Saturday, October 16, 2010

Media Matters Tries but Fails to Refute the School Choice Evidence

Yesterday, Media Matters tried to refute a blog post in which I point out, among other things, that the impact of voucher use in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program resulted in a 91 percent graduation rate compared to 70 percent in the control group. The findings are from the U.S. Department of Education’s final evaluation of the voucher program, authored by Dr. Patrick Wolf.

Walid Zafar writes via Media Matters: "Where does Burke get the 91 percent figure from? Well, not this [the Department of Education’s] report. It’s hard not concluding that she made that statistic up. The report puts the graduation rate for students receiving vouchers at 82 percent."

Not so fast. The report does in fact find that the use of voucher resulted in a 91 percent graduation rate. On page 20 of the report’s executive summary, Wolf writes: "The offer of an OSP scholarship raised students’ probability of completing high school by 12 percentage points overall. The graduation rate based on parent-provided information was 82 percent for the treatment group compared to 70 percent for the control group. There was a 21 percent difference (impact) for using a scholarship to attend a participating private school.

The 21 percentage point difference for impact means the typical student who received a voucher and actually used it to attend a private school had a graduation rate of 91 percent, compared to 70 percent for non-voucher students. Here’s exactly how the graduation rates break down:

* D.C. Public Schools graduation rate: 49 percent.

* Control group (those students who applied for a voucher but did not receive one) graduation rate: 70 percent.

* Voucher recipient group (students who applied for a voucher, won the lottery to receive one, but did not necessarily use it) graduation rate: 82 percent.

* Impact of voucher use: (students who applied for, received, and actually used the voucher to attend a private school) graduation rate: 91 percent.

Zafar also argues that the results of the study are minimized due to the increased motivation of parents who applied for a scholarship: "You can’t compare the graduation rate at DC Public Schools (which take in all who apply, regardless of learning disabilities and level of parental involvement) to a lottery based voucher system to which only the most highly motivated students (and parents) choose to apply."

First, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program does have to take all students who apply. When applications exceed scholarships, officials use a lottery to determine which students receive vouchers. In fact, because evaluators anticipated objections like Zafar’s, they controlled for the students who applied for a voucher but were ultimately not offered one.

These presumably highly motivated students were evenly distributed across the treatment and control group, which is probably why the control group graduation rate of 70 percent was higher than the overall DCPS rate of 49 percent. The voucher students significantly outperformed the control group on the crucial measure of high school graduation even though the lottery ensured that both groups were equally stocked with motivated students and parents.

While it’s true that parents have to have a certain level of interest in the educational opportunities of their children in order to apply for a voucher, thousands of low-income families in the District jumped at the opportunity to do so when given the chance. In fact, there were four applicants for every available scholarship.

Finally, Zafar argues that the DCOSP had no impact on academic achievement: "In the area of student achievement, the report concludes, “Overall reading and math test scores were not significantly affected by the Program, based on our main analysis approach.” Most crucially, the report notes that “No significant impacts on achievement were detected for students” who “were lower performing academically when they applied.” In other words, the students who did well on the voucher program were those who were already doing well in public school".

While the final evaluation did not find a statistically significant impact on academic achievement (which was not the main point of our argument), it did find that the scholarships had a positive impact on academic outcomes for some subgroups of students. Moreover, Dr. Wolf, the lead researcher on the OSP study, explains in a statement from the University of Arkansas that the significant positive impact on graduation rates is more important than the impact on academic achievement:
These results are important because high school graduation is strongly associated with a large number of important life outcomes such as lifetime earnings, longevity, avoiding prison and out-of-wedlock births, and marital stability. Academic achievement, in contrast, is only weakly associated with most of those outcomes.

In the area of education, how far you go is more important than how much you know, and D.C. students went farther with the assistance of a school voucher.

Facts matter, and we hope we’ve stated them clearly enough so that even Media Matters can’t deny them.


Regular exams boost your brain power

Regular testing actually improves your brains ability to learn, scientists find, in a study that is likely to reopen the debate over the effectiveness of exams.

Researchers found that preparing for tests actually improved memory by making the brain come up with more efficient ways to store and recall facts. In particular the brain comes up with mental keywords – called mediators – which trigger memories which they would not do when studying only. That means they remember more facts, for longer.

Dr Katherine Rawson, a psychologist at Kent State State University, said: "Taking practice tests – particularly ones that involve attempting to recall something from memory – can drastically increase the likelihood that you'll be able to remember that information again later.

"Given that hundreds of experiments have been conducted to establish the effects of testing on learning, it's surprising that we know very little about why testing improves memory."

Dr Rawson and former Kent State graduate student Mary Pyc reported an experiment indicating that at least one reason why testing is good for memory is that testing supports the use of more effective encoding strategies.

Dr Rawson said: "Suppose you were trying to learn a foreign language vocabulary. "In our research, we typically use Swahili-English word pairs, such as 'wingu – cloud'. "To learn this item, you could just repeat it over and over to yourself each time you studied it, but it turns out that's not a particularly effective strategy for committing something to memory. "A more effective strategy is to develop a keyword that connects the foreign language word with the English word. 'Wingu' sounds like 'wing', birds have wings and fly in the 'clouds'.

"Of course, this works only as well as the keyword you come up with. "For a keyword to be any good, you have to be able to remember your keyword when you're given the foreign word later. "Also, for a keyword to be good, you have to be able to remember the English word once you remember the keyword."

The findings are due to be published in the journal Science.


Australian State wants to get rid of dummy teachers

But you would have to be a dummy to take up teaching in their schools these days. Some new teaching graduates walk out after a week when they encounter the reality of it

QUEENSLAND'S teaching profession is facing a crackdown on university entrance standards in a bid to boost quality in the classroom.

Students will have to attain an OP score of 12 or better to gain entry to a teaching degree under a proposal being considered by the State Government. OP cut-offs have been as low as OP19 at some Queensland universities in recent years, fuelling concerns over the quality of newly graduate teachers. Students will also have to obtain a minimum standard in English, mathematics and science.

The proposals are among 21 recommendations put to the State Government in a review of teacher education and induction, part of the Flying Start project.

The review, currently being considered by Queensland education stakeholders, follows consultation on proposed national entry requirements for undergraduate pre-service teacher programs. Proposed national standards require a minimum level of mathematics and English for Year 12 students, but not science, as suggested in Queensland.

As of next year, Queensland primary school teaching graduates will be required to sit a test in English, maths and science to become a registered teacher.

Queensland Teachers Union president Steve Ryan said while he did not oppose the idea of having an OP12 cut-off for a Bachelor of Education, moves including paying teachers more were needed. "It is quite clear that we need to try to attract the better students in terms of OP scores into the teaching profession but the problem we have got is that the OP score is demand driven," he said.

Mr Ryan said many students who didn't achieve an OP12 could be wonderful teachers. The Christian Heritage College's Colette Alexander agreed, warning some universities which catered for lower-scoring OP students might be badly affected. "Academic performance during school does not guarantee quality teaching," she said. "What makes a difference with a teacher is whether a person wants to teach."

Professor Peter Renshaw, head of the School of Education at the University of Queensland where the OP cut-off was 11 this year, agreed that a student's OP didn't always reflect their capability. But he said the OP cut-off would be good for the perception of teaching. He also said the OP requirement did not apply to many Bachelor of Education graduates at his university, with many coming from other degrees rather than straight from school.

Queensland Deans of Education Forum chair Professor Wendy Patton said contingencies built into the proposal meant most universities supported the cut-off. Under the proposal, students with lower OPs can be granted entry in exceptional circumstances. "It provides the opportunity for individuals to say 'I can put forward a case' and for institutions to say 'well, let's have a look at this case'," Professor Patton said.

The teacher training review follows an investigation into the state's education system last year, when Professor Geoff Masters raised concerns about the competency of beginning teachers.


Friday, October 15, 2010

TX: Alief Board 'Didn't Know' about Special Ed. Lawsuit -- District seeks to bankrupt student's family

With a legal battle against the family of a special needs student deep in its third year it was assumed the Alief School Board was fully informed. It appears the reality is the exact opposite.

Today Alief Trustee Nghat T. Ho told Fox 26 News not a single member of the board had a clue that the District has been bankrolling a potentially landmark Federal Lawsuit since 2007.

"I had no idea about this lawsuit against this family. The entire board had no idea. This is something the superintendent did on his own," said Ho. "I am very upset. This is really disturbing. It is not acceptable to me. We are going to get to the bottom of this. I and a lot of citizens are upset about the legal expenses."

The case centers around an autistic student named Chuka Chibuogwu. Chuka's parents battled Alief ISD because they believed the district wasn't giving their son the education he was legally entitled. The dispute was contentious and Chuka's parents ultimately gave up and pulled their son out of school.

Instead of letting the case die, Alief and it's lawyers went to Federal Court and sued the family for legal fees recently estimated to be more than $200,000. Earlier this year a U.S. District Judge ruled against the District saying it had no legal right to collect from the Chibuogwus. The defeat didn't stop Alief. The District invested even more taxpayer dollars in an appeal to the Federal 5th Circuit.

Alief critics have called the lawsuit both retaliatory and mean spirited. Others suggest the District is seeking to set a legal precedent in an effort to gain leverage over parents who advocate for their children. After weeks of refusing to tell its side of the story, Alief broke its silence with a written statement.

"AISD is very concerned with the allegations being made. This is a very unique and isolated case. Actions taken by the family contributed to the expense of this litigation and our efforts in this case are only to recoup taxpayer dollars."

Advocates for the Chibuogwus say the family has no money to pay. That means even if the District wins the appeal it will have spent more than $200,000 tax dollars to collect nothing and will have bankrupted the parents of a disabled child in the process.

