Saturday, March 06, 2010

RI: Teacher firings ripple past Central Falls’ border

Inside the front door to Central Falls High School, across the street from a boarded-up building, an archway is adorned with an unambiguous boast: “Through these halls pass the world’s best faculty and students.’’

It is a motto that rings false for the local school board, which recently voted to fire all of the school’s staff in a stunning move that made Central Falls a lightning rod in the polarizing debate over improving the country’s education system.

Even President Obama weighed in, holding up the Feb. 23 vote to fire all 93 teachers, administrators, and support staff as a painful but potentially necessary move.

“It was one thing when a rival town said something bad about your school,’’ said JoAnn Boss, a Spanish teacher at Central Falls High and a 1982 graduate. “But to have the president say something, it’s really been a crushing blow to the kids. It’s a devastating time for them.’’

The battle taking place in Rhode Island has resonated in Massachusetts, where state and local education leaders recently received legislative approval to take more drastic measures to improve schools, including forcing teachers to reapply for their jobs. Massachusetts officials are expected to release a list today of about three dozen underperforming schools.

Central Falls Superintendent Frances Gallo recommended the firings after teachers did not agree on issues of extra work and pay related to a state-mandated overhaul. “Somebody has to do this for the children,’’ said Gallo, who has led the district for three years. “Their voice was not heard, and now they’re all being hurt by it.’’

Teachers, however, have accused Gallo of intransigence and union-busting after the state demanded that the six worst-performing schools in Rhode Island, including Central Falls High, be overhauled. Faculty members will continue to teach for the rest of the school year and can reapply for their jobs, but no more than 50 percent can be rehired under state guidelines.

The teachers union offered a counterproposal Tuesday that moves toward Gallo’s conditions, including a longer workday. In response, Gallo has agreed to resume negotiations. However, the superintendent said last night, the decision to fire teachers will not change unless an agreement is reached.

In Central Falls, a largely Hispanic city north of Providence where 19,000 people are squeezed into 1.3 square miles, the mill work vanished long ago, only 48 percent of high schoolers graduate in four years, and more than a quarter of its families live below the poverty level. Only 7 percent of 11th graders reached proficiency in math.

Boarded-up tenements are common, the main park is marred by X-rated and other offensive graffiti, and many of the narrow, crowded streets in the state’s smallest and poorest city are riddled with potholes. But it’s also a place with an astonishing variety of ethnic influences, including restaurants with roots in Mexico, Cape Verde, Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic.....

To Gallo, who has been an educator for nearly 40 years, the students and not the time clock are the paramount consideration in a district that has been under state financial control since 1991. “When I came here, they asked me to begin a reform effort to change a failing system,’’ Gallo said. “Those who constantly settle for mediocrity or less - that’s the difficulty, and we must constantly strive for better.’’

Although poverty plays a role in poor performance, Gallo said, she separates what occurs in the “safe haven’’ of the classroom. “It’s about attitude from everyone, parents, children, teachers, custodians, everyone,’’ Gallo said. “I’ll never give up. It’s a we-can-make-it attitude. Isn’t that the old American dream? Put on your boots and get marching.’’

More here

Great Moments in Higher Education

"San Francisco high school students, just months out of middle school, can start earning San Francisco State college credit this fall through a ninth-grade ethnic studies course," reports the San Francisco Chronicle. Apparently this is not a joke:
The program is designed for students who might not otherwise be considering college as an option, said Jacob Perea, dean of the School of Education, who runs the Step to College program at San Francisco State.

"We're not really looking for the 4.4 (grade point average) students," he said. "We're looking for the 2.1 or 2.2 students."

Students cannot fail the class. They either receive a "pass" grade or are withdrawn from the course if it appears they cannot pass, Perea said.

"All we do is give them an opportunity," he said. "I do believe that (the ethnic studies) course is a course set up so the kids will come out of there with the kind of information that a freshman here taking an ethnic studies course will have."

The content of the courses offered in the Step to College program are reviewed by CSU faculty to ensure that they're equal to any offered at the university.

What does it tell you about the California State University system that its classes are equal to those offered high school freshmen?

On a more serious note, however, this may suggest a way out of California's budget mess: Why not abolish high schools, fire all their unionized teachers, and send kids straight from middle school to CSU?


California disqualified from receiving federal school funds

California was disqualified Thursday from receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in school reform funds when federal education leaders announced that 15 other states and Washington, D.C., are in the running for billions in federal grants. The money at stake is the first round of $4.35 billion that the Obama administration plans to give states to spur reforms. California officials plan to apply for a second round of funding but were unsure exactly how to improve their chances.

To make California a contender for the Race to the Top program, politicians rewrote laws, giving parents the ability to demand aggressive changes at struggling schools and allowing districts to link teacher evaluations to test scores.

The competition was set up to encourage states to take on reforms supported by the Obama administration. These included lifting caps on charter schools, using data to track the progress of students and teachers, and shutting down or replacing the staff at low-performing campuses.

Federal officials would not say why California or any other state fell short. But according to federal guidelines, California would have lost points because fewer than half of the state's school districts and unions agreed to a package of reforms signed into law in January.

Even though California could have received up to $700 million, some teachers union leaders sounded slightly relieved. They had opposed, for example, basing evaluations on standardized tests they say are flawed. "There wasn't a great deal of support," said Marty Hittelman, president of the California Federation of Teachers. "I won't say that I'm in sorrow of California losing it."

Others who had pushed hard for the legislation, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), expressed disappointment. "While the reforms we passed did move our state forward, they did not go far enough because other states were more competitive," Schwarzenegger said.

State officials had not planned exactly how to use the money, but California's exclusion is another financial blow in a state confronting a continuing multibillion-dollar budget crisis. School districts up and down the state are confronting teacher layoffs, increased class sizes and fewer electives; protests against budget cuts were held on campuses throughout the state Thursday.

The money would have particularly helped the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second-largest system. Because many other districts chose to sit out the competition, some analysts anticipated a share for L.A. Unified as large as $100 million. Those funds could not have been applied directly to the district's $640-million deficit -- the money had to be used for specific reform efforts -- but they would have helped significantly.

Several of the finalists lack collective bargaining rights for teachers, such as South Carolina and Louisiana. And in Kentucky, all school districts signed on. In a news briefing Thursday morning, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that states without collective bargaining rights for teachers were not given special treatment.

Applicants' ability to execute favored reforms carried weight, said officials close to the decision-making process who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

So a state such as Louisiana, which converted more than half of New Orleans' schools to charters in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, would presumably have an advantage. Louisiana is "doing so many of these things that Race to the Top is asking schools and school districts to do," said Paul Vallas, superintendent of the Recovery School District in New Orleans. "Our actions are speaking as loud as our words."

More here

Friday, March 05, 2010

Our New LGBTQIA Center

by Mike Adams

Last month, I heard some really bad news. It seems the State of North Carolina is about to lay off 3000 more employees in the midst of a massive budget shortfall. But that wasn’t the only bad news I got last month. I also got this email from a representative of our university’s new LGBTQIA Resource Center:
I just wanted to remind everyone about the showing of Milk tomorrow night. This will be the innaugral [sic] event for UNCW's LGBTQIA Resource Office, and also a fundraiser for Wilmington's Domestic Violence Shelters and Services. The film will be shown at 7:00 p.m in Lumina Theater and admission is free. So please come see this important, and Oscar Award Winning film.

Amy Schlag
Program Advisor

If you’re like me, you probably have a few questions for Amy Schlag. I’ve listed some of mine below and answered them whenever possible:

1. Why can’t you spell the word “inaugural?” The answer is that Amy is an English professor at UNCW. By the way, she is a White English professor, not a Black English professor like Maurice Martinez.

