Saturday, October 02, 2010

Oklahama school district removes 'dead white men' rap

PUBLIC officials in Oklahoma were forced to halt the use of a rap-themed education tool for at-risk students after critics complained about the curriculum's lyrics, some of which refer to the U.S. founding fathers as "old dead white men".

The program, known as Flocabulary, uses raps and rhymes to help students learn academic content. It includes music and corresponding textbooks that explain the lyrics line by line, reported The Oklahoman yesterday.

The Oklahoma City school district said it would put the program on hold to evaluate it after 15 teachers complained about its version of U.S. history. "

One song, entitled "Old Dead White Men" gives an account of the leadership of early US presidents. Some of its lyrics about James Monroe include, "White men getting richer than Enron. They stepping on Indians, women and blacks. Era of Good Feeling doesn’t come with the facts."

The song goes on to say, "Andrew Jackson, thinks he's a tough guy. Killing more Indians than there are stars in the sky. Evil wars of Florida killing the Seminoles. Saying hello, putting Creek in the hell holes. Like Adolf Hitler he had the final solution. 'No, Indians, I don't want you to live here anymore.'"

"The science behind the concept is wonderful," Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Karl Springer said, according to The Oklahoman. "There may be some things, though, that are inappropriate that we need to be careful about."

The co-founder and CEO of Flocablulary, Alex Rappaport, said the lyrics are meant to be provocative and humorous. [HUMOROUS?? It's just black racism and pure hate]

The Oklahoma City School Board has authorized the district to spend $97,000 in federal funds on Flocabulary. The district has already spent $10,000.


British critics of choice in education should go back to school

Writing in the TES, English teacher Julie Greenhough has a short article entitled ‘Why freedom of choice is often no freedom at all’. It is sympathetic towards a view that has recently been expressed by many working in education: that freedom doesn’t work.

Ms Greenhough opens with the classic ‘too much choice’ argument. Apparently, she didn’t buy a cup of tea because she was faced with too much choice. I suppose that is why shops don’t tend to sell thousands of different pots of jam or types tea for that matter. And this, I suppose, is the reason companies advertise and build up branding, as we don’t want to read the label of every product. Instead, we can draw on information from the market and get a free ride from even more advanced consumers. Variable pricing also transmits useful signals of this front, while feedback from friends, family, the media, as well as consumer oriented magazines and websites are part of the process.

Next there is a swipe at those supporting Swedish-style reforms in education. Ms Greenhough thinks the fact that we spend 5.6% of GDP and Sweden spends 7.1% of GDP on education is enough to cast the reforms aside as useless. Of course more money can help (up to a point), but it is far from the be all and end all of a good education system. If it were, Cuba would be twice as advanced in education as even Sweden and that is clearly not the case. In fact, the fact that the Swedish reforms have proved so successful – garnering increasing support from parents, pupils and politicians – suggests that we can see improvements without having to spend more money, a policy that surely deserves support from libertarians and socialists alike.

In the final part of the article, Ms Greenhough suggests that because more pupils have been achieving better grades, we are already seeing educational improvement. I wish this were the case. Recently Mick Waters claimed that the exam system is ‘diseased’. Although Mr Waters misdirects his ire at the wrong target – it is principally the fault of government regulation, not disreputable companies – there can be little doubt that the image he portrays is broadly accurate. Grades are being inflated and devalued as fast as the pound. Radical change is needed if this is to be reversed.


The federal takeover of education

Federal control over education has been growing since the 1960s despite the fact that the word "education" does not appear in the Constitution of the United States. Now, as the current administration pushes for national education standards, federal control over education is about to expand considerably at the expense of state and local control.

A little more than a year ago, state leaders launched the Common Core State Standards Initiative to develop a common set of K-12 standards in English and math. The standards they developed, known as the "Common Core," are the first and only common education standards. Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott described the push for national education standards as "a step toward a federal takeover of the nation's public schools."

Although the Common Core standards were developed by the states and not the federal government, federal funding has been linked to their adoption. Using a combination of carrot and stick, the current administration has been pressuring states to adopt the standards.

As an incentive, states that adopted the Common Core by August 2, 2010 greatly improved their chances of receiving a share of the $4.35 billion Race to the Top federal grant money. The strategy worked: most states adopted the standards. However, only nine states and the District of Columbia were actually awarded the money. All ten of those winners had adopted the standards.

As a penalty, states that failed to adopt the Common Core risked losing funding from Title I, a $14.4 billion program that provides funds for low-income students. Most school districts participate in the Title I program.

This penalty was announced in a White House press release issued on February 22, 2010. It stated that new polices from the Obama Administration would "require all states to adopt and certify that they have college- and career-ready standards in reading and mathematics, which may include common standards developed by a state-led consortium, as a condition of qualifying for Title I funding."

Public discussion about the Common Core has been severely limited because of the rush to establish national education standards and the lack of transparency in the procedures involved.

Alabama State Board of Education member Betty Peters said, "It is most unfortunate that the American public has been left out of the most drastic change ever in public education; even most school board members have been kept in the dark when it comes to details."

Are Americans being bypassed once again by this administration? Remember when the health care reform bill and financial reform bill were rushed through Congress before anyone could learn what was in them? Remember when U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said, "But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy"? Now, with the same warp speed and stealth, this administration is pushing for national education standards.

Part of the stealth has involved proponents maintaining that adoption of the Common Core is a voluntary decision to be made by each state and outside the realm of the federal government. But is it really? Or does voluntary adoption disappear when federal financial strings are attached?

At a time when states are facing difficult economic times and budget shortfalls, how would they be able to justify turning down millions of federal dollars? Typically, when federal financial strings are attached, control begins with a nudge. Then it's a push. Then it's a shove. Ultimately, it ends up becoming a takeover. For now, it's a nudge to national education standards. Then it will be a push to national testing. Then it will be a shove to a national curriculum.

Consider the federal funding for No Child Left Behind which led to mandatory testing and proficiency requirements for the states. Did that federal intervention actually lead to higher academic standards or improved student outcomes? No, it led to the dumbing down of many state standards and zero improvement in student outcomes.

In fact, ever since President Lyndon Johnson implemented the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965, federal involvement in education has led to zero improvement in student outcomes.

Who is benefiting from the federal government's expanding role in education? It's not the students or society as a whole. So who then?

Should federal involvement in education be expanded even further with the creation of national standards, national testing, and a national curriculum? Or should state and local governments be liberated from additional federal tyranny and be allowed to make their own decisions about education?

In exchange for temporary federal money, state and local governments would give up their authority over education. The loss of that authority would mean that public schools would no longer be directly accountable to school boards. Parents and other taxpayers would lose their voice in the selection of standards, testing, and curriculum.

In other words, those who have the greatest vested interest and the most at stake in improving student outcomes would have the least amount of control over the process.

Thus far, I have not addressed the quality of the Common Core. Federal intrusion has obscured the discussion over whether or not these particular standards are any good. Again, the rush to establish national education standards and the lack of transparency in the procedures involved have severely limited public discussion on the matter.

Just because the Common Core are the first and only common education standards does not mean they are the best possible ones. Because academic standards vary widely from state to state, the Common Core may improve some state standards while worsening others. For these reasons alone, it would not make sense to make the Common Core the de facto national education standards. However, that is exactly what is happening because of the federal government's nudging.

Unfortunately, many states have already adopted the Common Core, but it's not too late for the others. They can still choose to maintain their authority over education and continue to empower parents and taxpayers, the people who have the greatest vested interest and the most at stake in improving student outcomes.

The Founding Fathers knew that national control of curriculum would result in national control of ideas. It was no oversight that they left the word "education" out of the Constitution of the United States.


Friday, October 01, 2010

Why give tenure to bad teachers?

By JOEL KLEIN (Joel Klein is New York City's schools chancellor)

Even before Davis Guggenheim's powerful documentary "Waiting for Superman" opened in theaters, critics were discounting the film as charter-school propaganda and suggesting it vilifies public-school teachers. The problem with that logic is twofold: First, charters are public schools. Second, the teachers within them -- the good and the bad -- are also public-school teachers. The difference is that most don't belong to the teachers union.