A District spokeswoman says Alief Superintendent Louis Stoerner is retiring next month. Stoerner was sanctioned earlier this year by the Texas Ethics Commission for inappropriately spending school district funds to support passage of an ad valorem tax rate increase in 2008.

The spokeswoman says the impending retirement is unrelated to the sanction.In the meantime, Ho says he and other trustees will be demanding answers at the next scheduled board meeting.


Schools obsessing about chocolate milk

Would be good if they were as obsessive about teaching the "3Rs"

Is sugar-laden chocolate milk a necessary lunchroom bribe to get needed calcium and Vitamin D into our children?

That question has flavored milk in the cross hairs of many school districts across the country, put there by those who say it's really no better than soda and we're knowingly sugaring up our kids at the one place they are supposed to get a healthy meal - the school cafeteria.

This fall, Washington, D.C., schools banned the sweet drink, which can pack up to 31 grams of sugar in an 8-ounce serving. So have districts in New York, California and Colorado.

But some lunch ladies - school nutritionists, too - and the dairy industry that fills their fridges argue that if you ditch chocolate-, vanilla- and strawberry-flavored milk, students' thirst for all milk will drop 35 percent .

The Palm Beach County School District, where 171,000-plus students bought more than 15 million half-pints of milk last year, is trying to find a middle ground. It banned strawberry milk in 2007, after concerns were raised about the dyes in it. And this fall, it targeted chocolate milk.

Local schools officials negotiated high fructose corn syrup out of the formula, a move that cut 7 grams of sugar per drink. The district also banned serving chocolate milk with breakfast, a practice it says was in play at only a few schools anyway.

Jesenia Cano would be happy to see her daughter's elementary school drop chocolate milk from the menu.

Five-year-old Nivea drinks whole milk at home, but at school she can't resist the chocolate, her mother said. "She tells me she hates that regular (low-fat) milk. She says it tastes like water. She won't drink it," Cano said.

Although the school district isn't about to ban chocolate milk, it is waiting to see whether the state Board of Education does.

What's more likely is that the board, which will meet in December to take up the matter of what's served in schools, will make a less dramatic move: requiring flavored milk to pack less sugar, says board member John Padget .

Padget, who for the past year has been championing healthier milk in schools, says the entire school lunch menu urgently needs revision, as approximately 2.7 million of the state's children are either overweight or obese. "Most health experts agree that having healthier school food and beverages is only part of the solution, but it's a highly visible place to start," he said.

He also notes that milk gets a lot of attention because about 7 percent of the nation's milk is chugged in schools, and 75 percent of what's sold there is flavored.

Most everyone agrees that children should drink about three or four cups of milk a day. It's the primary source of calcium for most Americans. It's also packed with Vitamin D, a necessary nutrient that about 70 percent of children aren't getting enough of, according to recent studies.

All milk has naturally occurring sugars - about 12 grams in a pint. But flavored milk has added sugar. The chocolate milk served in Palm Beach County schools has an additional 12 grams.

U.S. Dietary Guidelines suggest people eat fewer than 34 grams of added sugar a day. So that pint of chocolate at lunch would mean fewer cookies, ice cream or other treat later in the day.

"Further, especially with younger kids, there are so many calories in 8 ounces of chocolate milk that they'll drink that and not eat anything else," said Ann Cooper, aka "The Renegade Lunch Lady."

Cooper, a former gourmet chef, led efforts to ban flavored milk first at California's Berkeley Unified School District and then in the Boulder, Colo., school district .

"Yes, milk is important, but so is cheese and yogurt. We have to stop teaching children that everything is so sweet," Cooper said. "What are we saying? Kids won't drink milk so we're going to give them chocolate milk?

She does concede that if you drop flavored milk from the menu, some children will balk, at least initially. Studies from the dairy industry show the drop is significant. One such study indicated that elementary students drank 35 percent less milk at school on average when flavored milk was removed.


Bad behaviour 'caused by mixed ability classes'

Mixed ability classes may be fuelling bad behaviour in [British] schools, MPs have been warned. Tom Burkard, research fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies, said slower pupils became frustrated after being left behind by brighter classmates.

Addressing the Commons Education Select Committee, he warned that large numbers of children found lessons “totally and utterly meaningless” when they were pitched at the wrong level.

Mr Burkard, a former special needs teacher, told how the majority of truants skipped school because they dreaded lessons “they didn’t like or a teacher they couldn’t stand”.

Psychologists also told MPs that indiscipline was being caused by aggressive behaviour among adults who acted as poor role models for young children.

The comments were made as part of a new select committee inquiry into standards of behaviour in state schools – and tactics employed to promote discipline in the classroom.

According to official figures, behaviour is still not good enough in more than a fifth of secondary schools in England. At least 700 state comprehensives are failing to keep order to a high standard, it was revealed.

Mr Burkard said mixed lessons – in which staff are forced to teach children with a range of academic abilities – were contributing to the problem. Around half of all lessons in schools are in mixed ability groups, with children normally segregated only in a small number of academic subjects.

Mr Burkard said children at the lower end of the ability range or those diagnosed with special needs often had problems with "working memory" – the process of putting words into sentences, taking in information and forming conclusions. “If you don’t have this ability and you are sat in a mixed ability class, which is relying to a large extent on your own investigations, you are going to find the whole procedure totally and utterly meaningless," he said.

“If you are lucky, the child will sit at the back of the class and do very little. If not, they are going to act up. This is one of the things we have to take into consideration.”

He said a drive – launched under Labour – to tailor education to individual children’s needs was “an absolute fantasy” because teachers did not have enough time.

However, Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, rejected the claims. The union leader - former head of English at a north London comprehensive - told how mixed ability classes worked well in her former school while behaviour in the bottom sets was "appalling".

In evidence to MPs, others educationalists said parents were undermining schools' attempts to instill discipline in the classroom. Many children copied behaviour they saw at home or on the street, it was claimed.

David Moore, an education consultant and former senior Ofsted inspector, told the hearing: "If you go into any shopping area on a Saturday and you watch parents interacting with their youngsters you can see why the youngsters behave the way that they do, because they model the behaviour of the adults."

Kate Fallon, general secretary of the Association of Educational Psychologists, said “less automatic respect” for people in authority may be to blame.

“I suspect we would see behaviours not terribly away far from here that might be described as low-level disruption, people talking over one another, interrupting, not always showing respect for the other speaker,” she said.

“So I think we can't say it's just children's behaviour. We actually have to look at it in context of the behaviour we see around us, lots of emoting, road rage - it's all there and it's not children's fault those things occur.”


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Education for the individual

Previously, in “Education and the Individual,” I discussed how the two competing educational methods in the public education system in the United States both presuppose a State monopoly on education, and how both seek to impose a uniform purpose and set of standards for all children. In this article, I will lay out the fundamental premises of individualist-oriented, free market education and will propose a few examples that illustrate what education freed from the State might look like.

There are three basic premises at the foundation of individualist education: 1) All children are not born with the same innate abilities. 2) A child who is allowed to develop his or her own unique abilities has more to offer him- or herself and others than one who is not. 3) Each individual has a right to make fully informed decisions about his or her own destiny.

The third premise is contingent on a) an individual’s ability to pursue his or her own destiny, and b) social need. Social need can limit this ability in many ways. A person may want to make a living selling paintings, for instance, but if the market is saturated by painters, he or she may have to settle for something else for the time being. Premise 3 is sometimes described as the fundamental right of “the pursuit of happiness.” In relationship to education, I argue simply that a person has a basic right to pursue his or her own destiny with the aid of unrestricted access to information on which to base those decisions. There is no guarantee of being successful in that pursuit.

Premise Three is especially important because it holds within itself a counter-argument to one of the most frequently asserted objections to a non-Statist approach to education. The argument is as follows: If there were no national education standards, and each school (or family) was free to pursue education in their own manner, then there would be an alarming increase in the number of people who held nonsensical beliefs. For example, fundamentalists would be free to teach Young Earth creationism in their science classrooms, or an agriculture school would be free to teach that “Brawndo’s got what plants crave.”

The idea that the universe was created in seven days and that all life on the planet was created at the same time, however, can be easily disproven by counter-evidence. It would be difficult to reinforce that belief in a free society with unrestricted access to information (that is why Tennessee banned teaching evolution in public schools between 1925 and 1967). The proliferation of incorrect or nonsensical beliefs is only possible when access to information is restricted. Therefore, it is much easier for the Statist, with control over the public education system, to enforce a regime of disinformation and deliberate ignorance. The chance that children will have access to all available information is much greater when their options for schooling are more diverse.

Premises One and Two are the foundation of individualism. If both are false, then there can be no argument against Statist attempts to mold and shape the public in any manner they choose. To deny Premise Two is to say that each individual is like a stem cell that—through intervention by the State—can be specialized to meet the needs of society based on a centrally-directed plan. The role of education would be to simply “stamp” whatever skill set is desired on any given schoolchild, regardless of his or her personal inclinations.

As an individualist, however, I believe that each individual has certain abilities, needs, and desires that cause him or her to pursue certain ends, and that he or she should be free to pursue those ends (insofar as they do not directly harm anyone else). Individualist-oriented, free market education is directed toward preparing the individual to pursue those ends with as little restriction as possible. By “restriction,” I am not referring to rules of behavior or dress codes or any other cosmetic issue discussed in schools today. What I am referring to is the freedom to choose what education one is to pursue, even if that education is different from what we are accustomed to.

