Saturday, March 27, 2010

MA: Panel OKs school budget cuts, teachers protest

A crowd from a rally that drew hundreds of school employees tried rushing into Boston School Department headquarters last night, sparking a standoff with police, just hours before the School Committee slashed millions of dollars in spending for the next school year but without closing any schools.

More than a dozen police officers struggled for several minutes to pull the doors free of the crowd, in an effort to prevent anyone from entering the downtown Court Street building, where the School Committee chamber was nearing its capacity of 167 people. One man, as he tried to push his way through the doors, yelled, “We have a right.’’ A few moments later, an officer yelled to colleagues down the hallway, “We need help.’’ Eventually the officers slammed the doors shut and stood guard.

The confrontation came as the district faces its third consecutive year of severe budget cutting, while the state and the city struggle to rebound from the nation’s troubled economy.

Although the School Committee unanimously approved the $821.4 million budget, all seven members expressed regret about cutting school spending again. “We know these cuts are painful,’’ said the Rev. Gregory Groover, the board’s chairman.

Emotions are running even higher than in previous years because new efforts by the state and federal governments to overhaul public education have led the state to declare 12 Boston schools underperforming this month, causing Superintendent Carol R. Johnson to force teachers at half of those schools to reapply for their jobs.

The rally was organized by the teachers union and included community activists, parents, students, and members of other city unions such as bus drivers and custodians. “Our schools aren’t underperforming, they are underresourced,’’ Richard Stutman, the teachers union president, yelled to the crowd earlier.

Johnson said she tried to avoid cuts that would directly affect classroom learning. While the budget does not call for teacher layoffs, it will bar principals from replacing some teachers who retire or leave the district for other reasons.

One area taking a big hit is building maintenance. More than $5 million worth of repair projects, such as repainting dingy walls, will be put on hold. The budget also eliminates more than 80 custodial positions, about 20 percent of that workforce, nearly all through layoffs.

In a statement yesterday, Michael Lafferty of the custodian union linked maintenance in the schools to student health and safety. Several School Committee members expressed discomfort with losing so many custodians.

The financial outlook has improved slightly since Johnson unveiled her budget proposal early last month. She initially recommended, at the request of Mayor Thomas M. Menino, spending 1 percent less than this year’s total. Earlier this month, the mayor decided the city could afford to spend the same next year as it is spending this year.

That, however, still meant the district had to cut roughly $50 million because of increases in health care premiums and contractually negotiated pay raises.

After making a series of cuts, the district still confronted a $3.5 million spending gap this week, prompting the mayor to allow the district to increase next year’s budget by that amount.

The decision enabled Johnson to avoid the prospect of controversial school closings this fall. But she warned last night that a significant number of schools will have to close in the coming years. Enrollment has plummeted by thousands of students over the last decade, leaving roughly 4,500 empty seats scattered across the district’s 135 schools. “We have to address excess capacity if we are going to have any resources left,’’ Johnson said.

The budget now heads to the mayor, who will include it in his budget proposal to the City Council next month.

During public testimony before the vote, Manuel Rios Alers, a 17-year-old junior from the John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science in Roxbury, spoke against cutting more than $500,000 from his school’s operating funds and also reducing custodial staff from the district. He said his school, where students must pass an academic exam for admittance, suffered leaks during last week’s torrential rain, causing mold. “If you keep cutting our schools, we will be in the gutter,’’ he said.

A classmate, Eftina Gjikuria, 17, held up an English book with most of its pages coming unglued from its binding and said, “I’m sad to say I’m in AP English, and this is what I get.’’

At the rally, police closed off traffic to a section of Court Street as the crowd grew and protesters banged drums, blared sirens, and honked horns. Some waved signs that said, “Budget cuts hurt kids’’ and “Underfunding equals underperforming.’’

Groover apologized to the attendees that many others could not join them inside, but emphasized that the School Committee had to abide by the law for seating capacity. Another member suggested the group take that energy to Beacon Hill to lobby for more money for the district.


Unteachable pupils sent back to terrified British school staff despite assaults and sex attacks

Unteachable children are described in a dossier as a teaching union accused governors of not protecting staff. It is a shocking document which lays bare the realities of teaching in increasingly unruly schools.

One teacher reports the case of a 14-year-old boy who attacked her and sexually assaulted a female classroom assistant.

Another boy, this time aged only five, threatened to stab a member of staff with a pair of scissors and threw chairs in his reception class.

Most disturbingly, the culprits have all been returned to the classroom against the wishes of teachers - often after initially being excluded or expelled.

Nine 'unteachable' children are described in a dossier produced by the NASUWT union. Five were expelled by head teachers only to be reinstated by governing bodies. The union accuses governors of being more concerned with placating parents of troublemakers than protecting staff.

In the other four cases, head teachers themselves failed to take firm action, leaving classroom teachers in what they describe as an impossible position.

Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, said the dossier highlighted a 'deeply worrying' assault on teachers' authority. 'Governors seem to be taking the line of least resistance to placate the minority of parents rather than to protect the majority of pupils and their staff,' she said. 'If governors do not back head teachers' professional judgment in these matters then staff and school leaders cannot manage behaviour with confidence.

'Equally concerning is that, in the other cases, which were all serious incidents, the school took either no action or made the very weak response of temporary exclusion.'

One case of indiscipline even saw parents of fellow pupils removing their children out of fears they would be injured.

In all cases, the NASUWT union held a ballot for industrial action - refusing to teach the child involved - to force schools to protect staff from the troublemakers.

In most instances, the boycotting tactic resulted in the pupil being moved to a different school. In one, the youngster was moved to a specialist centre until they took their GCSEs.

The union said it dealt with an average of one case of a poor response to serious indiscipline a week but many were resolved without threats of industrial action.

Mrs Keates said the attacks, all in 2009, highlighted a growing trend for school decisions to go against teachers' interests.

Heads and governors are failing to use new legal powers to discipline children, she warned. Schools previously complained about independent appeals. 'Governing bodies have now overtaken independent appeals panels in the perversity of their judgments in relation to reinstating disruptive pupils,' Mrs Keates said.

'A very common feature reported to us by teachers is that when they raise behaviour problems in school they don't feel they are supported in maintaining discipline. 'They often cite that either they are held to blame for the poor behaviour by pupils or there is more concern for protecting the reputation of the school or placating parents.'


Australia: Getting black kids to go to school is the first challenge

But it is one that is not nearly being met. Excerpts below from comments by black activist Noel Pearson

SOMETIMES I just cannot understand how governments think when it comes to setting indigenous policies. Two of the five goals that all Australian governments are now striving to close the gap on indigenous disadvantage concern education.

It is probably useful to distil a complex policy agenda down to a handful of key goals, because some of these dashboard indicators can capture whether or not progress is being made across a broad policy range and gaps are closing.

But I have problems with the policy reasoning underpinning the two educational goals.

First the goal of doubling the year 12 completion rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students is strange. Of course secondary school completion rates are important, but in a strategic sense there other more fundamental prerequisite policy goals which, if solved, will automatically result in higher year 12 completion rates.

The strategically important goal is closing the gap on literacy and numeracy achievement by indigenous students. You solve this problem, you solve the year 12 completion rate problem.

There is a strategically important prerequisite to closing the gap on literacy and numeracy, and that is school readiness and attendance. You can't close the gap on literacy and numeracy unless you first close the gap on school readiness and attendance.

So if I were the policy-maker, I would establish school readiness and attendance as the target goal. And I would set a very brief timeframe for achieving it. School attendance is not rocket science: surely governments and indigenous communities can close this gap in short order.

The good thing about school readiness and attendance is that it is a tangible, actionable goal. What is needed to be done is clear. The benefits and flow-on effects of achieving school readiness and attendance are plain and palpable. Governments, educators and communities can't hide behind the elusiveness of a goal such as year 12 completions, which really describes the desirable outcome rather than a strategic goal.

You can hold people accountable for performance on school readiness and attendance in ways that you cannot hold people to account for an outcome such as year 12 completion rates.

Bureaucrats, politicians and communities are therefore let off the performance hook. They can say they're working on lifting year 12 completions while doing nothing decisive on school attendance and readiness.

Which brings me to my problem with a second education-related goal set by the Council of Australian Governments. They have established the goal of halving the gap in indigenous reading, writing and numeracy within a decade.

In many ways this is an obscene goal. It accepts a level of educational under-achievement that is unnecessary and avoidable. It condemns indigenous children to educational failure when better outcomes are achievable.

Given the social injustice that flows from educational under-achievement - low employment rates, higher rates of poverty, higher rates of social problems, higher imprisonment rates, poorer health and, ultimately, lower life expectancy - you would think that Australian governments committed to closing the gap on indigenous disadvantage would not adopt any policies that were needlessly low in their expectations. And yet, this is what they have done.


