Saturday, June 19, 2010

Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest ruling to desegregate Israeli school

The Sephardim are browner and quite a lot dumber on average -- and it is true that the religious practices of the Sephardim and Ashkenazim do differ

Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews protested Thursday against a Supreme Court decision to jail parents who have refused to comply with their order to desegregate a religious girls' school.

Dressed in black hats and carrying posters denouncing the court as "fascists," the peaceful protesters continued Thursday afternoon until about 42 sets of parents turned themselves in to police custody to begin serving two-week sentences for contempt of court.

It was one of the largest protests in Jerusalem's history, and a reminder of the ultra-Orthodox minority's refusal to accept the authority of the state.

Also, the throngs of devout Jews showed to what extent the ultra-Orthodox live by their own rules, some of them archaic, while wielding disproportionate power in the modern state of Israel.

Parents of European, or Ashkenazi, descent at the Beit Yakov girls' school in the West Bank settlement of Emanuel don't want their daughters to study with schoolgirls of Mideast and North African descent, known as Sephardim. The state-funded independent school enrolls all students but maintains separate studies that largely keep the Ashkenazi students apart from Sephardi ones.

The Ashkenazi parents insist they aren't racist but want to keep the classrooms segregated, as they have been for years, arguing that the families of the Sephardi girls aren't religious enough.

Israel's Supreme Court rejected that argument and ruled that the 42 sets of parents who have defied the integration efforts by keeping their daughters from school were to be jailed Thursday for two weeks.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said about 100,000 people converged in downtown Jerusalem in support of the Ashkenazi parents. An additional 20,000 demonstrated in the central city of Bnei Brak. He said 10,000 police were deployed.

Parents of the Ashkenazi girls insist the separation at the school is based on religion, not skin color, saying Sephardi customs are generally less stringent in terms of dress and conduct, such as watching television or using the Internet. Many Ashkenazi reject outside culture and don't have televisions in their homes.

Ashkenazi leaders denied ethnicity played a role in the school's decision. "There is not a drop of racism," Deputy Health Minister Rabbi Yakov Litzman, a leader in the ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism, told Israel Radio. "The problem is that the communities adhere to different standards."

Not so, according to Yonatan Danino, spokesman for the nonprofit organization that petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the policy. "Sephardic Jewry is no less pious, and the girls of these families suffered clear discrimination," he said.

The court agreed, ruling last year that the practice was based on discrimination. Comparing the case to desegregation of the American South in the 1950s, the court ordered the separation at the school to end.

Parents to date have refused to comply, withholding their daughters from school and saying their religious convictions trump the court order. The dispute culminated in a courtroom standoff this week, during which justices ordered about 84 parents to either abide by its order or go to jail.

Sephardi religious leaders have not publicly criticized the demonstration or the Ashkenazi parents' conduct. Nissim Zeev, a lawmaker from the Orthodox Sephardic political party Shas, said the issue should have been settled by a rabbinical court and that the parents' prison sentence was "puzzling." He insisted the Sephardi girls had the right to choose to attend a mixed school.

The protests come amid a recent flare-up of tensions between Israel's secular and religious citizens. In a separate decision this week, the Supreme Court ruled that special government subsidies given to support religious students must end next year because they discriminate against nonreligious students.

Violent protests also rocked the cities of Jaffa and Ashkelon in recent weeks as the ultra-Orthodox protested development projects they say will disturb ancient Jewish graves.

Israel's ultra-Orthodox minority of some 650,000 Jews — slightly less than 10 percent of the nation's population — is an insular community that has been known to riot over the state's intrusion into its affairs.


End them, don’t mend them

It’s time to shutter America’s bloated schools

The school year is drawing to a close. Time to balance the educational accounts and see what’s been learned. Though not by my kids. I don’t worry about them. They’re geniuses like your kids and soak up knowledge the way a sponge (or a SpongeBob) does. Muffin, in sixth grade, has learned that Justin Bieber is very talented and doesn’t—really, Dad—sing like a girl. Poppet, third grade, has learned how the Plains Indians made tepees. (They waited until after dinner to announce that their “Lifestyles of the Cheyenne” project was due tomorrow so that all the Cheyenne dads were up until one in the morning gluing dowels and brown wrapping paper to a piece of AstroTurf.) And Buster, kindergarten, has learned he can make himself giggle hysterically by adding “poop” to any phrase. The Little Engine That Could Poop.

No, the accounts that I’m balancing —and it’s quite educational— are bank accounts. What’s been learned is that it costs a fortune to send kids to school. Figures in the Statistical Abstract of the United States show that we are spending $11,749 per pupil per year in the U.S. public schools, grades pre-K through 12. That’s an average. And you, like me, don’t have average children. So we pay the $11,749 in school taxes for the children who are average and then we pay private school tuition for our own outstanding children or we move to a suburb we can’t afford and pay even more property taxes for schools in the belief that this makes every child outstanding.

Parents of average students believe it too. According to an annual Gallup poll conducted from 2004 through 2007, Americans think insufficient funding is the top problem with the public schools in their communities. But if throwing money is what’s needed, American school kids are getting smacked in the head with gobs of cash aplenty. That $11,749 is a lot more than the $7,848 private school pre-K through 12 national spending norm. It’s also a lot more than the $7,171 median tuition at four-year public colleges. Plus $11,749 is much less than what’s really being spent.

In March the Cato Institute issued a report on the cost of public schools. Policy analyst Adam Schaeffer made a detailed examination of the budgets of 18 school districts in the five largest U.S. metro areas and the District of Columbia. He found that school districts were understating their per-pupil spending by between 23 and 90 percent. The school districts cried poor by excluding various categories of spending from their budgets —debt service, employee benefits, transportation costs, capital costs, and, presumably, those cans of aerosol spray used to give all public schools that special public school smell.

Schaeffer calculated that Los Angeles, which claims $19,000 per-pupil spending, actually spends $25,000. The New York metropolitan area admits to a per-pupil average of $18,700, but the true cost is about $26,900. The District of Columbia’s per-pupil outlay is claimed to be $17,542. The real number is an astonishing $28,170—155 percent more than the average tuition at the famously pricey private academies of the capital region.

School districts also cheat by simple slowness in publishing their budgets. The $11,749 is from 2007, the most recent figure available. It’s certainly grown. The Digest of Educational Statistics (read by Monday, there will be a quiz) says inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending increased by 49 percent from 1984 to 2004 and by more than 100 percent from 1970 to 2005.

Bell bottoms and Jerry Rubin hair versus piercings and tattoos —are kids getting smarter? No. National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test scores remained essentially the same from 1970 to 2004. SAT scores in 1970 averaged 537 in reading and 512 in math, and 38 years later the scores were 502 and 515. (More kids are taking SATs, but the nitwit factor can be discounted—scores below 400 have decreased slightly.) American College Testing (ACT) composite scores have increased only slightly from 20.6 (out of 36) in 1990 to 21.1 in 2008. And the extraordinary expense of the D.C. public school system produced a 2007 class of eighth graders in which, according to the NAEP, 12 percent of the students were at or above proficiency in reading and 8 percent were at or above proficiency in math. Many of these young people are now entering the work force. Count your change in D.C.

More here

British Private school fees increase three times faster than incomes

As discipline in government schools continues to deteriorate, the demand for private schools rises

Private school fees have risen at three times the rate of household income since the early 1990s, according to new research. Average annual fees for independent day schools rose from £5,280 to £9,650 between 1992 and 2008, the study said, an increase of 83 per cent.

