Saturday, November 20, 2010

Schools that Serve

Ten years ago James Tooley, a professor of education with a doctorate and a World Bank grant to study private schools in a dozen developing countries, took the standard path toward helping the poor: He flew first class and stayed at 5-star hotels.

But something happened in India as he visited private schools and colleges that cater to the privileged. At night, lying on 500-thread-count Egyptian-cotton sheets, he meditated about the "con" that he was now part of: Wealthy Indians enjoy foreign aid because they live in a poor country, the poor fall further behind, and the researchers live richly.

Then Tooley broke the rules. With guilt feelings and some spare time, he actually went into the slums instead of riding past them with his driver. He was surprised to see little handwritten signs announcing the existence of private schools: He thought private schools are for the rich. Guided through alleys and up narrow, dark, dirty staircases, he entered classrooms and found dedicated teachers and students.

Tooley found schools that survive not with government money or international bequests, but through $2-per-month fees paid by rickshaw pullers who scrimp and save to give their children a chance not to pull rickshaws. He went on to visit 50 Indian private schools in poor areas over the next 10 days. Did some foundation make them possible? No, these were for-profit schools created by poor but persevering entrepreneurs.

Tooley was astounded to see high motivation and better results than at the better-funded government schools. He then visited other private schools for the poor in cities and villages throughout India, Africa (Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya), and even China. In The Beautiful Tree (Cato, 2009), he describes how he regularly found government schools with better-paid but poorly motivated teachers, and private schools somehow surviving on very little income.

Why did Tooley slog through the mud when he could have hung out in hotel bars with other international researchers? I emailed him and asked. Tooley responded: "I was brought up as an evangelical Christian, baptized at 14, but lost my faith by 16. For the next thirty years I was a searcher. Age 46, I said a prayer again recommitting myself to Jesus. Ups and downs in the faith since then." No surprise: When someone goes beyond the call of duty, it's often because Someone else is calling him—and the path isn't always straight.

Throughout most of The Beautiful Tree Tooley shows rather than tells, but in the interest of space here I'll need to quote his summary: In poor countries "private education forms the majority of provision. In these areas parents have genuine choices of a number of competing private schools within easy reach and are sensitive to the price mechanism (schools close if demand is low, and new schools open to cater to expanded demand)."

Tooley's crucial conclusions: "In these genuine markets, educational entrepreneurs respond to parental needs and requirements. . . . Their quality is higher than that of government schools provided for the poor." And his findings are not merely anecdotal. Governmental officials showed little interest in his findings, but a Templeton Foundation grant allowed him to create research teams that tested 24,000 fourth-graders from a variety of schools in India, China, Nigeria, and Ghana. The result: Children in private schools scored 75 percent better than comparable students in government schools. You'd think this would excite other World Bank researchers—but like Darrow Miller, Hernando de Soto, and William Easterly (see "Don't be a Bepper," WORLD, Jan. 13, 2007), Tooley looks for bottom-up rather than top-down strategies, and that could put a lot of Big Economic Planners out of work.

The title of Tooley's book comes from his sense that parents don't need government officials to tell them what to do: A beautiful tree can grow without supervision from "development experts" who believe that poor children will be educated only if governments, with funding from rich nations, establish free, universal public schooling.

The better way: Poor parents pay teachers directly. Voucher plans "if done in the right way" can help, but that's a vital caveat, because it's easy to end up with good ideas killed via fraud and unintended market distortions. The essential strategy is this: If students don't learn, teachers don't eat.


Alabama Board of Education adopts common English and math standards

Australia too has accepted that there should be common standards for all States but the devil is in the detail. No agreement on actual contents yet

The state Board of Education Thursday adopted English and math standards that Alabama will share with at least 40 other states, allowing the states to compare their students' performance.

After hearing comments from 40 people in the audience -- 18 who supported the initiative and 22 who opposed it -- the board voted 7-2, with members Stephanie Bell and Betty Peters dissenting, to approve a resolution supporting the Common Core State Standards for Alabama's schools.

The initiative was launched more than a year ago by state leaders through the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices. It provides consistent standards in English language arts and mathematics, regardless of what state students live in.

"The Common Core State Standards enhance and strengthen Alabama's standards," said Caroline Novak, president of the A-Plus Education Partnership. "It does not dismiss them."

The board has had three work sessions on the issue, and state education officials have held four meetings around the state to get public comment.

The initiative is controversial. Alaska and Texas have opted out because officials there believe it is a step toward a nationalized education system. Many in the board's audience Thursday felt the same way. "We've seen numerous efforts of reform and they are all well-intentioned, but, as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions," said Wayne Wood, a retired teacher who spoke at the meeting. "It's a national curriculum. I know it's not being called a national curriculum, but, hey, if it walks like a duck..."

Gov.-elect Robert Bentley asked the board early in the three-hour meeting to postpone the vote until his policy team had a chance to thoroughly study the standards. State Sen. Scott Beeson read Bentley's statement, which said he feels "it is unfair to pass standards such as this when there is an incoming newly elected school board."

In his statement, Bentley said if the board adopted the standards, he would "go on the record opposing this action." "It is a state function and the standards to educate our children should be based on state and local standards that are set by Alabama local school boards and parents and not by the federal government or a consortium of states," his statement read.

Gov. Bob Riley, who is president of the school board but typically attends the meetings only when something controversial or important is on the agenda, voted in favor of the standards Thursday and said they are not an attempt at a federal takeover of education. "This was set up primarily to make sure the federal government could not dictate the curriculum," he said. "There is nothing that says the next governor or the next board can't come in here next year and reverse this decision. I hope they don't, but we don't need to delay this anymore."

When discussion about the standards began several years ago, it was a state-led initiative. However, President Barack Obama got involved last year when he gave states extra points in their applications for federal Race to the Top grant money if they adopted the standards, board member Peters said.

Board member David Byers, who supports the standards, agreed he didn't want the Obama administration getting involved with the state's curriculum. He amended the resolution adopted by the board to add a clause saying the board had the right to revoke the standards at any time.

The standards are meant to keep students in all states on a level playing field, said state Superintendent Joe Morton. Previously, all 50 states had their own sets of standards, and some were weaker than others, making it nearly impossible to compare student achievement in Alabama to other states.

The Common Core State Standards clearly define what students are expected to learn in every grade in English language arts and math. This means if a student in third grade is learning the multiplication tables in Georgia and transfers to Alabama, that student will be learning the same thing here. "It allows for a more seamless transition," Morton said.

A team of educators at the request of the state Department of Education conducted a comparison between the Common Core State Standards and Alabama's Course of Study and found that Alabama's standards address 92 percent of the English language arts national standards and 96 percent of the math. "Quite simply, they are better than what we currently have," Morton said of the Common Core standards.

The standards will go into effect at the beginning of the 2012-13 school year.


Grammar is back in British schools ... and spelling will also score marks under exams shake-up

A-levels and GCSEs are to be toughened up with fewer but harder exams and a crackdown on poor ­grammar and spelling under sweeping reforms being unveiled next week.

