Saturday, January 23, 2010

So Your Freedom-loving Kid Is Going to College, How do you pick the right school?

Colleges, and especially college professors, take a beating from freedom lovers these days. And it isn’t without some desert. Organizations like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education have documented all kinds of abuses of students’ rights by institutions and individuals in higher education. It is also clearly true that college faculty, at least at the major universities, are significantly to the political left of the American public and certainly no friends of the really free markets that The Freeman Online readers are likely to support. So what to do if you have a college-bound junior or senior in your house as the season of college visits marches on? Are there ways to try to make sure he or she has the best experience possible? There are, and in this week’s and next week’s column I’ll offer some suggestions.

One obvious choice is to attend a college with a reputation for being sympathetic to the freedom movement, such as Grove City or Hillsdale. Another choice is to attend a religious institution whose values parallel those of your son or daughter. These are a solution for some, but clearly not anywhere near a majority. What to do if your kid doesn’t want to go either of those routes?

Before even asking freedom-related questions, find schools that are good fits in all other relevant respects. Students do best when they go to colleges that feel right to them across a whole range of variables that have nothing to do with freedom issues. It would be a mistake for a young person to decide on a college only, or even predominantly, for its political environment. Many prominent libertarians are products of schools not so conducive to libertarian ideas. I went to the University of Michigan as an undergraduate, having already become a libertarian. I not only survived, I loved every minute of it.

One of the great advantages of attending a left-leaning school is that you get exposed to the best arguments that the opponents of free markets have to offer. I’m a much better scholar and much more able to interact with my professional colleagues on the left today for having been through that experience. As John Stuart Mill wrote in On Liberty, the only way to know how good your own arguments are is to expose them to dissenting views. (This, I should add, is also the downside of attending a school that has an explicit conservative or libertarian image — you don’t get exposed nearly as much to the best that others have to offer.)

In general, though, if you and your child are concerned about so-called “political correctness” and monolithic thinking by the faculty, there are a few things you should try to find out. First, how highly does the school value teaching and how much teaching do regular faculty do? Schools where teaching is rewarded and is done by the regular faculty (as opposed to graduate assistants or even temporary faculty) are much less likely to have the sorts of “classroom indoctrination” horror stories we read about. If you follow those stories, note how often the problematic faculty member is an adjunct (temporary faculty) or a graduate assistant. The indoctrination-oriented classroom is just bad teaching, and students know it and will complain about it on evaluations and in other forums. It will backfire on faculty. Really good teachers, even if they have strong views, know that trying to cram them down the throats of undergraduates makes for a really bad classroom and won’t work in any case.

Critics of left-leaning faculty don’t give young people enough credit. Most of them know indoctrination when they see it, and the last thing most of them want to do is adopt the beliefs of their elders. They just aren’t that conformist, as the parent of any teenager will tell you.

Even though I wouldn’t change my own undergraduate experience, 20 years of teaching at a small liberal-arts college has made me more of a believer in the value of those kind of schools than I ever was before. (And I’ve put my money where my mouth is: My own son attends a school that mostly falls into that category.) Liberal-arts colleges meet the criteria above much more so than larger state or private schools. It’s also worth noting that a number of U.S. liberal-arts colleges have recently become home to small groups of faculty associated with the Austrian school of economics. For students who care about freedom, these sorts of schools can often be good environments.


‘Stop deceiving British children with worthless qualifications’, says private school headteacher

The headmaster of Harrow has accused many state schools of deceiving children by entering them for “worthless” qualifications. Barnaby Lenon said that grade inflation and a shift to vocational qualifications was masking a failure to teach enough pupils to a good standard. “Let us not deceive our children, and especially children from poorer homes, with worthless qualifications so that they become like the citizens of Weimar Germany or Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, carrying their certificates around in a wheelbarrow,” he told a conference. “[Let’s not] produce people like those girls in the first round of The X Factor who tell us they want to be the next Britney Spears but can’t sing a note.”

He cited media studies as an example of a soft subject, for which many schools were keen to enter students because it was easier for them to get a good grade. The real route to a good job in one of the professions, he said, was good grades in traditional academic subjects such as maths, sciences and languages.

Mr Lenon, addressing a conference of leading independent and state school heads in Beckton, East London, attacked a report by Alan Milburn, the former Labour minister, on social mobility. He said that this should not be the primary objective of a good education system. “The main aim should be to educate every child really well to the standards that we see in places like Finland and Singapore in the knowledge that if you do that, of course, social mobility ought to be a by-product,” he said. “Making social mobility a main aim is a mistake in my view because it can so easily lead to dumbing down.”

Mr Lenon pointed to the abolition of CSEs and O levels in 1988, which was intended to end a two-tier school system and, he said, led to a fall in standards in education at 16, with a knock-on impact in A levels and universities. “If we want the brightest children from our poorest homes to fulfil their potential we must not deceive them with high grades in soft subjects or allow them to believe that going to any old uni to read any subject is going to be the path to prosperity, because it is not.”

For this reason independent schools had deliberately adopted harder qualifications such as the IGCSE, International Baccalaureate and Pre-U, he said.

Mr Lenon told the conference: “The road to social mobility is not a downhill stretch on an empty motorway; it’s an agonisingly steep path up a mountain whose summit is never quite in view.”

Addressing the same conference Michael Gove, the Shadow Schools Secretary, responded to criticism of his policy to prevent graduates with a third-class degree from training to be teachers with public funds. Mr Gove said that it was a fallacy to say his policy implied that those with higher degrees would automatically make good teachers. A good degree was only the first step and teachers needed an ability to continue to learn and to stimulate curiosity in others, he said.


Australian parents slap down teachers' union on school league tables

PUBLIC-school parents have expressed anger at a union-led campaign against league tables, accusing the NSW Federation of Parents and Citizens of failing to consult them and misrepresenting their views.

The NSW P&C Federation has joined with the Australian Education Union in warning of the detrimental effects of league tables and condemning a new website that allows direct comparison of schools' performances.

But there is concern among parents that the federation is too closely aligned to the NSW Teachers Federation and is pushing a union agenda that does not reflect the views of parents, who are in favour of greater transparency and accountability.

Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Julia Gillard will launch the website My School on Thursday, staring down teachers' threats this week to boycott national literacy and numeracy testing. The website will allow parents to compare the performance of schools in NAPLAN tests against those of statistically similar schools.

Pevlin Price, the outgoing president of the P&C association at Normanhurst High School, in Sydney's northwest, said many parents were strongly supportive of greater accountability by schools. "Are we going to push on without knowing what the facts are?" Mr Price said. "Who are we protecting? "I am really disappointed that the P&C has not consulted on this issue. If they asked every individual school P&C (for its view), they would have got a very different response."

David Ogilvie, a member of a P&C council at a primary school on Sydney's north shore, said many parents disagreed with the views expressed by the P&C Federation and were strongly supportive of the My School website. "I think generally parents think its a good idea," Mr Ogilvie said. "I personally don't understand the P&C Federation or the Teachers Federation's point of view. "The parents I have spoken to are more than impressed by the steps the government is taking here in terms of transparency. "I don't believe the argument that schools that aren't performing are going to be further disadvantaged. I think the reality should be quite the opposite -- that if these schools aren't performing then the Education Department and the ministers should be addressing the issue of why they are not performing."

The federal government does not support the creation of league tables but is unwilling to introduce measures to ban them.

The NSW Federation of P&Cs president Dianne Giblin said yesterday the data that would be available on the My School website would be simplistic and comparing schools would result in a narrowing of the curriculum.

Northern Sydney Regional Council of P&C Associations president David Hope said while he supported the position of the P&C Federation on league tables, he said the issue of accountability and transparency was far broader. "We need to ensure that the education system doesn't let down individual students or particular schools," he said.


Friday, January 22, 2010

It’s time to get deeper with graduation numbers

Indiana's school statistics are bad enough as they stand but they are even worse when you realize that a kid can "graduate" after failing the exit exam -- and dropouts can be called home-schooled!

If you were a business owner with eight stores and only two of them reached your minimum sales goal for the year, would you say it was a success? What if you were in charge of a walking program created to help people complete a fitness walk and two out of eight people who participated reached the mileage goal, would you consider your program a success? If you were a football coach and your record was 2-8, would you consider that season a success? I mean, if you’re not IU of course.

No matter how you look at it, two out of eight just doesn’t sound so great, does it? Yet this is how many Clark County public high schools reached Indiana’s 90 percent graduation rate goal. I have no idea whether that goal is reasonable or not, but government officials are the ones who set it so I assume they think it’s within reach.

So what does it mean that most of the county’s schools didn’t make the grade? Is it just a number to add to all the other numbers that really don’t mean much because they are without consequences?

