Saturday, December 11, 2010

TX: HISD board OKs creation of a school just for boys

Goal for students is a college degree

No sagging pants and grungy T-shirts will be allowed at this new Houston school. Neither will bad attitudes. And neither will girls.

This school, approved by the Houston board of trustees Thursday, will open next fall with only male students. The campus will start with sixth- and ninth-graders, who will have to apply to attend, and will grow annually to become a full middle and high school.

The boys at this new school in Houston's Fifth Ward will have to wear blazers and ties. They will take advanced courses, learn a foreign language and- the biggest expectation — go on to earn a college degree.

This will be the first all-boys school started directly by the Houston Independent School District, which last month announced plans to open an all-girls campus next year. The district has two other all-boys schools, but they are run by contractors and one is leaving HISD's umbrella to become a state charter school.

"We have to do something to save our young men of today," HISD Trustee Carol Mims Galloway said, noting that too many already have been in jail or are on track to land there.

The HISD board, at Galloway's request, postponed a vote on the all-boys school last month to allow more community meetings. Some in the historically black Fifth Ward were upset that the school would be housed at the E.O. Smith campus and would require students to apply - meaning the Smith students would be rezoned to other campuses.

Pastor Leonard Barksdale, of the Fifth Ward Missionary Baptist Church, told the school board Thursday that some community members still were upset that students would be displaced. "They want me to let you know that they really love their community and they love their schools," Barksdale said. "And some have the perception that maybe this board does not know that."

Galloway said in an interview that the entrance requirements for the all-boys school have not been set, but she plans to advocate for reserving more than 50 percent of the seats for students from northeast Houston. The school will be modeled off the nationally touted Chicago Urban Prep Academy.

Christopher Whisler, an eighth-grader at E.O. Smith, told the board he's ready to sign up. "I think the boys school is a great idea because, well, we will be able to concentrate more," he said, drawing laughter.

The number of public schools serving a single gender has exploded since 2002 thanks in part to a loosening of federal rules. Today, the United States has 95 single-gender schools and another 445 campuses that separate boys and girls for some courses, according to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education.

In addition to the all-boys schools in HISD, the charter network KIPP has an all-boys school and an all-girls campus in North Forest. The first two all-boys contract schools in HISD are Pro-Vision and the William A. Lawson Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

WALIPP, which opened 2002 and now is on the Texas Southern University campus, recently won approval to become a state charter school and to open an all-girls campus next year. Unlike HISD's new single-sex campuses, the WALIPP schools don't have entrance requirements for students, according to Cheryl Lawson, the WALIPP executive director. Her father, the Rev. William Lawson of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, founded the school.

"The boys always tell me, 'I just didn't want to come because there were no girls. But now that I'm here, I'm glad because I'm learning more,' " Cheryl Lawson said, adding that she expects the same reaction from the girls next year.


Rioting protesters in London mask the real problem facing today's British students

Universities are shoddy, state-directed and underfunded – with too little inclination for teaching

Channel 4 News on Thursday night spoke of "tens of thousands of students" protesting in Parliament Square. The only word not open to question in that phrase is "of". Demonstrators are usually wildly inaccurate about their numbers, and the media report their estimates almost uncritically.

There weren't tens of thousands – it was more like a few hundred – and we can have little idea whether those who urinated on the statue of Sir Winston Churchill, swung from the Union Flag on the Cenotaph, stove in the doors of HM Revenue and Customs or attacked the car carrying the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall were enjoying what they call the "right" to higher education. Most troublemakers were wearing masks. Some of those interviewed could barely speak English.

On the same evening, BBC News cut to a reporter, Ben Brown, who was sharing his camera space with protesters who yelled, on cue, round the illegal fire they had lit. The BBC was almost literally fanning the flames. The next morning, the Today programme's attitude to the attack on the royal car was to joke about whether the vehicle was a Rolls Royce.

On Channel 4, the reporter Alex Thomson spoke of rioters "regaining Parliament Square as a place of protest for the people of this country". The mob had scored the word "No" in huge letters on the grass of the square. The protest, he opined, was "all rather British". Perhaps it was, but not in the happy way that he meant. It displayed our peculiar contemporary gift for treating nasty behaviour with collective complacency.

The constant protests in Parliament Square in recent years – sometimes violent, and always ugly and inconvenient – are not the proud property of "the people of this country". They are, in effect, an alliance between small groups of extreme, politically motivated people and the state-protected television media who always report them indulgently.

From inside the House of Commons, the Labour MP Tristram Hunt spoke of the place as being a "bubble", guarded from the anger outside. But at least MPs are elected. Really it is the square itself which has become the bubble. It is a public space, one of the most important in this country. But the authorities allow it to become a stage-set for gangs who deprive us, the public, of what is ours. On Thursday, the police did their best, but they are up against a political and media culture which thinks that letting extremists control the streets is a mark of "tolerance".

I read in another newspaper yesterday that "such stupid, graceless acts of violence do nothing to help the cause of student protest". This is correct only if such acts are punished and, where possible, prevented. They are not stupid at all, if, by performing them, their perpetrators gain a handle on the levers of power. As after the last riot, the Coalition is not serious enough about dealing with the problem.

