Saturday, December 04, 2010

For the Boys' Sake, Don't Kill the SAT

Three years ago, before any of my kids had reached the age to take the SATs, I noticed an interesting piece by Charles Murray on the tests. Murray is always interesting, of course, but I was curious about his take on the SAT because his views on IQ are well known.

Murray argued that the SAT should be scrapped. His case was not (no surprise) the usual indictment of the tests as culturally biased. Instead, he argued that the SAT is unnecessary and, in some ways, counterproductive.

The SAT began as a way for colleges to identify bright students from less than stellar high schools and give them an opportunity. Admission committees might discount excellent grades from inferior schools, but scores on an "aptitude" test (they later changed the word to "assessment" to avoid the accusation that the SAT was measuring IQ) could be revealing. Murray suggests that he used to think his own performance on the test was what got him into Harvard.

But a study by Saul Geiser and Roger Studley from the University of California seemed to show that the SATs contributed little to predicting a student's success in college, whereas achievement tests and high school grades were more reliable. "Those of us who thought that the SAT was our salvation were probably wrong ... our scores on achievement tests would have conveyed about the same picture to college admissions committees as our scores on the SAT conveyed."

The reality, Murray wrote, is that smart kids tend to do well on tests, whether a pop quiz or the AP exams. But whereas the SAT was originally designed to flag kids who might otherwise have been missed by college admissions committees, it has today become a "corrosive symbol of privilege." Everybody now believes, according to Murray, that wealthier parents can purchase higher scores for their kids through expensive coaching. And while Murray points out that this is not so (coaching adds, at most, a couple of dozen points, according to three studies), it is the case that children of college-educated (and graduate degreed) parents walk away with the best scores. Everyone else is found wanting. "All who enter an SAT testing hall feel judged by their scores," Murray writes.

While the idea of junking those stressful, laborious three-hour tests has its appeal, there are reasons to resist.

If achievement tests were substituted for the SAT, all of the cultural and psychological baggage of the high-stakes test would simply switch over. All would continue to "feel judged by their scores" -- just on a different test. (And Murray may overestimate the importance people attach to scores.)

Additionally, Murray doesn't account for the important male/female difference in test performance, particularly on aptitude tests. (Cards on the table: I write as a parent of three boys.) For whatever reason, during the past 30 years, our society has seen girls outperforming boys at every level of education. The average high school GPA for girls is 3.09. For boys, the average is 2.86. About one quarter more boys than girls drop out of high school, and boys are three times as likely to be expelled. Girls do significantly better at reading proficiency in all grades. And in math, traditionally a male preserve, the two sexes are tied. Women now earn 58 percent of bachelor's degrees and 60 percent of master's degrees in the U.S.

Something is going on. It may be the significant attention the educational establishment has lavished on girls, the lure of video games, the lack of fathers in so many homes, the fact that boys mature more slowly than girls, or maybe none of those. But we do know that whatever may be inhibiting them from excelling in high school as much as girls, boys do score proportionately better on the SATs.

In 2010, a total of 382 students scored a perfect 2400. Of these, 206 were boys, and 176 were girls. (If the writing test is omitted, 1,305 students got a 1600 -- 820 boys and 485 girls.) Among those who scored a 2350, 341 were boys, and 266 were girls. The same rough ratios hold (with one exception) for all of the scores in the top 10 percentiles. At the 90th percentile and below, some of the girls' scores are higher than the boys'. And in the middle range, it's a mixed bag.

So long as college requires mental ability, the SATs will remain a signal that boys with less than perfect high school records may be late bloomers or perhaps were ill served by their schools. But scrapping one of the few remaining avenues for talented boys to show, yes, their aptitude, seems unwise.


Students should be judged on 'potential', says Oxford admissions chief

If he really did want to do that, he would be using IQ tests. They are the best predictor of educational success -- and they are almost totally unaffected by home background

Universities should consider giving priority to pupils with good grades from poor performing schools, according to Oxford’s head of admissions. Students gaining a string of good grades at sink schools “may have more potential” than those with similar scores from elite schools and colleges, it was claimed.

Mike Nicholson, director of undergraduate admissions at Oxford, said universities should have “no hesitation” about taking students’ backgrounds into consideration during the applications process.

The comments are likely to fuel controversy over “social engineering” in university admissions. Headmasters have warned that the use of “contextual data” – including students’ school, family background and social class – risks penalising pupils with good results from top-performing independent schools.

It comes amid rising competition for university places. Demand for degree courses is expected to reach record levels next year as students scramble to get in to higher education before a sharp rise in tuition fees in 2012.

But the Sutton Trust – a charity campaigning to improve levels of social mobility – insisted universities still had a duty to “take into account the educational context of students when deciding whom to admit”.

It came as a report from the charity suggested that teenagers admitted on to degree courses with relatively low GCSE and A-level performed just as well as those with better grades. The study said a comprehensive school pupil with three Bs at A-level was just as likely to get a good degree as those admitted from private school with two As and a B.

Comprehensive students with average A-levels and GCSEs actually did better at university compared with privately-educated pupils with the same grades, the report added.

The Sutton Trust said this proved that universities were justified in making lower offers to pupils from poor-performing comprehensives. “The use of data about the educational context in which students have obtained their qualifications, particularly the type of school attended, should be encouraged when comparing the attainment of [higher education] candidates,” the study said.

Many top universities currently use contextual data during the applications process.

Addressing a conference in central London on Thursday, Mr Nicholson told how Oxford’s medical school looked into the number of A* grades applicants scored at GCSE – then compared scores with the overall performance of their school. “A student who gets five A*s from a school where nobody gets A*s may have more potential than a student who gets five A*s where the average student gets seven or eight A*s,” he said.

Speaking at the Westminster Education Forum, he said contextual data gave admissions tutors “an indication, if used rightly, of [students’] potential” to do well in a degree course. He said he had "no hestitation" in employing "evidence-based use of contextual information" during applications.

Meanwhile, the Sutton Trust study was condemned by the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents 250 top independent schools.

“This is just one of a number of studies of university outcomes which come to contradictory conclusions about the influence of different types of school education,” said a spokesman.

“Independent schools share universities’ enthusiasm to identify academic promise as well as prior attainment but this latest study does beg the question of why some comprehensive school students are evidently so less well prepared for A levels than those in independent schools.”


Australia: A private education has its awards

Non-disruptive classrooms give teachers time to teach

ONE of Melbourne's bastions of male privilege - Scotch College - has educated more of Australia's most honoured and influential citizens than any other school in the nation.

An analysis of the 435 people who have received the nation's top Order of Australia honours since they were first awarded in 1975, shows they disproportionately attended a handful of elite Victorian secondary schools.

Scotch College alumni blitzed the field, with 19 former students receiving Australia's highest honour, including former governor-general Sir Zelman Cowen, historian Hugh Stretton, High Court judge Kenneth Hayne, indigenous eye health pioneer Professor Hugh Taylor and former Tasmanian premier Jim Bacon.

The only school that comes close is Geelong Grammar, with former students, including Prince Charles and Rupert Murdoch, receiving 17 honours.

