Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The NEA has learned nothing

Education is the least of their concerns

A national scandal hit the news when Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal released a 413-page report describing how hundreds of Atlanta public school teachers and principals had been cheating during the past 10 years on standardized tests in order to falsely report that their schools were doing a good job and the kids were improving.

A total of 178 teachers and principals (38 were principals), 82 of whom have already confessed, had fraudulently raised test scores so their schools would meet test targets set by the district and thereby qualify for federal funds.

The truth came out after a 10-month inquiry by 60 investigators conducting 2,100 interviews. The investigation showed that principals and teachers in 56 schools had been cheating since 2001 by various methods, such as erasing wrong answers on tests and inserting correct answers.

The high scores of Atlanta schoolchildren had enabled Superintendent Beverly L. Hall to collect $600,000 in performance bonuses over 10 years to supplement her $400,000 annual salary. Two national organizations honored her with the title of "superintendent of the year."

According to the report, Hall and her top staff "created a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation," concealed by "a conspiracy of silence and deniability," that allowed "cheating -- at all levels -- to go unchecked for years." Those who dared to report concerns about cheating "were held in contempt and punished," sometimes by termination.

Hall's message was to get the scores up by any means necessary, so teachers and principals were afraid of falling under her rhetorical lash and being sanctioned for failing to achieve "required results." Her own words were: "No exceptions and no excuses."

Somehow, the Atlanta scandal didn't make it onto the agenda of the annual convention of the National Education Association (NEA), held in Chicago over the Fourth of July weekend. The representatives of the 3.2 million NEA members were too busy passing their usual long list of anti-parent, pro-homosexual, pro-feminist and left-wing resolutions.

The NEA adopted Standing Rule Amendment 1 to order all future NEA materials to replace references to K-12 with Pre-K-12. That's a clear message that the NEA sees its future in lining up more union members by expanding the role of public schools to get 3- and 4-year-old children.

Resolution B-1 repeats the demand the NEA has made for several years for "early childhood education programs in the public schools for children from birth through age 8," in addition to "compulsory attendance" in kindergarten. This resolution also insists that Pre-K programs have "diversity-based curricula" and "bias-free screening devices."

It must have been difficult for the Resolutions Committee to add any new pro-homosexual resolutions to the 20 passed last year, but it did. The NEA voted to "publish Articles to celebrate the contributions of GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) teachers and GLBT friends of education."

Feminist resolutions passed by the NEA include endorsement of the Equal Rights Amendment, abortion, family planning clinics in public schools, hiring on the basis of "comparable worth" instead of "market value" and the use of so-called non-sexist language.

The NEA adopted Resolution B-16 to urge Hispanics to be involved in "lobbying efforts for federal programs." Among those political goals, of course, is support of "passage of the Dream Act that provides a pathway for undocumented college students to obtain a Green Card and eventual citizenship," endorsed in New Business Item 11.

Among the other political resolutions adopted by the NEA Convention were endorsements of single-payer (government) health care, reparations for descendants of slaves, statehood for the District of Columbia, compliance with unratified United Nations treaties, opposition to English as our official language, opposition to a moment of silence in schools and strict regulation of guns. NEA Resolution H-1 urges members "to become politically involved" in the NEA's political action committees, and we all know that means electing Democratic candidates.

The NEA did pass a few resolutions about education, but none about doing a better job of teaching children to read. The NEA supports public school courses in multiculturalism, global education, environmental education, bilingual education, AIDS education and self-esteem, but opposes voucher plans, tuition tax credits, parental-option plans and homeschooling.

The most exciting event during the NEA Convention was the presentation of the Friend of Education Award to the "Wisconsin 14," the state legislators who fled their state rather than vote for legislation that would slightly modify collective bargaining rights for state employees. The legislators hid out in Illinois for three weeks.

Going on record as the first union to endorse Barack Obama for a second term, NEA delegates voted overwhelmingly to support him in the 2012 presidential election, a year earlier than the NEA usually makes its endorsements. No surprise there.


Children 'should be allowed to leave school at 14', says British business leader

Children should be allowed to leave school at 14 and start work to boost Britain’s economy, the former head of the Confederation of British Industry has said.

Disruptive pupils would be better off abandoning mainstream education and “earning a few bob” to encourage growth, Lord Jones of Birmingham believes.

The former Labour Trade Minister said British businesses are struggling through a lack of skilled young people, meaning employers are forced to hire workers from overseas.

Allowing youngsters to embark on vocational training and get jobs at 14 would fill the skills gap while stimulating economic growth through increased spending, Lord Jones said.

However teaching leaders warned that the idea would lead to millions of young people becoming “trapped” in low-paid jobs, having dropped out of academic studies without basic levels of literacy and numeracy.

The suggestion comes as official GDP figures show Britain’s economy stagnated between April and June with growth down to 0.2 per cent from the 0.5 per cent expansion seen in the previous quarter.

Lord Jones, who was himself expelled from public school for streaking, said: “We’ve got to appreciate that the world’s changed and there are loads of kids in school today who at 14 are more mature, and so many of them are disruptive. “They are disruptive to themselves, disruptive to the class, and they’re disruptive to the teacher.

“This isn’t about saying ‘school’s out, away you go kids’, this is about going into a technical college, doing a couple of days a week on a vocational course and going into a business or indeed a public sector employer, and getting the link in their mind, in their DNA, that if you get better skilled, you make more money. “Then, of course, if they make a few bob, they spend it and what do you do when you spend money? You create jobs.”

