Saturday, August 14, 2010

Equipping Children With Spiritual and Political Armor

As my friends' kids leave the nest for their first year away at college, I think of the monolithic ideas with which they will surely be bombarded in an environment that is supposed to expose them to a variety of ideas. Are they prepared to resist the seductive but destructive message?

Liberal elites have dominated most university faculties for years, but it seems they've become bolder, more radical and more militant. It is not their ideas I fear, because Christianity and conservatism stand up to truth challenges. It is the moral preening, the politicization of academics, the peer pressure, the revisionist distortions and the potential discrimination against dissenters.

You know the drill. The professorate will aggressively beat into your children's heads that America is not the greatest nation in history, but largely responsible, through action or inaction, for much of the suffering in the world and that it is imperialistic, exploitive and selfish. They'll say that Christianity is narrow, intolerant, anti-intellectual, anti-science, homophobic, hateful and judgmental and that capitalism is corrupt and skewed toward the "rich" and big corporations. They'll say or imply that political conservatism is inherently racist, homophobic, sexist, militaristic, unenlightened, close-minded, mean-spirited and uncompassionate.

As parents, are you aware that the above scenario is likely to play out to some extent at most universities? Do you disagree or think it's not a big deal? Do you believe your kids are immune from this inevitable onslaught? Are you confident that even if they are exposed to such slander, they will reject it as inconsistent with their own personal experiences?

Are you sure, for example, that your kids have the discernment to recognize the disinformation that Christianity and conservatism are hardhearted, selfish, hateful, bigoted and intellectually backward and the strength to oppose it? Apart from your kids' presumed respect for you, do they have the intellectual ammunition and the spiritual armor to resist the pressure to conform?

Parents who find themselves in this position must not be complacent, assuming naively that they've done all they can do and that their kids have picked up, by osmosis or example, a proper and sustaining worldview orientation. Though they have been exposed to a culture war since they first started watching TV and going to movies, they are about to enter a new, intensified phase of it.

Christian parents should not assume their kids are equipped to filter out the false claims they will likely encounter. Christianity is the opposite of how it is often portrayed in our culture and is none of those negative things indicated above. You owe it to yourselves and your kids to anticipate the attacks and think through how they can be countered. Don't assume your excellent child rearing will be enough. We must stand up to the challenge and test our own faith, if necessary, reviewing what and why we believe. If we can't explain it, should we expect our kids to understand it?

Please don't dismiss these warnings as my opportunistic construction of a straw man. As my friend Frank Turek warns, "Christian young people are leaving the church at an alarming rate, mainly because they are not equipped to examine the skepticism and atheism they encounter, often coming from their college professors, after leaving home." So do your homework and help arm your kids. Or consult other sources for help, such as Frank's website,, which has information on how you can help teach or reinforce in your kids why Christianity is true and reasonable -- and loving.

Likewise, as politically conservative parents, you should help insulate your kids from the propaganda coming their way. You might want to first remind them that a strong majority of Americans are center-right and reject most of the ideas being forced on us by the vocal, strident and extreme leftist minority in this country. Next, of course, you need to address the specific libels hurled at conservatives and substantively respond to and refute the claims that they are bigoted, selfish and unreasonable.

If you have time to address little else, at least strive to explain to your kids in a thoughtful way why conservatism is not only not uncompassionate but also more compassionate, open-minded, tolerant, science-compatible and consistent with our human experiences than liberalism. You must do what you can to help prevent your kids from being shamed into liberalism through its false claim of having a monopoly on compassion.

Parents, are you prepared? Are your kids? Can we agree we have some work to do?


American teachers should revolt

A little over a year ago, I wrote a column suggesting that due to the blatant hostility the National Education Association was expressing towards Christians, it was time for Christian teachers to withdraw their membership from the NEA. As it turns out, the focus of my call to abandon this radically left lobby group was a bit too narrow. As evidenced by its own website, the NEA is not merely anti-Christian, they are anti-American as well.

How else can you explain the plan that appeared on the NEA's "Diversity Calendar" instructing teachers to make October 1st a special recognition of the Communist revolution in China? The NEA recommended teachers celebrate how the world's most notorious butcher, Chairman Mao Zedong, proclaimed the "Chinese people have stood up," as he established the regime that would slaughter more innocent human beings than any other in world history. [Editor's note: The NEA has since removed the October 1 event from their website, following a rapid spread of the news about it.]

As incredible as it may seem, such a proposal is completely consistent with other actions of the NEA. On their page highlighting recommended reading for teachers, the group touts the work of self-proclaimed Satanist (and Obama motivator) Saul Alinsky. In calling Alinsky, "an inspiration to anyone contemplating action in their community," the NEA encourages those charged with educating our children to immerse themselves in the tactics of progressive community organizing. They heartily endorse Alinsky's 1971 book, Rules for Radicals – a socialist how-to guide for gaining power and redistributing wealth.

As commentator Brannon Howse explains, "The NEA is a group of radicals who are opposed to parental authority, opposed to accountability, and they're not for traditional education....They are for a progressive, liberal, anti-American worldview." It's why the NEA applauds the work of communists like John Dewey and domestic terrorists like Bill Ayers, all the while publishing guides on how to defeat the "religious right."

Why conscientious, patriotic teachers continue sending their money to these Marxists is beyond comprehension. As I wrote last year:

"Sure, there are excuses we can use to justify our capitulation and spineless allegiance to causes we know to be wrong. We can accept the fear-mongering about how we'll all lose our jobs without the NEA. We can delude ourselves into believing that when we check the box stating our dues can't be used for political purposes that we aren't still contributing to the very executive councils, legal offices, and management that is publicly acknowledging their hatred towards everything we stand for. We can rationalize that it's impossible anymore to keep from spending our money on things we don't really support. But we shouldn't do it any longer. Our consciences shouldn't allow it." (Read the entire column from July 20, 2009)

Here's the truth: no teacher has to affiliate themselves with the NEA. There are two excellent alternative organizations – the Christian Educators Association International and the Association of American Educators – that provide sometimes double the amount of liability coverage to teachers for a fraction of the NEA's price for membership. They can do this because they, unlike the NEA, aren't using the dues of teachers to lobby for left-wing social and political causes.

And even in those states where the law requires membership, there are legal alternatives for opting out. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation offers assistance to any such teacher.

Moreover, besides just individuals, there is no reason that local associations should continue affiliating themselves under the leadership of such a backwards organization. A local association can willfully choose (in most states) to operate independently of the NEA's belligerently left-wing leadership. And those that do find they operate much more effectively.

The NEA and its state affiliates have proven themselves disinterested in the business of actually improving the quality of education for students. As the NEA's own summer convention demonstrated, they are preoccupied with using dues dollars to advocate: repeal of all right-to-work laws, federal funding of sexual orientation instruction, federal funding to educate illegal aliens, universal healthcare, and (of course) killing human children in the womb.

The NEA's support of these positions is not just symbolic. According to the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute on Money in State Politics, the NEA is the top spender in national and state politics, spending four times more than any other donor. And – surprise, surprise – 95 percent of that money went to the Democratic Party and leftist ballot initiatives.

Simply put, there is no excuse for any American teacher (Christian or not) who believes in the values and principles of Western civilization to remain associated with the NEA. They are a culturally Marxist organization that holds a flagrant antipathy towards this country and its traditions.

Fellow teachers, let's drain them of their dues.


Leading British universities snub top students as political pressure means top grade is ignored

It was billed as the super-grade that would help the brightest sixth-formers stand out. According to a Daily Mail survey, however, most leading universities have ignored the A*, meaning some high achievers will be left without a place on a degree course at all.

The grade, introduced by Labour, will be awarded for the first time this summer to students who score 90 per cent or more in their second-year exams. But the previous government has been accused of putting universities under 'overt pressure' to shun the A* in case it led to a surge in private-school pupils winning places.

It told universities not to use the grades for at least three years, until the accuracy of grade predictions had been tested. As a result, many, including Oxford, said they had inevitably turned away applicants expected to achieve one or more A*s.