In a five-year blueprint for schooling, Education Secretary Michael Gove will signal a return to traditional A-levels and GCSEs, taken at the end of courses.

Teenagers will be able to bypass ‘bite-size’ exams taken throughout the school year amid fears ‘the art of deep thought’ is being lost ­following reforms by Labour.

Candidates for all written GCSEs will be marked down for poor ­grammar, spelling and punctuation, while universities will be given a bigger role in setting questions at A-level and GCSE to protect exams from political meddling.

The reforms will undermine AS-levels, one of Labour’s most ­controversial exam reforms. Taken in the first-year of the sixth-form, they were part of a drive to break down A-level courses into six separately tested modules. Critics claim the trend towards ‘modular’ examining has led to grade inflation and left pupils ill-equipped for ­university study.

In further measures, Mr Gove plans to overhaul the exam league tables system amid evidence that schools are attempting to boost rankings by entering pupils for non-academic courses such as ­‘personal effectiveness’.

Meanwhile a new school curriculum – scheduled for introduction in September 2013 – will give renewed attention to core knowledge and concepts, key events in history and the classics of English literature.

Next week’s White Paper follows claims by Mr Gove that the credibility of the country’s exam system has been weakened by constant change and political interference under Labour. He has been particularly scathing about science GCSEs, which now include questions such as ‘which is healthier – a battered sausage or a grilled fish?’

Moves to restore ­rigour to the system include ­allocating marks in all written GCSEs to spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Between 1992 and 2003, five per cent of marks for most GCSEs were designated for these disciplines. But an overhaul of the exams simply said accuracy in written communication should be incorporated into wider marking. Practice across examiners is said to be inconsistent. Even in English GCSE, only around 13 per cent of marks are awarded for accurate spelling and punctuation.

The White Paper is also expected to commit the Coalition to a significant review of the curriculum at primary and secondary level. The 18-month review will spell out what children should know at each age amid claims the current National Curriculum contains too many vague statements.

Under reforms, schools will be encouraged to teach subjects such as history as stand-alone lessons rather than mixed into theme-based humanities projects.

Mr Gove also plans to scrap a rule limiting headteacher observations of lessons to just three hours a year. Currently teachers must also be given notice of the observation and told which aspects of the lesson will be evaluated.

Ending this will put Mr Gove on a collision course with the unions, but he said: ‘I would like to change the culture so that it is more routine and normal for teachers to be observing and learning from each other.’

The White Paper, expected to be unveiled on Wednesday, also includes measures for discipline, including tougher powers for teachers to restrain unruly pupils.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Private vs. state schools and free speech

Much fuss is afoot now about how various schools, especially colleges and universities, are dealing with the airing of controversial topics. Although by my count this isn’t some kind of epidemic, in several schools the administrators have decided they do not want students to air ideas (or invite guest speakers to do so) when the ideas are controversial or a possible source of emotional reaction from some members of the community. So, for example, when students at Bucknell University tried to make a point about mandated affirmative action policies by differentiating the price of certain items for sale on campus, they were told by the administration to desist. Something similar has happened at UC Irvine, presumably all so as to spare offending some members of the college community.

This phenomenon, though not quite new, has been noticed by some news reporters and commentators, for example Fox Business Network’s John Stossel, who have found it paradoxical that some speech is being regulated, even banned, by administrators at institutions that are supposedly committed to the examination of controversial issues. Some administrations have attempted to cope with the problem by creating “free speech zones” on campus, which effectively moves those who present controversial ideas–mostly, it seems, ones held by conservative student groups and their guests (e.g., Anne Coulter)–into special areas on campus, away from the general population, where they aren’t likely to offend people with insulting ideas.

Of course, such ideas could be about anything but mostly they would have to do with certain politically correct issues, such as race, ethnicity, gender, and so forth. Affirmative action policies, when imposed by law, are a favorite target of conservative speakers when they apply the principles of differentiation to some unexpected areas of life, such as pricing goods and services, even though these same principles are deployed under the protection of the law in the treatment of students and faculty at the institution in question. The idea is, “How come you find it offensive when, say, blacks and whites are charged different amounts of money for the same items for sale even though you think they should be treated differently in the admission or promotion process at your institution?”

One matter that’s often overlooked in discussing all this is the difference between public and private institutions. Public institutions are funded by funds confiscated from all taxpayers, while private institutions are not, which can make a difference in what policies are legally justified at them.

A private college, for example, has the right to institute a policy concerning the airing of controversial ideas that its administrators believe might work to facilitate the educational mission there, while a public institution must abide by the principles of the US Constitution. This is like the fact that in your own home you can restrict and ban speech–say by refusing to allow some guest to talk about some subject–whereas you don’t have the authority to do this when someone speaks out in public, say at a city park. Broadly put, the former isn’t under the jurisdiction of the US Constitution whereas the latter is.

When a private college administration deems it wise and prudent to keep discussion of certain topics confined to special places, it may do offense to the spirit of academic freedom and the tradition of open discussion associated with educational institutions but there is nothing in this that violates either the spirit or letter of the American legal system. But if a public university does the same, that same legal system’s principles are being violated. Yes, even there the administration has some discretion but normally it may not decide in ways that do offense to the public philosophy of American law.

So, then, if a private university institutes a policy of keeping speakers on controversial topics away from the general population, at some kind of “free speech” region, this can be justified in the American legal tradition but if a public university does the same it cannot. That fact may shed some light on how the issue of airing offensive ideas at colleges and universities is being dealt with across the nation’s higher educational institutions.


The economy the American curriculum prepares you for

A common argument in favor of American education is that it exposes students to a wide variety of career options. How are kids supposed to decide their course in life if they don't know their choices? Unfortunately, this argument has a big problem: The career options for which the typical American curriculum prepares you are almost completely disconnected from the modern American economy. Indeed, they are almost completely disconnected from any economy - past, present, or future.

Imagine what the American economy would have to look like for the American curriculum to make sense:

* Kids spend at least 10% of their time on art and music. This would make sense if 10% of the workforce were professional artists or musicians.

* Kids spend at least 10% of their time on P.E. This would make sense if 10% of the workforce were professional athletes.

* Kids spend at least 10% of their time on literature and poetry; this would make sense if 10% of kids became novelists, playwrights, or poets.

* Kids spend at least 10% of their time on history and social studies; this would make sense if 10% of kids became historians and social scientists.

* Kids spend at least 5% of their time on foreign languages. On the surface, this seems reasonable; 5% of American jobs arguably require some knowledge of Spanish. But well over 5% of Americans acquire Spanish outside of school. And almost no American jobs use French, the second-most studied foreign language.

* Kids spend at least 5% of their time on natural science; this would make sense if 5% of kids became biologists, chemists, physicists, astronomers, etc.

The best you can say about the American curriculum is that it also includes reading, writing, math, and computers - all of which are important in modern occupations.* But that's not saying much. Schools still spend at least half their time exposing people to knowledge that matters for jobs that virtually no one will ever have. If we really wanted to teach our children about their career options, we wouldn't pretend that poetry and astronomy are major employers. Instead, we'd start with the modern economy and design a curriculum that fits it.