What will occur as a consequence of this freedom is nothing less than a radical transformation of the American school system, and we would immediately encounter a wide variety of schools from which to choose. Imagine for a moment a community in which children were not forced to choose between one or two public and private schools with roughly the same curriculum. In our imaginary community, children would have any number of options, including traditional liberal arts schools, vocational schools, and/or apprenticeships; schools with high standards and schools with low standards; expensive schools and inexpensive schools. There would also be a plethora of supplemental education programs all based upon the needs of the individuals in that particular community.

Schools would more than likely be run by professionals in those various fields—people who have an interest in producing the best possible future colleagues. In contrast, public schools today are staffed by educational professionals; teachers who have been trained to feed a watered down version of their subject area to every child, regardless of the individual interests of the child. A plumber does not need to understand Shakespeare to be a successful plumber, for example, but he or she does need to understand plumbing. Needless to say, there are a certain set of skills that are necessary for success in any modern profession (including reading, writing, etc.) and a school in a free market would not last very long if it failed to impart that knowledge.

In a world without public or State-run education, we could cease speaking of an “educational system.” Schools would survive or fail based on the needs of individuals in particular communities, and each individual would be free to pursue his or her own natural calling or vocation. As a result of an absence of one set of educational standards, schools would embrace approaches to education that were the most successful, rather than those dictated from afar. This would ultimately lead to a more pragmatic and less political educational environment.


Turning the ivory towers into a skills factory

Britain's debate about how higher education should be funded assumes that its only value is economic. It is poor value for the taxpayers' money if that is so -- JR

How to fund British universities? It is a dismal question for a dismal debate. And it’s a question that has been recurring with depressing regularity ever since the New Labour government introduced the first top-up fees 12 years ago. Nothing seems to break the repetitive cycle of argument and counter-argument. Critics of spending cuts and/or raising tuition fees will declare that universities are vital: vital to the UK economy, vital to overcoming social inequality, vital to our collective future.

Supporters of spending cuts and/or raising tuition fees will argue that universities are not vital enough. The courses take too long; graduates are not sufficiently economically productive; and besides, the government has already spent too much on this collective future.

Unfortunately, the publication of Lord Browne’s university spending review today, commissioned under New Labour’s tenure, will not alter the narrow, almost entirely economic parameters of this debate around higher education. In fact, if the responses so far are any indication, it is more likely to intensify the economic focus of the discussion. Hence the substance of the reaction so far seems to be around whether to remove the upper limit on tuition fees currently set at £3,290 or to come up with some sort of interest rate on student loans tiered according to whatever a particular graduate subsequently earns. Edifying it is not.

The problem is that the value of higher education is conceived almost entirely from the perspective of economics. So from a social perspective, its ostensible purpose is to increase GDP; from an individual perspective it’s the guarantee – and justification for – a higher salary. Because of this, the argument for increasing the funding burden on students almost makes itself, as Boris Johnson clearly found on Monday: ‘It is hardly progressive that people on low incomes should pay in their taxes for the university education of students who will go on to earn about 40 per cent more than those with no qualifications’, he wrote in his Telegraph column.

To such an argument, Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students, had little to offer other than a yelp of baby-doomer self-pity: ‘A generation who will already struggle over housing and pensions, as well as increased bills for health and social care, will be asked to pick up the tab for excesses they did not themselves enjoy and mistakes they did not make, by being forced to pay for spending cuts.’ Luckily, in keeping with the bean-counting tenor of the discussion, Porter did have one killer alternative to higher tuition fees and spending cuts in his armoury: ‘A sophisticated graduate tax system.’ A place at the Treasury beckons him.

But wait. A Guardian columnist dissents: ‘The graduate tax does have serious problems. It would have been in effect a new layer of income tax, in some ways progressive, in other ways not. It would mean different generations being taxed at different rates, and those who had “made it” without going to college being taxed at a lower rate. What message would that have sent? It would put quite a lot of ambitious people off going to university, or at least ensure they didn’t go to a British one.’

Underwriting this disagreement, however, is the same monetising view of education shared by parties as ostensibly in conflict as Boris Johnson and the quasi-radical NUS. They all assume that the point of higher education, the reason for studying, is better earnings, just as New Labour always assumed that the societal point of higher education was national wealth. Hence, in the proud words of the 2003 New Labour white paper, The Future of Higher Education, students are at university for the ‘acquisition of skills’. The point being that skills sell. In his first speech as secretary of state for education in 2007, Labour’s John Denham continued in this vein of justification: ‘To compete and prosper in this world, to respond to the needs of leading global and national businesses, we must enable many thousands more people to study and graduate each year. To become a world leader in skills, as Lord Leitch recommended, we must aim for at least 40 per cent of adults to have higher level qualifications by 2020.’

Little wonder that as the cuts bite, the solely economic justification for higher education has taken on a meaner hue. Hence, at the end of last year, we had then business secretary Lord Mandelson calling for cheaper, fast-track, two-year degrees instead of the conventional three. And earlier this month, current business secretary Vince Cable gave a speech arguing that only ‘commercially useful’ science degrees should be government-funded.

There is of course a big, gaping education-shaped hole at the heart of this debate, over which critics and supporters alike build ever-more torturous funding structures. That is, what is higher education for? If the only answer to that question is economic, then the current debate takes on a purely technical aspect: where to cut and upon whom to place the funding burden.

But there is an alternate, humanistic view of higher education that stretches from the recently beatified John Henry Newman, via Matthew Arnold, right up to the 1963 government-backed Robbins Report on giving more social classes the opportunity to study.

And it’s a view that conceives of education, of subject-centred learning and research, as a good in itself. As the Robbins committee wrote: ‘[The] search for truth is an essential function of the institutions of higher education, and the process of education is itself most vital when it partakes in the nature of discovery.’ Such arguments for higher education conceive its value in non-monetary terms. Its ends were not seen as extrinsic to education; they were intrinsic.

Of course one cannot simply resuscitate such ideals. The historical conditions – a sense of Britain as a world power, with a world mission – that enabled Matthew Arnold, for instance, to talk confidently of the universal importance of ‘the best which has been thought and said in the world’ are long gone. But right now, with the supporters of higher education parroting the same vacuous, bean-counting nonsense as its critics, there needs to at least be an attempt to address the purpose of education in terms other than those of the dismal science.


Scandal of Tony Blair's £31m flagship school: A leaking roof, broken designer toilets and a useless computer system

"Innovative" should always ring alarm bells

Funded by a Labour donor, opened by Tony Blair, built by modernist Norman Foster, ­Bexley Business Academy was one of the most high-profile symbols of New Labour’s education policy. And how they were happy to boast about it.

At the opening ceremony in 2003, Blair spoke of Bexley as ‘the future’ of state ­education, and Norman Foster’s website extolled a ­‘visionary, light-filled school that would be ­democratic and flexible’.

Seven years on, the reality could not be more different. Bexley has been a vastly expensive nightmare as a building project, and as a school with a sprawling roster of 1,500 pupils has spent most of its short life in the academic ­emergency ward.

The litany of vastly costly problems is extensive: the roof leaks, the wireless IT systems didn’t work, the electric gates got stuck, the changing rooms were far too small, the designer toilets broke time and again, as did the heating system.

To cap it all, there is a nagging smell of sewage pervading the school, though that might just as easily be the stench of New Labour’s hubris given the way it trumpeted this project.

The school cost an astonishing £31 million to build — far more than any normal school of a similar size — as part of the £55 billion Building Schools for the Future programme that Michael Gove, the new Tory schools secretary, has closed down.

So money that could have been spent on a decent education for its pupils was wasted on a vanity building project, but even worse, a combination of what appear to be design defects and building failures have created a maintenance disaster zone that continue to drain away the school’s funds.

When it was designed, Foster boasted that the building had been carefully planned to keep heating costs low, and a self-congratulatory ‘assessment’ from the government’s architectural adviser concluded that ‘maintenance of the building’s different materials has been carefully ­considered in the design, and as such is mainly low level’.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. ‘It’s a hugely expensive building and costs us an absolute fortune,’ says Sam Elms, the school’s chief executive. ‘It’s a nightmare to run. If we could move to another building, we would.’

The finance director, meanwhile, has said: ‘We spend 9 per cent of our annual Government grant on premises. Given that our average spend on staff costs is more than 80 per cent, this clearly represents a high proportion of the remaining grant income and leaves little for other equally vital expenditure.’

In fact, as of last year, the academy employs a total of 234 staff, including 105 teachers, 74 classroom assistants and 36 management and administrative staff.

Leaked internal documents predict that the school faces a deficit of £859,000 by next year unless drastic cost-cutting takes place. So far, with seven people on its payroll earning more than £60,000 a year, this doesn’t seem to have taken place.

On the contrary, in addition to ­having a chief executive — paid more than £120,000 a year — it also has a so-called ‘executive principal’, ­Christina Moon. Mrs Moon’s main home is in ­Bristol, so in addition to her £120,000-a-year pay, she has also had a £20,000-a-year flat rented for her in Greenwich by the school. That’s on top of yet more ‘principals’, ‘vice-principals’ and ‘assistant principals’.

No wonder an education consultancy report, seen by the Times Education Supplement, said that the school suffered from ‘a lack of clarity about decision-making’, as well as ‘duplication and inefficiencies’.

So the building was an expensive disaster, and despite the high-profile involvement of Labour donor Sir David Garrard, in the end his charitable trust contributed less than 8 per cent of the cost of the school. The rest was met by the taxpayer.

And Sir David’s name proved to be a mixed blessing when he became involved in the Cash for Honours affair, with his peerage blocked after it emerged that he had lent several million pounds to the Labour Party in a way that allowed his name to be concealed.