The film, along with NBC's aptly timed education summit and the recent defeat of DC Mayor Adrian Fenty -- an education reformer whom the teachers union spent $1 million to unseat -- have helped ignite a long-overdue national conversation about the state of public education.

But it's a conversation some don't want to have -- because it threatens the status quo and exposes those who protect it for their own gain.

The heart of the problem is that, for too long, we have had a public-education system that values the future of the adults who work within it more than the kids it is meant to serve. "Superman" documents the damage that putting the interests of adults first has done to millions of children and why it must change -- now.

As President Obama has said, the single most important factor in determining student achievement is not the color of your skin or where you come from, it's who your teacher is.

Teachers are the heroes of every education success story. But, for too long, the system has treated teachers as if they're all the same -- no matter how their students perform. There is no business in America that would survive if it couldn't take into account results when making personnel decisions.

That is why Mayor Bloomberg on Monday unveiled a new policy for how we grant teachers tenure in New York City. Right now, as Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children's Zone, likes to say, teachers can get tenure if they just keep breathing for three years. This week, that ends.

Under a new, four-tiered system, tenure will only be offered to great teachers who have demonstrated two straight years of success in moving students forward. Teachers who don't earn tenure right away will be mentored and supported -- or, ultimately, replaced.

Seems simple, but for years the teachers union has resisted such a system. Earlier this summer, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, wrote on The Huffington Post: "Are there bad teachers? Of course there are, just as there are bad accountants, and lawyers, and film reviewers. I wish there weren't any bad teachers."

What she doesn't say is that when you have a bad accountant, a bad lawyer or even a bad film reviewer, you can choose to replace them with someone better. But in New York, the law makes it exceedingly difficult to remove a bad teacher.

State law also forces the city to spend $100 million a year on something called the Absent Teacher Reserve pool -- a thousand teachers whose positions have been eliminated by their local school, but who remain on the Department of Education payroll.

The best teachers get hired quickly by schools with open jobs. But hundreds don't -- because their skills don't fit current needs; because they have "unsatisfactory" ratings; or, in many cases, because they don't try and are content with a guaranteed paycheck. It also ties the hands of our principals, who must hire from the pool if there is a teacher who fits an open position, rather than just finding the best teacher for their school.

It's bad practice and a waste of taxpayer dollars. But we can't change it without help from Albany -- which is why I am calling on the state Legislature to require displaced teachers to find a job within six months, or else leave the system.

This change won't be easily won -- the teachers unions spend millions on elections and lobbying Albany every year. But we need to put that money where it belongs -- in the classroom.

We have to mean it when we say that every child deserves the best teacher available. Not the best teacher who happens to have tenure and the protection of the teachers union -- the very best teacher available, period.


British Prep schools know how to inspire boys

No wonder so many parents are removing boys from the state system and placing them in single-sex prep schools, writes Rowan Pelling

When I attended a village primary school in Kent, the majority of the clever-clogs were boys. They thrived on competition, which was encouraged in and out of the classroom with a house points and merit badge system. Discipline was strict and the inspiring headmaster, whose limp was rumoured to be a war wound, took clever children into his study for extra coaching.

Many of the brighter boys, my older brother included, won 11-plus places at the nearby grammar. A few years after I left, the headmaster retired and a female head teacher was appointed, who brought a raft of trendy, feminised teaching practices with her. One of the school's best teachers promptly resigned, and within four years the school's reputation for academic excellence had gone, never to be recovered.

Most of those teaching practices have become the default setting of state education. While I am thankful for the equal opportunities afforded to girls and the disappearance of the cane, there is now widespread acknowledgment that most of these changes have been disastrous – particularly for boys. So much so, that BBC2's Gareth Malone's Extraordinary School for Boys has proved gripping prime-time viewing. Every parent of boys I know applauded the zippy choirmaster's attempts to re-engage a class of 39 wayward young males with the pleasures of learning. In just eight weeks, the boys' reading ages had improved by five months and a couple of notable under-achievers saw their results rocket.

None of Gareth's conclusions was revolutionary – boys need discipline and to be challenged, thrilled and inspired, or their concentration quickly lapses – but the fact remains that these elements are routinely lacking from Britain's junior classrooms, as are the necessary male role models.

No wonder so many parents are removing boys from the state system and placing them in single-sex prep schools. According to the Independent Association of Prep Schools, 61 per cent of their 600 member schools have seen a rise in numbers, despite the biting recession. David Hanson, the chief executive of the association, cited the fact that prep schools turn out "fully rounded little boys" who aren't pressurised to play the fool.

Many parents will recognise that portrait. A good friend of mine used the money previously earmarked for moving from their tiny village semi to upgrade her precociously clever seven-year-old son's education instead. She removed him from the local primary, where he was "profoundly bored and playing up" to a private prep school where, within a year, he walked off with a shelf of prizes.

My local primary is wonderful in most aspects, but I can't help lamenting the fact that there's only one full-time male teacher in a school of around 400 pupils. It's not that the women teachers aren't good, but I know my son responds to men on a more intuitive level.

Take the time I was asked to rein him in, because he had been frightening other children by talking about demons and zombies. I couldn't help thinking that a male teacher would have shared my belief that this was entirely appropriate subject matter for a small boy with a lively imagination.

Meanwhile, competition is verboten, so when I tried to explain to him last week that he would perform poorly in his spelling test if he didn't practise, he looked at me as if I was barmy and said, "There are no marks – everyone does well, Mummy." A number of my son's brightest friends are already lagging behind the girls in general literacy and I only improved his reading by taking him off the dull school learn-to-read texts and giving him Tintin and Roald Dahl.

Indeed, the best way to galvinise boys is often to take them off an easy task and give then something far harder. Prep schools recognise this truth – the big question is whether state schools can gain the will, imagination and freedom to emulate them.


South Australian schools cutting the crap

Demand for Year 12 humanities subjects has collapsed because of changes to the South Australian Certificate of Education.

Schools have told The Advertiser students choosing their subjects for next year are shunning languages, history, arts and social studies in preference for more "conservative" subjects. Most students are choosing a more traditional pattern of "maths one, maths two, physics and chemistry", meaning schools are likely to axe humanities subjects from their curriculum.

It has raised concerns the cuts could put less academic students at risk as they often rely on the humanities subjects to pass Year 12.

The new SACE, to be rolled out to Year 12 next year, will reduce subject choice from five to four. The new SACE will no longer require final-year students to complete a compulsory humanities or maths subject. They will instead have to complete a compulsory independent research project on a subject of their choice.

Adelaide High School is likely to cut tourism, social studies, economics and geology, while history is also at risk, despite the nationwide push for it to become a core subject in the national curriculum. Assistant principal Michael Black, who is in charge of timetabling, said next year's enrolment for languages in Year 12 had also halved.

"We usually have interest of 12 or 15 but we are down to seven or eight. Because we are a specialist language school we will offer them and (look) at combining Year 11 and 12 classes," he said. "It is narrowing the curriculum and without the comprehensive (choice) it's pigeon-holing students."

A survey of other school leaders by The Advertiser found other subjects at risk include: legal studies, visual arts and geography with principals reporting preliminary enrolments of fewer than 15 students, which meant they were unlikely to survive. They say many subjects could also be reduced from offering multiple classes to just one.

Le Fevre High School principal Rob Shepherd said humanities and biology had taken the biggest hit. "Studies of Society has collapsed ... it was a really strong subject," he said. "Biology has taken a big hit (and) some of our art programs, which means there are a lot less offerings. "The curriculum has narrowed to the same conservative subjects - physics, chemistry, maths 1 and 2." Mr Shepherd said they also expected to take on Woodville High students studying Indonesian, because of low interest in languages at that school.