The former CBI director general claimed that with more skilled young people and a weak pound, Britain could re-establish itself as a manufacturing centre and rebalance the economy away from the banks and public sector.

Lord Jones, who is now business ambassador for UK Trade & Investment, added: “The unemployed, especially the young unemployed, have got to get a skill, because there aren’t jobs in Britain if you haven’t got a skill.

“I act for a lot of manufacturers who say the biggest inhibitor to succeeding in Britain in the 21st century is ‘I haven’t got enough skilled people and I don’t want them from Poland or India, I want them from Britain’.

“Why is it that so many young people say ‘I won’t go into this, I’d rather be on the dole because I’ll make more money than being in work’? Then the jobs go to people from other countries who are prepared to work harder for less.

“I want a situation where business and other employers, colleges and schools link together so that younger people, instead of being disruptive actually can make themselves a few more bob, and add to the wealth of the country.”

Head teachers claim the scheme would drive down education standards, leaving millions of young people ill-equipped for the challenges of a changing economy.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “This would be an extraordinary retrograde step. “If we allowed people to leave school at 14, we would be letting loose a cohort of people in the workplace who are simply unprepared.

“Research shows that early specialism is dangerous, especially at a time when we simply do not know what sort of workforce we will need in 20 or 30 years time and young people are going to have to work longer than any previous generation.”

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, added: “There aren’t enough jobs for 16-year-olds, let alone 14-year-olds.

“Allowing children to leave school at that age, without good levels of literacy and numeracy, would trap them in low-paid jobs for the rest of their lives.”


Australia: Libraries no longer a place for reading??

You need peace and quiet to concentrate on reading -- but some "innovative" a**hole thinks otherwise

Think libraries should be quiet sanctuaries of solitude and study? Then plans for the State Library of NSW will come as a surprise.

As architect Paulo Macchia rests against an open staircase and explains his plans for the renovation of the State Library of NSW, two young women studying in the reading room below look up from their laptops with annoyed expressions.

They don't actually say "Quiet please!" but that's what they are thinking. After all, most of us have been indoctrinated with the notion that silence is sacred inside a library. If words are necessary, use them sparingly and only whispered.

So they might be surprised to hear what Macchia, from the NSW government Architect's Office, is describing. Over the next few months, workmen will transform the State Library for the first time since it was opened by the Queen on May 4, 1988, as a Bicentennial-year extension to the historic Mitchell Library.

The $4.2 million, two-stage renovation, which begins on Monday, will create, according to the NSW Arts Minister, George Souris, "a contemporary 21st-century cultural destination for NSW residents and visitors".

In real terms, that means more computer screens, better Wi-Fi access, more desk space, designated, bookable study rooms, more newspapers and general-interest magazines to browse, a larger cafe, a more prominent bookshop and improved access to the two public meeting spaces, the Metcalfe auditorium and the McDonald's room. Plus, far better use of natural light.

All laudable. But the renovation's biggest aim is to fundamentally change the library's public image, to show that a place of learning can also be a fun palace.

They're even building zones where library users are encouraged to talk to each other.

"As you look into the library now from Macquarie Street, you see an empty foyer," the acting state librarian, Noelle Nelson, says. "Then, as you look down, you see people working away, very studiously. That will change.

"There will be a buzz in the foyer, with the cafe and the bookshop much more to the forefront. People will be able to see the library as an accessible space and picture themselves in it.

"They'll feel encouraged to come in, sit on the casual lounges, read the newspapers, hook up their laptop, pick up the Wi-Fi, meet friends for a coffee …"

The makeover is a recognition that libraries have changed in the age of the worldwide web. It's an international phenomenon, Nelson says. "New technologies mean we have even more opportunities to make our collections and expertise available. Libraries are becoming centres of lifelong learning, cultural destinations, welcoming social spaces."

The first stage has to be completed before the end of September, in time for the annual HSC crush. It concentrates on the two lower floors of reference reading rooms. Stage two, beginning early next year, focuses on the ground-floor foyer area.

Market research, Nelson says, showed the library's interior layout and facilities were outdated. "Our clients' needs have changed since 1988. The current layout had passed its use-by date. We were overcrowded during peak periods, like the HSC. We didn't have enough computers. People were having to share desks."

After long consultation with the librarians, Macchia's redesign has ditched the conventional long library tables in favour of smaller and less formal desk configurations. Gone are the traditionally towering book shelves, to be replaced by lower, less visually intimidating cabinets.

Nelson says no books will be harmed, though more will be kept in storage in the library's massive subterranean stacks, available on request: "These days, people can go online with their requests so the books are available for them by the time they get to the library."

More dramatically, soundproof glass walls will divide the reference floors into a number of separate "rooms" with different requirements - and varying levels of acceptable noise. Essentially, the deeper you descend into the library, the more traditionally studious the surroundings will be.

"Study has changed," Nelson says. Today's students often like to work together in informal groups around their computers, exchanging information. The new layout allows them to do that while creating an inner sanctum where people who prefer to work in silence can do so undisturbed.

So, deep down, there will still be a cone of silence? A kind of "hush area"? "We're trying to get away from words like shush and hush," Nelson says. "They give the wrong image. We're creating zones so clients have a choice, positioning themselves according to their need to do so … And they may change spaces throughout the course of the day as they meet a friend for coffee, check their emails or go and see one of our exhibitions."


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