Friday, March 26, 2010

University of Ottawa Scolds Ann Coulter, Embraces Fidel Castro and his frauds

In his cautionary letter to Ann Coulter before her recently scheduled speech at the University of Ottawa, the institutions’ provost, Francois Houle, explained that: “Our domestic laws, both provincial and federal, delineate freedom of expression (or ‘free speech’) in a manner that is somewhat different than the approach taken in the United States.”

Canada’s laws also seem to “delineate” medical quackery and fraud somewhat differently from those in the United States. To wit: This very University of Ottawa, so hyper-sensitive to human rights and so vigilant against ethnic sensibilities that it proscribes Bing Crosby’s lines from Road to Morocco is also a long-time partner with Fidel Castro’s Stalinist regime.

In 1999 this chummy partnership between Canadian academics and Castroite apparatchiks gave fruit to the first vaccination against Meningitis B, or so we’re told by “news” agencies that have earned Havana bureaus, and spokespeople from the University of Ottowa, who co-owns the patent with Fidel Castro’s henchmen.

"Cuba has developed the world's first Meningitis B vaccine which is available in Third World countries but not in Europe or in the United States due to U.S. sanctions," dutifully reported Anthony Boadle from Reuters' Havana bureau right after Sicko’s first screening (oddly good timing for such a “scoop” by a Castro-sanctioned “news” agency, I’d certainly say!)

Of this 27 word sentence, by a news agency regarded as authoritative worldwide, exactly 14 words are true. Yes, this Castroite/Ottawa Univ. vaccine is not available in the U.S. and Europe -- but hardly because of ”sanctions.” In fact, in 1999, Bill Clinton's Treasury Department granted the pharmaceutical giant SmithKline Beecham a license to market the vaccine in a joint venture with Castro’s medical ministry -- pending FDA approval.

And why not? Upon it’s unveiling, Fidel Castro’s very own minister of public health, Carlos Dotres, had hailed the vaccine as ”the only effective one in the world!” Highly impressed, Bill Clinton's FDA chief Dr. Carl Frasch said it could annually prevent "1000-2000 cases" of the dreaded disease in the U.S. 110 U.S. Congressmen frantically signed a special letter to Secretary of State Madeline Albright beseeching her to allow this breach of the diabolical Republican-enforced embargo against Cuba , if only to “protect the lives of America’s children!”

That was 11 years ago. The reason the vaccine is STILL not available today in the U.S. and Europe is simply that, like so many other Castroite concoctions and proclamations dutifully trumpeted by “news” agencies who earn Havana bureaus, the vaccine is a farce and its sale a swindle. And, at least in this case, most civilized countries refuse to inflict upon their citizens a mortally dangerous fraud concocted by Fidel Castro in cahoots with the University of Ottawa.

That one of Canada’s most prestigious institute’s of higher-learning engages in joint research with the modern day heirs of Trofim Lysenko might seem amusing, except for all those human victims of (what essentially amounts to) medical testing on humans. Some Third World countries discovered this tragic swindle the hard way. "Brazil has wasted $300 million on a Cuban (in cahoots with Ottawa Univ.) vaccine that is completely ineffective,” wrote Dr. Isaías Raw, director of Sao Paolo’s prestigious Butantan Institute specializing in Biotechnology.

A study by Brazil’s Centro de Vigilancia Epidemiológica (Center for Epidemiological Research) from 1999 seconded Dr Raw: "The studies conducted on the use of the Cuban vaccine in children under 4 years old—the major risk group for hepatitis B—showed no evidence that the vaccine protected them against the disease. This vaccine should not be recommended.”

All current medical literature flatly asserts that despite countless attempts, "no effective vaccine against the Meningitis B has yet been developed." The pharmaceutical giant Novartis is currently testing one and claims to be close to its development.

Sadly for Fidel Castro, the medical establishment abounds with men and women who stubbornly cling to their professional ethics. Enlisting their cooperation presents challenges much more daunting than enlisting the cooperation of cuckolded news agencies, corrupt Canadian Universities and a rotund filmmaker obsessed with vilifying his country. A few years back Castro launched his "Doctor Diplomacy" wherein he started sending Cuban "doctors" to heathen lands (though their spouses and children were held hostage in Cuba) to heal the sick and raise the dead. This was coupled with "free" treatment of poor foreigners from the Caribbean and Latin American nations in Cuban hospitals. The scheme has gotten no end of gushy reviews in the MSM.

Some less prominent reviews might add perspective. Especially as these report much closer-range observations of the scheme along with follow-ups. Here's one from the newspaper The Jamaican Gleaner titled, "Eye Surgery Hopes Dashed; Patients Suffer Complications," which notes: "The survey included 200 patients (Jamaicans who traveled to Cuba for eye surgery) and of that group, 49 patients - nearly a quarter - experienced post surgery complications. According to Dr. Albert Lue, Head of Ophthalmology in Jamaica’s Kingston Public Hospital, the complications causing the patients impaired vision was corneal damage and damage to the iris due to poor surgical technique." "Since I come back, from Cuba," said George Foster, a 70-year-old Jamaican participant in the Cuban "Miracle Operation," "I can see from the right eye but I can't see from the left."

Brazil also got a birds-eye view of Cuba's vaunted “Doctor Diplomacy." "96 Cuban Doctors Expelled from Brazil” starts the April, 2005 story from Agence France-Presse. "Federal judge Marcelo Bernal ruled in favor of a demand by the Brazilian state of Tocantins’ Consejo Regional de Medicina (Regional Council on Medicine) that Cuban doctors be prohibited from practicing in their state.” Based on the results they’d achieved with Tocantins' residents, the judge referred to the Cuban doctors as “Witch Doctors and Shamans.” We cannot accept doctors who have not proven that they are doctors.”

The University of Ottawa, it appears, has no such qualms.


Fla. Senate passes 'teacher tenure' bill

There is no reason why teachers should be an especially protected class. This might inhibit their Leftist political bias in future

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said he approved of the Senate's passing an education bill making it easier to fire teachers and tying pay increases to test scores. The controversial "teacher tenure" bill Wednesday passed narrowly in the Senate, 21-17, in Tallahassee, the St. Petersburg Times reported.

Crist's approval and the Senate's early focus on education mean the bill, which still must move through the state's House, will probably become law, Speaker-designate Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, said.

"This is a bill that really focuses on trying to help children and encouraging better teachers. It pays better teachers more, and that just seems like the right thing to do to me," said Crist.

No Democrats voted for the tenure measure, the Times said. Sen. Paula Dockery of Lakeland, a gubernatorial candidate, and two other Republicans voted against the tenure bill, saying it "disrespects all Florida teachers."

"The idea that teachers are solely responsible for a child's performance goes against everything we know about what makes children successful," Dockery said.


Traditional science experiments 'disappearing' from British schools

Science experiments are disappearing from the classroom amid mounting concerns over pupil behaviour, crowded timetables and health and safety rules, according to research.

Almost all science teachers and lab technicians said they were now being prevented from staging certain practicals in biology, chemistry and physics lessons, it was claimed. The study – by Science Learning Centres, a network of teacher training colleges – said more than two-thirds of staff admitted axing experiments because of a lack of space in the curriculum. Four-in-10 blamed the demands of exams and assessment.

According to the study, some 28 per cent of teachers had been forced to drop classroom practical because of bad behaviour among pupils, while one-in-10 cited health and safety fears. It said that activities such as ripple tanks, dissection and microbiology – once commonplace in schools – were now becoming “endangered species”.

The survey, which questioned more than 1,300 teachers and technicians, found that pupils had fewer chances to conduct experiments as they moved up through secondary school.

Ministers have invested hundreds millions of pounds in programmes designed to boost the number of pupils taking science at GCSE and A-level. In the Budget this week, the Government announced extra funding to allow more students to study science and maths at university, suggesting that more highly-skilled professionals were needed to boost Britain’s economic recovery.

But experts fear that children are being turned off science at a young age because lessons are becoming increasingly safe.

Professor John Holman, director of the National Science Learning Centre, said: "Learning science without practicals is the equivalent of studying literature without books. “Experimental evidence is the mainstay of science and the UK has a very strong tradition of scientific practical work in schools. "It concerns me that, for a range of reasons, many teachers currently feel unable to dedicate as much time to practical work in the classroom as they would like to and today's students therefore have fewer opportunities for exploratory learning.

“While it is certainly not the case that schools are being forced to abandon all practical work, I am alarmed by this trend and struck by the obstacles that teachers say they are facing.”


Thursday, March 25, 2010

TX: Can poor test scores get a teacher fired?

Imagine if a computer could identify the weakest-link teachers – the ones who should be told it's time to get out of the classroom. It's not quite so simple, but a new policy in Houston allows teachers to be fired based on data that some experts say isolates a teacher's effect on his or her students' test-score gains.