Alumni from the two schools have received more than 8 per cent of all the knight, dame or Companion of the Order of Australia honours - more than all the schools in each of Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, ACT and Northern Territory.

The analysis provides a fascinating insight into the transfer of social advantage through the school system, with independent schools dominating rankings in Victoria.

The only government school in Victoria to be ranked in the top 30 was the selective-entry Melbourne High School, whose alumni - including Nobel prizewinning neurophysiologist John Eccles and former Reserve Bank governor Ian Macfarlane - received six honours. However, study author Rohan Reid said outside of Victoria the dominant schools were not always private, with former students from the selective state schools Sydney Boys' High and Fort Street High receiving the third and equal fourth highest number of awards.

Professor Jack Keating from the University of Melbourne said that unlike Melbourne, Sydney had about 20 selective-entry high schools. "Sydney Boys and Fort Street are long-established, so the economic and social elite will be more inclined to send their kids there," Professor Keating said.

"The selective-entry high schools have been favoured by a certain middle class on the Labor side of politics. A lot of the lawyers' class and the professional class comes through these schools, whereas in Melbourne, the law and medical classes tend to come through the private schools."

He said the study mirrored the findings of Melbourne University researchers Mark Peel and Janet McCalman, who analysed the educational backgrounds of the people listed in the 1988 Who's Who. Again, Scotch College outranked all other schools.

Professor David Penington, an Old Scotch Collegian who was made a companion of the Order of Australia in 1988 for his service to medicine and the community, believes the school's Scottish Presbyterian background meant it has always placed a strong emphasis on community contribution.

It's a sentiment shared by former premier and old Scotch boy Jeff Kennett, AC, who still recalls the words of former headmaster Richard Selby Smith. "He used to say to us that we had an obligation to the college when we left school - it wasn't all about money, it was actually about service. It was something that stuck in my mind as a young boy."

Mr Kennett believes Order of Australia honours should reward what people do outside their jobs.

"I think there are so many people who consistently give to the community, who don't get the recognition they deserve," he said. Author Shane Maloney infamously described Scotch College as a "machine for the transmission of inherited privilege" during a creative writing seminar at the school nine years ago.

Asked whether the analysis of Order of Australia honours reinforced his view that Scotch was a factory of privilege, Mr Maloney said: "You could draw that conclusion. Alternatively, the argument could be put that it simply reinforces the value parents get for their money."


Friday, December 03, 2010

DC trailblazer comes to Florida

Gov.-elect Rick Scott [GOP] announced Thursday that he has formed a transition team of education and community leaders to help him create "a new education system for a new economy."

Topping the list is Michelle Rhee, the controversial former chancellor of Washington, D.C., schools who has become something of a rock star in the world of education reform. Sharply critical of teacher tenure, she butted heads with the teachers union and fired or forced out hundreds of educators and other employees before she resigned recently. She also closed dozens of failing schools.

The vast majority of the people named to Scott's education transition team — there are 18 of them — are from Florida, and some have been called upon by previous governors for guidance.

For example, Jonathan K. Hage, the president of Charter Schools USA, one of state's largest providers of charter schools, has helped both governors Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist, a spokesman for Hage said.

Before Thursday's announcement, there had been widespread speculation in the blogosphere and other media that Scott might ask Rhee to become Florida's next commissioner of education. Her selection to the transition team heightened that speculation.

Neither Scott nor Rhee could be reached for comment. And a spokesman for Florida's teachers union had little to say except, "We hope that the governor and the Legislature will seek the viewpoints of public-school teachers when discussing changes in our public schools."

It isn't yet clear precisely what Scott's transition team will do or how often it will meet. But his announcement said the group will help him find creative ways to cut costs and set legislative priorities that will "help reduce the size of government, improve the education system in Florida and meet the workforce needs necessary to create 700,000 jobs over the next seven years."

Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia, who was asked to serve on the team, said she expects Scott to use the panel to vet ideas. She said she was impressed by the breadth of views included in the group, including community members, business owners and supporters of charter schools, private-school vouchers and virtual schools.

Hillsborough is breaking ground in Florida in its own way by using a $100 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to overhaul teacher evaluation and pay. "It's a really important approach the governor is taking — to put together a group of people to give him insights as he takes over the governorship," Elia said.

Other members of the team, dubbed by Scott as his "Champions for Achievement," include Patricia Levesque, executive director of Bush's Foundation For Florida's Future; as well as Judy Genshaft, president of the University of South Florida; and Julio Fuentes, president of Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.


Britain should end the madness of "predicted" High School exam results

The current nonsensical system is a prize example of British eccentricity. I won't even try to explain it

Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, said exam boards should be required to mark tests quicker to give teenagers time to apply for degrees over the summer. Currently, applications are made on the basis of predicted results but as many as half of estimated grades turn out to be wrong.

There are also fears that the quality of predictions differs wildly between schools – often pushing students onto courses ill-suited for their needs.

Students usually sit final exams in May and courses are only confirmed when grades are published in mid-to-late August. It gives candidates just a few weeks to appeal against results and find places through the clearing system if they have fallen short of predicted grades.

Speaking on Thursday, Mrs Curnock Cook said Britain should move to a post-qualifications admissions system. She said examiners should “speed up the marking” of tests to allow pupils to apply for degree courses in early summer before starting university in September or October.

Ucas has already launched a review into the points-based tariff used to award places on degree courses following concerns that it fails to differentiate between students’ qualifications.

The move could give institutions greater freedom to prioritise candidates taking the toughest courses at school and sixth-form college.

Mrs Curnock Cook said: “I have come to the conclusion that probably the biggest single reform that we can do in the qualifications arena and higher education is to move to a post-qualifications admissions system. “This is something that’s been put in the ‘too difficult to handle box’ for a very long time.

“I have to say that I was quite shocked to have a circular from [exam boards] setting out the A-level results day dates for the next five years. And it is still that same Thursday in August. “You know, guys, what’s happened to technology? I cannot believe that in the next five years we cannot speed up the marking of exams.”

The comments were made in a speech to the Westminster Education Forum in central London.

Similar proposals were made by a leading official from the former Department for Education and Skills five years ago. But they were rejected amid claims that they would not leave enough time for rigorous academic selection. It could also have a serious impact on university interviews and aptitude tests staged by the most selective universities.


Australia: Bureaucracy that it as obstructive as it is stupid holds back university research

A year ago I was introduced at a blue chip institute, owned by Sydney University, to an eminent professor leading an exciting research project. His team had (almost) isolated the scent molecule in cat fur that is recognised by and affects the behaviour of rodents. He can demonstrate that exposing rats to the critical molecule, in tiny concentrations, causes them to flee from the source, with great reluctance to return, and brief exposure appears to interrupt their prolific breeding cycle. Almost one-third of the Indonesian rice crop is lost to rats and mice each year. For a country trying to feed 240 million people, most of whom eat rice every day, this is a seriously interesting idea.