The figures – which are adjusted for inflation – show that boarding school fees went up 65 per cent from £13,400 to £22,100 during the same period. In the meantime household earnings increased just 30 per cent, meaning the average income of a family with two young children rose from £14,500 to £18,900, after taxes and benefits.

The spiralling cost of private education was thrown into light by a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), which revealed that independent school fees are still on the rise. This year the cost of private day schools reached an average of £10,100 a year, while boarding schools fees were about £24,000.

Despite the growing expense, the cost of fees is less of a factor in determining whether a child goes to an independent school than whether one of their parents was privately educated, the IFS said.

The study, which examined why parents choose to send their children to independent schools and the cost of doing so, found that a further increase in fees of £1,300 a year would reduce uptake of private education by just 0.33 per cent.

Children were at least three times more likely to go to a private school if their parents had also attended one, the report said.

Researcher Luke Sibieta said: "One of the strongest predictors is if one of a child's parents went to private school they are three times more likely to go to private school themselves."

Young people who grew up in areas where there were diverse levels of family income were more likely to be privately educated than children from neighbourhoods where incomes were broadly the same.

The study also analysed political factors, with Conservative voters 2.5 to 5 per cent more likely to send their child to an independent school than undecided voters, while Labour supporters were 2 to 3 times less likely to do so.

There are about 628,000 students at 2,600 independent schools in Britain – about 6.5 per cent of pupils in the country. Of those in the private system approximately 87 per cent are day pupils, with the other 13 per cent boarding.

The Independent Schools Council (ISC), which represents about half the independent schools in Britain, said the rise in fees was down to increasing costs of providing education, adding that demand for private education had risen during the period of the study.

Rudolf Eliott Lockhart, ISC Head of Research & Intelligence, said: "The vast majority of independent schools are not-for-profit and reinvest all of their income from fees into the education of their children.

“The IFS study also shows the success of bursary schemes at independent schools. Children from the poorest 0.5 per cent of families are twice as likely to attend independent schools as children from families with average incomes."


Friday, June 18, 2010

Kids told not to have "best friends"

America's Leftist educators really are little Stalins. They actually WANT the "Brave New World" dystopia. The maxim "everyone belongs to everyone else" is repeated often in Huxley's "Brave New World".

I'm guessing that the Leftists behind this have been too egocentric to have good friends themselves so are determined that nobody else will have good friends either. Their rationale that they are preventing "bullying" makes no sense whatever

From the time they met in kindergarten until they were 15, Robin Shreeves and her friend Penny were inseparable. They rode bikes, played kickball in the street, swam all summer long and listened to Andy Gibb, the Bay City Rollers and Shaun Cassidy on the stereo. When they were little, they liked Barbies; when they were bigger, they hung out at the roller rink on Friday nights. They told each other secrets, like which boys they thought were cute, as best friends always do.

Today, Shreeves, of suburban Philadelphia, is the mother of two boys. Her 10-year-old has a best friend. In fact, he is the son of Shreeves’ own friend, Penny. But Shreeves’ younger son, 8, does not. His favorite playmate is a boy who was in his preschool class, but Shreeves says that the two don’t get together very often because scheduling play dates can be complicated; they usually have to be planned a week or more in advance. “He’ll say, ‘I wish I had someone I can always call,’” Shreeves said.

One might be tempted to feel some sympathy for the younger son. After all, from Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn to Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, the childhood “best friend” has long been romanticized in literature and pop culture — not to mention in the sentimental memories of countless adults.

But increasingly, some educators and other professionals who work with children are asking a question that might surprise their parents: Should a child really have a best friend?

Most children naturally seek close friends. In a survey of nearly 3,000 Americans ages 8 to 24 conducted last year by Harris Interactive, 94 percent said they had at least one close friend. But the classic best-friend bond — the two special pals who share secrets and exploits, who gravitate to each other on the playground and who head out the door together every day after school — signals potential trouble for school officials intent on discouraging anything that hints of exclusivity, because of concerns about bullying.

“I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults — teachers and counselors — we try to encourage them not to do that,” said Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis. “We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends. “Parents sometimes say Johnny needs that one special friend,“ she continued. “We say he doesn’t need a best friend.“

That attitude is a blunt manifestation of a mind-set that has led adults to become ever more involved in children’s social lives in recent years. The days when children roamed the neighborhood and played with whomever they wanted to until the streetlights came on disappeared long ago, replaced by the scheduled play date. While in the past, a social slight in backyard games rarely came to teachers’ attention the next day, today an upsetting text message from one middle school student to another is often forwarded to school administrators, who frequently feel compelled to intervene in the relationship. (Laycob was speaking in an interview after spending much of the previous day dealing with a “really awful“ text message one girl had sent another.) Indeed, much of the effort to encourage children to be friends with everyone is meant to head off bullying and other extreme consequences of social exclusion.

For many child-rearing experts, the ideal situation might well be that of Matthew and Margaret Guest, 12-year-old twins in suburban Atlanta who almost always socialize in a pack. One typical Friday afternoon, about 10 boys and girls filled the Guest family backyard. Children were jumping on the trampoline, shooting baskets and playing manhunt, a variation on hide-and-seek.

Neither Margaret nor Matthew has ever had a best friend. “I just really don’t have one person I like more than others,“ Margaret said. “Most people have lots of friends.“ Matthew said he considers 12 boys to be his good friends and says he sees most of them “pretty much every weekend.“

Their mother, Laura Guest, said their school tries to prevent bullying through workshops and posters. And extracurricular activities keep her children group-oriented — Margaret is on the swim team and does gymnastics; Matthew plays football and baseball.

As the calendar moves into summer, efforts to manage friendships don’t stop with the closing of school. In recent years Timber Lake Camp, a co-ed sleep-away camp in Phoenicia, N.Y., has started employing “friendship coaches“ to work with campers to help every child become friends with everyone else. If two children seem to be too focused on each other, the camp will make sure to put them on different sports teams, seat them at different ends of the dining table or, perhaps, have a counselor invite one of them to participate in an activity with another child whom they haven’t yet gotten to know.

“I don’t think it’s particularly healthy for a child to rely on one friend,“ said Jay Jacobs, the camp’s director. “If something goes awry, it can be devastating. It also limits a child’s ability to explore other options in the world.“

But such an attitude worries some psychologists who fear that children will be denied the strong emotional support and security that come with intimate friendships. “Do we want to encourage kids to have all sorts of superficial relationships? Is that how we really want to rear our children?“ asked Brett Laursen, a psychology professor at Florida Atlantic University whose specialty is peer relationships. “Imagine the implication for romantic relationships. We want children to get good at leading close relationships, not superficial ones.“

Many psychologists believe that close childhood friendships not only increase a child’s self-esteem and confidence, but also help children develop the skills for healthy adult relationships — everything from empathy, the ability to listen and console, to the process of arguing and making up. If children’s friendships are choreographed and sanitized by adults, the argument goes, how is a child to prepare emotionally for both the affection and rejection likely to come later in life?