Some experts believe the A* will actually benefit state school pupils. And independent school leaders said universities were 'spineless' for refusing to acknowledge academic prowess.

Cambridge is unique in embracing the grade this year. It believes state pupils will not lose out. Out of 3,000 offers of places it made this year, 2,800 specify that candidates must achieve A*AA when A-level results are published on Thursday. Another 80 must gain two A*s and an A. Three must be awarded three A*s.

But the reluctance by other universities to take the grade into account, even as competition intensifies, means thousands vying for places could find their A*s count for nothing. Of 38,000 who achieved three As in 2009, some 3,000 failed to land a university place. With a further rise in those gaining A grades expected next week, record numbers pupils face missing out.

Our survey of 30 of the most selective universities shows how the A* has made little impact this year. Some 23 said they had not taken any account of teachers' predictions of A*s.

Oxford said: 'We have not used the A* in the first two years because we got a clear message from teachers that they could not predict who would get the grade.'

Others, including Imperial College, Nottingham, Leicester and Surrey, said they considered all predicted grades. But only five said they made conditional offers using the A*.

Cambridge had made the most use of it, with Imperial College, University College London, Warwick and Loughborough using it in some cases.

Geoff Lucas, of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, representing 250 fee-paying schools, said the A* was 'spurring the very bright kids'. But universities had faced 'pretty overt pressure' not to consider it.

Dr Geoff Parks, Cambridge admissions director, said: 'It may be the balance shifts slightly towards what Alastair Campbell described as the "bog-standard comprehensive" and away from the independent sector.'


Friday, August 13, 2010

Obama's school spending brings out the carpetbaggers

With the Obama administration pouring billions into its nationwide campaign to overhaul failing schools, dozens of companies with little or no experience are portraying themselves as school-turnaround experts as they compete for the money.

A husband-and-wife team that has specialized in teaching communication skills but never led a single school overhaul is seeking contracts in Ohio and Virginia. A corporation that has run into trouble with parents or the authorities in several states in its charter school management business has now opened a school-turnaround subsidiary. Other companies seeking federal money include offshoots of textbook conglomerates and classroom technology vendors.

Many of the new companies seem unprepared for the challenge of making over a public school, yet neither the federal government nor many state governments are organized to offer effective oversight, said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, a nonprofit group in Washington.

“Many of these companies clearly just smell the money,” Mr. Jennings said.

Rudy Crew, a former New York City schools chancellor who has formed his own consulting company, said he was astonished to see so many untested groups peddling strategies to improve schools. “This is like the aftermath of the Civil War, with all the carpetbaggers and charlatans,” Dr. Crew said.

The Obama administration has sharply increased federal financing for school turnarounds, to $3.5 billion this year, about 28 times as much as in 2007. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is pushing to overhaul 5,000 of the nation’s 100,000 public schools in the next few years.


The Assault on For-Profit Universities

President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan want the United States to lead the world in the percentage of people who graduate college by 2020, which will mean increasing by at least 8 million the number of students completing college over the next 10 years. President Obama noted in a speech yesterday that by “making college affordable … we’ll reach our goal of once again leading the world in college graduation rates by the end of this decade.”

But new proposals for regulating the for-profit higher education industry outlined by the Department of Education could actually have the opposite effect. For-profit higher education is serving the needs of students, as evidenced by the significant increase in enrollment over the past two decades.

According to a new report by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, since 1986 alone, enrollment has increased nearly sixfold and has now reached nearly 1.8 million students. While traditional public universities and nonprofits have grown just 1.6 and 1.4 percent (respectively) each year, for-profit institutions have enjoyed an 8.4 percent annual growth rate. This growth rate has been achieved because for-profit universities serve a wide range of student needs, from more traditional degrees to vocational and technical schools. According to a new report:

Traditional universities are configured as non-profit organizations whose stated mission often invokes a service of the public good. In contrast, for-profits are structured as profit-maximizing firms whose success depends of providing a valuable service to the student/customer. For-profit institutions can only be profitable if they are able to provide a service that is valuable to the student.

While there are likely bad actors in the for-profit industry, the Department of Education has proposed capping costs at any for-profit that receives federal subsidies. This would affect virtually all for-profit, private higher education institutions since nearly all of them accept students who receive federal subsidies in some form.

But what would this mean for achieving the Administration’s goal of increasing the number of college graduates? For-profits have been particularly popular among those students historically underserved by the traditional college model. African-American and Hispanic students are enrolling in for-profit universities at a greater rate than in traditional universities, and female enrollment in for-profit institutions has skyrocketed in recent decades. For-profit institutions also serve non-traditional students who are often older and have to work full-time jobs outside of their academic pursuits.

But the Obama Administration argues that increased regulation is also needed in the for-profit sector because students attending these schools tend to default at higher rates than students in traditional four-year institutions. This is true: Average default rates for students attending for-profit schools stood at 11 percent in 2007, compared to just 5.9 percent at public universities. But some argue that these higher default rates are a function of serving a student population that has been shut out by public and nonprofit institutions.

Neal McCluskey over at the Cato Institute points out that in a recent Congressional hearing about the for-profit industry, Senator Tom Harkin (D–IA) stated that “GAO’s findings make it disturbingly clear that abuses in for-profit recruiting are not limited to a few rogue recruiters or even a few schools with lax oversight.” But findings from the GAO’s investigation, released just last week, found that “results of the undercover tests and tuition comparisons cannot be projected to all for-profit colleges.”

So the question becomes: Is it the profit in for-profit that has the Administration uneasy?

Federal subsidies for higher education have increased significantly over the past several decades. But—probably as a result of those increases—so has tuition. It has become a vicious cycle whereby the federal government increase subsidies for college, increasing students’ purchasing power, in turn allowing universities to raise tuition, which increases the demand for student subsidies. For some students, the for-profit market has broken this cycle, eliminating a barrier to entry to postsecondary education.

While there are certainly bad actors—as with any industry—the answer isn’t to expand federal control and regulation over an industry that is meeting the needs of millions of students. The answer is to increase transparency and information about what students can expect to get in return for their investment in these schools. Vedder et al. said it best in their report:

The roots of market-based education stretch as far back as classical Greece in the fifth century B.C., when proprietary schools and traveling teachers for hire … provided instruction to students willing to pay for their services. The Greek citizenry’s growing demand for educational services combined with the freedom of educators to establish private for-profit schools led to the emergence of a nimble educational system. … In response to the needs of the students and their families, educators taught the subjects students wanted to learn.

One-size-fits-all approaches don’t work in education, and they certainly don’t work in the higher education industry. If the Administration really wants the United States to lead the world in college graduates, all options should be allowed to flourish to meet the needs of students.


British university funding cuts of 35% will be worst since the Great Depression

Students face a major increase in the cost of studying for a degree as universities prepare to be hit with the worst cuts to their budgets since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Undergraduates face being taught in 'crumbling' lecture theatres or at home over the internet, despite having to pay more for a university education.

Universities have been told to prepare for a cut of 35 per cent to their funding over four years – equivalent to cash per student being slashed from £5,441 a year to £3,537. The cuts would represent the biggest loss of resources since the 1930s cutbacks, higher education experts claimed yesterday.

Universities say they would be forced to scrap courses, crowd more students into lecture theatres and neglect facilities such as libraries and computer suites. Thousands more undergraduates would be required to study at home using internet resources.

Institutions are also likely to look abroad to recruit new students to help compensate for the loss of public funds. Meanwhile home students face a significant increase in the cost of going to university, to be repaid after graduation. Fees for 2010/11 are £3,290 a year, up from £3,225.

The cuts warning came in meetings between Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell and university chiefs, according to the Times Higher Education magazine.

Chancellor George Osborne will confirm the scale of cuts for all Whitehall departments in October but Sir Gus has told universities it would be ‘prudent’ to prepare for a 35 per cent cut between 2011 and 2015. Ex-BP boss Lord Browne will report on the future of student finance in the autumn.