The professor needed $300,000 to fund three senior scientists and their equipment and materials for a year to take the final step in isolating the active molecule from a dozen alternatives. I offered to raise the money privately but he explained this was not possible, as any private investment had to be sanctioned and brokered by the university's commercialisation arm, Sydnovate. I was informed that his funding rounds take place at fixed intervals – miss one and you have to wait for the next – and that grants of $50,000 are hard to get. It was possible for a private investor to help but there were very strict rules. The last time his team had gone down this path, it took two years to consider the request and a competing university in Europe published the innovation in the interim.

The Commonwealth gave Sydney University $750 million in grants in 2009 – before you get to HECS payments and student fees. About $200 million a year goes to the faculty of medicine for research. Those funds employ a small army of very clever men and women in trying to solve human health-related problems. Sydnovate's sole purpose is to commercialise the good ideas that this army of researchers (and their colleagues in the faculties of engineering, chemistry, etc) create. So what is the royalty return that we taxpayers get for $750 million a year? It's $2.5 million in 2009 out of total university revenue of $1.4 billion – or one-third of 1 per cent. After 160 years of operation, Sydney University makes more money selling beer and hamburgers to students than it does licensing intellectual property.

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Sydnovate employs 26 full-time staff including six lawyers and five PhDs. Like one hand clapping, they are expert at registering patents, hopeless at making money – all protection, no profit. They remind me of the Soviet shoe factory that suffered a failure of the left sole cutter and continued producing thousands of right shoes, knowing their quota in a command economy was measured by the number of shoes produced, rather than the number of pairs. There are partnerships, where industry has come to the university asking for help in a research task, but as far as I can tell, negligible revenue from faculty-created knowledge. Performance reporting is opaque; Sydnovate doesn't produce an annual report. If public company directors practised these levels of transparency with other people's money, they would be struck off.

It's unfair to pick on one institution when the story is repeated so consistently. The University of Queensland gets points for effort in its Uniseed collaboration with Melbourne University and UNSW, which has attracted $15 million in third-party superannuation investment.

That ray of hope is overshadowed by the most recent DEEWR data (2008) suggesting "royalties, trademarks and licences" generate 0.46 per cent of total university operating revenue. By contrast, one US listed therapeutics company, AmGen, has amassed $50 billion in 30 years, improving the prospects of 18 million patients, by commercialising three good ideas.

The cost of running a research-intensive university is rising twice as fast as government willingness to fund it. The most creative idea to fill the hole seems to be more full-fee-paying foreign students. We go through the motions of running commercialisation units but there is little conviction and fewer results – partly because the culture of the education unions is so anti-profit and anti-business. How can our universities credibly teach "entrepreneurship" when their own record on the subject is so bad?

There will always be a place for "pure" research but we must move beyond the infantilism of institutions addicted to the easy money of government grants and foreign students.

The relevant leading body of public institutions – Knowledge Commercialisation Australia (KCA) – appears to see its role as rationalising the failure of its members and organising further and deeper raids on commonwealth and state treasuries.

KCA's message is that Australian universities ought to expect to make much less than 1 per cent of revenue from commercialising ideas because "discoveries that produce financial bonanzas are so rare that policies designed to pursue them would almost always lead to failure".

How inspiring. Recurrent funding to public research institutes should include incentives and penalties. If they prove incapable of giving cartilage to ideas, we should contract the role to others. Researchers must be able to bypass the politburos masquerading as deal-brokers. We could create an annual "Australian Innovation Market", bringing together venture capitalists and the research community, allowing scientists to produce a simple prospectus and pitch deals to recruit capital in a global online IP auction.

Failure to act also involves risk. The rats will keep eating the rice and our best minds will emigrate, fondly recalling Australia as a nice place to retire.


Thursday, December 02, 2010

Feds should flunk out of education

If there's one thing the 2010 elections made clear, it's that voters want a smaller, cheaper, more effective federal government. A terrific place to start giving them that is education. Washington meddles in our schools without constitutional authority to do so, and, as newly released test scores illustrate, without making things any better.

The scores in question are from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the so-called "Nation's Report Card." More specifically, they are reading and mathematics scores for 12th-graders — our schools' "final products" — and they reveal federal failure on at least two levels.

First, there are the scores themselves. In reading, they were slightly lower than in 1998 or 1992, and they are part of an overall trend of almost pure stagnation. In mathematics, there was a tiny uptick from 2005-09 and ... that was it. The NAEP framework for math was changed so drastically from 2002-05 that no pre-2005 scores were comparable, making no meaningful trend discernable. Nonetheless, the NAEP press release touted gains for math and reading.

So our latest federal test results show stagnation in reading, and for all practical purposes nothing in math. The federal government has neither improved outcomes on its own metric, nor kept its metric very useful.

To be fair, there are lots of NAEP tests, including a long-term mathematics assessment that tracks achievement consistently since the early 1970s. Only the so-called "main" math NAEP is hobbled right now. The long-term test, though, confirms the big point: There's been essentially no change in high school math achievement for the last nearly four decades.

It hasn't been for a lack of spending or legislating.

According to the federal Digest of Education Statistics, in 1970 Washington spent an inflation-adjusted $32 billion on elementary and secondary education. In 2009, the feds blew an estimated $83 billion — about a 160 percent increase. On a per-pupil basis, the Digest reports an inflation-adjusted rise from $435 in 1970 to $1,015 in 2006 (the latest year with per-pupil data).

Of course, Washington hasn't just spent money. It's increasingly demanded more standards, testing, and "accountability." The No Child Left Behind Act is the apogee of that, as well as a terrific example of federal failure. While it's impossible to ascribe results completely to NCLB, we know for sure that scores haven't improved under the law. High school reading results were slightly higher before NCLB than after according to the most recent NAEP scores, and the long-term trend shows math achievement a wee bit higher before the law.

Why does Washington fail? In part because actual educational success hasn't mattered that much. On the assumption that it would translate into better results, well-intentioned voters have generally supported politicians who have promised to spend more money and make schools "accountable."

The problem is that politicians say lots of things, and, unlike when you pay more for a car to get better safety or mileage, when politicians spend money it's often not to get better education. No, it's to curry favor with teacher unions, administrator associations or other special interests whose members get paid with increased federal funding and will raise hell for politicians who don't push it. So spending goes up, up, up, but achievement stays down, down, down.

Perhaps, though, the public has finally wised up. It certainly has when it comes to the overall size of government: According to Nov. 2 exit polls, 56 percent of voters think "government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals." Only 38 percent feel "government should do more to solve problems."

There isn't such exit polling data for education, but other bits of information suggest that the sentiment applies there, too. For instance, several victorious Tea Party-type candidates such as Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, have spoken explicitly about eliminating the U.S. Department of Education. And the most recent Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll on attitudes about public schooling revealed that a sizable majority of Americans think education should remain primarily a state and local function.

In light of all this, it seems that the time has come to start pulling Washington out of education. Not only might the political stars have aligned, but we have fresh new evidence that the federal government is an educational failure.


Latin lessons for British state school pupils aged five in language revival bid

The study of Latin is one of the best ways of learning to use English well so I heartily approve -- but I would like to know where they are going to get the teachers for it

Children as young as five will be given Latin lessons as ministers attempt to revive the language in primary and secondary schools. Condemning the long-term ‘decimation’ of Latin in state schools, Education Minister Nick Gibb swept away Labour guidance which effectively restricted primaries to teaching modern languages.