“No one can teach you what a great friend is, what a fair-weather friend is, what a treacherous and betraying friend is except to have a great friend, a fair-weather friend or a treacherous and betraying friend,“ said Michael Thompson, a psychologist who is an author of the book “Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children.“

“When a teacher is trying to tone down a best-friend culture, I would like to know why,“ Thompson said. “Is it causing misery for the class? Or is there one girl who does have friends but just can’t bear the thought that she doesn’t have as good a best friend as another? That to me is normal social pain. If you’re mucking around too much in the lives of kids who are just experiencing normal social pain, you shouldn’t be.“

Schools insist they don’t intend to break up close friendships but rather to encourage courtesy, respect and kindness to all. “I don’t see schools really in the business of trying to prevent friendships as far as they are trying to give students an opportunity to interact socially with other students in a variety of different ways,“ said Patti Kinney, who was a teacher and a principal in an Oregon middle school for 33 years and is now an official at the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Still, school officials admit they watch close friendships carefully for adverse effects. “When two children discover a special bond between them, we honor that bond, provided that neither child overtly or covertly excludes or rejects others,” said Jan Mooney, a psychologist at the Town School, a nursery through eighth grade private school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. “However, the bottom line is that if we find a best friend pairing to be destructive to either child, or to others in the classroom [So "others" must give you permission for your friendships??], we will not hesitate to separate children and to work with the children and their parents to ensure healthier [brainless?] relationships in the future.”


NY State to set new degree of difficulty after determining graduation requirements need overhaul

They actually want their diplomas to mean something. Like Wow!

Get your diplomas while you can, kids, because next year the hammer's coming down. State officials expect graduation rates to drop after they make it tougher to get a diploma, Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said yesterday. "Right now, we are graduating kids with Regents diplomas who need to take remedial courses," Tisch said. "This is a joke. It's a game, and the game needs to come to an end."

The city's graduation rate has increased steadily over the past several years, peaking at 59% last year. Tisch noted that three-quarters of city high school graduates entering city community colleges fail the entrance exams. She said one way to make a diploma mean more is to raise the passing score to higher than 65.

"Maybe it means 75. Who knows, maybe it means 80," Tisch told the Daily News. "We are saying that with this diploma, they should be ready to enter a four-year college."

A city Education Department spokesman backed the state's attempt to make graduation requirements more rigorous. "We strongly support the state's effort to ensure all graduating students are prepared for college," Danny Kanner said.


British middle-income earners priced out of private education as fees soar

Thousand of middle-income families are being priced out of private schools as fees rocket three times faster than incomes.

A growing breed of super-rich parents prepared to use their financial muscle to buy a privileged education has caused demand for private schools to soar - despite inflation-shattering fee rises. Day school charges have risen 83 per cent since the early 1990s - even though the average income of families with children has grown only 31 per cent, according to research from the Institute of Fiscal Studies.

A boom in the number of families on six-figure salaries and a growing tendency for parents to make financial sacrifices for their children's education is thought to be fuelling the fee rises.

But middle-income parents such as police officers and teachers are increasingly unlikely to be able to afford private schools, the research suggests.

The study found children were three times more likely to go to private school if their parents attended one. But the cost of private education and the quality of local schools were also linked to parental decisions to choose independent schools.

If the proportion of pupils in state schools achieving five A* to C grades at GCSE was to rise by 5 per cent, the proportion of pupils attending private school would fall by 0.3 percentage points, the study found.

Meanwhile, a £1,300 rise in annual fees reduced the proportion of pupils attending private schools by 0.3 percentage points, according to the study.

The research found that the proportion of pupils attending fee-paying schools in England rose from 6.9 per cent in 1996 to 7.2 per cent in2008.

Toby Mullins, chairman of the Society of Headmasters and Headmistresses of Independent Schools, risked inflaming parental anger earlier this year when he revealed how fee rises during the economic boom years had been plucked out of the air. He said schools had been acutely conscious of financial pressures on parents during the recession, and added: 'I'm not anticipating we'll go back to a sort of free-for-all where everybody just puts them up by whatever they first think of, I just think that won't happen.'


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Big man shortage on U.S. campuses

Partly caused by government regulations

It's well-known that there's a severe gender imbalance in undergraduate college populations: About 57 percent of undergrads these days are female and just 43 percent male, the culmination of a trend in which significantly fewer young men than young women either graduate from high school or enroll in college.

It's also well-known - at least among college admissions officers - that many private institutions have tried to close the gender gap by quietly relaxing admissions standards for males, essentially practicing affirmative action for young men. What they're doing is perfectly legal, even under Title IX, the 1972 federal law that bans sex discrimination by institutions of higher learning receiving federal funds. Title IX contains an exemption that specifically allows private colleges that aren't professional or technical institutions to prefer one sex over the other in undergraduate admissions.

Militant feminists and principled opponents of affirmative action might complain about the discrimination against women that Title IX permits, but for many second- and third-tier liberal arts colleges lacking male educational magnets such as engineering and business programs, the exemption may be a lifesaver, preventing those smaller and less prestigious schools from turning into de facto women's colleges that few young people of either sex might want to attend.

Now, however, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has decided to turn over this rock carefully set in place by admissions committees. The commission launched an investigation in the fall into the extent of male preferences in admissions decisions at 19 institutions of higher learning. These include public universities (where such preferences are illegal under Title IX); elite private institutions such as Georgetown and Johns Hopkins; smaller liberal arts schools (Gettysburg College, with 2,600 undergraduates, is on the list); religious schools (the University of Richmond and Messiah College in Grantham, Pa.); and historically black Virginia Union University, also in Richmond.

On May 14, the commission's general counsel, David P. Blackwood, announced that four of the 19 schools - Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, Gettysburg and Messiah - had raised legal issues concerning compliance with the commission's subpoenas and that Virginia Union, while responding politely, had not complied in any way. Mr. Blackwood said the commission might have to ask the Justice Department for help in obtaining admissions data from Virginia Union.

The commission's investigation has triggered a variety of ideological conflicts and created some unusual ideological allies - and it ultimately may provide a forum for rethinking Title IX itself. Critics charge that the U.S. Education Department has interpreted the 1972 law so as to make it illegal for colleges to attract males by more palatable means such as men's sports teams, forcing them to resort to outright sex discrimination in admissions.

On one side of the current conflict are the opponents of affirmative action for any group, whether based on sex, ethnicity or religion. Typically, such opponents compare efforts to limit the number of women in a college population to the quotas for Jews that once prevailed in the Ivy League and the de facto quotas disfavoring high-achieving Asians that typically have arisen as a consequence of "diversity" measures favoring blacks and Hispanics.

Squarely in the anti-affirmative-action camp is the instigator of the Civil Rights Commission's admissions probe, Gail Heriot, a law professor at the University of San Diego appointed to the commission by the Senate in 2007 and one of the backers of Proposition 209, the 1996 ballot measure that outlawed racial and other preferences by public institutions in California. "The exemption in Title IX was created to protect single-sex schools - to allow men's schools to remain men's schools and women's schools to remain women's schools," Ms. Heriot said in a telephone interview. "The admissions policies of coeducational schools weren't covered."

On the other side is a group that might be called "biological realists," a group that undoubtedly includes many admissions officers and alumni fundraisers. Their argument is simple: Call it sexist or call it simply hormonal, but most young people want to attend a coeducational school where the number of students of each sex is roughly equal.

There are almost no all-men's colleges left in the United States, and only about 50 all-women's colleges (two longtime holdouts, Hood in Maryland and Randolph-Macon in Virginia, went fully co-educational in 2003 and 2007 respectively, and even the most academically prestigious of the survivors, such as Bryn Mawr and Mount Holyoke, draw a significant percentage of their student bodies from socially conservative populations in the Mideast and East Asia where single-sex education is the norm).