Professor Roger Brown, an expert in higher education policy at Liverpool Hope University, said cuts would lead to ‘increased student-to-staff ratios and greater pressure on physical resources, such as libraries’. The prospect of cuts to facilities budgets spells a ‘nightmare scenario’, he added.

‘You are charging students more – assuming fees will go up after the Browne review – and at the same time they are being taught in crumbling lecture theatres.’

Professor Gareth Williams, a higher education expert at London’s Institute of Education, said: ‘If the numbers quoted are realised, it would be far worse than anything universities have experienced since the 1930s. ‘In terms of expenditure per student, it is far worse than anything in recent memory.’

Students could increasingly be taught via distance learning, studying mainly at home and attending campuses less frequently, he suggested.

‘It probably would be possible to provide the basic training that goes on at most universities at the sort of price that is being talked about. ‘But it would be a very different student experience from what we take for granted. It raises big questions about the nature of a university experience, what a university is for, why people go to university.’

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: ‘The Cabinet Secretary’s advice to everyone in the public sector is that, until we find out exact budgets in the autumn spending review, it would be prudent to prepare for cuts at the higher end of the range.’


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dems, advocates blast food stamps cuts in educrat welfare bill

Some Democrats are upset and advocacy groups are outraged over the raiding of the food-stamp cupboard to fund a state-aid bailout that some call a gift to teachers and government union workers.

House members convened Tuesday and passed the multibillion-dollar bailout bill for cash-strapped states that provides $10 billion to school districts to rehire laid-off teachers or ensure that more teachers won't be let go before the new school year begins, keeping more than 160,000 teachers on the job, the Obama administration says.

But the bill also requires that $12 billion be stripped from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, to help fund the new bill, prompting some Democrats to cringe at the notion of cutting back on one necessity to pay for another. The federal assistance program currently helps 41 million Americans.

Arguably one of the most outspoken opponents on the Democratic side is Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who has blasted the move as “a bitter pill to swallow” but still voted yes.

“I fought very hard for the food assistance money in the Recovery Act, and the fact is that participation in the food stamps program has jumped dramatically with the economic crisis, from 31.1 million persons to 38.2 million just in one year,” DeLauro said in an e-mail sent to “But I know that states across the nation and my own state of Connecticut also desperately need these resources to save jobs and avoid Draconian cuts to essential services for low income families.”

The Houston Chronicle reported Tuesday that several state advocacy groups, including the Texas Food Book Network and the Houston Food Bank, rallied for House members to strike down the legislation, which passed 247-161 in the House. Three Democrats voted against the measure, while two Republicans voted in support of it.

Democratic rank and file members, including Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, say the cuts won’t take effect until 2014 and will merely return food stamp benefits to pre-stimulus levels.

The Food Research and Action Center said a family of four would see benefits drop about $59 per month starting in 2014.

"While we support the education initiatives (in the bill), we adamantly oppose using food stamps to pay for them," said James Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center. "The rain on food stamps to pay for other things absolutely has to stop and stop now."

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures, the number of people on the food stamp rolls has been growing to record levels for 18 straight months. Nearly $5.5 billion in aid went out to beneficiaries in May alone. The number of May recipients marked a 19 percent increase from a year ago and the USDA projects that next year's enrollment will reach about 43.4 million.

Republicans, meanwhile, vocally opposed the state aid bill. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told Fox News it rewarded "irresponsible states" and their unions.

"It is basically taxpayers from fiscally (responsible) states bailing out fiscally irresponsible states. ... Medicaid funding, teacher funding, the more popular of the public unions, what this is, it's a bailout to prevent states from doing the necessary spending prioritization that they need do," he said.

The Obama administration pushed hard for the $26 billion bill. The White House argued that it is essential to protecting 300,000 teachers and other nonfederal government workers from election-year layoffs and will not add to the national deficit.

"If we do nothing, these educators won't be returning to the classroom this fall, and that won't just deprive them of a paycheck, it will deprive the children and parents who are counting on them to provide a decent education," Obama said in the White House Rose Garden shortly before the bill passed on Tuesday.

"This proposal is fully paid for, in part by closing tax loopholes that encourage corporations that ships American jobs overseas. So it will not add to our deficit," he said. "And the money will only go toward saving the jobs of teachers and other essential professionals...I urge members of both parties to come together and get this done, so that I can sign this bill into law."


Parenting isn’t a bunch of skills that can be taught in a British school

British proposal to have a High School course in parenting would denigrate both what it means to be a parent and the purpose of education

If the Lib-Con education secretary Michael Gove really means business and plans to keep his promise to raise educational standards, then he should politely reject Frank Field’s hare-brained proposal to put parenting on the GCSE curriculum. At a time when far too many schools are struggling to teach their pupils basic literacy and numeracy, Field has proposed a formal exam for 16-year-olds which would turn them into the ‘five-star parents’ of tomorrow.

When I first read the proposals, drawn up by Labour’s Field but now being considered by the Lib-Cons, I thought it might be a clever work of satire designed to poke fun at Britain’s inept and meddling politicians. Hitherto, the dishing out of gold stars and smiley faces was confined to increasingly sceptical schoolkids; now, however, parents could find themselves infantilised by having their methods and behaviour judged by a star system in school classrooms!

What better way to degrade education than to suggest, as Field does, that ‘schools will want to teach this to boost their standing in the league tables’. At a time when many British schools already try to manipulate league tables by encouraging their students to opt for soft, unchallenging subjects, exhorting schools to embrace yet more nonsense in a dumbed-down curriculum just seems surreal.

Hopefully, there are still some serious policymakers who will understand that a school course on parenting would do nothing to improve the quality of family and community life. Parenting is not a skill or an academic subject that can be effectively communicated in an institutional setting. The core assumption of social engineers, and of policymakers like Field, is that child-rearing consists of a range of practices that mothers and fathers need to learn. On the surface of things, no one could dispute this assertion: every human relationship involves learning and gaining an understanding of the other person. A parent needs to learn how to engage the imagination of a child; how to stimulate him or her; how to restrain him or her from doing something harmful. Yet these things cannot simply be taught to prospective parents; instead, experience shows that effective child-rearing is learned on the job. Why? Because the most crucial lessons parents are learning have little to do with abstract skills and instead are about the very relationship they are developing with their children. Learning how to manage this relationship in order to guide a child’s development is the crux of effective parenting.

The issue is not so much whether parenting needs to be learned, but whether it can be taught. Everyday experience tells us that not everything that has to be learned can be taught. Parenting can’t be taught, because it is about the forging and managing of an intimate relationship. And when it comes to relationships, people learn principally from their experiences. Relationships have unique characteristics that are only really grasped by the people involved. People learn through reflecting on their experience of joy and pain, the exhilaration and the disappointments of their interactions with someone who is significant to their lives.

When it comes to a real school subject, such as maths or science, it is possible to teach facts without the student having personally to experience and discover them for himself. It is possible to teach skills that can be applied in all scientific experiments. But this is not the case with parenting. The very instability of parenting advice, and the regularity with which yesterday’s authoritative recipe for ‘good parenting’ is dismissed as hopelessly inaccurate and replaced with another, indicate that the idea of ‘teaching parenting’ is really prejudice masquerading as a skill. It is sad that a respected political figure like Frank Field has not yet learned that parenting is not a skill, but a relationship – and a messy one at that.