He also revealed teenagers taking a GCSE in Latin or Greek will be able to count the qualification towards the new English Baccalaureate, the proposed benchmark for secondary school achievement. It will be awarded to youngsters gaining at least a C at GCSE in English, maths, a science, a humanities subject and a language.

The emphasis on languages comes as ministers prepare to overhaul the National Curriculum. Mr Gibb told the Politeia think-tank in London that learning Latin helps general language skills, but it had been squeezed out by a curriculum ‘straitjacket’.

Those who argued it should not be taught to state pupils as it was ‘elitist’ were widening the gap between the rich and poor, he said. A ‘pitifully small’ number of primaries teach Latin and only 9,246 teenagers took a GCSE in it last year – 70 per cent of them at private schools, he added.


Weak excuse to ban conservative student group at USF

Mike Adams

The University of South Florida (USF) has reversed its denial of recognition to the USF Young Pakistani Student Cultural group. USF had argued that the Young Pakistanis were too "similar" to the Young Indian Student Cultural group on campus. After USF denied the Young Pakistani application for recognition, they came to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help.

This case is disturbing because USF currently recognizes over 60 multicultural groups and no fewer than 20 engineering clubs. But, according to USF, the Pakistanis are considered too similar to Indians to be allowed on campus. The Pakistanis were initially told to simply join the Indian group because USF administrators were unable to discern a difference between the two groups.

The ordeal of the USF Young Pakistanis began in April 2010 when they submitted a constitution in order to gain official recognition. USF rejected the application in a September e-mail from the USF Student Programs Coordinator. She told the Young Pakistani Founding Chairman the following: "the purpose of your proposed organization may be fairly similar, if not the same, as another existing organization that is established at the USF Tampa campus." She added "no other student organization can exist with the same or similar mission/purpose."

By now, the reader of this column may be sensing some familiarity with the general argument employed by USF. A few years ago, the University of Miami refused to recognize Advocates for Conservative Thought (ACT), a student organization that was created for "the exposition and promotion of conservative principles and ideas." The University of Miami argued that this decision was justified because it had previously recognized the College Republicans. FIRE also intervened in that case and ACT finally received official recognition. This was after four failed attempts without the help of FIRE.

By now, the reader of this column may also be sensing that it is a parody. USF did not ban the Pakistanis because they were similar to the Indians. USF banned a conservative group, Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), because it was similar to a libertarian group, Young Americans for Liberty. The analogy is a good one given the extent to which conservatives and libertarians often fight over important issues.

Fortunately, FIRE wrote USF President Judy Genshaft in October in order to explain (slowly) that YAF and Young Americans for Liberty are indeed different in terms of their ideology and stated goals. FIRE also explained that USF's policy is unconstitutional. Specifically, the policy gives administrators too much discretion to reject new student organizations. Such discretion fails the Supreme Court's 40-year old requirement that government representatives use "narrow, objective, and definite standards" when subjecting First Amendment rights to a permit system. See Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham (1969).

The good news is that USF Dean of Students Kevin Banks has responded to FIRE. And he has provisionally recognized YAF pending approval of the group's constitution. The bad news is that USF has yet to revise its unconstitutional policy of preventing groups "with the same purpose/goals" from obtaining recognition.

FIRE Vice President of Programs Adam Kissel observed that, after the College Republicans, YAF is the largest and oldest conservative student organization in the United States. Given that fact, it seems a stretch to imagine that USF administrators really are ignorant and/or confused about how YAF differs from Young Americans for Liberty, which is only a couple of years old. After all, the folks who approve different student organizations should know something about how student organizations differ.

Maybe the great minds roaming the administrative halls of USF really failed to grasp the difference between these two groups. Maybe they still fail to grasp the larger differences between conservatives and libertarians. It is more likely, however, that USF administrators knew the groups were different from each other – and, more importantly, different from the administration. And because neither is liberal their collective campus influence had to be minimized.

The sad thing about all of this is that these administrators usually call themselves liberals. There used to be a difference between liberals and totalitarians. To be honest, I can’t tell the difference anymore.


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Antisemitism at Princeton

Under the usual cloak of misrepresentations about Israel. The name "sabra" would of course be a red rag to an antisemite. It is a descriptive nickname for native-born Israeli Jews

Beginning today, students will be able to register support, opposition or complete apathy toward the Sabra hummus referendum, which has been hotly debated on campus over the past two weeks. The referendum will appear on the USG runoff election ballot this week. If passed, it will ask Dining Services to supply an alternative brand of hummus in addition to Sabra.

The petition for the referendum, which was submitted Tuesday night with the signatures of 269 undergraduates, is one piece of a campaign by the Princeton Committee on Palestine to register moral opposition to the activities of The Strauss Group, which owns 50 percent of Sabra Dipping Company. PepsiCo owns the other half.

The Strauss Group has made public statements in support of the Israeli Defense Forces and also sends care packages to soldiers. The Golani Brigade, members of which have been accused of human rights abuses, has been financially and publicly supported by The Strauss Group.

The referendum has garnered coverage in numerous publications around the world, from Fox News to The Huffington Post to The Jerusalem Post. It is part of a larger movement calling for the boycott of and divestment from companies supporting alleged human rights abusers within the Israeli military.

While alternative brands are available at the U-Store and off campus, Sabra is the only brand sold at University-run retail locations and the only hummus that can be purchased at late meal in Frist Campus Center. The U-Store, which sells other brands, is not run by the University.

According to Campion, the lack of options in University retail locations causes a problem. “Students can only use their meal plan, which they’ve have already invested a lot of money in, to purchase one kind of hummus,” she said. She did acknowledge, however, that Dining Services also makes its own hummus which is served in residential college dining halls.

PCP’s Sabra hummus campaign was inspired by Philly BDS, an organization that calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against companies that support the Israeli military. The organization, which similarly emphasizes the human rights abuses of the Golani Brigade, has also targeted companies it sees as “partners” of the military.

The campaign against Sabra hummus has spread to other campuses. DePaul University in Chicago has discontinued sale of Sabra products, and students at the University of Pennsylvania have taken both sides in a boycott campaign in Philadelphia.


Hatred of Christianity in an American school again

It was a state semi-final game and there was a lot riding on 23-yard touchdown run by Tumwater High School’s running back Ronnie Hastie. After he crossed into the end zone for his second quarter score, Hastie took a knee and briefly pointed to heaven above, thanking God.

It was this action which drew the attention of one referee and, subsequently, the referee’s yellow flag. Hastie was surprised to learn that his momentary pause for prayer would earn him a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports:

Hastie said he‘s pointed up as a gesture to God after every touchdown he’s scored in every game and never had a problem before. “It’s usually one or two seconds long,” he said.

Hastie said he asked the ref why he was penalized, and the ref responded that Hastie wasn’t supposed to draw attention to himself. “That wasn’t the point (of the gesture), so I guess I was a little confused,” Hastie said.

Asked if he planned to point to the sky after future touchdowns, Hastie said he would not. “I’ll just have to change it up and not make as big of a statement, I guess. The refs are in charge,” he said. “I‘ll just point to the sky once I’m off the field.”