Furthermore, once any institution is perceived as predominantly female, whether it is a school noted for a profession such as kindergarten-to-grade-12 teaching or a college with a severe female-to-male gender imbalance, it loses prestige. Men shy away, and eventually, so do the most talented women, who want to be where the high-status men are. If high school seniors won't apply to a college because they don't like the sex mix, the college drops both in perceived selectivity - such as in the U.S. News & World Report rankings where the applications-to-acceptances ratio is paramount - and actual selectivity as it scrambles to fill seats with less able students.

It's a rule of thumb that the less academic prestige a college has, the more likely it is to suffer from imbalance among applicants and also among those who choose to attend (there's no gender imbalance at Harvard or the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, for example). At community colleges that take all comers, for example, 62 percent of students are female, and the for-profit open-admissions University of Phoenix boasts on its website that it has a 67 percent female student body. "The lower the pecking order, the more women," Ms. Heriot said.

It's a potential death spiral of which most college administrators and governing boards are well aware. In 2005, trustees at the University of North Carolina's flagship campus at Chapel Hill were distressed to discover that the entering freshman class was 58 percent female. Some trustees openly suggested that the university create some sort of affirmative action for men.

There's a third interest group in the mix, the hard-line feminists who insist either that males as historical oppressors should never qualify for admissions preferences or that men's general lack of interest in institutions and activities that are "too female" is not a biological but a cultural phenomenon that can be reversed by role-modeling, mentoring and sensitivity sessions. In a forum this spring for Education Next, Susan McGee Bailey, executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and principal author of the American Association of University Women's 1992 report "How Schools Shortchange Girls," argued that male high school graduation rates and male college enrollments would increase if there were a national campaign to encourage fathers to read to their children and more boys in the kindergarten-to-grade-12 system had access to "men who hold other than traditionally male jobs."

The Civil Rights Commission has the power only to make recommendations, not rules, and Ms. Heriot would not say whether it would consider recommending statutory changes to the Title IX admissions exemption that would, say, apply it only to historically single-sex schools. "The first step is getting the records from these schools and finding out whether they're giving preferential treatment to men," she said. Ms. Heriot did say that the commission might suggest steps that colleges could take to attract more male applicants and thus reduce overtly sex-preferential admissions.


Pupils aged five should be taught all about sex: British health watchdog's instruction to schools

Children as young as five should be taught about sex, the Government’s controversial health watchdog said last night. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence – whose main role is to ration NHS drugs – is to write to every primary school telling it to start sex education when pupils are five.

It will tell teachers that children should not be taught to say no to sex – but should learn about the value of ‘mutually rewarding sexual relationships’.

Sex education is not compulsory in English schools – and even where it is taught, parents have the right to take their children out of lessons. But this guidance from NICE – albeit in draft form – will put greater pressure on headteachers to provide sex education at an earlier age.

At present, the only part of sex education that is compulsory is the science element – the human reproductive system and how babies are made. This is taught at secondary school. Guidance from the Department for Education suggests that from the ages of five to seven, children should learn the names of parts of the body, how people change as they get older, the difference between right and wrong, and that friends and family should care for one another.

The 74-page document was produced on NICE’s own initiative after it convened a panel of public health officials and representatives from family planning groups to produce guidance on reducing teenage pregnancy. NICE says that public health is part of its core remit and that cutting teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease would save the NHS money.

Schools do not have to follow the sex education document – but it is the first ever comprehensive guide to what children should be taught produced by a Government department.

Critics said it was far beyond NICE’s remit and was in danger of actually encouraging children to experiment with sex after learning about it at far too young an age.

Recommendations from NICE include teaching children how to put a condom on and that excessive drinking can lead to sex. It advises schools to use social networking websites to get the sex message across and calls on teachers to offer children confidential sex advice if they need it – without their parents being told.

The report concludes that sex and relationships education is ‘more effective if it is introduced before young people first have sex’. It says sex education – including information about sexually-transmitted infections, methods of contraception, pregnancy and abortion – can help children and teens delay sex until they are ready. ‘It does not cause them to have sex at an earlier age, or to have more sex, or sex with more partners, and nor does it increase the number of unwanted or teenage conceptions and abortions,’ the guidance says. [On what evidence?]

Critics last night accused the body of pressuring schools to push the boundaries on sex education and said the guidance undermined traditional values. Norman Wells, of pressure group Family and Youth Concern, said: ‘The team that drafted the guidance included lobby groups with an agenda to break down moral standards and redefine the family. Organisations with a commitment to marriage and traditional family values were not represented.’

Margaret Morrissey, of lobby group Parents Out Loud, said: ‘They tell me that once you give indepth information about sex and drugs, 90 per cent will go and experiment – and there’s no way back from that.’

Britain’s teenage pregnancy rate is the highest in western Europe. There are now more than 40,000 under-18 conceptions every year. Last night the Department for Education would not comment on the guidance.

But Simon Blake, of young people’s sexual health charity Brook, who helped draw up the guidance, said: ‘It’s a myth that sex education encourages children to be more promiscuous or have sex at an early age. ‘In fact, evidence demonstrates this type of education helps children and young people resist pressures to get involved in activities that might damage their health.’


Half of British schools fail to offer good education

Almost half of all state schools in England are failing to offer pupils a good education, according to inspectors. The proportion of schools rated as either inadequate or only satisfactory by Ofsted has risen to 47 per cent. Last year inspectors said two in three schools offered pupils at least a "good" education. Since then however, the number of schools graded as "inadequate" has more than doubled.

Nearly one in 10 (9%) of schools investigated by Ofsted were declared inadequate in the autumn and spring term 2009/10. Throughout the 2008/09 school year, just 4% of schools in England visited by inspectors fell into the category. At the same time, the number of schools rated "outstanding" has almost halved to just over one in 10 (11%), the figures show.

The change comes after the Government reformed inspection criteria in September, placing a greater emphasis on exam results as the best way to measure standards at schools.

Inspectors now spend twice as much time monitoring lessons and schools must analyse their own strengths and weaknesses before they are visited. Under-performing schools are inspected more frequently than before, while the very top institutions are less likely to be visited by inspectors.

Lord Hill, the Schools Minister, said: "With almost half of schools inspected since September judged as only satisfactory or inadequate, it's clear there is urgent need for real reform. "We need to create more excellent schools and drive up standards across the board, and that's exactly what our academy proposals will help to do. We also intend to reform the inspection regime so that Ofsted's expertise is more targeted on the weakest schools."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said reforms to the grading system caused confusion because schools could be downgraded even if their standards of education improved.

There has been speculation that poor results could result in head teachers being sacked and schools turned into independent academies in order to improve standards.

Mr Dunford said: "Of course, we want schools to keep striving for higher standards but it is not helpful to parents or schools when the basis for the grading system changes every four years."

In almost 4,000 inspections carried out since September, just 11 per cent of schools were given an overall rating of "outstanding", compared with 19 per cent last year. Almost one in 20 schools (4%) was put in "special measures", meaning they could be taken over if results are not improved in 12 months.

The figures are a slight improvement on assessments from the first term of this school year, when only nine per cent of schools were marked "outstanding" and 10 per cent were judged to be "inadequate".

Ofsted Chief Inspector Christine Gilbert said: "The new framework is helping ensure schools are better able to understand their weaknesses and areas in need of development. "It is particularly pleasing to see that 11 per cent of schools considered to be serving areas of high deprivation have been graded outstanding in the last term, matching the overall national figure for schools."