The Mathematical Association of SA collected data from about 30 schools and said that "surprisingly" maths enrolments for next year were remaining steady - at the detriment of humanities subjects, particularly languages. President-elect Carol Moule said they had feared maths enrolments would drop drastically under the changes. "If kids are happy to take four subjects: double maths and physics and chem ... I would be delighted to see our numbers stay up," she said.

South Australian Secondary Principals Association president Jim Davies said "no doubt" it was an emerging issue. "There is significant variability in subject shifts from school to school ... (it's) complicated because of the reduction in subjects," he said.

Mr Davies said schools were further left in the dark over which subjects they could staff because the state government is yet to release the new funding model.

The SACE Board of SA chief executive Dr Paul Kilvert said the new SACE would provide a broad curriculum for students.

"The Research Project subject, gives students the flexibility to investigate topics from any SACE subject while developing learning and research skills they can use throughout their lives," Dr Kilvert said. "The responses we have received from schools piloting the Research Project indicate the new subject is an ideal vehicle for students to pursue a topic of interest in areas that can come from other SACE subjects, the workplace or the community."


Australia: School building programs eating up play space

Government food obsession not matched by promotion of exercise

There was a small flurry of aghastness recently when primary school canteens were exposed as serial breachers of government healthy-food nazism. By "healthy", here, we mean essentially non-fattening, worried as we are that before they hit 30 the roly-poly little dears will blow the nation's entire health budget on diabetes, heart disease, joint replacement and fully funded lap-banding.

Schools across the country, force-fed by Julia Gillard's "education revolution" funding, are eating their own playgrounds. Two-and-a-half thousand in NSW alone, yet we're all happy about this, since it plumps the economy and could, we tell ourselves, drag our education system out of the toilet.

In construction are thousands of brick-veneer multipurpose halls and aluminium-windowed air-conditioned computer rooms with not a single string attached. No requirement to be carbon-neutral (kick-starting a new industry), or to be as gracious as their 19th-century counterparts, so steadfast in presenting education as a dignified pursuit. And no consideration at all, apparently, of what this rampant playground-guzzling might mean to the kiddies.

Perhaps, in Quirindi or Euchareena Heights where land is still (seen as) limitless, it's fine. But here in mid-metropolis - where play space is already scarce and school rolls are still swelling after decades of naked government profit-taking neglected the inevitable city-centre revival as habitat for breeding pairs of young professionals - here it's a problem.

Already, schools have lunchtime "no running" rules. This is true. No big balls (I'm refusing the obvious joke here, but have you ever tried to play soccer with a tennis ball?) and no chasey, barring the tamest possible version. Now that almost every school has a major chunk of its "open" space fenced and scaffolded, what will give?

Boys, and boy-ness, for a start. As even boisterousness becomes frowned-upon and the fighting that is bound to erupt in such pent conditions becomes punishable by that boys' own worst-possible penalty, endless hours of raking-it-over talk, just being a boy becomes a problem.

The incentive is to stay static, watch the screen, make like a girl, gossip, get fat. Which is where the double whammy kicks in. Estrogen. Double whammy, double mammy. For not only does estrogen generate fat; fat also generates estrogen.


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Abolish America's Public Schools

President Barack Obama said on NBC on Monday he would like American children to spend more time in public schools. Here is a better idea: American children should spend no time in public schools.

County by county, state by state, Americans should begin functionally abolishing government-run schools and replacing them with a free market in schools. On the federal level, Congress should kill the Department of Education by choking off its funding. The department was not constitutional in the first place.

Everybody's children should get the same chance Obama's children have had to attend the private school of their parents' choice.

American children should have the opportunity not only to attend schools where they are well instructed in reading, writing and arithmetic, but also where they are unambiguously taught that our Declaration of Independence is right -- that God is the Author of our rights and that even the government must obey His laws.

We should aim for a society where children spend more time with their most important teachers, their parents, and less time with the less important teachers at their school.

Obama wants the opposite. And he does not want our children spending more time with just any teachers, but with government teachers -- who often double as liberal propagandists seeking to indoctrinate children with values contrary to those they learn at home, while failing to teach them reading, writing and arithmetic.

"I think we should have a longer school year," Obama said on NBC. "We now have our kids go to school about a month less than most other advanced countries. And that makes a difference. It means that kids are losing a lot of what they learn during the summer."

Obama then made a class-war argument to defend his point -- in the process taking a snotty swipe at what he presumes to be the inferior reading habits of lower-income families. "It's especially severe for poorer kids who may not be seeing as many books in their house during the summers, aren't getting supplemental educational activities," Obama said. "So, the idea of a longer school year, I think, makes sense."

In keeping with his Marxist analysis, Obama pointed to the education system in the People's Republic of China -- a nation governed by the Communist Party -- as a model for the United States to emulate when it comes to dealing with teachers.

"When I travel to China, for example," said Obama, "and I sit down with the mayor of Shanghai, and he talks about the fact that teaching is considered one of the most prestigious jobs and a teacher's getting paid the same as an engineer, that, I think, accounts for how well they're doing in terms of boosting their education system."

Obama's unstated assumption: Central planners, not the free market, ought to determine the value of a particular job and who gets paid what. I say: Let the market decide -- especially in education.

The greatest problem with primary and secondary education in America today is precisely that it is dominated by government-run schools that people are compelled by force of law to pay for whether they like them or not and whether they send their children there or not. The second greatest problem is that the political power controlling these government-run schools has become increasingly centralized, gradually removing decision-making from local communities, passing it up to the state and federal level.

On NBC, Obama made clear he wants to use increased federal education spending to increase federal leverage over local schools, forcing policy changes preferred by him. That would move power in exactly the wrong direction.

The historical record compiled by the Department of Education itself shows that increased government spending on education does not improve the academic performance of government schools. "From 1989-90 to 2006-07, total expenditures per student in public elementary and secondary schools rose from $8,748 to $11,839 (a 35 percent increase in 2008-09 constant dollars), with most of the increase occurring after 1997-98," says the Education Department's The Condition of Education 2010.

In 1980, 17-year-old students in public schools earned an average score of 284 out of 500 on the National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test. In 2008, they still scored 284. Despite increased per pupil spending, the needle did not move.

In 1999, 17-year-old students in American public schools earned an average score of 307 out of 500 on the National Assessment of Educational Progress math test. In 2008, they scored 305. The needle moved in the wrong direction.

Every community in America should give all parents a voucher equal to what it now pays per-pupil for its public schools, allowing those parents to use those vouchers at any school they choose. Let the market decide if government-run schools survive.


Britain's Attorney General orders review of private school charity rules

Controversial rules forcing private schools to offer free places to poor pupils could be scrapped after doubts were raised by the Government’s top law officer. Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, has ordered a review into guidance issued by the charities regulator that effectively requires independent schools to provide more bursaries to children from deprived families.

His intervention could pave the way for a dramatic overhaul of a new “public benefit” test that almost 1,000 schools must pass to remain open and hang on to charitable tax breaks. Analysts claim the Charity Commission guidance jeopardises the future of some fee-paying schools already threatened by falling income in the economic downturn.

Earlier this year, two private prep schools become the first in England to increase the amount of money spent on bursaries to satisfy the rules. It is feared others may be forced to raise fees for existing parents to fund more free places.

On Wednesday, the Attorney General called for a hearing to be held into the commission's guidance after admitting it created “uncertainty as to the operation of charity law in the context of fee-charging schools”. It follows claims from the Independent Schools Council that the commission was acting “illegally” by misinterpreting key charities legislation. They have already petitioned the High Court for a judicial review of the guidance.

Andrew Grant, vice-chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents 250 top independent schools, said: “The insistence that public benefit can only be demonstrated through fee remission has seemed to us a clear over-interpretation of the legislation. The provision of education is, ipso facto, a public benefit to the country.”

Under Labour’s 2006 Charities Act, fee-paying schools are no longer automatically entitled to charitable status. They must prove they provide “public benefit” to hang to tax breaks worth around £120m a year to the sector.

