Wednesday, February 03, 2010

NYC education standards hit a new low

A NEW YORK teacher turned his classroom into a boxing arena for two feuding students, telling the boys to settle their beef with their fists. Their stunned classmates watched the bizarre spectacle, the New York Post reported today.

To make sure no one found out his teaching technique, the instructor, Joseph Gullotta, 29, allegedly supplied the kids with excuses for the nurse to explain away any injuries.

In one corner was a 10-year-old. His opponent was a year younger. Before beginning the match at the impromptu fight club at PS 65 in Ozone Park, Queens, Gullotta instructed a girl to close the classroom door. He ordered the rest of his pupils to make way for the battle, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said yesterday.

During the bout the older boy's head rammed into the younger one's mouth. The younger boy suffered a cut lip, the older one, a bruised head.

Teacher's aide Abraham Fox, 43, was in the classroom during the clash, but did nothing to break it up, Brown said.

It was alleged that the 9-year-old was eventually allowed by Gullotta to visit the nurse after supplying him with a cover story for his injuries. He was to tell the nurse that he dropped a pencil and bashed heads with his classmate as they both bent down to pick it up. The nurse sent him back to get his adversary. The teacher escorted the 10-year-old to the nurse's office and allegedly told him to repeat the made-up story. The incident was discovered only after one of the boys' parents heard the child talking about it.

Gullotta and Fox were charged with two counts each of acting in a manner injurious to a child under 17 and could face up to a year in jail if convicted.


Is it still worth going to university in Britain?

I think this question is simplistic in any country. For some career paths university is beneficial or even essential, but for most career paths it is superfluous -- as many a burger-flipping or taxi-driving humanities graduate will tell you. Credentialism has become a metastatic growth -- JR

It's a tough time for graduates, as we report in the paper today. But it's also a tough time for undergraduates, post-graduates and aspiring students too. There's so much demand for places, fewer jobs, (one survey suggested that a quarter of vacancies for this September will be filled by last year's graduates) and huge pressures on the universities themselves to cut costs (not to mention those student debts).

All this doom and gloom made it the perfect time to focus the next School Gate debate on universities, and to ask a very big question - is is still worth going to university? Here recent graduate Sarah Beard, gives her thoughts:
"I graduated in 2009 without a job. Was going to university a complete waste of time for me? I don’t think so.

Despite ‘graduate unemployment reaching 7.9 per cent, a level not seen since 1996’ and ‘the prediction that student debt will soon average £23,000, I’m pleased I went. My four University years were (so far) the best of my life. I was able to taste real independence for the first time, mix with people I would never normally meet, be educated on a subject of great personal interest and experience the most amazing social life. On top of that, I came away with a 2:1 degree and many lifelong friends.

That's not to say that graduating into a recession is easy. In fact, I explained my situation last year on School Gate and received a torrent of abuse. Much of this centred around claims my University experience had been a waste of time but only because I had chosen to study Business & Tourism at the University of Lincoln. A sample comment was ‘what do you expect when you go to a mediocre university like University of Lincoln and your degree is what most employers would regard as "Mickey Mouse-esque?’

As a graduate, I have taken part in the Shell Step Programme, which gave me a valuable 8-week placement, and I’ve been accepted onto an MA course. It might come as no surprise then, that I think university is a superb investment and is one that’s available to any student, regardless of whether they choose to attend a Russell Group University or an emerging one. This is rightly, a view that still appears to be upheld as there is ‘unprecedented demand for higher education, which has seen applications to some universities rise by 35 per cent’

Tom Mursell, founder of would, however, disagree with me because he believes "Degrees are already not worth what they used to be, so by 2020 they'll be worth even less’ and that university simply sees teenagers ‘saddling themselves with thousands of pounds of debt’. Tom has since handed his company over to Craig Spencer in order to become an apprentice of Dragons Den millionaire, Shaf Rasul.

Vice-Chancellor David Greenaway, from the University of Nottingham, rejects such views, as he believes that ‘the benefits of higher education to individuals and to society are significant and persistent. Graduates benefit from a wage premium, which lasts for their entire working lives; and there are important links between investment in education and economic growth. If we want more wealth creation and poverty alleviation, we need more growth’

“Non-economic benefits are no less important. Having better educated, more tolerant, more socially responsible citizens deliver great returns for society as well as for individuals."


Australia: "My School" brawl exposes teachers' culture of mediocrity

"My School" is a new Australian Federal government website that enables parents to compare results from different schools. I myself received what I regard as an excellent education at a country State school. I still remember much of the German "Lieder" and Latin grammar I learnt there around 50 years ago. I even remember enough basic physics to know what a crock global warming is. And I sent my son to a State school for part of his education. So I have no great objection to State schools as such. But it is when discipline is abandoned and the curriculum is dumbed down to politically correct pap that an alternative is needed -- and it is often sorely needed these days-- JR

In the mid 1990s the teachers credit union Satisfac came up with a kindly and seemingly innocent idea to celebrate the excellent work of its teacher members. The credit union, which historically had served teachers but like many other institutions now has a wide customer base, decided that to recognise the role of the teaching profession in its own development it would establish an annual awards event called The Best Teacher Awards.