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, said: "The Ofsted inspection framework introduced in 2009 not only redefined the English language, but also shifted the goalposts for what would be deemed to be an 'outstanding', 'good', 'satisfactory' or 'inadequate' performance by a school.

"Ofsted accepts that disproportionately more of its time is spent inspecting particular categories of schools. The statistics published today are, therefore, heavily biased and do not present a true picture about how well the system as a whole is doing."


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

U.S. Education Department takes aim at for-profit colleges

The Education Department is proposing a number of rules today designed to protect college students and taxpayers from abusive or fraudulent practices, including aggressive recruitment tactics and allowing ineligible students to enroll and receive aid.

Though all colleges that receive federal aid would be affected by the changes, the most controversial proposals are aimed at for-profit colleges, which have come under more scrutiny as their enrollments have increased.

In an effort to rein in student debt and high default rates, for example, one proposal would require colleges to disclose graduation and job placement rates and information about the effectiveness of their career and technical programs. Federal data show that 44% of 2007 graduates who defaulted on loans within three years attended for-profit institutions.

Most of the 14 key issues, outlined in a 503-page document shown to reporters Tuesday, were developed through negotiations over the past year with the higher education community. A final version of the rules would take effect in July 2011.

Education officials will follow up this summer with details on a proposal that would cut off federal aid to for-profit colleges whose graduates can't earn enough to repay their loans.

The issues are complicated "and we want to get it right," Education Secretary Arne Duncan says. "This is about accountability, and protecting students."

Next week, a Senate education committee will examine federal spending at for-profit schools.

Advocates of stricter regulations are encouraged by a preliminary review of the proposals.

"There's a real concern that taxpayers are subsidizing programs that are overpromising and under-delivering," says Pauline Abernathy of the California-based Institute for College Access & Success.

Harris Miller, president of the Career College Association, which represents about 1,450 for-profit institutions, said the group doesn't agree with all the proposals, but "we agree that students need to be protected at all times from schools that color outside the lines."


Student complaints to adjudicator about their university soar by a third in Britain

Complaints by students about the way they have been treated by their university have soared by 37 per cent in the past two years.

Figures released today show just over 1,000 students complained this year, according to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education, which is responsible for dealing with the complaints. Most of the complaints concern universities' reaction to appeals against grades or accusations of plagiarism.

Rob Behrens, chief executive of the OIA, predicted a further rise in complaints as public spending is cut and student fees increase.

"The labour market is very difficult for students right now," he said. "They want to get the best they possibly can from their university experience, which means they will complain if they don't get what they think they deserve. Students see themselves more and more as customers and they are more assertive than they have ever been."

The year-on-year rise in complaints coincides with the introduction of top-up fees of £3,225 a year in 2006.

In one case, an international student who had been at a Chinese university for two years submitted a final year project which, after being run through a computer program, showed matches to submissions made at other universities. A panel determined it as plagiarism and failed the submission. The OIA ruled the finding was unsafe as the panel had only taken evidence from its chair and recommended she should be allowed to resubmit the project.

Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students, said: "It comes as no surprise that there have been more complaints than ever before and as students are being saddled with ever larger debts these figures show that they expect a better experience from their universities."

Of 1,007 complaints made, the OIA ruled that 811 were eligible for review. Of these 75 per cent were dismissed, 5 per cent were upheld and 13 per cent were declared partly justified.

Of the 811, 64 per cent were over "academic status", meaning they were related to appeals, assessments and grades. A further 11 per cent were about misconduct, including plagiarism and cheating.


British junior High School science exams 'still too easy'

New science GCSEs drawn up to replace exams that were not challenging enough have been rejected by the qualifications watchdog for being too easy. Ofqual ordered every major exam board in the country to revamp their science papers last summer, due to "serious concerns" about the dumbing down of courses.

But the latest efforts by examiners to "stretch and challenge" pupils have been turned down again by the watchdog because they are still not of a high enough standard. The 36 new courses drawn up by five examining bodies, including AQA, OCR and Edexcel, have all been dismissed because they are not demanding enough, especially for the brightest students.

Ofqual said each of the newly submitted qualifications does "not address the concerns raised" in its review last summer, and sent them back to be redrafted.

The new outlines for courses in science, additional science, additional applied science, biology, chemistry and physics are due to be taught in schools across the country from September 2011.

Kathleen Tattersall, Chair of Ofqual and Chief Regulator, said: "Ofqual's job is to make sure that standards are maintained. If qualifications do not meet our standards, we cannot accept them into the regulated system.

"Schools are expecting detailed information about the new qualifications in time to prepare for first teaching in September 2011. Ofqual hopes that that will still be possible, but progress will depend on the quality of the revised qualifications."

No deadline has been set for exam boards to respond with further proposals, but Ofqual said it hopes to have all the new courses ready in time for schools to prepare to teach them in 15 months' time.

The NASUWT, the largest teachers' union, called for the replacement of separate exam boards with one qualifications body to provide more consistency and value for money. Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, said: "This latest development only highlights the inefficiency of having several awarding bodies struggling to interpret the requirements of the regulator, Ofqual."

Last summer Ofqual called for the courses to be revamped amid concerns that standards had slipped since an overhaul of the subjects under Labour in 2006. The introduction of flagship "21st century syllabuses" had been intended to make the subject more attractive to pupils, including topics such as recycling and mobile phone technology. But in a major embarrassment for ministers, experts said the reforms had led to classes being dumbed down and becoming "more suitable for the pub than the schoolroom".

The intervention by the watchdog was the first time it had formally stepped in to force exam boards – which also included CCEA, the Northern Irish qualification body and WJEC, which operates in England and Wales – to alter their tests.

A spokesperson for AQA said: "We are addressing the issues that Ofqual has raised, and will be resubmitting our specifications for accreditation. "Teachers and students can be assured that these new specifications will be ready in time for first teaching in 2011."

A spokeswoman for the OCR board said: "OCR is naturally disappointed that the regulator did not accredit its GCSE science specifications. Given that they were built to Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) criteria, this ruling clearly indicates that Ofqual had major problems with its partner quango - and that the Government was right to scrap it.

"OCR trusts that Ofqual will now reach a new level of transparency about what is required from awarding bodies and will start work on amending the syllabus immediately."


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Credentialism marches on: U.S. Employers Increasingly Expect Some Education After High School

In 20 years time will a doctorate be required in order to be a bank clerk? It seems likely. The current practice is mainly designed to keep blacks out of workplaces, I suspect -- or am I not supposed to mention that? I suppose that at a minimum it shows a confidence that post-secondary qualifications still mean something, unlike black High School diplomas

The number of jobs requiring at least a two-year associate’s degree will outpace the number of people qualified to fill those positions by at least three million in 2018, according to a report being released Tuesday by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

The report makes clear that some education after high school is an increasing prerequisite for entry into the middle class. In 1970, for example, nearly three-quarters of those workers considered to be middle class had not gone beyond high school in their education; in 2007, that figure had dropped below 40 percent, according to the report.

“High school graduates and dropouts will find themselves largely left behind in the coming decade as employer demand for workers with postsecondary degrees continues to surge,’’ write the authors of the report, led by Anthony P. Carnevale.

And yet, the report further underscores a trend evident in recent years in reports of the Bureau of Labor Statistics: that sometimes a certificate in a particular trade, a two-year associate’s degree or just a few years of college may be as valuable — if not more so — to one’s career (and income) as a traditional four-year bachelor’s degree.