Junk teachers for junk British schools

It reads as though it was written by a schoolchild – and a below-average student at that. But this brief note, riddled with 16 grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, was actually the work of a teacher.

The report was sent by email to the parents of a pupil in the state school teacher's class, summarising the girl’s performance over the previous year.

But yesterday her mother said that all it really did was raise questions about the teacher's own ability. Alongside simple spelling mistakes such as 'requriements' and 'occaisions', were misplaced apostrophes, missing letters and embarrassing typos such as 'ativities’ and ‘everning'.

The unnamed teacher at 800-pupil Gleed Girls’ Technology College, in Spalding, Lincolnshire, committed her first two errors in the email’s subject heading, before the note even began.

The pupil's mother said: 'What concerns me most is that this teacher is supposed to be responsible for raising my daughter’s educational standards. 'If her standards are that low, how can she expect my daughter’s to be high? 'By the time I got to the third paragraph I’d noted five mistakes. 'I would always check an email before I clicked send.

'I am very happy with the school in all other aspects of their dealings with my daughter. But I just received this email and was shocked at how poorly written it was.'

The all-girls school’s website says it is a ‘trailblazing’ institution which has an 'excellent reputation locally and nationally’, although the school is rated only as 'satisfactory' by Ofsted.

The watchdog concluded its most recent inspection report in October 2007 by ordering the school to improve the 'quality of teaching and learning’.

Only days ago Education Secretary Michael Gove called for teachers to clamp down on poor spelling and grammar.

Yesterday, the school’s head, Liz Shawhulme, said she was ‘shocked by the number of mistakes, many of which appear to be typos'. 'It was obviously written in haste and not checked but this is no excuse and I will be contacting the parent to apologise.’

Marie Clair, of the Plain English Campaign, said: ‘Teachers who do this should wear their own dunces' hats.'


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Segregation as sponsored by today's Left

Mike Adams

Many African American Cultural Centers actually impede diversity by turning black students into racists and segregationists. And most of them make black students less tolerant by convincing them that they are somehow more enlightened and have special "perspective" simply because of their race. Recent events have convinced me that such arrogance is on the rise.

Last week, a black female graduate of our university called my office and left a message asking that I call her back regarding an “urgent matter.” I thought she had something important to say. I did not know at the time that I was going to hear a woman half my age lecture me on the importance of tolerance and diversity. But I’m glad she called because she set off a chain of media events that ended quite nicely for those us who are opposed to racism and segregation.

When the black alumna called she said she had read my recent column “If I Were President.” She wanted to know whether I was really going to abolish the African American Center. At that point, I already knew we were in for an educational conversation. These days, college graduates are not well-versed in satire. As an art form, it is swiftly becoming extinct.

Things went downhill in our conversation when this college graduate told me that she became upset with my remarks about getting rid of the African American Center after she “saw that I was white”. My seventh Great Grandfather fought in the American Revolution in order to preserve our basic God-given rights. But this college graduate seemed to suggest that the expression of basic human rights is contingent upon race. The African American Center she frequented as an undergraduate did not seem to give her the ability to reflect and remedy her own possible racism.

After hearing her tell me that she “got all amped up” in response to my satire I made a big mistake. I explained that I would get rid of all the centers if I really were running for chancellor. The alumna’s response was predictable. She said “If you don’t like diversity you should go find another university.” When I pointed out her hypocrisy she replied that I did not need to be “getting all amped up and taking that tone with (her).”

Sitting in my office getting a lecture on tolerance from someone half my age was bad. When I heard her tell me not to take “that tone” with her I wondered “Could it possibly get any worse?” Well, yes it could. Next, she dropped this bombshell: “I will be in touch with your supervisors.” She even promised to drive in from out of town to set up personal meetings with them.

(Author’s Note: Ironically, both of the administrators she promised to contact are defendants in a First Amendment lawsuit pending before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia. Oral arguments in Adams v. UNCW are scheduled to begin on January 25th).

I got off the phone with the woman who did not like my tone (although at the time I did not think of that rhyme). Shortly after that, the local media decided to get involved. The TV cameras rolled out to UNCW’s African American Center in order to get this footage of a young diversity expert giving his take on the situation. Notice that he confidently asserts that my speech is way outside the mainstream – so much so that it is “inappropriate” to suggest that I represent the university.

The WWAY website (a local TV station) ran a poll, which I am thankful to have won by a ratio of eight-to-one. That is significant because my percentage of support greatly outnumbers the local and national white population. Yet this young diversity expert will probably never acknowledge that his own views are seen by most as “incredible, to say the least” and “inappropriate” at an institution of higher learning.

Note that the WWAY survey was worded in such a way as to steer the results in a certain direction. A better poll would have asked “Does Scott Pickey understand that the First Amendment only protects offensive speech because inoffensive speech does not need protection? Yes or No.” Or “Is Scott Pickey a) an objective journalist? Or, b) a political commentator like Mike Adams?” (Pickey is the reporter who wrote the online version of the story. The reporter handling the video portion of the story was completely objective).

The highlight of the news video is, of course, the portion featuring a black female student who tells us that we still need diversity centers because of the persistence of racism and sexism. But she made the statement while wearing big black sorority letters emblazoned on her blouse. In other words, while lecturing us on the persistence of racism and sexism she was touting her membership in an organization that limits its membership to blacks and women. The hypocrisy of asking the public to fund “solutions” to the “problems” she is exacerbating is simply staggering.

These students did not become so confused overnight. The cultivation their sanctimonious hypocrisy has taken years of indoctrination in the centers of so-called diversity. Even if those centers are shut down the students will retain the right to express their segregationist views. Such views are protected by the First Amendment regardless of how offensive they may be.


Some hope for mathematics teaching in Britain

Car journeys in our family have long been dominated, not by the soothing strains of Classic FM, but by the age-old battle over times tables. Every journey ended with me banging my head on the steering wheel, offering through grinding gnashers: “What are seven eights? No, darling, it’s 56. Now chant it 10 times after me…”

Is it a girl thing? My daughter Emilia is pretty bright. By seven she was a voracious reader with a good vocabulary; yet her maths was often muddled. Which is a shame, as maths graduates earn significantly over the UK average – and a cool £5k more than English graduates – if the latest Complete University Guide is to be believed.

I couldn’t really dangle graduate salary tables in front of a seven-year-old. But I tried everything else. Shouting, obviously. Bribery, blackmail. Even patience.

To be fair, Emilia is hardly alone in struggling with maths. Lenny Henry touched on this in his Radio 4 programme earlier this year, What’s So Great About Maths? For many, there is something intrinsically terrifying about numbers.

We, thankfully, have found deliverance through Emma Jonas, a maths teacher and former headmistress who happened to live near us in Kent. Friends gave glowing testimonies about how she had coached their children through the 11-plus. Since then, her reputation has, well, multiplied to the power of 10: her book, Mrs J Rules, is selling well, and she looks like doing for maths what Supernanny did for the naughty step.