Even one school who reached the goal doesn’t feel like the percentage really tells them what they need to know. Before the official graduation rate was released from the State Department of Education, Clarksville officials said their reported graduation rate of 92.6 percent doesn’t “reveal the whole truth.” Clarksville officials felt it was important to separate out two categories included in the percentage: those who graduated on waivers and those who transferred to homeschooling.

A student who graduates with a waiver has enough credits to graduate but did not pass the State Graduation Qualifying Exam. Teachers in the subject area the student failed on the exam can certify the student as qualified in that subject. Clarksville realizes the potential for abuse here and evidently wants to take a closer look, which sounds like a good idea. Clarksville also decided to pull out the percentage of students who transferred to homeschooling because they worry that some families might be using the ability to transfer to the home education as a way to drop out.

However, the real potential for abuse here is that a school will create what’s known as a “push-out,” a student whose family is “strongly encouraged” to homeschool because it’s an easy way for the school system to raise its graduation percentage.

It’s important to remember here that the problem isn’t homeschooling; the problem is how the government schools should count the kids they are failing to graduate. Families should voluntarily choose homeschooling as an alternative and not be pushed into it by school officials trying to improve their statistics and remove perceived troublemakers. It’s unconscionable if homeschoolers get stuck in the middle of what is really a government school problem and I could say more about this issue, but for now, I do think it’s a reasonable idea for all schools in the county to be as open as Clarksville has been about their graduation percentage data.

So I challenge all the principals and superintendents in Greater Clark and West Clark school districts to give residents the same data Clarksville did. What percentage of your kids graduated on waivers? Are you also doing what Clarksville is doing, and counting as homeschoolers some students you suspect should really be considered as dropouts?

If Clarksville — one of only two schools who actually reached the graduation rate goal — believes it’s important to inform the public with deeper data, shouldn’t those of you who failed to reach the goal do the same?


The groan-inducing letter from my son's school that shows everything that is wrong with teaching today

By Tom Utley, in Britain

Every sentence, every phrase, almost every word of the latest letter we've had from our 16-year-old's comprehensive school fills me with the deepest gloom. 'Dear Parent/Carer,' it begins, and already my heart begins to sink. Yes, I understand the use of the singular, since so many of the letter's recipients are indeed single.

And family arrangements being what they are in my part of South London, I dare say that some of my boys' schoolmates are being brought up by their grannies, aunts or people unrelated to them.

But there's something about the word 'carer', with its undertone of the social services, that I find profoundly depressing. Why not the more traditional and dignified title 'guardian' - or has that, for some mysterious reason, become politically incorrect?

But I'm letting my fuddy-duddy prejudices run away with me before I've even begun. On, then, with my grim letter, jointly signed by the deputy principal and the director of the sixth form at Dunraven School (oxymoronic motto: 'Excellence for All'). The groans, by the way, are my own additions - but the rest is a faithful transcript:

'In line with recent government guidance [groan] to tackle inequalities [groan] and improve health outcomes for young people [groan], NHS Lambeth and the Children and Young People's Service of the London Borough of Lambeth [groan] are rolling out [groan] a service for sixth-form students [groan].'

From here on, I'll let readers insert their own groans where they think appropriate: 'This is part of a wider area programme led by the local Teenage Pregnancy & Parenthood Partnership to reduce under-18 conceptions... 'In keeping with good practice, Dunraven has an up-to-date Sex and Relationship Education Policy and programme of work. Building on this, it is proposed that a specialist outreach nurse will offer a school-based health drop-in including the provision of confidential sexual health advice available directly to students on a weekly basis . . .'

You get the idea, so I'll spare you the rest. Before I go any further, let me make it absolutely clear that this is not an attack on Dunraven School. Despite all the Government's efforts to make their lives impossible, the teachers there are doing a heroic job for my son, for which I'm extremely grateful. No, my boy's school is just one of hundreds all over the country which have had to send out very similar letters over the past few days or weeks, couched in the same deadly jargon, raising groans from countless parent/carers who received them.

Nor am I blaming the deputy principal, Gloria Lowe, or the sixth-form director, Safras Cuffy, for those leaden, New Labour buzzphrases ('in keeping with good practice', 'rolling out', 'school-based health drop-in', 'outreach', 'local area safeguarding guidelines', 'clear pathway to health services').

The tragedy is that they're forced to spend half their lives churning out this bilge by a Government that regards their venerable profession as merely a minor branch of the state bureaucracy - charged not with educating pupils (sorry, 'students') but with 'tackling inequalities' and 'improving health outcomes'.

My letter, and the weekly blizzard of others like it, is just a hideously graphic illustration of what it's increasingly coming to mean to be a teacher in Labour's Britain. I confess I don't know what attracted Ms Lowe and Mr Cuffy to the profession. I don't know, either, which subjects they teach - and I daren't ask my son, because he'll rumble that I'm breaking his strict ban on embarrassing him yet again by mentioning his school.

So I'll let fancy take flight, and imagine the deputy principal as a classicist, enraptured in her youth by Virgil's glorious rhythms and cadences and determined to pass on her enthusiasm to the next generation. I see Mr Cuffy as a mathematician, marvelling at the beauty of Fermat's last theorem, tortured by the difficulty of proving it and yearning to awaken young minds to the boundless wonder of numbers and the way they behave.

Or perhaps they're both specialists in English literature, who during their own childhoods struck upon Oliver Goldsmith's lines about the village schoolmaster, and resolved on the spot that this would be the life for them: 'And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew/ That one small head could carry all he knew.'

Of course, like so many of their colleagues these days, Ms Lowe and Mr Cuffy may indeed have gone into teaching with a view to 'tackling inequalities', in the sense of giving deprived children a leg-up by laying before them the opportunities offered by knowledge. Thoroughly worthy, too. In my experience, some of the most inspiring teachers (though by no means all of them) lean to the Left.

But it's surely fair to guess that it was no part of teaching's attraction to them that it would mean spending hours every week writing groan-inducing letters to 'Dear Parent/Carer', outlining the latest fatuous social-engineering scheme dreamed up by the wretched Ed Balls or Harriet Harman. (By the way, I've just noticed that Mr Cuffy begins another of his letters this week, about student ID cards and on-site security, with the words: 'Dear Parent/Guardian.' Good for you, Sir!)

I can't help thinking of some of the teachers who inspired me most during my own, privileged childhood: Noel Wilkinson, who sparked my lifelong love of Latin; the extraordinary Theodore Zinn, who could reel off vast tracts of Homer and Horace and ignored the books on the A-level curriculum if there were others he liked better; Jim Cogan ('slide your scripts down the aisle and pin back your lug'oles') who opened my ears to Shakespeare; even dear old Ted Craven, who taught us very little about the subject on the timetable, but an awful lot about his wartime experiences in the Royal Navy. . .

Would they have gone into the profession if it had meant carrying out Mr Balls's edicts about what and how they were allowed to teach? I can only guess. But one thing's for sure: I can't see any of them sitting down willingly to write to parents about school-based health drop-ins.

Indeed, I strongly suspect that if Mr Zinn had been asked to do any such thing, he would have resorted to his favourite technique for silencing an over-animated classroom - which was breaking down in tears.

So, yes, David Cameron is right to worry that teaching is becoming less attractive to the best graduates. But if he wants to make it more so, he'll have to do a great deal more than raising the profession's entrance requirements (and never mind that his plan to demand at least a 2:2 degree would disqualify some excellent teachers who came to learning late). Nor will it be enough to introduce performance-related pay, negotiated by individual heads - even if he manages to persuade the unions to accept it.

What makes the profession increasingly unappealing these days is the constant interference from Whitehall, which makes drudges of all teachers - and not just those like poor Ms Lowe and Mr Cuffy who have to deal with the admin. In Mr Balls's pursuit of 'Excellence for All' (which means dumbing down exams until it's A-stars all round), they're forced to follow a narrow and often politically motivated curriculum that's more about indoctrination than education.

I'd rather hoped that when our boy embarked on his A-level course, his teachers would be given a little more freedom to pass on their own enthusiasms, rather than the Government's. That was until I asked him what he was studying in English. He came out with a word that was unfamiliar to me. I've forgotten what it was - and, again, I dare not ask him. But I vividly remember his reply when I asked him what it meant. 'Well, it's basically about racism and sexism,' he said.

Like Mr Zinn, I felt like shedding a manly tear. Has Mr Cameron the energy and determination it will take to set teachers free?


'Persecuted' homeschoolers seek asylum in U.S.

Family flees Germany's fines, threats of jail

A ruling could come as soon as tomorrow on a request by a German family for political asylum in the United States because of the persecutionthey would face, including fines and possible jail terms, for homeschooling their children in their home country.

"The persecution of homeschoolers in Germany has dramatically intensified," Michael P. Donnelly, staff attorney for the Home School Legal Defense Association, confirmed today. "They are regularly fined thousands of dollars, threatened with imprisonment, or have the custody of their children taken away simply because they choose to home educate."

