Friday, January 29, 2010

Alaska School Authorities: Watching a Documentary Film More Dangerous Than Having Abortion

by Phelim McAleer

Our documentary "Not Evil Just Wrong" is on tour in Alaska. The film asks if Global Warming science is really settled but perhaps more importantly focuses on the damage that proposed “solutions” will have on the poorest people on the planet. "Not Evil Just Wrong" examines the true cost of expensive energy for those who already live in poverty or fixed incomes.

One of the highlights of the Alaska tour was a visit to Colony High School in Wasilla where we screened an excerpt of the documentary and took questions from students. Sarah Palin, Wasilla’s most famous resident, did not attend but a large number of children were there and seemed interested and asked interesting questions. Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth has been shown many times, in many classes at the school and the students seemed to appreciate an alternative.

However it seems that the school authorities were not so keen on the alternative. In an unprecedented move they insisted that any student who wanted to see an excerpt of Not Evil Just Wrong must have a permission slip from their parents. The school authorities put no such condition in place before screening An Inconvenient Truth even though both documentaries have the same MPAA rating.

Perhaps even more significantly, Alaska is a state where the state can arrange an abortion for a student without notifying their parents. Regardless of your opinions on abortion (or the issue of parental notification) the Alaskan authorities seem intent on sending out a clear message.

If you want to watch a documentary that challenges the liberal environmental consensus we will introduce barriers to access. If you want to have an abortion parents don’t need to know and we can probably fit it in after gym class.


Experts Say a Rewrite of Nation’s Main Education Law Will Be Hard This Year

In his State of the Union address, President Obama held out the hope of overhauling the main law outlining the federal role in public schools, a sprawling 45-year-old statute that dates to the Johnson administration. But experts say it would be a heavy lift for the administration to get the job done this year because the law has produced so much discord, there is so little time and there are so many competing priorities.

In 2001, when Congress completed the law’s most recent rewrite, the effort took a full year, and the bipartisan consensus that made that possible has long since shattered. Today there is wide agreement that the law needs an overhaul, but not on how to fix its flaws.

Since it was recast into its current form by the second Bush administration — and renamed No Child Left Behind — it has generated frequent, divisive debate, partly because it requires schools to administer far more standardized tests and because it labels schools that fail to make progress fast enough each year as “needing improvement.” That category that draws penalties and has grown to include more than 30,000 schools.

Several states sued the Bush administration over the law in the last decade, unsuccessfully. Connecticut challenged its financing provisions, saying it imposed costly demands without providing adequate financing. Arizona fought rules on the testing of immigrant students.

“Its hard to see how they can get” a rewrite done, said Joel Packer, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, which includes about 80 groups representing teachers, superintendents, principals, school boards and others. “If there’s some bipartisan agreement about what the administration proposes, and the Republicans say, ‘We want to work together,’ then maybe. But I think its going to be tough.”

During the 2008 campaign and his first year in office, President Obama’s posture was popular with almost everyone: the law embodies worthwhile goals like narrowing the achievement gap between minority and white students, he said, but includes flawed provisions that need fixing. Once any rewrite begins in earnest, however, Mr. Obama will need to support specific changes that will be unpopular with at least some groups.

“Few subjects divide educators more intensely,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a speech about the law in September. In that speech, Mr. Duncan leveled some of his own criticisms of the law, including that it labeled schools as failures even when they were making real progress, and that it often inadvertently provided incentives for states to lower academic standards to avoid sanctions. He said he was eager to begin a rewrite. “This work is as urgent as it is important.” Mr. Duncan said.

Mr. Obama communicated a lower sense of urgency on Wednesday, perhaps because the administration’s legislative agenda for the year is already packed. “I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay,” the president said.

While he also urged Congress not to abandon the health care overhaul, on the education law, he said only, “When we renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we will work with Congress.”

Mr. Duncan said in an interview on Thursday that key lawmakers “share our sense of urgency” about the need for an immediate rewrite, and were already pitching in. Last week Mr. Duncan and more than a dozen other administration officials met with the Democratic chairmen and ranking Republican members of the education committees in both houses of Congress to discuss the rewrite of the law, first drafted in 1965 as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. “We are blue-skying this thing, taking a big-picture approach, to try to coalesce the themes that are most important,” Mr. Duncan said. “It’s early, a million things could go wrong, but I’m hopeful.”