Reform advocates say school districts should improve teacher quality in part by using such "value added" data. Dozens of districts, including Houston's, have already incorporated the concept into "pay for performance" systems. Education leaders in New York City and the District of Columbia are moving toward linking it to tenure or dismissals. But none has gone ahead as boldly as the Texas district.

"The worst teachers in a school really drag down achievement," says Eric Hanu shek, a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution in California. "The biggest tension is: How much do you rely upon objective statistical information from test scores, and how much do you rely on other measures of teacher performance?"

A number of parents backed the Houston decision at a packed February board meeting. But the local teachers union is planning a legal challenge, claiming, among other concerns, that the formula is not public and leaves teachers in the dark about how they're judged.

The district defends it as a tool to help principals ensure that each classroom has an effective teacher. No one has been let go yet under the new policy, but at the end of the school year, the data could be cited as one criterion for not renewing a teacher's contract.

The controversy highlights a broader debate over how to improve teacher evaluations – which are "largely broken," US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said recently before a House committee.

Secretary Duncan presented the blueprint of the No Child Left Behind overhaul to the House education committee Wednesday. The plan includes a number of provisions for improving teacher quality.

For all the potential flaws, linking teacher evaluations to student achievement data is a move in the right direction, says Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality in Washington. Under the status quo, she says, teachers tend to be fired only if they are abusive or break the law. Studies in a sample of districts across the United States have found that less than 1 percent of teachers earn an unsatisfactory rating on their evaluations. "We do not fire teachers because they aren't good at teaching math [or other subjects]," she says.

Even Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), is open to some use of student test data in teacher evaluations, but, she says, "there's the right way and the wrong way to do it." In Houston and New York, she says, "it's high-stakes 'gotcha,' as opposed to using data to inform [classroom] instruction."

The Houston AFT-affiliated union has multiple objections to the new policy. One is the time lag: The teachers don't find out how the formula scored them, based on their students' performance on two standardized tests, until the middle of the following school year. That timing is not very useful, they say.

"If you want to come up with a magic number ... and send it to me six months after I give the test and tell me, 'Oh, that was your goal, and – oops – you've missed it,' you haven't done anyone any good at that point.... You haven't helped the kids," says Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers.

The move also decreases the trust of the union, Ms. Fallon says, which suspected this kind of "slippery slope" when the data were first used for performance bonuses in 2007.

The Houston union's skepticism is legitimate, says Sean Corcoran, an assistant professor of educational economics at New York University who has been researching value-added methods. Factors such as many students moving in or out of the district during the school year, or even a distraction outside the window on test day, could make the numbers less reliable, he says. "Their high-stakes use is almost impossible, and I think anyone who thinks otherwise either doesn't understand these models or is willing to put aside a lot of uncertainty," he says.

Greg Meyers, president of the Houston Independent School District's Board of Education, defends the district's new policy. Using the data in making decisions about teacher-contract renewals is just a natural progression after Houston's forays into performance pay and other reforms, he says.

"We're probably one of the most data-driven districts in the country.... Teachers and students know which teachers are less effective. This will help pinpoint and quantify it," Mr. Meyers says.

The broader point is to use the data to target professional development, he says.

Groups such as the Education Equality Project – a national coalition that advocates closing achievement gaps among racial and economic groups – argue that if value-added data meet certain criteria and are gathered for several years, they can fairly tie student gains to the individual effect of teachers.

While some object to particular data systems, 55 percent of teachers nationally say that, in general, student growth over the course of an academic year is a "very accurate" measure of teacher performance, according to a survey released this month by Scholastic Inc. and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


Student loans get the Obamacare treatment

In Chicago, the legend goes, whenever Mayor Daley needed a quick infusion of cash, he would order a "street sweeping." After the evening rush hour, city workers would post signs warning of a street sweeping at dawn the next day -- any car parked on the street would be slapped with a ticket.

Congressional Democrats' version of "street sweeping" is nationalizing an industry and folding its profits into the budget, thus partly paying for some radical expansion of government -- health care reform in this case.
The budget reconciliation bill being used as a sidecar to the Senate health care bill also contains a federal takeover of the student loan industry. Judging by preliminary data from the Congressional Budget Office, the student loan provisions are similar to those in the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act -- a bill that passed the House this year, but faced a Senate filibuster.

The reconciliation version of the bill chops out much of the student aid, making the measure fairly profitable on paper. After all, government will now have a monopoly in an industry already being subsidized by other parts of government. Over the next decade, between reduced subsidies to private lenders and interest collected from students, the expected profit is $60 billion. Student aid would be increased by about $40 billion, leaving the U.S. Treasury $19.4 billion in the black thanks to this takeover. That profit gets counted toward the reconciliation bill's score from the Congressional Budget Office, and voila! more deficit reduction from the health care reform bill.

If only Democrats had thought of this trick back in the spring, they could have budgeted in the nationalization of other profitable industries. Throw the porn industry into the Department of Health and Human Services and nationalize Exxon Mobil, and your budget score looks even better. Why not put Goldman Sachs on the budget so that Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein, in a reversal of roles, would be working for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner?

But the student loan game playing gets richer. The CBO revealed Thursday the bill would "establish a new program for lenders who were chartered before July 1, 2009, and are owned by a state under the control of a board including the governor and offered guaranteed loans prior to June 30, 2010."

That's an oddly specific description of a financial institution. That's because this program applies to exactly one lender: The Bank of North Dakota. The CBO explains, "Under the new program, these banks [sic] would be allowed to offer guaranteed student loans." In other words, all student lenders would be killed by the budget reconciliation bill, except for the biggest one in the state of Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad.

This sort of game playing is the hallmark of health care reform, which has included backroom deals with the drug lobby, parliamentary innovation, and budget tricks to make Enron accountants envious.

While nationalizing student loans may seem irrelevant to "reforming" health care, there is something fitting in pairing the two undertakings in one bill -- it's almost a foreshadowing. Student lenders have long fed at the federal trough, pocketing so many subsidies that Democrats were justified in asking why there needed to be a private sector in that industry at all.

This weekend, it's the drug companies, hospitals, doctors, and insurers who are latching more firmly at Leviathan's teat. How long before Congress decides to knock out the profit-taking middleman, and institute a single-payer system or even a national health system?

When we get wherever this "reform" is taking us -- when our deficits are ballooning and health care is scarcer -- we may remember the games, gimmicks, and scams used to pass it into law, and maybe conclude that evil means yield evil ends.


British teachers suspended after pupil Sam Linton dies from asthma attack

They should be jailed for manslaughter. They didn't give a damn about the kid. They were too busy having one of their innumerable "meetings"

A headmistress and four other members of staff have been suspended from a school that faces possible legal action after a pupil died from an asthma attack.

Sam Linton, 11, was made to sit in a corridor at Offerton High School, in Stockport, struggling to breathe while no ambulance was called. His parents are considering legal action against the school and the council after Sam died in hospital two hours later in December 2007. An inquest jury found that the school’s neglect had been a significant factor in his death.

A spokesman for Stockport council said yesterday that the five staff had been suspended while an internal inquiry is carried out. Evelyn Leslie, the head teacher, and Jan Ford, the teacher who told Sam to sit in the corridor, are among those who have been asked to step down during the inquiry.

Sam had been wheezing continually and using an inhaler on the day that he died but staff failed to call 999. He was left to wait in a hallway until two other pupils found him and raised the alarm. By the time his mother arrived Sam’s lips had turned blue.

The three-week inquest at Stockport Coroner’s Court was told that valuable time was lost while Sam was made to sit in the corridor. The jury found last week that Sam died from natural causes but said that neglect at an “individual and systemic level” had been a significant contributory factor.

Sam’s father, Paul Linton, described the council’s move as “too little, too late”. He told The Times: “We are considering legal action against the school and the local authority.

“I would hope that the head teacher doesn’t get another job as a head at another school. Education-wise I couldn’t fault the school but on the policy for looking after a child that was ill they get a big fat zero.”

The jury found that staff had failed to implement the asthma policy, were not sufficiently trained to deal with asthma and that a healthcare plan was not in place. Information about Sam’s attacks was not shared among staff and they failed to monitor Sam’s condition on the day of his death, the jury said.

The school, which was judged “unsatisfactory” in its latest Ofsted inspection, refused to comment. A spokesman for Stockport council said that detailed evidence presented to the inquest and the verdict of the jury had led them to carry out an inquiry.

“While it has been some time since Sam’s death there has not been a period of inactivity,” he said. “Immediately following Sam’s death, the governing body reviewed the handling of pupils’ medical needs relating to asthma and other medical conditions, and has adapted systems and practices at the school.”