After a few lessons, Emilia is scarcely closer to becoming the next Alan Turing – or even Carol Vorderman – but she is (excuse boastful parental interlude) comfortably in the top half of her maths class – and top at times tables. As turnarounds go, this would be the equivalent of the England football team learning how to thread a pass.

Tables, according to Mrs J, are the building blocks of all maths. “Children often say they know their tables, but they are effectively counting. If they can give the answer instantly they can do more complicated sums such as imperfect fractions so much quicker. This transforms their results in exams for their entire school career,” she says.

The Jonas technique is to make tables fun. Yes, I, too, was sceptical. But I’ve just tried my six-year-old, Fred, out on “Mrs J’s Brilliant Tables Game”, and the remarkable thing is he actually begs to play it (normally he dodges work and soap with equal zeal).

“I know how important it is to engage the child because maths didn’t come easily to me either, and I would get a tummy ache before tables tests,” smiles Jonas, who became a teacher precisely because she couldn’t believe how badly she had been taught. “One school report said: 'She has a cheerful disregard for learning the facts’.” Jonas turns table learning into a brightly coloured card game, which is multi-sensorial.

It really does seem to live up to its slogan: “warning: might make tables easy”. She calls her recent success a “miracle”, admitting that when she self-published her book even the printer reckoned she was wasting her time. “He said a lot of this will need to be recycled,” laughs Jonas, who has just added a book to make English easy.

As for maths, schools do seem to be dragging it from the dark days of blackboard horror. At his primary school (Chiddingstone, near Edenbridge), Fred is less likely to be found doing a sum on a board than counting virtual bubbles in a bath on a computer screen. The girls’ school Walthamstow Hall in Sevenoaks organises “maths races” between primary schools, where pupils from each compete to see who can do the most tables in a short time. For older children there are lectures explaining the maths of such disparate phenomena as clouds and lightning. Whisper it, but it actually sounds mildly interesting.

Oh, and it’s probably not a girl thing, apparently. A vast test by Brian Butterworth of University College London suggested that women are better at quantifying than men. Maths is, as Lenny Henry discovered, a teaching thing.


Something odd about home schooling?

Comment from Australia

Next year I will educate one of my primary school-aged children at home. It suits him, for now, and it will suit me, now that I have made some changes. Yet it doesn't seem to suit anyone else. Even the government representative – meant to support parents and children undertaking home education – seemed, well, judgmental. When I asked why it took a few months for approval to come through – nothing accusatorial in my tone, just wanting to be across the process – she caustically responded “because we care about the children”.

My son loves to learn – more broadly than the curriculum dictates. I like to teach, and I too am still learning. I will organise help if there are elements beyond me. Basically, we are excited. And I am not asking for the $10,722 it would have cost the government to have him in primary school next year. So which bit is confronting?

Teaching has been around as long as humans have, but education and schools are relatively newer concepts, particularly our industrialised version.

The reactions of others would suggest I am removing my son from a perfect education system, a system that, despite some excellent teachers, stands accused of narrowing education, teaching to the test and moving towards rewarding a school, or recognising the "best" teachers, based on flawed measures that foster stress and desperation.

The NSW Board of Studies oversees home education in NSW. Parents or carers must complete an interview with an authorised person within the home. They need to demonstrate that a suitable education program, in accordance with the curriculum provided by the Education Act and Board of Studies syllabuses, has been devised and learning experiences, student achievements and progress can be recorded. Registration for home schooling is granted for a set period, usually between six months and two years, and once it expires you have to re-apply.

Home schooling has steadily increased in recent years. In 2009, 1945 children were registered for home schooling in NSW compared with 1417 in 2005, according to the NSW Board of Studies. More than 1.5 million students were educated at home in the US during 2007, compared with 1.1 million in 2003 and 850,000 in 1999, the US Department of Education says.

A Stanford University journal, Education Next, reported last year that the phenomenon was becoming mainstream, and the most common reason was a concern about the local school environment, rather than religious beliefs.

Research on the performance of home-schooled children here is close to non-existent. But most overseas studies indicate they perform the same, or better, both academically and socially.

Choosing to educate at home is a way of doing things differently. It may not be suitable for everyone – school is a safety net too for many families – but it should not be maligned or deemed unnatural.

The cartoonist and philosopher Michael Leunig did it for more than 10 years. He says home schooling forces parents to re-examine their own values and learning, and question what is worth doing in life. “Having the top score at 18 isn't going to help if you have a nervous breakdown at 40 . . . We are watching horrible pressure being put on children. Human happiness, sanity and health is involved in this issue. Taking back what we are meant to do is a bold step. It's not just about educating, it's about protecting character, it's about parenting.”

"What about the socialisation?" say many of those who disapprove. Frankly, much of the socialisation at school constitutes quips such as “You're gay” (if you, say, go to the library voluntarily) or, “You're weird” (if you don't own a gaming console).

If repeated exposure to this prepares a child for the adult world, then we are doing something very wrong in the adult world. So much of the school experience is just surviving – a strange way to fritter our Western advantage. Research published this year as part of the UK Millennium Cohort Study, which tracks the development of 15,000 children born between 2000 and 2002, found that one in four boys hate school by the age of seven.

Educating a child at home is a legitimate choice. Why are we so frightened of doing things differently? Why are we so frightened of others doing things differently?


Monday, November 29, 2010

Some Massachusetts school districts may drop religious holidays

I'm guessing that attendance will be rather poor on Christmas day

School officials in Acton, Boxborough, and Harvard are looking at removing all religious holidays from next year’s school calendars.

Currently, classes in the districts are not held on a Christian holiday, Good Friday, and the Jewish holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana.

The Acton-Boxborough Regional School Committee is scheduled to discuss the issue and vote on next year’s calendar during its meeting Thursday night, while the Harvard School Committee has scheduled a vote for Dec. 13.

Harvard’s School Committee chairman, Keith Cheveralls, said all indications point to the board eliminating the holidays from the calendar. The committee held a meeting on the issue Monday, and discussed a proposal that calls for eliminating religious holidays, and a second policy ensuring that all students and faculty are given reasonable accommodations to observe them, he said.

“It was quite apparent that the committee has a desire to move to a model where we do not recognize religious holidays,’’ Cheveralls said.

Last year, Harvard appointed a subcommittee to study the proposal, but it was unable to reach a recommendation, he said. “It’s a very emotional issue. We’ve tried to be very thoughtful and be considerate of all views.’’

The move to drop the holidays does not appear to have as much support in the Acton-Boxborough school district, where Superintendent Stephen Mills said he has recommended making no changes to the school calendar. It would mean no classes would be held at the regional district’s junior and senior high schools on Good Friday, Yom Kippur, and Rosh Hashana.

To help the committee make a decision, the district asked parents and faculty to take a survey. Mills said the survey, which closed on Nov. 19, found that the district would require a significant number of substitute teachers if classes are held on those holidays.

“It would be difficult but we could accommodate the Jewish holidays,’’ Mills said. “Good Friday presents a real problem in terms of my ability to manage the school system. That would be really problematic.’’

The survey found that 43 teachers would take off the Jewish holidays and 157 teachers would not work on Good Friday. On a typical day, the district uses about 15 to 20 substitutes, Mills said.