The charities regulator issued guidance in late 2008 telling schools how they could meet the new requirement. It said they could theoretically pass the test by offering range of services, including access to swimming pools and concert halls, master-classes in A-level subjects not provided in local state schools and running one of the Government’s academies.

But the document made it clear that providing more bursaries was the most straightforward way of satisfying the rules. It suggested schools should consider "increasing general fee levels in order to offer subsidies to those unable to pay the full cost".

The ISC claim it constituted a “gross misinterpretation” of the law.

The Attorney General’s Office said the Charities Tribunal – a legal panel – would now be asked to clarify key issues surrounding the Charity Commission guidance. It has the ultimate power to rule that parts of it are unlawful and must be changed.

A notice of reference issued to the tribunal says: “There is uncertainty as to the operation of charitable law in the context of fee-charging independent schools. “That uncertainty is contrary to the interests of charity because it means that the charities concerned do not know whether or not they are operating within or without the terms of their constitutions.”

Matthew Burgess, ISC deputy chief executive, said he was “delighted” with the intervention. “The Attorney General has got a role of protector of charity law and we feel that he is making this reference because there are uncertainties as to the way the Charity Commission has behaved in terms of independent schools," he said.

A spokesman for the Charity Commission said: "We accept, like any public body, that the way in which we carry out our statutory responsibilities is subject to legal challenge. "In preparing all our guidance on public benefit, the commission was at all times diligent in consulting charities and others affected, and in making clear the process we had followed.

“We set out our legal reasoning clearly and carefully alongside our guidance. We stand by our approach and the legal analysis which underpins it, and we are confident that the commission has acted reasonably and followed due process."


Australian Labor party to bring back compulsory university amenities fees

This is not the same as the bad old mad old system of the past. Using the fees to finance political activity was the bugbear in the past but is banned in this iteration

THE Gillard government will introduce legislation today to restore compulsory student amenities fees at Australian universities. Minister for Tertiary Education Minister, Senator Chris Evans, appealed today to the new parliament to support the bill, saying he wanted it to be passed by Christmas to ensure it will take effect next year.

Senator Evans said it was important to restore a range of depleted services at universities, particularly in regional Australia, and cited sporting, health and counselling services as key areas.

The legislation would allow students to be charged a fee of up to $250 a year for the provision of student services with Senator Evans claiming it was supported by both universities and students.

He also took a swipe at the Howard government’s voluntary student unionism legislation which had abolished services and amenities fees for students. “Under the arrangements left by the Coalition government, close to $170 million has been ripped out of university funding. This has led to the decline, and in some instances, the complete closure, of vital student services,” he said.

The Higher Education Legislation Amendment was defeated in August last year in the Senate, but Senator Evans said the bill had now been changed to make it more attractive and allow the $250 fee to be paid over time. “The main measure… is that we’ve allowed fees to be treated as part of the HECS debt so there’s not the upfront requirement,” he explained. “This legislation makes it very clear that those fees, which will be in the order of $150 a year... can be added to the HECS debt.”

Senator Evans encouraged the Coalition to review its opposition to the bill and said the legislation would be supported by the independents in the lower house. “We agreed with them that we would reintroduce the legislation and I’m hopeful of Getting Mr Crook from Western Australia to support the legislation,” he said.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010


The following excerpt from Dinesh D'Souza sets out to critique American education in terms that might just make sense to some American "liberals". It is very good but rather long so I am putting it alone up today -- JR

Each fall some 13 million students, 2.5 million of them minorities, enroll in American colleges. Most of these students are living away from home for the first time. Yet their apprehension is mixed with excitement and anticipation. At the university, they hope to shape themselves as whole human beings, both intellectually and morally. Brimming with idealism, they wish to prepare themselves for full and independent lives in the workplace, at home, and as citizens who are shared rulers of a democratic society. In short, what they seek is liberal education.

By the time these students graduate, very few colleges have met their need for all-round development. Instead, by precept and example, universities have taught them that "all rules are unjust" and "all preferences are principled"; that justice is simply the will of the stronger party; that standards and values are arbitrary, and the ideal of the educated person is largely a figment of bourgeois white male ideology, which should be cast aside; that individual rights are a red flag signaling social privilege, and should be subordinated to the claims of group interest; that all knowledge can be reduced to politics and should be pursued not for its own sake but for the political end of power; that convenient myths and benign lies can substitute for truth; that double standards are acceptable as long as they are enforced to the benefit of minority victims; that debates are best conducted not by rational and civil exchange of ideas, but by accusation, intimidation, and official prosecution; that the university stands for nothing in particular and has no claim to be exempt from outside pressures; and that the multiracial society cannot be based on fair rules that apply to every person, but must rather be constructed through a forced rationing of power among separatist racial groups.


Although minority activists dominate race relations on campus, their original troubles began in the classroom, and it is to the classroom that their political energy ultimately returns. This phase of the struggle begins with a new recognition. Usually within the atmosphere of their separate enclaves, and often under the tutelage of an activist professor, minority students learn that extensive though their experience has been with campus bigotry, the subtlest and yet most pervasive form of racism thrives undiscovered, right in front of their eyes.

The curriculum, they are told at Stanford and Duke and other colleges, reflects a "white perspective." Specifically, as Stanford Professor Clayborne Carson said earlier, it reflects a predominant white, male, European, and heterosexual mentality which, by its very nature, is inescapably racist, indisputably sexist, and manifestly homophobic.

This realization comes as something of an epiphany. Many minority students can now explain why they had such a hard time with Milton and Publius and Heisenberg. Those men reflected white aesthetics, white philosophy, white science. Obviously minority students would fare much better if the university assigned black or Latino or Third World thought. Then the roles would be reversed: they would perform well, and other students would have trouble. Thus the current curriculum reveals itself as the hidden core of academic bigotry.

At first minority students may find such allegations hard to credit, since it is unclear how differential equations or the measurement of electron orbits embody racial and gender prejudices. Nevertheless, in humanities and social science disciplines, younger scholar-advocates of the au courant [fully informed] stripe are on hand to explain that the cultural framework for literature or history or sociology inevitably reflects a bias in the' selection or application of scholarly material.

Restive with the traditional curriculum progressive academics such as Edward Said at Columbia and Stanley Fish and Henry Gates at Duke seek a program which integrates scholarship and political commitment, and they form a tacit partnership with minority activists in order to achieve this goal. Since all knowledge is political, these scholar-advocates assert, minorities have a right to demand that their distinct perspectives be "represented" in the course readings. Ethnic Studies professor Ronald Takaki of Berkeley unabashedly calls this "intellectual affirmative action."

Tempted by these arguments, many minority leaders make actual headcounts of the authors and authorities in the curriculum, and they find accusations of white male predominance to be proven right. Why are Plato and Locke and Madison assigned in philosophy class but no black thinkers? How come so few Hispanics are credited with great inventions or discoveries?

Feminists ask: Why is only a small percentage of the literature readings by women? These protests sometimes extend beyond the humanities and social sciences; at a recent symposium, mathematics professor Marilyn Frankenstein of the University of Massachusetts at Boston accused her field of harboring "Eurocentric bias" and called for "ethno-mathematics" which would analyze numerical models in terms of workforce inequalities and discrimination quotients.

Few minority students believe that democratic principles of "equal representation" should be rigorously applied to curricular content. Feminists make this argument because they want to replace alleged sexists like Aquinas and Milton with Simone de Beauvoir and Gloria Steinem. Blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians generally assent to this proposition because it provides an immediate explanation for the awkward gaps in academic performance.

Not only are these differences evident in classroom discussion, grades, and prizes, but also in suspension and dropout statistics. Minority students must face the disquieting fact that many of their peers at places like Berkeley fail to graduate, if indeed they even stay through freshman year. It seems irresistible to adopt the view that if only the curriculum were broadened or revised to reflect black (or female, or Third World) perspectives, these academic gaps would close or possibly reverse themselves....