The council has decided three times not to hold a serious case review, saying that the case did not meet the necessary criteria.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Teacher teaches aggressive kid an effective and appropriate lesson: Teacher gets fired

What's the kid going to make of that? You guess

A PRIVATE school teacher in the US has been sacked after encouraging several students to punch a five-year-old boy in the face as punishment for hitting another student.

KPRC-TV in Houston reported that the incident happened when Davarius Williams, 5, and other children from the Robindell Private School took a field trip to a restaurant last week. Davarius punched a female classmate during an argument and the teacher supervising the trip told other students to hit him back, Devarius' mother, Barbara Mobley, said.

"The teacher that was driving his particular van got him and his group together and said, 'When we get on the van, I want everybody to punch Devarius in the face because he punched the little girl in the face,'" Ms Mobley said.

Ms Mobley claimed at least a dozen children hit her son. "As each child got on the bus, she said, 'Go,'" Ms Mobley said. "They punched my son and went and sat down."

School director Chuck Wall said that the teacher was fired within 30 minutes of the complaint. "It was a big mistake. She should have never done it," Mr Wall said. "It was a very, very good teacher that we fired. "She had been with me for six or seven years now ... (she) had a moment of weakness, out of frustration, and dealing with a child she's had a problem with over the last several months."


Official gender unfairness in colleges

The famous Title IX provision in the 1972 civil-rights legislation sounds quite sensible: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiv­ing Federal financial assistance.” In the pattern of feminist activism with which we have become familiar, however, what sounded like a reasonable attempt to en­sure fairness to individuals soon became a coercive instrument for enforcing decidedly unreasonable kinds of group rights.

Title IX’s first application was to high-school and college athletics. Since the premise of feminism is that men and women are alike apart from inconse­quential physical differences and arbitrary social construction, disparities in the numbers of each sex in any area must be the result of discrimination. College administrators realized that in order to forestall lawsuits and loss of federal money, they had to demonstrate “statistical proportionality”: that the participation of men and women in sports was proportional to their numbers in the student population. But women outnumber men at many colleges, and even with the prompting and funding that markedly increased female partici­pation in the wake of Title IX, women on the whole continued to show less interest in sports than men. Thus, perfectly viable men’s teams had to be eliminated in order to make the numbers proportional.

As mean and unjust as has been Title IX’s application to college sports, its proponents are now employing it for something even more pernicious: the attempt to achieve gender parity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. And, as ever, the government is at the ready to do their bidding.

In a hearing held in October 2007 by a House subcommittee on research and science education, all five congressmen present — Republican and Democrat — accepted without reservation the premise that gender disparities in STEM faculties, particularly in engineering, physics, and math, are the result of discrimination. Expert witness Kathie Olsen, then deputy director of the National Science Founda­tion, declared that “our goal is to transform, institution by institution, the entire culture of science and engineering in America,” adding in a rhetorical flourish, “to be inclusive of all — for the good of all,” which can only sound like a grim joke to those who know the harm Title IX has done to men’s sports. But all the congressmen said amen. “What kind of hammer should we use?” demanded Rep. Brian Baird (D., Wash.). Title IX compliance reviews are already underway.

Hitherto relatively safe from the political correctness and diversity policing that have plagued the humanities, science is now under assault, as Christina Hoff Sommers illustrates in this important collection of articles by different experts on various aspects of the issue. “Title IX has unquestionably led to men’s participation in sports being calibrated to the level of women’s interest,” Sommers warns in her own contribution. “That level of calibration could devastate academic science.” In order to achieve proportionality in these fields, the numbers of men admitted to science programs may have to be reduced, while more women, likely with lesser qualifications, will have to be recruited.

Although the gender-equity movement in science has been active since at least the early 2000s, Lawrence Summers no doubt galvanized this new and noxious round of social engineering with his suggestion at a Harvard conference in 2005 that so few women rise to faculty positions in STEM in part because men have greater intrinsic aptitude in science and math, and also greater interest in these fields.

Feminists responded with convulsive outrage, and the next step was Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Poten­tial of Women in Academic Science and Engineering (2006), a report sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The writers alleged “pervasive unexamined gender bias” in STEM, denied evidence for lesser innate ability in women, and recommended modifying the competitive ethos of academic science with a more nurturing atmosphere suited to women’s special brand of intellection — evidently oblivious of the contradiction this last point presented to feminists’ insistence that the sexes are alike.

Most of the authors in the present volume support Lawrence Summers’s side of the debate. Psychopathologist Simon Baron-Cohen notes differences in male/female mathematical ability, as shown, for example, in scores on the math portion of the SATs. Men score about 40 points better in the average ranges, and the gap widens at the high end, where 13 men to 1 woman score over 700 out of a possible 800. Baron-Cohen also details research on infants and small children that finds males better at “systemizing” and females at “empathizing,” tendencies that would naturally lead them toward different vocations.

Perhaps the most powerful entry in the book comes from psychologist Jerre Levy and research scientist Doreen Kimura, who directly refute the Bias and Barriers study, presenting a wealth of evidence to show “that genetic and hormonal dif­ferences between males and females are major causes of sex differences in behavior” and in “educational and vocational goals.” Short of “coercive force or manipulation of the hormonal environment of the fetus,” we cannot “equalize the numbers of men and women in all fields of science, engineering, and math.”

But Levy and Kimura also point out that, purported “hostile climate” notwithstanding, where interest and ability coincide, women have succeeded handsomely in some fields, such as medicine, veterinary medicine, and the life sciences (as opposed to math, engineering, and the physical sciences). Finally, the authors deplore the demand for a more nurturing atmosphere for women as “an insult to female scientists, and a serious danger to science itself.” (For another analysis of the ineptitude and unprofessionalism of the Bias and Barriers report, see Patricia Hausman’s article for Academic Ques­tions, “Feminizing Science: The Alchemy of Title IX,” available online.)

In his entry, developmental psychologist David C. Geary finds “overwhelming” evidence that evolution has produced hard-wired sexual differences. Neurol­ogist and psychologist Richard J. Haier details brain research that may account for male predominance in scientific fields, and calls for faithfulness to data, not ideology.

On the other side of the issue, psychologists Elizabeth S. Spelke and Katherine Ellison detail tests on infants and children that show the sexes having similar abilities in areas of cognition important to scientific work. And Rosalind Chait Barnett and Laura Sabattini outline the structural barriers women have faced in science throughout history.

The weight of the book, however, is on the side of sexual difference, and Som­mers writes that “the evidence for gender bias in math and science is weak at best, and the evidence that women are relatively disinclined to pursue these fields at the highest levels is serious.” Thus it is alarming to see that prestigious insti­tutions such as Harvard and MIT have already begun to implement gender-equity policies.

With his usual panache, Charles Murray predicts in his provocative if sometimes puzzling conclusion to the book that the accumulating evidence of innate group differences will within ten years destroy the “equality premise” that undergirds contemporary social science and underwrites political correctness and affirmative action. The change will come regarding men and women first, since the taboo against sex differences is somewhat weaker than that against race and ethnic differences. Murray declares that innate preferences dispose the sexes to different fields, and that at the high end of STEM especially, men will inevitably be the majority on science faculties and among Nobel laureates and Fields Medal winners due to their decided genetic advantages in intellectual and behavioral traits (although he spookily adds “until gen­etic engineering alters them”). Indeed, Murray fears that the implosion of the equality premise will lead to an over­reaction in the other direction, toward renewed discrimination, but he helpfully assures liberals that the acknowledgement of group differences could actually justify a demand for greater redistribution of wealth. Simon Baron-Cohen, for his part, despite his belief in consequential sexual differences, supports using social policies to produce greater equality in STEM. One senses the need for a larger, humanistic vision that could find meaning in life beyond egalitarianism, and Murray’s final note emphasizing individualism is a partial move toward that end.

Sommers herself clings to her commitment to what she has termed “equity feminism” in the classical-liberal tradition, as opposed to what she has elsewhere termed “gender feminism,” the identity-politics kind that unfortunately prevails. But even these designations are collapsing, as she is forced to describe feminist activism in science as the demand for “gender equity.” Still, as our society struggles to come to grips with what it has so long been forced to deny, this book is an invaluable contribution and should be in the hands of every department head in every university across the land.


Ousted ROTC may go back to school

Stanford rethinks 40-year ban

It's college-application season, and GI Joe is hoping for an acceptance letter from Stanford. Nearly 40 years after the U.S. military's Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship program was banished from the elite California school, Stanford's faculty Senate earlier this month heard the case for bringing it back.

"Institutions like Stanford have an obligation to uphold this 200-year-old [tradition] of the citizen-soldier," said Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and Stanford professor David Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy has teamed up with Clinton administration Defense Secretary William Perry, another Stanford professor, in the drive to restore ROTC 40 years after protests of the Vietnam War helped drive it off the campus. "We fear the implications of having a distant military, and a modest way to bring about civil societies is through ROTC programs," Mr. Kennedy said. "That is part of our argument."

