Friday, January 22, 2010

It’s time to get deeper with graduation numbers

Indiana's school statistics are bad enough as they stand but they are even worse when you realize that a kid can "graduate" after failing the exit exam -- and dropouts can be called home-schooled!

If you were a business owner with eight stores and only two of them reached your minimum sales goal for the year, would you say it was a success? What if you were in charge of a walking program created to help people complete a fitness walk and two out of eight people who participated reached the mileage goal, would you consider your program a success? If you were a football coach and your record was 2-8, would you consider that season a success? I mean, if you’re not IU of course.

No matter how you look at it, two out of eight just doesn’t sound so great, does it? Yet this is how many Clark County public high schools reached Indiana’s 90 percent graduation rate goal. I have no idea whether that goal is reasonable or not, but government officials are the ones who set it so I assume they think it’s within reach.

So what does it mean that most of the county’s schools didn’t make the grade? Is it just a number to add to all the other numbers that really don’t mean much because they are without consequences?

Even one school who reached the goal doesn’t feel like the percentage really tells them what they need to know. Before the official graduation rate was released from the State Department of Education, Clarksville officials said their reported graduation rate of 92.6 percent doesn’t “reveal the whole truth.” Clarksville officials felt it was important to separate out two categories included in the percentage: those who graduated on waivers and those who transferred to homeschooling.

A student who graduates with a waiver has enough credits to graduate but did not pass the State Graduation Qualifying Exam. Teachers in the subject area the student failed on the exam can certify the student as qualified in that subject. Clarksville realizes the potential for abuse here and evidently wants to take a closer look, which sounds like a good idea. Clarksville also decided to pull out the percentage of students who transferred to homeschooling because they worry that some families might be using the ability to transfer to the home education as a way to drop out.

However, the real potential for abuse here is that a school will create what’s known as a “push-out,” a student whose family is “strongly encouraged” to homeschool because it’s an easy way for the school system to raise its graduation percentage.

It’s important to remember here that the problem isn’t homeschooling; the problem is how the government schools should count the kids they are failing to graduate. Families should voluntarily choose homeschooling as an alternative and not be pushed into it by school officials trying to improve their statistics and remove perceived troublemakers. It’s unconscionable if homeschoolers get stuck in the middle of what is really a government school problem and I could say more about this issue, but for now, I do think it’s a reasonable idea for all schools in the county to be as open as Clarksville has been about their graduation percentage data.

So I challenge all the principals and superintendents in Greater Clark and West Clark school districts to give residents the same data Clarksville did. What percentage of your kids graduated on waivers? Are you also doing what Clarksville is doing, and counting as homeschoolers some students you suspect should really be considered as dropouts?

If Clarksville — one of only two schools who actually reached the graduation rate goal — believes it’s important to inform the public with deeper data, shouldn’t those of you who failed to reach the goal do the same?


The groan-inducing letter from my son's school that shows everything that is wrong with teaching today

By Tom Utley, in Britain

Every sentence, every phrase, almost every word of the latest letter we've had from our 16-year-old's comprehensive school fills me with the deepest gloom. 'Dear Parent/Carer,' it begins, and already my heart begins to sink. Yes, I understand the use of the singular, since so many of the letter's recipients are indeed single.

And family arrangements being what they are in my part of South London, I dare say that some of my boys' schoolmates are being brought up by their grannies, aunts or people unrelated to them.

But there's something about the word 'carer', with its undertone of the social services, that I find profoundly depressing. Why not the more traditional and dignified title 'guardian' - or has that, for some mysterious reason, become politically incorrect?

But I'm letting my fuddy-duddy prejudices run away with me before I've even begun. On, then, with my grim letter, jointly signed by the deputy principal and the director of the sixth form at Dunraven School (oxymoronic motto: 'Excellence for All'). The groans, by the way, are my own additions - but the rest is a faithful transcript:

'In line with recent government guidance [groan] to tackle inequalities [groan] and improve health outcomes for young people [groan], NHS Lambeth and the Children and Young People's Service of the London Borough of Lambeth [groan] are rolling out [groan] a service for sixth-form students [groan].'

From here on, I'll let readers insert their own groans where they think appropriate: 'This is part of a wider area programme led by the local Teenage Pregnancy & Parenthood Partnership to reduce under-18 conceptions... 'In keeping with good practice, Dunraven has an up-to-date Sex and Relationship Education Policy and programme of work. Building on this, it is proposed that a specialist outreach nurse will offer a school-based health drop-in including the provision of confidential sexual health advice available directly to students on a weekly basis . . .'