2. What is the meaning of all the letters in this veritable alphabet soup of liberal victim-hood? The answer is “gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, questioning, inter-sexed, and ally.” For the record, I had to write Amy to ask her the meaning of “A”. I thought it might stand for androgyny or, perhaps, something to do with the buttocks. We already have the feminists reclaiming the c-word in The Vagina Monologues. I don’t want to hear a bunch of LGBTQI people reclaiming the a-word. That’s one monologue I can do without.

3. Why is your new center called “LGBTQIA” in the text of the invitation and “GLBTQIA” in your signature? Is there a power struggle going on between the “Gs” and the “Ls”? Is it likely to become as contentious as the struggle between the “crips” and the “bloods”? I mean, can’t we all just get along?!

I think there are a number of questions to be raised with the new LGBTQIA (or GLBTQIA) Resource Center leadership. But I don’t want any miscommunication of my ideas. So I’m going to call Maurice Martinez, the professor of Black English in the UNCW Watson School of Education for help. Maybe he also teaches Queer English, which can help me get my point across with the new queer center, or queer new center. Who knows, after I learn some Queer English, I might even be able to get a job teaching in the public school system!

But, in the meantime, I plan to write Chancellor Rosemary DePaolo with a few questions. Some examples follow:

1. We have an African American Center, a Women’s Center, EL Centro Hispano, and now a LGBTQIA (or GLBTQIA) Resource Center. Have you ever considered starting a Conservative Professor Resource Center? It wouldn’t cost much money. You could just stick me in a cage in the middle of the campus and let the liberal professors walk by and gaze in wonder. They could even arrange field trips for students in the Watson School of Education. Professor Martinez’ students could ask him profound intellectual questions like “Who dat in the cage?” and “Why he be staring at me like dat?”

2. Are you concerned that the last name of the Program Advisor for the new UNCW LGBTQIA Office will be deemed highly offensive to some “Gs” - and perhaps mildly offensive to some “Qs” – assuming they also like “questioning” authority? After all, a few years ago, a local teacher got into trouble because she used the term “niggardly,” which sounds like an offensive epithet. Aren’t you worried that the name “Schlag” will raise a red flag – as opposed to a rainbow flag – because it sounds like the word “fag”?

3. Finally, just how many more thousands of state employees will we have to lay off before you realize we are broke and cannot afford any more of these damn centers, Dr. DePaolo? In other words, when will you stop bankrupting our state in order to make it look more like San Francisco than North Carolina? Translation in straight White English: Have you ever considered leaving to become chancellor of San Francisco State University?

Indeed, there are so many state employees out of work I think we should show the film Toast after we show the film Milk. The least we can do for our unemployed-in-the-name-of-diversity is to kiss them after we have screwed them in the name of tolerance and inclusion. A film named after their fate would be a nice tribute. Plus, we could have a fund-raiser for domestic violence since it has been on the rise in the wake of recent layoffs!

It is no surprise that Rosemary DePaolo stated publicly that she wanted UNC-Wilmington to be the North Carolina equivalent of William and Mary. But there’s no way that will ever happen. At William and Mary a left wing president came in and removed the cross from the chapel and replaced it with the Sex Workers Art Show. The alums got angry and the president was, for lack of a better word, toast.

At UNC-Wilmington the DePaolo administration has yanked Christmas off our tree and Good Friday off our calendar. In its place we have a new queer resource center or, should I say, queer new resource center. Yet, unlike many others in this state, DePaolo still has a job. Pardon the straight white English but we ain’t no William and Mary. We’re just a bunch of sissies


Attack on 'biology-based' restrooms sparks backlash

Pro-family activists target repeal of state's Human Rights statute

The issue over whether schools in Maine will be required to allow "transgender" students to pick which restroom – boys or girls – they feel like using is prompting another look at the state law on which the restroom dispute rests: the Maine Human Rights statute of 2005. WND reported a day ago that members of the Maine Human Rights Commission voted 4-1 to hold a public hearing on the guidelines that have been proposed for schools before moving forward.

Their own lawyer told commission members requiring all students to use "biology-based" restrooms and locker rooms in the state's schools is illegal and cannot be allowed to continue. "Schools cannot discriminate against sexual identity or gender identification. Schools therefore cannot segregate students based on sexual orientation and identity," commission legal counsel John Gause said yesterday.

Now Maine pro-family activists say the vote to delay a decision is a smokescreen and they are aiming higher than just stopping the guidelines. They want a repeal of the Human Rights statute.

Steve Martin is the host of the Aroostock Watchmen Radio Program and he's hoping the people of Maine will notice what the commission legal counsel is saying and take action in the fall. "Hopefully the people will hear what the commissioners are saying and rise up and vote out the officials who put these unelected people into their positions. I'm hopeful that the people will put people back in the Maine state legislature who support decency and common sense," Martin said.

Paul Madore of the Maine Grassroots Coalition said the public meeting and any future public hearings are to make the people think they're being heard. "We have to keep in mind that the proposed guidelines were mostly drafted by radical homosexual organizations. The commission sought the input of these radical homosexual groups on purpose and there was no impartial and objective source of information," Madore said. "So the future hearing is a dog and pony show to create a lot of communication confusion," Madore said.

Martin agreed that any public hearing will be for public appearance. "The legal counsel's statements that the proposed guidance is already being used is evidence that this process is window dressing," Martin said. "They want to show that the public was listened to, but they're not going to listen to us unless we ratchet up the pressure in other ways," Martin said.

There even are questions on the commission itself. Commissioner Kenneth Fredette believes the consequences for opening public restroom facilities to people of the opposite biological gender is one that hasn't been considered. "It's a very emotional issue and the statute that was passed by the legislature and affirmed by the voters of the state of Maine was done very broadly and what they're doing is trying to figure out what the statute means," Fredette said. "It was a poorly worded statute that the people of Maine voted on back in 2005," Fredette said.

Fredette also believes the people of Maine likely didn't foresee transgendered restroom use as a result of the statute and that the commissioners pushing the guidance are not likely to be the ones to live with the results. "The consequence is to be borne by other people who are in the bathroom. My daughter might be shocked by the experience of having someone who is biologically a male come into the bathroom while she is in the process of using the bathroom," Fredette said. "I don't know how that will affect her and I don't think we need to be putting students at risk for that kind of a situation," Fredette said.

Fredette believes that the commission is involved in lawmaking and that lawmaking isn't the commission's function. "The commission shouldn't go anywhere from this point because this is an issue that is more properly addressed by the Maine legislature," Fredette said. "We are talking about an issue that is going to affect every school in Maine and every student in Maine. That's more properly addressed by those people we've elected or by the people of the state of Maine, not five unelected commission members," Fredette said.

Madore believes that the possible April or May public hearing is mostly for show, but Maine's parents and families still have an option open to them. "I think that a lot of what happens depends on the people. However, I think that eventually the effort to stop the implementation of these radical policies is to campaign for a repeal of the 2005 law. We have to take direct aim at that law," Madore said.

Martin agrees that repealing the 2005 law is the best course of action. "It may come to that. We have no other course of action to take but to repeal the 2005 law," Martin said. "We think the support of the people of Maine is out there and that the people are willing to put themselves on the line and repeal these laws," Madore said.

The current push started over the commission decision last year that found a school in Orono, Asa Adams School, discriminated against a boy by denying him access to the girls' restroom. The ripples from the ruling now are being felt. According to documents obtained in the state, the University of Maine already is expressing alarm.

A letter from the university office of equal opportunity noted, "There will likely be cases in which allowing a transgender student to participate in gender-segregated sports in accordance with the gender identity or expression will raise legitimate concerns about fairness in competitive interscholastic sports. …" The letter pointed out "unintended consequences," such as "a transgendered individual's participation on a gender-segregated team could result in the NCAA's treating that team as a mixed team. This would have a number of serious consequences including potentially impacting the institution's compliance with Title IX."