The passions of the 1960s anti-war movement are a distant memory, but it's not clear whether other Ivy League universities — including Harvard, Yale, Columbia and Brown — will follow Stanford's lead in bringing back banished ROTC programs. Federal law, enacted in the 1990s, prohibits colleges and universities from receiving federal funding if they don't allow military recruiters or ROTC units on campus.

One modern complication is the clash between university nondiscrimination codes and the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which bans openly gay men and women from serving in the ranks.

Harvard students now can participate in ROTC through the regional program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with students from six other Boston-area schools, but not on the Cambridge campus, John Longbrake, media director at Harvard, said in an e-mail. "There are not currently any plans to modify the arrangement," Mr. Longbrake wrote. "We will, of course, follow any federal policy changes with interest."

Yale's ROTC program is hosted by the University of Connecticut at Storrs, while California Institute of Technology students interested in ROTC courses must go to the University of California at Los Angeles. Similar off-campus arrangements have been set up for schools such as the University of Chicago and Columbia.

More here

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The National Standards Distraction

Accountability and choice remain the best drivers of reform

The Obama Administration wants to standardize what is taught in American public schools, and there's nothing wrong in principle with setting benchmarks for what the average child should know by a certain grade. But national standards are no substitute for school choice and accountability, which are proving to be the most effective drivers of academic improvement.

With the Administration's blessing, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers have proposed a set of uniform K-12 math and reading standards for all states. Compliance will supposedly be voluntary, but Education Secretary Arne Duncan said states that support the effort will have a better chance of receiving Race to the Top money. And President Obama suggested that states that opt out risk losing millions of dollars in Title I grants for low-income students.

Not surprisingly, all but two states—Texas and Alaska—quickly expressed support for uniform standards. But over the past week, a half dozen or so others—as varied as California, Massachusetts, Virginia and Minnesota—have had second thoughts. Governor Rick Perry said Texans should determine what's taught in their state, while Massachusetts and California rightly say their standards are superior to what's been proposed.

The biggest challenge may be reaching agreement on what a national curriculum should include. In the 1990s, the Bush and Clinton Administrations advocated national history standards. But the process became dominated by educators with a multicultural agenda preoccupied with political correctness and America's failings. The Senate censured the history standards by a vote of 99 to 1. The recent brawl over the Texas social sciences curriculum suggests that what works in Nacogdoches isn't going to fly in Marin County, and vice versa.

Under the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, states are free to set their own standards, and it's certainly true that some have dumbed-down their exams to meet the law's requirements. The latest national standards effort is intended to correct this practice and ensure high-quality standards across all 50 states.

However, national standards won't tell us anything we don't already know about underperforming states. The U.S. already has a mandatory federal test in place—the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam (NAEP)—to expose states with weak standards. Mississippi may claim that 89% of its fourth graders are proficient in reading, according to the state test. But when NAEP scores show this is true of only 18% of fourth graders, Mississippi education officials aren't fooling anyone.

It's true that some countries with uniform standards (Singapore, Japan) outperform the U.S., though other countries with such standards (Sweden, Israel) do worse. On the 2007 eighth-grade TIMSS test, an international math exam, all eight countries that scored higher than the U.S. had national standards. But so did 33 of the 39 countries that scored lower. The U.S. is also commonly regarded as having the best higher education system in the world, though we lack national standards for colleges and universities.

National standards won't magically boost learning in the U.S., and if this debate distracts attention from more effective reforms, then public education will be worse off. State and local educators don't need more top-down control from Washington. They need the freedom and authority to close bad schools, recruit better teachers and pay them based on effectiveness rather than tenure.

Most important, families need more educational choices. Some 2,000 high schools are responsible for half of all drop-outs in America, and forcing those schools to compete for students and shape up or shut down is the main chance. Higher standards will be the fruit of such reforms, not the driver.


Unions, Public Schools and Minority Children

Speaking a couple years ago about technology and education, Apple CEO and founder Steve Jobs said that technology wouldn't matter as long as you can't fire teachers. "I believe that what is wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way," he said. Jobs likened schools to running a small business that he said could never succeed if you can't hire and fire. Reasonable? I think so.

Would anyone question that there is no single thing more critical to a nation's future than educating its children? Yet, consider that 88 percent of our children get K-12 education in public schools and that 70 percent of the teachers in these schools have union protected jobs.

Gallup has been polling public opinion about unions since the 1930's. Last year, for the first time, less than half (48 percent) of those surveyed approved of unions. Fifty one percent said unions "mostly hurt" the U.S. economy and 39 percent said they "mostly help."

The percentage of the nation's private sector work force that belongs to a union has dropped precipitously. In the 1950's, over 30 percent belonged to unions. Today it's a little over seven percent. But in our public schools, the direction is completely opposite. In 1960, about 35 percent of public school teachers belonged to unions and today it's twice that at 70 percent.

Is it not counterintuitive that most Americans feel unions hurt us, that we allow increasingly fewer goods and services produced in our private sector to be controlled by unions, but we turn increasingly more of our most precious commodity -- our children and their education -- over to a union-controlled workforce?

In an article in the latest edition of Cato Journal, Andrew Coulson notes that, on average, compensation of public school teachers is about 42 percent higher than their counterparts teaching in non-unionized private schools. Yet, according to Coulson, research shows that private schools consistently outperform public schools. He attributes the higher average wages of public school teachers less to union collective bargaining and more to the political clout of unions to maintain the public school monopoly over K-12 education. Over 95 percent of the political contributions of the two national teachers' unions -- the NEA and AFT --- go to Democrats or to the Democrat Party. Their $56 million in political contributions since 1989 equals that of "Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Lockheed Martin, and the National Rifle Association combined."

The main beneficiaries of education alternatives are minority children. Yet, at the state level, unions provide a unified lobbying front to block such initiatives. A recent Wall Street Journal op-ed reported on the glowing success of charter schools in Harlem. "Nationwide the average black 12th grader reads at the level of a white eighth grader. Yet, Harlem charter students ....are outperforming their white peers in wealthy suburbs." Yet, in 2009 the New York teachers union successfully lobbied the state legislature to freeze charter school spending and now is pushing to limit penetration of charters in school districts.

Kids in Los Angeles' public schools are overwhelming Hispanic and black. According to the Los Angeles Times, "just 39 percent of L.A.'s fourth-graders are even basically literate." Yet, the Times attributed union lobbying to undermining a recent attempt by the L.A. school board to open failing schools to non-unionized charters.

Similarly, unions played a major role in recently killing the successful private school scholarship program in Washington, DC.

But there's a significant and promising sign that blacks are beginning to fight back. Rev. James Meeks, founder and senior pastor of the largest black church in Illinois, who is also a Democrat state senator, is taking on the unions. He has introduced a bill opening the door for vouchers for kids in Chicago's public schools.


British students revolt as 150 are crammed into one tutorial

Tutorials -- as distinct from lectures -- are supposed to be fairly intimate events, with opportunites for interaction between teachers and students

Hundreds of engineering students at Manchester University have become the latest undergraduates to stage a revolt against the poor quality of teaching they receive. More than 200 have signed a petition against low standards on their course, which have included “tutorials” of more than 150 students taken by one academic and work returned after several months with no marking except one sentence and a tick.

At an angry meeting with senior academics, students have complained that some lecture notes were simply copied from textbooks.

The National Union of Students has approached David Willetts, the Conservative shadow universities secretary, to advise on the dispute.

Student “consumer militancy” over teaching quality — which has hit other leading universities including Bristol — is set to grow as universities implement Lord Mandelson’s budget cuts and sack staff. It will become more widespread if tuition fees rise as expected. The “revolt” at Manchester comes as Willetts considers the establishment of a new universities inspectorate, one of whose jobs would be to police teaching standards. Willetts is concerned that too many universities have simply demanded the right to charge higher tuition fees without giving any undertakings about improved teaching in return.

His proposed inspectorate would be set up by universities rather than the government and modelled on the Independent Schools Inspectorate which monitors private schools. Willetts said: “Universities have to focus on high quality education for their students. Now students pay thousands of pounds in fees they have a very consumerist attitude and we can all understand why.”

At Manchester, the vice-chancellor, Alan Gilbert, recently described the low level of student satisfaction with the university’s teaching as “totally unacceptable”.

Colin Bailey, dean of engineering and physical sciences, said students had raised issues on the quality of teaching. “[We] discussed possible solutions. This has resulted in addressing the quality of class notes, improving tutorials, improving communication, improving quality and timeliness of feedback.”