Sadly, we live in a world in which virtually every social problem is associated with poor parenting. The simplistic doctrine of parental determinism spares policymakers from engaging in the serious business of grasping complex social phenomena. Parenting has become an all-purpose causal agent that apparently explains all the bad stuff. Solving this apparent parenting deficit is presented as a way of fixing society. At a time when parenting is more extensively discussed than ever before, it is curious that Field states that ‘our nation has fallen out of love with the art of being good parents’. In the real world, parenting has acquired a sacred, quasi-religious character. Parenting is culturally valued more than ever before. Indeed, there is now a veritable parenting industry and there has never been a time when British fathers and mothers have felt so anxious and concerned about their roles. Thirty years ago, parenting was not seen as a suitable issue for policymakers. Today, it has become a focus for political discourse. And as I argued in my book Paranoid Parenting, this obsession with parenting has had the perverse effect of eroding parental confidence and complicating family life.
Fiddling with the curriculum

Field’s proposal is bad news for parents. But if implemented, it would have serious damaging consequences for education, too. Some hoped that after the defeat of New Labour, policymakers would resist the temptation to politicise the curriculum. But sadly, some politicians remain addicted to the dead-end strategy of attempting to fix the problems of society through fiddling with what is taught in schools. Anyone familiar with the experiences of the past two decades knows that our schools have become the target of competing groups of policymakers, moral entrepreneurs and advocacy organisations, all of whom want to use the curriculum to promote their own ideals and values. As a result, pedagogic issues are continually confused with political ones.

The school curriculum has become a battleground for zealous campaigners and entrepreneurs. Public-health officials constantly demand more compulsory classroom discussions on healthy eating and obesity. Professionals obsessed with young people’s sex lives insist that schools introduce yet more sex-education initiatives. Others want schools to focus more on Black History or Gay History. In early 2007, the then New Labour education secretary, Alan Johnson, announced that not only was he introducing Global Warming Studies, but that he would also make Britain’s involvement in the slave trade a compulsory part of the history curriculum.

At a time when educators feel unable to endow their vocation with real meaning, they continually turn to new causes in order to transmit at least some semblance of values. This was the intention behind Johnson’s announcement, in February 2007, that ‘we need the next generation to think about their impact on the environment in a different way’. Johnson justified this project, aimed at shaping the cultural outlook of children, through appealing to a higher truth: ‘If we can instill in the next generation an understanding of how our actions can mitigate or cause global warming, then we lock in a culture change that could, quite literally, save the world.’ ‘Saving the world’ looks like a price worth paying for fiddling with the geography curriculum and using it to instruct children about global warming. But behind the lofty rhetoric lie some base assumptions.

The curriculum is increasingly regarded as a vehicle for promoting political objectives and for changing the values, attitudes and sensibilities of children. Many advocacy organisations who demand changes to the curriculum do not have the slightest interest in the subject they wish to influence – as far as they’re concerned, they are simply gaining recognition for their cause. That is what Nick Clegg, deputy PM and leader of the Liberal Democrats, was doing when he argued that education must tackle homophobia and that Ofsted inspectors should assess how well schools are managing the problem of homophobia. Sex experts continually demand that the amount of time devoted to sex education be expanded. In July 2008, the Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV noted that pupils were getting inadequate instruction because sex education was not a compulsory subject. The same month, the Family Planning Association argued that children as young as four should receive age-appropriate ‘compulsory sex education’, with sex and relationship education enjoying a position in the curriculum similar to other compulsory subjects, like maths and English.

While the campaign to transform sex education into a compulsory school subject is sometimes questioned by traditionalist critics, many similar initiatives around different causes are not remarked upon. In September 2008, the New Labour government announced changes to the national curriculum that will instruct boys as young as 11 on how to be good fathers. Children would be taught that if they abandon their offspring they will face prosecution and a possible jail sentence. Where did this initiative come from? It certainly doesn’t represent a response to a pedagogic problem identified in the classroom – rather it emerged from the deliberations of policymakers and experts who feel strongly that something should be done about ‘deadbeat dads’. And when that question ‘what should be done?’ is posed, they inevitably come up with the now-formulaic solution: deal with it in the national curriculum.

So Janet Paraskeva, chair of the UK Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission, stated that: ‘There needs to be something in the national curriculum to make children aware they will need to take financial responsibility for their children.’ Parakeva insisted that she meant business, arguing ‘this won’t be a simple bolt-on to the national curriculum’ since ‘we want to give children at a young age a good understanding of the financial commitment of becoming parents’.

Pareskeva’s proposals expose the fundamental flaw in all this curriculum meddling. It assumes that the problems of the adult world can be fixed through instruction in the classroom. But of course, it is not a lack of information that is responsible for anti-social behaviour or the disorientation of the adult world. Forcing children to deal with adult problems exposes them to issues that they can’t do anything about, while depriving them of a real education. Field argues that disadvantaged children in particular will benefit from studying for a GCSE in parenting. I beg to differ. What disadvantaged children need is high-quality, subject-based education. They can’t afford the luxury of wasting time on well-meaning social experiments. Experience shows that the proliferation of social-engineering initiatives on the curriculum benefits no one, while disproportionately penalising those with minimal access to intellectual capital.


Australia: Leftist school expenditures no help in financial crisis

WE'LL say it again. Labor's capital works stimulus spending could not have "saved" Australia from recession, as Julia Gillard claims. This is because the crisis had passed by the time the hard hats got on to the school building sites.

This was clear from last week's review of the Gillard Building the Education Revolution, which showed that less than half of the $14 billion earmarked for primary school halls had yet to be spent by June this year.

And now an Auditor-General's review of the $550 million stimulus spending on 137 "strategic" local government projects similarly finds that the construction work ramped up after the recession risk had passed.

Labor's stimulus promised a "timely" counter to the global financial crisis that hit in September 2008. The $550m of strategic projects, part of the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program, were supposed to be concentrated last year.

The Treasury's stimulus estimates assumed that "timely and efficient" program delivery would result in "minimal lags" in boosting the economy. But the Auditor-General finds the scheme was flawed from the start, mismanaged along the way and plagued by council porkies [lies].

A "large proportion" of projects were not ready to proceed, were always going to take longer "than necessary to provide timely stimulus" and were hit by "high project delivery risk". By the end of last September, only a quarter of the 137 projects were reported as having started. By then, however, the economy already had been growing for three quarters in a row.

And Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens assessed the economy's downturn to be "mild".

Even then, the Auditor-General finds, local councils and the federal government seriously over-reported the construction progress. The Commonwealth Co-ordinator-General's progress report claimed that "over $248m" had been paid to councils by the end of last year "based on their construction progress". But the Auditor-General disapprovingly finds that 97 per cent of the $247.8m actually paid to councils by then "did not relate to construction progress".

Much of the money was paid well in advance of actual construction. And the Auditor-General's random site visits found that council reporting was not "sufficiently accurate". In NSW, construction of a Bega Shire Council aquatic centre did not start until February this year, even though reporting to the federal government claimed work had begun in October last year.

Labor can stick to its combined 2009 and 2010 stimulus estimates, but it can't claim this stimulus avoided a recession because much of it was pushed into this year, when the economy already had dodged the bullet.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Gender-bias impacts women physicists? Perhaps not

The author below obviously knows very little of the academic literature on stereotyping, even though her study is of stereotyping.

She has confirmed that there is a stereotype of men as better at physics but neglects to ask why. She would appear to think it is irrational or some evil male plot.

Yet the great preponderance of the stereotyping literature that actually asks the "why" question concludes that stereotyping has what Allport long ago called a "kernel of truth". See relevant literature summaries here and here.

So the first thing the Bug lady should have asked is whether or not men REALLY ARE better at physics. That she did not reveals her own biases

While some might argue that the lack of women in physics is down to personal choice or perhaps even biological determinism, Amy Bug, a physicist at Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, USA instead claims it could be due to small, unconscious biases in the evaluation of female physicists that can add up to have a significant impact on their careers.

Bug videotaped a series of lectures using professional actors - two male, two female - who posed as physics professors. After the 10 minute lecture, 126 physics students were then asked to fill out a survey evaluating the lecture and the professor's performance.

Detailing her finding in August’s Physics World, Bug’s study found that, on average, male professors received higher scores than their female counterparts. The experiment also revealed that there is a distinct gender bias from both male and female students when it comes to gender-stereotypical attributes, for example associating a male professor as good with science equipment, and a female professor as more helpful.

Interestingly, Bug found that while female students gave slightly higher marks to the female professors than they did to the men, male students rated the male professors vastly better. Bug’s findings show that not only does the gender of a physics professor determine how lectures are received, but also the student’s gender plays a role as well.