A hearing has been scheduled tomorrow before a federal immigration judge in Memphis, Tenn., on the request from Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, who fled Germany for the U.S. because of the threats they faced over their decision to homeschool their own children.

The HSLDA noted a decision to grant the asylum request could be a "major international embarrassment for Germany." The organization, which has been working with the family since members fled Germany in 2008, helped them file the request for political asylum.

Uwe Romeike, a music teacher, and his wife Hannelore have five children. "The freedom we have to homeschool our children in Tennessee is wonderful," the mother said in a statement to HSLDA. "We don't have to worry about looking over our shoulder anymore wondering when the youth welfare officials will come or how much money we have to pay in fines." "We left family members, our home and a wonderful community in Germany, but the well-being of our children made it necessary," the father said.

Donnelly confirmed, "If the political asylum application is granted it will be the first time America has ever granted political asylum to Christian homeschoolers fleeing from German persecution."

The organization, the premiere group working on behalf of homeschoolers worldwide today, has been involved in the German fight for years. In that nation, homeschooling effectively is illegal because of laws dating back to the pre-World War II move to raising and training children a responsibility of the government.

WND has reported on German homeschoolers who have been fined the equivalent of thousands of dollars, have been threatened with jail and have even watched their children be confined to a psychiatric hospital, diagnosed with "school phobia."

WND reported several years ago about the day police knocked on the door of the Romeikes and forcibly escorted their children to public school. Then WND reported again later when the family fled Germany, with the help of the U.S.-based Home School Legal Defense Association, and settled in the U.S.

The family members are living in Tennessee after they funded their flight from persecution partly by selling Uwe Romeike's grand pianos.

The parents wanted to provide their children's education because of content in modern German textbooks that violates the family's religious beliefs. The family said the objectionable material includes explicit lessons on sex, the promotion of the occult and witchcraft and an effort to teach children to disrespect authority figures.

HSLDA officials estimate there are some 400 homeschool families in Germany. Virtually all of them are either forced into hiding or facing court actions.

WND has documented repeatedly the crackdown within Germany on homeschooling families because of the government's fear that children taught beliefs other than those in the state-endorsed textbooks would give rise to "parallel societies."

Wolfgang Drautz, consul general for the Federal Republic of Germany, previously wrote on the issue in a blog, explaining the German government "has a legitimate interest in countering the rise of parallel societies that are based on religion."

As WND reported, the German government believes schooling is critical to socialization, as evident in its response to another set of parents who objected to police officers picking up their child at home and delivering him to a public school.

"The minister of education does not share your attitudes toward so-called homeschooling," said a government letter. "... You complain about the forced school escort of primary school children by the responsible local police officers. ... In order to avoid this in future, the education authority is in conversation with the affected family in order to look for possibilities to bring the religious convictions of the family into line with the unalterable school attendance requirement."

Political asylum, HSLDA explained, is available to people already in the U.S. who fear persecution in their home country because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. HSLDA contends homeschoolers in Germany fit that description.

Lutz Gordens, German consul general for the southeast U.S., has defended his nation's public education requirements.

"For reasons deeply rooted in history and our belief that only schools properly can ensure the desired level of excellent education, we (Germany) go a little bit beyond that path which other countries have chosen," Gorgens said.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Britain’s dirty secret: class still matters

The article below is perfectly correct, though I personally encountered very few barriers whilst I was in England. What the author touches on very lightly, however, is the hostility of the British Left towards the one really good ladder out of a deprived background: The Grammar (intellectually selective) schools. That hostility has made class barriers worse during the years of Labour party rule. The Labour party talks the talk but refuses to walk the walk. They live in a dream world with little connection to reality. Amazing though it is, they will not admit that some people are inherently smarter than others. And if your theories are wrong, you will not get the results you expect

On rare days I feel sorry for members of the government. Running the country must be as frustrating as being a parent: it’s only in retrospect that you realise where you went wrong. But your new-found wisdom is of no use because the crucial moments have passed, and you can’t have your time again.

That’s what’s happened with the government’s belated engagement with the question of class. For years new Labour avoided the word. It was too divisive. It threatened the party’s delicate position in the centre ground. It was too easily linked with the uncomfortable word “struggle”. It was much better to talk instead of aspiration and disadvantage, inclusion and social mobility.

In Labour’s view of the world, anyone could get on as long as they raised their sights and worked hard. The twin problems facing the less privileged were those of money and ambition. The government would provide more of the first through redistribution, and more of the second through educational reforms and exhortation. Schools would drive up standards, the poor would pass more examinations, educational inequality would be redressed and we would enter a new age of meritocracy.

The strategy hasn’t worked. True, people from the lower and middle-income groups have more qualifications, but it’s done nothing for their relative position. Inequality has widened slightly, social mobility remains among the worst in Europe, and the well-off dominate top universities and the professions just as they always did. It failed because it ignored the truth. Labour acted as if social disadvantage was largely a practical problem. For a long time it avoided addressing the barriers that divide Britons from one another and make attempting to move out of one’s group as risky and as psychologically difficult a process as emigration.

The apparent emergence of a classless society, in which anyone might wear jeans, watch The X Factor or speak in a variant of estuary English, disguises the fact that Britain is still a highly stratified society, in which different classes are brought up to follow different rules about how to think, talk and behave. These classes prefer to socialise and work with those who share their values. Joining these groups is not a simple matter of gaining the right academic qualifications. They will admit and promote only those who can read all their unwritten and unspoken rules of behaviour.

This fact makes any attempt at social mobility a hazardous business. The ambitious have to abandon the culture they know for one that may not welcome them. They may end up belonging in neither world.

The oddity of Labour’s ignoring this for so long is that the difficulty of making this journey used to be explicitly understood. Grammar schools were created to give clever children a path out of one culture and into another. A while ago I talked to a retired grandee of the British arts world who grew up in poverty in two rented rooms in north London. He told me that his life was transformed by his teachers’ role in guiding him into a new world. Their advice went far beyond the classroom. They recommended books to read, lectures to go to, concerts he should attend. At 18 he went to university in London, where he learnt to argue and have intellectual conversations.

As a postgraduate he moved on to Oxford, which was a cultural leap he could never have made any earlier. A near-contemporary of his, a retired diplomat who followed a similar path, says that getting to Cambridge was what made him. He worked furiously hard to pick up all the clues about how to dress, walk, talk and think. Both men knew that their success depended on moving through classes.

None of that clarity has been possible in recent years. The widespread pretence that these barriers no longer exist, and the vagueness about what is needed to overcome them, has made social mobility even more difficult. At the same time, Labour’s attempts to liberate children from class by giving them a better academic education has added to the problem. The relentless focus on exam results has meant that many state schools have opted out of the activities that used to socialise pupils and give them the manners, self-control and teamworking skills that they need to progress outside. That has left a great many children, and particularly the most deprived, at a hopeless disadvantage.

It has been only in the past year or so that parts of the government have suddenly woken up to the fact that the strategy to create a fairer society isn’t working. Alan Milburn’s blistering report on social mobility recognised how split Britain was becoming, divided between those who had networks and social skills and those without. It pointed out that the ordinary middle classes were now also losing out to those in the upper middle, who had the connections. It called for national mentoring schemes and internships and for schools to be judged on whether they educated the whole child. Harriet Harman produced the Equality Bill, aimed among other things at reducing discrimination on the basis of class. And last week John Denham, the communities minister, said class was now as likely a cause of discrimination as race used to be.

This is difficult territory because it involves uncomfortable issues. It is not a simple story about prejudice. On the one hand, there are issues of power and exclusion. On the other, society is now becoming so divided that in some poor areas people are being raised without developing the character and attitudes they need to survive. They are emerging without basic manners and skills. One former Downing Street adviser says that it remains hard to have an honest conversation about this. Labour doesn’t want to look too closely at behaviour and character. The Tories, on the other hand, don’t want to confront the realities of structural privilege.

That seemed ominously true last week when David Cameron praised social mobility while confirming that he will not aim to close the income gap between the richest and the poorest. He didn’t acknowledge that the second would make the first far more difficult. In the same way, while the Tories’ Centre for Social Justice has produced some impressive and convincing analyses of what keeps people poor, class is not one of the factors mentioned. A spokesman told me that class was no longer one of the things that held people back. Society was more fluid, and to think otherwise was backward and sterile.

This is so far from the truth that it leaves one with no hope that the Tories will be any more effective at securing social mobility than Labour has been.

The depth of the divisions, and the difficulties of bridging them, were made clear to me by a man who has journeyed from a northern council estate to a blue-chip company via Cambridge. He wrote to me that it had been a grinding, exhausting climb, and yet he was still not fully accepted. “I’ve never had the ease which comes from knowing that there are family connections, or land, or money to fall back on. And that lack of ease will prevent me from getting to the board in my company, because that gracious ease can’t quite be learnt, even though I’ve observed all the rules, changed the accent, it’s still not enough. Larkin wrote about his inability to ‘climb clear of ... wrong beginnings’, and that’s as true in 2009 as it was 50 years ago.”