* Even this is exaggerated: The kind of reading, writing, math, and computers you learn in school is only distantly related to the kind most people use on the job.


British government schools slipping behind

Declining numbers of comprehensive school pupils are winning places at university, it was revealed yesterday. That is despite the number of acceptances overall reaching a record high. Figures show how privately-educated youngsters are tightening their grip on top universities after forging ahead in the race for elite A* grades.

The number of places awarded to comprehensive pupils dipped by 0.5 per cent on last year, while acceptances of fee-paying pupils was unchanged. The number from comprehensives winning university places dropped from 120,544 in 2009 to 119,955 this year. The decline came even though they put in 5.8 per cent more applications.

Teenagers from state sixth-form and further education colleges increased their share of places.

The figures suggest that some of the best state pupils may have suffered because their teachers failed to predict the A* grades they would go on to achieve. This is important because universities partly base their offers on the grades predicted by teachers.

Universities offered more places than ever this year after increasing recruitment from overseas.

The figures show more than one in five places at prestigious Russell Group universities went to students from private schools, who make up just seven per cent of pupils.

Many of the 209,253 applicants who missed out this year will try again in 2011, heaping further pressure on admissions.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Science of Success: Why Parents Should Push Their Kids Less, and Enjoy Them More

"Once you provide the basics, your children's success is largely in their hands, not yours" -- the research shows. "Pushing" them alters nothing

Modern parents see their children as their most important investments. They want their children to succeed in the competitive world of the future - and know that success isn't cheap. Before your kids can succeed in the world of work, they must first succeed in the world of school. Massive parental investment of time and money seems crucial. Without it, won't your children fail in both worlds? Indeed, parenting seems so important that parents appear to face a tragic trade-off: To ensure your children's academic and professional success, you often have to push them so hard that they end up resenting you.

But what makes us so certain that parents' time and money are essential for kids' success? Most people point to the obvious fact that successful parents tend to have successful children. Doesn't this prove the power of upbringing? No. There are always two explanations for family resemblance. One is upbringing. The other is heredity. Is it possible that success runs in families not because successful parents invest more in their kids, but because there are genes for success in school and work?

Unraveling the effects of upbringing and heredity is usually very difficult. But over the last forty years, researchers have made astonishing progress by studying families that adopt, and families with twins. If a child is adopted, then any family resemblance in success is almost surely due to upbringing. Similarly, if identical twins (who shares all of their genes) are more similar than fraternal twins (who share only half of their genes), their extra resemblance is almost surely due to heredity. Researchers have used these twin and adoption methods to figure out why diplomas and incomes run in families. Their conclusions are shocking: Upbringing is much less crucial for success than most of us believe.

Let's start with educational success. In the 1950s, the Holt family set up a charity to help American families adopt disadvantaged Koreans. The adopting families were unusually diverse: Applicants had to be married for at least three years, 25-45 years old, have no more than four children, and have earnings 25% or more above the poverty line. Decades later, economist Bruce Sacerdote tracked down over 1600 of the Korean adoptees to see how much their adopting families influenced their success. The effects were tiny. If a mother had an extra year of education, her Korean adoptee finished five extra weeks of school; if a family had one extra child, its adoptee finished six fewer weeks of school. Richer families and richer neighborhoods made no difference at all. Another study of over two thousand Swedish adoptees found that moms mattered even less, and dads mattered a little more.

If parents matter so little for success in school, why does it run in families? Heredity. When twin researchers compare identical to fraternal twins, they find that identical twins are much more similar in their educational success. One major study looked at about two thousand pairs of American twins who served in World War II, and their children. Suppose you were separated from your identical twin at birth. This veteran twin study implied that if you finished more schooling than four people out of five, the identical twin you never met would typically finish more schooling than three people out of four. The effect of nurture, in contrast, was modest: If you were raised by an unskilled worker instead of a professional or manager, you typically finished one fewer year of school; if you had one extra sibling, you typically finished seven fewer weeks. A big study of Australian twins' education confirmed the power of nature and the limits of nurture. Small, well-educated families boost their kids' schooling by months, not years.

For many parents, admittedly, education is only a means to an end; they push academic success because they think it's the path to financial success. Counter-intuitively, though, the effect of parenting on income is even smaller than the effect of parenting on schooling. In the Korean adoption study, adoptees raised by the richest families earned no more than adoptees raised by the poorest families. Richer neighborhoods didn't help either. The only factor that made even a slight difference was family size: every sibling seemed to cut adult income by 4%. The Swedish adoption study found a slightly larger effect, but still not much: If your dad made 10% more money, you make 1% more when you grow up.

Perhaps most impressively, though, a recent working paper by New York University's David Cesarini uses the Swedish Twin Registry to track the lifetime earnings of over 5000 men born between 1926 and 1958. Cesarini finds that parents have a modest effect on the earnings of men in their early twenties. But after the age of 25, the effect of upbringing on earnings vanishes. When children first become adults, their parents might help them find a good job - or support them so they don't have to work. Before long, however, young adults get on their own two feet - and stay there.

Parents clearly try mightily to help their kids succeed. They buy educational toys, read bedtime stories, pay for expensive preschools, help them with their homework, reward them for good grades, and shame them for bad. They preach the value of hard work and persistence, praise high-earning occupations like doctor and engineer, pressure their kids not to major in poetry, and help them find their first jobs. The surprising lesson of the science of success is that parents' toil bears little fruit. Your kids would have been about as successful in school and work if they'd been raised by a very different family.

This doesn't mean that severe child neglect or abject poverty is harmless. Twin and adoption studies focus on normal families that meet their children's basic needs. Researchers' don't ask, "Would this child have turned out differently if he were raised by wolves?" They ask, "Would this child have turned our differently if he were raised by one of the other families we studied?" When researchers report "no effect of family income on education," this doesn't mean that hungry kids learn as well as kids with full bellies. It means that even the poorest families under observation were good enough to allow their children to reach their potential.

The right lesson to take away from twin and adoption research is that parents can relax without hurting their kids' future. Once you provide the basics, your children's success is largely in their hands, not yours. Of course, if you and your kids enjoy reading bedtime stories, working on school projects, and watching the financial news together, that's wonderful. But if you and your children aren't having fun, the science of success shows that you can safely give yourselves a break.

Pushing kids less isn't just easier for parents; it's usually better for the whole family. Riding your children "for their own good" has little effect on their future success. But it damages one important outcome over which parents have much control: How your kids feel about and remember you. In a word, their appreciation.

Twin and adoption researchers have studied appreciation for decades. Genes play a role; identical twins paint somewhat similar pictures of their parents and home life even when raised apart. But upbringing clearly affects appreciation, too. One recent German twin study asked about 800 adults raised together to describe their families. How accepting were their father and mother, and how well did family members get along? Siblings broadly agreed, but identical twins agreed only modestly more than fraternal twins. Implication: Much of the resemblance stems from nurture, not nature. Furthermore, an early study of 1400 middle-aged and elderly Swedish twins shows that the effect of upbringing on appreciation is very durable. If you make a loving and harmonious family, your children won't merely be grateful at the time. The memories you create for them will likely last a lifetime.