Changes in the Congressional leadership could complicate the effort. The death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who worked closely with President George W. Bush in 2001, removed a passionate believer in the law. Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who replaced Mr. Kennedy as chairman of the Senate education committee, has other priorities. He wants to continue the law’s focus on closing achievement gaps, but to include an emphasis on school nutrition and physical fitness programs. “We also need to take a new approach to things that are not working, like using the same solutions for all school problems,” Mr. Harkin said.

Some Republicans, including Representative John Kline, the Minnesotan who is the ranking minority member of the House education committee, say they want changes to the law, but are in no hurry. “He’s not interested in an arbitrary deadline,” said Alexa Marrero, Mr. Kline’s spokeswoman. “It’s a lot more important on something like this to get it right than to just get it done.”

Chester E. Finn, Jr., an assistant secretary of education in the Reagan administration, wrote in a blog post on Thursday: “One can only wish them well, but reworking this monstrously complex statute is apt to prove almost as challenging as health care.” “The odds of getting a full-dress reauthorization done between now and August are very, very slender,” Mr. Finn said in an interview.


Britain: It is not elitist to nurture gifted pupils

When it comes to education, the Government persists in looking through the wrong end of the telescope – and with an ill-fitting, short-sighted lens

Its latest blunder is to close the national programme for the gifted and talented. We are told that the money saved will be used to support gifted young people who come from deprived backgrounds. The Government hopes this will lead to an increase in social mobility. That is a fine aim. Many of us, my family included, have worked hard to achieve it.

I have no argument with financial support for disadvantaged young people; my concern is whether there is to be any money set aside for the other gifted students. The decision to abandon this programme sits awkwardly with Schools Minister, Vernon Coaker’s determination ‘that each and every child gets a world-class education, regardless of their background’.

Whatever their home circumstances, gifted children need to be fed more than the standard school diet. If we do not help every one of them to flourish, not only their futures but our country’s prospects will be diminished.

Gordon Brown, speaking to the Fabian Society recently, repeated the undeniable importance of education in providing ‘the rungs on the ladder of social mobility’. He spelt out plans for widening educational opportunity. Excellent. But there was no mention of how the Government plans to support all those with exceptional ability. Its claim elsewhere that provision for all gifted students will be covered effectively through the new Pupil and Parent Guarantees, outlined in the latest Schools White Paper, is far from reassuring. Requiring schools to put their plans for gifted students in writing is no answer at all without sufficient resourcing.

In the same speech, appealing to the middle classes and promoting aspirations of ‘owning a bigger house, taking a holiday abroad, buying a new car or starting a small business’ the Prime Minister struck a jarring note. The vast majority of parents want their children to be stretched, and raised to the highest levels of which they are capable. That desire is classless, and applies to the gifted child as much as any other. Parental aspirations for their children are greater than any desire for a new car or a fleeting foreign trip.

The abandonment of this particular educational programme reveals that Brown’s appeal to the middle class is hollow, his definition of aspiration faulty, and his dedication to maximising the potential of all gifted children questionable.

What can schools do? I have no doubt that they will continue to do their utmost. I have never met a good teacher or head who was not dedicated to bringing the best out of every pupil. However, the demands on maintained schools to respond to countless different imperatives and an endless stream of new initiatives are already enormous.

At the Girls’ Schools Association conference last November, Liz Allen, the inspirational headmistress of the maintained Newstead Wood School for Girls, spelt out the needs of the gifted in the state sector and the barriers faced in helping them to achieve. Her concerns are shared by Teach First and by Ofsted. The emphasis on the achievement of five A* - C grades in maintained schools focuses on those on the C/D borderline, rather than those at the upper end who have the potential to go further. In the independent sector, we know that bright students relish the ‘hard’ subjects, like sciences and modern languages.

Independent schools have long engaged with the issue of supporting the gifted, not only by the quality of education they provide and the attention they pay to challenging the most able, but through bursaries for bright young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. In addition, there are long-standing arrangements to share expertise and work in collaboration with maintained schools. Many of our schools are involved in joint activities such as master-classes, preparation for Oxbridge entry, Saturday schools, mentoring, science days, summer schools or projects that range from ‘The Thames and Shakespeare’ to Model United Nations and management training exercises.

Underlying this latest Government decision I sense a fear of the charge of elitism. This is not an attitude we find, say, in sport: how very odd it would be for Manchester United to scout anything but the best young talent. No, it seems to apply only to brain power. The country needs world-class brains, dare I say it, even more than world-class footballers. We must do all we can to nurture them, wherever we find them.


1 comment:

Robert said...

Like the United Negro College Fund says, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste." And the only way everyone in a country could ever possibly be equal is if they are all genetic clones of each other. And even then, they wouldn't STAY equal.