Currently, Colorado, Iowa, Washington state, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco have rules, policies or laws dealing with transgender restroom accommodations. The Maine rules would make Maine the first state in the U.S. to adopt the policies for elementary and secondary school students and the first to extend the rules to private and sectarian schools.

This is not the first time the argument has arisen. WND previously reported when the city council of Tampa, Fla., voted unanimously to include "gender identity and expression" as a protected class under the city's human rights ordinance, leading some to fear the council has opened the city's public bathroom doors to sexual predators masquerading as protected transsexuals.

A statement from the American Family Association explained, "Tampa Police arrested Robert Johnson in February 2008 for hanging out in the locker room–restroom area at Lifestyle Fitness and watching women in an undressed state. The City of Tampa's 'gender identity' ordinance could provide a legal defense to future cases like this if the accused claims that his gender is female."

WND also reported on a similar plan adopted by fiat in Montgomery County, Md., which opponents said would open up women's locker rooms to men who say they are women. The issue also has come up in Colorado, where Democrat Gov. Bill Ritter signed into law a plan that effectively strikes gender-specific restrooms in the state. And city officials in Kalamazoo, Mich., only weeks after adopting a "perceived gender" bias plan, abandoned it in the face of massive public opposition.


School budget cuts 'would lead to bigger classes', say British headteachers

And what's so terrible about that? Although all teachers seem to think otherwise, it has repeatedly been shown over the years that large classes do no harm

Threatened public spending cuts will lead to larger class sizes and fewer staff in state schools, according to leading headteachers. A reduction in budgets of just two per cent would also force many schools to slash the number of GCSE and A-level subjects available for teenagers, it was claimed. The warnings were made ahead of the Association of School and College Leaders’ annual conference in London on Friday. School budgets are currently protected until March 2011 when the current spending round ends.

Ministers have insisted that “frontline” services will be maintained but have hinted that savings would be made elsewhere. Speaking after the pre-budget report, Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, said that in the current financial climate it was “right that we expect everyone to find efficiency savings and schools must play their part”.

But ASCL, which represents the majority of secondary school heads in England and Wales, insisted that even a small cut in budgets would have a major impact. The union surveyed 200 members to test the effect of a “hypothetical” two per cent reduction in school spending. Almost two-third of headteachers said the most likely outcome would be an increase in class sizes, as staff were either made redundant or vacancies were left unfilled.

Around 21 pupils currently share the average class in English secondary schools, compared with 26 in state primaries. According to research, almost of half of head teachers said a small budget cut would lead to a reduction in the number of new books, classroom aids and teaching resources, while 47 per cent said it would delay the purchase of updated computer equipment. A further half of heads also warned that a two per cent cut would force them to slash the number of subject options available for pupils aged 14 to 19.

Addressing the conference on Friday, John Morgan, the ASCL president and head of Conyers School, near Stockton-on-Tees, will say: “I don’t see any efficiencies here. “These are cuts to frontline activities that will inevitably have a direct impact on the [Government’s] own priorities of raising standards and breaking the link between deprivation and low attainment. “Stopping the endless cycle of new initiatives, and the grand implementation schemes that inevitably go along with them, would go a long way towards preserving frontline services in schools and colleges.” He said money should be saved by cutting expensive Government initiatives.

Mr Balls said: “Headteachers are right to say that a two per cent cut in schools funding would mean fewer teachers and teaching assistants and larger class sizes. "That’s why the pre-budget report announced that, while making tough savings at the centre, funding going direct to schools will rise in real terms for the next three years. "This is a tougher settlement for schools than they have been used to in the last decade, but the combination of rising funding and tougher expectations on efficiencies means schools will have the resources they need to meet the frontline cost pressures they face. “This will mean we can maintain the record numbers of teachers and teaching assistants and deliver on our guarantees to pupils and parents, such as one-to-one tuition and catch up support for children falling behind."


Thursday, March 04, 2010

The fall of America's universities

Since 2004, the world's top 200 universities have been ranked annually by the Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings. Recently, the U.S. has been losing representation on the list while Asia has been gaining. In 2008, the U.S. had 37 universities in the top 100 and 58 in the top 200. In 2009, that dropped to 32 and 54, respectively. Between 2008 and 2009, Japan went from ten universities in the top 200 to eleven, Hong Kong went from four to five, South Korea went from three to four, and mainland China maintained its position with six.

Having visited nearly half of these Asian universities and having seen their large number of research facilities, I am not surprised when I read about Asian nations making enormous investments in their universities.

I am surprised, however, when I read about funding reductions for U.S.universities. For example, the University of California —long regarded as the nation's leading public university— recently suffered an $813 million reduction in state financing. Disinvestment is also happening to universities in Michigan, Washington, Arizona and many other states.

Budgets are being cut from state-supported universities primarily because states are facing budget shortfalls of historic proportions. However, short-sighted state politics like this will lead to long-term consequences. For example, state budget cuts force universities to raise tuition, cap enrollment, and cut academic programs. These changes result in a smaller number of graduates, which in turn results in a shrinking skilled workforce. The U.S. needs a growing skilled workforce—not a shrinking one—to compete in the global economy.

Currently, the U.S. has the best universities in the world. They attract the best students from around the world. After graduating, these non-U.S.students often stay in the U.S. to work, helping to fuel the nation's innovation and economic growth. However, when U.S. universities decline in quality and lose their elite status because of budget cuts, bright students from around the world will seek universities in other nations.

The goal of Asian nations is to create world-class universities that surpass U.S. universities. They have "every prospect of success," argued Yale University President Richard C. Levin in a recent lecture, titled "The Rise of Asia's Universities." Levin also stated that rising Asian nations "all recognize the importance of an educated workforce as a means to economic growth and the impact of research in driving innovation and competitiveness."

Speaking at the inaugural Asian Roundtable of Presidents of Universities of Education, Xu Jialu, director of the College of Chinese Language and Culture at Beijing Normal University, said that China needs to produce massive numbers of innovative people if it is to continue its robust economic growth. He added, "In Chinese education, the development of a creative mindset and abilities among students is urgently needed."

Asian nations are making enormous investments in their universities in order to produce massive numbers of innovative people who can contribute significantly to economic growth.

In the current issue of Foreign Policy, Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Fogel predicts that China's GDP will reach $123 trillion by 2040 partially because of "the enormous investment China is making in education." He also predicts that the U.S.'s share of global GDP will be roughly one third that of China's.

Without increased investment in universities, the U.S. will no longer have the best universities in the world, will no longer be the world's innovation leader, and will no longer have the world's largest economy. It's time for the U.S. to increase—not reduce—university funding. As Benjamin Franklin put it, "An investment in knowledge pays the best dividends."


Time Magazine Says We're Failing Our Schools because of Unions

Add Time to the growing list of teacher-union critics. (See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

In a recent column, Joe Klein writes that New York's United Federation of Teachers (UFT), "a storied crew," is blocking efforts to win $700 million in federal Race to the Top education funds - " the issue is charter schools, with a substantial dollop of teacher accountability thrown in." Klein continues:

The UFT's slogan is "A Union of Professionals," but it is quite the opposite: an old-fashioned industrial union that has won for its members a set of work rules more appropriate to factory hands. There are strict seniority rules about pay, school assignment, length of the school day and year. In New York, it is near impossible to fire a teacher - even one accused of a crime, drug addiction or flagrant misbehavior. The miscreants are stashed in "rubber rooms" at full pay, for years, while the union pleads their cases. In New York, school authorities are forbidden, by state law, to evaluate teachers by using student test results... No, teachers' unions are not the only problem here. Troglodytic local school boards [link my own] and apathetic parents are just as bad. But the unions, and their minions in the Democratic Party, have been a reactionary force in education reform for too long.

