Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Brooklyn College Rescinds Appointment of Pro-Palestinian Activist

I wrote on January 19 about the appointment at Brooklyn College, my alma mater, of a pro-Palestinian activist – just 1 ½ years into his own PhD studies -- to teach a graduate course on the Middle East. After that the New York State Assemblyman of the district adjoining the college protested in a letter to the college president and copied the Chancellor of the City University of New York (who had also received letters of protest from other influentials).

In reviewing Mr. Petersen-Overton’s writings and professional background, I was alarmed about the slanted nature of his works, as well as what can only be termed as his use of hateful invectives against the State of Israel….

Moreover, Mr. Petersen-Overton’s course syllabus reads like a Who’s Who of Palestinian sympathizers and historical revisionists, with no equitable counterbalance….The responsibility of a true academic is to remain objective in imparting information and to allow students to draw their own conclusions.

Instead, Mr. Petersen-Overton’s required and recommended reading selections intentionally stifle the passionate discourse of students who would challenge his political ideologies….

I ask you, Dr. Gould, is Mr. Petersen-Overton, an overt supporter of terrorism, really the best candidate Brooklyn College could find to teach this course? Surely, you must concede that the answer is a resounding “no.” Indeed, Mr. Petersen-Overton would be better suited for a teaching position at the Islamic University of Gaza.

Here’s the follow-up article. The Assemblyman says, “I am absolutely thrilled that Brooklyn College made the right decision and removed Professor Petersen-Overton from his post.”

So am I. It should still be a serious concern to know more about the appointment, as I originally wrote,

It should be of interest what the vetting procedure is at Brooklyn College to select a pool of well-qualified candidates, the criteria by which Kristofer Petersen was selected to teach the Middle East, and how Petersen compared to other qualified candidates. Academic transparency should not be – nor viewed as – a challenge to academic freedom but rather as its necessary bulwark of credibility.

Here’s the straightforward TV coverage from WPIX-New York. Petersen says on TV, “I have very vocal views in favor of the Palestinian cause for self-determination.” The reporter says that Petersen hopes to rally support from other professors and that he plans to appeal. That would be an opportunity to further reveal the answers to how and why this pro-Palestinian activist was hired, and to reveal the CUNY professors who may believe Petersen is a qualified professor.

Update: A pro-Palestinian supporter of Kristofer Peterson shares Peterson's email to him: “I was not contacted by Brooklyn College administration at any time during their decision-making process. This politically motivated action undermines CUNY’s longstanding legacy as a stalwart defender of academic freedom.”

Here's a sample of the graphics that is featured with the writing of this friend of Peterson: "You must act now to stop the Holocaust in Gaza..."


Science report card: Most US students “not proficient”

Just 34 percent of fourth-graders, 30 percent of eighth-graders, and 21 percent of 12th-graders are performing at or above “proficient” in the most recent snapshot from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which gives science scores from 2009. A very small number – just 1 or 2 percent at each grade level – scored at the “advanced” level, and relatively large numbers of students didn’t even meet the most basic level.

“The results released today show that our nation's students aren't learning at a rate that will maintain America's role as an international leader in the sciences,” said Arne Duncan, the US secretary of Education, in a statement. “When only 1 or 2 percent of children score at the advanced levels on NAEP, the next generation will not be ready to be world-class inventors, doctors, and engineers.”

The NAEP science test was revised considerably since the last time students were tested, and the results can’t be compared with previous years. The new framework takes into account scientific advances, science educators say, and does a better job of measuring higher-level scientific thinking. Many questions are open-ended and ask students to design or evaluate experiments, for instance.

“The good news is that this is a really great test,” says Alan Friedman, a member of the National Assessment Governing Board and a former director of the New York Hall of Science. But Dr. Friedman says he is especially concerned by the results at the two extremes: the tiny number of students who score at the advanced level and the large number scoring below basic. In fourth grade, 28 percent of students failed to meet the basic level. In eighth grade, the number rose to 37 percent, and at 12th grade, a whopping 47 percent of students didn’t meet the basic score.

“That is distressing,” Friedman says. “These challenges are very serious for all of us who are into science education and who want our kids to be prepared for living a full life.”

The NAEP results also showed big achievement gaps between races, income levels, public- and private-school students, and gender.

In fourth grade, for example, there was a 36-point achievement gap (on a 300-point scale) between blacks and whites, as well as a 32-point gap between Hispanic and white students. Boys performed two points better than girls, and private-school students outperformed public-school students by 14 points. Strong correlations were evident between better scores and students whose parents had more education.