Nor has (Lord) Norman Foster’s involvement done Bexley much good either. Despite being ennobled by Labour and appointed to the even more prestigious Order of Merit, Foster has quit his post in the House of Lords to maintain his non-domicile status as a resident of ­Switzerland.

It seems that while he may be prepared to spend other people’s money on so-called democratic schools, but he’d rather not contribute his own money towards funding them.

In Switzerland, Lord Foster lives with his third wife, Elena Ochoa, now Lady Foster of Thames Bank. In her native Spain, Lady Foster was best known as the presenter of Hablemos de Sexo — Let’s Talk About Sex — in which the doctora del sexo enlightened her compatriots on behaviour in the bedroom.

The academic results at Bexley, the school Lord Foster designed, have been mixed. Last year, only 40 per cent of the pupils passed five or more GCSEs of grade C or above (including Maths and English), which was ­better than the dismal 19 per cent two years ago, but still a poor performance for a so-called ­flagship academy.

Norman Foster and Tony Blair appear to have believed that smart school buildings would translate into good exam results. But in fact, as Professor Dylan Wiliam, former deputy director of the Institute of Education, says: ‘I know of no studies that show changing the environment has a direct impact on student achievement.’

In fact, an Ofsted inspection in 2005 found the Academy to be ‘inadequate’, and it was issued with a Notice to Improve, essentially a final demand from the Government that a school must get better quickly, or face being taken over by the Department of Education.

Since then, academic matters have improved, but not by much. The most recent Ofsted report, published this year, found that ‘the Academy is emerging from troubled times. ‘Since the last inspection, two principals have resigned from their post and the academy has had a period where there was no substantive head teacher of the primary phase’.

The current staff are clearly trying hard, but the shortcomings of the building they’ve been left with are obviously making life difficult for them.

Not much of a monument then, to a former prime minister who promised to make Education, Education, Education his top three priorities.

If you want to understand how it was possible for New Labour to double the schools budget in real terms without achieving an improvement in standards, look no further than Bexley.

It’s a monument to vanity policy making, and those councils currently wasting council taxpayers’ money suing Michael Gove for refusing to allow them to build their own educational white elephants should study Bexley — and think again.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

U.S. School system to get Muslim holiday

Cambridge to start observance in 2011-12

As a Muslim and a high school senior at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, 17-year-old Dunia Kassay faces a tough choice every year on Islamic holy days: go to school or stay home to be with family and friends.

If she stays home, Kassay says, she will be forced to play catch-up and make up her school assignments. But if she goes to school, she will be neglecting what she feels is her religious obligation on holidays such as Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting.

“It’s really conflicting,’’ Kassay said. “Instead of fasting for a month and enjoying this really big day, eating and going to family’s houses, it’s kind of like, ‘Oh, hey, guys, I’ve got to go do my homework.’ ’’

But beginning next year, Cambridge public schools will attempt to make it easier for Muslim students to honor their highest holy days. In a move that school officials believe is the first of its kind in the state, Cambridge will close schools for one Muslim holiday each year beginning in the 2011-2012 school year.

The school will either close for Eid al-Fitr or Eid al-Adha, also known as the Festival of Sacrifice, depending on which holiday falls within the school year. If both fall within the school calendar, the district will close for only one of the days.

The school district’s decision, announced last month, was made as the national discussion about Islam continues, fueled by a Mosque proposal two blocks from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Florida preacher Terry Jones’s threat to burn a Koran. The discussion has also touched local schools, as Wellesley school officials drew criticism recently for a video that showed sixth-grade students kneeling during a prayer service at a Boston mosque during a field trip in May.

But Cambridge School Committee member Marc McGovern, who pushed for the Muslim holiday in city schools, said he thinks people need to take a step back from what he called hysteria and the stereotypes of all Muslims as terrorists.

“At a time when I think the Muslim population is being characterized with a broad brush in a negative way, I think it’s important for us to say we’re not going to do that here,’’ McGovern said.

Cambridge schools already close for some Christian and Jewish holidays, and McGovern said he believes Muslims should be treated equally. “The issue that sort of came up was should we celebrate any religious holidays, but there was not the will to take away Good Friday or one of the Jewish holidays,’’ he said. “So I said, if that is the case, I think we have an obligation to celebrate one of the Muslim holidays, as well.’’

State and federal laws require schools to make reasonable accommodation of the religious needs of students and in observance of holy days, but the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education leaves the decision about how to do that up to individual school districts because they “know best about the needs and unique demographic makeup of their student population and community,’’ said JC Considine, a spokesman for the department.

If a school district has a large number of students who observe Good Friday and would not attend school that day, Considine said the districts are allowed to close because of the expected low attendance. But the state does require districts to schedule at least 180 days of school.

Cambridge School Superintendent Jeffrey Young said the district does not collect information about the religion of its students. But Young said that there is a significant Muslim population in the city, and that, at least anecdotally, the Muslim population in the schools appears to be growing.

A large Muslim population is one of the reasons why the school district in Dearborn, Mich., began closing schools for high Islamic holy days 10 years ago, said David Mustonen, communications coordinator for the school system.

Mustonen said that at first there were some people in the community who didn’t like the schools being closed on Eid holidays. “However, I don’t think this is the case anymore as people have come to realize that it is no different then taking time off at Christmas or Easter,’’ Mustonen said in an e-mail.

In September, public schools in Burlington, Vt., also closed on Eid al-Fitr for the first time, said Dan Balon, director of the school district’s diversity and equity office.

Balon said there is an increasing Muslim population in the schools, and the district decided to close on the holiday rather than risk low attendance rates and force students to decide between school and staying home to celebrate the holiday.

Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, said that to his knowledge Cambridge would be the first school district in Massachusetts to close schools for a Muslim holiday. “Somebody has to be first,’’ said Koocher. “I suspect there may be heightened interest in this. We’ll see how this plays out.’’

Marla Erlien, chairwoman of the Cambridge Human Rights Commission, said the discussion about closing Cambridge schools for an Islamic holiday began several years ago when the commission conducted a survey at Rindge and Latin asking students about discrimination, and at a follow-up forum students raised concerns about how Muslims were a “discarded group’’ whose holidays weren’t recognized in the schools.

From there, several students, including Kassay and Humbi Song, a 2009 graduate of the high school, began working to raise understanding of Arab and Muslim culture at the high school and then advocating for a day off from school on a Muslim holiday.

Song, who is not Muslim, said she tried to promote awareness about Islam at the high school in part because she had Muslim friends who had been made fun of for their religious clothing and headwear. She said she thinks some students were uneducated about Muslim culture.

Erlien said she thinks closing schools on the holiday will help build connections with Muslims in Cambridge. “As their kids come home and say, ‘Oh, look, we now have a holiday,’ the parents might begin to feel safer here,’’ Erlien said.

But McGovern said he’s sure there will be some people who think closing school for a Muslim holiday is a terrible idea. “Can’t please everybody,’’ he said. “You have to do what you think is right.’’


Students win payout after schools spy on them with laptops

A school authority has agreed to pay out $610,000 after admitting it spied on pupils in their homes through the cameras on their laptop computers. About 56,000 pictures of more than 40 pupils were taken by a remote tracking system controlled by officials from the Lower Merion School District in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The pictures, which included at least one of a pupil as he slept, were taken in an attempt to locate missing school-issued Apple laptops. The tracking system, which allowed officials to look out from the laptops' webcams, was sometimes left on for months after the computers were located, an official inquiry found.

Blake Robbins, a pupil of Harriton High School who was then 15, was awarded $175,000, which is to be placed in a trust. Blake discovered through evidence unearthed when he sued the school authority in February that he was photographed 400 times over two weeks.

He was alerted to the practice when the vice principal of his school told him he had been seen engaging in "improper behaviour". Blake said this meant that sweets he was eating were mistaken for drugs.

School officials claimed that Blake had damaged or destroyed two other school laptops, and had not paid the required $55 insurance fee to be allowed to take his latest computer home.

His mother, Holly, said: "I'm pleased with the outcome. And I'm pleased that we were able to solve the problem and turn the cameras off, and that they put new policies into place."

Jalil Hassan, a second pupil who filed a lawsuit against the school authority, was awarded $10,000. He has since graduated from Lower Merion High School.

The FBI and regional prosecutors chose not to bring criminal charges against the school authority.

Explaining why it settled the case, the authority's president, David Ebby, said a lengthy trial " would have been an unfair distraction for our students and staff and it would have cost taxpayers additional dollars that are better devoted to education."

The remaining $425,000 of the settlement will be paid to the boys' lawyer, Mark Haltzman, for his work on the case.


British government may cap tuition fees at £7,000, says Vince Cable

Business secretary scraps Lib Dem policy of opposition to fees and accepts thrust of Lord Browne's report into university funding

The government may cap tuition fees at £7,000 a year, Vince Cable said today, as he told MPs he accepted the thrust of Lord Browne's report proposing a radical overhaul of higher education funding.

In statement to MPs, the Liberal Democrat business secretary scrapped his party's policy of opposing tuition fees – but he may still face rebellion from his backbenchers. Before the election all Lib Dem MPs, including Cable and Nick Clegg, signed a pledge opposing tuition fees.

Cable told MPs this afternoon: "We are considering a level of £7,000. Many universities and colleges may well decide to charge less than that, since there is clearly scope for greater efficiency and innovation in the way universities operate. Two-year ordinary degrees are one approach.

"Exceptionally, Lord Browne suggests there should be circumstances under which universities can price their courses above this point. But, he suggests, this would be conditional on demonstrating that funds would be invested in securing a good social mix with fair access for students with less privileged backgrounds, and in raising the quality of teaching and learning. We will consider this carefully."