These results are consistent with the theory that people associate different genders with different aptitudes and predilections. Female physicists break such associations prompting a negative perception. Together with small disadvantages such as smaller start-up grants and unequal wages these can accumulate over time and have dramatic consequences on a career.

According to Bug, progress towards more equality will depend on the continuous effort of educational, professional and funding institutions. “Today, the big issues are acknowledging and correcting the implicit bias, workplace policy reform, bringing in students from ethnic minorities, retaining girls between school and college, and seeking equality in the developing world.” writes Bug.


College transparency: Uncharted territory

Jane just got accepted to a prestigious private university. Tuition is over $40,000 a year and her parents do not qualify for financial aid because of their high incomes. They write out a check for $160,000 and Jane is on her way to earning a four-year degree.

John also received an acceptance letter to the same school. In his case, his parents are not so well off so he qualifies for both federal and state financial aid. Because of his high GPA he receives college scholarships as well. Still unable to afford college, he is offered and accepts several loans because he believes that going to a more expensive college means that his degree will be worth more and will eventually get him a high paying job. Eventually, he figures, he will be able to pay off those loans.

Most students at college tend to fall somewhere between those two cases. After wading through the bog of muddled information from college admissions offices about financial aid, parents are relieved to have even made it through the process alive, figuratively speaking. Little time or energy is then left to investigate questions like “What does my tuition money actually fund?”

College campuses are set up like miniature governments. The endless red tape and long lines. The faculty senate. The handbook, codes, rules. The unnecessary bureaucracy. Offices of disabilities and abilities alike. Signature collection, approvals, stamps, mailboxes, and forms. Even at private universities, you can expect to run into your fair share of government documents to fill out regarding employment, finances and running your affairs.

Colleges are very heavily subsidized by the government — through the current stimulus package, especially through aid and loans for students as also through a variety of other means. In turn, colleges know that they can raise tuition prices through the roof and get away with it. Government, which is to say the taxpayers extorted by the government, will always be there to provide the money. Right? This allows colleges to continually add more employees and limitless layers of bureaucracy, simply because they can afford it. An illusion is created that the college is progressive, growing and innovative. In reality, they’re simply unnecessarily wasting resources.

A truly free market would lack the subsidies that distort the current education market. In a stateless society, to be specific, market discipline would create the expectation that “what you pay for is what you get.” Admissions offices would boast of their efficiency; recruiting new students by pointing to comparisons of the costs versus benefits of attending their school — because that information would be easier to meaningfully identify without market distortions. Instead of cost alone, students and parents would be looking at the actual educational value to be received for their money. Colleges wouldn’t be pressured to give tenure to a horrible professor simply because of how long he had taught at the school. Rather, they would reward instructors based on merit as determined by consumer choices in the market.

From the perspective of the average person, meaningful financial transparency on college campuses is currently rare. With students lost in loan rules la-la land, chasing elusive job openings, and facing overall exhaustion with the current system, it can be arduous to investigate where the money students pay is going. With the current state of the economy, however, students and parents will have to wake up and ask these important questions of transparency, choosing the most cost effective and truly productive school. Such challenges to authoritarian institutions of all sorts will increasingly become crucial to the financial survival of the ordinary person.


British Primary school results 'inflated' by teachers

The extent to which children’s grasp of core subjects is being “artificially inflated” by schools is laid bare in damning figures which have been published for the first time. New-style tests show that results in science are up to a third lower at the end of primary school than previous scores suggested.

The figures – based on a small-scale “sample” designed to give a more accurate picture of national achievement – will fuel fears that pupils have been “taught to the test” to boost schools’ positions in league tables at the expense of a proper understanding of the subject.

It will also cast fresh doubts over Labour’s education record and raise questions over standards in other core subjects such as English and mathematics.

In the past, all children in England took Sats tests in science at the end of primary school. Last year, almost nine-in-10 reached the standard expected for their age and 43 per cent exceeded national targets.

But the science test was scrapped following complaints that schools drilled children to pass by repeatedly forcing them to sit practice papers, undermining their education. It was replaced with a sample test taken by just one-in-20 pupils nationally. Under the new system, individual schools are not identified and results do not contribute towards league tables.

Figures published by the Department for Education show that 81 per cent of 11-year-olds reached the national target for their age group – Level 4 – in the sample test. This compared with 88 per cent of those who took Sats last year.

It means fewer children can use tables and bar charts to record measurements, identify organs in the human body and understand the difference between solids, liquids and gases. At the same time, only 28 per cent gained an elite Level 5 in the sample test, compared with 43 per cent last year – a drop of around a third.

Prof Alan Smithers, professor of education at Buckingham University, said: “With these sampling tests, the schools are not individually identified so there isn’t the same pressure to artificially inflate the result.

“When rewards and sanctions are attached to the test, teachers can push up results simply by training children in the sort of questions that will come up and scores quickly get out of line with the actual understanding of the children. In a sense, sampling provides a more accurate picture. “If we want to discover how well the education system is going, this is the way to do it.”

Statisticians from the Department for Education admitted that the results this year could not be compared with those of the past because previous tests “fed the school accountability framework”.

Ministers have refused to axe Sats tests in English and maths and the latest results will fuel speculation that results in those subjects are also artificially higher. Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has already announced a review of the way primary school pupils are assessed.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The sample tests point the way forward and I urge the Secretary of State to conduct his review of national curriculum assessment with a view to putting the sampling system in place for both English and mathematics."

The sample science test results are also lower than teachers’ own assessments of pupils’ abilities in the classroom. Teachers informally assess children’s grasp of English, maths and science throughout the final year of primary education, with results being published alongside Sats scores. Assessment scores released last week suggested 85 per cent of children were at Level 4 and 37 per cent were at Level 5.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The higher education bubble

Back at the beginning of the summer, I had a column in this space in which I predicted that higher education is in a bubble, one soon to burst with considerable consequences for students, faculty, employers, and society at large.

My reasoning was simple enough: Something that can’t go on forever, won’t. And the past decades’ history of tuition growing much faster than the rate of inflation, with students and parents making up the difference via easy credit, is something that can’t go on forever. Thus my prediction that it won’t.

But then what? Assume that I’m right, and that higher education - both undergraduate and graduate, and including professional education like the law schools in which I teach - is heading for a major correction. What will that mean? What should people do?

Well, advice number one - good for pretty much all bubbles, in fact - is this: Don’t go into debt. In bubbles, people borrow heavily because they expect the value of what they’re borrowing against to increase.

In a booming market, it makes sense to buy a house you can’t quite afford, because it will increase in value enough to make the debt seem trivial, or at least manageable - so long as the market continues to boom.

But there’s a catch. Once the boom is over, of course, all that debt is still there, but the return thereon is much diminished. And since the boom is based on expectations, things can go south with amazing speed, once those expectations start to shift.

Right now, people are still borrowing heavily to pay the steadily increasing tuitions levied by higher education. But that borrowing is based on the expectation that students will earn enough to pay off their loans with a portion of the extra income their educations generate. Once people doubt that, the bubble will burst.

So my advice to students faced with choosing colleges (and graduate schools, and law schools) this coming year is simple: Don’t go to colleges or schools that will require you to borrow a lot of money to attend. There’s a good chance you’ll find yourself deep in debt to no purpose. And maybe you should rethink college entirely.

Many people with college educations are already jumping the tracks to become skilled manual laborers: plumbers, electricians, and the like. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that seven of the ten fastest-growing jobs in the next decade will be based on on-the-job training rather than higher education. (And they’ll be hands-on jobs hard to outsource to foreigners). If this is right, a bursting of the bubble is growing likelier.

What about higher education folks? What should they (er, we?) do? Well, once again, what can’t go on forever, won’t.

For the past several decades, colleges and universities have built endowments, played moneyball-style faculty hiring games, and constructed grand new buildings, while jacking up tuitions to pay for things (and, in the case of state schools, to make up for gradually diminishing public support).

That has been made possible by an ocean of money borrowed by students -- often with the encouragement and assistance of the universities. Business plans that are based on this continuing are likely to fare poorly.