Of the 5,500 students in the middle and high school district, about 200 students would stay home on the Jewish holidays, and 300 on Good Friday, he said. The district is about 90 percent Christian and 7 percent Jewish; the remainder is other religions.

Other schools have also considered changes involving religious holidays.

In Natick, the School Committee recently approved a calendar that keeps its observance of Rosh Hashana at two days. Superintendent Peter Sanchioni had proposed reducing it to a single day. Rosh Hashana, one of the holiest days in Judaism, marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year. Some Jews celebrate the holiday for one day while others celebrate it for two days. Framingham has two days off for the holiday, while Wayland, Newton, Dover-Sherborn, and Wellesley have one.

In Cambridge, school officials have decided to cancel classes on one Muslim holiday beginning with the next school year.

In Harvard, Cheveralls said the School Committee is acting on the religious holidays issue because some residents and members question whether the system should single out any religions for special treatment. He pointed out that the town now has some 19 cultures and it would be difficult to satisfy each with a holiday.


The NYC disaster continues

City schools chancellor nominee Cathie Black insists she's connected to public education via a highly touted charter school - but a close look shows she's had no contact with students, parents or teachers there.

Officials at the Harlem Village Academies admit the school's National Leadership Board, which Black joined just five months ago, has never met. That board "has no operational or governing authority" over the school and exists for "support purposes only," the school said in response to Daily News questions.

Black primarily advised the school's CEO, Deborah Kenny, on "management, leadership, and the development of a book" Kenny is writing, the school said.

Harlem Village parents and former employees had little knowledge of Black, who is expected to get a state waiver that will allow her to take the job despite having almost no education experience. "No, no, no, she's not with us," said the parent of a sixth-grader. "She's not on our board. We have a lot of people who give money, lots of very famous people come here. That could be what it is." A second parent added, "I've heard of Cathie Black from the papers, but she's not part of this school."

Black's link to Harlem Village appears to be her only connection to New York public schools. She went to Catholic school, sent her children to a Connecticut boarding school and spent her career in the publishing business.

A former Harlem Village employee said Black visited the school in 2009 at Kenny's invitation as a possible donor. After that, the former employee never saw Black again. Harlem Village officials said Black started on the board in July, a month after she lost her job as president of Hearst Magazines. It's not clear when Mayor Bloomberg first approached Black with the idea of becoming chancellor.

Whatever Black's role there, Harlem Village has little in common with the average public school. Kenny, who oversees 450 students, is paid $442,000, including a $140,000 "bonus" and $27,780 in "other" expenses.

The schools chancellor gets $250,000 to oversee 1.1 million students.

Many charter schools have a parent representative on their board. Harlem Village does not.

Bloomberg has called the school a national "poster child" for school reform. Conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch gave $5 million toward construction of the new high school.

The school has been lauded nationally for its high test scores, including for pushing 100% of its eighth-graders to pass state math tests.

A look at the overall scores tells a different tale. In the last round of tests, like schools across New York, numbers dropped precipitously after the state made the tests tougher.


The British schools where English is a foreign language for 80% of pupils

Children who speak English as their first language are in a minority in a rapidly growing number of schools, figures reveal. The surge has been most pronounced in London, where in some boroughs youngsters with a different mother tongue make up nearly 80 per cent of primary pupils.

However it is not confined to the capital. In Birmingham, Bradford and Leicester more than 40 per cent of pupils across all primary schools do not count English as their first language. Nationally, English is a foreign tongue to nearly one in six youngsters in primary schools.

The figures, to be published this week, have almost doubled during the past decade and are projected to increase to 23 per cent – 830,000 out of 3.5million – by 2018.

There are concerns that the increases will place school finances under strain as a growing number of youngsters require help with English. MigrationWatch, which conducted the study using figures from the Office for National Statistics, believes that over the next five years more than 500,000 extra school places will be needed for the children of immigrants who arrived in Britain after 1998. This will cost the Treasury £40billion, equal to a penny in the pound on the basic rate of income tax.

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of MigrationWatch UK, said the trend will lower education standards for native English-speaking children. He said: ‘These pupils will of course continue through the education system but it is primary schools where the effect is being felt most acutely at present and where English-speaking children are bound to suffer as immigrant children require extra help.’

The figures reflect a more than four-fold increase in immigration since Labour came to power. Net annual immigration has increased from 48,000 in 1997 to 215,000 in 2009. Across London as a whole, children who speak English as a second language total nearly a half of all pupils – 44.6 per cent.

But in inner London, they number 55 per cent of primary school pupils, and in boroughs such as Tower Hamlets, Westminster and Newham, they form nearly eight in ten of primary pupils.

The lowest populations of youngsters with English as a second language are in the South West and North East. Outside London, the area with the biggest proportion of pupils without English as their first language is Slough, Berkshire. The education authority to record the sharpest increase in the past decade was Luton, Bedfordshire, where almost half have a different mother tongue.

However, while the figures show the number of pupils who are not native English speakers, they do not take into account their fluency in English. Recent Government figures on reading and writing skills among 11-year-olds, show, on average, that children of Indian and Chinese ethnicity outstrip their white British counterparts.

Hazel Blears, a Communities Secretary under Labour, was involved in the party’s immigration policy. She said the figures should be treated with caution. ‘They may be first-generation immigrants and their parents may not speak English, but they [the children] might do.

‘That said, you have to recognise that where you have a large surge in the number of people coming from other countries then you have to deal with that by, for example, having more teaching assistants,’ she said.

Labour has been criticised for almost doubling the number of teaching assistants in schools while the number of qualified teachers remained relatively static.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Islamic Supremacism in Christian Schools

File this under "what were they thinking?" Look at 1,400 years of Islamic expansionism, supremacism and imperialism, and what did they think would happen? Look at the Middle East -- once entirely Christian, now entrely Islamic save for the tiny Jewish state. What did they think would happen?

Look at Europe today. What did they think would happen? Look at the Islamic persecution of Christians in Indonesia, Egypt, Sudan, Darfur, Lebanon, etc........ what did they think would happen?
As Muslim enrollment increases at Christian schools, especially in Europe, so too does interfaith conflict at such institutions. A recent piece in Le Figaro highlights the stresses placed on French Catholic schools in particular. For example, the report describes how one had set up a crib for Advent, but "a Muslim parent demanded its removal, saying 'a Muslim cannot hear that Jesus is the Son of God.'" At another, Muslims walked all over a well-intentioned but hapless administrator:
A headmistress … offered Muslim students a room in which to pray and to help them avoid being caught in rain in the school courtyard. The students have turned it into a prayer room and invite other people who have nothing to do with the school to pray with them. Since then the director has been unable to use this space for other activities.

Of course, Christian schools also share many of the challenges faced by secular ones, such as students refusing to swim during Ramadan due to fear of swallowing water (an old standard). No word from Le Figaro on whether Muslims in French Catholic schools respond to lessons on evolution or the Holocaust any more positively than their public school counterparts do.