Ironically, the idea of public charter schools was largely popularized by the late Albert Shanker, who launched New York teachers union in 1960. The idea was to create more innovative, teacher-run schools where educators would want to work, and where students could learn.

SOURCE (See the original for links)

School trips 'axed' for thousands of British pupils

Thousands of pupils are missing out on traditional school trips as new Government rules tie teachers to the classroom, MPs have been told. Attractions and study centres have reported a “significant reduction” in the number of bookings following changes to teachers’ contracts imposed last year. One expert also said that parental fears over child safety meant many young people were becoming “entombed” in the home instead of being allowed out to play.

Under new rules, schools are effectively barred from asking teachers to cover for absent staff. Heads are supposed to pay for supply teachers instead of ordering existing staff members to step in when colleagues are leading trips. The move was introduced in September to ease teachers’ workloads.

But the Commons schools select committee was told on Wednesday that many schools are simply cancelling outings altogether instead of raiding stretched budgets to pay for supply staff. Giving evidence to MPs, Robert Lucas, chief executive of the Field Studies Council, a charity running 17 education centres, said 100,000 children regularly attended residential and daytime courses but numbers had dipped in the last six months. “A lot of our residential courses seeing the unintended consequences of the workforce reform,” he said. “We have got 17 centres in the UK – most of them in England – and all of them are reporting significant reductions in bookings; groups that are cancelling because of rarely cover.”

New teachers’ contracts state that they will “rarely cover” for missing colleagues. The changes affect foreseeable absences such as jury service, school trips and training courses. It means that if a teacher is out of school for the whole day – or part of the day – other teachers can only "rarely" step in to take their classes.

But Mr Lucas quoted teachers who said some geography groups had no fieldwork during the first three years of secondary school because of the changes. Other teachers led trips during the holidays and weekends to get around the rules, he said.

Sir Mike Tomlinson, the former chief inspector of schools, said the issue was “proving to be a matter of concern”. In evidence to MPs, Sir Mike, who is also chairman of the National Science Learning Centre, in York, said: “Rarely cover is having an impact. “There’s direct evidence from teachers and there’s direct evidence in terms of the number of courses we’re having to cancel. Even if the teachers have signed up, they are being told ‘no’. “There are head teachers who say ‘there will never be a teacher outside of my school during term time’.”

MPs staged the latest hearing five years after it published a report calling for improvements to the quality of school trips. Barry Sheerman, the committee’s Labour chairman, quoted a study from Natural England that suggested the number of children visiting any green space had halved in a generation. “For many children in this country, an out-of-school trip is the one chance they have to get out of their local environment,” he said. “But five years later it looks as though outdoors learning has decreased rather than increased.”

Anthony Thomas, chairman of the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom, a charity established last year to promote school trips, said: “You are seeing a decline in youngsters actually using parks and playgrounds. “We are becoming entombed with our homes. Part of it is about security – parents worried about youngsters – and part of it is about the inclination of youngsters themselves.”

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: “There’s absolutely no reason why schools should stop providing planned school trips or visits because of rarely cover provision as advance arrangements should already have been put in place. “Rarely cover would only ever apply if the teacher taking the children to the event is then unforeseeably absent and alternative cover had to be provided. The guidelines on this are crystal clear. “Rarely cover is there to ensure that teachers do just that – rarely cover – allowing them to be freed from tasks which do not require their professional skills and expertise, and to focus on teaching.

“Learning outside the classroom should be an integral part of every child's education and personal development, and provision for it should be included in school calendars and timetables.”


Australia: New mathematics curriculum a feeble tool calculated to bore


On Monday, after almost two years of work, a draft of the new Australian national curriculum was released. As maths lecturers deeply dissatisfied with the state of Australian education, we were keen to see what would emerge. Keen, but pessimistic. We were concerned about the almost total lack of involvement of mathematicians in the writing process and unimpressed by the background documents, which displayed a disturbing ignorance of mathematical culture.

Our doubts have unfortunately been confirmed. We are convinced that implementing such a curriculum will do little to improve the woeful state of Australian mathematics education.

The substance of the draft, which covers prep to year 10, is in the year-by-year syllabus, with an "elaboration" of each point: the syllabus point indicates "what" is to be taught; the elaboration suggests "how" it is to be taught. The syllabus itself is divided into three streams: number and algebra, statistics and probability, and measurement and geometry.

These artificial divisions, while necessary, have led to an unnecessary dissolution of the syllabus; every part of every stream is addressed in every year. The few concepts in the statistics syllabus, for example, are continually drip-fed over 11 years. There is simply no reason for "data" to be collected and analysed over and over again.

A more central problem with the syllabus is what is emphasised and what is de-emphasised, or omitted entirely. To illustrate, consider the approach to calculators and technology. We shouldn't need to say it, but pushing buttons on a calculator is not doing mathematics: it may (rarely) be a "how", but is never a "what". Yet, "calculator" appears time and again as a core concern of the syllabus. By comparison, reasoning involving proof - the one compelling argument for teaching mathematics - is reduced to elaboration, just another method of getting to a (usually boring) fact. This technology ramming extends to advocating the use of calculators to introduce adding in prep, a suggestion so appallingly misguided it beggars belief.

The technology fetish goes hand in hand with another major problem with the draft curriculum: a preference for "practical" mathematics at the expense of more fundamental and ideal concepts.

As a consequence, number (mainly arithmetic) crowds out algebra, measurement crowds out geometry, and statistics swamps everything. This emphasis on supposedly useful mathematics is seriously misguided. The result is an unbalanced, ugly, bitsy, pseudo-applied curriculum. It will constitute woeful preparation for students continuing maths beyond year 10, and we predict it will bore the pants off everyone.

We have many specific objections to the draft curriculum. Here is but a sampling. We cannot see why times tables have been shoved out to make room for "multiplication facts", nor why multiplying by 7 alone is omitted from the year 4 syllabus, nor why the 11 and 12-times tables are never even implicitly referred to. We wonder why "theorem" - the central concept in mathematics - only ever appears with "Pythagoras", and why the proof of this one theorem is merely an elaboration. We wonder why pi and real numbers and irrational numbers barely get a mention.

We also wonder why there is a pandering to indigenous Australians while the major Chinese and Arabic contributions to mathematical wisdom are ignored. Why isn't Euclid or any mathematician (other than Pythagoras) ever mentioned by name? So much for presenting mathematics as a human endeavour.

Attempting to sell mathematics by imposing an artificial concreteness, by inflating the importance of calculating bank interest, is simply farcical.

Just as children best learn to read by experiencing the joy of great stories, they best learn mathematics by experiencing its beauty and the joy of mathematical play. But in this curriculum there is little sense of the fun and the beauty of mathematics. Not a hint of infinity, of the fourth dimension, of Moebius bands, of puzzles or paradoxes. Why? If mathematics can be taught as ideas, as something beautiful and fun, then why is it not being proposed? Because it is difficult to do. To teach real mathematics makes demands on the teacher, and it is risky.

What is proposed is little more than a cowardly version of current curriculums, a codification of the boring, pointless approach - which is "safe" but which has already failed a generation of students.

The draft curriculum begins by declaiming the beauty and intrinsic value of mathematics, and the elegance and power of mathematical reasoning. But as a means of unfolding all this before our students, the proposed curriculum is a feeble tool indeed.


Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Obama offers cash to get rid of useless teachers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Canada: Something's seriously wrong at York University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Not Your Parents' PTA

We've written a number of times about Minnesota's Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TiZA), a charter school that appears to be Muslim in all but name, and is closely affiliated with, if not an alter ego of, the radical Muslim American Society. The American Civil Liberties Union is engaged in litigation against TIZA, in which the ACLU alleges that the school unconstitutionally promotes religion at taxpayer expense. That litigation has gotten quite bitter.

Our friend Kathy Kersten has done more than anyone else to shed light on TIZA and its relationship with the Muslim American Society through her columns in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Now, relying on court records, she details allegations of threats made against those who have provided information about the school's operations:
In January, the ACLU sought a protective order, telling the court that intimidation by TiZA was discouraging potential witnesses from appearing. ...

Elmasry is one witness who sought such protection. In January, he testified about TiZA's financial entanglement with the Muslim American Society of Minnesota at a Minnesota Senate subcommittee hearing on charter school lease aid. Shortly thereafter, Elmasry says in an affidavit, he was informed by a friend and TIZA parent that TiZA authorities had called a parent meeting, where they showed a video of Elmasry's testimony. Then, according to the parent's account, Asad Zaman, the school's director and an imam -- or Muslim religious leader -- accused Elmasry of talking to the Minnesota Department of Education and "selling" his "Iman," meaning his Islamic faith, according to Elmasry's affidavit.

Elmasry was frightened, he says. "It is well-known in Islam that a Muslim who rejects his or her faith is committing an act punishable by death," according to his affidavit. "There are many accounts of Muslims taking matters into their own hands and killing people they believe have sold or rejected their Islamic faith or Iman." ...

TiZA denies that a threat was intended, according to documents filed with the court. "Even if the Court accepts the comment alleged by Elmasry," the school maintains, "such remarks have significance only when issued by a proper Islamic judge, of which Elmasry and Zaman are not."

Well, that's reassuring.
Elmasry is not the only fearful witness. Edwards, who left her job at TiZA in 2009, also hesitates to testify about what she saw and heard during her years there.

During her tenure, she says in an affidavit, she saw "no real distinction" between the operations of TiZA and the Muslim American Society, with which the school shares a building. For years, "I watched [school officials] lash out in order to control those around them, and to retaliate against anyone who spoke poorly of the school, or otherwise challenged their authority." According to her affidavit, Zaman suggested that "we could just kill you" after becoming upset when she "challeng[ed] his authority."

Kathy's conclusion is apt: "we have to pinch ourselves to remember that we're talking here about a Minnesota public school -- financed with our tax dollars."


Swedish State takes custody of 7-year-old over homeschooling

Now human rights organizations reviewing 'state-napping'

Social workers have been visiting a Swedish couple whose son was "abducted" by government agents last year because he was being homeschooled, but that's not necessarily a good sign, and now two major rights organizations are exploring options to reunite the family.

The Home School Legal Defense Association and members of the Alliance Defense Fund have been advising Christer and Annie Johansson on the "state-napping" of their son, Dominic, 7, from an airliner as the family was preparing to move to India last year. "HSLDA and the Alliance Defense Fund are jointly advising the family and exploring all available avenues to help reunite Dominic with his family," the HSLDA said in a published statement.

"Swedish social workers have recently visited Christer and Annie and inquired about their current ability to take care of Dominic. According to a Swedish lawyer who spoke with HSLDA anonymously, these visits do not necessarily indicate the possible return of Dominic to his parents. Rather, this attorney said, Swedish social services intends to force the parents into 'complete subjugation and compliance with the system.'"

WND reported late last year when the Administrative Court of Stockholm affirmed the state custody of Dominic, who was taken from the airliner by uniformed police officers on the orders of social workers even though there was no allegation of any crime on the part of the family nor was there any warrant. At the time, Michael Donnelly, director of international affairs for the HSLDA, called the court decision "deeply disturbing." "The hostility against homeschooling and for parent's rights is contrary to everything expected from a Western nation," he said.

The HSLDA confirms the family's options are being reviewed. The parents are allowed to see their son for 60 minutes every fifth week. "At times referred to as a 'social utopia,' Sweden is completely antagonistic toward homeschoolers and, in reality, anyone who deviates from what the Swedish government defines as 'normal.' The government's quest for conformity produces troubling side effects: the criminalization of actions – such as a parent's decision regarding the best form of education for his child – that ought to be the hallmarks of a free, democratic society," the HSLDA said.

"Taking children from their parents over minor differences in approaches to medical care (e.g. choosing not to vaccinate or delaying minor dental treatments) and for homeschooling is completely at odds with the basic human rights which all Western democracies should reflect," the HSLDA said.

The organization is offering a webpage of information on how to support the family and linking to a petition advocating the return of Dominic to his parents. On the petition's forum page, a Canadian wrote, "I am appalled that this happened in a country as open, modern and inclusive as Sweden! I cannot understand it." An Australian called it "an abuse of power at the expense of a child." From Florida came the comment, "This is frightening!!!! … Please reverse this tragedy."

The attack on homeschoolers appears to be part of a trend in some Western nations, including Germany. WND reported only a few weeks ago when a German family was granted asylum in the United States because of the persecution members would face if returned to their home country.

The case in Sweden developed when the boy, from Gotland, was forcibly taken into custody minutes before he and his parents were due to take off to start a new life in India, Annie's home country.

In an online statement at the time, Johannson said, "While we may do things differently than most Swedes, we have not broken any laws and we have not harmed our son. We decided as a family that we wanted to move to India where we could be near my wife's family. But the government has taken over my family, and now we are living in a nightmare. I fear for the life of my wife under this torture and for the well-being of my son who has only been allowed to see his parents for a few hours since he was taken. The government is alienating my son from me, and I am powerless to do anything."

"What you have here is a socialist country trying to create a cookie cutter kid," said Roger Kiska, an Alliance Defense Fund attorney based in Europe. "This kind of thing happens too often where social workers take a child and then just keep him."



Four current stories below

Brainwashing of children by Chairman Rudd and his helpers

White guilt and climate hoax to be taught as fact in all Australian schools

SCHOOL children will learn about climate change and Sorry Day under the Federal Government's draft national curriculum. The new document, launched by Prime Minsiter Kevin Rudd and Education Minister Julia Gillard at the Amaroo School in Canberra, outlines the education plans for kindergarten to Year 10 English, maths, science and history students to replace state and territory standards next year.

Mr Rudd described it as a back-to-basics approach to teaching and learning, with grammar and arithmetic a focus. "What we are on about is making sure the absolute basics of knowledge, the absolute basics of education are taught right across the country," he said.

However, the draft also suggests five-year-olds discuss community commemorations such as Sorry Day and 15-year-olds explore the link between carbon dioxide and global warming.

Opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne has slammed the 242-page document as a disaster waiting to happen. "We have a seemingly over-emphasis on indigenous culture and history and almost an entire blotting out of our British traditions and ... heritage," he told said. "I am deeply concerned that Australian students will be taught a particular black armband view of our history without any counterbalancing."

Professor Stuart MacIntyre, who oversaw the history stream of the draft curriculum, dismissed Mr Pyne's complaint. "I think anybody who looks at the curriculum online will have great difficulty in finding any armbands," he said. "One of the ways we (avoid this), of course, is to set the peopling of Australia, both by the original inhabitants and then by European settlers, in a comparative perspective."

Head science adviser to the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, Dennis Goodrum, said one theory that wouldn't feature in the document was creationism. "The evolution theory is a cornerstone of science based on evidence and observation," he said. "Intelligent design is not ... in this particular curriculum because it is not science." But Professor Goodrum said global warming would be raised and investigated.