You get the idea, so I'll spare you the rest. Before I go any further, let me make it absolutely clear that this is not an attack on Dunraven School. Despite all the Government's efforts to make their lives impossible, the teachers there are doing a heroic job for my son, for which I'm extremely grateful. No, my boy's school is just one of hundreds all over the country which have had to send out very similar letters over the past few days or weeks, couched in the same deadly jargon, raising groans from countless parent/carers who received them.

Nor am I blaming the deputy principal, Gloria Lowe, or the sixth-form director, Safras Cuffy, for those leaden, New Labour buzzphrases ('in keeping with good practice', 'rolling out', 'school-based health drop-in', 'outreach', 'local area safeguarding guidelines', 'clear pathway to health services').

The tragedy is that they're forced to spend half their lives churning out this bilge by a Government that regards their venerable profession as merely a minor branch of the state bureaucracy - charged not with educating pupils (sorry, 'students') but with 'tackling inequalities' and 'improving health outcomes'.

My letter, and the weekly blizzard of others like it, is just a hideously graphic illustration of what it's increasingly coming to mean to be a teacher in Labour's Britain. I confess I don't know what attracted Ms Lowe and Mr Cuffy to the profession. I don't know, either, which subjects they teach - and I daren't ask my son, because he'll rumble that I'm breaking his strict ban on embarrassing him yet again by mentioning his school.

So I'll let fancy take flight, and imagine the deputy principal as a classicist, enraptured in her youth by Virgil's glorious rhythms and cadences and determined to pass on her enthusiasm to the next generation. I see Mr Cuffy as a mathematician, marvelling at the beauty of Fermat's last theorem, tortured by the difficulty of proving it and yearning to awaken young minds to the boundless wonder of numbers and the way they behave.

Or perhaps they're both specialists in English literature, who during their own childhoods struck upon Oliver Goldsmith's lines about the village schoolmaster, and resolved on the spot that this would be the life for them: 'And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew/ That one small head could carry all he knew.'

Of course, like so many of their colleagues these days, Ms Lowe and Mr Cuffy may indeed have gone into teaching with a view to 'tackling inequalities', in the sense of giving deprived children a leg-up by laying before them the opportunities offered by knowledge. Thoroughly worthy, too. In my experience, some of the most inspiring teachers (though by no means all of them) lean to the Left.

But it's surely fair to guess that it was no part of teaching's attraction to them that it would mean spending hours every week writing groan-inducing letters to 'Dear Parent/Carer', outlining the latest fatuous social-engineering scheme dreamed up by the wretched Ed Balls or Harriet Harman. (By the way, I've just noticed that Mr Cuffy begins another of his letters this week, about student ID cards and on-site security, with the words: 'Dear Parent/Guardian.' Good for you, Sir!)

I can't help thinking of some of the teachers who inspired me most during my own, privileged childhood: Noel Wilkinson, who sparked my lifelong love of Latin; the extraordinary Theodore Zinn, who could reel off vast tracts of Homer and Horace and ignored the books on the A-level curriculum if there were others he liked better; Jim Cogan ('slide your scripts down the aisle and pin back your lug'oles') who opened my ears to Shakespeare; even dear old Ted Craven, who taught us very little about the subject on the timetable, but an awful lot about his wartime experiences in the Royal Navy. . .

Would they have gone into the profession if it had meant carrying out Mr Balls's edicts about what and how they were allowed to teach? I can only guess. But one thing's for sure: I can't see any of them sitting down willingly to write to parents about school-based health drop-ins.

Indeed, I strongly suspect that if Mr Zinn had been asked to do any such thing, he would have resorted to his favourite technique for silencing an over-animated classroom - which was breaking down in tears.

So, yes, David Cameron is right to worry that teaching is becoming less attractive to the best graduates. But if he wants to make it more so, he'll have to do a great deal more than raising the profession's entrance requirements (and never mind that his plan to demand at least a 2:2 degree would disqualify some excellent teachers who came to learning late). Nor will it be enough to introduce performance-related pay, negotiated by individual heads - even if he manages to persuade the unions to accept it.

What makes the profession increasingly unappealing these days is the constant interference from Whitehall, which makes drudges of all teachers - and not just those like poor Ms Lowe and Mr Cuffy who have to deal with the admin. In Mr Balls's pursuit of 'Excellence for All' (which means dumbing down exams until it's A-stars all round), they're forced to follow a narrow and often politically motivated curriculum that's more about indoctrination than education.

