Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Obama offers cash to get rid of useless teachers

President Obama on Monday said the U.S. must get a handle on its high-school dropout crisis even if it requires firing principals and teachers at failing schools - a move vehemently opposed by the nation's largest teachers union.

Mr. Obama said his administration will dole out $900 million in "turnaround grants" to fledgling schools that take radical steps to improve as part of an effort to ensure the U.S. turns out the highest proportion of high-school graduates in the world by 2020. At stake, he argued, is America's global leadership in the 21st century.

During his address to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Obama praised a decision last week by a school board in Rhode Island to fire the faculty and staff at Central Falls High School, where only 7 percent of 11th-graders passed state math tests. But that move - along with much of Mr. Obama's turnaround plan - was harshly criticized by the American Federation of Teachers, a Washington-based affiliate of the AFL-CIO, which endorsed Mr. Obama's presidential bid in 2008. "We know it is tempting for people in Washington to score political points by scapegoating teachers, but it does nothing to give our students and teachers the tools they need to succeed," AFT President Randi Weingarten said.

Ms. Weingarten pointed to a 2009 report by Rhode Island's education commissioner that blamed challenges on leadership instability and not deficiencies among the staff.

Last year Mr. Obama listed education as one of three big issues he wanted to tackle, along with health care and global warming. But global warming legislation is stalled and health care is on rocky ground, leaving education one promising area in which he might be able to make quiet bipartisan progress.

Over the next five years, 5,000 of the nation's worst-performing schools will be eligible for assistance under the administration's turnaround grants program. To receive the funds, participating schools must either replace their principals and at least half of their staff, close and reopen under new management, close for good or completely transform themselves. "We know that the success of every American will be tied more closely than ever before to the level of education that they achieve," Mr. Obama said at the event hosted by America's Promise Alliance, an advocacy group headed by former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and his wife, Alma.

Before taking drastic steps such as ordering mass layoffs, Mr. Obama said governments should first work with principals and teachers to "find a solution." "We've got to give them a chance to make meaningful improvements," he said. "But if a school continues to fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn't show signs of improvement, then there's got to be a sense of accountability."

Mr. Obama's proposal comes on top of $3.5 billion his administration has committed to addressing failing schools, particularly high schools with graduation rates below 60 percent. He noted that more than half of those who fail to graduate are blacks and Hispanics.

Mr. Powell's organization is sponsoring a 10-year campaign, dubbed "Grad Nation," to ensure that 90 percent of current U.S. fourth-graders graduate high school on time.

Though he cautioned that government cannot do it alone, Mr. Obama said the public sector does have a responsibility when it comes to education. "Government can help educate students to succeed in a college and a career. Government can help provide the resources to engage dropouts and those at risk of dropping out," he said. "And when necessary, government has to be critically involved in turning around the lowest-performing schools."


Canada: Something's seriously wrong at York University

Next week, York University will once again open its halls and classrooms to "Israel Apartheid Week," so-called. This year as every year, militants and activists will use the taxpayer-funded facilities of York to vilify the Jewish state. Well, that's free speech, isn't? Everybody gets to express his or her point of view, no matter how obnoxious, right?

No, not right. Not at York. At York, speech is free -- better than free, subsidized-- for anti-Israel haters. But for those who would defend Israel, York sets very different rules. In advance of York's annual hate-Israel week, the campus group Christians United for Israel applied to use university space to host a program of pro-Israel speakers.

The university replied that this program could only proceed on certain conditions. It insisted on heavy security, including both campus and Toronto police -- all of those costs to be paid by the program organizers. The organizers would also have to provide an advance list of all program attendees and advance summaries of all the speeches. No advertising for the program would be permitted -- not on the York campus, not on any of the other campuses participating by remote video.

These are radically different and much harsher terms than anything required from the hate-Israel program. The hate-Israel program is not required to pay for its own security. It is free to advertise. Its speakers are not pre-screened by the university.

The pro-Israel event, scheduled for this past Monday, Feb. 22, was cancelled when the organizers declined to comply with the terms. A university spokesman told the Jewish Tribune that it insisted on the more stringent requirements on pro-Israel groups "due to the participation of individuals who they claim invite the animus of anti-Israel campus agitators."

The logic is impressively brazen: Since the anti-Israel people might use violence, the speech of the pro-Israel people must be limited. On the other hand, since the pro-Israel people do not use violence, the speech of the anti-Israel people can proceed without restraint.