The business secretary said the government endorsed "the main thrust" of Browne's report. "But we are open to suggestions from inside and outside the house over the next few weeks before making specific recommendations to parliament, with a view to implementing the changes for students entering higher education in autumn 2012.

"More detail will be contained in next week's spending review on the funding implications. But as a strategic direction the government believes the report is on the right lines."

He said one of the government's proposals might be "exempting the poorest students from graduate contributions for some or all of their studies".

Directly addressing the issue of the breaking of the Lib Dem pledge, Cable said that he was the first member of his family to go to university, something he did not have to pay for. He would like others to have that opportunity, he said, but in the current circumstances that was not possible.

"I signed that pledge with my colleagues," he said. "[But] in the current financial situation ... which we inherited, all pledges, all commitments, will have to be reexamined from first principles."

John Denham, the shadow business secretary, reminded Cable that Clegg had said before the election that increasing tuition fees would be "a disaster". "Promises were made by the business secretary and the deputy prime minister at the last election that should not be lightly thrown away," Denham said.

Cable plans an early repayment penalty for tuition fees to prevent rich graduates paying less for their university education than those on middle incomes by avoiding cumulative interest payments, the Guardian has learned. He outlined the proposal to Lib Dem MPs last night. It is not clear how exactly he would organise the penalty, but it suggests he recognises there is a flaw in the scheme being proposed by Browne that makes the scheme less progressive than it might be. It is also not clear whether the early repayment penalty has the support of the Conservatives.

Browne proposed the cap on tuition fees – currently £3,290 a year – should be entirely lifted, with graduates starting to repay the cost of their degrees when they start earning £21,000 a year, up from £15,000 under the current system. Institutions charging more than £6,000 would have to pay a rising percentage of each additional £1,000 as a levy to government.

The interest rate at which graduates pay back their loans would be at the government's cost of borrowing – inflation plus 2.2%. However, those students earning below £21,000 would pay no real interest rate under the Browne plans. Their loan balance would increase in line with inflation.

But the business secretary is battling to prevent a full-scale rebellion taking hold of his party over Browne's proposals.

Greg Mulholland, the Liberal Democrat MP for Leeds North West, emerged as the ringleader of the rebellion, warning: "Without Lib Dem support and with Lib Dem ministers abstaining, it will be very difficult to get this through.

"It is certainly my belief that this is not a done deal and the strength of feeling among Lib Dem MPs could derail any attempts to see fees rising substantially and I will certainly be doing everything I can to make that happen."

Mulholland insisted that his rebellion did not a represent a threat to the future of the coalition arrangement.

He added: "I do not think this is a threat at all because it [the agreement] clearly states that Lib Dems will be allowed to abstain."

Many Liberal Democrat MPs know their credibility and chances of retaining their seats rest on showing they are fighting the rise in tuition fees.

Simon Hughes, the Lib Dem deputy leader, called for all Lib Dems to "consider fully" both Browne's proposals and the government's response. He said his fellow MPs were "very conscious of the positions we have taken on higher education and the policies we campaigned for at the last election".

"Parliament should only support a progressive system which takes into account future earnings and makes sure that those who benefit most financially from a university education contribute the most," Hughes – who functions as a lightning rod for Lib Dem discontent – added.

Tim Farron, the Lib Dem MP who is standing for the post of party president, wrote on the Twitter website that he would vote against an increase in tuition fees. "Unhappy with Browne report & would vote against fee rise," Farron posted.

John Leech, the Lib Dem MP for Manchester Withington, said: "I signed the NUS pledge and supported our manifesto, which promised to vote against any rise in tuition fees. I am going to keep that promise. This is a political red line for me."

His fellow MP Stephen Williams told Radio 5 Live he was unhappy about tuition fees going up and said he would "certainly" vote against the government if the Browne report was just about increasing tuition fees. But he hinted that, if Cable were to produce a more progressive scheme, he could support it. "Effectively at the moment you've got a flat-rate poll tax on all new graduates and if Vince is able to come up with a progressive system with different thresholds, perhaps different rates of repayment – you wouldn't call it a graduate tax, but it will have elements of graduation within it – that will be a much more progressive system for repayment than we have at the moment."

Gordon Birtwistle, the Liberal Democrat MP for Burnley, who is a parliamentary private secretary in the Treasury, said: "At the moment, the Browne report as it is, is unpalatable, and we need to see what changes we can make. I was against an increase in tuition fees, but the financial situation makes it inevitable that it will happen. The country is basically bankrupt."

Asked how he would vote, Birtwistle said: "I am keeping my powder dry."

John Hemming, the Lib Dem MP for Birmingham Yardley, also gave a measured response, saying: "If you have a progressive scheme in which people on high incomes pay more than those on low incomes then it is moving towards a graduate tax. I will be getting out my calculator and studying the proposals in detail. One question is whether it is the fees system or a progressive graduate contribution."

Clegg knows that many of his minsters will be free to abstain, and many are likely to do so, but he cannot yet know if public opinion will see that as sufficient form of resistance.

Linda Jack, a member of the Lib Dems' federal policy committee, told the BBC's World at One she thought around 30 Lib Dem MPs could rebel over tuition fees. "I expect them to vote against because, frankly, if they abstain they are effectively voting for, because they know that if they abstain it will go through. The integrity of the party is at stake here. Everybody signed that pledge that they would vote against an increase in tuition fees so they have really got to stick to their guns on this."

Liberal Youth, the youth and student wing of the Liberal Democrats, warned that removing the cap on tuition fees would lead to unrestricted costs and a market in higher education.

Martin Shapland, the group's chairman, said: "You simply cannot build our future on debt. This move has the potential to cripple students with unprecedented levels of debt which will act as a real deterrent to those from poorer backgrounds seeking a better life through the education system.

"Higher fees will not be acceptable to grassroots Lib Dems and, I imagine, most of the parliamentary party."


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bill Gates and education: "Innovation is your only hope"

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced Monday that it would be funding a $20 million, multi-year grant program to foster innovation in online instructional tools with a particular focus on community colleges. According to the New York Times, the Foundation will be joined by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and four nonprofit education organizations in using technology to ultimately prepare more students for the high-skill job market. As Bill Gates described it in a CNET interview,
The people who are going to apply for these grants, they have all been doing interesting stuff. The grant will let them do a little bit more and it will encourage them to come together as a group. The money will help them do more measurement. We think the timing on this is really great and this will be very catalytic.

The first round of RFPs will be focused on “postsecondary online courses, particularly ones tailored for community colleges and low-income young people,” according to the Times report.
Another round of RFPs next year will include K-12 schools. Bill Gates, not surprisingly, seems to have the right idea on this (the added emphasis is my own):
There are some great laptop schools where things have gone well, and as laptop costs come down, you’ll be hearing more about tablet-type devices, Netbooks, iPads in the classroom.

But it’s the material that shows up on those devices that really counts. That’s where the foundation is focused. We’ll have another RFP early next year that is more focused on K-12 online material.

The community college programs are expected to supplement and differentiate in-class instruction and ensure that more students are motivated to pursue post-secondary education by focusing their efforts on classes that meet their technical and professional needs. As many other countries in the world have realized, not everyone needs to go to a four-year college or earn advanced degrees. However, virtually everyone needs to pursue post-secondary education to be competitive in the job market and increase the nation’s competitiveness overall. With more than half of our young workforce lacking post-secondary training, it’s clear that something needs to give and, as Barack Obama has pointed out, the community colleges are an untapped resource for making this happen.

The so-called Next Generation Learning Challenges will not only fund new approaches, but allow existing successful programs to scale and affect much larger groups of students. For example, Carnegie Mellon found that it could improve recall and performance while reducing necessary time in class and class duration by taking a hybrid approach with both direct instruction and online components. This same approach is now rolling out to community colleges to allow students to complete degrees and training more quickly (and therefore, more cheaply).

Gates also addressed the ability to measure the success of the programs his foundation is funding. Calling again for a common core curriculum, he noted that we would be far better able to determine how well technological interventions worked if all students could be measured against the same standards.


TX: Education candidates grilled about sex, religion and politics

Candidates for key State Board of Education races took a quiz Monday: Did they believe dinosaurs roamed the Earth alongside humans? Did they believe in giving Texas children age-appropriate lessons about sex?

The Texas Business and Education Coalition sponsored the first and, perhaps, only debate for candidates in the contested races in District 5 (San Antonio to Austin) and District 10 (Houston area to Austin) for seats on the SBOE, whose recent curriculum-setting votes on science and social studies garnered negative national attention.

In District 5, Republican incumbent Ken Mercer of San Antonio faces Texas State University English Professor Rebecca Bell-Metereau, a Texas State University English professor. Mercer is one of the 15-member board's seven social conservative members, who favor a back-to-basics approach. Critics complain that their conservative politics and religious leanings seep into education policy.

Republican Marsha Farney of Georgetown and Democrat Judy Jennings of Austin, both of whom have doctoral degrees in education, meet in the Nov. 2 election to replace the retiring Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, in District 10.

The board's handling of science and history curriculum standards attracted national attention, with CNN, Fox News and the New York Times covering the board's political posturing and fight over what students should learn about science and history.

Mercer and Bell-Metereau disagreed over the curriculum approach taken in recent years by the board, which has made scores of changes to what experts had recommended for the science, social studies and English language arts standards for 4.8 million Texas public school children.

Mercer is a strong advocate of back-to-basics math, including the memorization of multiplication tables, and a phonetics approach to reading.

“Some folks call this drill and kill. I don't. I call it drill to develop confidences and skills,” Mercer said.

Mercer said parents in his district, which runs across 12 counties, have demanded a new emphasis of phonics.