People often fear that the science of success will be misused. Twin and adoption research seem like handy excuses for lazy parents. But scaling back misguided investments isn't "lazy"; it's common sense. If your children's future success is largely beyond your control, riding them "for their own good" is not just wasteful, but cruel. The sentimental view that parents should simply cherish, encourage, and accept their children has science on its side. Modern parents need to calm down and reconceive family time as leisure, not work. Having fun with your children may not prepare them for the future, but there are few more rewarding ways to spend your time.


Five Muslim boys and white girl, all 12, excluded over Facebook death threats to classmate who supported British troops

A 13-year-old boy who penned an online Remembrance Day tribute to Britain’s fallen soldiers was subjected to a vicious hate campaign by fellow pupils. A gang of 12-year-old pupils made up of five Muslim boys and one non-Muslim girl made death threats to Darius Gill involving knives and knuckle-dusters because of his support for British troops.

One member of the gang also posted a picture of himself holding a rifle and threatened to hijack a plane. The campaign was backed by more pupils belonging to a self-styled ‘Muslim Defence League’ celebrating British deaths in Afghanistan. The abuse was so serious that police are now investigating.

On November 11, Darius – whose father is Asian – wrote on Facebook: ‘RIP to all the lads who never made it home.’ He also posted two pictures showing British troops on Armistice Day. He was then branded ‘racist’ and two of the accused pupils began a flurry of online messages to each other setting out what they were going to do to him.

One wrote to Darius on Facebook criticising him for failing to acknowledge the dead ­Muslim soldiers in the Middle East.

Darius explained that Remembrance Day honoured British troops and pointed out that he was paying tribute to his great-great uncle, who died aged only 17 on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

The students attend the 1,250-pupil Sidney Stringer Academy in Coventry. Muslim pupils make up 65 per cent of the school, which caters for children aged 11-18.

The main six pupils, none of whom can be named for legal reasons, have now been suspended and may be expelled over their chilling threats. One of the online messages – which were littered with spelling mistakes – read: ‘Fight on Monday gonna be heavy knuckle dusters and knifes hopefully I don’t die.’

Another pupil added: ‘ill bang [attack] him ma slef [myself] am a terrorist.’ One pupil’s Facebook profile is full of chilling references to Islamic fundamentalism and shows a ­picture of him posing with an AK47 rifle.

He also penned a terrifying poem about hijacking a plane. On November 12, he wrote: ‘You better watch what the **** flies outta ya mouth. Or I’ma hijack a plane and fly it into your house. ‘Burn your apartment with your family tied to the couch. And slit your throat, so when you scream, only blood comes out.’

Other pupils from the Muslim Defence League added comments condemning Darius. Fortunately, Darius’s mother Clare Allington read the comments on her son’s Facebook page on Monday morning – the day of the promised attack – and immediately pulled her son out of school.

Yesterday, Mrs Allington, 42, a mature student from Coventry, said: ‘I logged on and it broke my heart. I was reading all sorts about knuckle-dusters, knives and death. ‘They were planning to attack him at school that day so I rang the school straight away.’

She added that she usually keeps an eye on her son’s posts on Facebook every day but had not done so last weekend. She only read them on Monday. She added: ‘If I hadn’t read the threats and pulled my son out of school he could be dead. ‘They might just be schoolchildren but they are fanatical and dangerous. The threats have to be taken seriously.’

Even yesterday, one of the yobs bragged about being quizzed by police and continued his online threats to attack Darius. He wrote: ‘Im in trouble wiv de police cuz of susspician of threat to Darius ... Im banggin Darius Thursday.’ He goes on to say he wants a one-on-one fight and demands that no one defends Darius.

Yesterday Darius said he was now too frightened to wear a poppy and claims he has been picked on at school because he is not Muslim.

Mrs Allington added: ‘My son wrote supporting the British troops in Afghanistan and also said he was sad so many soldiers had died. ‘The so-called Muslim Defence League, which has been set up in the school by a number of pupils, believe that Darius should join them in hating British soldiers. It’s appalling and extremely upsetting for Darius.’

Sidney Stringer Academy’s principal, Wendy Thomas, said Facebook was an increasing concern for schools. She said the children have been told to remove the comments from the site. She said: ‘Darius is the victim of bullying. All the students involved have told me they did not mean what they said but they will learn a hard lesson from this.

‘Facebook is a big concern for schools and we urge all parents to monitor what their children say on the site. As soon as the school was notified about the comments on Monday we interviewed the pupils. ‘No weapons were found on any of the pupils. We notified the police and they are investigating.’


1,000 pupils sent home from British schools for assaults on teachers and pupils every day

Almost 1,000 pupils a day are sent home from school for attacking or verbally abusing fellow pupils or staff, it was revealed yesterday. Schools Minister Nick Gibb released figures showing that schools were forced to expel or suspend pupils 182,090 times for abuse or physical assaults in the 2008/09 academic year.

The revelation came as experts said bad behaviour in schools was worse than stated by officials because heads routinely hid classroom troublemakers from Ofsted inspectors. Education specialists said Ofsted reports claiming most behaviour in schools was ‘good’ were ‘not worth the paper they were written on’.

Tom Trust, a former member of the General Teaching Council for England, yesterday told a cross-party group of MPs that he was aware of schools which had managed to ensure Ofsted never saw classes with unruly pupils. The worst pupils were suspended or taught by supply teachers on the days of inspections. Inspectors do not watch lessons taken by supply teachers.

A White Paper being published next week is expected to contain detailed proposals for tackling discipline problems. Schools will be given tougher powers to restrain unruly pupils, frisk youngsters for mobile phones and pornography and punish anti-social behaviour outside school.

Teachers will get greater rights to anonymity if accused by pupils, to guard against false allegations, while a requirement on schools to give 24 hours’ written notice of detentions will be waived, allowing schools to administer the sanction immediately.

Mr Gibb said: ‘It’s time to put teachers back in control of the classroom. We need to strip away the bureaucracy that far too often prevents them from maintaining good behaviour.’

Mr Gibb’s figures show that primary, secondary and special schools expelled or suspended pupils 182,090 times in 2008/09 for assaults and abuse – equivalent to 958 youngsters every school day.

The disclosure comes a day after a report warned that thousands of classroom troublemakers were being prematurely returned to school after committing serious offences.

The Centre for Policy Studies think-tank branded short-term suspensions – typically just a few days – as ‘madness’ and said ‘very little’ could be done with badly behaved children who were removed from school for less than a year.

Whistleblower Katharine Birbalsingh, who was sacked from her role as deputy head teacher for outspoken comments at the Conservative Party conference, yesterday told the education select committee hearing that bad behaviour was ‘common’.