Many university presidents are not intellectual leaders but bureaucrats and managers; their interest therefore is not in meeting the activist argument but in deflecting it, by making the appropriate adjustments in the interest of stability. When a debate over the canon erupts, university heads typically take refuge in silence or incomprehensibility; thus one Ivy League president responded to Allan Bloom's book by saying that the purpose of liberal education was to "address the need for students to develop both a private self and a public self, and to find a way to have those selves converse with each other."

Earlier incidents reveal the posture of presidents Heyman of Berkeley, Kennedy of Stanford, Cheek of Howard, Duderstadt of Michigan, Brodie of Duke, and Bok of Harvard to be a curious mixture of pusillanimity, ideology, and opportunism.

As we saw at Stanford, Duke, and Harvard, when minority groups, assisted by activist professors, urge the transformation of the curriculum toward a "race and gender" agenda, they face potential opposition from a large segment of faculty who may be sympathetic to minority causes but at the same time believe that the curriculum should not be ideologically apportioned. These dissenters are branded as bigots, sexists, and homophobes, regardless of their previous political bona fides.

If minority faculty and student activists are not a numerical majority, they inevitably are a kind of Moral Majority, and they wield the formidable power to affix scarlet letters to their enemies. Few dare to frontally oppose the alliance between minority groups and faculty activists; like Stanford's Linda Paulson, most wrestle with their conscience and win and even professors with qualms end up supporting curricular transformation with the view that change is inevitable....

Moreover, most university leaders have no answer to the charge that the curriculum reflects a white male culture, and consequently embodies all the hateful prejudices that whites have leveled against other peoples throughout history. Nor can they explain why, if not for discrimination, minority students aren't doing as well as other students.

As we saw with Harvard's "Myths and Realities" letter, universities have insisted from the outset that standards have not been lowered, so why do black and Hispanic students fall behind if not for curricular racism? And won't the rationing of books among different ethnic "perspectives" make an indispensable contribution to "diversity"?

Thus begins the process, already far advanced, of downplaying or expelling the core curriculum of Western classics in favor of a non-Western and minority-oriented agenda. Universities like Stanford, Berkeley, and Harvard establish ethnic studies requirements, multicultural offerings, Afro-American Studies and Women's Studies departments.

The typical rationale is that white professors cannot effectively communicate with, or provide role models for, minority students. This argument is somewhat transparent, since it relies on the premise that interracial identification is impossible, and no one has ever alleged that minority professors are racially or culturally disabled from teaching white students.

College administrators will privately admit that "minority perspectives" is a pretext for meeting affirmative action goals. The so-called "studies" programs also serve the purpose of attracting minority students who are having a difficult time with the "white" curriculum, but who, like Harvard's Tiya Miles, Eva Nelson, and Michelle Duncan, feel psychologically at home in a department like Afro-American Studies.

What transpires in the "race and gender" curriculum is anything but "diverse." As we saw at Harvard, typically these programs promulgate rigid political views about civil rights, feminism, homosexual rights, and other issues pressed by the activists who got these departments set up in the first place. Thomas Short, a professor of philosophy at Kenyon College, observes that "ideological dogmatism is the norm, not the exception, in the 'studies' programs, especially Women's Studies. Intimidation of nonfeminists in the classroom is routine." Short adds that, curiously, ideologues in these programs practice the very exclusion that they claim to have suffered in the past.

Even if some faculty in the "race and gender" curriculum seek to promote authentic debate or intellectual diversity, this is difficult in an atmosphere where activist students profess to be deeply offended by views which fall outside the ideological circumference of their victim's revolution. Once a professor finds himself the object of vilification and abuse for tackling a political taboo-the fate of Farley, Thernstrom, and Macneil -- others absorb the message and ensure that their own classes are appropriately deferential.

Eugene Genovese, a Marxist historian and one of the nation's most distinguished scholars on slavery, admits that "there is just too much dogmatism in the field of race and gender scholarship." Whatever diversity obtains, Genovese argues, is frequently "a diversity of radical positions." As a result, "Good scholars [who] are increasingly at risk are starting to run away, and this is how our programs become ghettoized."

The new awareness of racially and sexually biased perspectives is not confined to the "studies" programs, however; minority activists inevitably bring their challenging political consciousness into other courses as well, although this usually does not happen until junior or senior year. At this point, the students begin to function as sensitivity monitors, vigilant in pointing out instances of racism and sexism in the course readings or among student comments.

Other students may inwardly resent such political surveillance, but seldom do professors resist it: indeed they often praise it as precisely the sort of "diversity" that minority students can bring to the classroom. Minority students are often given latitude to do papers on race or gender victimization, even if only tangentially related to course material: thus some write about latent bigotry in Jane Austen, or tabulate black under-representation in the university administration.

Minority activists can be offended when they do not receive passing grades on such papers, because they believe that their consciousness of oppression is far more advanced than that of any white professor. Further, they know how reluctant most professors are to get involved in an incident with a black or Hispanic student; hence they can extract virtually any price from faculty anxious to avoid "racial incidents."

University administrations and faculty also permit, and sometimes encourage, minority students to develop myths about their own culture and history, such as the "black Egypt" industry evident at Howard and elsewhere. This cultural distortion is routine in multicultural and Third World studies-the case of Stanford is typical.

Bernard Lewis, professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton, describes what he calls "a new culture of deceit on the campus," and adds, "It is very dangerous to give in to these ideas, or more accurately, to these pressures. It makes a mockery of scholarship to say: my nonsense is as good as your science."

But even university officials who agree with Lewis say they aren't sure what they can do to counter these distortions, since the ideological forces behind them are so strong. Although curricular and extracurricular concessions by the university greatly increase the power of minority activists, it is not clear that they help minority students use knowledge and truth as weapons against ignorance and prejudice, nor that they assuage the problems of low morale and low self-esteem which propelled them in this direction to begin with.

Nor does an apparently more even "balance of power" between minority and non-minority students produce greater ethnic harmony. In fact, like Michigan activists Kimberly Smith and Tracye Matthews, many minority students find themselves increasingly embittered and estranged during their college years, so that by the time they graduate they may be virtually isolated in a separatist culture, and espouse openly hostile sentiments against other groups.

At graduation time, it turns out that only a fraction of the minority students enrolled four years earlier are still around, and even among them the academic record is mixed: a good number (most are probably not affirmative action beneficiaries) have performed well, but a majority conspicuously lag behind their colleagues, and a sizable group has only finished by concentrating in congenial fields such as Afro-American or Ethnic Studies, under the direction of tolerant faculty advisers.

Relatively few of these students have developed to their full potential over the past four years, or have emerged ready to assume positions of responsibility and leadership in the new multiracial society.


There is no conflict between equal opportunity for individuals in education, and the pursuit of the highest standards of academic and extracurricular excellence. After all, equal opportunity means opportunity to achieve, and we achieve more when more is expected of us. Test scores and grade point averages are mere measurements of achievement, which are necessary to register how much intellectual progress is being made. They provide a common index for all who seek to improve themselves, regardless of race, sex, or background.

High standards do not discriminate against anyone except those who fail to meet them. Such discrimination is entirely just and ought not to be blamed for our individual differences. ... Liberal education settles issues in terms of idealism, not interest; in terms of right, not force. There is nothing wrong with universities confronting controversial contemporary issues, especially those involving human difference that are both timely and timeless.

Nor is radicalism itself the problem; if radical solutions may not be contemplated in the university, where else should they be considered? Because they are sanctuary institutions, universities can be a philosophical testing ground for programs of revolutionary transformation which, if improperly executed, might lead to lawlessness, violence, or anarchy. "The university sponsors moral combat in an atmosphere where ideas can be tested short of mortal combat," in the words of sociologist Manfred Stanley of Syracuse University. ...

Liberal education in a multicultural society means global education. Provincialism has always been the enemy of that broad-minded outlook which is the very essence of liberal learning.