Social mobility matters because it is the small gesture we make towards fairness. If it is to get any easier, politicians must be more honest about what’s needed to move from one class to another, and they have to create pathways to achieve it. Without that, their constant talk of aspiration will be meaningless, because all we’ll be left with is the entrenchment of privilege.


Do federal education dollars work?

President Obama is not happy about Texas refusing his Race to the Top money, but I say let's give a languid, scholarly cheer for Gov. Rick Perry (R) and his decision to miss the chance at hundreds of millions of dollars in federal education aid. Texas has, in effect, designated itself a big control group in an interesting test of this haunting question---does increased federal spending make schools better?

The president didn't mention this in his speech at a Fairfax County elementary school today, although his announced plan to add another $1.35 billion to his fund for states and school districts making changes he approves of will just give this scientific exercise another boost. Some districts and states will get the money. Some won't. Which will look better in four or five years?

Policy makers and pundits have been arguing about this for decades. Big federal spending for schools began in the 1960s with Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. That money went to schools with lots of low income kids. It does not seem to have done much good, although you could argue that those schools would have been even worse without the federal dollars.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act signed in 2002, the Bush administration and the Democratic-led Congress raised federal school spending to new heights. That seemed to correlate with modest increases in student achievement, but nothing impressive enough to convince the doubters.

Some people argue that finding the right school leaders and training the best teachers works better than spending more money on schools, although surely such extra efforts take more money. Some say there are plenty of examples of more spending producing better schools, and less spending producing poorer ones. My home state, California, is often cited as an example of a place that lost its educational edge when it started to have severe budget problems.

There are many ways to interpret the data. But now we are going to have a lot more of it, with many politicians using it for their own purposes. Okay, that's fine, but I hope the many bright economists who have immersed themselves in education research will keep an eye on Texas, and see how its schools do when compared to those of similar circumstances in states that take the president's money.

There might be a Nobel prize in it for somebody, if they crunch the numbers right. Just settling the argument would be enough for me.


It isn't elitist to insist on teachers who can spell

Britain's conservative Party wants to upgrade teaching standards. They've got an uphill battle ahead. To have any chance of success, they would have to fix school discipline first. You have to be desperate to take a teaching job in a British State school these days -- and "desperate" usually means "dumb"

A teaching assistant I know finds herself in an embarrassing dilemma. She really likes the young teacher she works with, but every time the teacher writes on the board, she winces. The teacher's spelling and grammar are dodgy to say the least. For instance, this recent graduate, working in a decent comprehensive, thinks 'theirs' has an apostrophe. 'I don't know whether to point out her mistakes,' the teaching assistant Diane says, 'because I worry she'll get upset. But the children are seeing really poor English and they think that it's OK because the teacher does it.'

David Cameron is in the same fix as Diane. The Tory leader says he wants to make teaching a noble profession that is, once again, capable of attracting the best brains. Dave has already upset certain commentators by promising a future Tory government will pay off the student loans of top maths and science graduates to entice them to teach. It will also refuse to fund training for those who get a third-class degree.

Oooh, snobbery! Elitism! Listen to the predictable howls of outrage from the snarling guard dogs of our education system. An education system so desperately far from elitist that British teenagers have plummeted down the international league table, dropping from eighth to 24th in maths, behind countries where they still write with sticks in the mud.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development reports that science students in the UK are 'handicapped by a lack of well-qualified teachers'.

How dare people criticise any politician for trying to raise the bar? Believe me, these days it's a remarkable achievement to get a third-class degree. Being bad will no longer suffice. You have to be bloody awful. Merely writing your name on a dumbed-down exam paper will get you a third. Anyone who gets a third from a British university today is either too lazy or too thick to teach hamsters, let alone humans.

It is not elitist to suggest that children would be better off without a teacher who has not managed to distinguish himself in Deckchair Management at the University of Billericay. Private schools would never employ such a dunce; why should state schools, where the needs of children are far greater?

Gordon Brown talks grandly about an Age of Aspiration. Sorry, Gordon, but in order to aspire, children first need to come into contact with teachers who have been to the best universities and studied the most rigorous subjects: Teachers who know the difference between 'their' and 'there'. Teachers who can show children from poorer backgrounds not just how to learn, but how to live.

When I was 16, my English teacher, Linda Richardson, squeezed some of us into her green Deux Chevaux and drove several hundred miles to Stratford-upon-Avon to introduce us to this bloke called Shakespeare.

Thirty years later, it's still as fresh as paint in my memory. Seeing Judi Dench on stage was fantastic, but something even more dramatic was happening inside me. Suffice to say, I wouldn't be doing this job if a brilliant English graduate had not dedicated her life to educating her ignorant young charges in the fullest sense.

Tragically, there are precious few Lindas in our classrooms today. If you were that good and that able, why would you want a job where some gobby little horror can call you a stupid bitch without fear of reprisal?

Every year, thousands of talented teachers quit. They give up their dream of nourishing children with the best that has been thought and said, because our idiot Government insists they have to dole out reheated nuggets from the McCurriculum. That's not a profession, it's a battery farm.

When I did teacher training, I had a romantic notion I would send a class into raptures with W.B. Yeats's beautiful sonnet, An Irish Airman Foresees His Death. Within a few weeks, it became clear that the only poem I'd be reciting is An English Teacher Foresees Her Nervous Breakdown.

Obviously, you don't have to be a genius to teach. Some of the biggest brains can't communicate for toffee. Nonetheless, David Cameron is absolutely right. Shiny new buildings, greater parental involvement, smaller classes; none of these can make the schooling of our children world class. It's the teachers, stupid.

Can you believe that England's primary teachers need only C grades in GCSE Maths and English to be admitted onto a teacher-training course? If you can only get a C in Maths, how on earth are you qualified to prepare a pupil who is capable of getting an A?

David Cameron most certainly gets my vote in the epic battle ahead to turn teaching back into the intelligent, creative, noble profession it deserves and needs to be. You've got your work cut out, Dave.

Recently, a couple of very bright students on the Teach First programme (the innovative scheme that pays top graduates to join schools in poor areas) reported back to their tutor at Cambridge on their experiences in inner-London schools. The tutor told me the students had been shocked by the appalling ignorance, dreadful English and bolshy behaviour.

They weren't talking about the kids. It was the teachers.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Professor Is a Label That Leans to the Left

There is much that is reasonable in the NYT article below but it ignores the numerous reports from conservative academics of the discriminatory treatment that they have received in their workplaces. My own experience is typical. Probably because I was an obvious high-flyer from the beginning, I was APPOINTED (at age 27) with tenure. I didn't have to wait for tenure. So when they found out that I was a conservative, they could not kick me out. But they COULD block my promotion. And they did. Although I was in some years getting as much published in the journals as the whole of the rest of the Department put together, I only ever managed to get one step up the ladder. With the amount I was getting published, I should have FLOWN up the ladder.

Another thing the article below ignores is that the unrealistic ideas of Leftists make them unsuitable for work in business. My realistic conservative ideas meant that I did well in both business and academe but the only Leftist I know who went into business eventually went broke. Academe is a refuge for dreamers who couldn't make it elsewhere. I look at the issues concerned in greater detail here

The overwhelmingly liberal tilt of university professors has been explained by everything from outright bias to higher I.Q. scores. Now new research suggests that critics may have been asking the wrong question. Instead of looking at why most professors are liberal, they should ask why so many liberals — and so few conservatives — want to be professors.

A pair of sociologists think they may have an answer: typecasting. Conjure up the classic image of a humanities or social sciences professor, the fields where the imbalance is greatest: tweed jacket, pipe, nerdy, longwinded, secular — and liberal. Even though that may be an outdated stereotype, it influences younger people’s ideas about what they want to be when they grow up.

Jobs can be typecast in different ways, said Neil Gross and Ethan Fosse, who undertook the study. For instance, less than 6 percent of nurses today are men. Discrimination against male candidates may be a factor, but the primary reason for the disparity is that most people consider nursing to be a woman’s career, Mr. Gross said. That means not many men aspire to become nurses in the first place — a point made in the recent Lee Daniels film “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire.” When John (Lenny Kravitz) asks the 16-year-old Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) and her friends whether they’ve ever seen a male nurse before, all answer no amid giddy laughter.

Nursing is what sociologists call “gender typed.” Mr. Gross said that “professors and a number of other fields are politically typed.” Journalism, art, fashion, social work and therapy are dominated by liberals; while law enforcement, farming, dentistry, medicine and the military attract more conservatives. “These types of occupational reputations affect people’s career aspirations,” he added in a telephone interview from his office at the University of British Columbia. Mr. Fosse, his co-author, is a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard.