She said: ‘Often you get two or three very badly behaved children but bad behaviour spreads like a cancer.’ Teachers should be held to account for bad behaviour, she added. ‘If a school is in chaos, senior teachers are doing something wrong. We should hold them to account.’


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Failure is impossible for high school students! (No, really)

What would school have been like if you never had to worry about getting an F? Students at West Potomac High School in Alexandria, Va., are about to find out, the Washington Post reports.

Earlier this year, the school all but eradicated the standard mark for “failure”, instead supplying wayward students with the letter “I” for incomplete. So what does an “I” give you that an “F” doesn’t? Time to redeem yourself, for starters. Students with an “I” on their report card can (literally) learn their lesson and catch up over the year, at which point they will be given a grade for their mastery of the material, just like any other student.

So is this an inspired move to get those marginal students on track and learning, or just another way in which we’re coddling underachieving kids and hobbling the rest? Parents, educators and students are divided.

Mary Mathewson, an English teacher at Potomac High tells the Post that the new standard not only cripples teachers in that it "takes away one of the very few tools [they] have to get kids to learn," but it gives them “an out,” resulting in a system in which “kids are under the impression they can do it whenever they want to, and it's not that big of a deal.”

Pointing out that the A-F grading system has not been thrown out entirely, but rather, redesigned to reach those who might not learn at the same rate as their peers, Fairfax County’s assistant superintendent for instructional services asked the Post, “"If we really want students to know and do the work, why would we give them an F and move on? I think the students who are struggling should not be penalized for not learning at the same rate as their peers."

Alternative grading is nothing new: Potomac High joins good company—some of the nation's highest educational institutions, including the law schools of Stanford University, Yale University, and University of California, Berkeley all employ non-traditional grading systems. Other high schools like the Big Picture high schools in Rhode Island, which focuses on internships, have found that learning goes better when uncomplicated by grades. The measure of their success? Improvement in their standardized achievement scores, most of their seniors going to college, and high college graduation rates. Proponents of this kind of grading method have long argued that letters are arbitrary, overly focused on the right answer instead of the thinking behind it, and have no corollary relationship from school to school—in other words, not “fair” from the get-go.

But will the process of learning for the sake of learning be lost on notoriously gratification-minded high school kids? And what about the value of learning from losing in the first place?

“Americans tend to frame things in terms of contests and wars that must be won or lost," writer John Schwartz says in his New York Times essay, "Lessons Learned in the Losing." "Many challenges, however, are about hanging in there and managing a bad situation. Losing prepares you for the slog that is life. The world doesn’t give us many finish lines, but it does give us the long run.”

While his focus is on high school sports rather than grades, I can't help but think Schwartz has an excellent point here about teaching our children to persevere in the face of challenges, even if it's hard to watch. After all, what are we trying to prepare our kids for in school, if not life?


Many universities are 'broke' and won't be bailed out -- while top universities may go private, warns British education chief

Failing universities will not be propped up by the Government, leaving them at risk of closure. Many are ‘broke’ and should not be bailed out but allowed to close, Vince Cable said.

Speaking at the annual conference of the Girls’ Schools Association in Manchester yesterday, the Business Secretary added that the rise in tuition fees would force universities to reform and become more competitive.

'We already have a lot of universities that are effectively broke. If they were in the private sector they would have been filing for bankruptcy. Various arrangements have been cobbled together to keep them going, and we can't continue to do that,' he said.

Ministers are thinking carefully about how such events would be managed, Mr Cable said. 'If a bank goes bust, it has got to be allowed to close, not to its depositors, the depositors have got to be protected. The depositors are the students. 'So if somebody signs up for a university degree course and the university then goes bust, those students must have the right to continue their higher education.

Dr Cable also said the tuition fee rise, which prompted a mass student protest last week, was brought in to stop top universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, LSE and UCL from going private. But he admitted he could not guarantee that no university will become a private institution in the future.

He said: 'One of the reasons were are doing this is precisely to head off Oxford, Cambridge, London Schools of Economics, University College London and a few others from going private, because if we had not opened up the system in the way we have, they would have had a very strong incentive to do so. 'Whether we shall head them off, I don't know.'

Mr Cable said that the Browne review of student funding, published last month, called for universities to be able to set their own tariffs - which could have meant fees of up to £15,000. The Government rejected this because of concerns about the cost to pupils, particularly those from poorer backgrounds.

Mr Cable, who studied at Cambridge University, said he would 'very much regret it' if the institution opted out of the public funding system, but added he does not think they will, as the new proposals have 'enough in it for them'. He added: 'I find it it difficult somehow to imagine Oxbridge opting out, because they have got all these different colleges, they've got different institutions, how are they going to manage that?

'It's a little bit like bankers who say if you're going to put some kind of tax on us we'll run away to Singapore. 'Universities have been playing this game with us - let us have unlimited caps or we'll privatise.

'I don't believe it. I think what we're proposing is a fair settlement which will provide them with enough income to provide high quality education and which is also fair to the pupils.'

Cambridge University has previously said that reports it is considering going private are 'pure speculation'.

Ministers have announced plans to raise the tuition fee cap to £6,000, with universities able to charge up to £9,000 in 'exceptional circumstances'. MPs are expected to vote on the proposal before the end of the year.


Australian school issues detention threat for kids seen hugging

What an appalling scale of values! Wrong to express affection? It sounds like "Brave New World"

STUDENTS at a Gold Coast primary school are being warned against hugging a move some parents say is political correctness gone mad. They say children at the William Duncan State School in Nerang are being punished with detention for hugging or touching their friends boys or girls, the Gold Coast Bulletin said.

Father of five, Ross Kouimanis, labelled the decision "an absolute joke". "What on earth are we turning our kids into?" Mr Kouimanis said. "Kids hug all the time. My high school daughter hugs her friends. It's perfectly normal. "It's political correctness gone mad. Banning kids hugging? It's ridiculous."

Mr Kouimanis's daughter Emily was given a warning for hugging her best friend. "My best friend and I confronted the teacher and she said it was a new school rule and some kids have been sent to detention for hugging," Emily said.

Mr Kouimas said the school should be more worried about educating children and said the ban sexualised an innocent gesture. "They are making something so innocent seem dirty or wrong. It's just normal. "It's what kids do, for Christ's sake.

"Hugs not drugs is an international slogan to fight drug abuse where does that fit in with William Duncan's new school policy?"

The Bulletin understands the policy was developed by the school's Parents and Citizens Association and was reviewed each year, with most members approving measures for students to keep their hands, feet and objects to themselves.

Education Queensland South Coast Regional director Glen Hoppner said there was no EQ policy banning hugging in schools. "William Duncan State School has determined that unwanted or unnecessary physical contact, which in some circumstances can include hugging, is inappropriate playground behaviour," Mr Hoppner said. "The school is mindful of protecting their right to not be touched in an unwanted or inappropriate way."