“The overall performance is bleak, and the gaps are devastating,” says Amy Wilkins, vice president for government affairs at Education Trust, a nonprofit that focuses on narrowing the achievement gap. “Tonight the president is going to talk about the need for innovation to spur us out of these economic doldrums, and it looks like we haven’t given our kids the skills to do that. Science has always been the springboard of American innovation,... and it looks like we’re losing that.”

Also striking are the state-level results – available at the two lower grade levels for all but four states and the District of Columbia. Virtually across the board, the only states that performed better than the national average were located in the northern half of the country, and the states that performed worse than the national average were located in the southern half. A smattering of states all over had scores that were not significantly different from the rest of the nation.

At the fourth-grade level, the top-scoring states were New Hampshire, North Dakota, Virginia, and Kentucky, while Mississippi and California posted the lowest average scores. In Mississippi, 46 percent of fourth-graders failed to score at the basic level.

Those administering the NAEP project are always careful to shy away from drawing conclusions about the cause of achievement. But Friedman says he worries that the low scores may be partly due to an unintended consequence of No Child Left Behind, which led schools to focus almost exclusively on math and reading. He noted correlations between students who score better and factors such as whether their science classes regularly do hands-on activities or whether older students participate in science activities outside school.

He and others discount the idea that science is important only to a small handful of students who go on to a career in science or engineering.

“We want to enable every child to have the problem-solving, thinking, and communicating skills in the sciences so that they can be productive in whatever they choose to do for their field of work,” says Bruce Alberts, editor in chief of Science magazine and former president of the National Academy of Sciences.

In particular, Dr. Alberts says, it’s important that educators and students stop defining science as simply memorizing words that scientists use. Instead, the focus should be on higher-level thinking and scientific inquiry: “It’s learning how to do science and think like a scientist,” Alberts says.

The NAEP results should underscore how important it is to get qualified science teachers in the classroom, says Ms. Wilkins of Education Trust. “We know that at high-poverty, high-minority schools, kids are much more likely to be taking classes like science and math from out-of-field teachers,” she says.


One in three British students to miss out on university: Surge in applications will leave 250,000 out in the cold

Record numbers of university hopefuls face rejection this year after a dramatic rise in applicants and a freeze on places. Official figures show that a surge in demand from students in Britain and abroad will leave one in three applicants locked out of university in 2011 as 750,000 students compete for fewer than 475,000 places.

Data from the University and College Admissions Service show demand has increased by 5.1 per cent on last year but the number of places on offer has been frozen by the Government because of a funding shortage.

The surge has been blamed on teenagers ditching gap years – so they can get into university before tuition fees treble to a maximum of £9,000 in 2012 – and repeat applications from some of the 210,222 hopefuls who failed to get a place last year.

University hopefuls are increasingly turning to sciences over the arts, figures reveal. As the job market continues to contract, applicants are opting for more practical or vocational courses.

Unions yesterday accused the Government of ‘letting down a generation’ by failing to fund a sufficient number of places, but ministers insisted that going to university has always been a competitive process.

It will compound the misery of youngsters who face crippling debts thanks to the hike in tuition fees and an aggressive job market where one in five new graduates is unemployed, twice as many as in 2008.

Figures from Ucas show 583,500 students submitted applications by January 24 this year for courses starting in 2011, an increase of 28,062 on the same point in 2010.

Although January 15 is the recommended deadline for applications, Ucas estimates an additional 30 per cent of applicants will apply before the closing date in June, swelling numbers to more than 750,000.

There was particular demand from older students, suggesting many school leavers from previous years are reapplying. Applications from 19-year-olds increased by 9 per cent, 20-year-olds by 12.4 per cent and 21-year-olds by 15.3 per cent.

Applications from EU member states are up by 8,000 to 55,318 – a 17 per cent increase on last year – and from non-EU countries by 7.7 per cent to 36,365. Foreign students living in EU nations have applied for one in ten places for 2011.

This comes amid claims few EU students will pay back their UK taxpayer-funded loans because repayment is unenforceable and because many are from poorer countries, such as Estonia, where salaries do not reach the payback threshold of £21,000.

Applications for history and European languages spluttered to a halt and demand for courses such as classics, English and social sciences even declined by up to 2.7 per cent.

Education experts criticised the Government’s failure to provide funding for more places. Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students, said: ‘For the third year running a cap on student numbers looks set to leave tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of well-qualified applicants without a place and forced to contemplate both a long process of reapplying next year and facing a huge increase in fees. ‘Ministers are at risk of letting down a generation.’

Universities minister David Willetts said: ‘Going to university has always been a competitive process and not all who apply are accepted. Despite this we do understand how frustrating it is for young people who wish to go to university and are unable to find a place.’


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