Just as I advised students not to go into debt, my advice to universities is similar: Don’t go on spending binges now that you expect to pay for with tuition revenues later. Those may not be there as expected.

Post-bubble, students are likely to be far more concerned about getting actual value for their educational dollars. Faced with straitened circumstances, colleges and universities will have to look at cutting costs.

Online education, and programs focused more on things that can help students earn more than on what faculty want to teach, will help to deliver more value for the dollar. In some areas, we may even see a move to apprenticeship models, or other approaches that provide more genuine skills upon graduation.

Meanwhile, for the states, and big donors, who fund those portions of higher education that the students don’t, a post-bubble world will bring some changes, too. Many states have been cutting aid to higher education, content to let higher tuition pick up the slack.

Some may choose to change that (if they can afford it) but regardless I expect more direct oversight of state institutions from those who fund them. Universities’ priorities will be brought closer to states’ priorities.

For private schools, government oversight is less direct -- but to an even greater extent than state schools, private institutions have been dependent on a flood of government-guaranteed credit, and they are likely to see more scrutiny as well if that is to continue.

As former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously remarked, the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money, and that’s likely to be the problem facing higher education, too.

Graduation rates, employment after graduation, loan default rates, and so on are likely to get a lot more attention. Institutions may even be forced to absorb some of the cost of student loan defaults, as an incentive not to encourage students to take on more debt than they can repay.

Finally, for the entrepreneurs out there, this bubble-bursting may be an opportunity. One of the underpinnings of higher education is its value as a credential to employers: A college degree demonstrates, at least, moderate intelligence - and, more importantly, the ability to show up and perform on a reasonably reliable basis, something that is of considerable interest when hiring people, a surprisingly large number of whom do neither.

But a college degree is an expensive way to get an entry-level credential. New approaches to credentialing, approaches that inform employers more reliably, while costing less than a college degree, are likely to become increasingly appealing over the coming decade.

Those who find a way to provide them will do well. So to any entrepreneurs reading this: Good luck. And after the bubble bursts, and you get rich, please do what you can for a poor law professor . . . . .


Good High School exam results no guarantee of a university place in Britain

Students with good A-levels face being rejected from university this summer amid mounting competition for degree courses, the Government has admitted. David Willetts, the Universities Minister, warned that an increase in the number of undergraduate places in 2010 would not be enough to prevent many high-achieving students missing out altogether.

Just over a week before the publication of A-level results, Mr Willetts said more sixth-formers should consider re-sitting their exams or taking an apprenticeship as an alternative to university.

The comments come amid growing concerns over the pressure on higher education places this autumn. Figures show more than 660,000 people have applied for a university place – up almost 12 per cent on last year’s record-breaking figures.

Some 68,000 more applications have been made in 2010 as growing numbers of young people attempt to get into university instead of the workplace during the economic downturn. Competition is being swelled by some 45,000 people reapplying after being rejected in 2009.

Speaking on Sunday, Mr Willetts said the Coalition had made an extra 10,000 places available this year, meaning record numbers of people would start courses. But he warned: “It is going to be tough. There are young people who sadly are not going to get a place, including perhaps some people who really have got good A-level grades, and for them there is a whole range of options.”

In a sign of the competition for traditional university courses, Mr Willetts told the Andrew Marr show on BBC1 that more sixth-formers should consider college or apprenticeships as an alternative to higher education. “I think we should get away from the mindset that there is only one option, which is at the age of 18 going away from home to university for three years,” he said.

He added: “Obviously there is the opportunity of re-sitting their exams. They may wish to reapply next year, they may want to do things that increase the strength of their CV and make them stand out more to universities.

“There are other ways of getting training. They can go into work and try to get training through apprenticeships, with 50,000 extra apprenticeship places, [and] there are more places at further education colleges. “We are absolutely doing our best to increase the number of opportunities available for young people even in tough times.”

A-level results for students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be published on Thursday, August 19. Academics are already predicting another record round of results, with the proportion of A grades expected to top last year’s total of 26.7 per cent.

For the first time this year, an elite A* is being introduced following claims from universities that record rises in the number of A grades makes it increasingly hard to pick out the most exceptional candidates. Students must score more than 90 per cent in the second year of A-levels to achieve an A*.

But on Sunday the introduction of the new grade was surrounded in fresh controversy after independent schools accused the official qualifications watchdog of underestimating the number of students capable of achieving it.

Ofqual is using last year’s A-level results to predict the proportion of sixth-formers expected to gain an A* in each subject. They can order exam boards to cut the number of A*s if provisional results indicate that the proportion achieving it is at least two percentage points above the targets.

But Geoff Lucas, secretary of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents top private schools, said the system failed to take account of the fact that pupils were “more motivated” because of the presence of the top grade this year.

“When we asked Ofqual if they had taken this extra motivation of wanting to win an A* into account, they said they had not,” he said. “We are worried that this could lead to widespread injustice.”

An Ofqual spokeswoman said: "If candidates are motivated to perform at a higher level this year than candidates were last year, then this year's candidates should get higher marks to reflect their higher achievement. "The reference points which the regulators and the awarding organisations used to help inform the awarding of the A* grade this year used modelling work based on A-level outcomes in 2009.

"However, these were no more than starting-points for discussions between the regulators and the awarding organisations to make sure that where marks were higher or lower than the reference-points, there were sound reasons for that."


Anger over lack of medical internships in Australia

What's the point of half-educating future doctors? The British Labour Party government was well-known for such bungles so it is deplorable that several Australian State Labor Party governments seem to be doing the same. Just the usual Leftist bungling, I guess

NSW medical students are demanding the federal government stop increasing university places after more than 100 graduates failed to get internships in public hospitals this week.

The crisis comes three years after the government increased university places to solve the state's crippling shortage of doctors, but failed to employ extra staff in NSW hospital to supervise interns.

About 115 international students, who each paid more than $200,000 for their degrees, were told yesterday they would have to wait until Friday for final offers but there was little chance they would be employed, forcing many of them to return home.

"The intern year is a 12-month period of postgraduate training that is required for general medical registration," the president of the Sydney University Medical Society, Jon Noonan, said. "Without it, a medical degree is not worth the paper it is printed on.

"At this point last year more than two-thirds of locally trained internationals had been offered an internship within NSW. The fact that none have been placed has come as a shock to our colleagues, who had been repeatedly reassured they would be taken care of," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Institute of Medical Education and Training, which allocates internships, said 747 positions were available this year, more than enough for the state's 685 graduates, but NSW had been swamped by applicants from other states.

Last year, when the same problem occurred, the government invoked a priority system because it did not have enough money to offer internships to all graduates wanting to work in NSW.

Under that system, international students trained in NSW are only offered positions once all Australians and New Zealanders trained in Australia and overseas-trained applicants are employed, a decision that has angered the Australian Medical Students Association.

"We have a government which provides huge incentives to get these doctors back once they have left [Australia] and it seems illogical to me to do so when we have people who've been trained here to our standards," its president, Ross Roberts-Thomson, said.

"A medical degree qualifies you for nothing but an internship. If you don't get an internship, you essentially have a piece of paper which allows you to drive a taxi - or not even that."

Mr Noonan agreed, saying it defied logic that state and federal governments would shut the door on Australian-trained international students while relying on foreign-trained doctors to fill gaps in the health workforce.

Mr Noonan said his group wanted the state government to guarantee internships to all graduates in NSW and join with other states to adopt a consistent and co-ordinated framework for intern allocations.

Two years ago, the Minister for Health, Nicola Roxon, said she was aware clinical training places were "a pressure point within the system" but the government had no plans to cut university places for medical students.

"This was a crisis that was always going to happen," the former chief executive of the Australian Medical Association, Bill Coote, said yesterday.

"There has been very rapid growth in the number of medical schools and the expansion of existing schools - and there is the parallel issue of how medical schools have been allowed to attract full-fee paying students to subsidise their activities when we can't provide all graduates with appropriate training."


