Friday, March 12, 2010

Texas educators take aim at ‘left-wing’ curriculum with opt-out plans

Country and western music, the leadership of the Confederate General Stonewall Jackson and the work of America’s most powerful gun lobby will all have to be taught in Texas schools if conservatives prevail at a highly charged meeting of the state’s board of education. A total of 48 of the 50 states have signed up to a plan being promoted by the White House for new, higher national educational standards but Texas and Alaska have opted out, in order to keep control of what is taught in their state-funded schools.

The effects will be felt far beyond Texas, because of its dominant influence over US textbook publishing. According to one estimate, 90 per cent of all American schools use the books approved by Texan officials. Social studies texts are likely, therefore, to give new prominence to Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” and the role of Christianity in US history. With more than a thousand school districts serving 4.5 million pupils, the Texas Education Agency is the second largest body of its kind in America, after its California counterpart, and by far the biggest to be overseen by elected conservatives.

Don McLeroy, chairman of the Texas Board of Education, is a Creationist who believes that the world was created 10,000 years ago and claims that history has vindicated Senator Joseph McCarthy, the instigator of the anti-Communist witch-hunts of the 1950s. Dr McLeroy, a dentist, will not be able to stand for re-election in November but says he intends to use his remaining time in office to leave his mark on the Texas curriculum.

An amendment he proposed in January complained that the curriculum was “rife with leftist periods and events” including President Roosevelt’s New Deal and President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society legislation — watershed achievements for Democratic governance in the 20th century. Expected to come into force in May, the measure would require Texas high school students to be able to “describe the causes . . . of the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association”. Mrs Schlafly is a prominent antifeminist, while the Heritage Foundation is a conservative think-tank that, like the gun lobby, helped to spearhead opposition to progressive reforms during President Clinton’s two terms.

Other amendments expected to be approved this week would require schools to teach the career of Stonewall Jackson, the most successful Southern field commander in the Civil War, as a study in effective leadership; to drop all mention of Ralph Nader, the consumer-rights advocate; and to assert the superiority of free enterprise over other economic systems.

The Texas Conservative Coalition said that the group was confident Dr McLeroy’s amendments would pass, thanks to the board’s eight-strong conservative majority. Any changes to Texas textbooks will stay for ten years before the next round of revisions.

Dr McLeroy, who has also said he believes that mankind and dinosaurs once cohabited on Earth, has objected to the teaching of Chinese literature in Texan schools. “You really don’t want Chinese books with a bunch of crazy Chinese words in them,” he said in 2008. “Why should you take a child’s time trying to learn a word that they’ll never use again?”


VA: Senate passes plan to expand charter schools

The Virginia Senate on Tuesday passed Gov. Robert F. McDonnell's proposal designed to expand the number of the state's charter schools. The Democratic-controlled Senate passed the bill 27 to 12. It had already won approval in the Republican-led House of Delegates.

The bill is a weakened version of the Republican governor's initial proposal, but he declared victory. "I applaud the Republicans and Democrats who came together today to help Virginia schoolchildren, especially those who are at-risk and disadvantaged, gain more educational opportunities,'' McDonnell said in a statement.

McDonnell declared charter schools a top priority in his first legislative session. He has praised President Obama for his support of charters and hopes it will help the state receive millions of dollars through the federal Race to the Top grant program. Charters are freer to experiment with schedules and curricula than regular public schools. Since Virginia began allowing charter schools 12 years ago, only three have opened. A fourth is set to open in Richmond in the fall.

Sen. Stephen D. Newman (R-Lynchburg), who sponsored the bill, said the proposal would send a signal that Virginia wants to move forward on education reform. "Virginia has a past that is one that we cannot be proud of on public education, and we should never, never, never go back," Newman said.

The bill gives the state Board of Education a role in advising prospective providers on their applications before they go up for approval before local school boards, but local boards would retain ultimate authority to approve such schools.