Monday, March 22, 2010

Miss. prom called off over lesbian ruckus

One would have thought that once the school had called off the event, there was nothing left to litigate but litigation is apparently still going on. Can a school be ordered by a court to hold a social event? If so, the attendance would probably be very sparse, now that a private, invitation-only event has been arranged elsewhere

An attorney for the Itawamba County School District said in a U.S. District Court filing late Friday that the school board decided to call off the high school prom to settle the "very explosive and disruptive issue" of the district's ban on same-sex dates.

The filing by school board attorney Benjamin Griffith states that Itawamba Agricultural High School senior Constance McMillen "wishes to make the defendant district the site for a national constitutional argument over gay and lesbian rights."

McMillen, 18, petitioned the school district to allow her to attend the April 2 prom with her girlfriend at the school in Fulton, Miss. She also asked to be allowed to wear a tuxedo. Both requests were denied. When the American Civil Liberties Union wrote a letter giving the district until March 10 to reverse its decision, the school board canceled the event.

The ACLU filed suit in federal court the next day asking the court to reinstate the prom and declare the school board's behavior as a violation of McMillen's constitutional rights to free expression.

Griffith said the student's rights were not violated. "This is not an issue where anyone has been denied an education or suffered a constitutional deprivation," he wrote in the filing. "Rather, this is a social event that, in light of rapidly escalating circumstances, was disruptive to the school environment because people are on all sides of the issue."

An affidavit filed Friday in support of the school board by attorney James Keith claimed school board members have been been under "tremendous pressure" as a result of the controversy. "The school board was caught in a no-win situation as this matter developed," Keith wrote. "One board member received threats at his place of employment because of the stance he had taken on the matter. Board members have received emails, telephone calls and Facebook messages regarding this matter."

American Civil Liberties Union attorney Christine Sun called the argument "preposterous." "Long before this became an issue in the media they had told Constance that she could not bring her girlfriend to the prom," she said. "Really if was the school board's decision to cancel the prom that became the big news story."

While the demand letter from the ACLU drew some media attention, including an article by the Associated Press, the story spread internationally when the school board announced it would call off the dance. Since then, McMillen has appeared on numerous television shows to tell her story, including an appearance Friday on the nationally syndicated "Ellen DeGeneres Show."

The school board's response states that parents have organized a private prom at a furniture mart in nearby Tupleo. Now that the school district has withdrawn from the event, any constitutional claims are irrelevant, Griffith wrote.

More here

Don’t let feds control local education

A standardized national curriculum wouldn’t make California’s kids smarter or well equipped to compete in the global economy, or even better citizens. But a national, one-size-fits-all curriculum would be highly political, beset by special interest lobbying, and almost certainly diluted by teachers unions and education bureaucrats unaccountable to parents and voters.

Yet President Barack Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, 48 governors – including Arnold Schwarzenegger – and a host of education “reform” groups are rushing headlong to embrace the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The coalition of state governors and state school superintendents last week released its draft reading and math standards for kindergarten through 12th grade.

The standards are billed as “voluntary,” but that's a joke. The Obama administration has already announced plans to make $14 billion in federal Title I funds and another $15 billion in future Race to the Top grants contingent on states adopting the national standards. In short, the standards would be as “voluntary” as reporting personal income to the IRS, regulating the drinking age or maintaining the speed limit. Just try to opt out and see what happens.

The standards are also supposed to be “flexible,” but it’s difficult to see how. The draft reading and math requirements include detailed, year-by-year prescriptions for every child, regardless of ability. A student who struggles with reading, writing or arithmetic would have an even tougher time keeping up, as teachers would face mounting pressure to cover all the material in federally sanctioned lesson plans. Of course, that assumes the final standards won't be homogenized and dumbed down to the point they would be considered "high standards" in name only. Judging by history, that's probably a bad assumption.

One thing's for sure: Transforming common core standards into a common curriculum would turn an already contentious policy issue into a brawl as bruising and divisive as the fight over health care reform. Where health care is about our bodies, education is about our children's minds.

Texas provides an idea of how the fight over a national curriculum might play out. The Lone Star State happens to be the second-largest textbook market in the United States. Thanks to California's budget woes, which preclude the state from buying new textbooks until at least 2016, Texas is poised to reshape the content of U.S. history books for the next decade or so. The State Board of Education, bitterly split along ideological lines, has been overrun with demands from every interest group imaginable to render history into a politically correct mishmash.

Ironically, Texas was one of two states that refused to join the CCSSI. (The other was Alaska.) Texas also sat out of the competition for a slice of the $4 billion in Race to the Top grant money. "Our states and our communities must reserve the right to decide how we educate our children and not surrender that control to a federal bureaucracy," Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, said in January.

California could learn something from Texas’ declaration of independence from the ever-widening federal dictates over education policy. When arguments about curriculum are hashed out at the state level, at least somebody can be held accountable. Federal government education bureaucrats and teachers union officials aren't accountable to voters or taxpayers.

An honest effort to create good standards would allow for extensive public input. Instead the CCSSI has given the public until April 2 to comment on the draft language and math standards. What's the hurry? Could it be the standards’ authors fear that a long public conversation would lead to changes reflecting the public's concerns?

Truly voluntary national standards would let states reject them without fear of punishment or sanction. Why should California, which has exemplary mathematics standards, submit to a document that puts political consensus above educational excellence? Why should Massachusetts, which experts generally acknowledge as having the best standards of any state, have to settle for less?

The problem with the proposed national standards is the same thing that bedeviled No Child Left Behind and nearly every reform since the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965: The remorseless needs of bureaucracy always trump the needs of children. Educators, parents and children deserve choices, not uniformly dismal dictates from Washington.



Three comments below

Battle looms over cuts to history curriculum

As a 5th generation Australian who is mightily pleased to be an Australian, I don't think I can be accused of ill motives in what I am about to say but I do think that the teaching of Australian history can be overdone. It is a very praiseworthy history but it is small beer on the world scene. American, British and European history are far more important for study in schools

WRITERS drafting the national curriculum need to reduce the amount of Australian history taught - raising the spectre of another fight over what is cut when the document is finalised later this year. The chairman of the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, Barry McGaw, told the Herald that he was open to reducing the history content in response to concerns that it contains too much for teachers to cover. Professor McGaw said he was "open to any advice the history teachers want to give to us". "We need quite specific advice," he said. "They need to say what needs to come out."

The president of the Australian History Teachers Association, Paul Kiem, said feedback from around the country confirmed the draft curriculum was too content-heavy, particularly in years 9 and 10 when the bulk of Australian history was taught. "There has to be some culling," he said. "There needs to be a pause and discussion about what is significant knowledge in Australian history and what we expect people to know by year 10. "Australian history dominates years 9 and 10 and it is one area in which decisions will have to be made about reducing content or introducing options."

Drafters of the curriculum, which is open for public consultation until May 23, have so far satisfied a range of political interest groups by covering as much as possible within a framework of 80 teaching hours each year. Some also believe there will not be enough time to teach world history in the depth outlined in the draft curriculum. At present, NSW is the only state that tailors its curriculum to a specific time frame: 50 hours for history.

Those involved in the curriculum drafting have confirmed the history outline is overly ambitious and will need to be condensed, have topics removed or have core areas taught as electives. Teachers believe the curriculum authority is nervous about stirring up political tension over which topics it will remove.

The NSW Board of Studies and the state government have been silent on any contentious national curriculum debate issues this federal election year. Mr Kiem said his and other teacher organisations were frustrated at the silence of state and territory Labor governments. "It is a very significant problem," he said. "There is no transparency. No one is saying how many hours we will have to work with. "We have been saying for a long time that we need to get a response … about implementation and from universities about teacher training. If we don't get answers from state and territory governments, there will be inconsistent implementation."

Mr Kiem said he was concerned that the national curriculum authority was not open or flexible enough to offer core history curriculum in the form of options. "We are looking at a document that can be implemented flexibly," he said. "My impression with ACARA is that there is a generic template approach to designing the curriculum, the notion that all students will be studying the one history course. There is a real need to consider those implementation issues. What is needed is flexibility. How you do that is develop core and options."

A spokeswoman for the NSW Minister for Education, Verity Firth, declined to comment on details of the history curriculum. "From day one, the NSW government has supported the development of the national curriculum and we are currently examining the details of the draft," she said.


The grammar you teach when you are not teaching grammar

The gobbledegook below sounds like a face-saving way of admitting that the abandonment of grammar teaching was a big mistake

THE problem is huge: low levels of literacy among up to half of Australians. The solution: a new national school curriculum, literacy for the 21st century and, gasp, grammar. Some say dropping grammar in the 1970s began the slide to today's textese - "yng peeps cant rite proply". But many older Australians live with literacy levels lower than young people. The issue is the needs of people and the economy are changing and so is the curriculum.