Today's liberally educated student must be conversant with some of the classic formulations of other cultures, and with the grand political and social currents which bring these cultures into increased interaction with the West. Such education is best pursued when students are taught to search for universal standards of judgment which transcend particularities of race, gender, and culture; this gives them the intellectual and moral criteria to evaluate both their own society and others. There is much in both to affirm and to criticize....

Equality and the Classics

Universities can address their curricular problems by devising a required course or sequence for entering freshmen which exposes them to the basic issues of equality and human difference, through a carefully chosen set of classic texts that deal powerfully with those issues. Needless to say, non-Western classics belong in this list when they address questions relevant to the subject matter.

Such a solution would retain what Matthew Arnold termed "the best that has been thought and said," but at the same time engage the contemporary questions of ethnocentrism and prejudice in bold and provocative fashion.

It seems that currently both the teaching of Western classics as well as the desire to study other cultures have encountered serious difficulties in the curriculum. As the case of Stanford illustrates, an uncritical examination of non-Western cultures, in order to favorably contrast them with the West, ends up as a new form of cultural imperialism, in which Western intellectuals project their own domestic prejudices onto faraway countries, distorting them beyond recognition to serve political ends.

Even where universities make a serious effort to avoid this trap, it remains questionable whether they have the academic expertise in the general undergraduate program to teach students about the history, religion, and literature of Asia, Africa, and the Arab world.

The study of other cultures can never compensate for a lack of thorough familiarity with the founding principles of one's own culture. Just as it would be embarrassing to encounter an educated Chinese who had never heard of Confucius, however well versed he may be in Jefferson, so also it would be a failure of liberal education to teach Americans about the Far East without immersing them in their own philosophical and literary tradition "from Homer to the present." Universal in scope, these works prepare Westerners to experience both their own, as well as other, ideas and civilizations....

The liberal university is a distinctive and fragile institution. It is not an all-purpose instrument for social change. Its function is indeed to serve the larger society which supports and sustains it, yet it does not best do this when it makes itself indistinguishable from the helter-skelter of pressure politics, what Professor Susan Shell of Boston College terms "the academic equivalent of Tammany Hall."

Nothing in this [selection] should be taken to deny the legitimate claim of minorities who have suffered unfairly, nor should reasonable aid and sympathy be withheld from them. But the current revolution of minority victims threatens to destroy the highest ideals of liberal education, and with them that enlightenment and understanding which hold out the only prospects for racial harmony, social justice, and minority advancement.

Many university leaders are supremely confident that nothing can jeopardize their position, and they regard any criticism with disdain. As Professor Alan Kors of the University of Pennsylvania has remarked, "For the first time in the history of American higher education, the barbarians are running the place."

Liberal education is too important to entrust to these self-styled revolutionaries. Reform, if it comes, requires the involvement of intelligent voices from both inside and outside the university students who are willing to take on reigning orthodoxies, professors and administrators with the courage to resist the activist high tide, and parents, alumni, and civic leaders who are committed to applying genuine principles of liberal learning to the challenges of the emerging multicultural society.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Schools not making the grade, poll shows

Americans are pessimistic about education, a new NBC News/WSJ poll shows

A majority of Americans are pessimistic about the public education system with nearly six out of 10 saying schools need either major changes or a complete overhaul, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Only 5 percent of those surveyed thought the school system in the United States was working well, according to results of the telephone survey of 700 adults. The findings come as NBC News on Sunday kicked off a weeklong special conversation about the state of America's classrooms, called "Education Nation," to explore the challenges and opportunities facing students today.

National statistics show that 68 percent of 8th-graders in the United States cannot read at their grade level and American students rank 25th in math and 21st in science compared to 30 other industrialized countries.

The poll shows most Americans don't think enough is being done to close that achievement gap with 70 percent of those polled giving schools either a "C" (45 percent) or "D" (25 percent) grade.

Yet even as many people give the overall school system in the United States a poor grade, they were more optimistic about the state of education in their own communities, with 45 percent giving them either an "A" (13 percent) or "B" (32 percent.)
Video: Are teachers under attack?

In trying to determine the cause of the problems, most blamed elected officials (53 percent) or parents (50 percent). When asked who could most effectively improve the system, 48 percent said teachers.

Overall, when asked about the best ways to improve America's school system, 75 percent pointed to recruiting and retaining better teachers. Other strategies include reducing class sizes (64 percent) and requiring teachers to pass a competency test (54 percent).

And nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of those polled said they would be willing to pay higher federal taxes to improve America's schools.


For-profit colleges often turned to by vets struggling to get degrees

Since the post-9/11 GI Bill with expanded education benefits for returning soldiers took effect Aug. 1, 2009, for-profit colleges have snared $618 million, or 35 percent, of the almost $1.8 billion in tuition and fees spent by US taxpayers, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. The industry is now targeting the more than 1.2 million veterans deployed since 2001, and their college grants.

Five of the top 10 colleges with the most students funded by the GI bill in April 2010 were for-profit, mainly online institutions, including Apollo Group Inc.’s University of Phoenix and Washington Post Co.’s Kaplan University, according to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Of veterans receiving the benefits, 22 percent have enrolled in for-profit colleges. About 10 percent of all college students attend for-profit institutions.

Enrolling at online colleges hampers veterans’ reintegration into society and increases their risk of dropping out, said John Schupp, national director of the nonprofit group Supportive Education for the Returning Veteran. “They don’t transition sitting next to a computer in their room,’’ Schupp said.

While some veterans say online schools provide an opportunity for education that they otherwise couldn’t fit into their schedules, the swelling number of former soldiers at for-profit colleges is drawing scrutiny from the Senate education committee.

That’s because these colleges, which typically charge higher tuitions than public institutions, have been criticized for enrolling students who aren’t academically ready and are more likely to default on their federal loans.

An undercover investigation by the Government Accountability Office found that recruiters at for-profit colleges encouraged applicants to lie on federal financial aid forms and misled them by exaggerating graduation rates and potential salaries.

Graduation rates are lower at for-profit colleges. Only 22 percent of first-time, full-time candidates at for profit-colleges get bachelors’ degrees, compared with 55 percent at public institutions and 65 percent at nonprofit schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.


All-boy prep school boom in Britain as parents reject 'macho culture' of mixed primaries

All-boys schools are booming as parents shun mixed schools which put boys under pressure to act 'tough' and play the fool, it was claimed today. New figures show a surge in pupil numbers at single-sex prep schools which cater for boys up to the age of 13.

The trend is a reversal of the picture only a decade ago, when demand for girls' schools was growing strongly.

Head teachers' leaders revealed that parents are increasingly concerned about a macho culture at some mixed schools where boys consider it 'cool to be a fool'. They feel their sons are more likely to grow up 'fully rounded' at a single-sex school, instead of merely 'half a boy' at some co-educational schools.

It was also claimed that 'savvy' parents nowadays are increasingly splitting their families between different schools, rather than opting for the convenience of the same primary or secondary for all siblings. Some parents may be choosing mixed schools for their daughters but all-boys schools for their sons, it was suggested. This may result in them paying for private education, since there are significantly fewer single-sex primary schools in the state system than the independent sector.

Other experts suggest that, during a recession, parents are more likely to invest in private education for boys rather than girls. This is because they believe that daughters are more likely to succeed wherever they are educated, whereas boys may need extra support.

Figures issued by the Independent Association of Preparatory Schools, representing 600 private prep schools, show that nearly a third of single-sex boys' schools - 29 per cent - showed strong growth in numbers this year. These schools registered an increase in September enrolments of three per cent or more, it emerged.

Girls' and mixed schools showed a more mixed picture.

David Hanson, chief executive of IAPS, highlighted TV's recent 'Britain's Youngest Boarders' programme, which followed the progress of three youngsters at an all-boys prep school. 'Those little boys could succeed academically and yet be fully-rounded, caring and have all the cuddly toys and so on, without anybody at any point saying "you're soft",' he said.