Ms Gillard acknowledged some teachers would need retraining to deliver the new curriculum successfully. "All schools ... invest in professional development to teach teachers about the curriculum," she said. "Obviously, that effort will be moved from teaching about state-based curriculums to teaching about the Australian curriculum."

Australian Education Union federal president Angelo Gavrielatos criticised Labor for rushing the process and not announcing how much the rollout would cost. "With implementation of the national curriculum due to commence next year, we are most concerned that there is still not any plan with an associated budget," he said.

Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young called on the government to reveal how much money would be allocated to the curriculum in May's federal budget.

Family First senator Steve Fielding said it must not cost taxpayers an exorbitant amount to administer.

The draft national curriculum, available online for public consultation until May 23, will also be trialled by 150 schools during the same period.


Give Britain its due or we'll can it: opposition

THE federal Coalition has threatened to scrap the new national curriculum, saying it places too much emphasis on indigenous and Asian perspectives at the expense of British and European culture. Its education spokesman, Christopher Pyne, said the curriculum was "unbalanced".

"While there are 118 references in the document to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people and culture, there is one reference to Parliament, none to 'Westminster' and none to the Magna Carta," he said. "Grade nines will consider the personal stories of Aboriginal people and examine massacres and 'indigenous displacement', without any reference to the benefit to our country of our European heritage and the sacrifice of our forebears to build a nation. The early signs are that the black armband view of history is back."

Mr Pyne said a Coalition government would review the curriculum. "If we find the review confirms our very serious doubts then we'll scrap the national curriculum and we'll start again because it would be better for students to have the curriculum that they have now under the states than for them to have an unbalanced curriculum that will do them more harm than good," he said.

In an interview with the Herald, the federal Education Minister, Julia Gillard, said she was worried by the threat. "When you've seen the opposition fight up hill and down dale to wreck [the] national curriculum and to wreck MySchool, then it does send a shiver up your spine about what they may do in the future." ....

Helen Walton, of the Federation of Parents and Citizens' Associations of NSW, said her organisation was happy with the increased focus on family, community and Aboriginal history.


Political correctness invades the science curriculum

As The Australian reported on Saturday, it’s not until Year 10 that science students will have any exposure to the periodic table of elements – potassium, hydrogen, all that stuff you used to learn rote-form back in the good old days. But there’s some waffly nonsense about non-western views of science, including Chinese medicine, and Aboriginal ideas of farming and land management.

Worst of all is the proposal to teach Aboriginal Dreamtime stories as part of the science stream. With due deference to the Rainbow Serpent, this is spiritualism not science, and every bit as wrong as the calls from Christian hardliners for the utter rubbish that is “creation science” and “intelligent design” to be taught alongside evolution and natural selection.

The greatest test of the curriculum will be the extent to which it can restore some basic old-fashioned principles of literacy, grammar, spelling – all the stuff that went out of fashion in the 1970s when everyone was simply encouraged to set their minds free and use their imagination, even if you could barely understand a word they had written.

The approach being taken with everyone’s favourite dysfunctional state government here in NSW stands as a warning against the mediocrity which has infected teaching in recent times.

While not everyone can, or should, attend university, there’s something desperately unambitious about the NSW Board of Studies decision to modify the second-tier NSW English Studies course to remove Shakespeare, but allow the “study” of rubbish movies such as The Matrix and the irritatingly twee television show Seachange.

If we are going to dumb down what is already a basic English course then maybe we should introduce a new subject called an Introduction to Remedial English – like a Dummy’s Guide to Dummy’s Guides.

At least we are not seeing this approach from Julia Gillard, who will have won plaudits from many parents yesterday – and probably upset the teachers unions – by arguing yesterday that too many Australian kids no longer have a basic grasp of reading and writing.

To judge the draft curriculum for yourself, go to the ACARA website - – and follow the links.


Hatred, violence in Australian schools' classrooms

STUDENTS injured almost 3000 public school teachers in the past two years, an Education Department report obtained by The Advertiser shows. The Occupational Health and Safety Incident/Accident Report shows students were "deliberately" responsible for 98 per cent of the 2957 injuries reported by teachers from January 1, 2008, to December 31, 2009. Bruising and superficial injuries made up more than half the reported incidents with 3 per cent of incidents resulting in workers' compensation claims.

The figures raise further concerns for the safety of teachers, following a violent attack this week on a teacher at a northern suburbs primary school. According to police, the teacher was on yard duty at Swallowcliffe Primary School at Davoren Park, when a brick was thrown at her, hitting her in the back of the head. As she lay on the ground suffering from shock, the attackers then stole her office keys and, later, some cash.

Concerned parents said the school went into "lockdown" over the incident, with students finally allowed to go outside during recess and lunch yesterday. Students were also offered counselling after the attack.

South Australian Education Union president Correna Haythorpe said the "startling" report showed that teachers were increasingly being put in dangerous situations. "The figures paint a picture of rising levels of violent incidents that teachers are facing," she said. "Teachers expect to go to work to teach, not to be assaulted or injured."

The attack is the latest in a spate of violent incidents in schools this month. Last week, an Underdale High School pupil was punched in class by two youths posing as students.

In Brisbane earlier this month, Elliot Fletcher, 12, was fatally stabbed in the chest by a fellow student in the school toilets of St Patrick's College. But the Education Department played down any suggestions of a rise in violence in schools, describing this week's attack as very serious but a "one-off incident".

Education Department deputy chief executive Jan Andrews said police investigations were continuing and she expected the attackers, when found, to be charged. She added that they were currently checking the "accuracy" of the leaked report and that the majority of incidents were "minor". "We encourage teachers to report all incidents," she said. "The incident reporting rate has increased and that is something we are happy about," she said.

Swallowcliffe Primary School principal Assunta Alfano was yesterday unavailable for comment. But a parent of a Year 5 student, who wished to remain anonymous, said the school had been plagued by safety concerns.


Monday, March 01, 2010

From ‘No Child Left Behind’ to ‘Too Big to Fail’

Obama's idea for "reform" is more centralization. He's essentially looking to bail out failing public schools in the same way he bailed out AIG and the automakers. Real accountability -- that is, accountability to taxpayers -- and choice are nowhere to be found

By Ben Boychuk []

President Barack Obama has bailed out banks, mortgage lenders, and automakers. Now, with his proposed overhaul of No Child Left Behind, he wants to bail out failing, union-dominated, government-run schools. That’s a strategy for encouraging failure. Just as bad businesses should be allowed to dissolve or restructure and let better ones take their place, bad schools should be replaced by better ones. Real, universal choice—not more federal mandates and centralization—is the way to make that happen.

The president outlined his ideas for revamping No Child Left Behind the other day at the National Governors Association meeting in Washington, DC. “If a university, state, or school district begins preparing educators to teach to higher standards, we’ll give them the support that they need,” Obama said. “And to make sure that we’re delivering for our kids, we’re launching a competition to reward states that join together to develop the highest-quality, cutting-edge assessments required to measure progress; and we’ll help support their implementation.”

Although the president uses words such as “competition,” “innovation,” and “cutting edge,” it’s not clear he is using the dictionary definitions of those words. What was clear from Obama’s remarks is that he intends to centralize education decisions even more. Under the Obama plan the federal government would dictate what schools may teach, or they’ll be denied their share of $14.5 billion in Title I money intended for poor and minority districts.

Obama’s proposals resemble the same old top-down requirements that have burdened schools for years without raising student achievement. Taxpayers in every state, whether they benefit or not, pay for programs such as Title I. And although it’s true that federal money always comes with strings attached, Obama’s “reforms” would explicitly require states to comply with the new rules or never see a dime of their tax money again.

That isn’t so different from other Obama administration policies. The president’s $4 billion Race to the Top program told states what did and didn’t count as education innovation. If state legislatures didn’t comply, they would lose out on federal funds.