I'd rather hoped that when our boy embarked on his A-level course, his teachers would be given a little more freedom to pass on their own enthusiasms, rather than the Government's. That was until I asked him what he was studying in English. He came out with a word that was unfamiliar to me. I've forgotten what it was - and, again, I dare not ask him. But I vividly remember his reply when I asked him what it meant. 'Well, it's basically about racism and sexism,' he said.

Like Mr Zinn, I felt like shedding a manly tear. Has Mr Cameron the energy and determination it will take to set teachers free?


'Persecuted' homeschoolers seek asylum in U.S.

Family flees Germany's fines, threats of jail

A ruling could come as soon as tomorrow on a request by a German family for political asylum in the United States because of the persecutionthey would face, including fines and possible jail terms, for homeschooling their children in their home country.

"The persecution of homeschoolers in Germany has dramatically intensified," Michael P. Donnelly, staff attorney for the Home School Legal Defense Association, confirmed today. "They are regularly fined thousands of dollars, threatened with imprisonment, or have the custody of their children taken away simply because they choose to home educate."

A hearing has been scheduled tomorrow before a federal immigration judge in Memphis, Tenn., on the request from Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, who fled Germany for the U.S. because of the threats they faced over their decision to homeschool their own children.

The HSLDA noted a decision to grant the asylum request could be a "major international embarrassment for Germany." The organization, which has been working with the family since members fled Germany in 2008, helped them file the request for political asylum.

Uwe Romeike, a music teacher, and his wife Hannelore have five children. "The freedom we have to homeschool our children in Tennessee is wonderful," the mother said in a statement to HSLDA. "We don't have to worry about looking over our shoulder anymore wondering when the youth welfare officials will come or how much money we have to pay in fines." "We left family members, our home and a wonderful community in Germany, but the well-being of our children made it necessary," the father said.

Donnelly confirmed, "If the political asylum application is granted it will be the first time America has ever granted political asylum to Christian homeschoolers fleeing from German persecution."

The organization, the premiere group working on behalf of homeschoolers worldwide today, has been involved in the German fight for years. In that nation, homeschooling effectively is illegal because of laws dating back to the pre-World War II move to raising and training children a responsibility of the government.

WND has reported on German homeschoolers who have been fined the equivalent of thousands of dollars, have been threatened with jail and have even watched their children be confined to a psychiatric hospital, diagnosed with "school phobia."

WND reported several years ago about the day police knocked on the door of the Romeikes and forcibly escorted their children to public school. Then WND reported again later when the family fled Germany, with the help of the U.S.-based Home School Legal Defense Association, and settled in the U.S.

The family members are living in Tennessee after they funded their flight from persecution partly by selling Uwe Romeike's grand pianos.

The parents wanted to provide their children's education because of content in modern German textbooks that violates the family's religious beliefs. The family said the objectionable material includes explicit lessons on sex, the promotion of the occult and witchcraft and an effort to teach children to disrespect authority figures.

HSLDA officials estimate there are some 400 homeschool families in Germany. Virtually all of them are either forced into hiding or facing court actions.

WND has documented repeatedly the crackdown within Germany on homeschooling families because of the government's fear that children taught beliefs other than those in the state-endorsed textbooks would give rise to "parallel societies."

Wolfgang Drautz, consul general for the Federal Republic of Germany, previously wrote on the issue in a blog, explaining the German government "has a legitimate interest in countering the rise of parallel societies that are based on religion."

As WND reported, the German government believes schooling is critical to socialization, as evident in its response to another set of parents who objected to police officers picking up their child at home and delivering him to a public school.

"The minister of education does not share your attitudes toward so-called homeschooling," said a government letter. "... You complain about the forced school escort of primary school children by the responsible local police officers. ... In order to avoid this in future, the education authority is in conversation with the affected family in order to look for possibilities to bring the religious convictions of the family into line with the unalterable school attendance requirement."

Political asylum, HSLDA explained, is available to people already in the U.S. who fear persecution in their home country because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. HSLDA contends homeschoolers in Germany fit that description.

Lutz Gordens, German consul general for the southeast U.S., has defended his nation's public education requirements.

"For reasons deeply rooted in history and our belief that only schools properly can ensure the desired level of excellent education, we (Germany) go a little bit beyond that path which other countries have chosen," Gorgens said.


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