But when the awards were initially proposed the reaction from the teachers union was one of outrage and dismay. Satisfac was told in no uncertain terms to shelve the idea, with the union arguing it was the height of impertinence for a credit union – or anyone else for that matter – to declare that some teachers were better than others.

This quaint Marxist view of the world has been on full display this past week as teachers unions around the country descend into apoplexy over the Rudd Government’s apparently wicked policy of letting parents know how their kids’ school compares to other like schools.

The unspoken backdrop to the unions’ long-standing hostility to any form of comparative rankings is, obviously, industrial self-interest. The danger which a website such as MySchool presents to the union is that parents might start asking hard questions if they see that their school is performing well down the list of comparable schools. For the first time, this website provides the public with data that is so rich that it’s possible to discern a drop-off in certain years or certain subjects.

There could be several reasons for a decline in performance. It could be a funding shortfall, which can be sheeted home to the relevant state government or education department. It could be explained by a change in the profile of the students in a certain year. It could also be that one of the teachers is no good.

It’s this last point which the teaching unions object to the most. They have taken the all for one, one for all philosophy to such a ludicrous extent that they have made the profession less enticing for passionate people who might consider a career as an educator, if not for the fact that you will forever be held back in terms of both workload and remuneration by the non-performance of the minority of disengaged or dud teachers.

If the unions were intellectually honest, this website would be welcomed as a long-overdue vindication of the excellence of most public schools. As the proud graduate of a public school, I’ve taken a perverse delight in monitoring the non-performance of some of the toffiest schools in the land, seeing nuggetty little public schools kicking the stuffing out of joints that charge several thousand dollars a term with an unchallenged promise of a better level of learning.

My School has shown that many parents are effectively being fleeced by this empty promise. They might get one of those nice triangular stickers for the back of the Range Rover, and young Angus might end up rubbing shoulders with a future front rower for the Wallabies, but if it’s reading and writing you’re after, you might do better to skip down the road to the local public school.

My School is not without flaws – we spent a couple of hours on it the other night, our child’s school, in Sydney, was compared to a school in Ballina, which at 739km away is a heck of a commute. But the fixation on such glitches – which are inevitable and can be easily recognised by the average user anyway on a website of this size – is an obvious ploy by the teaching unions to undermine the credibility of the entire venture in a fruitless bid to shame the government into its withdrawal.

There’s one criticism levelled against the site which carries much more weight and which the Federal Government must take very seriously. Opposition education spokesman Chris Pyne is absolutely right when he says there is little point identifying systematic problems with the performance of a minority of teachers, without also giving principals the industrial power to act against them. And to anyone who would say this is a teacher bashing exercise, it is not. It’s the polar opposite of one.

In the new age of transparency created by My School, it is logical and right to shift next to a discussion of performance pay. And it should have less to do with punishing the minority of bad teachers than giving greater reward and opportunity to the enormous pool of dedicated and brilliant teachers.

Thinking back to my school days I can only remember a couple of teachers who were so bad that they should have been frogmarched off the school grounds. They really should have been. There was one guy who seemed to be motivated by nothing other than a pathological dislike of young people. He would habitually tell kids at this largely working class school that they were so dim that they would be better off leaving immediately and going for an apprenticeship popping rivets at the nearby Mitsubishi factory.

And then there were teachers such as Anna Polias, an English teacher who would habitually write 10 or even 15 A4 pages of comments on your essays, stay back after school to organise extra-curricular stuff such as cycling days, bookshop visits into the city, where she would take us out to coffee, talk about politics and travel and our futures. People such as Ms Polias represent the majority of teachers in the public system. She should have been paid half as much again as what she was earning; the fellow I mentioned before had no right to be in a schoolyard at all.

I suspect there are a lot of hard-working teachers who privately believe that things should change but are afraid to say so for being marginalised by the union crowd.

The most appropriate memento from my school days for illustrating this entrenched hostility towards assessment and ranking is the absurd trophy I “won” while playing Aussie Rules for the Under 13s. In keeping with the post-70s educational zeitgeist, it had been decreed that it was unfair to simply have a best and fairest and that, just like at the Easter Show, every player should win a prize. The humiliating gong I won read “Most Attentive at Training” but should really have been inscribed “Most Incompetent Back Pocket” or “Pea-hearted pretender who avoids the hard ball”. Rather than getting a pat on the head as a reward for my uselessness, the coach should have taken me aside and explained politely that I was to Aussie Rules what Gary Ablett was to romantic poetry, and pointed me in the direction of the library.

Pretending that everybody is doing quite well at almost everything is no way to prepare them for later life. And teaching is the one profession where the unions believe that this same bankrupt philosophy should apply to working adults.


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