The academic profession “has acquired such a strong reputation for liberalism and secularism that over the last 35 years few politically or religiously conservative students, but many liberal and secular ones, have formed the aspiration to become professors,” they write in the paper, “Why Are Professors Liberal?” That is especially true of their own field, sociology, which has become associated with “the study of race, class and gender inequality — a set of concerns especially important to liberals.”

What distinguishes Mr. Gross and Mr. Fosse’s research from so much of the hubbub that surrounds this subject is their methodology. Whereas most arguments have primarily relied on anecdotes, this is one of the only studies to use data from the General Social Survey of opinions and social behaviors and compare professors with the rest of Americans.

Mr. Gross and Mr. Fosse linked those empirical results to the broader question of why some occupations — just like ethnic groups or religions — have a clear political hue. Using an econometric technique, they were then able to test which of the theories frequently bandied about were supported by evidence and which were not. Intentional discrimination, one of the most frequent and volatile charges made by conservatives, turned out not to play a significant role.

To understand how a field gets typecast, one has to look at its history. From the early 1950s William F. Buckley Jr. and other founders of the modern conservative movement railed against academia’s liberal bias. Buckley even published a regular column, “From the Academy,” in the magazine he founded, The National Review. “Conservatives weren’t just expressing outrage,” Mr. Gross said, “they were also trying to build a conservative identity.” They defined themselves in opposition to the New Deal liberals who occupied the establishment’s precincts. Hence Buckley’s quip in the early 1960s: “I’d rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.” In the 1960s college campuses, swelled by the large baby-boom generation, became a staging ground for radical leftist social and political movements, further moving the academy away from conservatism.

Typecasting, of course, is not the only cause for the liberal tilt. The characteristics that define one’s political orientation are also at the fore of certain jobs, the sociologists reported. Nearly half of the political lopsidedness in academia can be traced to four characteristics that liberals in general, and professors in particular, share: advanced degrees; a nonconservative religious theology (which includes liberal Protestants and Jews, and the nonreligious); an expressed tolerance for controversial ideas; and a disparity between education and income.

The mismatch between schooling and salary complements a theory that the Harvard professor Louis Menand raises in his new book “The Marketplace of Ideas.” He argues that the way higher education was structured by progressive reformers in the late 19th century is partly responsible for the political uniformity of today. In the view of the early reformers, the only way to ensure that quality, rather than profit, would be rewarded was to protect the profession from outside competition. The tradeoff for lower salaries was control; professors decide who gets to enter their profession and who doesn’t.

The tendency of people in any institution or organization to try to fit in also reinforces the political one-sidedness. In “The Politically Correct University: Problems, Scope and Reforms,” a collection of essays published by the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research group, Daniel B. Klein, an economist at George Mason University in Virginia, and Charlotta Stern, a sociologist at Stockholm University, argue that when it comes to hiring, “the majority will tend to support candidates like them in the matter of fundamental beliefs, values and commitments.”

Other contributors to the book, Matthew Woessner and April Kelly-Woessner, who are husband and wife, also found that conservatives are less interested in pursuing advanced degrees than liberals.

Mr. Gross and Mr. Fosse have not yet published their results, but experts in the field have vetted their research and methods. Michèle Lamont, a Harvard professor and the author of “How Professors Think,” said, “I think their paper is very, very sophisticated and quite original.” She added that the theory better fits some disciplines, like literature and sociology, than others, like business or economics.

Mitchell L. Stevens, a professor of education at Stanford University, who also reviewed the research, finds the theory promising. Choosing an occupation is part of fashioning an identity, Mr. Stevens said, noting that people think of themselves as a “corporate type” or a free spirit, which is why you might find highly educated graduates working as bartenders instead of in an office. He added that the gender-typing of a field like physics might also partly explain the dearth of women in it, another subject that has provoked heated disputes.

To Mr. Gross, accusations by conservatives of bias and student brainwashing are self-defeating. “The irony is that the more conservatives complain about academia’s liberalism,” he said, “the more likely it’s going to remain a bastion of liberalism.”


British schools still held back by Leftist dogma

Vouchers recommended by his own advisers but for the hard-Left heart of Britain's Prime Minister that is a step too far. His faith in his crappy and ever-worsening government schools is immovable

We are all middle class now, as John Prescott said before the 1997 election. It was the new Labour mantra, a symbolic statement that the party had moved beyond its working-class base. Tony Blair wooed Worcester Woman and Boden Man, from the daytime TV sofa, with his sun-dried tomato pasta recipe, his people carrier and his promise to promote aspiration. “The class war is over,” he told voters and his party, with a Hugh Grantish smile that sent Middle England into a swoon.

Now, sitting at the knee of Lord Mandelson — champion of the filthy rich and lover of Britain’s finest stately homes — Gordon Brown has turned his back on years of Eton-bashing, Bullingdon-baiting and unspoken disapproval of the conservatory-building classes. In a speech to the Fabian Society conference on Saturday, he declared his allegiance to the “squeezed middle”, on whom his future depends. “My predecessor and friend Tony Blair said that we had campaigned as new Labour and would govern as new Labour,” he said. “Let me say to you today, we have governed as new Labour and now we will campaign as new Labour.” ...

The real test is not rhetorical flourishes, but the policy reality. Yesterday, the Government issued its response to Alan Milburn’s report on social mobility. The former Health Secretary’s analysis, Fair Access to the Professions, is a manifesto for promoting aspiration from the Billy Elliot of politics who started out in a northern mining village and ended up in the Cabinet. Mr Brown accepted 83 of the 88 recommendations, including plans to promote internships for poor children, encourage universities to accept more state school pupils and to create army cadet forces in comprehensives. But he rejected the one proposal that could really break down social divisions by shaking up the education system.

Mr Milburn’s most radical idea was that parents with children at a failing school should be able to remove their offspring and get a voucher for 150 per cent of the cost of a pupil’s education, which could be used at another school. Parents would have more choice, and schools get a financial incentive to take extra pupils, creating a virtuous circle, he argued, that would create a market and improve standards across the board. This would be a far more effective way than the creation of a social mobility commission to level the playing field (of Eton, or anywhere else). But it was a step too far for Mr Brown and Ed Balls, his Schools Secretary, who want local education authorities to keep control of admissions. Their view is that this is the way to ensure equality — but is the current system really fair?

It is scandalous, more than a decade after Mr Blair said that “education, education, education” was Labour’s priority, that last year more boys from Eton gained three As at A level than all boys on free school meals in state schools. Despite all the money poured into education, too many children still do not get the results they need to have the chances in life that they deserve. According to Lord Patten of Barnes, the Chancellor of Oxford University, leading universities want to widen their intake but some applicants just don’t make the grade and “we shouldn’t have to pay for the inadequacies of state schools”.

In 1997, Lord Adonis, now the Transport Secretary, wrote a book, A Class Act, in which he argued that “the comprehensive revolution has not removed the link between education and class but strengthened it”, creating “apartheid” between state and private schools.

It was, he said, a “tragic irony” that “comprehensive schools have largely replaced selection by ability with selection by class and house price”. Of course, there are some brilliant exceptions, and primary schools have greatly improved, but in too many areas the analysis still holds true. “If you really want to increase social mobility, you have to sort the schools out,” a Blairite minister admits. “And that means challenging the assumptions of the Left.”

There is no more direct route to middle-class hearts than education. If Mr Brown wants to end social division while appealing to the squeezed middle, he should be braver about school reform. Otherwise he will find this centre-ground territory seized from him by David Cameron.


The problem of internet plagiarism

As one who has been fighting in the trenches of education for a while now, I'm here to warn you, there is no hope for the next generation. It's not that they are not smart, or talented, or able to reroute the school's internet filter with a mere flick of the mouse. It's just that they have no ideas of their own.

I'm sure they could have their own ideas if they would just bother to use that squidgy piece of grey matter found bouncing around under their greasy yet immaculately coiffed hair, but they don't. The problem is that there is an amazing fountain of knowledge in their lives. A box of never-ending ideas and already written eloquent pieces. A screen that displays such tempting messages as "Free Essays" and "Great Stories'' you can access with a click of a well-used mouse. After all, why would you bother to do your own homework when you can just cut and paste it and get on with your all important tweeting?

Plagiarising from the web has reached epic proportions. Despite the warning that I will be checking all assignments for plagiarism, the first assignment that students do always unearths plagiarists. In one class the rate was one in four assignments taken straight from the net. Of course, there are consequences, rewrites and punishments. But what infuriates me is the attitude that stealing ideas is acceptable. Where is the moral backbone of these children? Have too many episodes of Gossip Girl led to a belief that life should be more about partying and potential partners and less about actually achieving something themselves?