Obama’s new twist is that the federal government would certify public schools’ curriculum, for the first time ever. Understand what that means. Federal bureaucrats would dictate what children will read and how long they will read it. Local school administrators would become mere federal apparatchiks, regardless of who signs their paychecks. Locally elected school boards would be obsolete. Parents would have fewer and fewer choices for educating their kids.

For all of the talk about “accountability,” the only accountability that matters—elected officials’ accountability to taxpayers—would simply fade away.

Meantime, as the president, federal education officials, and Congress weigh how to nationalize the schools most effectively, they’ve just finished off the District of Columbia’s popular and effective Opportunity Scholarship Program. Students in the DC voucher program have shown consistently high marks on standardized tests and have enjoyed greater safety than their peers in DC’s failing schools. An evaluation published in February by the U.S. Education Department pronounced the program a success, noting a $7,500 scholarship was more cost-effective than the $15,000 DC public schools spend per pupil.

Unfortunately for 1,900 low-income, predominantly African-American children who were the program’s main beneficiaries, vouchers are the bête noire of powerful, politically connected teacher unions, so the program had to be killed.

That’s a shame, and not just for the kids who will be consigned to dangerous, “too-big-to-fail” public schools. The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program offered a model for real reform and individual empowerment. Obama could have embraced and encouraged other states to adopt similar scholarship programs. Instead, he intends to give even more power to bureaucrats and teacher unions. That’s a bailout that will cost the nation for decades to come.

Article received by email. Ben Boychuk is managing editor of School Reform News

Billy Graham trumped by Bill Ayers as conservative college drifts Left

There’s hardly an evangelical who doesn’t know about Wheaton College. Alma Mater of the Reverend Billy Graham, Wheaton boasts a student body of superior intellect and an education rivaling much of the Ivy League. Wheaton College graduates can boast of presidential speech writers and Speakers of the United States House of Representatives along with doctors and executives and professors and missionaries and pastors across the globe.

But Wheaton is different. Founded by an anti-slavery father and son, Jonathan and Charles Blanchard, Wheaton was established as a chain in the Underground Railroad to help runaway slaves. Wheaton’s distinctive has always been to educate students not only with knowledge but with wisdom. All truth is God’s truth. The knowledge of God brings greater understanding, not less … the acknowledgement of Him brings order from chaos in science, mathematics and economic systems. To be a Christ follower can bring the highest of intellectual pursuits, not the Bible thumping ignorance Hollywood would portray.

So imagine the dismay of many to learn that, in an effort to educate its students, Wheaton has moved to the left, so much so that in a survey by the Wheaton Record, 60 percent of its faculty voted for President Barack Obama, the most pro-abortion, pro-homosexual agenda, spiritually confused president the nation has ever elected.

How can this be? Perhaps much of it can be attributed to a movement widely embraced by the campus known as “social justice.” In its truest form, justice is synonymous with Christian teaching. Why else would Christians through the ages have left the comfort of their home and culture to go to remote villages and treat the sick and preach the “good news” of a universal savior, Jesus Christ. Why would the William Wilberforces and the American abolitionists have sacrificed so much to eliminate the slave trade? Why would most hospitals trace their beginnings to founders compelled by their faith to treat the sick? Soup kitchens … homeless shelters … inner city missions the same? Why if not for the cause of justice?

But as is often the case for the Left, words are co-opted and meanings changed. To be “gay” is to be homosexual. To abort a baby is to exercise “choice” and to exercise “social justice” is to identify the oppressed and the oppressors and define all of history past and present as a series of injustices. Whites oppress blacks … even 6-year-old white children are intrinsically racist. Big business oppresses the working man…even business owners who are honest and generous. To be successful in business is to oppress and the score must be evened to obtain justice. Heterosexuals oppress homosexuals with no allowance for moral objection. According to this definition of “social justice,” the oppressor and the oppressed must be identified and actions taken accordingly.

In the current document known as the “conceptual framework” of the education department at Wheaton College which must be endorsed by each of its faculty, the thinkers cited include among others, the father of the social justice movement, Brazilian Marxist, Paulo Freire and former Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers. Just a glimpse at Freire’s foundational treatise “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” will clearly display his sources: Marx, Lenin and revolutionary murderers Mao Tse Tung, Fidel Castro and Che Guevera (see, “Pedagogy of the Oppressor,” March 28, 2009, in National Review by Sol Stern).

Professor Bill Ayers, co-founder of the Weather Underground, wanted the violent overthrow of the United States Government. Now elevated as a teacher of teachers, Ayers publicly states he has no regrets for his violence and only wished he had done more. The overthrow of the capitalist society was the goal of all these men and violence was their method. Today’s radicals condense their rage into college curricula under the guise of “social justice.” The method is more cunning, but the goal no less sinister.

Why would Wheaton College embrace such a philosophy? “…these are people you can learn from because they’re going to teach us Christians that maybe we have some blind spots here, that we’ve been oblivious to certain areas of injustice,” said President Duane Litfin.

Dr. Jillian Lederhouse, chairman of the department of education defended the conceptual framework by saying “we don’t teach our students to be afraid on an ideology as long as we give them a critical perspective. We do not have a list of people we do not read. Our goal is to produce a thinking Christian teacher.” And that is as it should be in an institution of higher learning, except for one thing. Lederhouse went on to admit that the people who were foundational to Wheaton’s conceptual framework were all on the far left.

There is deep concern by Wheaton graduates over the current trajectory at Wheaton. They are lobbying the board and the administration to make the deep changes necessary to pull Wheaton back from academic fads that threaten its future and guide it back to its true foundations, the wisdom of the ages displayed beautifully at the entrance to the campus: “For Christ and His Kingdom.”


Independence for schools within months of Tory win

Hundreds of the best state schools will be allowed to break free of local council control within months under Conservative plans being outlined today. They will be able to convert into semi-independent academies [charter schools] as early as September this year if the Tories win the General Election, it is revealed. The move would allow England’s most successful schools to expand or take over poor performing schools nearby.

The announcement will be made at the start of a week in which the Tories will attempt to set the educational agenda ahead of the General Election. On Wednesday, Michael Gove, the shadow schools secretary, will address the first parents and teachers seeking to set up their own primaries and secondaries as part of the Tories’ “free schools” system. Under plans, organisations angered by poor standards of state education will be given powers to establish schools to address local demand.

And tomorrow, the Conservatives will outline proposals to toughen up the teaching of mathematics and science – subjects seen as vital to the creation of a highly-skilled future workforce needed to drive the economy.

The announcements will be made as the parents of 600,000 children prepare to find out today which state secondary school they have got into this year. As many as one-in-six are expected to miss out on their first choice while around five per cent will be rejected from up to six schools. The Tories claim Labour has failed to create enough decent school places – forcing thousands of families to accept unpopular comprehensives often miles from their home.

Mr Gove will announce that a new education Bill will be published within days of a Conservative government sweeping away restrictions on the creation of new schools. It will remove the power of councils to “veto” the opening of academies – independent state schools run free of local bureaucrats. The Bill – expected to become law by the end of July – would allow top schools to win academy status before the start of the next academic year. It will also grant struggling schools similar powers to become academies under the leadership of top head teachers to drive improvements.

The announcements will be made in a speech to the heads of more than 150 outstanding schools in Westminster. Mr Gove said: “Unless we act now our children will lose out in the global race for knowledge. If we win the election, we will act within days to raise standards. “We will immediately change the law so we can set hundreds of good schools free from political interference. We will enable them to reopen as academies this September. “We will also immediately let them take over struggling schools so we can get great heads and teachers into struggling schools. It is vital that we rapidly create a new generation of independent, smaller state schools run by teachers who know the children's names. “We cannot afford another five years of falling down the international league tables for education.”