Monday, August 09, 2010

Viagra for Teachers

(Milwaukee, Wisconsin) While the Milwaukee School Board is giving layoff notices to hundreds of teachers due to a "financial crisis," the teachers union is asking a judge to order the school board to include erectile dysfunction drugs in its health insurance plans.

So, instead of allocating $786,000 towards keeping teachers working, the teachers union wants the funds applied towards anti-limp medication for those dysfunctional members still in classrooms.

In a nutshell, it seems there's a dilemma as to whether it's more important to keep teachers working or shelve them to provide a pharmaceutical-assist to the erection-challenged.

Heh. Maybe it's just me but a simple scan of news reports would find that American school systems have problems with too many erections, not too few. It would be more logical to incorporate erection inhibitors in teachers' pharmaceutical regimen.

British university degrees to become a lifelong financial burden?

Middle-class professionals face being charged much more for their university degrees under plans for a new “graduate tax” system, according to research. GPs could pay some £70,500 to cover the cost of tuition fees while teachers are charged almost £50,000, it was claimed.

The findings came as David Willetts, the Universities Minister, insisted that graduates should make a “bigger contribution” towards higher education to keep universities strong during the economic downturn.

Speaking on Sunday, he appeared to endorse plans set out by Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, last month for student fees to be replaced with a levy based on earnings when graduates start working.

The Coalition claim this would end the current situation in which teachers, care workers and research scientists are expected to pay the same for their studies as top lawyers, surgeons and City analysts.

But the University and College Union warned that the changes risked escalating the cost of a degree for all students – and leaving millions of people in even more debt.

In a new report, the union, which represents lecturers, analysed a series of different financial models to test the consequences of a new-style tax on earnings. The UCU said a university-educated nurse on average wages would pay a total of £36,871 if the Government introduced a five per cent tax on graduates' total earnings over 25 years.

By contrast, under the current system, the same nurse graduating from an English university this year would be charged £10,300 to pay off the £9,440 tuition fee loan for their three-year degree. Even a three per cent rate of graduate tax over 25 years would work out significantly more expensive, at £22,123 for a nurse earning the average full-time salary of £29,497.

The conclusions come as the Government prepares to publish the findings of an independent review of student tuition fees in the autumn. The review – led by Lord Browne, the former head of BP – is widely expected to lead to a rise in the existing £3,225-a-year cost of a degree. Lord Browne has been asked to consider the graduate tax plan as part of his review.

Sally Hunt, union general secretary, said: "Parents and students will judge proposed changes to student finance on whether they make university more expensive or not.

"Whatever scheme is proposed to replace fees, the Government must ensure that studying for key professions remains attractive and that the prospect of prohibitive costs over a lifetime will not put off the next generation of innovators and public servants. "We urge Vince Cable to look again at the idea of taxing big business for the substantial benefit it gains from a plentiful supply of graduates, rather than merely looking to penalise students further."

But speaking on BBC1, Mr Willetts admitted the Coalition was looking at some “tough options”. This included forcing former students to make a “bigger contribution back towards the cost of the university education they have enjoyed”. “If you look at the overall position, we want to carry on providing finance for universities, but we think more of that finance should come from people after they have graduated, after they are in well paid jobs, and then making a contribution back,” he said.

Under a five per cent graduate tax on all earnings over 25 years, a secondary school teacher on average wages would pay £46,046, a social worker £37,550, a research scientist £46,418 and a doctor £70,526. According to UCU figures, if the rate was set at three per cent over 25 years, the same teacher would be charged £27,628, the social worker £22,530, the scientist £27,851 and the doctor £63,338.

Paying off a £9,440 tuition fee loan under the present system of funding for higher education costs the teacher £10,025, the social worker £10,272, the scientist £10,017 and the doctor £9,696.

The UCU said its research prompted fears that introducing a graduate tax could lead to shortages in teaching and social work, and would make "embarrassing reading" for Mr Cable. Mr Cable has admitted that some people were likely to end up paying more under a graduate tax system. But he said it was "unlikely" that those with degrees would have to make contributions for life.

He said: "It surely can't be right that a teacher or care worker or research scientist is expected to pay the same graduate contribution as a top commercial lawyer or surgeon or City analyst whose graduate premium is so much bigger."

But the UCU's conclusions have been criticised by the National Union of Students which has advocated a graduate tax system as an alternative to up-front fees. Aaron Porter, NUS president, said: "It would be quite wrong to make sensationalist and simplistic judgements before we have even seen the detail of Vince Cable's proposals.

“NUS supported the call for a move away from the ‘poll tax’ of top-up fees and towards a graduate contribution that is fairer for students. "Any analysis of [the] proposals must be based on robust data and realistic scenarios which take account of the complexities of the debate about the future of higher education and student funding."


Another attack on for-profit colleges

With a brief blog post appearing in its “College” section The Huffington Post joined in the chorus of liberal media outlets demanding more government control of businesses.

The article entitled, ‘Degreed And Jobless, For-profit College Graduates Turns to Stripping’ presents readers with a false idea of what the article is discussing.

The blog posts tells the tale of Carrianne Howard, a graduate of the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale (a for-profit college) who secured a job in the video game industry after she graduated. She made $12 an hour until her position was eliminated. She is now working as a stripper.

But Howard’s story just led to an argument for government regulation of for profit colleges. “Howard's story is not entirely unique -- and experiences like hers are driving the government's investigation into the efficacy and recruiting practices of for-profit colleges,” the unnamed blogger wrote.

“This week, a Government Accountability Office report detailed how for-profit recruiters often promise potential students unobtainable jobs and high salaries, and tell them to lie to procure more federal financial aid,” the Huffington Post said.

The article didn’t document the GAO’s qualification to determine what constitutes “unobtainable” positions or pay in the dozens of industries for which students study. Nor did it furnish instances of dishonest financial aid coaching. Still, the demand for increased government regulation did not stop there.

“At a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on the report Wednesday, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) slammed for-profit institutions, saying that the report made it "disturbingly clear that abuses in for-profit recruiting are not limited to a few rogue recruiters or even a few schools with lax oversight," The Huffington Post said.

The fact is, the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress have targeted for profit colleges, and the Huffington Post was just helping to publicize the effort. Andrew Ferguson of The Weekly Standard explained the issue in his article ‘Obama’s Crusade Against Profits, Coming soon to a College near you.”

“We should quickly stipulate that for-profit colleges are hardly delicate flowers of free enterprise. They are creatures of government subsidies without which they would become unrecognizable. And they are happy to meet the government on its own terms,” Ferguson wrote.

That said, Ferguson painted the all-too-familiar and utterly predictable result of the Obama administration taking an interest in a given industry:
If the administration gets its way and the regulatory regime continues to tighten, the for-profit education industry won’t cease to exist. More likely it will regress into a form of state capitalism, as a kind of public utility: utterly dependent on government subsidy, hence utterly submissive to government authority, which can set prices and profit margins. The health insurance industry, with the passage of health care reform, is halfway there already.


Baby boom creating 'critical' shortage of primary school places in England

The baby boom is a side effect of the vast influx of foreigners allowed by Britain's former Labour government. Around half of the births are to non-British mothers

A baby boom is creating a 'critical' shortage of primary school places, it emerged last night. It will also affect class sizes, with more than half a million primary school children expected to be taught in classes of more than 30 from next month.

Schools are prevented by law from allowing classes in the first two years from exceeding 30. But that often simply means head teachers are forced to create much larger classes for older age groups.

The scale of the problems is such that thousands of pupils will be taught in temporary buildings when the new school year begins. A leaked Government report revealed new classrooms are needed immediately for as many as 60,000 pupils.

Ministers have attacked Labour for failing to prepare for the influx of new pupils, despite warnings schools did not have the places. Figures show the number of children at English primary schools will rise for the first time in a decade, to 3.96 million. And over the next four years they are expected to grow by another 320,000.

The report said: 'A considerable number of local authorities [are] claiming that they have been "caught out" by recent changes in demographic patterns and [are] seeking additional central funding for some 60,000 additional pupil places.'