“For some parents, they are remembering their past,” Bell-Metereau said of the 50-year-old approach. “That's how they learned to read. The studies have shown there are other, more effective ways of teaching how to read.”

She believes public schools should provide comprehensive sex education at age-appropriate levels, especially since Texas has the second highest rate of teen births in the country.

“We are teaching you everything except how to prevent pregnancies and how to prevent sexually transmitted disease. That's not really teaching students very much,” Bell-Metereau said.

Texas is currently “an abstinence-emphasis state,” she said, adding, “Abstinence is the best answer but we also have to prepare all those students who don't make that life choice.”

Pressed for a yes or no answer on whether he supports comprehensive sex education, Mercer gave a nuanced answer: “We want kids to be aware of what's out there, but we do not want a ‘how to' manual.”

Bell-Metereau emphasized a need to remove politics from the board and to rely more on teachers and subject experts to develop curriculum standards.

But Mercer noted that he ran for the board four years ago because parents wanted a more balanced approach. They wanted a “true and accurate” portrayal of American history with greater emphasis on the free-enterprise system, he said.

The social conservatives already lost one of their leaders — Don McLeroy, R-Bryan — in a GOP primary election earlier this year. McLeroy calls himself a “young Earth creationist,” who believes dinosaurs co-existed with humans.

“No, I don't believe that dinosaurs and humans walked the earth at the same time. That's outrageous,” Jennings said during the debate. Farney, also rejecting any possibility of dinosaurs and humans simultaneously sharing the planet, said parents should be responsible for teaching faith and values.

Mercer and Bell-Metereau didn't get the dinosaur-human question.


British report unveils radical university reform

A plan for higher university fees, fewer subsidies, more markets and less government has been unveiled by an independent review into the future of the English higher education system.

The radical blueprint, revealed on Tuesday by a panel chaired by Lord Browne, the former chief executive of BP, will cause tremors in the coalition government and problems for Labour.

The review proposes removing the current cap on annual fees of £3,290. If institutions want to charge more than £6,000, however, they will be obliged to pay a levy to recompense the government for the cost of higher student loans.

This levy, it is hoped, will keep fees in check, by increasing rapidly with tuition charges. An academic body raising its annual fees from £6,000 to £7,000 would keep £600 of the uplift in charges. By contrast, a university moving from £11,000 to £12,000 would keep only £250 of the extra income.

In a scenario mapped out in the report, the government could save £2.8bn by concentrating the teaching subsidies paid to universities on courses that are expensive or strategically important and cutting them for other, cheaper subjects. In this situation, average fees would rise to above £7,000.

The report will test the Liberal Democrats, who fought the election promising to abolish fees. But Lord Browne’s recommendations will also cause problems for Labour, which has come out in favour of a graduate tax, an idea that the report dismisses.

Making students pay a greater share of the cost of their degrees would increase the market pressures on English universities. But this is only one pro-market part of the package.

Lord Browne also proposes allowing any student who meets basic attainment criteria to buy education from any provider accredited by a powerful new watchdog, the Higher Education Council. This new super-regulator’s remit would include:

* Making sure that students have the benefit of more information about the courses on offer to them;

* Distributing subsidies on teaching for expensive, strategically important and vulnerable subjects;

* Enforcing teaching quality standards;;

* Making sure new entrants can enter the sector:

* Dealing with financial failure in universities;

* Adjudicting disputes between students and their universities; and

* Enforcement of new access rules.

Institutions charging more than £7,000 would be required to submit to more vigorous scrutiny to make sure that students from poor backgrounds are not being discouraged from applying to them.

The Browne report also proposes a simplification of the current byzantine system of bursaries for poor students. All students would be eligible for a loan to cover living costs and a more generous means-tested grant.

The report also recommends cutting the cost of the heavily-subsidised student loan system, but attempts to do so in a way that does not penalise graduates who go on to earn little money.

As at the moment, all fees would be covered by student loans. Currently, these loans are repaid by graduates, with 9 per cent of income above £15,000 clipped from their pay packets. A zero per cent real interest rate is charged against the balance and outstanding debts are forgiven after 25 years.

Under the new scheme, graduates will pay back 9 per cent of their income above £21,000 and that threshold will rise with earnings. But the interest rate for those who earning more than that level will also be linked to the government’s cost of borrowing and loans would not be forgiven for 30 years.

Any student who earns more than the threshold, but not enough to cover the cost of the higher rate of interest – 2.2 per cent above inflation – would have the rest of interest rebated to them. No student should therefore face a rising real debt burden because of interest accrual.

Part-time students will be given access to this loan system, so long as they study more than one third as intensively as a full-time student.

Vince Cable, the Lib Dem business secretary, asked Lord Browne in July to consider a graduate tax, a special income tax levied on former students that could be used to pay for the university system. Mr Cable has subsequently disavowed interest in the policy. But Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, has meanwhile committed his party to the policy.

Responding to Mr Cable’s request to consider the proposal, the report contains an annex which explains that the graduate tax would need to be set at 3 per cent of lifetime income to pay for the sector and would not raise enough to pay for the whole system until 2041-42. The plan would also increase the deficit by £3bn a year in the short term.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Only Moronic “Parents” Are “Waiting for Superman”

By Debbie Schlussel

At the end of “Waiting for Superman,” we watch several inner city families (and one suburban one) attending lotteries held to determine whether or not their kids will get to go to a few successful charter schools, where education is leaps and bounds above that of public schools and most kids attend and graduate from college. The odds are slim because many kids have applied for only a very few slots. Parents are crying and destroyed because their kids mostly didn’t win the coveted slots, and now, their kids’ futures are over (in their minds).

Here’s a tip: if your kid’s whole future depends on winning the lottery, you’re incompetent–a bad parent and you made the wrong choices that got you to this point. You brought your kid to this brink, NOT the public schools. You didn’t teach them at home and you made the wrong choices even before that. Sadly, that’s not the point of “Waiting” at all, but it should have been. Nope, the point is that it’s our fault. It’s everyone’s fault but the parents. And that’s absurd. But it’s chic to do that in our take-no-personal-responsibility culture.

You may have been subject to some of the excessive hype about this “documentary” gushed over by ignorant liberals (including Oprah) and directed by Davis Guggenheim (a/k/a Mr. Elisabeth Shue), the man who made another fake documentary, Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and the Barack Obama film Democrats saw at their national nominating convention in 2008.

Don’t believe the hype. This movie contained no new information–not to me, not to you. And that’s why I had to laugh at a Detroit screening, this week, of “Waiting for Superman.” The gasping, shocked–shocked!–liberals couldn’t believe how bad America’s public schools are. That’s news? That some–yes, only some–charter schools are better, isn’t news either. It’s like people who see this movie are just discovering America . . . and ‘lectricity and sliced bread.

And, yes, what also isn’t news–and was completely omitted from the entire movie is that a big part of the problem with public schools in urban settings is single mother households, kids with no dads, and horrible parents often even when there is a dad. All of these things breed problem students with lackluster intelligence, coping skills, behavior, discipline, and other basic requirements of human behavior conducive to learning. I guess that was “An Inconvenient Truth” for Guggenheim.

Sorry, but many kids in the inner city aren’t learning because their parents don’t encourage them to. Their “parents” may not even be in their lives, or they may be there but on welfare or doing drugs or engaged in crime. But that’s not the well-massaged, pretty picture Guggenheim showed us. Almost every kid in this movie had a mom and a dad, and they were all great kids who were absolute geniuses and not at all behavioral problems. Do you really believe this is exemplary of most kids in the inner city, where it’s not just the schools that are failing the kids, but the kids and their parents who are failing the schools? Only if you are a moron. And that’s how I’d describe anyone who buys into this movie.

The movie points out that, in the early 1970s, American kids began falling behind kids from other countries in reading and math. Hey, guess what happened just before that, which the movie never mentions? The sexual revolution, where women slept around and no longer required any commitment from men before sex. (It also included an increase in the use of illegal drugs.) That brought us to the ’70s in which divorces skyrocketed and the trend of kids being born out of wedlock also began to trend up. Hmmm . . . why isn’t any of this mentioned? Sorry, but we know this has a lot to do with kids not achieving academically. Study after study shows that kids don’t do as well in school and are more likely to be troublemakers and/or drop out without a dad in their lives. That’s in addition to the fact that kids without a dad are more likely to have sex and kids at an early age, use drugs, and commit crimes. All of these things contribute to disruptions, disciplinary problems, and failure by kids in an academic setting.

None of this is mentioned in the movie, though. Because liberals don’t want to make a negative pronouncement on the awful lifestyle they brought upon America. They don’t want to take the blame for the consequences they–in no small part–caused.

The movie goes out of its way to avoid putting any responsibility on urban “families” and their deviant lifestyles–which are now the norm, since deviance has been defined down–for the sad state of American kids’ intellectual capabilities and knowledge of their kids. That would be “racism,” and we can’t dare call out Black America (and, now, a significant portion of White America, including Bristol Palin) for sleeping around, fathering and giving birth to kids, and putting them in this environment. But that’s a huge part of the problem. Many of these kids will never have the IQ required to become doctors and scientists and engineers, whether it’s because their parents did drugs and/or didn’t get proper neo-natal care and vitamins when they were conceived and/or in the womb, or because they just don’t have it. And, adding to that, many of these kids have parents–and a hip-hop culture–which encourage them to disrespect authority, including teachers and have zero appreciation for basic math and reading skills. That’s not the fault of public schools or teachers. But it’s the problem with which they are faced.

The movie focused on only one kid with a single mother, and only one kid raised by his grandmother. The rest of the children featured had two parents at home in their lives. That’s just not how it is in our public schools, especially in urban settings where the biggest failures in the public school system reign supreme. Not even close. And that makes the movie entirely inaccurate.