Mr Hoppner said the school principal was "unaware" of students being given detention for hugging.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Percentage of U.S. High School students studying advanced mathematics trails most industrialized nations

According to the first-ever comprehensive study comparing the percentage of U.S. students in the graduating class of 2009 who have advanced skills in math with the percentages of similar high achievers in 56 other countries, only six percent of U. S. students perform at the advanced level in math, as compared to 28 percent of Taiwanese students and more than 20 percent of students in Finland and Korea. Overall, the United States ranks 31st out of 56 countries, falling behind most industrialized nations. The report is available on the web at

The study, sponsored by the journal Education Next and Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance, was co-authored by Eric A. Hanushek of Stanford University, Paul E. Peterson of Harvard University and Ludger Woessmann of the University of Munich. The authors analyzed state-by-state the percentage of students performing at advanced levels. Most states in the U.S. rank closer to developing countries than to developed countries. Thirteen developed countries have more than twice the percentage of advanced students as does the U.S., including Germany, Canada, the Czech Republic, Japan, Finland and Austria.

The lagging U.S. performance is not just explained by its heterogeneous population. The report also compared to other countries U.S. white students and children of parents with college degrees—two groups against which the case of discrimination cannot be made easily. The analysis found that only 8 percent of white students and 10 percent of students from all races with at least one college-educated parent performed at the advanced level. By comparison, 18 countries saw 10 percent of all their students performing at the advanced level. The percentage of high-performing students in each state, as well as the ranking of each state in comparison to other countries, is provided in the accompanying table and figure.

Other findings from the study include:

• Just 4.5 percent of the students in California are performing at the highly accomplished level, a percentage that trails 32 countries and is comparable to the performance of students in Portugal, Italy, Israel, and Turkey.

• The lowest-ranking states—West Virginia, New Mexico and Mississippi—fall behind Serbia and Uruguay.

• The only OECD countries—out of 30—producing a smaller percentage of advanced math students than the U.S. were Spain, Italy, Israel, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Chile and Mexico.

“Public discourse has tended to focus on the need to address low achievement, particularly among disadvantaged students, and bring everyone up to a minimum level of proficiency,” said Peterson. “As great as this need may be, there is no less need to lift more students, no matter their socio-economic background, to high levels of educational accomplishment.”

Some attribute the comparatively small percentages of students performing at the advanced level to the focus of the 2002 law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), on the needs of very low-performing students. However, in mathematics, the percentage performing at an advanced level rose after the passage of the law, although not to internationally competitive levels.

“The incapacity of American schools to bring students up to the highest level of accomplishment in math is much more deep-seated than anything induced by recent federal legislation,” Hanushek pointed out.

The analysis uses the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2005 advanced standard to compare U.S. state performances with performance in other countries. Since U.S. students took both the NAEP 2005 and the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2006, it was possible to find the score on the PISA that is tantamount to scoring at the advanced level on the NAEP. The PISA is an internationally standardized assessment of student performance in math, science and reading, established by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

“Maintaining national productivity depends importantly on developing a highly qualified cadre of scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and other professionals,” Woessmann observed.


British tuition fee protest: 18-year-old student arrested

Police have arrested an 18-year-old college student in connection with the throwing of a fire extinguisher at police from the roof of Conservative Party headquarters.

The man, believed to be the long-haired protester pictured in photographs released by police yesterday, was arrested in Southampton by Scotland Yard officers on Monday night. He is expected to be transferred to London on Tuesday for formal questioning.

The canister landed inches away from a group of police officers 70ft below. One officer admitted had it hit him "somebody would have been visiting my wife and children and saying either I was dead, or very, very seriously injured".

The new pictures emerged as the president of the university lecturers union joined more than 20 other senior academics in controversially supporting the demonstrators who rioted at Millbank Tower last week.

Images of the student, who was wearing a black leather jacket and a scarf, were captured by Sky News. He was seen entering the Milbank Tower building, holding a pink and yellow placard. Having accessed the roof, a similar looking long-haired suspect is seen picking up the extinguisher and throwing it over the roof with his right hand.

A protester standing beside him immediately ran away from the edge of the roof, apparently aware of the gravity of the offence.

The wanted man walked away calmly, before looking up to the skies at a television helicopter, and then wrapping a scarf around his face to help disguise himself. He left the roof area via a stairwell and disappearing into the crowds.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said earlier on Monday: "This is a person the police would be interested in speaking to in connection with the incident."

A total of 57 people have been arrested and bailed after violence erupted during the student fees protests in London last week. Several students were seen holding fire extinguishers on the roof of the Tory HQ during the protests. Jackson Potter, a 23-year-old student, believed to be one of them, was arrested in Cambridge on Friday. The Anglia Ruskin University student was later released on police bail.

Meanwhile, Alan Whitaker, the president of the University and College Union (UCU) and National Executive Committee, signed a statement saying they stand by those who were arrested. "We will not side with those who condemn violence against windows and property but will not condemn or even name the long-term violence of cuts that will scar the lives of hundreds of thousands by denying them access to the education of their choice,” the statement said.


Australia's proposed national geography syllabus is under heavy fire

Leftists are even managing to inject propaganda into geography!

THE proposed national geography curriculum lacks clarity and quality. NSW geographers are concerned it contains an inadequate focus on physical geography or the study of "capes and bays", which underpins the study of the discipline.

The NSW Board of Studies argues the proposed curriculum will overemphasise social and economic geography at the expense of the study of the physical world. The sample structure for the course suggests students in Years 7-10 take a "cultural/social constructivist" approach.

The Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority said yesterday the geography paper proposed that students become familiar with the various ways geographers approach their study. By year 10 this would include various "locational, spatial, temporal and cultural approaches".

A spokesman said it was not about cultural relativism, "but simply an acknowledgement that in the real world and throughout history, different people might look at problems of geography in different ways".

In its response to the shape paper of the geography curriculum, which curriculum writers use as the basis for the syllabus, the NSW Board of Studies argues the proposed outline is flawed and fails to provide a sound basis for the development of a quality national course.

The board suggests the various approaches be dropped and says the proposed curriculum "will not match the current quality of the NSW geography curriculum and that geography education in NSW will be compromised and diminished". NSW is the only state that has taught geography as a stand-alone subject in high school over the past 20 or 30 years.

Other states and territories teach geography as part of an integrated social studies course with subjects such as history and economics.

The Board of Studies response notes the status of geography in NSW schools, which is compulsory from Years 7 to 10, is not matched in the other states and territories, implying the existing NSW curriculum is superior. "NSW students will have less geographical understanding at the end of their Year 10 education under the proposed curriculum," it says. "The draft shape paper does not yet have a curriculum structure that provides the basis for a high-quality curriculum for geography."

The geography fraternity in NSW is also concerned about the status of geography in the national curriculum, with the time devoted to the course not stated and suggestions that it will be mandatory only until Year 8.

Kevin Dunn, professor of geography and urban studies at the University of Western Sydney, said yesterday the NSW curriculum was a benchmark other states should reach. "Only with the appropriate amount of mandatory hours can we expect the teaching of geography, at the depth necessary, to ensure that students have a satisfactory level of understanding of environmental sustainability, conservation, population, indigenous cultures and land management," he said. "We need citizens who understand their world, and how the world will be in the future."


