Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Myth of Equality

Pat Buchanan

In 21st century America, institutional racism and sexism remain great twin evils to be eradicated on our long journey to the wonderful world where, at last, all are equal.

What are we to make, then, of a profession that rewards workers with fame and fortune, yet discriminates ruthlessly against women; an institution where Hispanics and Asians, 20 percent of the U.S. population, are neither sought after nor widely seen.

In this profession, white males, a third of the population, retain a third of the jobs. But black males, 6.5 percent of the U.S. population, have 67 percent of the coveted positions -- 10 times their fair share.

We are talking of the NFL.

In figures reported by columnist Walter Williams, not only are black males 77 percent of the National Basketball Association, they are 67 percent of the players in the NFL.

Yet no one objects that women are not permitted to compete in the NFL. Nor do many object to the paucity of Asian and Mexicans, or the over-representation of blacks, even as white males dominate the National Hockey League and the PGA.

When it comes to sports -- high school, collegiate or professional -- Americans are intolerant of lectures about diversity and inclusiveness. They want the best -- the best in the NFL, the best in the NBA, the best at Augusta, the best at Wimbledon, the best in the Olympics, the best in the All-Star Game, the World Series, the Super Bowl.

When it comes to artistic ability, musical ability, acting ability, athletic ability, Americans accept the reality of inequality. We are not all born equal, other than in our God-given and constitutional rights.

We are not all equally gifted. There are prodigies like pianist Van Cliburn, chess wizard Bobby Fischer, actress Shirley Temple. Every kid halfway through first grade knows who can spell and sing and who cannot, and who is bright and talented and athletic, and who is not.

What most Americans seek is a level playing field on which all compete equally, for what we ultimately seek is excellence, not equality.

Why, then, cannot our elites accept that, be it by nature, nurture, attitude or aptitude, we are not all equal in academic ability?

What raises this issue is the anguish evident in New York over the latest state test scores of public school students, which reveal that the ballyhooed progress in closing the racial achievement gap never happened.

That gap approached closure only by lowering the pass-fail score and by using similar tests, year-after-year, so teachers could prepare the kids to take them.

After a new, tougher state test was used in 2010, where 51 correct answers, not 37, meant achieving the desired grade, the old gaps between Hispanics, blacks, whites and Asians reappeared as wide as they were when Mayor Michael Bloomberg and city schools chief Joel Klein set out to close them.

"We are closing the shameful achievement gap faster than ever," blared Bloomberg in 2009, in the euphoria of what The New York Times now calls "the test score bubble."

"Among the students in the city's third through eighth grades, 40 percent of black students and 46 percent of Hispanic students met state standards in math, compared with 75 percent of white students and 83 recent of Asian students. In English, 33 percent of black students and 34 percent of Hispanic students are now proficient, compared with 64 percent of whites and Asians."

Appalling, when one considers New York City usually ranks first or second in the nation in per-pupil expenditures.

Nor has George W. Bush's vaunted No Child Left Behind program fared better. Results of national tests conducted in 2009 make New York students look like the Whiz Kids.

"Forty-nine percent of white students and 17 percent of black students showed proficiency on the fourth-grade English test, up from 45 percent of white students and 14 percent of black students in 2003."

One in six African-American fourth-grade kids is making the grade.

How many scores of billions did this pathetic gain cost us?

Since 1965, America has invested trillions in education with a primary goal of equalizing test scores among the races and genders. Measured by U.S. test scores, it has been a waste -- an immense transfer of wealth from private citizens to an education industry that has grown bloated while failing us again and again.

Perhaps it is time to abandon the goal of educational equality as utopian -- i.e., unattainable -- and to focus, as we do in sports and art, on excellence.

Teach all kids to the limit of their ability, while recognizing that all are not equal in their ability to read, write, learn, compute or debate, any more than they are equally able to play in a band or excel on a ball field. For an indeterminate future, Mexican kids are not going to match Asian kids in math.

The beginning of wisdom is to recognize this world as it is, not as what we would wish it to be.


British High School exama are 'so boring' says top school's head who wants a tougher exam for her students

A school where pupils passed 51 per cent of A-levels with A* grades may abandon the 'methodical' exam in favour of a rival qualification. Cynthia Hall, head of £29,250-a-year all-girls boarding school Wycombe Abbey, warned that pupils risk being penalised for showing originality and intelligence in their A-levels.

She said her school - which tops the national league tables for A* grades - was 'keeping an eye' on the rival Cambridge Pre-U exam, brought in two years ago to encourage more in-depth studies.

Earlier this week Gary Lineker blamed the Pre-U for the failure of his son George, a pupil at Charterhouse, to get into university. The TV presenter said it 'seemed to have been marked much harder' than A-level papers.

But Mrs Hall said her school was considering the Pre-U to stretch her high-achieving pupils. 'We are interested in something that provides stimulus and challenge,' she added. She said reforms to A-levels ten years ago, which broke up courses into bite-size chunks, meant pupils faced exams after just two terms of sixth-form study.

The Pre-U, in contrast, involves all exams being taken at the end of a two-year course. 'One of the things it gives is the opportunity to restore to the lower-sixth that opportunity to research,' she said. 'We're going to keep an eye on the Pre-U. We want to see what teething troubles there are,' she added.

Mrs Hall said A-levels offered limited opportunities for pupils to show 'originality and creativity'. She also claimed some of the marking was 'inadequate'. Mrs Hall added: 'You have got some markers who are not really subject specialists and are not able to recognise more individual work.