Sunday, February 28, 2010

End Fed ED

Obama's 'austere' budget calls for new $19 billion education boondoggle

President Obama recently announced that his proposed fiscal 2011 budget would freeze all non-defense discretionary spending. All, that is, except spending on education, and by default, the department that handles most of the money. It's an exception that casts considerable doubt on both the president's seriousness about killing wasteful spending, and his grasp of federal education reality.

With the national debt a gargantuan $12.4 trillion - or $40,200 for every American - it should be painfully obvious that Washington needs to cut every red cent of nonessential spending. Yet Mr. Obama's budget calls for an $18.6 billion increase in Education Department spending over 2010, with a total appropriation of nearly $78 billion. But wait - isn't education "essential?" Yes, but federal involvement absolutely is not.

For one thing, except for granting jurisdiction over the District of Columbia and empowering the feds to prohibit schooling discrimination by states, the Constitution gives Washington zero authority to meddle in education. That means every federal education program, and the department itself, is unconstitutional. Of course, these days mentioning that the Constitution gives Washington no authority to do something is like telling a drunk that chugging Long Island ice teas is verboten. It's completely accurate, gets to the root of the problem, but will almost certainly be ignored.

The Founders gave the feds no education power for good reason. They knew that a national government couldn't effectively govern education or anything else that works best when tailored to the unique needs of individual people and communities.

History has borne their wisdom out. Since the 1965 passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act - of which No Child Left Behind is just a continuation - federal education expenditures have been like the Alps, but academic outcomes like the Bonneville Salt Flats. Since 1970, inflation-adjusted federal spending per-pupil has risen almost 190 percent, while academic performance by 17-year-olds - our schools' "final products" - has stagnated.

How have things been in higher education? In particular, what have we gotten from decades of the federal grants, loans, work-study, and tax incentives through which Mr. Obama would like to furnish college students with more than $173 billion in 2011? More people have certainly gone to college: In 1960 - five years before passage of the seminal Higher Education Act - only 7.7 percent of Americans ages 25 and older had bachelor's degrees. By 2008, nearly 30 percent did. But that credential explosion has come at a steep, self-defeating cost.

First, there's a glut of degree holders: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about 21 percent of jobs require bachelor's degrees - bad news for the tens of millions of surplus B.A. and B.S. holders.

Second, sheepskin has been seriously devalued. Among many signs of this, the most recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy reveals that the percentage of Americans whose top degree is a bachelor's who were "proficient" readers dropped by about 10 points between 1992 and 2003 - and only about 38 percent were proficient in 1992. Americans with graduate degrees saw similar drops.

But the greatest cost has been, well, college costs. Ever-growing aid has encouraged students to demand more from schools - extravagant recreation centers, gourmet food, luxurious dorms - and enabled schools to rapidly increase charges. It's no coincidence that since 1979, real aid per student - most of it federal - rose 149 percent, while public four-year college charges ballooned 105 percent and private prices 126 percent.

What to do? The solution is obvious: Get the feds out of education. They do little more than take money from taxpayers, shave off big sums for bureaucratic processing - Mr. Obama is calling for more than $1.8 billion to run the Education Department - and return the remainder with stultifying regulations attached.

Unfortunately, logic and political reality rarely meet. The primary political problem is that those whose livelihoods come from government-dominated education are most motivated and best organized to engage in education politics. The Department of Education exacerbates the problem, giving everyone from college lobbyists to teachers unions a Cabinet-level nerve center through which to command ever-more money and protection from accountability.

That said, the other political problem is that many Americans - who are generally too busy with other things to cogitate over why government fails - truly equate federal politicians interfering in education with improving education. But as decades of academic stagnation and belt-busting budgets have proven, that's just not the case.

Federal education meddling, and the department through which most of it is done, must end. Our fiscal and educational futures depend on it.


School asks students: 'why not' be sexually active

A team of lawyers who advocate for parental rights is working with parents whose children attend Ventura High School in Southern California to raise a formal objection after teachers had students fill out a survey on sex with questions such as "Are you sexually active" and "If not, why not?"

Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, said the first step will be to file an administrative complaint. "The parents have tried to reason with school officials about this, but so far administrators have failed to grasp that giving the students this survey without prior written notice and consent was illegal," he said.

The survey was reported in the student Cougar Press in December. The report apparently was not included as part of the paper's ordinary online presentation, officials said, but was obtained by a parent who posted the pages only for other parents to see.

The newspaper, in addition to the sex survey results, included a page of photographs of students revealing what songs put them "in the mood," a sex crossword puzzle and other advocacy for being sexually active. A school spokesman said officials could not comment.

Dacus told WND schools should know that parents need to be able to trust their schools for the education system to work.

"When parental trust is breached, then school districts end up losing that participation," he said. "If school districts … want to be successful, they have to respect the rights of parents and not be caught doing things behind the backs of parents."

He said the primary issue is that a state law forbids such sex surveys without parental knowledge. He said the problem only was revealed because a student took a copy home, in violation of instructions she was given, and some parents found out. The questions included:

* What grade were you in when you lost your virginity?

* What is your overall number of partners you have engaged in sexual activity with?

* Were you sober the first time you engaged in sexual activity?"

* Have you or your partner ever had an abortion?"

* How often do you engage in sexual activity?"

* Are your parents aware of your sexual activity?

Pacific Justice said that according to the newspaper, the survey was given to 1,000 students in every grade in high school. The organization said it was administered with the knowledge and assistance of the high school during second class period and had no relationship to any subject the students were enrolled in at that time.

"The school allowed the use of instructional time to administer the survey and the teachers then collected it and handed it over to the newspaper," said parent John Silva, who obtained a copy of the newspaper from a concerned student.

"Because the sex survey was given without prior written notice and subsequent written consent by the parents or guardians, the school violated the law," said Kevin Snider, chief counsel of the Pacific Justice Institute. "By facilitating the newspaper to conduct the survey, we feel the school was complicit in violating the rights of the parents," said Julie Wilson, a parent of a high school student.


New High School qualification introduced by the British Labour party REALLY dumbs education down

Teenagers taking Labour’s new diplomas will learn “far less” about key subjects than A-level students, a Government advisor has warned. Sir Mike Tomlinson, former head of Ofsted, said the Government’s new qualifications in academic subjects would lack some of the “knowledge, content, concept and understanding” offered in other courses – damaging pupils’ chances of getting into university.

The comments are the latest in a series of attacks on diplomas which ministers claim could eventually replace GCSEs and A-levels altogether. The qualifications – for 14 to 19-year-olds – combine classroom study and work-based training. They are currently offered in 10 practical subjects such as media, construction and IT, with plans for seven more in coming years. This includes three in the traditional academic areas of science, languages and humanities.

Sir Mike suggested courses would have no more teaching time than A-levels, despite being far more complicated to run. “My worry is that the result of that may well be that we have far less knowledge, content, concept and understanding in what we do than is currently in A-level, which I think would greatly worry higher education,” he said.

Sir Mike was the author of a 2004 report on the qualifications system, which led to the development of diplomas. Labour has said diplomas could eventually become the “qualification of choice”, replacing existing courses altogether.

But in an interview with the Times Educational Supplement, Sir Mike said: “I think there is a huge commitment to the A-level and until such a time as an alternative is shown to be better than the A-level, people will want to stick with what they know.”

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "The Diploma is a very new qualification that is still developing. Those that have been introduced are increasingly popular. We shouldn’t jump to conclusions about those that haven’t even started yet.” He added: "Diplomas are delivering the mix of theoretical and practical skills that employers and universities value and for this reason they could indeed become the qualification of choice for young people."