The one grandmother who was raising a boy in Washington, DC, spoke of her son (the boy’s father) who died after a life as a drug addict. She says that he dropped out of school at 12, and “just did his thing.” Um, where the heck was she, when the father of this boy dropped out at 12 and “just did his thing.” Is that America’s fault? Or her fault? With no dad in his life and knowing his dad didn’t care and died young as a drug addict, the kid is less likely to do well academically. And no teacher or public school is responsible for that, nor can they easily overcome these factors.

Sorry, but the grandmother is responsible for this situation. She says she doesn’t know where the boy’s mother is and that the mother has had other kids with different men. Hmmm . . . doesn’t that absentee womb donor bear any responsibility here? With circumstances like this, can we really blame schools for the academic underachievement of kids from broken homes? While this kid is shown to be a good kid and interested in learning, most kids from that type of background exhibit behavioral problems extraordinaire.

The one single mother in the movie is shown to be extremely concerned about her child’s education, working hard to pay for her to go to Catholic school, and insisting that she will go to college, no matter what. Let’s be honest. Is this really what the average Black single mother in urban America is like? Absolutely not. If it were, things would be much different. And if this single mother had made better choices (like not having sex and having a kid out of wedlock), she wouldn’t be in this position, or maybe she’d have a husband who could help pay to keep her daughter in private school.

Yes, intractable teachers’ unions standing firm on tenure and the inability to fire bad teachers is a big problem–and if you watch this movie, that’s the ONLY problem. But there are plenty of good teachers who just cannot teach these incompetent kids with even more incompetent “parents,” who are nothing more than baby producing womb and sperm donors, who’ve helped significantly in fostering the awful environment in which the public schools find themselves. A Black Detroit public school teacher I know is an excellent teacher, but his rhetorical question is, “How can I teach kids whose fathers–if they exist–won’t come to conferences and who have tattoos saying, ‘F-CK YOU,’ in big letters on their necks? These kids don’t want to learn because their parents don’t care or worse.”

Writing about (and predictably drooling over) the movie, today, is an extremely liberal columnist for a major Detroit newspaper (whose name won’t be mentioned here, lest I elevate this irrelevant ignoramus). If you’ve ever struggled to read her inane, racist, stupid, anti-Israel columns, you know she got her job through affirmative action. And, hey, she’s one of these single mothers I’m talking about who are part of the problem. She’s not a smart woman to begin with, so her kid–likely inheriting her “intellect”–won’t be much more so. But then she compounded it by having a kid with no man in her life. Are teachers responsible for that? No, but that’s probably why she loves this fraudulent “documentary.” It lets people like her shirk their responsibility and put the whole blame on teachers’ unions and bad teachers, even though people like her are the liberals who enabled the liberal teachers’ unions and they come together on most politics. Hey, let’s blame all the public school problems on the Jewish white chick who heads the American Federation of Teachers. Easy bete noir.

And then there are some other falsities and convenient half truths in the movie. The movie makes it seem as if charter schools are the answer. In fact, many charters schools are failures. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t really like public school money from tax coffers funding Islamic charter schools parading as “Arabic” ones or Afro-centric charter schools run by the Nation of Islam in Detroit and Milwaukee. Do you? Think their test scores and college acceptance rates are as high as Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Success Academy or the KIPP Academies, featured in the movie? Think again.

The KIPP Academies–a chain of charter schools which are all over the country–teach kids facts and information through rap songs. Is that really the king of “learning” that lasts? Is rap music and the hip-hop lifestyle how you want American kids to be “educated”? Only if you have no problem with America’s further decline and dumbing down. And wasn’t that what these schools were supposed to be combating?

The movie says that kids in Finland do better than kids in America because they have a charter school-like setting. Well, while there’s a high rate of out-of-wedlock childbirth in Finland (as in many Scandinavian countries), how many of the cities in Finland have the problems and lack of parenting that urban American cities have? Only the ones with a growing population of Arab Muslim immigrants.

Geoffrey Canada (an audio separated-at-birth sound-alike to Denzel Washington) brags that his charter school, Harlem Success, has a nearly 100% college acceptance rate and almost as high a rate for those accepted to college graduating and getting jobs–higher, he and the movie’s narrator gloat, than the rates for White American students in the suburbs. But almost all of those kids are Black. While many are smart and no doubt achieved their place, there is still rampant affirmative action in America in admissions and even in special classes for minorities, as was the case when I was a student at the University of Michigan. If they ever get rid of affirmative action, then we’ll know if these kids really placed ahead, at the same rate, or, even, below.

Today, though, college is like high school used to be. It doesn’t mean anything, other than that you can have a good time going to frat parties and keggers and study courses like “The Life & Times of Madonna & Lourdes.” It doesn’t mean you’re smart or that you’ll be a success, contrary to the pronouncements in this movie. Just ask any of the many unemployed college grads living at home with their parents and struggling to find a job and pay back loans.

Not everyone is going to achieve at the same academic level, nor should they. Some people have a top-notch intellect, others have very studious and persistent hard work habits in school. Others have neither of these, and they won’t achieve. Not everyone can be at the top, or that would be just “average.” IQ is something inherent through birth and nurturing by parents and environment. It can’t be “taught.” You either have a high one or you don’t.

And not everyone in America can or should be doctors and lawyers. We have plenty. Some people need to be plumbers and cab drivers. Some need to be small business owners. One of America’s problems is that everyone wants to be the professionals, and now America doesn’t produce anything.

Another myth, furthered by Bill Gates’ appearance in the movie, is that American software companies, including Oracle (which was specifically cited), must import software developers and programmers because we don’t have enough educated and skilled Americans who can do the job. That’s the big business lobby excuse for importing cheaper labor from foreign countries. We have plenty of laid off programmers and developers who are collecting unemployment after they’ve been replaced by cheaper foreigners brought here or outsourcing to overseas labor. On this site, I’ve repeatedly detailed brazen law firms giving seminars to companies on how to do this, get around immigration and labor laws, and not get caught.

I found the long, drawn out scenes of the lotteries for the charter schools to be boring and unnecessary. Did I really need to see the whole lottery at each of 4-6 schools? As much as I needed to hear the sobbing of liberals in the audience crying when the kids didn’t get the slots and had to return to public school. And the much of the movie was just as repetitive . . . not to mention, preachy.

Posters for this movie say: "The fate of our country won’t be decided on a battlefield, it will be determined in a classroom".

Wrong. The fate of our country will be decided at home, beginning with whether to have sex, get pregnant, and have a kid out of wedlock. Then it goes on to whether the parents are together, married, sober, and clean. . . and what they teach their kids BEFORE those kids enter school. If the right things don’t happen there and then, it’s almost beyond reclamation.

Parents can teach their kids plenty–like how to behave, how to enjoy learning, and how to make the right decisions instead of making the wrong one and then depending on a bad-odds lottery. And parents can teach their kids, a process that should take place from birth and isn’t solely the job of parents and public schools.

Unfortunately, America isn’t told any of that in “Waiting for Superman.” Anyone “Waiting for Superman” to save their kids and not taking initiative his- or herself is incompetent and has no business raising kids.


British dinner lady in 'grooming for sex' row with education chiefs after giving pupil a BISCUIT

More bureaucratic evil

A dinner lady was warned she could be accused of 'grooming' a primary school pupil after she gave him a biscuit. Pat Lavery, a catering supervisor, handed the boy a biscuit after he asked for one. The child and the woman are related.

But the following day, she was warned that her action could be interpreted under child protection legislation as 'grooming' the child for sexual exploitation. She was so upset that she refused to return to work at St Mary’s Primary School in Co Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, until the row was sorted out. During this time, she was threatened with the sack and suffered a 'horrendous' two years of rumour and innuendo.

Yesterday her husband, Eoghan Lavery, said: 'It has been a horrendous two-plus years for my wife because there was a shadow hanging over her that she’d done something wrong.'

His wife was made to attend three meetings, firstly with the acting principal then two with the school principal to discuss the biscuit incident. One of the meetings lasted more than an hour and when she was requested to attend a fourth meeting, she left her job because she was so upset after being subjected to 'a grilling'.

The incident was reported to Northern Ireland Ombudsman Tom Frawley, who heard that during her absence the woman’s parish priest was told by the principal that she was absent from school due to a 'serious child protection issue'.

Mr Frawley said Mrs Lavery should receive an apology for her treatment. She will also receive compensation.

The dinner lady told the ombudsman that in May 2008 she was working in the school kitchen when a child raised his hand and asked for a biscuit. She brought this to the attention of the catering assistant who was serving biscuits and gave permission that the child could be given one.

She said that the next day, the Key Stage 1 manager, who was acting principal, came to the kitchen and told her that under the Child Protection Act she could be seen to be grooming a child. The child in question is a relative of Mrs Lavery.

Mrs Lavery then endured a meeting at which the matter was considered resolved. But when the permanent principal returned to work, she told of the potential child protection problems.

She told the ombudsman: 'I left the meeting very upset and confused... I felt that I had been subjected to a grilling and a "wrist-slapping exercise".' She also told the inquiry that she gave no preferential treatment and any child approaching the serving hatch would have been treated in the same manner.

A further 40-minute meeting took place and when the principal sought a further meeting with her she decided to leave her job. She was informed that if she did not return to St Mary’s by February this year she would lose her job.

She said she was 'aggrieved' that the principal told the parish priest she was absent from school due to a 'serious child protection issue'.

The ombudsman said the board did take the initiative to arrange temporary postings for Mrs Lavery in other schools while a resolution to her complaint was being sought. But he noted his 'concern' that Mrs Lavery was informed that if she did not return to St Mary’s by February 1 her employment would be terminated.