The moment that really makes me incandescent with rage is when I hand a plagiarised assignment back to a child, complete with a copy of the website where I found their work. Quite a few students will argue in a condescending tone "Well that's not the website I got this from." And quite probably it's not. Because the internet itself is full of plagiarism. One book or movie review will be copied and pasted onto a dozen other sites. Productions of plays will steal their synopsis from academic sites. Bloggers and forums will quote each other and cut and paste the words of others to answer questions. If this box is their bible, do we really have a hope?

My only consolation is that I've seen a much smarter breed of student come through in the past few years. Showing initiative and intelligence, students are submitting something that wasn't found on any single website. The little devils have figured out that if you plagiarise from multiple sites it's much harder to spot.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Finnish education system

Britain's conservatives think it is a good model but would it work with large and disruptive "minority" populations dragging down the standards of government schools? The Conservatives are being Pollyannas

The success story of Finland’s schools has one overarching lesson for policymakers in Britain. It is that sustaining high standards requires stability and, eventually, consensus.

Since Finland embarked on its education reforms in 1967, it began with tight state controls over the school curriculum, but it has gradually ceded power to local authorities, schools and teachers.

But parallels with schools in Britain can be taken only so far. Finland is a tiny country of 5.3 million people, and beyond Helsinki, sparsely populated: good local schools are a practical necessity in rural areas, as are its free school meals. Strict controls on immigration mean that it is a much more homogeneous society, with fewer of the pressures faced by inner-city schools in Britain.

Finland, sometimes described as a “middle-class society”, also has fewer disparities in wealth, making comprehensive schools a simpler concept. Parents in Finland look puzzled when asked whether they considered private education.

Nevertheless, Finland’s reforms are remarkable. Fears that it lacked a sufficiently skilled workforce prompted the abandonment of a two-tier school system in the late 1960s. Lower-attaining children were given a more demanding education; some parents and politicians protested this was at a cost of lowering academic standards for brighter pupils. In 1985 came an even bolder step with the scrapping of streaming for under-16s was scrapped, creating a pure comprehensive model.

Some caution may be advisable when considering Finland’s stellar performances in OECD tables of educational performance, however. Finnish is a phonetic language, making reading — and arguably learning — simpler. And while Britain and Finland spend a similar proportion of GDP on education — 5.9 and 5.8 per cent respectively — Finland spends much more on those aged 12-15: $9,241 (£5,660) per pupil, compared with $8,868 in Britain. This is the group whose performance is measured in OECD tests, but evidence suggests that all ages have benefited.

Finland offers a second lesson, too, which is particularly apt for England. Central government prescription, national school inspections, tests and league tables are not the sole means to safeguard quality. Finland has prospered by taking a different path.


Class prejudice to be enshrined in Britain

Leftists usually say that it is wrong to discriminate against people just because of whom they are. So why is it bad to discriminate against Muslims, blacks and homosexuals but OK to discriminate against middle-class whites?

Middle-class students will have to pay more in tuition fees and win higher grades than the less well-off to get into university. Ministers announced yesterday that they are backing plans for a 'radical reshaping' of the fees system, aimed at targeting resources at poorer students. Universities will also face demands to widen the social mix of their students by accepting lower grades from those from deprived homes.

The proposals - buried in a Labour blueprint on social mobility - last night drew a furious response from the Conservatives and independent schools, who branded the scheme a 'travesty'. They claimed the measures sit uneasily with Gordon Brown's attempts to move away from Labour's 'core vote' election strategy and pose as a friend to the middle classes.

The Tories also pointed out that Labour had failed to close the gap between rich and poor students despite being in power for almost 13 years.

But the Prime Minister and Business Secretary Lord Mandelson insisted the plans would 'unleash aspiration' and allow those from poor backgrounds to get into top jobs. The blueprint comes after a report on social mobility, published last year by former health secretary Alan Milburn, called for an end to the middle classes' dominance of the professions.

Mr Brown said while society was 'already fairer': 'We can't be a truly aspirational society if some people are still denied the chance to get on. Although we have raised the glass ceiling, we have yet to break it.'

But the prospect of higher tuition fees will horrify students, already facing average debts of more than £20,000 to fund a three-year degree.

Ministers are to accept in full Mr Milburn's recommendation that higher fees for some could 'provide higher levels of financial support for students who need it most'. But with no extra funding available, it means that middle-class students are likely to be charged more to fund bursaries for the less well-off.

Universities would also be encouraged to accept lower grades from poor pupils. Lord Mandelson has suggested elite universities such as Oxford and Cambridge would be made - possibly through financial incentives - to set targets to widen the social mix of students.

Yesterday's report was unveiled at St George's Medical School in London, which has been praised for increasing its proportion of state school students from 48 per cent in 1997 to 71.2 per cent last year. Its standard offer of three As can be dropped as low as two Bs and a C if candidates outperform others at their school and can demonstrate aptitude.

Although the report said universities were free to set their own admissions policies, it warned it was 'in every university's best interests to attract students with potential'.

The plans drew an angry reaction last night. David Hanson, of the Independent Association of Prep Schools, said: 'We should be asking why state schools cannot deliver the high standards of education we see from independent schools. 'It would be a political and economic travesty if we turn our backs on meritocracy and it is outrageous to jeopardise the future success of the UK because politicians won't admit the education system they have such a strong hand in is failing to deliver.'

Other measures in the report include moves to make the professions subsidise work experience and internships for those from poorer backgrounds.

Ministers will also use the new Equality Bill to allow the civil service and local authorities to discriminate against middle-class job applicants.

David Cameron sought to hit back against 'class war' attacks on his party yesterday by unveiling plans to make 'good education the right of the many and not the privilege of a few' by allowing parents, businesses and charities to run their own schools using state funding.

David Willetts, Tory universities spokesman, said: 'The poorest and most fragile families have fallen further behind. 'Ministers claim they are concerned about mobility but after 13 years they are still only dealing with the symptoms.'


NY: Pols’ plan blasted as a charter killer

Assembly leaders are set to cut off new efforts to set up charter schools in New York with an onerous plan to give the Legislature total control over where they're set up and how they're run that could cost the state $700 million in federal money, charter-school proponents say. Facing a deadline Tuesday to grab a chunk of the Obama administration's "Race to the Top" educational-aid program, an Assembly draft of the bill obtained by The Post plays power politics by handing legislators greater control of the system.

The Legislature's instrument of control would be the state Board of Regents, whose members are picked by leaders of the Assembly and Senate. The system is now jointly overseen by the Regents and State University trustees, who are largely controlled by the governor. The Assembly plan would also eliminate local influence over how charter schools are run.

"If anything close to this bill would pass, it would guarantee the end of the charter-school movement as we know it," said Peter Murphy, policy director for the New York Charter Schools Association. "The whole point was to have the community, the parents, pick. Now the Regents will handpick where they want a school. "Clearly, this is a bill to stop charter schools in their tracks and all but guarantee that New York state doesn't get a dime" from the Race to the Top program," Murphy said. "I think this reflects the teachers unions' interest."

Teachers unions have long been wary of the state's charter push, fearing the schools, very few of which are unionized, would diminish their own influence. The AFL-CIO has been using its muscle in Albany to thwart efforts to expand the number of charter schools. United Federation of Teachers spokesman Dick Riley declined to comment on the draft, saying he had not seen a copy of it.

Murphy and other charter-school proponents say the draft shows how Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and his Democratic majority are backing the unions and tossing a wrench into efforts to get more federal funding for the schools. But Silver spokesman Dan Weiller said the draft obtained by The Post is not the last word, and that the bill could be revised significantly. The draft does not "reflect the Assembly's position, because there have been subsequent drafts," Weiller said. The subsequent drafts have not been released.

The Senate and Assembly were negotiating last night on a combined draft bill that was expected to be introduced before midnight. But a spokesman for Senate President Malcom Smith, Austin Shafran, couldn't say early this morning if the joint bill had been introduced.

Weiller said that New York won't miss out on the federal money if Silver has his way. "Speaker Silver will take whatever steps are required to ensure that the state qualifies for the Race to the Top funding," he said.

In order to boost the chances that New York will be one of the six states selected for a piece of the $4.35 billion federal school-funding windfall, the state needs to pass a law greatly boosting the number of charter schools. As required to get its $700 million cut of the cash, the bill increases the number of schools to 400 -- a compromise between Silver's wish to have 350 schools and Paterson's to have 460. But the more crucial issue to proponents is who oversees the establishment and operation of the schools -- and what rules schools must follow.

The state's current system in which oversight of the schools is shared between SUNY trustees and the Regents has worked well and is hailed as a "national model," charter advocates say. But the Assembly proposal would nix that system -- and also eliminate city Schools Chancellor Joel Klein's ability to endorse school applications.