Sunday, August 08, 2010

Do computers make kids dumber?

I've really got no dog in this fight but the findings below seem problematical to me. I suppose getting a computer may cause students to do less homework so that is reasonable enough -- but note that this is about kids who get computers in late grade school. My son could bring up his own educational computer game at age 2, and that is 21 years ago now. So it may have been mainly kids from poor families who got computers relatively late and we are simply seeing here the usual socioeconomic divide in educational achievement

Efforts to close the "digital divide" and boost student achievement by supplying students with home laptops have been getting a lot of attention in recent years. What's still unclear, though, is whether that sort of thing could make a difference.

In an effort to get a handle on that question, researchers Jacob L. Vigdor and Helen F. Ladd studied statewide data on North Carolina students from 2000 and 2005—a period of time when computer access expanded noticeably and many areas of the state were just getting access to high-speed internet service. The study focused on students enrolled in 5th through 8th grades.

The researchers were able to figure out which students had computers at home because North Carolina students fill out surveys asking them about computer use and ownership in tandem with the state exams they take every year. To determine whether areas had internet access, the researchers relied on zip code data and Federal Communications Communication reports on the rollout of Internet services.

The news was not good, though: The researchers found that students who gain access to a home computer between 5th and 8th grade tend to experience a slight—yet persistent—decline in reading and math scores. With regard to the introduction of Internet access, the researchers found that the technology had a more negative impact on some students than others—possibly because parents of those students exercised less control of their activities on the Internet.

"For school administrators interested in maximizing achievement test scores, or reducing racial and socioeconomic disparities in test scores, all evidence suggests that a program of broadening home computer access would be counterproductive," the study concludes.

One caveat the researchers offer, though, is that this study does not look beyond test scores. For instance, computer-literacy could pave the way to better job opportunities for some students. We'll never know from this report.


There are no excuses for the state of Britain's education system

British schools are a disaster zone, churning out masses of pupils lacking even the most basic skills, argues Neil O'Brien

What’s the best reason to be angry with Gordon Brown and Tony Blair? The expenses scandal? Tripling the national debt? Trying to fight two gory wars on a shoestring budget? Actually, I think it’s their abject failure to improve British education. Our schools are a disaster zone, churning out to many pupils lacking even the most basic skills. Last week, we learned that more than a third of children are leaving primary school unable to read, write and add up. And in two weeks’ time, A-level results will be out, and we can have our annual debate about how much further standards have been allowed to slip.

The last government tried to silence debate on the subject, suggesting that any discussion of whether standards might be falling amounted to an “attack on the hard work of pupils and teachers”. But the best research has concluded that an A at GCSE today is the equivalent of a C in the 1980s. In 2000, British teenagers were ranked seventh in the world for reading and eighth for maths. In 2006, they were 17th and 24th.

Yet our traditional summer argument about grade inflation – important as it is – is obscuring much bigger problems. Essentially, our schools are dominated by an anti-work, anti-achievement culture, which crushes pupils’ aspirations and opportunities. And those that fight their way through it find themselves enmeshed in a university system whose output is completely mismatched to the country’s needs.

From my own time at school, I can remember only one teacher who ever tried to explain how much difference working hard could make to the rest of our lives. He had spent years in the worst inner-city schools, and was the only teacher I can recall ever wearing a suit. “Ninety per cent of the wealth in this country is owned by 1 per cent of the population,” he explained. “They want you to fail. They don’t give a monkey’s, because their kids are all off at private schools. But you aren’t going to fail, because you are going to work your guts out.”

Within our current system, though, there is precious little push for aspiration – which, as Sainsbury’s told Parliament in a written submission, is one reason why firms often prefer to hire immigrants, who have a far more satisfactory work ethic.

In this area, we could learn a huge amount from KIPP, a highly successful chain of state schools in the US. They operate in the most bleak, deprived inner cities, and do several brilliant things. First, they work a much longer school day (7.30am to 5pm) and force the pupils to attend summer school. As a result, the kids spend 60 per cent more time in class than the average. Second, they raise aspiration by aiming to send all the kids to university, from places where no one has ever gone to college.

Most importantly, however, they have a robust programme teaching respect and manners. It aims to break the prevailing culture, dominated by gangsta rap and the code of the street. Kids are taught to sit up and pay attention. Even President Obama has endorsed this approach: “This is what we have to teach all of our children,” he said. “No excuses. No excuses!”

In theory, Michael Gove’s new “free schools” should allow similarly radical methods to be adopted in the UK. However, they would face huge opposition. The unions would fight any prospect of extra hours or shorter holidays – even if they were compensated. And many members of the educational establishment would rather eat their own fingers than endorse the idea that schools could “challenge” the prevailing culture – a liberal cringe that has a huge cost for the poorest children in Britain.

For a lack of order is not just a problem in America. The average teacher here loses 50 minutes every day to delinquent behaviour, which makes many of their lives an utter hell. Efforts to resolve this are undermined by a thicket of restrictive rules and laws: one teacher I met was disciplined for standing between a pupil and the door when she was telling him off. (Apparently, children must have a route out of the room.)

If you can’t keep order in schools, it is impossible to create a culture of hard work and achievement. And things were made worse by the last government, which pressed schools to reduce expulsions, using fines and threats to drive down the number. Michael Gove has, mercifully, changed tack, and wants to abolish the appeals tribunals which can overturn schools’ decisions to expel pupils. Though such cases are small in number, they hugely undermine teachers’ authority. (Meanwhile, there are roughly 70,000 excluded students warehoused in appalling “Pupil Referral Units”. Given their staggering cost – £15,000 per head per year – we might be better off just sending them to Eton.)

Yet even if we can get our schools to produce better pupils, there are major problems with our universities, too. Currently, we have a centrally planned system, where the state sets the number of places on particular courses. It’s basically a genteel, donnish version of the command economy that did so much good for Eastern Europe. This lack of a market creates a huge mismatch between what our education system is turning out and what our economy needs. For example, a recent CBI survey found that two thirds of employers have trouble recruiting people in science, technology, engineering and maths. At the top end, our leading research universities are underfunded, forcing star scientists and great thinkers to look to America. At the bottom, duff courses are heavily subsidised, meaning that masses of kids are doing courses that are a waste of their time: an essay a term, minimal contact with academics, and a ludicrous drinking culture. There are six universities where between a fifth and a quarter of students drop out every year. Overall, one in 10 of students fail to complete their courses.

We need to replace this with a proper market in higher education. That means raising the cap on fees, and allowing universities to charge different amounts for different courses. Hopefully, this is what Lord Browne’s review of fees will recommend later this year. If we make universities publish their data on graduate earnings, and create a market, people will be able to make better choices. And far from limiting the university system to the middle classes, I suspect the numbers attending university will actually rise, because the quality of courses will be better, and university more worthwhile.

In the modern world, Britain’s only hope of competing is to live by its brains – but our schools and universities are simply not up to the job. The reforms we need will be controversial. But they are, nevertheless, utterly essential.


Has the Australian Labor Party suddenly discovered an uncharacteristic love of Christianity?

Labor [akin to the U.S. Democrats] promises more school chaplains but it will be interesting to see how they define "chaplain". Let me guess that there will be NO Exclusive Brethren chaplains but quite a few "humanist" chaplains.

Amusing, though, to think how this promise will p*** off their urban sophisticate base

UP to 1000 additional schools, including those in remote or disadvantaged areas, will get a chaplain service under a re-elected Labor government. The National School Chaplaincy Program already provides the service to 2700 schools.

If Labor wins the August 21 election, the program would get $222 million to reach more schools, and secure existing chaplains for a further three years. Labor last year committed funding to run the program for the full school year in 2011.

A national consultation process will consider the scheme's effectiveness and how it fits with other student support activities, with a discussion paper to be released by October.

In a statement, the Labor party said it recognised that some schools in rural, remote and disadvantaged locations had so far missed out. They would be better considered in the new round, and in rural areas, funding could be pooled so chaplains could service a number of schools. Labor says funding for the policy would be offset over the forward estimates.