Monday, November 15, 2010

Proficiency of Black Students Is Found to Be Far Lower Than Expected

The NYT might be surprised but it's no surprise to IQ researchers

An achievement gap separating black from white students has long been documented — a social divide extremely vexing to policy makers and the target of one blast of school reform after another. But a new report focusing on black males suggests that the picture is even bleaker than generally known.

Only 12 percent of black fourth-grade boys are proficient in reading, compared with 38 percent of white boys, and only 12 percent of black eighth-grade boys are proficient in math, compared with 44 percent of white boys.

Poverty alone does not seem to explain the differences: poor white boys do just as well as African-American boys who do not live in poverty, measured by whether they qualify for subsidized school lunches.

The data was distilled from highly respected national math and reading tests, known as the National Assessment for Educational Progress, which are given to students in fourth and eighth grades, most recently in 2009. The report, “A Call for Change,” is to be released Tuesday by the Council of the Great City Schools, an advocacy group for urban public schools.

Although the outlines of the problem and many specifics have been previously reported, the group hopes that including so much of what it calls “jaw-dropping data” in one place will spark a new sense of national urgency. “What this clearly shows is that black males who are not eligible for free and reduced-price lunch are doing no better than white males who are poor,” said Michael Casserly, executive director of the council.

The report shows that black boys on average fall behind from their earliest years. Black mothers have a higher infant mortality rate and black children are twice as likely as whites to live in a home where no parent has a job. In high school, African-American boys drop out at nearly twice the rate of white boys, and their SAT scores are on average 104 points lower.

The analysis of results on the national tests found that math scores in 2009 for black boys were not much different than those for black girls in Grades 4 and 8, but black boys lagged behind Hispanics of both sexes, and they fell behind white boys by at least 30 points, a gap sometimes interpreted as three academic grades.

The search for explanations has recently looked at causes besides poverty, and this report may further spur those efforts.

“There’s accumulating evidence that there are racial differences in what kids experience before the first day of kindergarten,” said Ronald Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard. “They have to do with a lot of sociological and historical forces. In order to address those, we have to be able to have conversations that people are unwilling to have.”

Those include “conversations about early childhood parenting practices,” Dr. Ferguson said. “The activities that parents conduct with their 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds. How much we talk to them, the ways we talk to them, the ways we enforce discipline, the ways we encourage them to think and develop a sense of autonomy.”

The report urges convening a White House conference, encouraging Congress to appropriate more money for schools and establishing networks of black mentors.

What it does not discuss are policy responses identified with a robust school reform movement that emphasizes closing failing schools, offering charter schools as alternatives and raising the quality of teachers. The report did not go down this road because “there’s not a lot of research to indicate that many of those strategies produce better results,” Mr. Casserly said.

Other have a different response. The key to narrowing the achievement gap, said Dr. Ferguson, is “really good teaching.”

One large urban school district that has made progress is Baltimore’s, where the dropout rate for African-American boys declined to 4.9 percent during the last academic year, down from 11.9 percent four years earlier. Graduation rates for black boys were also up: 57 percent in 2009-10, compared with 51 percent three years earlier.

Andres A. Alonso, the chief executive of the Baltimore City Public Schools, said the improvement had little to do with changes at the margins, like lengthening the school day or adding mentors. Rather, Mr. Alonso cited aggressively closing failing schools, knocking on the doors of dropouts’ homes to lure them back and creating real-time alerts — “almost like an electrical charge” — when a student misses several days of school.

“Hispanic kids and African-American kids this year had a lower dropout rate than white kids,” Mr. Alonso said.


The Lone Star State’s Good Reasons for Going It Alone on Education Standards

Texas Governor Rick Perry was at The Heritage Foundation on Monday to speak on his new book FED UP! Its message is bringing limited, constitutional governance back to Washington and the role that state governments should play in that restoration.

In his speech, the Governor stressed that the election was a clear message to lawmakers in Washington to return to exercising their constitutionally defined powers and that the federal government needs to support the states, not work against them.

One of the areas in which the Governor has demonstrated the kind of state leadership he advocates is education. Texas refuses to sign on to the national standards encouraged by President Obama’s Race to the Top program. National standards would likely standardize mediocrity across the states as well as conflict with the principle that Governor Perry articulated Monday morning: that the best government is that which is closest to the people. The push for national standards represents another area in which the federal government is trying to do a job that should be done by states.

Texas also has another good reason to oppose the suggested “common core” standards, since their Board of Education, under its Perry-appointed Chairman Don McLeroy, recently completed a revision of Texas’s social studies standards. The standards emphasize the American founding, highlight the role of free-market enterprise in American economic success, and institute “Celebrate Freedom Week.”

Media furor over the revised standards focused especially on the alleged removal of Thomas Jefferson from a list of political philosophers, prompting the Huffington Post to call the new standards “propaganda.”

Despite the hysteria, Thomas Jefferson fans can rest assured that the Founder retains his place—actually, places—in a number of different objectives under the new standards. Other revisions include insertion of additional historical figures, organizations, and movements, from The Heritage Foundation and the National Rifle Association to feminist Betty Friedan, labor leaders Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, and of course, President Obama. (Only the first few drew the ire of The New York Times, of course.)

As Governor Perry said to Heritage in October, “Our reforms that we’re putting into place that have been fine-tuned for Texas and our very diverse population out there [are] working.” Texas doesn’t need a one-size-fits-all plan from Washington, and its social studies standards are a good case in point. Governor Perry has reaffirmed Texas’s commitment to the principle of federalism in education.


Teacher, not class size, key to results, says Australian report

GOVERNMENTS waste millions of dollars in education on expensive and ineffectual programs to reduce class sizes. A new report advocates that the money instead be spent improving the standard of teaching.

A report by the Grattan Institute released today aims to refocus the education debate on teacher quality, arguing improving the effectiveness of teachers is the biggest economic reform governments could implement, adding $90 billion to gross domestic product by 2050.

The report says government spending on education increased about 40 per cent over the past decade, much of it spent on reducing class sizes, which has had no effect on improving student or educational standards.

"It is more important for a student to have an effective teacher than to be in a class with a few less students," it says.

"Smaller classes are intuitively appealing. It is easy to imagine that they result in more one-on-one interaction with students, more effective teaching and learning time for each student, and a reduction in the burden of dealing with negative behaviour.

"Unfortunately, the evidence does not support these assertions."

An analysis released this year of the effects of reducing class sizes in the US state of Florida found the program had "little, if any, effect" on learning and behavioural issues such as absenteeism, suspensions and bullying.

But the program was extraordinarily expensive, costing about $US1 million per school per year to reduce class sizes by 2.5 to three students in every year up to Year 8.

The Grattan Institute advocates concentrating resources on lifting the performance of the bottom 10 per cent of teachers to drive improvements in learning, which would be enough to lift Australian students' results to the top tier in international tests.