Mr. Carnevale told me in an interview that almost 30 percent of those people with associate’s degrees earn more, on average, than others who earned bachelor’s degrees. Similarly, more than 25 percent of those with a certificate in a particular occupation or trade earn more, on average, than those with an associate’s degree.

This is a point increasingly advanced by a group of economists, whom I quoted several weeks ago in an article under the headline “Plan B: Skip College,” in The Times’s Week in Review section.

Mr. Carnevale does break ranks with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, on its predictions of some educational requirements for certain occupations in 2018.

For example, he said, the bureau predicts that education administrators will typically require no more than a bachelor’s degree in 2018. But already, he said nearly half of education administrators have a master’s degree, and 13 percent have a doctorate in education.

Similarly, he added, the bureau predicts that a nuclear technician in 2018 will typically need no more than an associate’s degree. But already, he said, 43 percent of nuclear technicians have at least a bachelor’s degree, and sometimes a more advanced degree.

In these and other examples, he said, “those with higher educational attainment have the highest earnings, and educational attainment is continually increasing in these occupations.”


British High school bans girls from wearing skirts

A secondary school has banned girls from wearing skirts, regardless of length, to prevent them from attracting unwanted attention. The head teacher of St Aidan's Church of England High School in Harrogate, North Yorkshire imposed a complete ban on skirts because young girls were "placing themselves at risk" by raising their hemlines.

From the start of the September term, all female pupils up to the age of 15 will have to wear long black trousers.

In a letter to parents at the mixed-sex school, Dennis Richards said that the strict new uniform rules were necessary because young children were "wholly unaware of the signals they are giving out" by wearing short skirts.

He said that earlier attempts to impose a minimum skirt length had led to "battles within the family home and unnecessary and time wasting confrontation at school", making a blanket ban the only effective solution.

The head teacher wrote: "We have been seriously concerned now, for a number of years, that girls as young as 12/13 years of age are placing themselves at risk by wearing skirts of a wholly inappropriate length. "We are also aware that parents are becoming increasingly frustrated that the school seems incapable of imposing its authority on such young children. In the end we could probably do so but the cost in terms of detentions and exclusions would be very high and disproportionate to the end we would achieve."

In a statement on the school website he added: "Parents who have come in have been astonished to see the difference between the length their daughter may wear her skirt as she leaves home and what has happened by the time she is walking the corridors of the school."

Addressing sceptical parents, Mr Richards said: "The world has moved on. It is bizarre in 2010 to see wearing trousers as 'some form of punishment'."

While Mr Richards claimed to have received supportive messages from parents, the school has been criticised for failing to enforce its previous rules outlawing only shorter skirts. Margaret Morrissey of the pressure group ParentsOutloud said: "Skirts of a reasonable length have a place in any school uniform.

"If a school can't get its pupils to abide by the rules there is a problem there. It sends out completely the wrong message to children if their misbehaviour leads to a change in the rules."

North Yorkshire County Council, the local authority with responsibility for education, said it did not comment on specific uniform policies. But a spokeswoman said: "Decisions about school uniform are taken in the best interests of children by school leaders and governing bodies often in consultation with parents."

The skirt ban at St Aidan's covers pupils in Years 7 to 10. As part of the new uniform policy, girls in Year 11, who are aged 15 and 16, will be allowed to wear dark navy skirts so long as they are no more than three inches above the knee.

St Aidan's is a specialist science school with 1,898 pupils. It was praised as "an outstanding school in all respects" by Ofsted in 2006.

Other schools across the country are also tightening their uniform rules for the new academic year; Chipping Camden School in Gloucestershire has students from wearing hoodies, short skirts, denim and crop-tops.


Australia: More schools furious about "stimulus" waste

MORE schools are blowing the whistle on the wastage, shoddy construction and rorting of the Rudd government's $16.2 billion Building the Education Revolution program.

The schools have complained about overcharging -- including $23,044 in "landscaping fees" for 17 pot plants and four square metres of turf -- and substandard construction, in submissions to the NSW parliamentary inquiry into the BER.

Mary Brooksbank School, which caters for disabled students in Sydney, was given a $592,000 special purpose room with a door "not constructed to disability standards". Two covered learning areas were built at a cost of $235,000 without safety reinforcements, so their roofs had to removed for repairs. "We will not accept that faults, repairs, failure to comply with standards, incompetence should be paid for out of our BER funds," the school's P&C Association says in its submission.

Building costs at 10 schools have blown out by identical amounts totalling $4.5 million after the price of modular libraries soared from $850,000 to $1.3m. Each of the northern NSW schools, granted $850,000 last year for new libraries, has blown its budget by $453,505 -- bringing the total cost to $1.3m each.

Reed Constructions, the managing contractor for each of the projects, has been allocated a total of $73,000 in "incentive fees" for delivering on time and within budget -- on top of $494,000 in project management fees, according to costing breakdowns published on the NSW Education Department website.

Each of the public schools -- Scotts Head, Durrumbul, Leeville, Main Arm Upper, Green Hill, Caniaba, Tabulam, Tyalgum, Copmanhurst and Stroud -- has been charged $570,985 for modular building costs, $149,968 for design documentation and site management, $74,244 for "preliminaries", $210,263 for the superstructure, $90,363 for site works, $47,420 for site services and $50,000 for electricity upgrades.

A NSW Education spokeswoman yesterday said the schools were receiving "an entire new administration building on top of their allocation for a library". But the "extra" building came as news to the schools' P&Cs, which insisted yesterday that the libraries already included an administration section. "It was always one building -- half library, half administration, right from the very beginning," said Kylie Gorton, the P&C president of Stroud Public School, north of Newcastle.

Ms Gorton is furious the $1.3m building does not include the solar panels, water tank, covered walkways and airconditioning the school was promised. She said Reed Constructions had shown her paperwork at a site meeting a year ago putting the cost at $800,806, including GST. "We thought we'd have money left over," she said yesterday. "This is atrocious; I consider this an absolute waste."

Scotts Head P&C president Karen Woldring said her school's new building, incorporating a library and administration area, had initially been budgeted at $850,000 and the plans had not changed. She revealed that an official from federal Education Minister Julia Gillard's BER taskforce had visited the school two weeks ago. "We asked how it happened and he said that's what he would investigate," she said.

Tabulam P&C treasurer Sharon White said the school was "getting one building with the library and administration in it". Durrumbul P&C vice-president Abby Bliss said her school was receiving only the single building originally planned.


Monday, June 14, 2010

For-profit colleges draw attention from regulators and millions of students

A year ago, Joseph Carrillo Jr. had to fight to get into crowded classes here at the public American River College. He couldn't find a guidance counselor, and he felt lost. So he switched to the private University of Phoenix. There, everything fell into place -- at 17 times the cost.

Carrillo's move from the community college to the for-profit university shows the allure of a higher-education sector that is growing so fast the federal government wants to rein it in. The 24-year-old, who hopes to own a business someday, said he was impressed by the ease of course scheduling at his new school and unconcerned about future debt. "What good is cheap tuition if classes are so packed you can't even get in?" he asked.

But Congress and the Obama administration are concerned. For-profit schools may be offering an educational alternative, but that choice often comes with crushing student debt, some observers say.