'It was great to see it from their perspective, that in an all-boys environment, they could be a fully rounded little boy, rather than half a boy, in some other environment where you have to pretend to be tough and act cool, and not want to learn, because it's cool to be a fool.'

He went on: 'In the past, the received wisdom was this, that parents want boys to be in co-ed schools because it's civilising, and parents want the girls to be in single-sex schools because then girls can achieve without boys slowing them down and being disruptive. 'This was received parental wisdom.

'What we see in the data now is the polar opposite - parents saying actually I think I want my boy to be in a single-sex school because I feel he will do better there, but I would probably like my daughter to be in a co-ed school. 'That seems to be a complete turnaround to where we were five, ten years ago, in terms of the messages we were getting.'

Mr Hanson added that a strong diet of sport was a 'big driver' of demand for boys' prep schools. 'We know that sport has a big part to play,' he said. 'A lot of parents will say that they worry that in maintained school their child is never off the floor or out of the chair.'

Andy Falconer, chairman of IAPS and head of St Olave's Prep School, in York, said some parents found their sons did better apart from girls at primary school because girls mature more quickly. Others felt it was important for children to taught in a mixed school because 'that's the real world'.

He added: 'Parents are now much more savvy about shopping around, and rightly, picking the right thing for their child, rather than the convenience element of having everybody in the one school, because there's the one school run.'

Figures were released on Monday as heads gathered in London for the IAPS annual conference suggested that prep school numbers are bearing up in most schools despite the recession.

Mr Hanson added: 'These figures support what we know anecdotally: even in difficult circumstances, parents are willing to sacrifice holidays, new cars and other material goods to continue to give their children a quality education.'


Monday, September 27, 2010

Rocking the Boat on Education

A review of "Waiting for Superman"

David Guggenheim, the man behind An Inconvenient Truth and Obama’s 2008 DNC bio-infomercial, has just released another film — this one a stabbing indictment of teachers’ unions and a plea for more charter schools, titled Waiting for Superman. Democrats for School Choice hosted an advance screening of the documentary, to which black clergy, New York City education chancellor Joel Klein, and National Review were invited. The school-choice cause evidently transcends traditional ideological boundaries.

Waiting for Superman intends to influence policy, yet its narrative follows not politicians, but five children. Bianca, Daisy, Emily, Anthony, and Francisco come from diverse locales — Harlem, L.A., Silicon Valley, D.C., and the Bronx — and are black, Hispanic, and white, but they share the same basic problem: Each is consigned by geography to an inadequate public school. Each wants a choice.

The stories — of Bianca, whose single black mother struggles to afford parochial school but misses the final payment that would let Bianca attend graduation, and of Anthony, who carries a picture of his dead, drug-using father as he seeks a spot at a rare charter boarding school that might keep him away from the streets, to name two — are heartbreaking. But the real message of the movie is revealed in the scenes of the adults who produce this heartbreak. Superman’s most memorable episode is the cartoon illustration of the “lemon dance,” in which school principals waltz their “lemons” (teachers who just can’t teach but can’t be fired) from school to school. The musical number would be hilarious if it weren’t so devastating. So, too, for the shots of the infamous “rubber rooms,” where middle-aged teachers sit in school kids’ chairs, playing cards or laying their heads on their desks to sleep, collecting full pay and pensions.

Guggenheim chooses one champion and one villainess. Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of D.C. schools, is energetic and assertive. She bluntly admits that D.C. students “are getting a crappy education right now,” she fires a couple hundred incompetent educators, institutes some incentive pay, and starts to turn D.C.’s schools around. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and Rhee’s foil, is on the defensive. She seems most solicitous about the egos of teachers; a speech to her union culminates in the cry, “You are heroes!” In her interviews, Weingarten reminds us what good-hearted people teachers are, and condemns school-choice advocates for demonizing teachers. She has maintained this pattern off-screen as well. “It’s in vogue to bash teachers and unions rather than celebrate the work they do to help kids,” she said, responding to Superman. “That being said, I’m a big girl.”

Weingarten, obviously, can take the criticism, but she hasn’t rebutted it. Perhaps it augurs victory that the only thing she can find to fault is her opponents’ tone of voice. For now, though, Weingarten still has the power and the money. Weingarten’s AFT funneled over $1 million to defeat D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty (who appointed and supported Rhee) in the recent Democratic primary. The winner, Vincent Gray, used his victory speech to announce his desire for “a strong, empowered chancellor who works with parents and teachers.” Translation: Rhee is out. This is part of a pattern. Guggenheim, whose political sympathies are normally liberal, admits that the Democratic party is, on education policy, a “wholly owned subsidiary of the teachers unions.” The AFT and NEA — combined, the biggest campaign contributors in the U.S. — send more than 90 percent of their donations to Democrats.

Last week’s D.C. primary is a fitting political backdrop to the narrative of Waiting for Superman. Unions stood in Rhee’s way every step of her chancellorship. An unforgettable scene in the documentary shows Rhee sitting aside from a podium, shouted down from her speech by members of D.C. teachers unions, full of sound and fury. “We will not be silenced,” a teacher snaps. Don’t doubt her.


Gifted children crippled by the system

One problem is that no allowance is made for the fact that they see the world differently -- Another is that the world is designed around average people. Report below from Britain

Exceptionally talented children are just as likely to fail in life as succeed according to a new study. In one of the most extensive studies carried out, research found that out of 210 gifted children followed into later life, only three per cent were found to fulfil their early promise.

Professor Joan Freeman, said that of 210 children in her study, 'maybe only half a dozen might have been what we might consider conventionally successful.' 'At the age of six or seven, the gifted child has potential for amazing things, but many of them are caught in situations where their potentials is handicapped.'

Professor Freeman tracked the development of children who had exceptional ability in fields such as maths, art or music from 1974 to the present day. Many of those who failed to excel did so because the 'gifted' children were treated and in some cases robbed of their childhood, the study found. In some cases pushy parents put the children under too much pressure, or they were separated from their peer group, so they ended up having few friends.

The research findings follow a decision earlier this year to scrap a £20 million National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth set up by the government eight years ago. While meant to aid high achievers in state schools, it was considered to have failed to live up to its intended purpose.

Professor Freeman is keen to emphasise that 'the gifted' are no more emotionally fragile than anyone else - and may even have 'greater emotional strength.' But she said that 'being gifted means being better able to deal with things intellectually but not always emotionally.' She adds: 'I want to stress that the gifted are normal people. But they face special challenges, especially unreal expectations, notably being seen as strange and unhappy.

'Others such as parents and teachers, can feel threatened by them and react with put-downs. What they need is acceptance for who they are, appropriate opportunities to develop their potential and reliable moral support.'

An example of a child prodigy who failed to achieve early promise includes Andrew Halliburton, who studied maths at secondary school level at the age of eight. He quit university and ended up working at a McDonald's burger restaurant, although he now plans to return to study.

Other examples of the differing paths gifted children can take is illustrated by Anna Markland and Jocelyn Lavin, who both started at Chetham's school of music, in Manchester on the same day at 11.

Markland, now 46, from Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire, went on to be the BBC Young Musician of the Year, 1982. She went on to study music at Oxford, did two years postgraduate study, and now is a profesional musician, which for her is 'the best job in the world.'

By contrast, her friend Jocelyn turned her back on music to pursue science, and got the best A-level grades of all 210 children in the study - six A grades. But after going to University College London at 17 she failed her finals in Maths and Astronomy and left without a degree. After 20 years as a school maths teacher she has resigned, and her home is under threat of repossession because of mortgage arrears. She said: 'I didn't know what I wanted to do, apart from go into space', she said in the book.

Part of the problem for the gifted, Professor Freeman says, is that often the gifted excel in many areas - and may have to try out several things before they settle in one discipline.

Ultimately attempts to 'hothouse' children will fail if they are put under enormous pressure to perform. She writes: 'The pleasures and creativity of childhood are the basis of all great work. Don't take childhood away from children.'