In the literacy and numeracy tests of 15-year-olds conducted by the OECD, Australia sits in the second tier of nations behind Finland, Hong Kong and Canada. To reach the top tier, Australian students would need to learn at least an extra half-year of curriculum.

The institute's director of school education, Ben Jensen, argues improving teacher effectiveness is the best way of lifting student performance to this level, and increasing the standard of the bottom of 10 per cent of teachers will achieve this.

Dr Jensen nominated five main mechanisms to improve teaching standards: improving the quality of applicants to become teachers; improving the quality of their initial education and training; evaluating and providing feedback to teachers once they're in classrooms; recognising and rewarding effective teachers; and moving on ineffective teachers who are unable to improve.

The last three steps are the most critical development for teachers in Australia.

Dr Jensen said he was not advocating teachers be assessed solely on the basis of their students' results.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

True Story: Liberal Teacher Told me to Stop Spreading 'Propaganda' about Liberty

One feature of my classroom that I haven't told you all about before is my Liberty Library. I got this idea from a friend of mine who also teaches in Michigan in a nice district that is a little friendlier than mine to conservative ideas. I decided to give it a try regardless, and purchased a series of short books (30 pages or less) that emphasize themes that I consider to be friendly towards the practice and belief of liberty- books such as The Law, Why Government Is the Problem (Essays in Public Policy), I, Pencil - My Family Tree As Told to Leonard E. Read, and Depressions: Their causes and cure (Politics minibooks). These books challenge students to think differently about the law, government, and economics, and students are free to check them out and read them as they wish.

Last week, a student of mine checked out from my Liberty Library my copy of Moral Basis for Liberty. This book discusses why liberty and freedom are good and desirable things for a society- in my opinion, ideas and thoughts and arguments that shouldn't in any way be controversial or debatable. But apparently having books around for students to read that discuss why liberty and freedom are good is something that other teachers in public schools disagree with, because at our social studies department meeting today, I was confronted by several liberal teachers regarding this book.

After I sat down, several teachers stopped talking with one another and looked to the leader of the group, Mr. Liberal Teacher. He addressed me "Teacher, it has come to our attention that you are spreading your propaganda around the school, giving books to students on subjects that are controversial and debatable."

I was surprised, but of course sympathetic to his argument- I had brought up the same thing last year when he was requiring his students to read The Communist Manifesto and Che: The Diaries of Ernesto Che Guevara in his World History class. "What book am I passing out that is controversial and debatable?" I asked.

"Something about Moral Basis for Liberty," Liberal Teacher replied, and the other liberal teachers in his group nodded along. "What you do in your classroom is your own business, but you can't press your views on students regarding such issues as freedom and liberty."

This of course stunned me- I had never thought that students freely deciding to read books on liberty and freedom would prompt any sort of confrontation. Oh, I figured some of the more conservative or libertarian books in my library might cause some blowback, but not books that argued that freedom and liberty were moral!

Liberals and Democrats want liberty and freedom too, right? Or perhaps Mr. Liberal Teacher didn't want those things- from what I have heard about his classroom, he is a lot like other liberal teachers, and attempts to intimidate and browbeat and bully his students into agreeing with his liberal worldview, and as such would view critical thinking and the open exchange of ideas and freedom and liberty as a threat to what he is doing.

The educational workplace though is not the proper place to have a debate such as this, and from personal experience I have learned that fighting an open war with liberal teachers is a sure-fire way to get fired, so I simply said "Thank you for your concern" and changed the subject. For now, they were content enough to have simply fired their shots at me and were content with their attempts to intimidate me, but I have to admit, they probably shouldn't have let it go with just that.

They're right to fear me, and fear other conservative teachers like me, who are busy opening the minds of students to the possibility that it is okay to be a conservative or libertarian, that it is moral to want liberty, that freedom is a moral goal in itself, that government should be limited in a free society, that private property rights should be protected and respected, and that government is rarely the solution to the problem but often the problem.

I don't push these views in my classroom, but I make sure that they are available and that they are presented along with liberal and socialist and communist and fascist views, and as my students become more intelligent and wise and better critical thinkers, they are choosing on their own to listen to and follow the conservative views over others.

This liberal teacher should have gone farther in bullying and threatening me, because every year I churn through my classroom hundreds of more good patriots and citizens who someday will vote for a government that believes in the protection of life, liberty, and property.

He is right to fear me, because I'm teaching my students to be like our patriot hero forefathers, the philosopher revolutionaries who dared to challenge the bullies from across the sea and build a free nation, one based on a proposition that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain rights, and that government should be a just government based on the consent of the governed. Liberal Teacher made his points, but in the end, the game will be won by the forces of moral liberty, and I will have done my part to make that so.


British students winning thousands of pounds in refunds for poor University teaching

University students who complain about the quality of their teaching are winning thousands of pounds in refunds. The financial compensation awarded has so far ranged from a few hundred pounds to £45,000.

And the country’s leading student watchdog has warned that complaints against lecturers and universities are set to rise as the tuition-fee cap increases from £3,290 per year to £9,000.

Student complaints to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA), which looks into compensation cases on behalf of students, have doubled since 2005, to more than 1,000 last year.

‘Having looked at the figures, complaints rise as fees rise – that is very likely to happen. That is already a trend we have seen over the past few years,’ said Rob Behrens, the head of the OIA.

The highest amount that the OIA has secured is £45,000, which was awarded to a postgraduate student last year. Some students are calling in their own lawyers to sue universities independently.

A Freedom of Information request by The Mail on Sunday found that universities refunded a total of almost £60,000 to 50 successful claimants last year.

Mr Behrens added: ‘One of the effects of tuition fee rise is that students will act like consumers and will demand more.’


All British graduates hit by hidden cost of fees

Every graduate will be worse off under the Government’s reforms to university tuition fees than previously thought, according to details released by officials.

Plans put forward by the Coalition will also cost the Treasury billions of pounds more than the original proposals set out by Lord Browne’s review last month, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

Under the plans, which are expected to come into force in 2012, universities will be allowed to charge tuition fees of £9,000 a year, almost triple the current rate. Students will not be expected to pay fees while they study, but will receive government loans to cover the cost of their tuition.

Ministers said graduates would start paying back their loans only once they began earning £21,000 a year, with a higher, 3 per cent interest rate coming in for those earning above £41,000.

It had been widely assumed that these thresholds for repayments would rise every year with inflation and salaries, as Lord Browne, the former head of BP, had proposed. However, the Department for Business told the IFS that the thresholds would rise only every five years, meaning that many more graduates than previously thought would be forced to begin repayments sooner as salaries rose.

Professor Lorraine Dearden, from the IFS, said: “All graduates are going to be paying more than under Browne because of the threshold — £21,000 in 2020 in real terms is going to hit a lot more graduates than £21,000 in 2016,” she said.

Ministers hoped that by asking students to pay a higher share of the cost of their degrees, the burden on the taxpayer would be reduced.

Professor Dearden said the Government’s plans meant only about 10 per cent of graduates would pay back the full cost of their loans.