Over the past days, however, the university appears to have realized that this "We brake for bullies" policy on speech might present some PR problems. So now it seems they have reverted to a bolder policy: flat-out denial. I called York on Thursday for comment on the incident. York's smooth chief communications officer was out for the day. So apparently was his deputy. I got instead an audibly nervous substitute. I asked: Is it York's policy to allow thugs to decide what may be said on campus, and what can't? He insisted that, no York had the same rules for all.

"Are you telling me," I asked, "that York imposes precisely the same requirements on all student groups?" "All student groups that request university space, yes."

I said: "I'm going to print that answer in the newspaper. It's going to be kind of embarrassing if you are quoted as saying something blatantly untrue. Do you want to modify your statement in any way?" The spokesman said he would stick with his "precisely same requirements" quote.

I offered one more chance to amend the answer. Pause. And then burst forth a flood of amazing flack-speech reprising Chevy Chase's legendarily incoherent performance in Spies Like Us. What he meant, he said, was that it was the "process" and the "protocols" that were the same, leading to a "needs-based assessment" of each particular case. Hemina, hemina, hemina.

The truth is this: York students are treated "the same" only in the sense that every student is equally exposed to the utterly arbitrary ad hoc decision-making of a fathomlessly cowardly university administration.

It was not always this way. One of the speakers invited to the pro-Israel event, Daniel Pipes, spoke at York in 2003. Violence was threatened then too. Local militants distributed leaflets urging the disruption of Pipes' talk. But York's then-president Lorna Marsden refused to allow thugs to veto academic speech. She provided the police presence to ensure that Pipes' talk could proceed unmolested, although admittedly in a tense atmosphere that might have daunted someone less personally courageous than Pipes. But the current York administration lacks Marsden's commitment to freedom.

Even when public speech is not an issue, Jewish students at York experience ethnically and religiously based intimidation and even violence. On the rare occasions when the university disciplines anyone for such incidents, it takes care always to penalize both the Jewish targets of harassment and the anti-Jewish culprits. The motive again is not fairness, but fear.

Something has gone seriously wrong at Canada's third-largest university. You can find a list of York's board of governors here. If so minded, maybe you should contact them and ask them what they will do to correct York's betrayal of the values of a free society.


Australia: A grave consequence of government inaction over bullying in their schools

They've got "plans" about bullying but that is just hot air. Reading between the lines, the aggressors were black or ethnic, and they cannot be touched, of course. That would be "racist"

A YOUNG boy has suffered terrible injuries while fleeing a bully who threatened to kill him and his school did nothing to prevent it, his mother says. Eight-year-old Blair Retallick is in intensive care after fleeing a tormentor on a school bus and running into the path of a four-wheel drive outside a Townsville school on Monday.

Patricia Retallick said her son was the target of a long-running campaign by school bullies and had been kicked, spat on, bitten, punched and verbally abused. But nothing was done despite her many complaints to Bohlevale State School and the bus company, she said.

Blair remains in the Townsville Hospital with injuries including a fractured skull, a bruise to his brain, and a lacerated liver.

Mrs Retallick said Blair and her other children, including a daughter aged five, had been targeted by bullies on the school bus for some time. She said her approaches to the school achieved nothing, nor did her complaints to the bus company running the school service. "He was having an altercation with a child on the bus and it flowed out as the bus stopped," she told the ABC. "He was running as the boy was saying to him 'I'm going to kill you' and he ran straight into the path of a car as he was running away from the boy."

She said witnesses, including other children on the bus, had reported the tormentor's kill threat, and said kids from other families had also been bullied on the bus but nothing had been done. "It shouldn't have happened. It should have been dealt with," Mrs Retallick said. "The majority of families on that bus have had issues with those kids on that bus." Mrs Retallick said she raised the bullying issue with the school as recently as Monday morning, just before her son was injured.

The incident comes just a week after the Queensland Government said it would create the a new alliance to tackle violence in schools. The announcement came after a government report found schools were not properly checking if their anti-bullying programs were working. In a statement, Education Queensland's North Queensland region director Mike Ludwig said it was premature to speculate on the cause of the accident. Counselling had been offered to the family, he said. [It's the government that needs the counselling]

Mrs Retallick said she wanted action, including better systems to report bullying. "There needs to be changes with the education department on how we can report these things," she said.

She said Blair could be in hospital for up to a month. "It's unknown at the moment. Some of his injuries are so extensive that anything could happen and it could change in the blink of an eye," she said.

Monday was supposed to have been the last day her children caught the bus to school. The family was planning to move to New South Wales and the ongoing bullying had been a factor in the decision to move, Mrs Retallick said.


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