Is boring old grammar the answer? Well, not really. It's a modern approach to grammar that's being introduced. And the ambitions are broad: lift children who slip through cracks in the education system to a level of reading and writing that reflects Australia's wealth.

Almost half of adult Australians have literacy skills lower than those needed to meet the demands of everyday life and work in a knowledge-based economy, Bureau of Statistics figures show. Scarily, nearly two-thirds of those whose first language is not English scored below the minimum.

Even so, compared with other countries, Australia rates well on high-school students' scores in reading, maths and science tests. The problem is that achievement differs across the country - and between the disadvantaged and the better off. Last year's national tests reveal nearly one in three year 9 students in the Northern Territory is below the minimum standard in reading, writing, spelling and grammar and punctuation - they do not have rudimentary literacy skills. In NSW, about one in 10 students is at this low level.

The draft national curriculum puts grammar, spelling and punctuation at the centre of English teaching and learning. But why now?

Grammar was cut in the '70s because of a view it didn't help students' writing, said Dr Sally Humphrey from the University of Sydney's linguistics department.

"It was like, 'We're just going to give you building blocks; we're not going to show you how it works in text."' The grammar starring in the new curriculum "isn't a set of rules for 'correct' use", she said, but "a set of resources or a tool kit" to be used according to the situation - whether it's texting, giving a presentation in class or writing a history essay.

"Each of those three situations would require different resources, different patternings of grammar, to do the job properly in that particular context," Dr Humphrey said. "We want to give kids the grammatical resources for being able to do lots of different things."

Reintroducing grammar was also part of an effort to strengthen the literacy of children from multilingual and disadvantaged backgrounds, said the lead adviser to the new English curriculum, Professor Peter Freebody from the University of Sydney. "Our teachers and our systems are geared to doing well for the mainstream," he said. Imagine that school results, including literacy, are shaped like a tadpole. The fat body, representing the bulk of students, does well or quite well. But there's a long tail of people left behind.

Professor Freebody said students didn't learn to read by year 3 and then just build content knowledge. Different kinds of texts demanded different understandings, he said, "and those things don't come free with the territory just because you're good at reading and writing when you're in year 3".

While grammar's return may sound like going back to the '50s, the modern educator's knowledge of grammar, and its use for teaching "reading and writing and enriching kids' understanding of content areas, that's not going backwards", Professor Freebody said.

The new curriculum was arranged into three strands - language, literacy and literature - with grammar an "integral component" of each strand.

It's about "letting kids in on the 'secret' of how good writers and good text producers do their work through the resources of language, through the resources of grammar - 'hey, this is how it's done!'," Dr Humphrey said. "And that's an equity issue … Kids who haven't got access to middle-class homes and middle-class ways of using language that are valued in the schools, they do need [the workings of language] made explicit."

The Australian Industry Group has highlighted the negative effect of low literacy and numeracy on productivity, safety and training. Group chief executive Heather Ridout said the new curriculum was "a long overdue step, so we're strongly supportive of it". Ms Ridout stressed the need for more specialist expertise in language across the board. "We don't just not have it in schools; we don't have it in TAFE, in the VET sector, and we don't have it in the workforce."


Is the national curriculum overdue, or spoiled by political correctness?

By BRETT MASON (Senator Brett Mason is a former university lecturer and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Education and School Curriculum Standards)

A necessary and long overdue step in education reform in Australia or the further entrenchment of a politically correct agenda in our primary and secondary schools? Or, indeed, both?

These will be some of the questions that parents and others interested in the education of our children will be asking when considering the draft National Curriculum in English, Mathematics, History and Science, recently released for public consultation by the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority.

The idea that all Australian primary and secondary students, regardless of which state or territory they attend school in, should be studying the same things, at the same time in their academic progression, and according to the same standards, has been bandied around for years. It is no longer seen as controversial, and now enjoys broad public support. The devil, as is so often the case with Rudd government initiatives, will be in the detail – of both the finished Curriculum and its implementation.

With the draft National Curriculum now publicly available we can start forming an opinion on the former; and with the Rudd government’s past track record in implementing its lofty programs we are inclined to fear the latter.

While some aspects of the Curriculum, such as the greater emphasis on achieving practical literacy and numeracy, are welcome improvements, there are serious concerns about the direction the Curriculum drafters chose to take in a number of other areas, such as history and science. Perhaps the root problem with the draft Curriculum is ACARA’s decision to weave through all the subject areas three “cross-curriculum perspectives”, no matter how relevant these over-arching themes are to each subject. They are the “Indigenous perspective”, “a commitment to sustainable patterns of living”, and an emphasis on Asia and Australia’s engagement with the region.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with our primary and secondary students learning more about Aboriginal culture, the environment or the history of our region. It is, however, a question of weight, priorities and perspective as to how much, when and in what context students are required to absorb these themes. And the picture presented in the draft Curriculum does not look promising.

Thus, for example, in the Science curriculum, year 9s are to study traditional Chinese medicine, before being given their first opportunity a year later to look at the periodic table of elements, arguably the most important document of modern chemistry, which systemises and informs our understanding of the physical world around us.

Or take 4 year olds in preschool being taught the significance of ANZAC Day and Sorry Day at the same time, while having to wait until Grade 3 to learn about Australia Day and its meaning and place in our nation’s history.

Indeed, the Curriculum contains 118 references to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, culture and history (with Grade 5s studying “White Australia” and Grade 9s Aboriginal massacres and displacement). But there is only one reference to Parliament, and none to Westminster or the Magna Carta, the aspects of our political and cultural heritage that have made Australia perhaps the most peaceful, successful and prosperous democracy in the history of humanity.

If the new National Curriculum sounds like the return and the entrenchment of the “black armband” view of our history, you can be forgiven for being confused. Unlike its drafters, the Coalition – as well as a large majority of Australians - believe that, on balance and for all its faults, Australia’s history is a cause for celebration rather than constant breast-beating.

Here again we have all the ingredients of another Rudd government disaster in the making: a grand but not unattractive idea (the National Curriculum), a tight schedule (2011 is to be a pilot year involving a number of schools around the country), and little thought given to the practicalities of making it all work. There are no resources coming from the Federal government for all the additional teacher training and development required, while extra burdens will be imposed on those who have to deliver the initiative.

Primary school principals in particular are already worried about their capacity to deliver the science, history and math components according to the detail prescribed. We are already experiencing teacher shortages, particularly in areas like science, and the demands of the new Curriculum will merely exacerbate the problems while leaving others to pick up the pieces. For instance, it has been highlighted that only 16 universities in Australia train history teachers and 10 of these are in NSW. It will be necessary for universities to significantly adjust to meet this new demand, particularly given that the Curriculum mandates as many as 80 hours of history a year. Bear in mind that NSW, the only state that currently teaches history as a stand-alone subject, only sets aside 50 hours per year for teaching this subject in years 7 to 10.

Quite apart from the technicalities, the Australian Education Union and legions of individual teachers will in the end have a considerable influence on how the final product is translated for consumption in the classrooms. In the past this has proven to be a game of Chinese whispers where Australia’s mainstream often misses out in favour of elite preoccupations. In its 2007 Curriculum Policy Document, the AEU states, for example, that the first task of schooling should be to "assist in overcoming inequalities between social groups".

To that end, a curriculum entails "recognising that Australia is a multicultural society and that therefore students come to school with a variety of backgrounds, cultures, histories and values, all of which are equally valid" – a statement of cultural relativism that not many outside of the AEU head office would actually agree with.

Or that through a curriculum “students should gain an understanding of the role that the construction of gender has played and continues to play in society”, another exposition of political correctness of little obvious benefit to making our children better educated and productive citizens.

With a die-hard commitment to these sorts of values, parents could be forgiven for fearing that no matter how balanced the National Curriculum will be the ideologues in our education system will always find a way to teach what they want and how they want it.

Parents and other interested parties have just under three months to provide feedback on the draft; that is if they manage to access the information and navigate the rather user-unfriendly feedback website. Perhaps the "digital education revolution" should have started with the government. All we can do at this stage is make our voices heard and hope that a more balanced and mainstream vision of a National Curriculum will prevail.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Despite Gains, Charter School Is Told to Close

It's probably achieving quite well for a ghetto school -- but such a classification would offend against the "equality" myth so must be ignored

Accountability is a mantra of the charter school movement. Students sign pledges at some schools to do their homework, and teachers owe their jobs to students’ gains on tests. But as New York State moves to shut down an 11-year-old charter school in Albany, whose test scores it acknowledges beat the city’s public schools last year, it is apparent that holding schools themselves accountable is not always so easy, or bloodless, as numbers on a page.