New federal rules, expected to be formally proposed in coming days, would tighten oversight of the industry. One much-debated proposal would cut federal aid to for-profit schools in certain cases if graduates spend more than 8 percent of their starting salaries to repay loans. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) also plans this month to begin hearings on the industry, examining recruiting practices and student loan default rates.

Supporters of the schools say the proposed rules could shut down hundreds of programs, undermining President Obama's goal of making the nation the world leader in college completion by 2020.

"It will have a horrendous effect on programs in California and nationally," said Harris N. Miller, president of the Career College Association, which represents more than 1,400 for-profit schools. The association, which wields some clout in Congress, is mobilizing to fight the proposal.

Nationwide, enrollment in for-profit colleges soared from 673,000 in 2000 to 1.8 million in 2008. The growth has been fueled in California and some other states by discounts and incentives the schools offer to help students apply credits earned online toward community college degrees.

For-profit schools such as the University of Phoenix, DeVry University and Kaplan University (owned by Kaplan, a subsidiary of The Washington Post) offer professional, vocational and technical training and serve a large number of minority, low-income and first-generation college students. But they face federal scrutiny and lawsuits for burying some students under mountains of debt.

Federal aid to for-profit colleges jumped to $26.5 billion in 2009, from $4.6 billion in 2000. Two-thirds of for-profit students receive federal Pell grants, which target low-income students and don't have to be repaid. Even so, more than half of bachelor-degree recipients in 2007 at for-profit schools fell into a "high debt" range of at least $30,000 in loans, a recent College Board study found.

"These schools lay it all out for students with Pell grants and student loans," said Stan Jones, president of a nonprofit organization called Complete College America. Students, he said, "don't feel like they are paying for anything, but it's really just like a credit card for higher education."

For-profit colleges rely more on federal aid than many other higher-education institutions. The aid helps offset tuition at for-profit schools, which averaged $14,174 in 2009, according to the College Board. The average for two-year state schools was $2,544.

California is in the vanguard of a movement toward cooperation between overstretched community colleges and for-profit schools. Its community college system, with nearly 3 million students, has the nation's lowest tuition: $26 per credit. Carrillo's credits at an outlet of the University of Phoenix near here cost $450 apiece. But community colleges in this state are so crowded that officials don't discourage students from attending for-profit schools or enrolling in their online courses to satisfy degree requirements.

For-profit enrollment surged more than 20 percent in California last year, while the state's 112 cash-strapped community colleges were reducing course offerings, canceling summer school and turning away up to half of applicants. An estimated 8,800 students, including Carrillo, transferred from the state's two-year schools to the University of Phoenix.

While the Obama administration seeks to increase oversight of for-profit schools, it acknowledges their significant role. Education Secretary Arne Duncan last month urged the sector "to get rid of bad actors." But Duncan added: "Among the for-profits, phenomenal players are out there making a huge difference in helping people take the next step in the economic ladder."


Exposed: British schools inflating their High School results

SCHOOLS are inflating their league table scores by entering pupils for “easier” vocational qualifications, previously secret government data have shown.

For the first time, the figures show separately the proportion of children gaining good grades at GCSEs and those gaining the grades in less academic alternatives. Until now, official league tables have combined the two, obscuring the difference between schools that are more or less academic.

One school where the difference in performance is joint first is St Hugh’s Church of England maths and computing college, a secondary modern in Grantham, Lincolnshire. There, 39% of pupils gained five GCSEs or equivalent last year under the official indicator, but that figure falls to just 1% when only GCSEs are counted. The gap in results reaches at least 20 percentage points in 15 English schools. Three of them are academies, a linchpin of the government’s education reforms.

Critics accuse schools of pushing some academically bright pupils into taking unsuitable vocational exams to boost their league position. Anastasia De Waal, deputy director of research at Civitas, the think tank, described the differences as “staggering”. She added: “There are people saying they have turned round failing schools, but they have been doing all these so-called equivalents and hiding behind lack of transparency.”

Critics believe many vocational qualifications, although they are valuable, are given far too high a weighting in league tables — for example, a GNVQ in information and communication technology is equivalent to four GCSEs.

The government has promised to overhaul league tables and plans to publish all results for schools rather than the current measure given most prominence — the proportion of children gaining five A* to C grades at GCSE or equivalent, including English and maths.

Nick Gibb, the schools minister, said: “We need to restore confidence in the exam system. It is important that young people are entered for the qualifications that are in their best interests rather than being entered for exams simply to boost the league table position of the school.”

Schools making heavy use of vocational courses, including St Hugh’s, insisted they were the right choice for pupils. Those in Lincolnshire, where three of the 10 schools with the biggest differences are located, also attributed the high numbers to local grammar schools taking academically bright pupils.

Chris Walls, head teacher of Giles school in Boston, said: “We need to move beyond this preoccupation with sieving children. [Exams] should be about celebrating what children have learnt.”


British writers demand return of Latin to curriculum to end Labour's 'discrimination' against classics

The sound of 'amo, amas, amat' being chanted by children learning Latin has long since faded from most of our classrooms. But not, perhaps, for much longer. A group of writers and broadcasters including Ian Hislop and Sir Tom Stoppard is calling for the return of Latin to the curriculum.

They are urging ministers to end Labour's 'discrimination' against the language of the Romans and give it the same status as French, German and Spanish.

They are backing a report, published today, by two Oxford University classics scholars which makes the case for a revival of Latin in primary and secondary schools. The experts say that studying Latin not only makes it easier for children to pick up other languages, it also improves their English and maths.

Those who learn Latin at primary school use more complex sentences and have a wider vocabulary than those who don't, it is claimed. They are also better at problem-solving and logical thinking.

The report, by the Politeia think-tank, calls on Education Secretary Michael Gove to give Latin the same status as modern foreign languages in primary schools. They should be able to choose to teach it in the same way they can offer French, German, Spanish, Urdu or Arabic.

Labour specified that primaries should teach only modern languages when it issued guidance to heads on fulfilling a new duty to ensure seven-year-olds learn a foreign language.

A statement has been signed by ten writers, broadcasters or teachers including Hislop, the Private Eye editor and a panellist on the BBC quiz Have I Got News For You, playwright Sir Tom and Inspector Morse author Colin Dexter. It says: 'We ask that the new Secretary of State gives Latin the same opportunity and official blessing as other foreign languages in the curriculum.'

An Education Department spokesman said Latin is 'an important subject', but is not classified in the national curriculum as a modern language because pupils 'are not able to interact with native Latin speakers'.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

School Choice Victory in Oklahoma

School choice efforts took a substantial step forward yesterday when Oklahoma’s Democratic Governor Brad Henry signed into law the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Act. Special needs children in the state will now be able to attend a school of their parents’ choice through the help of vouchers. This program will provide significant opportunity for an estimated 15 percent of Oklahoma children and their families.

Support for the new law came from both sides of the political spectrum. The principal authors of the bill, Sen. Sally Kern (R) and Rep. Jason Nelson (R) were joined by representatives Anastasia Pittman (D), Jabar Shumate (D) and Sen. Patrick Anderson (R), to maneuver the legislation through the state congress and senate before its signing by Governor Henry. Nelson thanked Governor Henry in The Daily Oklahoman for his support and explained that the bill will provide children with special needs “a chance at a better education and a better life.”

Betsy DeVos, chairman of The American Federation for Children, commented on the school choice victory:
We salute Governor Henry for his leadership in enacting this transformational new program, and we congratulate the bipartisan team of Oklahoma legislators who worked together and put politics aside for the sake of helping children with special needs.