Murphy said eliminating city government's role in the school-establishment process would be devastating. "It's very top down," he said. "It takes away from the grass-roots communities and turns it on its head." The Assembly proposal is "a step backward if it eliminates the ability of the State University of New York and the New York City chancellor to approve and monitor charter schools," said Greg Richmond, head of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. "The Legislature is moving the state in the wrong direction."

Classroom rules

In addition to doubling the number of charter schools to 400, the Assembly's proposed bill would:

* Consolidate control with the state Board of Regents, which is appointed by the Legislature. The Regents and the SUNY Board of Trustees currently share oversight of charter schools.

* Nix Schools Chancellor Joel Klein's authority to recommend new schools for authorization.

* Require schools to meet "rigorous" enrollment and retention targets, including serving more students with disabilities, with difficulty speaking English, or who come from poor households.

* Force new schools to comply with more stringent state education building codes.

* Require charter schools looking to move into occupied public-school buildings to get prior approval from parents of students in those buildings.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Britain to discourage university study among those best qualified for it

It will have a disastrous effect on standards if only dummies and the very rich can afford to go to university

STUDENTS from middle-class families may be denied grants and cheap loans and be charged higher tuition fees under a “double whammy” to be considered by a government review of university funding. It could add nearly £7,000 a year to the cost of university for a student from a family with an income of £50,000 a year. The higher charges are being advocated after Lord Mandelson, the first secretary of state, announced £950m of cuts to higher education. Costs are expected to increase, whoever wins the general election.

Lord Browne, the chairman of the government review, has the task of producing more money for universities without extra cost to the taxpayer and is expected to look favourably on cuts to what critics claim are middle-class subsidies. The Conservatives are also expected to favour cutting grants and loans for those on higher incomes after George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, said last week that the party would slash benefits for the better-off to tackle the public-sector deficit.

In addition, Browne, who will report after the election, has come under pressure to recommend raising annual tuition fees to at least £5,000 from the present ceiling of £3,225. Critics of the grants and loans system — which subsidises students on family incomes of up to £60,000 — believe some of the money should go to poorer students and some to university coffers to help recoup the Mandelson cuts.

Browne’s recommendations on grants and loans will have as much importance for family finances as increases in fees — more than half the average £23,000 student debt derives from living costs, and accommodation fees are rising at an estimated 10% a year. “That is the issue — that in the design of the student loans system, whether we lost sight of directing it at those families that were most in need,” said Paul Wellings, vice-chancellor of Lancaster University and chairman of the 1994 Group of research institutions. “The subsidy falls virtually on everybody rather than being directed to the very poorest families.”

Steve Smith, president of Universities UK, added: “[Universities] get what is left after students receive their support. “Pulling back support to those on higher incomes is an obvious area [to recoup money]. The current arrangements are a major subsidy to the middle class as it comes out of taxpayers’ receipts.”

The strongest opposition to cutting grants and loans has come from the Million+ group of new universities, which believes they should instead be extended to part-time students. Only those on full-time courses are currently covered.

Browne will also consider plans to claw more money back by ending subsidised interest rates, which reduce the amount graduates have to pay back. The taxpayer loses one third of all the money given out in student loans because of subsidised interest rates. This proposal will be presented to Browne by Professor Nicholas Barr of the London School of Economics, who designed the present funding system. Barr also supports restricting grants to families on incomes of less than about £25,000.

Much of the crisis in university funding was caused when Gordon Brown came to power in 2007 and increased the entitlements to student support of families on middle incomes. All students are entitled to loans to cover tuition fees. In addition, those on family incomes of £25,000 may now claim grants for living costs of £2,906 and loans of £3,497. Even those on incomes of £50,020-£60,000 are entitled to loans of at least £3,564 a year. These costs are now seen as increasingly unaffordable, taking 28% of all higher education funding.

However, Smith warned that the government should not rely on changes to grants, loans and fees to fill the gap caused by the slashing of higher education funding. “They think they can make the spending cuts because Lord Browne will come up with an answer,” said Smith. “I am not clear that he will.”

Pam Tatlow, the chief executive of Million+, said: “Students and the fees review cannot be expected to square the circle of spending cuts either through reductions in student support or increases in fees.”


Some hopeful changes in Michigan

And change is sure needed there

A one time federal government payout has paved the way for sweeping changes in public education. Governor Jennifer Granholm signed legislation Jan. 3 that puts Michigan in competition with other states for $400 million in federal recovery funds through the Obama Administration’s Race to The Top initiative. The education reform bill will address several issues, most related to improving academics in low-performing schools.

The legislation raises the dropout age from 16 to 18; allows the state to “intervene” in the lowest performing schools: permits the opening of “high-quality” charter schools and the closing of “low-performing” charter schools; creates alternative paths to teacher certification; and requires an annual evaluation of teachers and administrators using data on student progress.

The legislation also allows a statewide academic manager to oversee low performance schools, as appointed by the state Superintendent of Education.

President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the $4.35 billion Race to the Top initiative in July. The plan directs federal stimulus money to states predicated on their pursuit of specific education reform programs. Race to the Top funds aren’t guaranteed but education reform is. In a gamble to receive federal money, states have instituted massive policy changes in many states including Michigan.

According to the Michigan State Department of Education, individual school districts would receive Race to the Top funds based on how many students in that district qualify for free or reduced lunches through the federal Title 1 program.

Detroit Public Schools stands to receive about $70 million if Michigan is one of the states chosen. The next highest recipient would be the Dearborn School District at $4.2 million. Over 700 school districts have endorsed the state’s run for the Race to the Top monies, which hinges partly on district participation. Several districts in Oakland County, who stand to gain the least financially, have refused to sign on to the legislation. Officials said they didn’t want their teachers teaching to the test and the believe many of the reforms would keep the district from attracting the best teaching talent.

Michigan Representative Tim Melton, Chair of the House Education Committee and a key sponsor of the education legislation, says that the Jan. 19 deadline to apply for the Race to the Top initiative expedited the process. But Melton adds that parts of the reform have been in discussion for years. Political observers say Race to the Top reform could have been Republican reform in the 1990s. “These are schools from across the state that have had problems for decades,” Melton told the Michigan Citizen. “I contend that these reforms should have been passed, with or without the Race to the Top.”

He says that education reform legislation will continue to concentrate on low performance statewide, including charter schools, and is not designed to focus on any particular district. The federal program will define “low-performing” schools. “If you’re a failing school, you are all going to be treated equally,” says Melton.

Representative Bert Johnson, another sponsor of the education bill, agrees that the effort to improve schools far outweighed the financial benefits provided by the federal stimulus package. “We didn’t pass these reforms for Race to the Top,” Johnson told the Michigan Citizen. “The money doesn’t matter—the $70 million isn’t a panacea for anything.”

Johnson says the legislation allows for charter school accountability. It allows for ten schools of excellence to be introduced over five years in areas where failing schools are located. Other states have lifted the cap on charter schools completely. “We made charter schools more accountable,” says Johnson. “Charters must adhere to all the stipulations as public schools—everyone on an equal playing field.”

His bill also includes community review teams, comprised of staff, parents and community activists, that will develop solutions. “The problems will be solved on a school-to-school basis,” Johnson says.

But Gary Miron, education professor at Western Michigan University and one of the nation’s leading researchers on charter school reform, worries that the charter school component of the legislation opens the door to increased private management of Michigan schools and its academic profile. He says that other states have used Race to the Top receipts to fund private education management companies. “We should be learning from what’s happening on Wall Street,” Miron told the Michigan Citizen. “Are we putting ourselves in the position of just throwing money at these companies with unproven track records?”

Miron is releasing another charter school report next month which shows the increasing lack of diversity in charter schools across the nation and their exclusion of students with special needs. Miron also warns about the danger of allowing the charter system to compete with public schools in the race to reform education and woo federal resources. “We’ll have two failing systems splitting limited resources,” Miron continues. “If there is corruption in public schools we at least can perform an open examination, whereas private companies are less prone to open their books.”


Australia: "Groundbreaking" study rediscovers the link between social class and IQ

Someone should tell Charles Murray

MORE than half of Adelaide's Year 7 students who score below-average numeracy results live in low socioeconomic suburbs, a groundbreaking report reveals. Commissioned by the Education Department, the study is the first of its kind to detail the gap in outcomes for students in disadvantaged areas and finds the "most marked" shortfall in remote areas of the state.

It finds 177 of the 318 metropolitan Year 7 students with below-average numeracy scores are from the northern region. This compares with only 12 in the eastern region, 44 in the west and 85 in the south. Report co-author John Glover said the study, which used 2008 national literacy and numeracy data, revealed "big challenges to the public education system". He said the report demonstrated "hard cold facts" children in low socioeconomic areas had the "lowest education outcomes and poorest achievement".