The principal, teachers and families of the New Covenant school have mounted a furious defense, citing rising achievement as well as their fears for the loss of a safe harbor from chaotic homes and streets, where teachers deliver homework to parents who are in jail to keep them involved, and the dean of students chases gang members from a nearby park. “We’re that turnaround school America has been waiting to see,” said Jamil Hood, the dean, who grew up in the Arbor Hill neighborhood where the school is located.

Nonetheless, a trustees’ committee of the State University of New York, which grants the school’s charter, voted last month to close it. The committee endorsed the findings of state evaluators who said that despite academic gains, New Covenant fell short of a key benchmark in English, suffered from high student and teacher turnover and was not fiscally sound. The full 17-member SUNY board will decide the school’s fate on Tuesday.

A commitment to shut or radically shake up failing schools is central to President Obama’s vision of education reform and explains in part the bear hug his administration has given charters, which are publicly funded but privately run. But the dispute in Albany exposes a delicate issue in the data-driven world of education policy: If a school improves, but not enough to meet high standards, should its value as a safe and nurturing community also be weighed?

“Everyone who ever closed a school knows it’s not easy,” said James Merriman, who closed five when he was executive director of the Charter Schools Institute, the regulatory agency that evaluates SUNY-authorized charters. Since 1999, SUNY, one of two statewide authorizers, has granted charters to 82 schools and closed seven. “If we are serious about not just incrementally, but substantially, improving achievement in the inner city, we need to stick to standards,” said Mr. Merriman, who is now chief of the New York City Charter School Center.

New Covenant narrowly avoided being closed last year. It was given a one-year reprieve and told to meet specific testing and financial targets. It hit its benchmark in math but missed in English. It was required to have 75 percent of third through sixth graders who were enrolled for at least two years demonstrate proficiency on the state language arts test.

Only 67 percent were proficient, up from 48 percent the prior year and 33 percent in 2006-7, the first year of the current principal, Jecrois Jean-Baptiste, who has put in place an ambitious turnaround plan with twice-weekly teacher workshops and 14,000 new books in classrooms. Over all, 65 percent of Albany students in grades 3 through 6 reached proficiency on last year’s English test.

Evaluators were also critical of student attrition: Of 118 children in third grade in 2005, only 30 remained last year as sixth graders. Mr. Jean-Baptiste said that was because charter middle schools in the area start in fifth grade, and parents wanted to enroll children before places disappeared. “We attract more than the amount of students we lose,” he said, adding that enrollment rose to 646 from 571 even with the threatened shutdown.

Occupying a handsome brick and gray-block building, New Covenant stands out amid many boarded-up houses. On a recent Monday, children in uniforms — some loosely interpreted — formed lines to walk to the cafeteria. Younger children asked Mr. Jean-Baptiste, 45, for a hug as he moved through the halls.

More here

"Reform” Of Education Reform

Mark up Obama’s new education policy as another change in the “Change!” promised during the campaign. Remember his call for universal access to college?
We will prepare the next generation for success in college and the workforce, ensuring that ... any young person who works hard and desires a college education can access it.
Actually, that was the quote that appears on the Google link to Candidate Obama’s education policy. If you follow that same link now what you find is:
We will prepare the next generation for success in college and the workforce, ensuring that American children lead the world once again in creativity and achievement....

After graduating high school, all Americans should be prepared to attend at least one year of job training or higher education to better equip our workforce for the 21st century economy....
Universal access seems to have been, well, somewhat attenuated. And now the new policy has been unveiled, as reported in the New York Times:
The Obama administration on Saturday called for a broad overhaul of President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, proposing to reshape divisive provisions that encouraged instructors to teach to tests, narrowed the curriculum, and labeled one in three American schools as failing.
The article is fascinating, even aside from the NYT’s typical news story editorializing (“His plan strikes a careful balance...”). An interesting feature of this “overhaul” is that
President Obama would replace the law’s requirement that every American child reach proficiency in reading and math, which administration officials have called utopian, with a new national target that could prove equally elusive: that all students should graduate from high school prepared for college and a career.
Well, whoever said high school graduates must be able to read and write and add and subtract?

President Bush called the attitude embodied in President Obama’s new policy the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” I think he was wrong about the soft.


The new challenge for British universities is to unravel Labour’s mess

Years of bad schooling cannot be put right at an academic university by massaging the entry requirements

‘Legacy” is a word that has sneaked into political fashion. It has begun to replace “delivery”, which has proved to be so awkward. Labour grandees are often said to be considering their political legacies and I wonder what they really do believe they have bequeathed to the nation over the past 13 years. It is just conceivable that they imagine they have achieved something with education, education, education, as promised, but their educational legacy is a perfect blueprint for what not to do.

Take universities. You could not hope for a better example of how to get everything wrong. The Blair-Brown years have demonstrated that it is actually quite easy to bring down standards in universities, wreck the chances and dash the hopes of hundreds of thousands of teenagers and reduce employers to complaining publicly about the quality of today’s graduates.

Labour’s legacy to education is a disastrous combination of inflation and devaluation. They have inflated schoolchildren’s expectations, urging them to believe that 50% of young people should go to university. To meet such expectations, they have continued with the Tory initiative to inflate the supply of universities by giving the status to all kinds of tertiary education colleges and deflating the idea of what a university is. Meanwhile, they devalued the standards of A-levels to inflate the numbers of children who could pass them to go to more and more universities.

Naturally this became more and more expensive. Even though the government spent more and more, it was never enough, so universities were obliged to deflate their teaching and pastoral care to lower, cheaper levels. At the same time they devalued their degree standards to inflate the numbers of students passing and getting high marks. Meanwhile, students had to borrow more and more money from a government loan scheme to pay for these places, so some were forced to drop out and others graduated with terrifying debt loads. They now face the world as graduates in inflated numbers with inflated expectations, inflated debt, devalued degrees and deflated prospects.

The consequences are making themselves painfully felt right now. Last week the government was forced to announce that more than three-quarters of universities in England are to have their budgets cut for this September — some by nearly 14%. And the government’s Higher Education Funding Council for England warned that yet further cuts may be imposed later in the academic year. We can now watch for the cuts to be made in precisely the wrong places — such as the disgraceful axeing by King’s College London of its chair of paleography, the UK’s only chair in the subject.

These cuts come in a year that has seen a record 23% rise in the number of students applying to universities. Last week the Conservatives claimed that 2750,000 sixth-formers with good qualifying grades will fail to get into a university course this autumn. The head of Ucas, the universities clearing house, advised students who had not got into their chosen universities to forget about the clearing system and “to reappraise their aspirations” instead. That is a lot of disappointed sixth-formers in a generation that Labour has deliberately encouraged to see university education as both entitlement and necessity.

There can no longer be any doubt that A-levels have got much easier. The number of pupils getting three A grades, once a rarity even at top schools, is now one in six — twice as many as when Labour came into office. Reliable long-term research from Durham University shows that individuals of the same general ability level would now be expected to score about two A-level grades higher than they did 20 years ago. The result, as Tesco for one has pointed out, is that it is now hard for employers to differentiate between candidates. The same is true at university entrance: Imperial College London warned in 2008 that grade inflation had made A-level results “almost worthless” in choosing between university applicants.

For those who do get to university, debt is often a heavy burden. A study published last week found that 28% of students expected to accumulate debts of £20,000 at university. Meanwhile, the student loan system, supposedly monitored by the government, is an alarming mess. Last week a damning report from the National Audit Office (NAO) blamed both the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Student Loans Company (SLC) for failing to learn from last year’s mishandling of the grant application system. The head of the NAO questioned last week whether the SLC is actually capable of dealing with twice as many applications this year. What this means for students is long delays and constant anxiety. It is a disgrace.

After all this worry and sacrifice, new graduates are not rewarded by the expected good jobs and high salaries. Work is scarce and employers are sceptical about their qualifications and are saying so openly. The independent Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) recently published a manifesto calling on all political parties to abolish the target of getting 50% of under-30s into university. Carl Gilleard of AGR said this target has affected degree standards and creates problems for employers of graduates because they cannot be sure of the value of certain degrees: “It does not help young people’s life chances or represent a good return on their financial investment. It does little for the reputation of our universities either.”

No doubt all this was done with high-minded intentions in the name of equal opportunities. But a university in the true sense of the word is not a place of equality.

It is a place of excellence. Academic excellence is elitist, of its nature. Years of bad schooling cannot be put right at an academic university by massaging the entry requirements or providing remedial classes. It is too late for that. As Chris Patten, the chancellor of Oxford University, said last week, diluting entry standards to make up for shortfalls in secondary education would soon mean we no longer had world-class universities.

What is so strange about Labour’s education policy is that it is at the same time both egalitarian and snobbish — egalitarian in insisting that all should have degrees and that higher education colleges are universities and snobbish in the old-fashioned belief that only a posh academic university degree really matters. And the tragedy of Labour’s education legacy is that is has done nobody much good.