'It is my view that the abrupt manner in which the board informed her of that development was highly insensitive to her position... it made her feel very anxious about having to return to a working environment in which there was still a lack of policy or procedure for dealing with any future grievances she may have had about her non-board co-workers,' the ombudsman said. The threat to terminate her employment if she failed to return was 'entirely inappropriate'.

A deal was eventually reached between the school and Mrs Lavery and she returned to work.

In a statement, the school said: 'We understood that the issues were resolved to the satisfaction of the individuals involved using mediation through the Labour Relations Agency.'

Mervyn Storey, chairman of the Stormont Education Committee, said that while rules were there to protect children and staff, this was a case of 'political correctness gone too far'. 'I think it's a sad situation that schools are so boxed in because of legislation,' Mr Storey said.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Baccalaureate board probes Wikipedia plagiarism claim

The credibility of the International Baccalaureate (IB) has been questioned amid claims parts of its marking guides were plagiarised from Wikipedia.

The Times Educational Supplement (TES) reports that guides for three history papers are being investigated by the IB's managing board. The guides offer model essays and are used by examiners marking papers.

The A-level alternative is mainly taken in private schools, but ministers say other schools could offer it.

One IB examiner told the TES they were "shocked" to discover what was called "serious examples of academic dishonesty" in the guide for one of the papers. He claimed information from 14 of 24 questions contained sections copied from websites such as Wikipedia.

A teacher who runs training workshops for the IB warned the programme had been put at risk and told the TES they were "livid" and "stunned".

The IB diploma, taken by teenagers, is currently offered in more than 200 UK schools and is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to A-levels.

An IB spokesman told the TES: "The IB has always insisted on academic honesty throughout our examination system since the organisation was founded. "We have always taken immediate and appropriate action when we discover any violation. "The issue related to the history paper mark scheme is one of those cases, and our investigation of this matter is moving forward but has not yet been completed.

"As a general rule, for each exam session we investigate any and all allegations of malpractice. "This includes deploying technology to screen and scan scripts, and conducting unannounced inspections of schools' arrangements for the examinations to ensure compliance."


More revelations about Britain's insane State school system

Stabbings, threats, red-tape blunders and ‘gruesome’ pupils who terrify classmates. This is the bleak picture of secondary-school life revealed in an internet blog by Katharine ­Birbalsingh, the teacher who became a star of the Tory Party Conference with a speech about the chaos in the education system.

In the shocking account, Oxford-educated Miss Birbalsingh describes the ‘madness’ in her academy, comparing it to the notorious prison Alcatraz because ‘none of the kids choose to go there’.

She also refers to one of the pupils using the pseudonym Gangster.

The 37-year-old received a standing ovation from Tory delegates in Birmingham last week when she claimed she had abandoned her Marxist beliefs for Conservatism because of poor pupil behaviour.

Now details have emerged of the blog, published on the internet anonymously but for which Miss Birbalsingh has secured a deal with ­Penguin for a book, which comes out in March.

In it she describes life as a teacher in the state sector, including her current school, St Michael and All Angels Academy, in Camberwell, South London. She writes: ‘I watch Gangster, a year 11 pupil, go into the Head’s office with his mum for a meeting, because on the last day of school in July he stabbed another boy in the playground with a knife.

‘The madness does not stop there. In April three boys were “excluded” for stabbing a boy from another school. At the time, ­certain paperwork was not filled out. The consequence is that the ­powers-that-be can now force us to take these three criminals back. Three gruesome, terrifying, influential boys who terrorise everyone around them are coming back and there is nothing we can do.’

A source at the Diocese of Southwark, which has run the academy as a faith school since last year, said it was unaware of the blog, called To Miss With Love, until Friday evening.

The school would not comment on the alleged stabbing as it was said to have happened when the local ­education authority was still in charge. Scotland Yard was unable to find details of the April incident. But Miss Birbalsingh said she stood by the account although she admitted that she did not confirm the accuracy of incidents that took place before she arrived at the school.

Police figures show there were 21 criminal allegations at the school in the past academic year, including five of actual bodily harm and a rape.

Nevertheless Miss Birbalsingh’s comments have angered colleagues.

School governor Musa Olaiwon said: ‘I am astonished and I can only think that she has a hidden agenda. It’s not a violent school.’ Miss Birbalsingh added: ‘I have no regrets. Not the blog and not the speech. I am a whistleblower. I am passionate about teaching but there is something fundamentally wrong in our system.’


Leftist hypocrisy never stops

Atheist British Liberal Party leader considering sending his son to exclusive Catholic school -- because their nearby government school is crap -- only fit for "the masses"

Nick Clegg is considering sending his eldest son to one of Britain’s leading Catholic state schools – despite both his atheism and his party’s opposition to faith schools.

The Deputy Prime Minister faces accusations of ­hypocrisy after he and his Catholic wife Miriam were given a private tour of the London Oratory, where Tony Blair controversially sent his sons.

Headmaster David McFadden told The Mail on Sunday that he believed his school would be a ‘natural choice’ for the couple, who were ‘happy with what they saw’ ­during their tour last week.

The news that the Liberal Democrat leader is ‘very keen’ on the elite school for his nine-year-old son will dismay many within his party, which has repeatedly made clear its opposition to faith schools.

In a manifesto pledge that was widely seen as a commitment to dismantling faith schools in their current form, the party vowed to ‘ensure that all faith schools develop an inclusive admissions policy and end unfair discrimin­ation on grounds of faith when recruiting staff’.

Elsewhere, the Lib Dems have said the party would halt ‘the establishment of new schools which select by ability, aptitude or faith’ and said it would introduce ‘policies to reduce radically all existing forms of selection’.

The Cleggs live in Putney, South-West London, where their three sons attend Catholic primary schools. Their nearest Catholic secondary school, less than a mile from their home, is John Paul II in Wimbledon. A high percentage of its students are from deprived areas and many have English as a second language. Ofsted ranks the school ‘satisfactory’. However, the London Oratory was classed as outstanding – Ofsted’s highest grade – in its most recent inspection.

In the 2009 examinations, 94.5 per cent of pupils attained five or more GCSEs, at Grade C or above, including English and maths. This compared with 50 per cent at John Paul II and a national average of 46.7 per cent. The school also has a strong record in ­sciences, with 86 per cent of pupils securing at least two GCSEs, Grade C or above, in science subjects.

But it is more than twice as far away from Mr Clegg’s home as John Paul II school.

Mr Clegg revealed his atheism in a radio interview in December 2007. Asked directly on BBC Radio 5 Live ‘Do you believe in God?’, Mr Clegg replied simply: ‘No.’ Later, he said he had ‘enormous respect’ for people with faith and added: ‘I’m married to a Catholic and am committed to bringing my children up as Catholics.

‘However, I myself am not an active believer, but the last thing I would do when talking or thinking about religion is approach it with a closed heart or a closed mind.’

Earlier this year Mr Clegg was accused of discovering religion just in time for the General Election when he claimed that Christian values were central to his party’s policies. And during the campaign he was photographed attending Sunday worship at an Anglican church in New Malden, Surrey.

A few days later he was spotted at his local Catholic church, Our Lady of Pity And St Simon Stock in Putney, for his eldest son’s first communion. It later emerged that the boy was recorded on the list of children receiving the sacrament under his Spanish-born mother’s maiden name.

Mr Clegg’s interest in the Oratory will also surprise many within his party, given his recent insistence that faith schools should teach that homosexuality is ‘normal and harmless’. It prompted a furious response from the Family Education Trust, which accused him of showing a ‘woeful lack of respect for faith schools and totally dis­regarding the deeply held views of parents’. It added: ‘The vast majority of ­parents do not want their children’s schools to be turned into vehicles to promote positive images of homosexual relationships.’

The London Oratory is linked to one of the most conservative Catholic churches in Britain, the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, popularly known as the Brompton Oratory and controlled by a group of fathers known as Oratorians.

Three years ago the school cancelled plans to raise money for the Terrence Higgins Trust, one of Eur­ope’s most respected Aids charities, because it did not consider it a suitable recipient of charity from a Catholic institution.

Mr McFadden said yesterday that the Cleggs’ eldest son would be ­considered for entry in two years’ time if his parents decide to submit an application. ‘We don’t admit children on the jobs of their parents, but I think most parents who apply to the school do so on the basis of the Catholic nature of the school more than anything else,’ he said. ‘I think his wife seems to be the driving force.’

He added that he believed the ­couple would look at other schools in the area but said: ‘I think it would be a natural choice for them [to come here], yes. ‘They’re just normal parents of Form Five boys who are starting to turn their thoughts to secondary schools.’

Last night a spokesman for the Deputy Prime Minister said: ‘Nick Clegg’s sons go to a local school in South-West London. ‘Miriam and Nick have always refused to turn the issue of their children’s education into a political football. ‘He and Miriam are currently considering a number of schools for their eldest son but no decision has yet been made.’

The Oratory, along with other ­voluntary-aided schools, previously conducted interviews with the parents of prospective pupils and their children to determine the depth of the religious faith, which led to accusations of ‘covert selection’.

However, a change in the law ended the practice and the Oratory – which does not require both parents to be Catholics – now asks for references from parish priests and demands that parents complete a stringent ‘religious inquiry form’.

The four-page document requests details of how frequently the ­prospective pupils and their parents attend Mass and holy days of obli­gation. The application form questions how long they have lived in a particular parish and whether they ­worship weekly, fortnightly, monthly, occasionally, rarely or never. It also asks ‘How does your parish priest know your child?’ and ‘How does your parish priest know you?’