A 2008 New York Times article explains that France's hijab ban in state-run classes has pushed Muslims to Catholic schools, which are not bound by this law and must accept students of all faiths to qualify for subsidies. Yet even the less critical Times piece could not ignore the ensuing cultural friction. For example, it relates the story of one Catholic school's headmaster who, after a series of accommodations, finally had to "put his foot down when students asked to remove the crucifix in a classroom they wanted for communal prayers during Ramadan."

Christian schools elsewhere are caught in a similar cycle. NIS News reported in 2008 that "two Amsterdam secondary schools with a Christian basis are to close during [Eid al-Fitr] to accede to their Muslim pupils." A year later, a Dutch Catholic elementary school with a handful of Muslims was planning to serve halal food at a Christmas meal, but officials reversed course following parental outrage.

In the UK, bishops have recommended that Catholic schools include prayer rooms and washing facilities for Muslims. The Times of London has also noted that at least one Muslim-heavy Church of England school "no longer observes the requirement to have an act of daily collective worship that is 'consistently and recognizably Christian.'"


Misguided British government attack on school sport

Gove has been declaring ‘war’ on education this week. You can argue elsewhere about the merits of his plans in the academic arena. But some of the collateral damage he has inflicted was idiotically destructive in the extreme, most notably the decision to wipe £162million of protected School Sports Partnership (SSP) funding from the books.

This is money that guaranteed five hours of children’s physical education classes and sports activity per week, allowing schools and colleges to combine facilities and resources.

Gove doesn’t like it. He says money should not be ring-fenced and head teachers must be able to spend their cash as they wish. Either he is stupid — and let us assume here that he is not — or he is being deliberately disingenuous. Gove knows full well why this money had to be ring-fenced.

Schools will not be assessed by any Government methodology or league table for their PE programmes or after-school sports clubs. And so pressurised head teachers will raid the sport pot for every eventuality. Competitions and events will disappear; schools with no PE teachers will find it difficult to link up with centres in their region that have trained staff and useful partnerships will collapse.

On the plus side, however, the bored kid that always sets fire to the wheelie bin outside your house might be easier to identify, because he’ll be too fat to run.

We all know money is tight right now, but this is a false economy on a staggeringly grand scale. The only time the majority of children take part in any worthwhile exercise is at school.

Health should be an absolutely essential part of their education plan, particularly in a country where so many youngsters are indolent and heart disease and diabetes are on the rise.

The amount involved here is also relatively tiny. It’s just over two per cent of the £7billion the UK rustled up to put a bankrupt Republic of Ireland back on the treadmill.

What’s more, for all the lousy education policies dreamt up by the last Government, here was a scheme that was delivering.

Youth Sports Trust (YST) statistics point out that seven years ago less than a quarter of school-children took part in the two hours of physical activity required in the curriculum. Now, thanks to the partnerships Gove aims to wreck, the figure is more than 90 per cent. But to fill the void he is needlessly creating, Gove proposes an ‘Olympic-style school event’.

That’s right. A few sporty kids will still get the chance to run about as they have always done while the rest will be sent back to their PlayStations and turkey twizzlers.

Gove and his Minister for Sport Hugh Something-or-other hoped their steaming dereliction of duty might pass unnoticed if they stuck the Olympics label on their glorified school sports day idea. Pretty much everyone saw through the cynicism.

This isn’t about pretending you can create Olympians through a school jamboree. It’s about the fact that everyday participation in sport gives children self-esteem, raises confidence levels and reduces anti-social behaviour. It provides them with a grounding in leadership, teamwork, or the simple benefits of working up a sweat. Not that Gove looks like he knows anything about that.

A former journalist, Lord help us, the only evidence I can find of Gove in active competition was during his time as ‘chief adjudicator at the World Universities Debating Championship’. I hear he ticked boxes on pieces of paper with great vigour.

He could be a secret jiu-jitsu black belt. But I suspect he was always the last kid picked for any team in the playground and this is his horrible revenge.

Needless to say Gove found some statistics to support his position, as any serial debater would. He toured television studios parroting the line that the scheme had failed because ‘only one child in five plays regular competitive sport against another school’.

Others, who actually know something about this topic, pointed out he had cherry-picked statistics and was talking complete Northampton Town (club nickname: ‘Cobblers’). David Cameron even stood at the Dispatch Box during Prime Minister’s Questions and, from a crib sheet provided by Gove’s department, declared: ‘The number of schools offering rugby (he meant union, not league, but didn’t feel the need to say this, being an Old Etonian), hockey, netball and gymnastics actually fell under the previous Government.’

As Channel 4 astutely pointed out in their analysis, that drop was negligible - between one and five per cent over seven years. But there was a reason for this.

Cameron had blithely ignored the fact that the number of state schools offering rugby league, football, athletics, cricket, tennis, basketball, cycling, golf, badminton, table tennis, volleyball, canoeing, archery, fitness classes, mountaineering, rowing, sailing, judo, karate, boxing, lacrosse, squash, equestrian sports, triathlon and even skateboarding, dance and orienteering had gone up.

In total, the average number of sports offered by any school had risen from 14 to 19, which more than accounted for the slight dip in the four sports Cameron had so cynically selected as failures. Did Gove leave that off his bluffer’s guide? I guess so.

Like all sport, it isn’t over until the final whistle. If you hate what the Government is about to do, if you are a parent, or someone who understands what SSPs contribute, then protest and complain.

Moreover, remember this disastrous plan when you see Cameron supporting the 2018 World Cup bid this week. Remember it when you see Gove’s goggle eyes swivelling in the free seats at the 2012 Olympics. Remember it when ministers elbow into photo opportunities alongside British medal winners at Downing Street in the hope of bathing in some reflected glory. Remember it when they say how important it is to create a sporting legacy for this country. If Cameron doesn’t reverse this decision, he’ll be the dummy, not Gove.


Australia: Bullsh*t school in Victoria cops flak from parents

A SCHOOL that banned homework for young students has been forced to change the policy after a furious backlash from parents. Children from prep to year nine at Carranballac College in Point Cook are not given daily tasks to do at home because it is felt it is unnecessary and even detrimental.

But worried parents feared their children were not keeping up with students from other schools and pushed for homework to be reintroduced.

The school confirmed it has "redefined" its homework policy, but said tasks were still not compulsory. "Families are encouraged to interact in quality learning experiences as a family," principal Peter Kearney said. "Families are advised upon enrolment of our belief in the value of shared family experiences." [What a lot of empty talk! What business does this pr*ick have lecturing families on what they do?]

Child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg said the school made the homework u-turn because "parents delusionally base the quality of their child's education on the amount of homework they were given". "Parents want homework because they think it will make children better educated. But it can in fact have the opposite effect and even be harmful," he said.

Parent Melanie Bluff, who has two daughters at the school, said she approves of the scheme. "I'm a big fan because you are doing things tailored for your child," she said. "My daughter Alexandra, who is nine, lacked confidence a year ago, but teachers were able to suggest real life scenarios that have really helped. We asked her to ring for a pizza on her own, things like that, and the change has been staggering."

Mr Kearney said: "We ask parents to spend some time with their children after school time to reinforce some of the things they have learned. This process is not difficult." [But it is also none of his business]