Thursday, February 03, 2011

Education: We need Wal-Mart

According to a recent Fox News survey, most American public school biology teachers are equivocal in their teaching of evolution science because they want to avoid ideological conflicts with students and parents. Fewer than 30% of them teach evolution as a biological fact, and 13% personally reject the idea of evolution, even the scientific method, and explicitly advocate creationism in the public classroom.

It makes me wonder about how many other basic curriculum subjects are distorted or equivocated by public school teachers who fear ideological conflicts among culturally diverse student populations. It doesn’t matter. That’s the nature of public education.

This is just another perfect example of why the immense system of expensive public schools is failing in America, and why all education should be private.

Personally, I don’t care if people believe in creationism. It’s none of my business. Evolution should not be forced on them. The scientific method should not be forced on them. It’s their life.

If the state has an interest in educating it’s citizens -- I don’t think it does -- surely it doesn’t go beyond basic reading, writing, and figuring. Once children have learned how to read, write, and figure proficiently, they are well equipped to engage in further ideological subjects of their choice and on their own in a free society. If we must have public schools, attendance should be voluntary, and graduation should follow the sixth grade.

But we know that the state’s interest is far greater than simply teaching kids the basics. The state wants to shape their attitudes and opinions as well. It wants to turn the kids into compliant supporters of government. It wants to teach kids collective “values.” That’s just fine with most parents because all they want is free babysitting services while they carry on their own productive lives.

So the state has a virtual monopoly business running inferior compulsory education factories in hugely expensive buildings, with all the finest facilities, and armies of staff, much like it runs its prison systems.

Since kids have to be there whether they like it or not to swallow up the prescribed pabulum, little incentive exists for critical thinking or pursuing interests more compatible with their individual attributes and abilities. Thirteen of their most formative years are appropriated by the state for “socialization.”

Education is not the business of government in a free nation.

Human beings no longer need ancient methods of formalized education to learn. Formal education is way overrated. Kids today know how to communicate, type, use computers, ipads, cell phones; they’ve mastered all manner of valuable subjects they didn’t learn in school.

We live in an Internet age in which the very best teacher could teach thousands of students at once instead of just a few at a time. Poor kids can have the benefits of learning from the best of teachers today. Like Wal-Mart, the private sector could cheaply and efficiently satisfy every educational need for those who actually want to learn. Those who want creationism can buy the perfect teacher.

They’ll get no objection from me.


British boys' schools decline in shift towards mixed classrooms

Traditional boys’ schools are “near extinction” as growing numbers of headmasters axe single-sex education to admit girls, according to research. Less than five per cent of establishments listed in the latest edition of the Good Schools Guide – published today – are independent boys’ senior schools. It represents a dramatic decline compared with the first edition of the guide 25 years ago when almost a quarter of schools featured only admitted boys.

Girls’ schools have also fallen in popularity since the mid-80s, it is claimed, forcing some to close or merge with other similar schools nearby.

But according to the guide, boys’ schools are more likely to adapt to parents’ increasing preference for mixed classrooms by axing their single-sex status to go fully co-educational.

In the last 25 years, some of the most famous boys’ schools in the country have converted into wholly mixed schools. This includes Marlborough, Oundle, Repton, Rugby, Stowe, Uppingham and Wellington College. The latest to convert is Milton Abbey – established almost 60 years ago – which will become co-educational in September 2012. It follows the introduction of girls into its sixth-form five years ago.

The move represents a dramatic shift in the attitudes of many parents who traditionally believe boys and girls thrive in separate classrooms without the distractions of the opposite sex.

Anthony Seldon, the master of Wellington, said some mothers and fathers believed children were “better prepared for life” after being educated in a mixed classroom. But he added: “Overwhelmingly, I’m saddened by this development because it’s not good for the education system and it denies parents the right to choose between different types of school.”

The Good Schools Guide rates the top state and independent schools in Britain. According to figures, 24 per cent of schools chosen for the guide in 1986 were boys’ independent senior schools, but this year the number has plummeted to just under five per cent. This includes Eton, Harrow, St Paul’s School, Radley, Dulwich College and City of London. Westminster, Charterhouse and Magdalen College School, which admit girls into the sixth-form, are also listed.

Girls' schools represent 13 per cent of the top state and independent schools listed, fewer than half the proportion a generation ago.