McDonnell's office had worked behind the scenes to negotiate a compromise with groups that represent teachers, school boards and superintendents -- all initially opposed to the bill -- to return some power to the local boards and ease concerns about the state having final control over applications.

But the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus remained opposed to the bill, arguing that such schools would help only a few select children. "These bills are saying, 'Let's not educate all the children of all the people,' '' Sen. Yvonne B. Miller (D-Norfolk) said. " 'Let's select a few people and educate them very well.' This is a very bad bill. Based on our history, we should be ashamed of ourselves to even introduce such legislation."


Kansas City votes to close nearly half its schools to cut costs

This appears to affect inner city schools rather than the suburbs

Faced with a cash crisis and decline in standards, nearly half of the schools in Kansas City, Missouri, are to close in one of the most drastic cuts inflicted on the US education system. At a meeting attended by screaming parents, the Board of Education in the city of more than 450,000 people voted by 5-4 to close 28 of the 61 schools and cut 700 out of 3,000 jobs, including 285 teachers’ posts.

School systems in the US are cutting costs and closing facilities because of the recession and deficits. The school district in Kansas City runs a $12 million (£8 million) monthly deficit.

The city received $2 billion in the 1950s to help it to desegregate its schools. With the money, it was able to build such amenities as an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The motive was to stop “white flight” from the city centre to the suburbs — a phenomenon caused by the desegregation ruling.

Now, however, fewer than a third of younger children in the city are able to read at or above the standard expected for their age group.

The plan to shut the schools is designed to save money and focus on improving the others but it has caused dismay among many parents and the board members who voted against the closures. “The public education system is aiding and abetting in the economic demise of our school district,” said Sharon Sanders Brooks, a councilwoman. “It is shameful.”


British university graduates condemned to 'coffee shop jobs'

The majority of university degrees condemn graduates to menial jobs “serving coffee in Starbucks", according to a leading businessman. Good degrees from leading universities were the only qualifications with serious currency in the jobs market, it was claimed. Simon Culhane, chief executive of the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment, said many teenagers would be better off taking a gap year before directly entering the industry of their choice.

The comments come just days after the Association of Graduate Recruiters, which represents 750 major employers, called for the Government to abolish its target to get half of all school-leavers into higher education. The group said that Labour’s “artificial” target had devalued degrees and pushed too many students onto substandard courses.

Mr Culhane said: “Today’s graduates have a tough time. “There are simply not enough jobs, which is why too many graduates are either serving coffee at Starbucks, or the equivalent, or have entered the employment market in jobs for which they are over-qualified.” He added: “Many aspiring students – and their parents – should be, and are, asking themselves if a degree is worth it.

“The answer may be politically incorrect and unwelcome, but if a key reason for an individual wanting to take a degree is to get ahead, then unless they are studying a relevant, vocational qualification at a top university and expect to obtain a 2:1 or better, they would be well advised to take a gap year and then enter the industry of their choice.”

The Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment is the largest professional body for investment banking and securities. But last year, City firms hired half the number of graduates they employed in 2008 because of the economic downturn.

Despite the slump in jobs, competition for university places has already reached a record high. It is feared that almost 200,000 applicants could be turned away from courses this September after demand for places surged by a quarter.

His comments follow remarks by Lucy Neville-Rolfe, an executive director at Tesco, who said British school leavers have basic problems with literacy and numeracy and have major “attitude problems”. Mrs Neville-Rolfe, an Oxford graduate and former civil servant, said students’ attitudes to their appearance, work, authority and discipline were poor.

The 56 year-old, one of the most powerful and well paid women in British business, said despite many A Level students and university graduates not being able to read or write or understand maths, more were achieving better results.

She also attacked students who felt that it was their right to gain employment. "They (students) don't seem to understand the importance of a tidy appearance and have problems with timekeeping," she said in a speech to the Institute of Grocery Distribution's conference on skills on Wednesday. “Some seem to think that the world owes them a living. The truth is that a certain humility and an ability to work hard are important for success. “More broadly, a society where people don't feel the need to work to gain material possessions will not be a stable or successful society."


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