SA Council of Social Services executive director Ross Womersley said socioeconomic status was linked to poor educational performance, but the issue was "much more complicated". He said the poor education of some parents and their inability to aid their children's development also played a role. "Low income does correlate, at least in some part, with people having poor educational outcomes," Mr Womersley said. "There are still people within that survey group and areas of the state where there would be people on quite low incomes who are managing one way or another to help their children get reasonable educational outcomes."

The report Understanding Educational Opportunities and Outcomes is a project between the University of Adelaide's Public Health Information Development Unit and The Smith Family. It has found that disadvantaged suburbs where students failed in literacy and numeracy included Elizabeth, Onkaparinga, Port Adelaide, Port Augusta and the APY Lands. Peers in inner-city areas including Burnside, Unley and Walkerville fared much better.

Other findings show:

YEAR 7 students from the northern suburbs are almost five times more likely to fail numeracy tests than peers in eastern Adelaide.

STUDENTS in parts of country SA were three times more likely to achieve lower literacy levels than the national minimum standard in Years 3 and 5.

ABORIGINAL children have the poorest educational outcomes but participation in literacy and numeracy testing has reached nearly 80 per cent.

MORE than three times the amount of Year 3 children living in outer suburbs including Elizabeth, Salisbury, Onkaparinga and Hackham are reading at levels below the national minimum standard

COUNTRY children in Years 5 and 7 are more likely to have scores below the national minimum standard than those in the city.

Professor Glover said the report provided a "lesson for the Government". "Overcoming the differentials in educational outcomes for children living in the most disadvantaged and most well-off areas is clearly a government priority, but it will require new thinking and a greater effort to address these inequalities," he said. [It will require a new set of genes too!]

SA Primary Principals Association president Steve Portlock said experienced teachers should be placed at schools with a low socioeconomic status. "Those students should have the most experienced teachers and the most experienced leaders," he said.

Education Minister Jane Lomax-Smith said the study would be used to help plan for educational improvement in disadvantaged communities. "This important, nation-leading work will help to ensure that resources and early intervention are directed to members of our community who most need help," she said. "Our 20 children's centres and Innovative Community Action Networks school retention program, currently being expanded across the state, are examples of government programs that target need."

Opposition education spokesman David Pisoni said areas of social disadvantage were the "worst places" for the Government to build super schools. "Overseas experiences show super schools have been detrimental to education and behaviour outcomes of children," he said.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Head Start: A $150 Billion Failure

This is one of a long line of failure reports but the idea sounds good so it seems impossible to stop repeated funding for the program

President Obama and other supporters of increasing government spending on preschool have argued that “investments” on early childhood education yield big results later in life. As President Obama told an audience last March, “For every dollar we invest in these programs, we get nearly $10 back in reduced welfare rolls, fewer health care costs, and less crime.” The president and other preschool backers generally base these claims on impressive results from one or two small-scale preschool programs that existed decades ago and that have not been replicated since.

Unfortunately, a new (long overdue) report published by the Department of Health and Human Services found that the $150 billion that taxpayers have “invested” in Head Start since 1965 is yielding zero lasting benefits for participating children. According to the Head Start Impact Study: “the benefits of access to Head Start at age four are largely absent by 1st grade for the program population as a whole.” The Heritage Foundation reviews the findings of the new evaluation in a forthcoming Backgrounder report concluding: “Head Start has little to no effect on cognitive, socio-emotional, health, and parenting outcomes of children participating in the program.”

This rigorous evaluation was published months after the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation favored by the Obama administration that would create a new $8 billion preschool program. According to the GAO, there are currently 69 federal early education and child care programs. Taxpayers are currently spending at least $25 billion annually on these programs.

Given the devastating results of the national Head Start evaluation, taxpayers should demand that Congress and the Obama administration work to terminate, consolidate, or reform existing preschool programs before another dollar is “invested” in preschool.

President Obama has stated that his administration would, “use only one test when deciding what ideas to support with your precious tax dollars: It’s not whether an idea is liberal or conservative, but whether it works.” It’s time to apply that test to the failed Head Start program. Taxpayers and disadvantaged kids both deserve to get more return on investment from a preschool program that spends $8 billion annually (or $7,300 per child served).


Special privileges for Muslim schools in Britain

Double standards row as government refuses to ban spanking at mosque schools to avoid 'upsetting Muslim sensitivities'. Yet the Muslim schools are probably the ones most likely to inflict real child abuse

Schools Secretary Ed Balls has been accused of refusing to ban Islamic schools from smacking children for fear of upsetting Muslim 'sensitivities'. Mr Balls was last week urged to close a legal loophole which gives teachers in Britain's estimated 1,600 schools associated with mosques the right to smack children - even though it is banned in other schools. He refused, prompting claims that he is allowing an alleged 'culture of physical abuse' in some of the mosque schools - or madrasahs - go unchecked.

Smacking is banned in all State and private schools. However, it does not apply to madrasahs, where pupils usually study in the evenings or at weekends, because the ban exempts schools where children attend for less than 12.5 hours per week.

Lib Dem schools spokesman David Laws, who is spearheading the campaign to close the smacking loophole, said: 'The Government needs to legislate to protect children - not leave an opt-out simply because it fears some ethnic or religious backlash.' He was supported by Labour MP Ann Cryer, who said it would be 'bonkers' if the Government did not act. She said: 'I suspect people are frightened of upsetting the sensitivities of certain members of the Muslim faith.'

A report just over a year ago warned that madrasah students had been slapped, punched and had their ears twisted. Irfan Chishti, a former Government adviser on Islamic affairs, said that one madrasah student was 'picked up by one leg and spun around' while another pupil said a teacher was 'kicking in my head like a football'. In a separate report in 2006, leading British Muslim Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui raised fears that physical abuse in madrasahs was 'widespread'.

MPs have been told some of the alleged abuse of children in the Islamic schools may be the result of ignorance of laws on the treatment of children among Muslim parents and teachers.

Mrs Cryer, whose Keighley constituency in Yorkshire has a large ethnic community, claimed some of the children being illtreated in Islamic schools were those with special needs. She said she was alerted to the problem by a local schoolteacher-I had a lot of problems in a madrasah in my constituency,' said Mrs Cryer. 'They don't seem to have any understanding of special needs children. If a kid isn't learning their Koranic verses terribly well, they think it's because they are being naughty, not because they have an incapacity. 'It isn't always a question of just beating. They have a particular punishment called the "chicken position" where a child must squat on the floor until they get very uncomfortable.'

She denied she was biased against Islamic schools and said classes run by 'strange Christian sects' should also be covered by the smacking ban. The corporal punishment exemption also covers Sunday schools, home tutors and other people who are considered to be acting 'in loco parentis'. They can still smack children as long as the punishment is 'reasonable' - the same rule as applies to parents.

But experts suspect the real problems occur in madrasahs, although they believe it also an issue with some fundamentalist Christian Sunday schools.

Last night, Dr Siddiqui said the mistreatment of children was not restricted to Islamic schools and insisted that mosques had improved. Some had now introduced 'recognised child protection' policies, he said.

A spokesman for Mr Balls' department denied that his refusal to change the law was based on fears of upsetting Muslim opinion. 'We have no evidence the law is being abused or that children are being abused in these circumstances,' he said. He also claimed that if the Government banned madrasahs and Sunday schools from smacking children, it would then have to ban grandparents and other relatives from doing the same. [Why?]


Australia: Queensland Government backflips on foreign language studies

Learning a foreign language in late primary school seems a good idea to me. It will very rarely lead to fluency in the language concerned but it will lead to an understanding of how all languages -- including English -- work. The most beneficial language in that direction is of course Latin -- as both the grammar and vocabulary of English have been heavily influenced by Latin

THE State Government has backflipped on its controversial decision to drop the mandatory status on the teaching of foreign languages in all state schools following The Courier-Mail report this morning.

Acting Education Minister Stephen Robertson moved to separate the Bligh Government from the Education Department changes, stating the "optional" approach to foreign languages in Years 6, 7 and 8 was not Bligh Government policy and was not endorsed by cabinet.

"It is not in accordance with our commitment to providing all students with a world-class education - of which LOTE (Languages Other Than English) is a very important part - and this optional approach will not continue,” Mr Robertson said. An "urgent" review has now been ordered "to ensure schools meet the requirements of Government policy".

It comes after The Courier-Mail revealed the mandatory status of foreign languages had been dropped in Queensland, with the changes implemented state-wide last year. Education assistant-director general Yvana Jones said the status was dropped because a one-size fits all approach didn’t work in state schools, with research showing children were disengaging from LOTE and resources could be better targeted. About 298, or nearly one-quarter, of state schools chose not to teach either a language or intercultural investigations under the LOTE program last year, according to figures supplied by the Department.

Ms Jones said principals had to get the permission of their school community before they could drop a foreign language. The move attracted widespread criticism from experts and critics.