Janette Wallis, a senior editor at the guide, said independent boys’ schools were now “near extinction”. “Boys’ schools, like girls’ schools, have been affected by economic pressures and by some parents’ preference for co-ed – probably more so,” she said. “But they have rolled with the punches by taking in girls. “On the up side, this means not a single boys-only school from our first edition has had to close down.

“On the down side, so many of them have gone co-ed - and so quickly – that we now have parents ringing us up in frustration that they are struggling to find a boys' independent school for their son. We’re having to steer them towards the survivors.”


Research achievements among Australian universities

Detailed ratings here. As a graduate of the University of Qld., I was pleased to see it ranked third. All three of the universities where I have studied made it into the top 10, in fact. The big surprise was a former technical college (QUT) squeaking into the top 10

Note, however, that there is a large element of subjectivity in the whole exercise

JANUARY 31 was a landmark day for Australian universities. With the release of the first national report of the Excellence in Research for Australia initiative, we have, for the first time, a comprehensive evaluation of our research achievements against those of our global peers.

The picture is impressive. In total, 65 per cent of units were assessed as performing at world standard, including 21 per cent above and 13 per cent well above the rest of the world.

ERA draws together rich information about discipline-specific research activity at each institution, as well as information about each discipline's contribution to the national landscape. It was a huge exercise. ERA took into account the work of 55,000 individuals, collecting data on 333,000 publications and research outputs across 157 disciplines. In all, 2435 areas in 40 institutions were assessed by committees comprised of distinguished Australian and international researchers: that is, those who know the field interpreted the data. The committees had access to detailed metrics and a range of other indicators (including results of more detailed peer review of individual works held in online repositories).

Australia has lagged behind its international counterparts in the implementation of a research evaluation system. South Africa has been evaluating researchers for more than 20 years, the British exercise was first introduced in 1986 and the New Zealand exercise in 2003. Because of a long gestation, we have been able to use an Australian Bureau of Statistics classification system designed for Australasia and learn from problems elsewhere, consulting the best available expertise to assist in the design of the initiative, as well as using the latest advances in information tools and technology.

This has enabled us to deliver the exercise in a cost-effective manner. Compared with international equivalents, ERA should be seen in the context of an annual investment in research in universities of more than $2.5 billion.

So, what does it mean for government? ERA enables the government to assure the public its investment in our universities is producing quality outcomes. Planning for future investment to build on strengths or develop new areas, encourage collaboration and allocate critical research infrastructure will now have a much stronger basis.

For universities? Leaders can also use ERA outcomes for planning and to guide investment. Potential research students and staff will be able to make informed choices about the best places to go, with the strength of the area, not just reputation or geography in mind. Business will also be able to find the universities with the best of the expertise they need.

ERA 2010 shows the strong research areas in Australian universities include astronomy, biology, chemistry, physics, geology, electrical engineering, history, and health and medical science (including cardiovascular medicine, human movement and sports science, immunology, oncology and pharmacology). These complement areas such as marine and climate science, food science and agriculture, where the lead is taken by our science agencies such as the CSIRO.

There is a strong correlation between excellence and areas that have won competitive research funding. The strength of medical science is not surprising, given these areas have had a separate funding council, a history of strong leadership and many successes (including most of our Nobel laureates). Other areas such as geology, plant biology and electrical engineering have support from the Australian Research Council, other government programs and from industry.

The picture for the humanities, arts and social sciences is more complex. ERA has recognised in a formal way for the first time the work of the many talented creative and performing artists doing research in our universities. Traditional disciplines such as history have both depth and breadth. In others (such as psychology, cultural studies, banking, accounting and business) the excellence is concentrated within a smaller number of institutions. The Australian National University aside, there have been fewer opportunities for scholars in these areas to devote themselves substantially to research in the way that has been possible for some areas of science, medicine and engineering. The drive to collaborate to access infrastructure (and the necessary government funding) has also helped many of the areas in science and technology develop the necessary concentration and scale needed to sustain world-class research teams.

ERA has had its critics. A view that applied research would not be recognised has not eventuated. Crop and pasture production, materials engineering and resources engineering and nursing all performed well. Similarly, newer interdisciplinary areas such as environmental science, nanotechnology and communication and media studies have demonstrated excellence despite predictions to the contrary.

Finally, the assumption that measuring research quality will improve what we do has often been challenged. This underestimates our competitive culture. On receiving his results, one vice-chancellor reflected that he was reasonably happy with the outcomes for his university but confident they will have improved by 30 per cent in the next one.


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