And I do not solely mean dealing with its public-order aspects. I mean also arguing robustly for the policy. The increase in tuition fees, carried by only 21 votes, is inevitably unpopular. Its economic necessity, its educational advantages, and the fairness of its accompanying loan system have to be explained over and over again. To avoid alienating Lib Dem activists even further, the Conservatives have tended to treat the subject as if it were their junior partner's private grief, and have said little about it. The political tactic is understandable, but it has left a vacuum in the public debate, a vacuum filled by the cries of "Tory scum".

For the Coalition, despite appearances to the contrary, Thursday's events will have done good. It was moving to watch poor old Vince Cable, his nostrils uncomfortably "kettled" by his half-moon spectacles, argue his case to Parliament. He did so without relish, but honestly, as a good minister must. It was the first time in living memory that a Liberal has had to take an unpleasant measure through the Commons. It was the party's coming of age. Commentators expressed surprise yesterday morning that Liberal MPs were not at one another's throats. Of course they weren't! They had proved that they are a party of government which can – just – handle a revolt. The dissenters paraded their consciences and the ministers got their way: honour was satisfied.

But what happens next could be even harder than the struggle just ended. In the endlessly misleading debate about fairness which accompanies a period of cuts, it is not only a question of fairness between rich and poor. It is also a matter of fairness between the generations.

No one has thought more about this than the Universities Minister, David Willetts. His book The Pinch, published this year, is subtitled "How the baby boomers took their children's future – and why they should give it back." His "classic boomer", born in 1955, enjoyed much higher peak earnings, pension rights and asset values than his parents, whereas his children, now aged, say, 25, "may well have had to pay for their university education, so they started work with a large amount of student debt." "They could well have no assets," Mr Willetts goes on, "once their debts have been deducted, for another decade at least". So is Mr Willetts's current policy exactly the sort of boomer bad behaviour he attacks?

In fact, it is dire necessity. The boomer generation willed the end – the over-rapid expansion of university education. John Major disastrously decided to abolish polytechnics and pretend they were all universities instead. Successive governments failed, as was inevitable, to will the means.

It is logic, therefore, that students must pay more. But when you pay more for something, you become more aware of its deficiencies. Those borrowing between £20,000-£40,000 for their period of study will notice that many of their universities teach them little. This is not true only of the high-drop-out-rate duds – working title: The University of the South Circular – but also of some well-known ones. I have met the parents of arts students at Bristol who tell me their children have endured three years of education without a single academic knowing their name.

Next week, hundreds of thousands of students will come home for Christmas. Many of their parents, asking them about their term, will feel dissatisfied. They will hear of the lack of engagement from the dons and the shortage of well-directed, intellectually demanding education. The reason for this is that we have developed a shoddy, state-directed, underfunded system.

The answer lies not in higher state funding – which is both impossible and undesirable – but in universities that can set their own standards and students who can choose. A loans system is a necessary means to this, but if, by the next election, it isn't working, then the Coalition will be seen to have damaged the rising generation. When people believe that about a government, it cannot survive.


One in four British trainee teachers is a dunce: Thousands struggle to pass simple literacy and numeracy tests

You almost have to be dumb to want to work in a British "Comprehensive"

Almost one in four trainee teachers cannot do simple sums and a fifth have problems with spelling, grammar and punctuation, worrying figures revealed yesterday. Thousands repeatedly flunk basic numeracy and literacy tests and seek unlimited resits to pass. Critics fear the poor quality of the next generation of teachers will have a devastating impact on their pupils.

Trainees have to pass basic skills tests in literacy, numeracy and ICT (information and communication technology) before they can qualify as teachers. The pass marks are just 60 per cent.

The latest figures from the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) reveal that in 2008/9 33,517 trainees passed their numeracy and literacy tests.

Some 77.7 per cent passed their numeracy test first time; 9.5 per cent (3,190) made two attempts and 12.8 per cent (4,298) – or one in eight – had at least three attempts. In literacy, 80 per cent (26,814) passed first time; 11.6 per cent (3,892) had two attempts and 8.4 per cent had at least three.

The figures do not detail how many times trainees resit the tests beyond three. However one is reported to have taken the tests 27 times before achieving the pass rate.

Standards were far higher five years ago when would-be teachers sailed through their tests without relying on retakes. For example, of the 32,717 trainees who passed their numeracy test in the academic year 2003/4, a respectable 83.6 per cent did so first time.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said the tests are not ‘rocket science’. He said: ‘It’s a very basic assessment so it’s very worrying that so many would-be teachers are not competent in basic literacy and numeracy. ‘The fact they seem to be getting worse is especially concerning. If a teacher cannot tell what is appropriate or what is a mistake in maths, then how are young people going to learn?

‘The Government is right to crack down here as we are just perpetuating the poor use of language and lack of skills in maths if we allow people who cannot handle words and numbers into the classroom.’

The skills tests were introduced by Labour amid concerns that teacher training did not guarantee a thorough enough grounding in literacy, numeracy and comprehension. Passing the numeracy test has been a requirement of Qualified Teacher Status since 2000. Passing tests in literacy and ICT were made compulsory the following year.

Students currently sit the online tests in the final year of their teacher training. They were originally allowed only four or five attempts to pass the tests. But Labour scrapped the rule in 2001 and gave trainees unlimited resits.

The numeracy test lasts 48 minutes and contains 12 mental arithmetic questions to be completed without the aid of a calculator. Candidates are allowed to use pen and paper.

There are also longer questions involving interpreting statistical information and working out basic percentages and ratios.

The 45-minute literacy test is in four parts – spelling, grammar, punctuation and comprehension.


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