'From time to time, you look at an answer which is clearly very intelligent but the specialist knowledge of the marker is not adequate to understand.' Pupils were advised not to 'take risks' in the exam room, she added.

Her remarks came as the head of Charterhouse, the Reverend John Witheridge, made an outspoken attack on A-levels. In what was seen as a riposte to Mr Lineker, he defended his switch to the Pre-U.

'Here are syllabuses that engage and stretch sixth-formers. They require deep delving, rigorous research and wider reading,' he said, writing in the Spectator. 'Pupils are encouraged to take intellectual risks by developing their own ideas and arguments, and are rewarded for academic flair. 'All this will ring bells with those us who sat A-levels 30 or 40 years ago, but not with those who sat today's A-levels, with their "accessible", prescriptive and frankly boring curricula.'

The results for more than 400 independent schools, published today, show that fee-paying pupils passed 18.17 per cent of A-levels at A* this year - more than double the national average of 8.1 per cent. Some 2,108 pupils gained at least three A* grades. Boys were slightly more likely than girls to achieve a hat-trick of A*s.

Some 1,485 pupils at 43 schools took the International Baccalaureate, while 552 pupils at 23 schools took the Pre-U in at least one subject.

More than 80 schools including Eton refused to allow their results to be used in league tables, claiming the lists damage education.

Magdalen College School, in Oxford, topped the Mail's table after gaining the most top A*, A and B grades overall - 99.38 per cent. Its head, Dr Tim Hands, insisted most schools still favoured A-levels but said there had been 'change after change' and now a period of 'consolidation' was needed.


Politically correct British politicians lose sight of what makes a "good" school

It's heavily influenced by the quality of the kids attending it. If you let in a lot of dumb and unruly kids, educational standards go down to cope with them and the school soon ceases to be a "good" one. "Banding" will just degrade ALL schools

Middle-class parents would be unable to guarantee their children places at the best state schools by buying houses nearby under admissions rules backed by the Schools Secretary.

The Coalition is planning to allow hundreds of secondary schools to control their own entry policies and Michael Gove warmly praised the system, which allocates places according to academic ability and reserves many places for children with the weakest performance.

“Fair-banding” admissions schemes are often seen as a way of breaking the middle-class dominance in the best-performing state secondaries since they prevent affluent parents from monopolising places by paying a premium to live in their catchment areas.

Banding generally means that 11 year-olds applying for school places sit an IQ-based “attainment test” and are then divided into seven or nine ability groups. The same number of children from each ability group are then given places at the school.

Advocates say that reserving some places for children with the lowest scores ensures that children from poorer homes are more likely to get places at the best schools. Critics say it unfairly discriminates against children with the best results.

The Conservatives have not previously spoken out in favour of the practice, but Mr Gove told the BBC that fair banding had “a role to play” and could make schools “truly socially comprehensive”. It prevented better-off parents boosting their children’s chances by buying homes near better schools.

“You can make sure that if your school is located in an area which may well be relatively privileged, by dint of house prices and background and so on, that you are spreading the load academically,” he said.

There is no official record of how many schools use fair banding, but a Daily Telegraph survey last year identified at least 22 local authority areas where the rules were in place.

The Schools Department estimates that only around 100 local authority-controlled secondary schools in England admit students on a fair-banding basis.

But almost half the 200 academies currently operating, which set their own admissions policies, are estimated to use some sort of fair-banding policy.

Mr Gove has claimed that hundreds of schools are considering opting out of council control under his plan to allow all schools to become academies. If that prediction is accurate, there could be a dramatic expansion in the use of banding policies.

Mr Gove praised schools including Dunraven School and Mossbourne Academy, in south and east London respectively, as high-performing schools that use banding.

Dunraven school in the south London borough of Lambeth introduced fair banding in 1992. It puts children in five different bands and gives priority to those children who are in care or in foster care.

David Boyle, the school principal, said results had improved dramatically since the system was introduced. The number of GCSEs at grade C or above had increased from 30 per cent in 1992 to 82 per cent this year.

He said that Dunraven was now more aspirational. “Our mission is to try to ensure a service for the whole community,” he added.

A source close to Mr Gove said: “We are not telling any school to use fair banding nor are we telling them not to. We want all parents to be able to send their children to a good school. That’s why we are expanding the number of academies.”

Some experts say the schools with the greatest incentive to adopt banding are those in the poorest areas, because they often struggle to attract brighter children.

But supporters of the policy say all schools can benefit from becoming more socially and academically inclusive.

The charity Barnardo’s this week called for the widespread use of fair banding. But David Green, the director of the think tank Civitas, described it as “a kind of social engineering based on animosity to middle-class parents.”

Prof Stephen Gorard from Birmingham University warned that Mr Gove’s voluntary approach to admissions had risks. “If banding is implemented partially and voluntarily, it sounds like the outcome will be all pain and no gain.”

John Bangs of the National Union of Teachers said banding was right in principle, but should be implemented uniformly. “Banding only works if you do it in a geographical area,” he added. “If every school has its own admissions policy and sets its own banding system, you’re going to get real unevenness.”

Nick Seaton, of the Campaign for Real Education, attacked fair banding as an unfair policy that denied places to the brightest. He added: “I’m not saying we shouldn’t help the worse-off, but it I don’t think the best way to do that is to disadvantage the better-off.”


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