Oklahoma joins a growing list of states who offer school choice for parents of special needs children, including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Ohio, and Utah. The president and CEO of the Foundation for Educational Choice, Robert Enlow encouraged other states to take similar action:
Because of the governor’s and legislature’s courageous acts, Oklahoma’s children with special needs have been afforded a new, better chance to succeed in life. … Other states should emulate Oklahoma and its willingness to put the interests of kids and parents first.

Back in Washington, the Obama administration has been turning back the clock on school choice, working to phase out the highly successful and popular D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. But states like Oklahoma are moving forward with policies to put power in the hands of parents and opportunity in the reach of children. Many families will now have the opportunity to send their children to those schools they feel will best meet their needs. Hopefully the administration will see state choice victories as a sign that it is indeed parents – not bureaucrats or union leaders – who should have control of their children’s educational future.


Teacher fraud rife

The staff of Normandy Crossing Elementary School outside Houston eagerly awaited the results of state achievement tests this spring. For the principal and assistant principal [Pix above], high scores could buoy their careers at a time when success is increasingly measured by such tests. For fifth-grade math and science teachers, the rewards were more tangible: a bonus of $2,850.

But when the results came back, some seemed too good to be true. Indeed, after an investigation by the Galena Park Independent School District, the principal, assistant principal and three teachers resigned May 24 in a scandal over test tampering.

The district said the educators had distributed a detailed study guide after stealing a look at the state science test by “tubing” it — squeezing a test booklet, without breaking its paper seal, to form an open tube so that questions inside could be seen and used in the guide. The district invalidated students’ scores.

Of all the forms of academic cheating, none may be as startling as educators tampering with children’s standardized tests. But investigations in Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, Virginia and elsewhere this year have pointed to cheating by educators. Experts say the phenomenon is increasing as the stakes over standardized testing ratchet higher — including, most recently, taking student progress on tests into consideration in teachers’ performance reviews.

Colorado passed a sweeping law last month making teachers’ tenure dependent on test results, and nearly a dozen other states have introduced plans to evaluate teachers partly on scores. Many school districts already link teachers’ bonuses to student improvement on state assessments. Houston decided this year to use the data to identify experienced teachers for dismissal, and New York City will use it to make tenure decisions on novice teachers.

The federal No Child Left Behind law is a further source of pressure. Like a high jump bar set intentionally low in the beginning, the law — which mandates that public schools bring all students up to grade level in reading and math by 2014 — was easy to satisfy early on. But the bar is notched higher annually, and the penalties for schools that fail to get over it also rise: teachers and administrators can lose jobs and see their school taken over.

No national data is collected on educator cheating. Experts who consult with school systems estimated that 1 percent to 3 percent of teachers — thousands annually — cross the line between accepted ways of boosting scores, like using old tests to prep students, and actual cheating.

“Educators feel that their schools’ reputation, their livelihoods, their psychic meaning in life is at stake,” said Robert Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest, a nonprofit group critical of standardized testing. “That ends up pushing more and more of them over the line.”

Others say that every profession has some bad apples, and that high-stakes testing is not to blame. Gregory J. Cizek, an education professor at the University of North Carolina who studies cheating, said infractions were often kept quiet. “One of the real problems is states have no incentive to pursue this kind of problem,” he said.

Recent scandals illustrate the many ways, some subtle, that educators improperly boost scores:

* At a charter school in Springfield, Mass., the principal told teachers to look over students’ shoulders and point out wrong answers as they took the 2009 state tests, according to a state investigation. The state revoked the charter for the school, Robert M. Hughes Academy, in May.

* In Norfolk, Va., an independent panel detailed in March how a principal — whose job evaluations had faulted the poor test results of special education students — pressured teachers to use an overhead projector to show those students answers for state reading assessments, according to The Virginian-Pilot, citing a leaked copy of the report.

* In Georgia, the state school board ordered investigations of 191 schools in February after an analysis of 2009 reading and math tests suggested that educators had erased students’ answers and penciled in correct responses. Computer scanners detected the erasures, and classrooms in which wrong-to-right erasures were far outside the statistical norm were flagged as suspicious.

The Georgia scandal is the most far-reaching in the country. It has already led to the referral of 11 teachers and administrators to a state agency with the power to revoke their licenses. More disciplinary referrals, including from a dozen Atlanta schools, are expected.

John Fremer, a specialist in data forensics who was hired by an independent panel to dig deeper into the Atlanta schools, and who investigated earlier scandals in Texas and elsewhere, said educator cheating was rising. “Every time you increase the stakes associated with any testing program, you get more cheating,” he said.

More here

British University tuition fees don't really discriminate against the poor

Claim: Regardless of their background, people who are bright enough to get to university are also bright enough to be able to figure out that a university education is worth it

When David Willetts hinted last week that the cost of tuition fees might have to be increased, there were sighs of relief from most university administrators, and for one simple reason: the present level is unsustainably low, and will lead to the closure of whole departments.

The most obvious solution is to make those who benefit from a university education pay for more of its cost. No one likes to foot the bill for something that used to be paid for by someone else, so it's no surprise that most students (and the Lib Dems) are vehemently opposed to that idea. Their argument is that fees – which stand at £3,225 a year in England and Northern Ireland – deter people from poorer backgrounds from going to university.

If this were true, it would indeed be a powerful argument against fees. But it isn't true: since tuition fees were introduced, the number of poor students has increased rather than diminished. Regardless of their background, people who are bright enough to get to university are also bright enough to be able to figure out that a university education is worth it.

But hasn't social mobility been in decline? And haven't tuition fees accelerated that trend? Charles II once asked the Fellows of the Royal Society why a dead fish weighed more than a live one. Various sophisticated explanations were produced. Charles then pointed out that actually, it didn't. According to Peter Saunders, a professor of sociology at the University of Sussex, Britain's lack of social mobility is a "dead fish" problem. In a new pamphlet, he shows that social mobility has not declined at all – and that Britain is not significantly less mobile than other comparable economies.

There is a problem, in that far fewer students from the poorest backgrounds go to university. Although there has been an enormous expansion of university places over the past three decades, the people who have benefited are those from the richest fifth of the population: they now make up nearly half of all university students, which is double the proportion of 30 years ago. Over the same period, students from the poorest fifth have only increased from six to nine per cent of the total.

Yet the faster increase of students from wealthier families long predated the introduction of tuition fees. Partly, it is a result of many more middle-class women going to university: the increase in places helped to improve equality between the sexes, rather than equality across social classes. Indeed, it is hard to maintain that it would have been better to prevent more middle-class women from going to university in order to ensure that a larger number of working-class men ended up there – but that sometimes seems to be what those who insist that "universities must admit more students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds" are calling for.

What could universities do to increase the number of poor students? Short of drastic steps such as diminishing the qualifications required from applicants from that group, it's not obvious that they can do anything. Very few would wish to see universities discriminate against people who have proved their scholarly or scientific ability, solely in order to promote students of the "right" social background: that would be to make inverse snobbery the basis of educational policy.

The real problem is that the gap between the children of the advantaged and disadvantaged opens up very early on. By the age of 11 it is already very marked, and without intervention by the state on a massive scale (the outcome of which would certainly not be the one intended) it is very difficult to have much impact on it.

All of which points to a simple conclusion: it is better for universities to focus on being centres of educational excellence, than trying to make them engines of social transformation. If they try to do that, they will fail – both to transform society, and also to provide a decent education.