Jewish students was nine, when there were actually 15.

“The room was almost half full of Jews, but to the non-Jews listening to the conversation, there were too few people with too few voices speaking up and being heard,” Luntz said. “And remember, this is from the same people who talked about the all-powerful ‘Israel Lobby.’”

The non-Jews were then asked to leave the room. When they had gone, Mizrahi said, the Jewish students became “amazingly articulate on the issues. They had the knowledge and they had in most cases the belief.”

Luntz pointed out that when he asked the Jewish students how they believed they did in defending Israel, he said that all had a positive initial reaction. “But as I asked them to reflect on what was said and what wasn’t the evaluations became more candid… and a lot more regretful.”


Australian students save on fees by studying in New Zealand

Some New Zealand universities (e.g. Victoria, Otago) have a very good name indeed so this is good thinking. I would go there myself if I were still a poor student

AUSTRALIAN students are gaining university degrees at half the price by heading across the Tasman to study in New Zealand. It's a chance to turn the tide on the Kiwi influx, because a little-known government deal means New Zealand taxpayers are subsidising more than 2000 Australians to study at NZ universities.

Unlike other international students, Australians qualify for domestic status meaning they pay the same fees as the locals, and they also qualify for the low-cost student loan HELP (formerly HECS) equivalent, Study Link, and also the Austudy equivalent for living allowances.

Year 12 school leavers around the country will soon find out if they managed to get into their desired universities. If they miss out, Renee Walker, head of marketing for Christchurch-based Canterbury University, suggests giving the land of the long white cloud a go. "Course costs are subsidised and generally cheaper than Australian universities, especially with the exchange rate. And on-campus accommodation is also very reasonable," she said. On-campus accommodation ranges from $NZ198 ($158) a week self-catered, to $NZ375 ($299) a week for all meals, electricity and phone.

Recent figures released by the Federal Government revealed 20 per cent of first-year university students in Australia drop out with financial hardship cited as a leading factor. Other students who complete their degrees leave with a HELP debt ranging from $15,000 to $40,000. Last year there were 1.3 million Australians with accumulated HELP debts of about $14.6 billion, according to the Australian Tax Office.

Sue Sundstrom of the NSW Careers Advisory Association said New Zealand was a viable alternative, especially for regional students who faced travel to a major metro university anyway. David Berridge, a career counsellor with a Sydney eastern suburbs school, said two of the school's year 12 students were thinking of studying business at Otago. "The UAI (Universities Admissions Index) is lower, 74-76, so if kids miss out here, it's certainly worth looking at," he said.

At Sydney University, an arts degree costs $5300 a year. At Monash in Victoria, it's about $6300 and $5400 at University of Queensland. At Canterbury University in New Zealand, the same degree will cost $NZ4500 ($3598) a year. Over the course of a three-year degree, that's $6000 to $9000 saved.

More expensive courses such as economics and engineering cost $7567 a year at Sydney University, $7300 at Monash and $8625 at UQ. Over the Tasman, the most expensive courses offered at Canterbury are $NZ5500 ($4398), again a saving of between $3000 and $4000 a year.