One Australian State holding out against dumbed-down education

NSW school curricula have not been dumbed down as much as in other States because of the influence of long-time NSW Premier Bob Carr. Carr is a scholarly man and blocked any erosion of standards during his time in office

State Labor governments are under pressure to fall into line with the new national curriculum. A statement from the national curriculum authority seems to assume state education ministers will not object to the final version of its national curriculum plan. The statement says: ‘‘Once Ministers endorse the curriculum in December, it will be available for implementation from 2011’’.

The 20-year history of numerous failed attempts to develop a national curriculum are also spelled out in full. The message is clear that the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority wants any obstruction from the states to stop.

The NSW government said nothing to criticise the national agenda in the lead up to the federal election this year. The order for silence had come from above.

The NSW Board of Studies quietly posted its objections to the national curriculum in late July. That is according to the state government which issued no press release at the time. The response went unnoticed for several weeks.

The Board was blunt in its criticism of the national curriculum draft. This view was widely supported by NSW science, English, history and maths teachers. Their collective view is that the national curriculum draft is vastly inferior to existing NSW standards.

The Board of Studies said the draft curriculum for kindergarten to year 10 students lacked an overarching framework and was overcrowded with content. It said the draft maths and science curriculums failed to cater for the full range of student abilities. Year 10 science was said to be too difficult for most students. The draft history curriculum was described as "far too ambitious to be taught effectively".

The question is whether Labor state governments will be brave enough to take on their Federal colleagues later this year when the nation’s education ministers meet to discuss adoption of the final version of the national curriculum.

The head of the national curriculum authority, Barry McGaw, said his press release was not an attempt to pre-empt their decision. He is confident that any grumblings from the states will have been sorted out in the final curriculum documents.

However, teachers and school principals remain unconvinced that this state will not be selling out what they believe is a gold standard curriculum in NSW.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

U.S. Education Secretary Vows to Make American Children 'Good Environmental Citizens'

20% of American students graduate High Schools functionally illiterate and Dunc thinks that there is time for this propaganda? I guess it will make the kids scientifically illiterate too, so Dunc is at least consistent.

A good comment on the Fascist/Communist echoes in Dunc's plan here. Hitler was a Greenie too, of course

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan vowed on Tuesday that his department would work to make American children into "good environmental citizens" through federally subsidized school programs beginning as early as kindergarten that teach children about climate change and prepare them "to contribute to the workforce through green jobs."

“Right now, in the second decade of the 21st century, preparing our children to be good environmental citizens is some of the most important work any of us can do. It’s work that will serve future generations--and quite literally sustain our world,” Duncan said at the Education Department’s "Sustainability Education Summit: Citizenship and Pathways for a Green Economy."

“This week’s sustainability summit represents the first time that the Department is taking a taking a leadership role in the work of educating the next generation of green citizens and preparing them to contribute to the workforce through green jobs,” said Duncan. “President Obama has made clean, renewable energy a priority because, as he says, it’s the best way to 'truly transform our economy, to protect our security, and save our planet.'

“Educators have a central role in this. A well educated citizen knows that we must not act in this generation in ways that endanger the next,” said Duncan. “They teach students about how the climate is changing. They explain the science behind climate change and how we can change our daily practices to help save the planet. They have a role in preparing students for jobs in the green economy.”

“Historically," Duncan said, "the Department of Education hasn’t been doing enough to drive the sustainability movement, and today, I promise that we will be a committed partner in the national effort to build a more environmentally literate and responsible society." "I want my department to help advance the sustainability movement through education," he said.

Duncan explained that the funding for this environmental education will come through a new initiative of the Department of Education called the "Blueprint for Reform."

"The president has proposed $265 million for this program in his fiscal 2011 budget," said Duncan. "These grants will support subjects such as the arts, foreign languages, history, and civics--all of which receive funding under current Education Department programs. Because we recognize the importance education plays in the sustainability movement, these grants also will support environmental education."

Duncan said that his department's "Blueprint for Reform" envisions environmental education being incorporated into so-called "STEM" classes ("science, technology, engineering and mathematics") for students as young as kindergarten.

"These projects have the prospect to build the science of sustainability into the curriculum, starting in kindergarten and extending until the students graduate high school," said Duncan.


Texas education board OKs resolution against 'pro-Islamic bias' in textbooks

The State Board of Education on Friday narrowly approved a resolution that instructs textbook publishers to counter a "pro-Islamic/anti-Christian bias" that proponents say is pervasive in world history books. The resolution, which passed on a 7-6 vote, calls for a "balanced treatment of religious groups in textbooks" and cites examples of perceived bias in textbooks used before 2003.

Balance, however, appears to be in the eye of the beholder. Board member Ken Mercer , R-San Antonio, said the objective of the resolution "should be that we want the world religions treated with accuracy and balance."

But board member Bob Craig , R-Lubbock, argued that the resolution, with its references to "gross pro-Islamic/anti-Christian distortions," failed to achieve that objective. An alternative resolution offered by Craig carried the same message about equal treatment of different faiths, he said, "without attacking one religion over another." "It is very clear to the publishers where we're headed and what we want," Craig said.

Mercer and six other members, however, sank that alternative measure and several other attempts to delay or scuttle the adoption of the resolution.

Questions about the accuracy of the evidence used to justify the resolution were initially rebuffed. But an hour after approval, board members learned that a reference in the resolution to "Middle Easterners buy(ing) into the U.S. public school textbook oligopoly" was not accurate. They voted to remove the reference and then reapproved the revised measure on a 7-5 vote.

The practical effect of the resolution is unclear. Social studies textbooks will probably not be adopted and bought until 2016 because of the state's budget crunch. Also, the resolution is not binding and reflects the opinions of the board members — opinions that could change with time and elections. "This is a cosmetic exercise," said board member Mavis Knight , D-Dallas.

But other board members say the resolution sends an important message to textbook publishers. Board member Terri Leo , R-Spring, said Christianity has been denigrated in past textbooks, citing the evidence in the resolution, and said the problems continue in the current books.

But those problems cannot be addressed in the resolution because of a board rule that limits when a resolution can be considered regarding textbooks in use. "We've seen it done in the past, as with the books cited in the resolution," Leo said. "What we're trying to do is prohibit and send a clear message to the publishers that it should not happen in the future."

Imam Islam Mossaad of the North Austin Muslim Community Center said the board resolution has generated a lot of heat and debate over recent weeks, but it is not representative of how Muslims here are treated by their Christian and Jewish neighbors. "This is so far away from ... the vibe that I get," Mossaad said. "We have differences, but we're still neighbors."


Each teaching post 'chased by 17 applicants'

Desperation for jobs in Scotland

There were more than 75,000 applications for just 4,520 teacher jobs in Scotland. Every teaching vacancy in Scotland is being chased by an average of 17 applicants, according to official figures. The competition for the posts varied from 49 for each job in Stirling to three per vacancy in Shetland.

The Liberal Democrats, who obtained the details through freedom of information requests, said the figures showed teachers' talents were "being wasted". Education Secretary Michael Russell said the numbers were "a concern".

In total, 75,579 applications were made for 4,520 vacancies in 2009-10 - an average of about 17 for each position. The average number of applications per job included 14 in Aberdeenshire, 21 in Dundee, 27 in Edinburgh and six in Glasgow.

Lib Dem education spokeswoman Margaret Smith said the figures "will be deeply concerning for teachers". She added: "The SNP said they would maintain the record number of teachers they inherited from the previous executive but teacher numbers are down by 3,000.

"Scotland's young people are also missing out on the opportunity to learn from newly-trained, enthusiastic teachers who have a wealth of talent and skill, being wasted as they struggle to find jobs."

Education Secretary Michael Russell said: "The difficulties faced by teachers looking for a post is a concern. "Scotland is already unique in guaranteeing a year's employment after graduation from initial teacher education, but we want to do more and we are examining ways we can provide further help.

"While recent figures show that teacher unemployment is lower in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK, we are still working hard to address the issue and have cut student intake, which will reduce competition for jobs."